Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Truly Living or Just Surviving?

For that past few days I have been in the grips of a series of angina attacks. My angina, and for that matter, my heart disease, is atypical in that I have no clear risk factors for heart disease other than being overweight, which is not a factor in itself. There are theories, of course, but they remain theories because unless something shows up in some measurable way during one of the countless tests used in diagnosing these sorts of things, all one is left with is symptoms. And theories. The only time my body has ever cooperated and presented a symptom that actually showed up on paper, so to speak, was when I had a heart attack 8 years ago.

So the prevailing theory has something to do with cardiac artery spasms, which means that at certain times (such as during stress, etc) my cardiac arteries spasm and decrease blood flow to my heart. The heart attack is theorized to have been caused by a particular artery that spasm-ed to the point of damage. Apparently, the body used cholesterol as a bandage for damaged arteries. Who knew? So my artery was "bandaged" by cholesterol up to 80%, and when another spasm happened, the "bandage" blocked the oxygen flow completely. Voila. Heart attack. And lots of pain, denial, and confusion.

Eight years ago, in the face of crushing chest pain and an almost useless left arm, I got my two foster kids ready for daycare, drove them there, dropped them off, had a conversation with a friend in my driveway when I got home, went inside and had a shower all before I called a friend for help.

Denial, she's a powerful thing, no?

There is a heady feeling of almost euphoria that happens when one has been ill or in pain for a length of time and then begins to feel better. I have a chronic, painful bladder disease, interstitial cystitis (IC) that presents itself in flares of abdominal and pelvic pain that can last anywhere from a day or two to over a week, and the experience is the same when it finally lets go. It's more than relief. It's almost like a victory.

When in the painful time, the focus is on dealing with the illness, on coping, managing symptoms, remaining hopeful and trying not to crumple into a pile of self-pitying goo. The entire family is affected by the illness of one of it's members, and not everyone reacts well every time. I am generally known as a patient, kind, gracious, forgiving person. My faith in God provides a relationship that steadies me and gives me hope and peace in the most difficult of times. Sometimes, that hope and peace means that no one gets killed.

Last night, I was feeling particularly miserable. Every time the dogs barked, my adrenaline spiked and pain shot through my chest. They barked a lot. Grace came home, did the day's dishes, made supper, but when she fussed about doing the supper dishes it angered me, and the adrenaline did it's thing again. What was supposed to be a gentle, meandering walk outside to check out the chickens turned into me, irritated, lugging buckets of food and water to the chickens. More adrenaline and exertion. Even watching the beginning of the new show, Hawaii 5-0, was enough to set off the adrenaline and get me teary eyed.

It was not a good night, as those of you know know me on Facebook are probably aware. Nitroglycerin, which I carry around in handy little lipstick sized spray pumps, is a miracle drug that pops open arteries and sends blood right where it needs to go. It also triggers eye-tearing, cheek twitching, hair pulling, lip biting head aches if you're not used to using it. Thanks to it having been a long time since I have had any serious angina, I wasn't used to it. A good thing, really, and yet...

So every wave of adrenaline that set off the chest clenching angina called for another mind-blowing shot of nitro. And still, everyone survived. Yay me.

Because, between the IC and heart stuff, chronic illness is a daily part of my life, it is important to me that I learn to truly live my life, not just survive it. I am a child of God, heir to all that God has for His children. It is not enough to just survive. Just to get though. I feel the euphoria of having made it through to the other side of another bout of pain and illness without having to visit the hospital, without having actually killed something or someone, even without having been snarky to anyone, although I really, really wanted to. I am relieved that it is over. I am glad that, through the experiences of fellow heart disease patients, I have learned a few things that will make the next bout with angina easier to get through.

I am learning to walk the fine line between being honest about the struggles I am going through while I am going through them, and not sliding down the slippery slope of wanting everyone around me to be as miserable as I am. When asked how I am while I am hurting, I am less likely to push the inner button that artificially lights up my face while I grunt out "Fine!" through clenched teeth. I am also less likely to give you a 20 minute play-by-play on just how cruddy I actually feel. There is a middle ground. Somewhere.

I think the thing about truly living is that it requires effort, above and beyond the effort of just surviving. To be honest, given the wonders of modern medicine, it is unlikely that either or my health issues are going to kill me anytime soon. So just surviving is a given, for now at least. But living...truly living takes work. It takes determination. And for me, it takes faith in a life that is larger than my own, a plan that I am a part of and that is gloriously wonderful and exciting. It takes the knowledge that in my weakness, God is strong in me. It takes joy and gratitude and love, the reality of them and not just words on a page. It takes forgiveness and patience, for everyone, including myself and the freakin' barking dogs.

It means talking about it but not obsessing about it, knowing where the *do not disturb* button is on the phone and being willing to use it, taking the time to stand in the midst of the chicken coop at night, listening to the soft, sleepy cooing and letting the stress release, and really listening to my daughter's day, told as only a 16 year old girl can tell it.

Sometimes I don't know whether I am truly living or just surviving. But I know what I want to be doing, which I'm taking as a good sign.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Finding Hope in Robinson Crusoe

"I daily read the word of God, and apply'd all the comforts of it to my present-state. One morning, being very sad, I opened the Bible upon these words, I will never never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Joshua 1:5) Immediately it occurred to me that these words were to me; why else should they be directed in such a manner, just at the moment when I was mourning over my condition, as one forsaken of God and man? 'Well then," said I, 'if God does not forsake me, of what ill consequence can it be, or what matters it, though the world should all forsake me, seeing, on the other hand, if I had all the world, and should lose the favor and blessing of God, there wou'd be no comparison in the loss?'"

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Guilt by Association?

Recently, I read this comment on FAcebook:

"****, you belong to a group of people that have killed, raped,terrified, tortured,sexually abused women and children and have started wars all in the name of your god since the beginning of time and to this very day...
When my children were little I told them that if they hung out with people that shoplifted, took drugs or where bullies that even if they didn't do these things that by law and by public option that they would be shoplifters, thieves and bullies too. Guilty by association! All wars are started over religious differences and christians have done their share of bloodshed and mayham.
Children are being molested in churches from the very people that should be protecting them( or so they would like us to believe).
It amazes me how the bible is twisted so anyone can justify their actions good or bad!
These are some of the reasons for my comments.....everything I have mentioned is the truth.
I am not going to stop because it makes me sick, it also makes me sick that christians allow the bad ones to get away the things they do in the name of god!
This is what Uncle ***** and Uncle ***** where talking about, this minister was going to burn the Karan,start a war, put young solders in harms way all in the name of christainity with your blessing......no, not your blessing!
Where was your protest?
It makes me think that not one christian showed up to protest maybe because they believe the act is justified and to sacrifice a few young men for the cause is justified."

Aside from the fact that if the first paragraph was directed at Muslims or Jews or Hindus instead of Christians, we would all be horrified by the sheer bigotry and hatred and ugly of it all, this passage highlights one of the major faults and causes of conflict in our society. Namely, ignorance. Simple thinking. I might add, this comment comes from someone who I recently heard explain the natural tragedies in far off countries, such as hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes that kill hundreds of thousands of people, as "population control". I was so horrified, I was struck dumb. So, what, cancer and drunk drivers are the developed world's "population control"? Egad. By this person's logic, though, by not challenging her assertion that the multitude of deaths in the third world are necessary for the health of the planet, I was agreeing with her.

She sites the term, guilty by association. This term is based on the premise that, for example something that is associated with something else must automatically share fundamental qualities with that which the association is made. For example, dogs have four legs, cats have four legs, therefore all cats are dogs. A chef has a bad temper. I am a chef. Therefore I have a bad temper. My friend uses drugs. I am her friend, therefore I use drugs. As far as I can tell, this is the basis of prejudice and bigotry. A Muslim is a terrorist. You are a Muslim, therefore you are a terrorist.

This is called an association fallacy, because, of course, it is in no way based on actual truth. It is not true that all animals with four legs are dogs, or that all dogs are vicious because some dogs are, or that all Muslims are terrorists because some are or that spending time with drug addicts means that one is because, I know for a fact, this just isn't true. The association fallacy is used because it appeals to emotion, not fact. If you will notice, the above example is rife with emotion, mostly anger, fear and hatred. There are few facts involved, although she claims to be speaking the truth. In actuality, she is speaking to someone who is known by her peers and family for being the very opposite of what she is accused of being. The truth, even when obvious, bears no relation to the argument.

To ascribe to a "guilt by association" argument creates a slippery slope, because it can be used to avoid offering help to the poor or struggling, or to connect with anyone who is connected by association to anything negative. We should, therefore, have no Muslim friends, because by association, they all must be terrorists and I will be considered a terrorist...by association. I should not befriend a young black man, because by association he may be a hood and then I, by association, would be a hood. How far do we want to take this?

This person says that she has warned her children to stay away from troubled kids, because by association, her children would be just as guilty. I have to admit, as a Christian, this is not a lesson I have been free to teach my child. Jesus commands us to love others, regardless of their sins, as we are loved by Him regardless of our sins. My daughter has known and loved Jesus since she was two years old. Not once did it ever occur to me that in being a part of loving and caring for people who struggled with various problems, that she would adopt those problems. What she has adopted is the capacity to love. To understand. And most importantly, to not fear people because of their weaknesses or prejudice.

One of my most cherished and divine moments came while my little girl sat at my table and sipped tea with a friend, who also happened to be an addict and a drug pusher. Tattoos, pony tail, leathers and all. He smiled at her and raised his pinky in high tea style, and she looked at him with glee, in all the innocence of one who has not yet learned how to judge and hate. It was Christian faith personified. Jesus was often criticized by the religious leaders of His day for hanging around with sinners. They subscribed strongly to the "guilty by association" argument.

Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who would use fear and bigotry to marginalize the lost and protect their own privileged positions. Jesus came for the wounded and broken and lost. He did not come to protect His own position as Rabbi, as Messiah, as God. His only concern were those who needed Him. When a child knows this Messiah, is filled with His passion and love and courage, not even the threat of being thought "guilty by association" will keep her away from people who need love and care, no matter what they have done.

It is true, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to care about people based on their own merits despite their "associations". It is easier to avoid and reject people, using the guilty by association theory. It may be safer, although I doubt it because I suspect that having to maintain all that anger, fear and hatred against entire people groups must be exhausting and difficult on the body.

The ironic thing is that the very thing that the above quote is upset about, namely the threats of a Florida pastor to burn the Koran, is based on the theory of guilty by association. To vilify the use of "guilty by association" from this pastor by using the "guilty by association" argument, makes no sense. It is foolish. And dangerous. This is how wars are started. This is how hatred and violence and evil multiply. Lots of emotion, hatred and fear, no logic, love or peace.

To accuse a peace-loving person of being bigoted, hateful and evil because she shares the title Christian with someone who is bigoted, hateful and evil is siding with the evil, not the cause of peace and love. It may be easier. It may lead to feelings of self-righteousness and pride. But is is weak and empty and sad.

There is a different way. There is a peace-full way. We can choose to see people as they are, to take chances and open our hearts to love and surprises and hope. We can be brave. We can be gentle. We can be truth-full. For me, I find these things in the wonder of having the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of me, calling me continually to His way and forgiving me each time I stray. He heals me when I am wounded and lifts me up to love some more. I am not free to pre-judge anyone, and if I do, I answer to a God who sees each one of us as an individual, responsible for our own messes and no one else's.

Whew. Because, frankly, I can't afford to carry anyone else's sin. I'm dealing with enough of my own, thank you very much!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yes, I am a Christian, and no, that doesn't mean I am personally financing Terry Jones' matches...

I don't like writing things like this. Things that everyone else is writing about, and most of them doing it in a significantly better manner than I can. Things that are in the news. Hot topics. Blah blah blah.

The thing that I am discovering is that I can spend all my time writing about the love of God, sowing seeds of peace, calling the church to a higher place of discipleship in Jesus instead of man-made rules and laws, reaching out to others, rebuking those who judge, attack or hurt the weak, lost or different, live my life walking as close to Jesus as I can and seeing the evidence of His love in the broken and hurt people who are learning how very much they are loved...

...and let one crack pot in Florida decide to burn the Koran on September 11th, and suddenly I'm assumed to be the guy's biggest supporter. I have to be, right? After all, I haven't bombed his church out yet(Anyone got plane fare for Florida, 'cause money's a little tight these days?), I haven't written long-winded, hate-filled rants about him yet, I haven't dug up any dirt on his past love life and sold it to the Enquirer yet. So I must agree with the guy.

Good gravy, what is happening to logic these days?

For years and years, Christians were vilified for talking the talk and not walking the walk. Now, people are peeved when we are too busy walking the walk to join in the endless talk. I know it is important that people speak out against this stuff. People ARE speaking out against this stuff. The Vatican has condemned it, Christian religious leaders have joined with Jewish and Muslim leaders at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday to denounce it, and I have read countless personal reports of people who are horrified by this guy. I do not know one Christian that would support these actions. In fact, the only people that might support him are the 50...yes, 50...people in his congregation. And who knows how many of them are trying to speak some sense in the midst of the crazy?

So what is going on? Hatred begets hatred, that's what's going on. This guy hates Muslims because the people responsible for 9/11 were Muslims, so he wants to burn the Koran. The world hears about it, and since the guy responsible for the plan to burn the Koran is Christian, decides to hate Christians. And the beat goes on. Essentially, we are saying, hey, this guy's attitude and behavior are so wrong that the only way to address them is to...mimic them??!!! Oooh, good plan. I hate who you are so much, I want to be just like you. And this makes sense...how?

At some point we have to make a choice to stop reacting and start acting. My first Bible was destroyed in a raging fit by someone that I had lent it to. It had all my first notes in it, the highlights of my first discoveries that God loved me and actually delighted in me. It was precious. I remember the very moment when she told me what she had done. We were in the car. It was dark. I was in the front seat, and she was in the back. She told me very flippantly. She had no idea what she had done, or was so self absorbed that she didn't care. I don't know which. I was immediately furious. Seriously. I remember, in my anger, receiving a gentle, inner invitation to be different. She had allowed her anger to result in destruction. While I was filled with the desire to do the same, I had a choice. I didn't have to react destructively. I didn't have to rip and tear. I could choose a different path. It was tough. I don't know, maybe by choosing to act on the words of my destroyed Bible, I honored it. I never regretted not blasting her. I have had many Bibles since, and I love them all. My first one was the most special, not because it was my first, but it was strong enough to come back to me when I needed it. God used it to change me into who I wanted to be, and gave me the freedom to choose how I would act, rather than allowing someone else's behavior to force me into the same mold as they are in.

For the record, I do not support Terry Jones' plan to burn the Koran. If you know me, you already know this. If you don't know me well enough to know this, but you need to hear it from my keyboard, that's sad. If you think that this guy's behavior represents the thoughts and beliefs of all Christians, then you have more in common with him than you think, because that's exactly what he thinks about Muslims.

PMS? Take two kittens and call me in the morning.

I'm feeling very irritable and cranky today. And if someone was to tell me to "take a Midol", they'd be right on the money, but I'd still want to club them. That's the joy of PMS. Don't try to relieve it with logic, common sense or the truth. Just pass the chocolate and my blankie and stay out of my way.

The only people I can handle today are the animals. And Marc, because he is very PMS-respectful. He's comforting. Gives lots of hugs. Makes chocolate cake. That kind of thing.

The animals are easier to handle, not because they are better than people. It's simply because they require less from me.

I always thought, people who say they love animals more than people are revealing a lot more about their ability to love than they are the difficulty of people. If we love animals more, like I'll probably be doing today, it is because they are easier to love. They have no opinions of their own, so we are always right. They depend on us, and so we are important to them always. They enjoy our company with very little effort on our part. They let us lead. At least the dogs do. The cats can be a bit aristocratic, but that just makes us feel special when they deign to acknowledge us.

Animals, as a rule, don't argue or fight with us and they forgive us quickly (I'm sure that has nothing to do with our control of the food bag). In fact, animals have affection for us just the way we are. We assume that that's a good thing. We want to be loved and tolerated just the way we are. If I want my own way all the time, if I tear down people who don't agree with me, if I get cranky and want to be left alone when others might need me, if I hurt someone with my rude attitudes and words, my dog will still accept me. That's one of the special things about animals. But it's not a way to live. It's not real. Wonderful is as wonderful does.

Our dogs may not be the best judges of our characters. Yes, my animals will continue to adore me today as they have always. The chickens will follow me around the yard, the cats will curl up beside me on the couch and the dogs will gleefully accompany me on my daily walk. They'll tolerate my crankiness, and if someone errs and pees in the wrong place, pecks my toes or jumps on my chest while I am sleeping, my reaction will be forgiven. This is comforting, and friendly and kind of them.

But I love and need my family just because while they too will continue to love me, their love will cause them to call me to a higher place. They'll let me know that PMS may be an excuse for a lot of things, but treating my family with disrespect, rudeness and irritability are not some of them. They'll expect more from me, and because of that, I'll have more to give them. And on the odd month that Gracie and I PMS at the same time, the opportunities for grace in the face of raging hormones will be nothing short of miraculous.

I love my people more than my animals. Yes, it's harder. Yes, there is more pain, disappointment, and pressure. There is also more learning, growth and maturity. I like to think that when learning to be a better wife, mother, sister, friend and daughter, I am also learning to be better with the animals.

If you'll excuse me, it's time to head back to bed with an armful of cats and dogs and my heating pad. Husband's orders. :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

And I thought I was just weird...

I'm finding it interesting that all the ads after my last post are about anger-management. **sigh**

I found out something interesting today. I follow a blog by a pastor named Ron Edmonston, and he has been writing a short series of blog posts about introverted/extroverted characteristics. Today he talked about how introverts and extroverts listen.


I've been finding the whole series really interesting, because I am an introvert and it is always nice to find out that character traits that one struggles with are actually natural and normal. I just always thought I was weird. Which I absolutely still could be. But not because I am an introvert.

It's amazing how understanding each other can make us kinder and more accepting. Marc is a full-blown, over-the-top extrovert. It's a lovely thing to watch him connect with people, everybody, anybody. He turns into a puddle of goo in front of an audience, but recently he came with me to my 25th high school reunion and I never once had to worry about him being bored or not having anyone to talk to. He can make connections with complete strangers with little effort.

This amazes me because I can't do it. Or at least, I'm not very good at it. I am much more comfortable in front of a crowd than trying to socialize one on one at parties. I don't do small talk well. It always feels lame to me, talking about the weather and stuff. I make myself do it, and its getting easier, but I often walk away from social interactions wincing because I am certain I sounded like a complete dweeb. Going to someone's high school reunion, where I wouldn't know anyone, would easily be on my top 10 list of things that just might kill me. Right up there with another heart attack and being buried alive by gangsters. On the other hand, speaking in front of a crowd of 1000 would be on my bucket list, the list of things I dream of doing before anything on the top 10 list of things that might kill me actually happens, and kills me.

This latest article cleared up an issue that has been irritating me for a long time. When Marc and I watch movies, and there are sad or moving scenes, I like my emotional reaction to be very quiet and private. If I cry, I don't want any one watching or commenting on it. Marc, on the other hand, immediately looks at me to see if I am crying along with him. And if I am not, he wants to know why, hard-hearted shrew that I am. He mops his face dramatically, moans about how he hates chick-flick weep-fests, and just in general wants to share the experience with me. Call me selfish, but I don't want to share. I want to slide down in my seat and sobble my way into a handful of tissues in complete and utter solitude. If someone is watching, my emotions choke and I end up not engaging in the story or feeling the emotions. And it irritates me.

Now I understand why I am like this. And I have explained it to Marc. Logic dictates that the problem should be solved. Marc is still going to want to share and I am still going to hold my emotions close. I'm trusting that understanding each other will make a difference.

I should add a disclaimer here - contrary to anything that Marc will ever admit in public, he does enjoy a good weepy movie at times. Still, I have endured enough Clint Eastwood/Sly Stallone/The Rock/Bruce Willis blood-fest movies to be fully convinced that Marc's macho genes are firmly in place. Like, seriously.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Caution...rant zone...

I am such a friggen coward. Man alive, sometimes I irritate myself. I know, I know, I am supposed to be kind to myself. At the same time, there are a million and one Facebook pages that gleefully encourage me to drop-kick the idiots in my life into kingdom come. Nobody ever seems to question...what if we are the idiots?

"I'm not b*tchy, I just have a low tolerance for bullsh*t". Including my own? "If he doesn't love me at my worst, then he doesn't deserve me at my best" Does the same go for you, if you don't love him at his worst? Ah, one never thinks about these things, does one?

When I get cranky, I tend to get contrary. And when I get contrary, one of my pet peeves is people who think everyone else is the problem.

We make mistakes, mess up someone's day, week, life, we feel bad about ourselves, indulge in a bit of verbal self-flagellation, seek out and talk to friends who quickly reassure us of our inherent wonderfulness and continue on with life secure in the fact that we are human and everyone makes mistakes. Sure, when we think about it, we cringe a bit, but all we have to do is recall the victim of our mistake and their totally inappropriate, over-the-top, bad-a$$ reaction to our mere humanness, and we can relax. It was probably karma, anyway.

Someone messes with us, on the other hand, and all hell breaks loose. The whole "humans make mistakes" thing becomes completely irrelevant. Not those kinds of mistakes. Not to ME!!!! Not without blood to show for it! Or at least a bit of cash...

You know, I get it, I really do. It hurts to...well, get hurt. I've had my share of life crashes and carry a few internal (and external) scars to prove it. And sometimes, the memories sting. Ache. Shriek. And yes, reality bites, because sometimes the reality is that we are not the best parents, children, partners, tenants, employees, or friends in the world. Sometimes I literally have to warn my family that I am feeling irritable and could blow at any moment. What difference does it make to them that the cause is chronic pain or fatigue or PMS or a apocalyptic chocolate shortage at the local IGA? Tiptoeing around an emotional time bomb is tiptoeing around an emotional time bomb, no matter what the reason. Can I really afford to get snarky with them when they get a bit testy with me at times?

The Bible has a really good principle that relates to this kind of thing, thought up, I am sure, by a God who knows a lot more about our individual snarky, snappy, idiot-ness than He cares to.

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you..." Matthew 7:12

Catch that? It's not, do to others what they have done to you. It's do to others what you would have them do to you. Treat the world and all it's blunders as you would like the world to treat you and all your blunders. And if at this point you are tempted to say that you have no blunders, then do me a favor and smack yourself upside the head for me, right now, okay?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can't stand waitresses that aren't efficient because you won awards at proficiency while waitressing your way through college. But what if you hadn't? What if you were lousy at it, too. Or, what about all the other things you are lousy at? Treat her like you want your family to treat you the next time you make that dang-awful tuna casserole for supper. Or the next time your dog barrels out of the house to plant matching paw prints on the postman's chest because you've never even heard of Cesar Milan.

It's a win-win situation, you know. It takes a huge amount of effort to feign perfection. Plus, no-one's buying it. Grace given is grace received. We give ourselves a gift when we choose kindness and understanding rather than righteous indignation and rage. Picture your kids in the audience of your life. Who do you want them to see? Gentle, patient mom? Self-controlled, tolerant dad? We boast about not tolerating idiots because we think we're making it perfectly clear that we aren't idiots. It's not that easy. What if we are idiots? What's the worst that can happen? Gentleness and patience works both ways, you know.

I know a man who has some serious anger issues. He denies it vehemently. Angrily. What he cannot see is that his wife and daughter already know that he has anger issues, and they love him regardless. They think he is great. They're glad he's theirs. Is he protecting himself from the knowledge of his weakness? Or is he shielding himself from the wonder and joy of his family's unconditional love for him? He can't have the full experience of their love until he faces the truth about his own idiot-ness.

But really, when you think about it, it's a sweet deal all the way around.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

It has been more than a month since I have written in either of my blogs. A lot can happen in a month. Mostly every day things that I find interesting because they are my mundanities, but still. We've been having computer/internet problems, but the break from the net wasn't entirely unwelcome. Well, okay, it wasn't welcome at all, but it wasn't awful. Warm summer mornings were spent sitting outside w/coffee and toast, sharing w/the chickens and enjoying the early sun rather than hunched over the computer checking out who had insomnia the night before and fooling myself into thinking that anyone cared how well I slept.

I was beginning to feel a bit of a writing backlog happening in my brain, though. Now that I can actually blog, I'm a bit stuck. Where to start?

I will say I discovered some unsettling things about myself this past month. I have anxiety issues. And anger issues. Or, screw the psychobabble - I get stomach turning, mind clouding scared at odd times and I also get really, psycho mad when there it just doesn't make sense to be really psycho mad. I think I understand the anger. I have been hurt by people I have trusted, loved ones who received the best I had to offer, such as it was, and turned it into weapons to be used against me. I thought I was packing some scars, but apparently some of those scars are in fact unhealed cuts. Of course the assumption I made, and I understand others will make it as well, is that I haven't forgiven. Remember, forgiveness doesn't remove the wounds, it simply leaves us free to begin healing. So I am still healing. And sometimes, some things trigger rage reactions in me that can be quite upsetting. Another piece of the puzzle!

The fear is harder to understand, but it has been there longer. I don't know that I want to understand it. I want it fixed. For the past few years I have been challenged in many different ways and am remarkably unafraid of many things that used to freak me out. Still I live with a nameless sense of anxiety, a burning in my stomach that is exhausting. One thing I do know - the Bible says that perfect love casts out fear. God has been leading me ever forward in allowing His Spirit to love perfectly through me and in me, and so I know this fear/anger thing will not last.

I'm glad to be writing again. It feels like home. You know what else feels like home? There are four roosters on my front lawn, challenge-crowing. Now THAT feels like home!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Missing Marc

Marc left this morning for Quebec City. He'll be there a week, working. Well, not really a week, more like four or five days. But it will feel like a week. Or more.

We've known that he was going for a while. He'll be replacing a roof for a dear friend of his, Olivier. We need the money, Marc and Olivier need the time together, and I am just fine here by myself. Just. Fine.

No, really, I am just fine. I haven't missed the blessing in that, either. I have actually never been this "fine" in my life. Secure. Loved. Content. Peaceful. But today I am sad.

When Marc drove away, after leaving ample instructions on things like which newly planted trees not to run over when I mow the lawn this week, I stood in the lane in my nightgown and stared after the car for several minutes. I was holding an egg. There is a nest of eggs in the ditch beside the lane, and Marc had found a fresh egg in it. He had handed it to me as he got into the car, while I promised to remove the eggs so the hens will stop laying in the ditch and return to their nest boxes. I took my egg and went to sit on the front steps. Then, rolling the amazingly perfect, smooth egg around in my hand, I cried. I am really going to miss Marc this week. I thought about how the Bible says that as a married couple, we are "one flesh". I wondered if there was ever a time that the "one flesh" thing is more apparent than when we are separated like this. When we are apart, we each live with a sometimes vague, sometimes more acute sense of incompleteness. It's not a personhood kind of thing - we are both very individual individuals. We are whole in and of ourselves, or at least more whole than we have ever been in our lives and growing in wholeness all the time. Still, right now there is something missing and I know that that missing piece is on his way to Quebec city. He has my blessings, he has my love and prayers, and I know that he is feeling exactly the same way as I am.

So, I sat on the steps and cried. Then I heard a car barreling up the lane. He had forgotten the address and phone number of where he was going. I wiped my tears, not wanting to make his leaving any harder on him than it already was. He went inside and collected the info that he needed, came back out and kissed me, asking me if it was okay if he stayed home to which I replied in the affirmative, laughed at one of the chicks pecking dead bugs off of the front bumper of his car, got in the car and left again. I was not the only one who had been in tears. I cried again.

Then I yelled at the rooster, who was tormenting a flock of about 15 young chickens on the front lawn. He headed off with two of his hens into the front field, where apparently all the good bugs reside. The flock of young'uns scurried off towards their coop en masse, cheeping and fretting all the way. One of the young chicks, a lovely white rooster, quite precociously tried to crow and sounded ever so much like he was crowing through a kazoo. I laugh out loud every time he does this. In the dappled sunlight, the kittens collided in a exuberant chest-bump that left them tangled together and winded on the soft green lawn. Mini, the dog, sat in front of the garage and stared mournfully down the lane at the dust of Marc's departure. Robin, a fledgling robin that we rescued from one of the kittens and are in the process of releasing back into the wild, fluttered past my head to the scaffolding by the house where his little food dish sits. He landed near it, and impatiently announced that it was empty, with cunning hops and chirps. The releasing Robin into the wild thing is obviously moving slowly. Pippin the bunny sat quietly beside me on the step, perhaps in support but probably just waiting to be fed.

My tears dried and the hollow feeling settled into my stomach. It was going to be there for a while. Four or five days. And in the meantime, there are hungry mouths to be fed, lawns to be mowed, poop to be scooped, roads to be traveled, people to be loved, books to be read, and a life to be led.

Is it Friday yet?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Love finds her joy in seeing other's crowned..."

I read this passage in a simple little devotional called My Daily Meditation by John Henry Jowett. I love it because it presents such a clear picture of the love of God, and how He expects it to be expressed in our daily lives. It is too easy to say, "I love so-and-so" while still speaking of them unlovingly and treating them with rudeness and disdain. Love is clearly defined in Scripture, and we are given standards by which to measure ourselves against, standards that transcend our words and exalted opinions of ourselves. This particular passage of My Daily Meditation is taken from April 20th, and is based on Romans 12:9 - 18. It challenged me in deep and welcoming ways. I know that I fall below the standard presented here, but I am filled with joy at the wonderful personal relationship that I have with God through Jesus Christ, and the miracle of His renewing of my mind through my heart devotion to Him, and Him alone.

"Love finds her joy in seeing others crowned. Envy darkens when she sees the garland given to another. Jealousy has no festival except when she is 'Queen of the May.' But love thrills to another's exaltation. She feels the glow of another's triumph. When another basks in favour her own 'time of singing of birds is come!'

And all this is because love has wonderful chords which vibrate to the secret things in the souls of others. Indeed , the gift of love is just the gift of delicate correspondence, the power of exquisite fellow-feeling, the ability to 'rejoice with them that do rejoice, and to weep with them that weep.' When, therefore, the soul of another is exultant, and the wedding-bells are ringing, love's kindred bells ring a merry peal. When the soul of another is depressed, and a funeral dirge is wailing, love's kindred chords wail in sad communion. So love can enter another's state as though it were her own.

Our master spake condemningly of those who have lost this exquisite gift. They have lost their power of response. 'We have piped with you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned with you and ye have not lamented.' They lived in selfish and loveless isolation. They have lost all power of tender communion."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The true disciple of Jesus Christ has no desire to think of herself as better than she is. After all, she trusts that she is passionately loved by the God of the entire Universe, One whom has intimate knowledge not just of her present dark thoughts and deeds, but of every dark thought and deed that has ever been hers. To know this, to truly believe this, is to take the deep breath of the divinely relaxed, the eternally accepted, the joyfully released. She sees her darkness, ponders it thoughtfully and with sorrow, and lets it go. There is, after all, no more room in this God-filled life. Light has replaced darkness. Love has displaced hate, or worse, apathy. Life has ushered out death. Hope has detoured despair. God's will has replaced self-will. Joy sings as mourning slips out the back door. Acceptance dances while rejection stumbles away. And above all, Truth reigns.

The true disciple of Jesus Christ sees herself as she truly is, without excuse or possibility of freedom but for the terrible sacrifice of her Lord. This translates, in her heart and life, into an unerring love and mercy for others on the grounds of her astounded, overwhelmed, amazed and sweet gratitude.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"A Joyful Awareness of Forgiveness..."

Today, I read this in Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel: "Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Kung says, 'It deserves neither God's mercy nor men's trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always dissasociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God's kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.'"(Hans Kung, On Being A Christian)

A memory surfaced. A church board meeting, a lay leader looking me in the eye and intently stating that, "We do not tolerate sin in this church", the nodding, quiet approval of the rest of the board save the pastor, who was cringing in his seat and on trial as much as I was. I would be given five minutes to tell my story, to try to explain that I was not guilty of the sin I was being accused of. There would be many more minutes of accusations, rude comments and condemnation. I was not permitted to respond to the comments that followed my five minutes. Of the entire group, I had only personally discussed my situation with one of them. For the rest, their knowledge was based on hearsay, gossip, and evidently from the comments that they were making, lies. At the time, the accusations and betrayal by people I had trusted was traumatic enough, and my focus was on my pain, and the suffering of those who shared a part of my situation.

When I read this quote from The Ragamuffin Gospel, though, the passage of time and healing of hurts afforded me a new perspective. I heard the words again, "We do not tolerate sin in this church.", and in my mind's eye I looked out at the serious, determined faces of the members of the church, and my heart broke for them. At the time, as now, I did not believe that the senitment expressed was that of God. While I was not guilty of the sin on the table at that meeting, I am not innocent. I know that I struggle with sin. And I know that God accepts me.

I remember the words of Jesus well, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:13. And, God's love is expressed in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." I cannot overlook the glorious confession of the apostle Paul, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." 1Tim 1:15

The thing that broke my heart, when I thought about that meeting, was the foul stench of a lie that drifted up from the seemingly logical words, spread out and dispersed over an entire room of sinners, who heard and agreed that God does not accept sin, or those that sin. I knew the people in that room. I knew that not one of them were clean. We had been friends for many years. I knew who despised their spouses, who had terrorized their spouses, children, even co-workers with their anger, who chose fear and mistrust of God over trust and lived worried, hand-wringing lives because of it, who was the town gossip, who was mocked at work for claiming to be a christian because of rude, arrogant, dishonest behavior at the jobsite, who struggled with pornography, bitterness, slander, or worship of money, food, success, or entertainment over God. The only difference between us was a power inequality. They were board members and lay leaders. They had the power. And they believed on some level that God does not accept them as they are. That is a tragedy.

How does one, as a sinner, maintain that God does not accept sinners while running a church filled with sinners? What kind of mental, emotional and spiritual gymnastics does it take to manouver around the fact that one is a sinner? How does one live so close to, as Kung writes, the "joyous awareness of forgiveness" without availing oneself of it by confessing sin and humbling oneself to the God of truth and mercy? How fearful, to sit with arms and legs crossed, narrowed eyes, keeping the secret of one's sin in by pushing the sinful away from the only One who can save.

Oh, but we mustn't condone it. Condone what? The sin that is eating you alive? Of course not! How is it condoning sin, when a Bible study teacher grasps the hands of a drug addict as they pray together for freedom from their sin? When a pastor links arms with a thief as they humbly walk to the foot of the cross, together? Confess their sins together? Receive freedom together? The message we preach is not, "Come to Christ and be perfect like me!" It is, "Come to Christ and know the love that has always been there for both of us!"

The irony is that in order to avoid condoning sin, the church nurtures it among her members by encouraging pride, deception and denial of sin, thereby preventing repentance and confession, which leads to freedom from sin.

"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place." 2 Chronicles 7:13-15

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Ragamuffin Gospel

I am reading The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. Brennan Manning is a jar of clay that houses a sweet, most fragrant, grace-full, Christ-like spirit, and his writing is a joy and a challenge to read. He holds a mirror up to the reader, and one gets a distinct impression that this is a mirror that the author has looked into deeply and often. It is the mirror of truth, from the perspective of the One who is Truth, the One who blends love and truth in a vital, life-saving, terrifying way.

There is something that happens within a church when one hapless saint decides to live in utter truth. I am not speaking of the truth that only points to others and never at oneself. When we become truly truthful with ourselves about ourselves, we have no energy, time or arrogance left to fuel a pointing at someone else. We come face to face with the awful and lovely truth - we are not worthy to condemn or judge others. It's awful because it stabs our pride. It is lovely because it sets us free from bitterness and anger and the ugliness of being meanly judgmental. Because believe me, no matter how large our audience is as we rip the shreds out of someone else's life and reputation, each one walks away from us determined never to trust themselves to our ugly spirits of gossip and condemnation. It is lovely to be set free from such ugliness.

There is something that happens in a church when a saint begins to be honest about themselves. Some of the faithful will try to console the honest one. Oh, you aren't really that bad. We all make mistakes. You aren't taking on this ministry because you don't want to? You mustn't think so little of yourself, of course you have much to offer!

Some will use guilt to send the truth scurrying back under the rock that it came from. But you should want to serve God! Oh, you mustn't be angry, it's not nice. I understand that you are hurting, but you are making us all feel so uncomfortable! There are some things you just need to keep to yourself!

Some get angry. If you were my wife/husband/friend, I'd leave you. I wouldn't put up with that. We don't tolerate sin in this church. You are causing problems here!

Thankfully, the grace of God is greater than all the reactions of his people. And when God sees a child of His with the courage to be honest about who she really is, His reaction is grace. Unconditional love. Pleasure at the faith it takes to brave the truth. Honored at the trust in Him that is displayed, even by one who is being honest enough to admit a lack of trust in Him. It takes a tremendous amount of faith in the love of God to be able to tell Him that you feel you don't have faith in the love of God! A mustard seed. That's all it takes to thrill God's heart!

I have just started The Ragamuffin Gospel, and already I am thrilled.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Excuse me for a moment, I need to go hug my husband...

Last night Marc found what looked like a mole on his head, a large, irregular, crusty black/brown/greyish ugly nightmare of a mole. He asked me what it was, and as I looked at it, I felt a cold chill fill my belly. It looked like every suspicious mole that I had ever seen on every P.S.A about skin cancer. Just yesterday, Marc had tried to get an appointment for a general check up with his family doctor and was told to call back in October to try again. The colder my innards got, the more steely determination I garnered and I told him that I would call to get an appointment to have it checked out.

I was scared. It took a lot of energy to reign in my considerable imagination. There was no point picking out funeral clothes right away. I found myself following Marc around with my eyes. My husband is a strong man, physically, spiritually and emotionally. He has a keen mind, wide shoulders and a carpenter's arms. He moves through his world with a virile confidence. His heart is soft, and he cries easily, laughs loudly, and is moved to a fearful anger at injustice, especially to children. He leaps at the opportunity to help others, in immediate situations but also with issues that require a commitment of days, weeks, even months if needed.

It seemed odd, that one little spot on his head, under a cloud of blond-grey curls, could threaten such a vibrant, dynamic life.

When we went to bed, I held onto him a bit longer than usual. He asked me if I was okay. I told him how afraid I was. He didn't seem afraid, which didn't surprise me. Marc and I seem to stagger our anxious moments, so that when I am feeling weak, he is feeling strong and visa versa. We don't plan it that way, but it helps us to offer support to each other in difficult times. We joked a bit about when he was allowed to die. I maintained that "'til death do we part" mean my death, not his. He stood corrected. It was silly, but it helped. Then I said, we needed to remember that we are eternal. He agreed, that we would not really die, just our bodies will. I know that his light, his life will never end. I just don't want it going on somewhere I am not, which it would should he move to Heaven prematurely. But go on, he will.

Today, I was able to get an appointment for him to see his doctor in the morning. We went together, and he found out that he had what is called a senior keratosis which is basically a benign growth that looks like skin cancer, but isn't. It's going to be removed and biopsied (Marc offered to remove it himself, but the doctor prescribed patience). Marc thought I would have fun with the "senior" part, which I will. So all is well. I still feel like holding onto him, which he doesn't mind. He was wisely and subtly comforting, acknowledging my fear without stumbling into it or dismissing it. I, in general, really appreciate Marc. We are, after all, still newly married, having celebrated out fourth anniversary in January. He is still the love of my life, my Mr. ooh-la-la. I see no reason why he won't continue to be for the rest of our lives. It is not as if either one of us is perfect or even easy to live with. It has not been an easy transition, combining our lives together.

The thing is, that we have consistently chosen to put ourselves aside to care for each other, to actually do and be what we promised to do and be at our wedding ceremony. Maybe not right away, when conflict hits but always eventually. One thing about getting married later in life is that you get to really listen to the vows, and you know what you are doing when you make those promises. We took them seriously. Of course we have had our moments, moments that we are not proud of. But moments are just moments. Life and love are built on decisions, not moments as the greeting card industry would have us believe.

I don't know if any of this means anything, but it is what I am thinking today, and so it's my duty and pleasure to inflict...um...share these thoughts with you.

I'm going to go hug my husband.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Rude Awakening

It happened over 15 years ago. I was spending time at a church camp where a friend of mine was also staying. One afternoon, she came to me in tears. She had overheard several of the ladies talking about her. It was not good. She was devastated, angry and hurt. My heart broke for her. We sat on a bench together as she shared her pain and I did my best to comfort her. As she shared the things that she had overheard, I began to feel a discomfort within me, like heartburn, only in my spirit instead of my esophagus. It grew as I heard the words and labels used to describe her. It developed into full-blown, bilious misery as I recognized the hurtful words were ones that I had in the past used to describe my friend in conversation with others. I felt sick.

My friend, let's call her *Melanie, had lived a difficult life, and like many people who live difficult lives, she had ways of coping with her struggles that sometimes caused other people to struggle as well. I often found myself overwhelmed by her needs, and when I allowed resentment to build up I began to grumble and complain about her to others. I know now that there were other ways of dealing with the issues I faced with Melanie, but when we allow ourselves to indulge in the more miserable, hurtful ways of coping with other people we deny ourselves the possibility of learning new, more effective and loving ways. I was allowing myself to grumble, to gossip and tear down someone who would have been utterly devastated if she knew what I was saying about her.

That much was obvious, as I sat beside her trying to console her. I was overwhelmed with a sense of shame. The ladies who's gossiping she had overheard were not close friends, but she respected them and wanted them to like her. I knew that if she had ever heard me involved in a conversation like that, it would have been disastrous. As I listened to her, I was in an inner dialogue with God. He was dealing with me in His severe, Fatherly way. He reminded me that the fact that Melanie didn't hear me talking about her like that was a protection for her, not for me. I'm pretty sure if she had been stronger and it would have led to something positive for her, God would have exposed me like a bug under a rock. And I deserved it. I was ashamed, and knew that I needed to change the way I looked at people and handled the frustration and even irritation when they arose. I had, and still sometimes am broken, and I know the care and patience that I hope for from those around me. I needed to be ready to offer the same to others.

Were it not for the forgiving love and power of God, I would probably still be wearing the scarlet "H" on my forehead. "H" for hypocrite. For pretending to be what I am not, pretending to think things I don't, pretending to be more patient and loving and self-controlled than I am. I think gossiping and tearing people down behind their backs is one of the clearest examples of hypocrisy, and one that very few of us escape. It's clear, because of the whole, "behind their back" thing. And saying nasty, rude, ugly things to people's faces doesn't clear us from the charge of hypocrisy unless we will also admit to being nasty, rude, ugly people. One definition of hypocrisy is this, insincerity by virtue of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have. Often people will be insulting and rude, and claim that they are just telling the truth. We can tell if these people are truly dedicated to the cause of truth by how well they handle the truth about themselves.

One of the main things that I learned from this incident with Melanie, aside from the horrid consequences of gossip and grumbling (don't believe for one moment that gossip is a victimless crime), is that I needed to be careful throwing words like "hypocrite" around. One of the ways that God instills kindness and mercy into us is by showing us who we really are, behind all the designer clothes, make up, trophies, bank accounts and titles. I couldn't even be angry at the ladies who had been gossiping about Melanie. I was below them, because I loved her! The thing with God is that while looking at ourselves as we truly are is a painful endeavor, it is also just a stepping stone. There is forgiveness available, instantly. There is the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us (ah, the mystery of it all!) to bring about growth in the beautiful fruits of His Spirit ~ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.(Galatians 5:22 - 23) There is freedom from the pull of doing these awful things, that begins when we are willing to admit that they are, indeed, awful and not just when they are being done to us, but also when they are being done by us. There is wisdom to show us other healthy, loving ways of dealing with things when we have given up our own messy, wrong ways.

So now, I use the word, hypocrite, lightly. I do my best to be real and honest. I make mistakes, and avail myself of God's grace and the forgiveness of the people around me often. I try really hard not to label entire people groups or religions as hypocritical because I believe that when we do that we are not being authentic ourselves. Besides, labels shut the door on truth. On second chances. On God's ability to change hearts and lives. On our prayers for others. On the possibility, however vague (ha ha) that we might not be in the position to know all the facts, all the details, all the truth involved. We certainly can't claim to know all the people in a certain group well enough to be able to claim, with any integrity, that they are all anything. I am more careful with my words, because I believe that my tongue is akin to a loaded gun. I seek to find my significance in God alone, in His view of me, in His love for me so that the opinions of others, while they may sadden me, are less likely to trigger a knee jerk anger reaction. It's either that, or cut my tongue out. I try because I care. I try because I am weak. And I try because going through the rubble of a life scarred by harsh words was a lesson I will never forget. I have since gone through the sting of what Melanie experienced. Going through it as a victim of it, though, wasn't nearly as poignant or powerful as being the guilty party. It is scary to look at ourselves with honesty and clarity at times. But what Melanie taught me is that it is scarier not to.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent*

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Have I mentioned that Marc lost his job?

So, Marc lost his job a couple of weeks ago. I guess I forgot to mention that here, haven't I? I didn't really forget. At first, I wanted to give Marc a chance to digest the news. He came home from a construction job he is doing for a friend of ours, with the news. The official reason was that his position was to be terminated. Marc was a technician for a company that sells systems for residential waste water management. He supervised installations, did inspections and repairs and had been working there for three years. Being let go so suddenly was a shock, to say the least.

It took us all a few days to incorporate the news into our lives, but Marc was understandably hit harder. He didn't sleep for several days, laying in bed thinking about what he might have done differently. After a bit of time and a discussion with a friend who is also an ex-employee of the company, he was able to find some perspective on the situation and relaxed a bit.

I realized, from walking this journey with him and watching how others would relate to him when he told them the news, that one of the hardest things for us to do when someone is hurting is listen. I have always been impressed with Job's friends in this aspect. I know that they went on to offer all sorts of unhelpful blather that has fueled countless sermons on the the evils of...well, unhelpful blather. But listen to their initial reaction to Job's considerable sorrows;

When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:11-13

These three guys went to Job and sat with him in the dirt for seven days and nights in complete silence. Am I alone in finding that simply remarkable? I know they said all the wrong things afterward, but I think there might be something about entering into another person's sorrow so faithfully that makes up for a considerable amount of stupid.

So Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, funky names aside, impress me. It's not easy to sit still and not try to fix other people's problems. I saw this with Marc. He just wanted to talk about what had happened and how he felt about it. He needed people to listen. Just listen.

He also needed lots of physical affection. Ladies, just a quick note here. If your husband is struggling with a blow like this, especially one that bats his self-esteem and sense of self-worth around like a beach ball, it is often helpful to use physical touch as a means of communicating concern, love and acceptance. Back rubs, hand holding, hugs, and yes, even making love can bring a lot of comfort to a man, especially if he is struggling to identify or communicate his concerns. As women, we often find comfort in difficult times though physical touch. We hug friends, pat hands, cuddle children, cry in each others' arms, stroke kittens, and just generally find ways to comfort ourselves. Men get much less physical touch than we do, and most of it comes from us. Never underestimate the value of a hand on his back, a brief touch in passing and other moments of intimacy to give him the unmistakable feeling of being loved and accepted no matter what is going on.

Learning to listen requires faith in God and His plans for us and others. It is a glorious thing to listen to someone talk themselves into godly solutions and mindsets. We understand that God is at work, through His Spirit, and we are mere servants in the process. It doesn't mean that words are not useful, but it is only after freely, patiently and trustingly listening that we can have any hope of our words being what we want them to be - comforting, wise, up-lifting. Also, if what comes out when we finally do open our mouths is mindless blather, well then at least we haven't completely messed up. Comforting others is often less about saying the right thing and more about being present.

This is something that I am only beginning to learn. You may not have noticed, but I have a tendency to be a bit wordy. Okay, how could you not have noticed? :) In any case, I read once that the type of fasting needed by most preachers (I would add teachers, speakers and writers as well) is a fasting of words. I tend to use words like my husband uses duct tape - to fix everything. Only, and I realize I may be offending a whole segment of the population here, duct tape doesn't actually fix everything. Neither do words.

So, Marc lost his job. He has a few leads on other jobs, and in the meantime, today he is setting up the chick nursery because on Friday, hopefully, the eggs in the incubator will hatch. Who knows where the next few months will lead us? Well, God knows. That is good enough for me. What I do know is that God loves us and has promised to care for us and that whatever happens, it will be an adventure.

That is also good enough for me!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Discipleship - Saying No To Myself

A couple of weeks ago, I was praying to God and telling Him that I wished to be like Jesus. I was confessing to Him that I was not like Jesus in the ways that I wanted, and was asking for help. In my heart, I heard the question, "In what ways are you not like Me? Be more specific." I realized that I was being very general. In fact, my generality bordered on insincerity. It was a blanket prayer, with no teeth to it, no intention or purpose. It was like, "Please God, make me smarter!" Smarter in what? Mathematics? Computer technology? As a mother? A chicken lady? A writer?

I stopped mid-prayer and thought for a minute. The answer that came soon to my mind was that I wanted God to help me to say no to myself the way Jesus did. As I sat and talked with God about it, I began to realize how difficult it is for me to say no to myself in many areas. I also began to realize how much I get to say yes to myself. The issue is not just denying myself things or experiences when need be, it is in my attitude when I have to. I have so many choices each day. We all do. And every choice gives us the opportunity to say yes or no to something that we want. It's not always obvious.

Many years ago, one mother told me that she had always laid out her husband's and adult son's clothes for them each day. It seemed like a wildly selfless act to me, until she told me why she did it. She liked for them to look the way she wanted them to, and was concerned that if they picked out their own clothes, their choices might be an embarrassment to her. She did it for her own pleasure and gratification, not as a gift to her family. There are "sacrifices" that I make during my day that really serve my desire to be thought of as a good mother and wife, that make my life and home more comfortable for all of my family, including myself or that serve to bring positive responses my way. We cannot really look at our lives objectively and decide whether or not we are truly selfless. Jesus talked about doing selfless deeds privately, because if we trumpet them from the rooftop, (or discreetly mention them to the town gossip), we have received our reward. A task done for a reward to self is not selfless, now, is it?

I, like may people, can tend to labor under the opinion that I am not appreciated enough and that my sacrifices go unnoticed too often. I have been known to adopt an air of righteous martyrdom. Thankfully, my 15 year old daughter has perfected the art of rolling her eyes and proclaiming, "Oh, puleeeeaaaase, Mother!" Nothing keeps one humbly grounded like a teenager, bless them.

The whole point of being a disciple is to follow the Rabbi so closely that one soon comes to look, talk, and act like Him. I don't think Jesus ever sported martyrdom chic, not even on the cross. In Matthew 4, Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the desert for a 40 day fast and a supreme test in saying no to Satan, and to Himself. Three times, after Jesus abstained from food for 40 days, Satan tempted Him by offering Jesus food to eat, a supernatural display of God's care for Him and power over the kingdoms of the world. To each offer, Jesus said no. Even though Jesus was interacting with Satan, ultimately He was being forced to deny Himself not simply comforts but nourishment that His body must have been screaming for. His answer to each temptation was direct and to the point, "It is written..." Essentially, Jesus responding to everything Satan said with, "God said..."

God said that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from His mouth.

God said that we should not test Him.

God said I must only worship and serve Him.

God said no.

I, on the other hand, am lousy at saying no to myself, even when saying no would be in my best interest. Don't get me wrong. I know how to say no to my daughter. To the kitten climbing my leg. To the dog losing it on the bunny and shaking him until his teeth fall out. To the telemarketer guy who calls at suppertime to offer me a deal I can't refuse. I can say no to the infomercial people. I can so say no to a Snuggie. I can say no and back it up with the broom, to the rooster. And I am not totally useless at telling myself no. But I want to be able to do it with the freedom and grace that Jesus did it.

So I specifically asked God to help me to say no to myself more. The first step is confession, and then the Holy Spirit heightens awareness within me so I can see where and when I am allowing my desire for my own way to master me. I can already see God working in me as I continue to pray and be open to His gentle but oh so firm revelations about my own heart.

Last week I went to a health food store in Valleyfield looking for aloe vera capsules. I bought some on-line for a company called Desert Harvest, which does research in aloe vera for several chronic illnesses, including the bladder disease that I have, interstitial cystitis. I bought a bottle of their freeze dried, super concentrated capsules, and had wonderful results with it. Unfortunately, a one month supply costs almost $70.00. I have been trying to find a similar product, with a comparable concentration of aloe at a cheaper price. Aloe vera juice is not suitable because in order for it to keep, it must be pasteurized, which kills the benefits from the plant, or it needs to have citric acid added to it, which defeats the purpose for IC patients who need to minimize the acid that makes it to the bladder.

The health food store didn't have aloe vera capsules, but they had a liquid called Alo-Chloro, which is a foul concoction of aloe vera juice and chlorophyll. It is supposed to help acidic stomachs, and I thought it might work for bladders as well. I bought a bottle, and when I got it home I realized that I had paid $40.00 for the most vile tasting liquid I had ever tasted. The stuff tasted like grass, only not as good. Chewed grass. Maybe even the grass stuff that cows whip up out of their cuds when they're bored. Truly nasty. It is dark green, and stains everything. Of course I had no idea how foul it was when I bought it. Talk about buyers' remorse. I take a tbsp of it every morning, especially now that I have run out of the Desert Harvest capsules. I ordered more capsules last night, but in the meantime, I have to use this stuff. Have I mentioned how nasty it is?

I put the Alo-chloro stuff in a fancy aperitif glass with a shot of sweetened blueberry juice to hide the color. Inevitably and inexplicably, I always smell it before I take it. Like, one day it will magically smell (and therefore taste) like fresh berries or chocolate or something. I don't breath through my nose when I am taking it, so it just tastes sweet and cold. Then I breath, at which point I do what is becoming my daily dance of gagging revulsion. I have to admit, though, that having an audience does add a certain intensity and vigor to the dance.

Forcing myself to down an aperitif glass full of Alo-chloro is so minor, it barely counts. But it counts. Saying no is getting easier. Every baby step helps. Whether it is choking down my medicine, or forgoing an extra few bites of food at a meal time when I am full, or cheerfully watching a movie that someone else wants to watch, God is answering my prayer. It's all so small, it's a bit embarrassing, but I keep thinking of God asking me to be specific, to break my vague prayer into daily realities, and I know that He is meeting me where I am.

Great spiritual transformations happen because a disciple of Jesus catches a glimpse of Him in a new and beloved way, and longs to follow Him even there.

Who knows? Maybe someday, the Alo-chloro dance will become a jig of joy!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Verbal Bullying - Not just a schoolyard thing...

Over time the sting has lessened. God is an amazing healer. But I remember the words, if not the burn. And I wish it had been an isolated incident. But these things rarely are.

I was in a church board meeting. One of the church lay leaders was accusing me of something, a moral misstep that would have had severe repercussions in my life and the lives of others if it was true. It wasn't true, though. I said that it wasn't true. In a moment of utter disrespect and rudeness, the lay leader flippantly referred to me by using the name of a "celebrity" who had committed the same sin that I was being accused of, and who went to great lengths to hide it. It was one name, two words, pregnant with meaning and accusations. Flippant so as to be passed over as the flow of discussion continued with no reactions at all from a group of people that I had always called friends and family in the faith. It even took a moment to sink into my head. What had he said? Did he mean...? Really? And this is okay with everyone?

The truth is, I will never know if it actually was okay with everyone else, that this person had said these words. One of the primary results of verbal bullying is that it silences not just the victim, but those listening. Who wants to end up on the radar of someone who speaks like this? Some of the people in the room were working towards the same goals as this lay leader, and whether or not they agreed with his methods, they seemed willing to accept them if they led to the desired end. What they may not have realized is that verbal bullying and abuse never result in anything positive. It is especially abhorrent when these methods are employed in the church. We are never...NEVER... to use Satan's tools to accomplish God's will. It just does not work that way. What we end up with is a semblance of godliness that disguises a whole lot of ugly.

A truthful witness gives honest testimony,
but a false witness tells lies.
Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
Proverbs 12:17 - 19

So, what is verbal bullying? It is the use of ridicule, insults, name calling, a raised, aggressively forceful or angry voice, labeling, mocking or otherwise using words to hurt another person, especially in response to their opposing opinions or point of view. It is using words to shut down someone, to deter them from speaking their minds, to try to defeat their arguments by defeating the person as opposed to addressing the facts. The term bullying tends to apply to a power inequality. Two equally opinionated, wildly tempered people going at it over coffee at the local coffee shop may not be bullying. A married couple having a spat and saying things they will regret later may be hurtful and inappropriate, but may not necessarily be bullying. It may also not always be verbal. I have seen cold, dismissive stares shrink the spirit of someone trying to share an opinion. It is not always loud, and it can even sound civil to anyone who is standing on the outside looking in. Most of us are quite schooled in the fine art of crumpling another person's spirit. It is a heart issue. It is a desire within us to win, to defeat an opponent, to burn a person while the issues get tossed in a pile as mere kindling to our flames. It is bullying when the victim is caught off-guard, is intimidated, is unable to defend themselves. When there is an authority inequality, as with a teacher and student, pastor and parishioner, parent and child, verbal aggression almost always equals bullying.

Most of us are much more aware of the times we have been bullied, and much less aware of our own propensity for bullying others. Freedom from both being a victim and being an aggressor lies in a deepening, personal relationship with God, who is passionately in love with us and every other person we meet. As we enter into His Presence, find rest in His ways and His love, His passions become our passions and we become sensitive to the pain we cause others, and strengthened in our positions as His beloved children. I am much less easily bullied than I used to be, because bullying implies a power inequality, and I am filled with the power of the Holy Spirit of God and secure in my place in His heart. It is difficult to over-power the gentle, strong, compassionate, peaceful, joyful power of God in one of His children. I am also becoming less likely to bully others, as my heart is softened by God's love for others. When I am tempted to use anger to force my daughter into a place of obedience, the hurt in her eyes and the whisper of God's spirit in my heart remind me of the wrongness of my actions. God gives us the freedom to express our feelings and opinions, to fully experience our sorrows and pain, and to be at peace with the feelings and opinions of others even when they do not match ours.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5 - 11

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

In His Steps...Really?

Lately I have been re-reading Charles Sheldon's "In His Steps". I read it years ago, after I began to follow Jesus, and was very moved by the story and the idea of patterning my life after Jesus Christ's. "In His Steps" is the story of a small church whose members make the commitment to ask, "What would Jesus do?" The changes in their lives that result from their commitment bring them hardships, sacrifices and trouble, but also great joy and peace.

I have to admit, as I re-read this wonderful story, one question keeps coming to mind. How did such a revolutionary, profound idea as patterning one's life after the life of Jesus Christ lead to a logo, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), that would end up engraved on jewelry, stamped on fashionable clothing and fixed onto placards and bumper stickers to be used to adorn our fine homes and vehicles? How did we come to turn a solemn, life changing question into easy banter, a flip observation, an experiment?

I understand the hesitation to embrace the lifestyle of discipleship to Jesus. Luke 14:25 - 35 talks about counting the cost of discipleship, and it is high.

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

It is important to understand that until we are ready to go all the way that Jesus will lead, we need to spend time in prayer and preparation, allowing God to strengthen us and help us prepare for the journey. A wise pastor once told me that if I was not willing to take a certain step for God, I could ask God to make me willing, or even willing to be willing if needed. I did just that, and a year later when the step of faith was presented to me, I was able to leap into it without hesitation. God is faithful in the face of our most pitiful weaknesses!

We are fooling ourselves in thinking that He will accept half-hearted disciples who wish to remain half-hearted. But those who confess half-heartedness and desire more are met with love and compassion and great, heart changing power.

I understand that the hesitation. What I don't get is the whole-hearted embracing of the WWJD motto without whole-heartedly embracing the actual commitment!

For the people in the book, for Charles Sheldon, WWJD was written on their hearts in sweat and tears. It was not embossed in gold on calfskin leather Bibles. Or engraved in a shiny medallions. Am I advocating against these things? Of course not. As with all things spiritual, this is a heart issue. The commitment to living as Jesus would, to choosing in every decision to do what Jesus would do led to people giving up lives of self-actualization, self-indulgence, self-focus, unadulterated comfort, social standing and financial security in order to place their hope in something greater and their efforts in something far more precious than anything they had worked towards before.

These choices were not those that they made for each other. The spirit of the book is one of grace, patience, kindness and a deep respect for their fellow disciples. Each person worked out their own path to obedience to Christ from their own relationships with Him. There was a humility of spirit that prevented judgmental attitudes towards each other.

I am speaking to myself as much as to anyone. When I re-read this book, my first thought was surprise. It felt like I was reading it for the first time. I didn't remember all the pain and sacrifices. Maybe I felt admiration for these fine, courageous people. Maybe I wished I had wealth that I too could sacrifice for Jesus. I have learned since that I am wealthy, in many ways, and have much to share with others. Do I share my wealth in a way that Jesus wants me too? Believe me, I am speaking to myself.

I have a lot of questions today. Not a lot of answers, though. I think these may be the kind of answers that take time and prayer to find. I think...I believe they are worth the effort. Jesus is worth the effort.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Following Jesus - The Unmerciful Servant/How does our sin compare?

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:23 - 35

If you are anything like me, you sometimes have an internal dialogue that goes something like this;

"I can't believe she did that! I mean, I know that I do things wrong, too, but that's just nasty. Plus, at least I try to do the right thing. Look at all the people she's hurting! When I mess up, at least the only person I hurt it myself..."

Now, I have to confess, the more I see myself from God's perspective, the less I indulge in conversations like the above. Having a fifteen year old daughter who knows me better than I know myself also helps in this area. The temptation, though, to compare my sin with the sin of others and make sure I come out favorably is strong. It is also one of the things that can make forgiving others more difficult.

Be honest now, doesn't it feel less sinful to cheat the government or McDonald's out of money than it does to cheat your best friend? Isn't it easier to lie to a stranger than to your wife? It is possible to speculate that the unmerciful servant considered his huge debt to an already unspeakably wealthy king as less of a wrong than his friend's small debt to him, someone without wealth. After all, doesn't the king make his money through taxes from the people? The servant's large debt is just a drop in the bucket. $20.00 would really come in handy. Besides, friends pay back friends.

It is clear to all of us that the consequences of different sins vary in severity. I would much rather someone be rude to my daughter than to wound her physically or take her life. The tendency is to judge the wrongness of certain sins according to the severity of the consequences, or potential consequences. This makes sense when it comes to human justice. Jail time for robbing a convenience store should be less than for taking a human life. Society allots punishments according to a standard that is generally agreed on by members of the society. Still, we are prone to desire leniency for ourselves. Harsh drunk driving penalties make perfect sense to the parents of teens learning to drive. For the one who routinely drives drunk, the penalties indicate that someone is making a big deal out of nothing. The drunk driver, though, will agree that first degree murder penalties should be severe.

I believe that it is a part of the sin nature within us all, that we have a blind spot when it comes to our own sin. For most of us, the issues aren't as large as drunk driving verse murder. We struggle with sins that seem smaller, and can lure us into believing that our failure to meet the standard of Jesus is much more benign than it is.

Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. Indulge in sin, and the payment you will receive is spiritual death and destruction. Galatians 5 highlights the acts of the sinful natures, and sins such as hate, jealously, selfish ambition and being drunk keep company with orgies, witchcraft and idolatry. God sees sin differently than we do. Sin destroys. Jesus, in this parable, is equating our sin debt as humongous, while the individual sins that we are asked to forgive in others are small in comparison. I understand that the consequences of the sins committed against us can be devastating. I have found myself, on too many occasions to count, crumpled in a wounded pile because of the sin and betrayal of others. There are sins that could be committed against me that I cannot imagine being able to forgive. I have been left speechless in the face of what people have had to endure because of monstrous, horrific sin. I do not write this lightly. In fact, I write this only because I have complete faith in the wondrous freedom that God offers us when we walk in His ways.

'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

Refusing forgiveness to another means refusing forgiveness for ourselves. We have been set free from our own sin, and it was not so that we could be enslaved to resentment, anger, rage and hatred because of the sins of others! The unmerciful servant was set free from his debt, but he left the castle an enslaved man, and when he met his friend, he behaved as an enslaved man, which led to him becoming, in reality, an enslaved man again.

It may be scary to see ourselves as we truly are, but we must allow Jesus to show us our true selves, from His eyes of love. We will at once be shamed by the reality of our sin debt, and full of joy at the pure, unadulterated love in His eyes as the reality of our canceled debt sinks in. The power of God within us can literally change our anger into love, our pain into something wonderful, our forgiveness into a gift that changes our world.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Following Jesus - The Unmerciful Servant//Has The Gift Been Received?

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:23 - 35

It should be easier to forgive others in light of how much believers in Christ have been forgiven. But it isn't. When I am hurt, I struggle to forgive. While the pain may be in my heart, the battle is in my head. The arguments, justifications, memories, and angry words are in my head. I think most of us are like that. When we lie awake at night, it's because we are thinking. It's hard to turn our brains off when we have been hurt. So, what are we thinking? What was the unmerciful servant thinking?

We can't really know exactly what he was thinking, as the scripture doesn't tell us. We can speculate, though. One thing that I have always suspected lies in the fact that the servant begged the king for more time to pay off his debt, while the king actually canceled the debt. I don't know whether it was arrogance, pride or desperation that led to the promise to repay the debt, because it was an impossible one for him to pay. It just wasn't going to happen. No doubt he desired to pay it off. Having to borrow money can be painful enough to the pride. Not being able to pay it back is so much worse. Is it possible that he did not catch the word "cancel" coming out of the king's mouth? Or that he understood that the king was canceling the debt, but still intended to pay it back? Maybe he didn't want to accept charity. Maybe it made him feel small and weak. Maybe he had a "Real men pay their debts" bumper sticker on his donkey. Whatever the case, it is obvious that he did not leave the castle with any sense of gratitude, which means that while he was given a huge gift, he somehow did not receive it.

So, he's walking down the road making plans to pull in a few debts himself, gather a bit of money, maybe start making payments to the king. When he meets up with a fellow servant who owes him a few bucks, the collecting starts. His friend doesn't have the money and begs for more time, for mercy. The unmerciful servant is unrelenting. Who has more time? He has debts to pay! To the king! For goodness sake, he's still shaking from the thought of being sold to pay his debt! And if he has to pay back his debt, so does his friend. There is no time for mercy, no room for kindness.

Now, I don't know that this is what he was thinking. But I see that this is what some of us think. We come to Jesus with an awareness of our sin debt, we know what we have become, what we have done. Jesus gives us full forgiveness, our debt is canceled, washed away, leaving us clean and whole, in full relationship with Jesus. We may walk away with a sense of relief and love, but then things get weird. We are told that we are fully forgiven by the mercy of God, but then we are given a list of rules to follow, and we realize there is an expectation that we do things. Tithe. Stop swearing. Take our turn in the nursery. Lengthen our skirts. We may experience disapproval by the church if we do not do these things. They are expected. We thought we were signing into a relationship with Jesus that was based on His love for us, but we find that it seems we actually signed into a way of doing things that would please God...to earn His love? No, they say that's not why we do the things we do, but it seems like it. They say our faith should show itself in works. We get that. But we just met Jesus, and our faith is small. Shouldn't the focus be on growing our faith? Could we just spend a little time with Jesus, like a honeymoon or something?

In any case, the work begins and confusion can set in. If we are good workers, we feel good about ourselves and may begin to feel like God really approves of us. If we struggle, we sometimes sense resentment from certain members of the church. We see that the majority of their contact with us is designed to resolve our issues, not to be our friends. We can't get together with the more mature Christians for coffee and fellowship without it becoming a counseling session because the thing that seems to stand out about us is not our hopes and dreams and loves and fears and joys, but our failure to do what we're supposed to be doing. Sometimes it is our own pride that leaves us determined to earn our way to God. Yes, He offers it freely, but we are able to earn it. We need to at least try. After all, doesn't God help those who help themselves?

This doesn't happen to all of us, but it can happen. And when it does, we leave the church as the servant left the castle, believing that we have just been given another opportunity to earn what we owe. The gift has been given, but not received. The result is anger, resentment and a lack of kindness and mercy to others who owe us a sin debt.

The initial meeting with Jesus, like the servant's meeting with the king, is to deal with the sin debt that interferes with our relationship with Him. We can't be close to Him because our sin keeps us at arms' length. God forgives our sin totally, and the relationship is begun. It is full, complete, unrestricted and unhampered. It's literally starting the relationship at the marriage altar. We are the bride, He is the Bridegroom. Nothing can separate us from His love. From there, we certainly need to get to know this wonderful new Person in our lives, but nothing we do from here on in will be any more effective than anything we could have done in the past to earn God's love and forgiveness.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:9 - 10

The stuff that we do for God is done out of gratitude, love and a sense of purpose. It is like the servant who had been forgiven a large debt frequently showing up at the castle to tend the roses outside the king's bedroom because he knows the king loves the scent and beauty of the flowers. It is done not to earn forgiveness, but to celebrate it!

When we fully grasp our freedom because of what Jesus has done for us, the celebration begins. It is important, if we are struggling to forgive others, to ask God to show us if, in our hearts, we have really received the gift of forgiveness that He has given. It would be a tragedy to live out our lives with this glorious gift left in a back closet, still unwrapped. Once we receive it, truly and fully, it gets much easier to offer the same to others. We may need a reminder once in a while from God, to be graceful and merciful. But when He speaks, it will be a reminder that will result in quick attitude, mind and heart changes.

If you have come to Jesus Christ and asked Him for forgiveness for your sins, make sure you have fully unwrapped the gift of forgiveness! Throw the wrapping paper in the air with joy, twirl around the room with the ribbons hanging from your hands! Show your gift to anyone who is interested. Illustrate the wonder of the gift by giving them your forgiveness freely, as a sample of the gift outstretched in God's hand. Never stop celebrating, never stop thanking Him, never stop reveling in the awesomeness of it all. By doing this, you ensure that the next time someone needs your forgiveness, your cup of joy and mercy will be so full it will splash over on them before they are finished asking!
My Zimbio