Advent Waiting: Moments of Movement Differences in Grieving

There must have been total chaos in the creation of the universe. I like the way it is depicted in the movie The Tree of Life. Thundering, crashing, upheaval…  rolling in and out of darkness and light…

… constant movement…  bringing about beauty.

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Bringing about life.

It’s as if the beauty of creation had to be filled with confusion to depict what was to come. Darkness. Brokenness. Pain. Death. What is.

Not what will be.

Life. Redemption. Restoration. Beauty.

No pain.

Sometimes life in the now, but not yet, is simply awful. It’s a dance of pain and joy. Heartache and healing. Clarity and confusion. Stillness and agitation. 

We wait for the Child King; we wait for redemption from pain.

We wait for the not yet, to be the finally now. 

He said he was sad on Friday, December 9th, the day before the day of sadness. I was sad on the day of sadness. It’s not that there aren’t other moments in time when I feel the loss – not a day goes by that my son who isn’t, but is, is far beyond the reaches of my conscious thoughts. I carry him with me always. Never here, yet always here.

But December 10th is the day. It’s the day that didn’t exist for that decade plus more when grief was repressed. It was December 7th or 8th, and then it was December 13th or 14. Like vapor, days just passed by without notice. I couldn’t notice. It was deep inside in a place where light doesn’t shine. Hidden in darkness I didn’t have to look at pain. I didn’t have to think. Or feel. Or remember.

Or live with “what if?”

For greater than a decade we didn’t talk about it. If he was sad, he didn’t express it. If I was sad, I didn’t know it. For me it was all deep down in the darkness waiting to spill out in an angry mess.

They say that’s how repressed memories are. They simply don’t exist, suspended in a dissociation of elapsed time.

He is an instrumental griever – a doer. He expresses grief by getting busy. I am an intuitive griever – a thinker feeler. I need to process.

I need to dance. 

I need to be in the abstract (like now) when only those who think in the abstract understand –in that place beyond words, where thoughts run in a pattern of ordered chaos. After almost fifteen years of repression, I need the the warmth of what can be and with a spark of imagination to find my momentum into the pain.

He wants to stay away from all that. Away from pain. Away from my grief. “I’ll wash dishes.” “I’ll vacuum. ” The subconscious thoughts drive him to his movement of grief, and away from my mine, even as he tries to do those things which are helpful.

Grief is hard work. Marriage is hard work. Grief in marriage is chaos.

One of the burdens of grief in relationship is that people express grief differently. It’s a simple concept really.

Not really.

When I need him, he is far away. Grieving in his way, and in his time. 

It can be lonely. Really, really, lonely.

I want to grieve together; he wants to grieve alone.

Yet it is all movement and movement is healing.

The only way to heal from our brokenness is through the movement that  flows in and out of our brokenness.

If we rest in brokenness too long the life is sucked out of us. It’s a  vacuum of endless sorrow, devoid of light. The movement is lost and we float without direction.

Still. Unmoving. Without air.

If we try to stay out of the brokenness, we miss the waves of growth that grace pours out only in the darkest places.

The movement is big, disturbing.

Creative. 

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The movement is small, a whisper, floating on the breeze.

If we listen carefully we can hear the voice in the movement.

“It’s your grief not his. It belongs to you and you alone.”

“It’s his grief and not yours, it belongs to him and him alone.”

The movement is a dance of grief. The Holy Spirit spinning with me as we twirl through a cosmos of sadness… and joy… and sadness… and sadness… and joy… and joy…

When the Spirit is the choreographer, the movement is a perfect blend of grace filled Light within the darkness. He is the perfect partner to guide us through the chaotic endless movement of brokenness.

No two dances are alike. He has crafted each one to move in a different way. Unique. Beautiful.

Sometimes I stomp on His toes and hurt my feet. I want to dance my way, not His. Anger fills the space where harmony demands attention.

A dance of life.

It’s only when I step away from my Spirit Partner – my Choreographer- that my dance is confused with David’s waltz. He also dances with the Spirit. It’s a movement designed just for him. It doesn’t look anything like mine. But when he allows himself to enter into it, it is beautiful as well. Graceful. Purposeful. Healing.

Sometimes we just have to switch partners and accept that not everyone dances well together. The dance of grief is best led by the Spirit. No one else can lead. No one. 

As I was writing this yesterday a young boy died in a tragic accident.

A family torn.  Chaos. The circumstances for this family – this mother –  is reminiscent of the natural disaster victims I have been with.

Loss upon loss. Pain upon pain. Darkness within darkness.  

They will not find the rhythm of the dance for a very, very, long time.

Kyrie eleison seems to be my hearts cry this Advent season. Lord have mercy.

Only the One who sees the beginning and the end can enter into the darkness and reveal the way out. Maybe He’ll allow me to help facilitate that meeting – to reveal a movement in and out of brokenness for a newly torn family, here in my own community. For now I’ll pray.

For now we wait. 

For now we dance. 

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelations

Solus Christus

 

 

 

 

Advent Grief: Finding Hope in the Midst of Memory

Advent grief defies description.

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Depending upon where we are in our grief journey, it draws us in during Advent.  A mixture of overwhelming sadness with living Hope; growing despair with gentle resolve.

Ache with joy; doubt with faith.

God with Us.

For those who embrace Advent as a season of Hope, remembering loved ones who have died somehow diminishes the light. The grief seems darker, heavier. It’s wearying.

It’s gripping.

The reason for Advent doesn’t dim. The glimmer of Love isn’t distinguished.  It’s the journey out of grief  – it feels longer, more tiring, our hearts get heavey as we struggle – further up and further in.

When the grief is new, raw, and all encompassing, the way out is elusive.

Just beyond our grasp.

Our hearts alone become our guides as we blindly feel our way with our hands, cut and bleeding – the sharp edges of grief try to snare us and prevent us from moving forward into the pain.

There is a need for darkness. A need for quiet.

There is a comfort in the darkness. Sitting in the twilight of a new day with nothing but the glimmer of Christmas lights, I shy away from the glare of the sun. There is a safety alone in the quiet with the gentle glistening.

The light of day exposes my vulnerability and forces me to deal with it.

 Get up.

 Move.

Grow.

Remember.

As if the hole in my heart could ever forget.

I want to be stagnant for a season – a day in the season, or two days, or three – like a winter bulb buried in the cold, asleep, waiting for spring. Just let me rest here a while in my grief.

As we move out of the darkness the light is often so blinding we need to move back into the darkness. Just for a while.

And adjust our hearts to what lies before us.

I don’t retreat into deep darkness anymore, but I will always have moments of darkness. I don’t want to lose them. To lose them is to lose him. To lose the moments is to lose empathy for the darkness.

He would be 26 today. My little dark haired babe who never opened his eyes. I want to see his eyes, I want to know the feel of his sweet baby breath on my face.

Today, it is what never was that shouts into the dark.

No good memories. Only the searing pain of labor which ended long ago – overshadowed by the pain of never seeing him move.

Never tiptoeing into the room just to listen to him breathe or watch him sleep.

No playing, giggling, or walking.

I’ll never see him marry, or know the love of another daughter welcomed into my life.

No baby breath.

No “mama” words.

No embrace.

No “Welcome home son. I’ve missed you.”

Instead, he will welcome me home.

Baby yet, or twenty-six, in the place that knows not time or pain.

I had a baby boy who filled the never was for a season. A grandson who tried to make his entrance on this day, and entered into the hole in my heart. 

Not so long ago.

He filled it with December wonder in the place where winter pain had rested.

He gave me a reason to celebrate this time of the year, with Happy Birthday, and December labors that ended in physical life.

He is also out of my reach these days.

Just beyond my grasp.

The pain is complicated like the complication of the labor, where the end result was unknown, and you never quite understand how you got to this place. 

Only heaven knowns the end of the beginning when eternity is in motion.

My birth was violent. Tearing. Painful. Gentleness was absent.

There was no breath of life. Sometimes I struggle to breathe now. Missing what never was, what was, and what is yet to be.

Twenty six years ago today, he was birthed out of darkness into True Light. His first breath was a breath of Life.

Two thousand years ago He was birthed out of True Light into darkness.

Jesus’ birth defies imagination. God born of woman, to become man.

The mystery of Jesus the Christ is the mystery of Christmas. The violence of the cross had already claimed Him at his birth in a great eternal Alpha and Omega. It is the time and absence of time that only the creator of all things lives in.

Birth is often violent. Death is often violent.                                                                                 Birth is often gentle. Death is often gentle.                                                                                       The constant is Christ. He suffered it all. He understands it all. He is present in it all.

This morning in the stillness He is present. The glimmering of the lights on the tree are gentle. They call me to weep. They call me to rejoice. They call me to remember. They call me to Life.

The voice of Jesus whispers to my saddened heart that the end is not yet. There is so much of eternity to live with my babe. So much Life where the Son shines without end.

I will know as I am known.

I will love as I am loved.

I will see and understand.

My hope lies in the One who is greater than me. In a purpose that is bigger than me. In a Light that is brighter than my darkened heart can handle right now.

As the sun begins to spill through the windows, the tree lights begin to fade. The Light has called me back to breathe, move, and live. There is so much life. So much to live for. So much to do.

To be.

The light in my heart grows brighter. Lit by the memory of two infants – one born dead – one born to die.

Both, very much alive. Both waiting for me.

In memories of Hope. 

Happy Birthday Micaiah James Grubb. You are loved.

You are missed. You are so very, very, very, missed.

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And regarding the question, friends that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.   I Thessalonians 4:13-18  The Message

Beauty in the Now; Lessons From My Son

Our youngest son Samuel was adopted from Kazakhstan, just two weeks short of his third birthday.

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The first year, or two, or three that he was home were filled with both joys and challenges. I mean, how could they not be?

Samual Miras,  “Miras Smagulov Kaponovich” was not one of the orphaned children who ran to meet the strangers, accepted treats, or wanted to run off and play. He was the toddler who caused “trouble” because he preferred to stay with his caregivers, have a book read to him, and be loved on by those he knew.

All good signs for an orphaned child in an institution. 

Then we showed up to be his parents and he didn’t want anything to do with us. We took him away from everything he had known (I appreciated the mandatory 21 days of in-country, in orphanage, bonding time so he at least knew us).

We took him from everyone he had known- to a small child this was his  community, peers – brothers and sisters to a small child. The smells were different, the food was different. Cars, planes, appointments, check ups, pictures, visas….

The routine – the routine that never, ever, ever, ever, ever changed in an orphanage in Kazakhstan. The routine was shot, gone, kaput, over.

The neural pathways in his brain that had formed in that routine simply did not know what to make of the changes. The fear response was huge.

Terrifying. 

He didn’t yet know that the hand that was leading him, compelling him to move forward, to walk on wobbly legs, holding him close as he kicked to get away, forcing experiences and greater horizons, enlarging his world…

Did it all for love. He didn’t know the one causing pain loved him more than life itself. 

For many of these formerly orphaned children they have challenges stacked up against them. Trauma, pain, loss…

This blog is not about that – this blog is about life. There will be challenges yet to be revealed. We all have our own inadequacies, shadows, and egos – illusions to overcome throughout our entire lives. It’s all part of the process of living. 

Sam has overcome his challenges to become a young man full of grace, talented, loving, and with a very old soul. 

I can’t help but compare his life and redemption to the life of all of us. Life is scary. It is wrought with challenges and choices. Every day we face the moment by moment choice of loving the Other or saving the Self. Love or hate. Sacrifice or gain. Me or you.

Yet, we too are held by the hand of  One who leads us. Even when we don’t really know Him, when the love hasn’t grown yet, when we are scared, alone, and facing unknown territory, He is still there pushing us forward…

Into the painful, into the joy, the growth, the health, and the peace.

Life is a symphony; sometimes it’s the soothing tones of the cello as it sadly sings a days end lullaby. Other times we hear the thundering piano concerto stirring us to fight.  The Maestro is orchestrating, but we often fail to recognize what piece He is playing.

Lenten Longins Sam cello

I believe those early years of suffering as a child somehow created a deep spiritual sense for Sam – of life – but more – the ethereal – the metaphysical – beyond words or description.

Sam hears the music.

He sees the unseen. 

Glimpses of God. 

Hidden in the recesses of memory, and formed by the Holy Spirit he holds to an inner knowing.

 I am often awed by how he seems to connect with the deeper things of life that are foreign to people years ahead of him. Foreign to many people for their entire lives. If I am honest, often foreign to me. What I struggle to embrace comes naturally to him.

Age, does not always equate with emotional or spiritual maturity.

Sam is a photographer but he captures more than just scenery in his photos – he captures life. He doesn’t see through the eye of his lens just something that would look good in print, he sees the essence of it – he sees the eternal.

Sam is teaching me to see. Not through the toddler’s eyes that consumed so many years of my life as the mother of a large family, but through the eyes of being.

Eyes that remind me that in every moment is the thread of times past, present, and eternal. A tapestry that is woven from being to being, place to place, season to season, moment to moment. 

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I’ll let Sam speak for himself:

“Welcome Autumn, with your vibrant colors of red, orange, yellow and brown. Welcome all the misty afternoons and refreshingly crisp air. Welcome all the hats and sweatshirts and warm fires that set an orange glow on the walls. Welcome those long walks down winding roads that call old memories of past joys; the crunch of leaves beneath your feet as you walk. Welcome leaf piles and rakes and crisp apples that are picked with care. Welcome rosy cheeks and cold noses and warm hands in red mittens. Welcome Autumn with all you hold, pointing us to something greater.”

You can see more of  SamShots photos on his Facebook page.

Just Breathe in the Moment – Breathe in Shalom

It’s there in the moment.

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Sandwiched between the sadness and the joy. Between the love and the difficult relationships. Between the sun and the clouds. Between till death do us part, and lets talk about this another time. Between confidence and fear. Between self-preservation and laying down our lives. 

Between risking it all, and guarding our hearts.

Between finding God and losing Him.

Shalom

I am starting to understand Shalom in this time between times as I listen to the rhetoric of a political figure who incites fear and anger. I wonder what has happened to our country – to respecting those in authority as given by God even when we don’t agree. To respect each other and our different opinions – the fabric of freedom.

It is a higher calling to love others rather than to hate –  to have faith instead of fear.

All politics aside – I serve the Son of  a Middle Eastern immigrant who also happens to be the Son of God, born of the Holy Ghost, and born to die that others may live.

A Middle Eastern immigrant who had to flee persecution and death on several occasions beginning as a wee child.

We are compelled to give the person who asks us for our shirt – our coat as well.

We are encouraged if asked to walk one mile to willingly go two instead.

We are called to lay down our life for others with a promise that if we hold tightly to our own lives we will lose them, but if we give up our life we will gain – everything.

We will gain Christ. 

We are called to love, love, and then love some more. We are not called to Patriotism but to Kingdom life.

We are not called to an American flag but a Banner of Love.

We are called to an expansion of the Kingdom, not an expansion of our government.

We are called to this moment in time.

We are called to the person next to us on the bus who is a different color, a different race, a different ethnicity, a different religion – but of one blood. We as Christ followers have the Spirit whispering to us, “You were called for such a time as this.” The pain, the suffering, the wars, the genocides, the immigrants, the oppressed – we were called for them.

The hurting, the weak, the despised. 

We can’t love without Shalom. True Agape love can’t spring forth from the polluted waters of fear, self-preservation or anger. 

Shalom is so much more than peace. Shalom is complete wholeness, peace, tranquility – it is our emotions at harmony with everything that is –  breathing to the rhythm of God’s love. It is a state of being even when everything around you is in a state of doing.

It’s outwardly weeping the pain of one of our children while we breath in it is well with my soul. 

It is crossing thoughts of movie theater terrorism carried away by the laughter of happy grandchildren eating popcorn without a care.

It’s overcoming the fear of flying and seeing the in the Middle Eastern Muslim sitting across from you the face of Jesus instead of the face of the enemy.

Our Triune God is great. Our country is just a group of people fighting to do the best we can with fallen perspectives and selfishness and sin striving against the guiding compass of Love with a small measure of finite greatness. 

We as disciples are to live in the moment of Shalom. It is well with our souls when we put others first.

We must recognize that we are afraid, and fear produces cognitive dissonance…

…and cognitive dissonance causes spiritual dissonance…

…and spiritual dissonance is not where Shalom abides.

Shalom resides only in the God who was willing to lay down His rights – His very life that we as immigrant children could be adopted as sons and daughters into a Kingdom without end, without boundaries, without wars, pain, or suffering. A Kingdom party of Imago Dei.

We can’t invite enemies to the party – we won’t get close enough to them to do that. We must invite friends, acquaintances and neighbors.

We are called to inhale a time as this – and bring others into that breath. 

(All photography courtesy of my son Samuel – SamShots )

 

 

Pot Lucks, Trauma, and Relationship

What does trauma, pot lucks, and relationships have to do with each other?

In my world a lot. 

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For so many years grief was an abstract concept. I was a  “Christian.” I didn’t acknowledge anxiety, depression, mental health… (sadly so many still don’t.)

I overcame.

When diagnosed with PTSD my response to the doctor was “That’s impossible, I have the peace that passes understanding!”

 After all, in our Christian cult if our prayers weren’t answered it was a lack of faith or disobedience for whatever sins we may have been involved in – and that covered a multitude – from owning a TV, to women wearing pants, to listening to secular or Christian rock, to reading books with any magic like C.S. Lewis or Tolkien, to being in debt for anything – ever – to… 

The list of don’ts was very long. The do’s were summed up quickly. 

Especially sinful was going to the “arm of the flesh” – the doctors, the lawyers, the insurance salesman. Psalm 91 was our “assurance policy.”

If you lacked faith to trust, you didn’t love God and He wouldn’t love you. It fed right into my perfectionist upbringing where nothing was ever quite right – not good enough, perfect enough. Too much ice. Not hot enough. You look like a slut in that shirt. 

“Perfect love casts out fear.” If we were afraid, we didn’t love God.

Fear, control, and manipulation is used far too often within church relationships, to persuade insecure people to confirm to what an individual person believes is truth.

When Micaiah died there were little comforting words of “I’m sorry.” Instead people wanted to know where we had “missed it.” It was their “truth.” 

When I finally started to pursue the long road of healing which began with recognizing we were in a cult, the emphasis of the trauma was placed upon on the loss of our son and traumatic circumstances surrounding his birth. Though I had common trauma reactions from the horrors of the birth, it took years to realize my trauma was spiritual abuse, not the birth. 

For an introvert, pot lucks are difficult enough – for a survivor of spiritual abuse – they scream conversation. 

“Pot luck” dinners are opportunities for relationships. 

Relationships that often judge and hold to expectations of what a Christian does or doesn’t do. Like church on Sundays.

Christians always go to church on Sunday.  (“Forsake not the assembling…” they said. “If you’re not in church, where are you? they said.” 

Relationships with people who have all the answers instead of simply loving silence. 

People who always have the last word because they know better how you should believe or feel.

The same platitudes and attitudes that had been present in the cult.  People are people.

After speaking at an event not long ago, I was told I couldn’t have been in a “Christian cult.“If it was a cult, it wasn’t Christian.” Therefore, I couldn’t have been a “Christian.”

I loved Jesus and had devoted my life to following him – enough to die for him. But I wasn’t a Christian because my theology was wrong.

Just recently someone who I called “friend,” someone whom I trusted enough to plead “please don’t go there it’s painful for me”  – someone who Dave also told to leave certain doctrines alone – a leader -felt the need to instruct me in my most painful place – again. We don’t communicate, we don’t have a relationship, but the last word was dished out without any thought to what had been shared in dark places of honest vulnerability.

I wish I was dead to this. I’m not. It’s like Paul’s thorn to me. I cry out for God to take this last piece of healing and deliver me so I can laugh and not cry. Instead he says, 

“My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

My pain enables me to remain silent with others who are suffering and suffer with them. 

 

Everyone who draws breath will be wounded and judged. It’s all part of this great journey we call life. The more visible you are, the worse it is.

It’s OK. We are in the company of all of humanity with Jesus as our  shining example of humble forgiveness.

 

Let it be. Agree to disagree. Choose to be silent.

It took a long time to realize that it’s the people not the birth that triggers a traumatic response. 

It was people who I trusted to mentor me in The Way of Life, who instead lead me – us –  to death. 

I was in a one sided abusive relationship with Jesus. God was not love – God was a judgmental jerk. He resembled judgmental humanity more than sinless perfection. 

For a short time, God provided a safe place to heal and be. Mature and kind leadership loved us. We could leave when it hurt, stay when it was safe, discuss our beliefs with mutual respect. It wasn’t based upon being in church on Sunday, tithing, Sunday school attendance, or meeting the expected belief system of that church leadership.

We could serve in our strengths, be used in our wounds, and accepted in our own, unique, divine story. 

The church is our battle zone. It’s where the music of worship can sound like bombs, the words of leadership whiz by like bullets, and the attitudes of people are a beheading.

For me, healing in community has been more therapy by immersion than by love. I want to call Dr. Leo Marvin and ask him for a copy of Baby Steps, instead of Bob’s, Death Therapy. 

We can’t be healed if we don’t know where the wounds are. 

People expose the wounds.

God heals.  

For Dave, his battle zone rages. Bullets whiz, bombs drop, sirens blare. Church is hard – really hard. It’s performance and failure, death and financial loss, expectations and damaged relationships – wrapped up in  “praise the Lord brother, God is good.”

For Dave, church is the tears my father cried when he returned to Normandy Beach after fighting on D-Day. Overwhelming reminders of pain, death, and friendships lost.

For those who love us, for those who know, they understand you’ll find us serving God out there. In the pain. In the loss. In the suffering.

It’s our sanctuary.

Where Dave goes, I go. When Dave leaves, I leave. My journey is to see him let go of the voice that says, “What kind of man lets his son die in a cult?” 

Love heals. 

 

My heart may continue to race when I am among the church; I may experience the stale smell of fear in the musty odor of basement pot lucks…

But I also smell redemption…

..in the kindness of the pastor who understands.         

A mom who grieves.

A father who has given his life to raise his family.

A refugee who has fled. 

In myself. 

In being who I am.

In who He is.

Love heals. 

 

Note: I would be remiss not to say that we have a few close friends and pastors who are “safe.” Dave has two. For me, a person who has always worn my heart on my sleeve – outside of blogging and writing I am stepping away from wounding relationships, becoming less trusting, and guarding my heart. For those who would question that attitude as healing – Jesus only had 12 he trusted, and among those there still was a betrayer.

Shalom

 

 

God’s Will: When You’re Straining to Hear His Voice

It’s in those moments when you need answers – real answers. Not the prayers that we toss out in gratitude and thankfulness, or the ones that sail on a breeze as we converse with Jesus over the every day issues of life. Not the chatting. Not even the pleading when life is dark and we can’t hear, see, or feel a glimpse of God.

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It’s when your waiting to hear his voice about the decisions in life that matter, but you’ve settled into into living in the now and not yet so every moment is a moment for God. And yet it’s there. Haunting your thoughts. What do I do Lord? Where do I go? How? When? Is it you Lord? Is it you?

Here I am Lord send me. 

Here I am Lord. I’m listening. 

The decisions – the big ones. The moves, the missions, the jobs, the ones that change your life as God changes your heart to pursue his will.

The will decisions.

What is your will for my life, right now, in this moment of time that will affect many, many, future moments, and an equal amount of relationships and some of their moments.

We were away for a few weeks attending to some business, visiting some family, witnessing our son graduate from basic training. We had made all the decisions before we went… where to stay so as to make a completely non-affordable trip affordable, how to travel… drive to there…fly to here…fly back there…more driving. Almost every carefully thought out plan was upended as we arrived. 

Did you pray about it?

(Gosh, I hate when people ask that. First, it can sound really self-righteous, second most of the time you are asking someone that would have prayed, third, “delight yourself in the Lord and he’ll give you the desires of your heart…” When we are in daily communion with the Holy Spirit his presence in always seeking, always listening, always intervening, but we live in a fallen world. Things happen. Last but not least, if someone hasn’t prayed, you are insinuating that is why bad things are happening!  Living in communion is prayer. But I digress.)

Life is about choices and many if not most of the choices we make, we listen to the spirit’s guidance and hope we are interpreting what we think we are hearing correctly. Communication between two humans can be difficult enough – communication with God has a certain amount of guess work combined with a large dose of faith.

I’ve had those moments of almost audible prophecy (that came to pass) and absolute assurance, but most of the time it is that gut feeling. An inner knowing that He is with me in the decisions, even if I am still not sure my decision has heavenly origins.

Our relationship with God is not based upon being in His will, but in being in him.

Being in Him is being in His will.

It is being sold out to follow Jesus despite the costs, despite the pain, despite the struggles. It is living in the place where He is the first thing we think of when we wake up in the morning and the last One we think of when we lie down at night. It is when our life is so intertwined in His that “we live and move and have our being” is more than a religious platitude, but the savor of His divine breath mingled with our own.

It is when we cease to look to God to fulfill our every need, purpose, and desire, but allow ourselves to be fully seen and known in naked vulnerability and brokenness.

It’s when we understand that just like a baby, newly birthed, smelling of life and love, nestled safely in the arms of her mother – His delight is right there – in that moment, in that vulnerability, in that helplessness, in that inner cry of innocence.

baby

We are fully His, and His delight is in loving us. 

That is His will for us, and in us. Pure innocent love. Pure innocent trust. Not straining to hear His voice. Not striving to do His will.

Not asking for anything, but trusting in everything. Not striving for results, but resting in relationship. Not anxious in seeking, but content in being.

His voice is the voice of Love. His will is the will of being.

His grace is sufficient. 

 

 

Saying Good-Bye to Life as I’ve Known It

or…What Empty Nest Looks Like to a Stay at Home, Homeschool Mother

or

What it Feels Like to Retire from Being a Full Time Mom for Thirty-Six Years

or

How Fearful is it Really to Lose Your Lifelong Dreams

or

How God Redeems Even in the Midst of a Great Unknown


It feels a bit like this big, endless, scary expanse of nowhere. Yes, loss and gain, fear and hope, dreams and death, all can and do coexist for those of us who choose to live a real life in a real world. I doesn’t get prayed away, wished away, claimed away, or declared away.

It simply is. 

It’s not about how much faith you have a don’t have, how much obedience you have or don’t have, it’s not about being one of the called or chosen, or “blessed to your socks.” It’s about real life living out your life with all its mistakes, failures, pains, unmet plans, and loss of expectations before a very real God who is present through it all. It is about conforming to his life and his image and not our own.

It is about crying and yelling and swearing and laughing, and dancing – all in the presence of a God who laughs, cries, yells, (without swearing) and dances with us. 

It’s about feeling his embrace when there is nothing left to feel, and reaching for his hand in the dark knowing he will grab it. It is about holding on with all your might knowing he is holding on tighter – and will never, ever, let go.

It’s not about sin or shame, or regret, or guilt.

It’s about Jesus.

It’s about redemption.

I’m reaching. I’ve been reaching for a while. He’s been holding even longer.

My mothering days are almost over and we don’t have roots anywhere. We’ve moved too many times for my kids to really call any one place home and so they are scattered.  Vermont feels most home-like to me. The only job I’ve known is coming to an end without any children or grandchildren who will be close enough for a cup of coffee. This is not normal empty nest as most “normal” people either hold jobs, don’t homeeschool for over thirty years, don’t have children twenty years apart, and don’t  move twenty times in thirty-five years. There is a lot of loss of dreams and expectations.

Then there is the loss of plans that Dave and I held for our beyond middle ages. We were going to be established enough that all of the sacrifices would pay off and his many weeks of vacation would allow us to visit the kids, even if he couldn’t retire for many years. Then retirement from IBM would give us enough to get by…

The dreams didn’t include job losses, IBM screwing their employees with retirement and an economy that produced layoffs. Or that retirement for thousands of Americans would be a thing of the past. All that’s OK – few countries have retirement – but with a tanked economy that makes life itself tough – this country aint what it used to be.

But God…

So today as I stood in the vast and endless Oklahoma sky waiting to see one of my kiddos tomorrow, I took pleasure in knowing that no matter how small and insignificant I felt in that endless landscape, the speck who is me was precisely located on God’s GPS.

Though the looming horizon was scary and bigger than life, it also seemed to speak of endless possibilities blowing in any direction with the power of the wind. 

The power of the Spirit hovering over the land and beckoning it to grow, and move, and be. 

We enjoy each moment as held by an infinite God; the future is his palette and Dave and I still have lots of bristles left on our brushes for laying down the colors of our lives.


The future is out there under blue skies and thunderstorms just waiting to be revealed. Just like this signs,  I have a fixed position within the sprawling expanse called life and God is always fixed beside me. 

Around me.

Within me. 

 When I stop, I can almost hear a still small voice rustling through the grass.

 

The American Dream as Personal Salvation

books

Throughout the world there are many obvious aspects of culture that affect religion. This is evident in any critical analysis of countries and religions worldwide and a contributor to the diversity and functionality of people groups. What happens when it affects societies and the church as a whole, and is the evangelical church in American willing to examine its own “folk culture” to see what has been added to the gospel in pursuit of the “american dream?”  

As I’ve been studying Ministry to Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Children, my heart has been even more deeply burdened for the brokenness of this world which abuses the most vulnerable for financial gain, and perverted power.

Sadly, it begins here in the land of the brave and the home of the free.  

This extends from using children in slavery, to the self absorbed organizational and political powers that still believe any race or gender should be given power or control over another. Why did it take a graduate course to hear and learn about the enormity and depth of this problem which should be at the forefront of american society? After two hundred-twenty-nine years since the writing of our constitution why are we still fighting to be a republic and witness freedom for all? It’s an imbalance of power in a country that still claims to be predominantly “Christian.”

The issues begin with the heart. Our hearts should be compassionately leading the way in peace and reconciliation. The “American Dream” appears to have become a dream of personal gain. The American Dream for many Christians seems to have become deeply rooted in a personal salvation experience.

We who are followers of the Nazarene have been called as “friends” to walk beside a man who gave up ultimate power to show us The Way to ultimate love. He said the one who “loses” his (or her) life will gain it and proved it by giving up his own life for us. It is a different calling than the “take back,” “me first” rhetoric that is spoken today.  There is a total lack of attention given to modern day slavery that far exceeds the 1800’s still deeply rooted in our country through pornography, patriarchal, and cultural exploitation. Where is the voice that cries out against the serious issues of injustice and basic human rights instead of inflammatory political jargon that only stirs up strife?

A personal salvation experience that says “I say the prayer, I get saved, I now go to heaven” isn’t found anywhere in the bible, or spoken in any way by Jesus. Instead, we see people coming to an awareness of the needs of their own sin and selfishness and bringing that freedom and passion to others for the sake of their families and communities. This is the norm in the majority of the world where communities stay in tact for generations. The early church risked their lives to share the gospel of Good News with the “other.”

Now we have the american dream well established in the church – not only do we get to live in prosperity and relative safety within our own home with our property, cars, possessions, family, and “church” cared for first, we also get to live this great life for an eternity because I confessed Jesus as my Savior, and hold to certain doctrinal truths and political ideologies. 

 

Could we have exchanged the law of love for “laws” of tithing 10% to the local church, how many bible scriptures we can quote, membership to our chosen denomination, faithfulness to Christ equated with regular church attendance?  All good principals, but often treated as laws.  Live by one law, then live by them all. Are we more worried safety from the “other” within my own home, church, community, and nation, than embracing the “other” for the sake of Christ? To live is Christ to die is gain. 

We have developed our own folk culture. One of the first things an educated missionary will do is study the culture, ideologies, and how a people group has come to believe the things they do, because their beliefs are the foundation for how they act. As we study the people groups we are involved with, we also have to examine our own closely held beliefs. It is always easier to see the misconceptions of others because our views are not what we are thinking about, but the grid and perceptions we think with.

My views have changed 180% over the majority of issues in the last 20 years because I have sought to see through the eyes of Christ despite my own desperately broken lenses. It’s not that I now think I am right – quite the contrary – I am willing to say that outside the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the historically and widely accepted truths of the doctrinal creeds – I may be quite utterly wrong.

If you had asked me fifteen years ago you would have heard quite a different story. You would have heard a self-righteous, arrogant, know-it-all, spewing my doctrinal truths, completely assured if was ever required to,  I would DIE for Christ. My kids were raised waiting for the “End Times,” to come, and told that to deny Christ with a gun to their head would mean hell for eternity. I now consider that emotional abuse and certainly NOT a gospel of Good News. I like to think that I would still die for Christ, but I’m not so afraid of hell anymore. Instead I am passionately trusting the God who loves me – more in love with Jesus than in fear of flames. I used to worry that I would be asked to choose between a confession of belief over my child, and scared to death that I may someday be forced to watch my child die that I may be “faithful” to Christ.

No greater love – If I was ever called upon to deny Christ to save the lives of my grandchildren or children, I like to believe I would risk hell instead. That is the greater love. Yet, in risking, I trust in the Amazing love of an Amazing God.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

So where is our love being revealed in our culture today? Is it evident on social media and in sociopolitical and religious debates? Or are we still living a personal salvation in grasping our american dream ideology?

I would rather err on the side of grace and love and follow in the steps of the God-Man who came to earth, owned nothing for himself, and died to model that love –for all people, at all times, in all places, cultures and communities…than to hold up my shield of 57 years of white, female, middle class, educated, american, cultural folk perceptions.

Maybe I am completely wrong. 

Why Black Lives Should Matter to Christians

Watermarked_Love Sign (2)I am the mother of a white policeman. I am the mother of two white soldiers and mother in law to another. I am the mother of an Asian son. I have been the foster mom, respite provider, shelter, or temporary home to White, Black, and Asian children. I have friends that are White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Christian,  Muslim, Hindu, Jew…  I believe that before God all lives matter. 

I also believe that although we are ALL created in the image of God, Jesus modeled a special heart for the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized.  He went out of his way to minister to those who were culturally unacceptable, religious outcasts, and gender oppressed. He didn’t stand up for those in power, instead he rebuked them.

All lives matter – Jesus modeled that. He also modeled that until there is an all inclusive cultural and racial equality, both inside and outside the church, we are to speak for the marginalized. 

Timing is everything – when black lives are snuffed out unjustly – that is not the time for “All Lives Matter.” When police are snuffed out, that is not the time for Black Lives Matter. It is a time of empathy for all people. 

This is empathy training 101 – jumping down in the hole with others who are in pain instead of minimizing what they are experiencing. It’s why you don’t reply to a women who has just lost a child, “I lost a child too…” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle…” or “All lives matter.”

Imagine what empathy would like like across cultural, racial, economic, political, geographical, and religious boundaries. It would look like the hundreds of scriptures that encourage followers of Christ to care for the poor, weak, marginalized, oppressed, orphans, widows, hungry...

It would feel like Christ.

Watermarked_Statues (2)

Empathy is silently saying, I don’t understand what you going through, but I know you’re hurting and I’m here.”  It is doing for others what they can’t do for themselves in that moment, or that culture, or that time.

This is the time for the racial reconciliation and equality that should have happened a lifetime ago. 

I was raised in a white middle class suburban neighborhood in the 1960’s and 70’s, in New Jersey, and though my sister in law is black, my parents held onto racial prejudices. Though they strongly disapproved of hate groups like the KKK and spoke about equality, they didn’t want us to “bring one home” for dinner either. My in-laws held to strong racial prejudices – to the point of seeing only differences.  Big differences. That was my husband’s heritage.

It’s real. 

When I was in grade school, both my brothers and the neighborhood boys liked to mess with my mind. They told me how a little white girl like me was going to get beat up when I went to my mixed race high school. I was a scrawny white kid and was sufficiently terrified.  I had to fight the same racial prejudices of my upbringing because of ignorance.

 Ignorance. 

Two years later I was dating a young black man (hiding it from my mother) and beginning to learn that there were differences in our lives that I would never fully understand because of the privilege I was born into.

I was comfortable in our own American caste system. 

There was a reason Jesus modeled why we are to enter into the world of the marginalized. He understood the imbalance of power and the favor that goes with the status quo and privilege. 

The first time that racial prejudiced touched my life was when my Asian son was about seven years old. He went to play nearby with some children at his brothers soccer game and after a short while he came back crying that the kids had called him “ching, chong, cho.” My mothers heart broke and I was livid. (I wanted to smack the little beasts to be honest). I can empathize with the anger that rises up from injustice.

Those of us who hold power and privilege simply because of our race, economic status, or geographical location already understand that our lives matter. This country caters to white, Judaeo-Christian mores. Fact. It was our foundation. Fact. Those mores do not always reflect the truth of the gospel of Good News or of Christ. Fact. 

My Asian son is going to be a licensed driver soon – if he was black I would be anxious. I wouldn’t want to think about him getting pulled over. I have friends in mixed marriages who have told me about police stopping them to make sure they aren’t being kidnapped.

I fear for my son – he’s a good cop – a just cop – his life matters. He is on the side of right. He speaks out against injustices – especially within the church.

The political climate is creating division and hate and the church is hoodwinked into following along. We are a country torn. A people torn. A church torn.

Social media has become an Adrenalin pumped, addictive place for people to spew vile comments and push ideologies. As disciples of Jesus, we are to stand for love – to agree to disagree – to be a blessing to the nations – to others. We were not called to protect ourselves and to think only of our own rights and privileges, but to lay down our lives for our neighbor – Muslim, White, Black, Jew, Arab, Hispanic, Hindu…

Jesus didn’t “save” us for a get out jail, take care of myself, country-club Christianity, but for radical transformation that changes lives – beginning with our own.

We were called to speak out against injustice and fight for the oppressed and marginalized. Instead the American church often appears to be filled with groups of self-righteous indignant people with an attitude that says, “It’s me against the world, my own nationality, nice house, comfortable lifestyle, personal ideologies, and abundant prosperity, is more important that maintaining a posture of humility and reconciliation towards others.” 

I have had a teeny, tiny, eansy, weansy, sampling of what injustice feels like as a female pastor/ chaplain. I have stood by as men were referenced by titles despite my never being called that way (and I don’t want to be, but it’s the principle), or given positions of responsibility with less qualifications, or threatened by my education, age, or experience. I haven’t always handled it as well as my Asian son has. It hurts. My strongest mentors have been women of color and minorities who are also pastors. Women of color who know what it is to pray, pray, pray, and pray some more, for the safety of their loved ones, or lean into forgiveness towards those who deem them poor or uneducated on the basis of their skin color. I aspire to be like them – to live in the love and forgiveness that Christ modeled when he turned the other cheek and said, “Forgive them Dad, they are clueless.”

I mourn for France.

I also mourn knowing that the flags will fly, the prayers will flow, and the support will be strong – as it should be – but it will be much stronger and much more present than it was for the terrorist attacks and murders in the Middle East, or Africa, or  other developing nations that don’t represent our Western ideologies.

Maybe in “praying for repentance” in our nation our prayers should begin by asking that our hearts will break over the imbalance of power in races, gender, nationality, and cultural biases – that we will see humanity as Christ does. 

A good place to start discovering your racial prejudices is this site below. You may find out that you are more prejudiced than you realize – or you may find out that your prejudiced attitude has been transformed by releasing your deeply rooted western ideologies as you cry out to love others more than you do your own life.

Understanding Prejudice

“Our Lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”  Martin Luther King Jr. 

May we never be silent.