Authentic Relationships in Broken Vessels

IMG_9941Jesus lived a very authentic and transparent life. How could he not when he was surrounded by his twelve disciples, as well as many others he called friend or traveled with all of the time. Jesus modeled how we are supposed to live. My life tends to be an open book. This blog is a small portion of that principle. But it’s not always easy.

In recent times, I have gotten much more selective in how transparent I am willing to be. I am actually still writing in my “7×7” time frame, but not as willing to expose everything I write to the scrutiny of public criticism – just yet. It’s in the book – it will be in print soon enough. In the mean time, Jesus is drawing me more deeply into Himself, and encompassing me with a protective circle of authentic friendships.

We shoot our wounded. Actually, I have first hand experience and counseled many others who were not only shot but, cannibalized as well.  It is necessary to be selective as to who we share our innermost struggles and being with, as Satan likes nothing more than to take our vulnerabilities and use them against us. Satan is alive and thriving today.

It is my belief that the universal church is not thriving today, because somehow we have a disconnect with the real world over every day life.  We have lost authentic, trusting, loving relationships.

The church is too divided over non-essential doctrines, dogmas, and creeds.  When I say non-essential, I am not inferring they may not be essential to our own personal beliefs, but are they essential to Christian brother and sisterhood? Believers get downright ugly over these things. Everything from creationism versus theistic evolution, to Calvinism or Arminianism, to the Charismata, and their place or purpose today, hymns or contemporary music, all provide a place for our enemy to divide and conquer, rendering us useless to a broken world.

tumblr_static_open-book-103823Then there is the issue of Christian growth. Many spend so much time emphasizing external management of sin – read the bible more, pray more, cast away sin, discipline yourself… that they completely miss out on the principle of inner transformation. External manipulations and attempting to legislate morality can never change the heart. It just leaves us feeling beat up and in despair over our repeated failures. Prayer study springs up from inner transformation.

I spent many years performance oriented (in a cult) and it only kept me on the path so far. Eventually a genuine inner transformation had to take place.  The pain of repeated failures got old.  A deep knowledge and personal experience of the holiness of God had to come from within the dark recesses of my soul.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Transformation stems when we experience His great love, and it should be relationships within the universal church where we first experience it. People should be able to witness our love for them and for each other, as we model Christ’s love.

 The first thing we should see in others should not be their habits, religion, sexual orientation, work ethics, or lifestyle, but that they were created in the image of God.

The first thing they should see in us is authenticity. It is only through the real us that they see Jesus. Our own broken vessels are being made clean, all  the cracks and holes are filled in, and we are sold out and completely in LOVE with a man-God named Jesus.

It is only through the real us they can be the real them, and develop a relationship based on trust. 

Authentic Christianity means allowing the visible, changing work of the Holy Spirit to be witnessed in our lives.

Authentic friendships are knowing we are safe enough to place ourselves before them and  before God, while He transforms us from the inside out. Authentic Christianity is the assurance that the friends who cheer us on the journey are as in love with us, as they are with themselves.

Authentic relationships are the ones who help to glue the cracks in broken vessels so that Jesus can fill them up. 

It is time to get beyond the petty divisions and let them know us by our authentic love one for another.

The Holes are Deep

inside a holeI fell in a hole a few days ago. It happens every once in a while when I am not watching where I am going. All of a sudden this hole pops up in front of me and down I go. Sometimes the hole is really dark and full of scary images, but fortunately I always carry a light with me now which helps to prevent a total loss of illumination. Usually I can keep my bearings by looking up where the light varies from a flicker to full illumination.

There have been times when the hole has been deep and dark and I couldn’t get out.  I discovered that if I write, the words tend to weave a kind of mystical  story rope, allowing me to shimmy just a little bit higher to where the light shines. Once you learn the art of weaving story ropes, you can pass it on to others. I have begun the journey with many who are finding their way out of dark holes through writing. One of my new curriculum’s is based on this healing art of rope weaving. The truly magical part is that the stronger the rope gets, the easier the climbing becomes.

There have been times when the caverns were so deep, I needed a friend to help shed some of their light inside for me to be able to weave. More often now, I stand on top of the hole and shine the light for someone to begin their weaving.

Sometimes the holes are not quite as deep and the sun shines enough to produce and pleasant vines and flowers growing up the sides. When that happens the rope isn’t always needed and I can climb out among the vines without fear of falling. My story tells about the beauty of the journey, weaving the suffering into a picture of grace.

Inside-Looking-Out-4cd727eedbc03_hiresOftentimes, the holes are more horizontal in nature. I think those are the type most of us fall into. They don’t required an intense weaving to get out of, nor even climbing up the vines, but they do create a struggle as we crawl upwards. We bruise our knees and scrape our hands and it is just so refreshing to breathe the fresh air and bask in the light again.

The greatest thing about weaving ropes of healing stories, is that each rope gets stronger the more practice we have. Like any other sport, talent, or occupation, the more experience we gain by doing the wiser we become. And it doesn’t matter if we weave the story rope alone or in groups, for ourselves or for others. The rope will surely appear as a ladder to freedom.

More often than not, I now weave a bridge into my stories that gives me a place to cross the holes safely. It is really a developed art to recognize the landscape where the holes pop up and avoid them.  A friend of mine named Jesus is teaching me that particular art and with His help, my weaving will be perfected.

The Crown of Imperfect Parenting

samAfter raising eight kids and knowing the many and varied mistakes I have made in parenting, my latest advice to young parents said only somewhat in jest, goes something like this, “God is the only perfect Father / Mother / parent there is, so you may as well accept the fact you are going to screw it up. Just ask God’s forgiveness, their forgiveness, and forgive yourself for it now and you’ll be ahead of the game.” Bottom line is – we all make mistakes. Some more than others, (I made many more than some of my perfect parent friends) and some less than others.  We do the best we can with what we have at the time.

I would love to be able to parent all my children all over again with the wisdom I have gained at 54, with the energy I had at 24. Intellectually and cognitively I am an amazing mother! (When I am asleep and dreaming.)  Proverbs 31 has nothing over me,

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.”

 Uh-huh, uh-huh.  I wish I could say that was more often than not. That is where the energy part comes in after 34 years of raising children, I’m quite honestly tired. No excuse – God still demands our best and especially to the ones we are closest to. 

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:” 

Fortunately I have a long-suffering family and my adult children mostly think I am pretty OK. Dave – he’s just easy to please. Check.

Raising Funds for Haiti - Being Foolish Enough to Believe I Can Make a DifferenceSamuel was adopted from Kazakhstan two weeks short of age 2 and is just the kindest kid you’ll ever meet. He is a great kid all around. His only problem – is me. Due to a traumatic birth and his early years in the orphanage he has some challenges he has to deal with – impulsive, lack of cause and effect thinking, language acquisition problems. (He just recently stopped saying the day after yesterday for the day after tomorrow.) He is forgetful, but in typical teen-age style he remembers the fun things he wants to do but forgets many of the tasks I ask him to do.

This is where my challenge lies – having to repeat instructions, have them repeated back to me, making sure they are understood, and having 500 other things to do. In enters impatience, frustration, a long list of things needing to be done and a lack of finances to do them with – and a sharp tongue. Most youngest children get more from their older parents in terms of financial blessings, he gets less thanks to Dave’s 2009 job loss that has us starting over. More frustration. Sam deserves just a bit more for his hard work and how much he overcomes.

I jokingly tell him, “Sorry Sam, you got the old mother.” In truth, there are benefits to the old mother; he really does get the wisdom that has allowed me to appreciate him for exactly who he is, the wisdom that comes from seeing my own inadequacies in parenting, and the ability to quickly and easily repent. He is my Benjamin – the son of my right hand.

We all make mistakes. In my 34 years of conversations with other moms, I have only heard one say she was a, “perfect textbook parent.” As for me, I kind of beat my chest among the sinners when it comes to my closest relationships.

In my parenting failtures comes a deep appreciation for the ministry of reconciliation that Benjamin was used by God to impart between Joseph and his brothers. (Read Genesis 45) Sam also has a special place in the heart of all of his siblings. Their age differences has made him, like Benjamin a protected younger brother. He has aided in the ministry of reconciliation to all of us through His gentle ways.  I get to see Sam not only through the eyes of a parent, but through the eyes of my older children. I get to see how God restores all of my children from the place of imperfect human parenting to perfect heavenly acceptance. Our seven older kids are all amazing adults. We have ten wonderful grand-kids.

I guess I didn’t screw up too badly. At least is shows you that faith in God will produce a crown in all things- when we let Him. 

“Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.”

 

 

Learn, Obey, Imitate

3391b-waterfall2            True biblical repentance really has to do with a deep heartfelt sorrow towards our old lives of breaking God’s moral laws – sin – and a desire to turn away from those, and follow the new way – Christ. Following Christ – becoming a “Christian” has for many become more of a membership into a particular church, financially supporting it, attending regularly or at least attempting to, perhaps being baptized into that church, attending social functions and usually agreeing to particular doctrines. Do those things and feel good about ourselves.

The word Christian is used only 3 times in the New Testament whereas the term disciple is used 269 times. If we examine what the disciples did throughout the New Testament we witness that they walked with Jesus, learned from Jesus, obeyed Jesus, and imitated Jesus. Lean, obey, imitate, in that order. They gave up everything to follow him.

Though we can’t literally walk with Jesus in physical form today, the same desire, commitment, and attitude that was in the early disciples should be in us. We walk with Christ in spiritual form. Learn. We should be completely sold out to Christ, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, in death till we unite. Obey. Our lives should be established daily with Kingdom ideals. Imitate. Whether we work  in the Sacred or the Secular, we should attempt to live each day with the attitude of what can I do for Kingdom growth today, beginning first within ourselves in our attempts to mimic Christ, and extending to what we can we do for others – being and doing.

Christian refers to a Christ follower – Discipleship refers to a pupil, someone who is closely following a teacher. In ancient times, usually a religious leader of philosopher.

If we encourage true discipleship through an authentic commitment to what Jesus modeled in His life, the natural effects will be healthy individuals, healthy churches, and hopefully and extension of the Kingdom of God. Sadly, Jesus only had a handful of disciples and even they ran when times got tough. How much more so we need the sincerity of mutual relationships now that we are not walking in a physical reality with Jesus.  We must exemplify the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit and unity, to keep each other steadfast in the faith.

God will build His church. Jesus stated plainly that the rocks will praise him if we are not willing to. It is our responsibility to be true disciples and to disciple others. Church is not a club, a membership, a doctrine, creed or dogma – it is a living organism designed to represent Christ on earth, because we have turned from the old to follow The Way.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2Cor. 5:17-21

Do You Hate Your Neighbor as Yourself

11mural-600It is impossible to be changed by God, if we do not accept and embrace the love of God for ourselves.

When a testy lawyer asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied that it was necessary for him to Love the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. That pretty much encompasses everything from who we are, to what we do. Luke 10:25 -37) A true Christ follower will be, and do.

When the lawyer pressed him as to who was “his neighbor,” Jesus went on to instruct the lawyer about the man who had been beaten and tossed aside on the Jericho road. Both a Priest and a Levite had passed by the man, avoiding going near him, even passing by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan went by and was moved with compassion. He helped the man at his own expense. Once again we see an example of Samaritans as recognizing the Messiah, this time not by being, as the woman at the well did when she acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but in the example of doing the things of God. The despised Samaritans loving and serving the Lord completely. Hmm.

Throughout the bible we see acts of justice as a main theme – and if there was one thing Jesus was passionate about, it is acts of compassion and social justice. The purpose of hanging out and helping hurting, downtrodden, and lost people, is that they may witness something bigger in us – something outside of ourselves – and be inspired by it to want the change. We do the serving and Jesus does the changing.

How can we love others as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves? We may have lots of fruit, speak in Christianeze, even do some works, and yet not really embrace God’s love for ourselves. Eventually we burn out, get cynical, despise the constant falling short of who we think we should be, and never find the heart of Christ in ministry. We hate, more than we love ourselves.

Work for the sake of work is work – work for the sake of love, is Jesus.  

Michael-Pukac-Live-PaintingWhen we see ourselves as perfectly created in the image of God and allow him to love us into perfection, we can love others more perfectly. Somehow our own flawed and fallen humanity, humbles us into a beautifully marred and chipped work of art. If we don’t love our own art, we won’t appreciate the canvases that are just beginning to witness their first brush strokes. We will get offended at the scribbles and neglect to instruct the artist in proper techniques, nor embrace the uniqueness and individuality of the piece.

Seeing ourselves as Christ sees us is the catalyst for change in us. Anger, fear, pain, heartache, addictions, loneliness, depression…whatever we are facing begins to melt away when we embrace the love God has for us. The struggles of this life decrease as the measure of His love increases. Then and only then, can we love our neighbor.

Relentless Pursuit

road 2We used to sing a song based on the King James Version of Psalm 139:7-9, “Wither Shall I go, wither shall I flee from thee. If I take the wings of the morn, thou are still with me.”

As a thirteen year old teen whose parents were in the middle of a messy marital separation, fleeing was a regular part of my life. I fled from home, I fled from school, and I fled from reality. Drugs became my alternate reality – a safe place where I could temporarily flee from the pain of a confused life.

I will always remember the “charismatic coffee house” that a friend and I attended weekly. Her parents were faithful Christians and undoubtedly they believed this was a great idea. However, they weren’t fully aware of what exactly it was that we did there.  Though it was a good environment for two wayward teens to hang out at, we snuck outside and smoked dope, returning to the service with a new perspective on the cool things happening inside. There were always plenty of “munchies” and the combination of Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists Lutherans, and even Catholic nuns, speaking in tongues, raising their hands and praising God, was, well, “Far out!”

I was drawn to the power and love that I always felt in that place, even before I got high. The people all seemed so genuinely happy, and the other teens that were there, even though they were totally “square” had something I didn’t. They were completely confident in being hopelessly square, and “born again Christians.” How can it be?

One night, I had an experience that was so compelling, it drew me. I knew for the first time what I was experiencing was the awesome presence of God. One of the teens talked to me for hours about Jesus and I could sense his presence. By the end of the night, I had prayed the sinners prayer, and had accepted Christ as my Savior. I vowed to live for him.

It lasted about two weeks.

Far from the Christian environment, far from the unity among those believers, back among my friends where my acceptance was gained by dealing drugs and giving them away, back among the chaos of my home life – my new-found faith was very far away. “What are you some Jesus freak? Come on Jamie, get over it.” Acid was much more real to me in that time and place than faith. I was alone.

Jamie, hear my voice. I am. I AM.       Relentless pursuit.

There are those who would argue I was always “saved”, there are those who would argue I was never “saved”, there are those who would argue I was “fallen away” – doesn’t matter what doctrine you choose – it’s not the point – the fact is I was far from God living a life of sin.

He however, was not far from me. Relentless pursuit.

That experience created in me a never-ending desire to find that peace again. I never stopped looking – from southern Christian churches who turned me away by their non-acceptance of my cigarette smell, dirty jeans or bra-less t-shirts, to Eastern Religions like Buddhism and Baha’ism, I was on a quest.

I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jer. 31:3)

God brought Dave to me to teach me unconditional love, to challenge my morality, and to question our place in eternity.

Relentless pursuit.

God set us next door to Christians who daily helped us by bringing us water when the well in our new home ran dry to teach us about him, and how his church functions. (Rom.12)

Relentless pursuit.

And even though we found Jesus in a Christian cult and spent many wounded from it, God brought us person after person, event after event, situation after situation to confirm His existence, and his never-ending grace.

The more we run, the more tired we get. Eventually I chose to fall into the embrace of the God who loves me, I chose to live a different life, to let him change me, mold me, deliver me from the harm I was going to myself.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” Eph. 1:13

Relentless pursuit.

Just like the song – where can you flee, where can you hide, God is there. He is pursuing you. Fall into his arms.

A Twisted Path

roadI was short with my son Samuel -again.  I neglected to focus on the most important tasks in my day – again. I spent money I didn’t have on a Latte – again. I fell back into thoughts of my Judas experience – again. I lost focus on the task at hand – again.  I was mad at Dave – again. And again. I neglected to seek guidance – again. I lacked patience with my loved ones – again. I didn’t spend enough “alone” time with Jesus. Again. And again. And again. And again.

The words of condemnation used to ring in my ears second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, whispering lies about how far away God was from me – and me from him . The road to follow Christ is full of distractions both beautiful and scary, and very, very, long.  As a matter of fact, it lasts a lifetime. Like a GPS, sometimes the path to follow Jesus seems outdated or avoidant of certain roads; we get misdirected with a voice of “recalculating, recalculating…” ringing in our ears.

Instead of viewing the times I have felt completely lost as if I had thrown myself in reverse, I know it to be a mere delay in the journey forward. A pit stop along the way. Sometimes the stop literally is a pit – full of darkness, and I awaken confused, wondering how I ended up miles away from where I started. It’s as if some force sucked me backwards along a dark highway at 75 miles per hour and I am completely discouraged by thoughts of, “…how on earth did I end up here – again?”

Discouragement leads to disillusionment, and disillusionment leads to despair.             

Discouragement can be defined as: to deprive of the will to persist in something.

Disillusionment can be defined as: to destroy the ideals of.

Despair can be defined as: loss of hope.

It took many years of failure to hear the voice that tells me my circumstances are not the focus, people are not the focus, sin management is not the focus, the road is not the focus, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”   (John 21:22)

I yelled at Sam again Lord. Sam, the one who is without guile and full of kindness, tender and deserving of my best. What is that to you, you must follow me. I fought with Dave again Lord, when he was trying so hard to make amends. Take my hand and come with me. I didn’t act with love towards my enemy today. Take my hand and come with me. I didn’t’ seek counsel when I should have Lord. Follow me. I acted badly…I spent money I shouldn’t have… I missed it again Lord, and again, and again…

Follow me. Follow me. Follow me. Stay persistent, keep the ideals, always moving forward in hope. 

d6609bf505b93b0f3c53c7fa7cdf26b4I open my eyes to the realization that somehow I am miles ahead of where I veered off, and I don’t even know how I got here. I am propelled by a force that keeps pulling me forward, even when I am too wore out to see the progress.  And then the realization hits me – I am not where I used to be. It’s a well traversed road, full of far more beauty than darkness.

I am following you Lord.

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 1:6

A Touch of Love (Day 2)

jesuswell cusickI was an adulterer. I was an addict. I was an alcoholic who when I was feeling sick from too much booze thought nothing of purging so I could drink some more. I had an abortion. I lived in sin. I was engulfed in sin. I hated myself. I hated my life. I felt condemned. Unclean. Unworthy. Unloved.

She was at the well when he came. A Samaritan woman, an outcast among the Jews, and a shady woman among her own people. She had been married five times – perhaps losing her husband to famine or war, but this sixth man was not her husband. Jesus knew it and he questioned her. Jesus – who spoke to this woman breaking all customs and laws.  First, it was unacceptable for a man to be speaking alone to an unmarried woman. A man didn’t even speak to his sister or mother in the streets. Second, she was an unclean and despised Samaritan woman, outcasts to the Jews. Last, he was a Rabbi, a teacher of the law – he had not business speaking to a woman of such loose moral character. He rocked the system. He threw down the false customs. He loved. Scandalous. 

She was intrigued, and evasive at his questioning. He asked her for water and she marveled that a Jew would request a drink from a Samaritan. He asked about her husbands and she avoided a direct answer. The discourse continued with Jesus gently teaching her, as she questions him.  He instructed her about worshiping in the spirit and in truth. Then Jesus proceeded to do something he hadn’t yet done – he revealed more about himself to his loose, despised, rejected, Samaritan woman than he had yet revealed to his own disciples. He tells her who he was. He offers her “living water” and later responds to her statement that the Messiah would someday come and reveal all things by simply telling her, “I that speaks to you is He.” (John 4:26)

She returns to the city so passionate about what she had learned and the Messiah whom she had just met that crowds follow her back to where Jesus was resting. She was changed. Set free. It was obvious.

She had been touched by love. The kind of love that no human can place into the soul of another. Divine love. Agape love from the God who is love.

I met Dave before I met Jesus. He was my first example of unconditional love and he loved well.  But he was a dry well, with limitations and a bottom. He could only fill the void so much because my imperfect cracks kept leaking out.

Then Jesus spoke to me at the well. Me – a Samaritan, an addict, a drunkard, and a murderer. He threw down the customs of inequality and taught me I was of value. He drew out the shame, the drugs, the alcohol and the sin. I was touched by love.

We were all Samaritans. Jesus came to touch us.

Seven Days Times Seven Weeks: Day 1 – THE SON OF GOD

Jesus_and__CrossIt seems fitting that I would begin my 49 day blog by talking about THE SON of GOD.

Last evening Dave and I sat in a sparsely populated theater watching the new Son of God movie. We had been given movie tickets for Christmas from our children, and it was the first chance we’ve had to celebrate our February 14th anniversary. For the first hour or so, I pondered the comparison between The Gospel of John, starring Ian Cusick, which is a favorite gospel movie of ours, and the new Son of God production. As the movie shifted towards the last supper and the impending betrayal of Jesus, I found myself captivated by the human element portrayed in this interpretation. We see more interactions with Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdeline traveling with the disciples, as well as Simon Peter and Judas. Creative liberties were taken to include these interactions of course, but they definitely intrigued me. The scriptures clearly depict that Jesus was relational. Restoration cannot be accomplished or lived out without relationships.

On the  big screen, I had to close my eyes at the scene of Jesus receiving 39 lashes. (Jesus was played by Diogo Morgado, who has been criticized as being too hot” to play Jesus) Mary behind a gate weeping as she watched her son beaten bloody had Dave and I both in tears. The reality of  the pain that was felt by a very human mother, having given birth to a very human son, who had to watch him die a horrible death, hit us both hard.

We wept.

It was a stark reminder of the intense pain – the trauma – that everyone who loved Jesus as son, brother, master, Messiah, or friend, experienced at his suffering. Love is pain. Relationship is pain. It is also the most enjoyable pain we can know in this life and the one Jesus modeled as the most important. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love the stranger in your midst. Love your wife. Love God. Love. 

Henri Nouwen expressed the suffering of relationship when he wrote, “Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”

Jesus was, is, and always will be, the perfect and ultimate example of our Wounded Healer –  the only one who can bring complete restoration to our souls. The One who models perfect love, and perfect love casts out the fear of pain in relationships. We won’t attain the fullness of it in this life, but we hold the promise of it in our bodies, souls, and spirits.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Is.53:5. 

He bore it all for us. He took it. He carried it. He owned it. 

For us. For me. For you. For my children, and my grandchildren. For my neighbor. For the person I love, and the person I don’t love so much. For the ones I want to hang out, and the ones I try to avoid. For the holy and the unholy, for the pious and the irreligious, for the seeker and runner. The rich, the poor, the well, the sick, the happy, the sad, the meek, the bold, me, you, them. The Son of God movie-goer, or the ones who choose not to go.

Restoration. He owned it. All for love.