He is Risen Indeed: Setting Women Free

The gospels all have slightly different versions of that glorious Resurrection morning when death was conquered once and for all. But one thing remains – the stone was rolled away from the tomb and we were set free, free, free. Women especially can rejoice in the breath of Life poured out on resurrection morning. 

tomb

Freedom

Without the cross there wouldn’t be a Resurrection and without the Resurrection there wouldn’t be a Christianity.  Without Christianity, Jesus would be just another man who lived and died, and the tomb would be something that sealed the grave of a nice but crazy man from Galilee who didn’t really deserve death. History would not have been irrevocably altered. Paul would not have spread the gospel which reached to the furthest corners of western civilizations.

Mom’s wouldn’t be teaching their little ones about the Risen Lord while they walk down dusty dirt roads, or reading the “Easter story” snuggling together on the couch before bed. Dad’s wouldn’t be complimenting their gussied up pretty girls on their way to Easter morning service, or straightening the tie of their little daddy look-a-likes.

tomb 3

Expectation

 

Easter represents a new life birthed from the freedom to love God and be loved by Him. The tombs that kept us captive in the “never-enoughs” and “too little’s” of our driven culture fall away as we live in expectation of the newness of life that God does in us, through us, and for us. 

The gentle winds of spring tickle with new life, stirring hearts that have grown cold from a long winter of where’s, and why’s, and how long’s. The stone is rolled away from the dead and barren of the I wants into the Living Spirit of  Your’e Enough. 

We witness lambs frolicking in joy and think about our Suffering Lamb, slain and Risen to breathe joy into our steps. 

The rolling away of the stone is an important element of the Resurrection story. The rolling away of the stone reveals that there is nothing of human flesh in the Resurrection story . It is the power of God from the cross to the grave, to eternity. The power of the Resurrection gives us life, but the rolling away of the stone exemplifies God’s setting us free to live that Kingdom life. 

In Christ’s Resurrected Freedom we witness –

Lent Love 1

Deliverance

God didn’t raise Him up and then say, “OK Son, I have gotten you this far. Now you are going to have to do some hard work to get free of the burden. Oops, sorry, my bad.” 

God removed the stone so that His resurrected Son, the God-Man, could walk freely into His new position of authority.

Winter often lasts for many years, sometimes a lifetime for the never-enoughs. They simply can’t move the stone leaving their deliverance ever so close, but behind impenetrable rock.

They can see it, touch it, feel the nuances of every groove with their fingertips, even smell the spring breeze flowing between the cracks, tempting them with thoughts of what if, but the stone barring the exit from the tomb is just too heavy to push completely out of the way. 

The stone rolled against Jesus tomb most likely weighed one to two tons. The stone was usually set at an incline that sloped down from the sides to the center,making it easier to close, but nearly impossible to open.  It was positioned on the outside of the opening to the tomb with no way to roll it away from the inside. It was too  heavy for a couple of women to roll away.

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:1-5). 

Take a good look at that picture, close your eyes and think about it. It is a dark place, cold, without sunshine. Thoughts begin to swirl with word like,  hopeless… weak… trapped… suffocating… impossible… never… abandoned…  I would freak out locked in there! 

A never-enough cannot roll away stones. 

Oh, dear sweet never-enoughs, we don’t have to. You don’t need to freak out over the darkness or difficulties. It doesn’t matter if you are without strength, feeling trapped, or left alone. There is a God who rolled away the stone. We not only get to walk from the tomb delivered, but we get to skip out in the loving embrace of Joy. Like lambs in springtime we have been set free. 

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance.

“But I am just a woman…” 

So were they.

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. (Mark 16:6-7). 

The very first who were given the task of telling the Good News were women. The very first Evangelists were women!  No stone placed in front of us is too big for God to move when He sends us into His service.

Into Holy Love.

” Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone… He is not here, for he has risen… Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead… So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples… Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28, selected portions).

When Christ rose from the dead setting us free from the tombs of our minds and hearts he also us free to go.  We were commissioned by the Risen Lord into His purposes from the first moments. Now, pay attention that at that time, in that historic period, women were completely oppressed. The words of women were not respected so that even Jesus disciples who learned at His feet alongside women doubted the truth of their story. In Jesus speaking to them says something important – He said women were equally as important in spreading the gospel message.

Why do you think Jesus told women first? He could have waited. He set a precedent of freedom from gender oppression first at the tomb! He is Risen daughters, you are free!

Minds are free. Hearts are free. Lives are free. 

Bear with me as you read all the gospel accounts. We aren’t called just once into spreading the Good News to both men and women, but in all four gospel accounts. 

“He is not here, but has risen… Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24). 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’Jesus said to her, “Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”   (John 20: 15-18).

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance. 

Power. 

Fear not. God has moved the stone. 

 

 

 

 

Brave Illusions

Winter, summer, drought, floods, sunshine, darkness, happiness, grief. Changing seasons.

Brave

Changing emotions. 

Days where we don’t feel quite so able to be real or authentic. Days that lack motivation and creativity. Days that lack the tangible presence of God when the heart needs to be wrapped in theophany. Days we simply don’t feel brave enough to face the endless toil needed to move us forward into the dreams and visions that propel us.

Days I wonder if I will ever desire to be authentic again, and brave enough to share it.

Seasons of disappointment. Seasons of accomplishment.

Will I feel inspired again? Will I be able to continue to co-author my story with God’s in a way that will bring him glory, and quite possibly help someone else? Is the call real?

Days we are afraid with genuine love comes genuine heartache. 

I’ve had those days recently. Today is one of them. The ups and downs of loss and gain exacerbated by the dreary New England winter days. I long for warmth. I long for sunshine.

I’m not feeling very brave.

Days run into weeks and I don’t write. The feelings are there. The thoughts are there. They are scattered. Not creative or well put together. A bit dark and cloudy like the sky. 

Emotions make us vulnerable (saying us instead of me makes me feel less vulnerable). Emotions show I am breathing, living, moving, loving. They open up the heart to a place that invites others to walk in. And walk on.

They open the heart to compassion. 

They open the heart to community. They open the heart to God. We can’t do this walk of life without others.

The very same others that overwhelm my introverted soul and make me want to hide out and watch re-runs of I Dream of Jeanie, or read books written by the very same others who have met my God in the dreary places too. 

The others that wear the face of God even when I’m not expecting to find Him there.

My theophany comes in the face of a sad child, an old woman in the vegetable aisle who sadly smiles from a well worn countenance. The Vietnam vet who loves God in the struggles of his addiction. The pastor who exposes his weary soul week after week with hungry nay-sayers.

I cling tightly to the words of Brennan Manning, one of my favorite others, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

I refuse to live an illusion in a world that is needing to be defined by the radical love of God.

This is my theophany. This is my Holy Spirit presence. It’s not always the happy, clappy, charismata of my youth and tradition, but the quiet peace of remaining true to myself as radically beloved by God. It’s a liturgy of love. 

Radically beloved by God. 

This is what I know. This is my reality.

So I blog the scattered thoughts of what I know. I will be brave. I will trust in the creativity of God when my own is lacking. I will hope his voice comes through when mine doesn’t. His voice continues to cry in the wilderness of souls “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Darkness is only an illusion. 

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”   Robert Frost

brave 1

 

Holy Love in the Philippines

As we enter into the weekend, please consider how selfless servants in developing countries spend their Holy Week, and may we learn from them as we read the words of Filipino volunteer, Bryan Mattilano,

Holy 5” Compassionate Reach International , together with my family and the Barangay [Village] Health Workers (BHW), initiated feeding operations in our barangay beginning] Holy Thursday.

As Christ dined with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist, we may also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.”

Holy Week11

Thursday: Supper of Salvation

Day 1 “There were 192 identified malnourished children in the barangay, and 163 of them participated in the feeding program. All the children were weighed and the height was measured. The MUAC strip (Mid Upper Arm Circumference) was also used to determine how malnourished each child is.

Holy 2

The menu was composed of rice, chicken adobo, egg, vegetables, and hot milk.

Holy 3

The Barangay Health Workers (BHW) identified each of the malnourished children in every purok (sections of the barangay), getting the weight, height and the MUAC measurements, for the locations of the feeding, and follow-up home visitations.

Holy 6

From 163 respondents, 103 of them (63%) are already at risk for becoming malnourished, while 38 children (23%), were identified as malnourished. Only 22 children, (less than 13%) were in normal ranges for nutritional adequacy.

Holy 1This malnutrition is due to scarcity of resources: sufficient food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, brought about by the devastation of Super-typhoon Yolanda, in November of 2014.

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines 1/2014

The super-typhoon also destroyed the local crops, rerouted water sources, killed coconut trees, and negatively affected the landscape and other resources in this fishing and farming community.

IMG_0489

The feeding operation was just on time with the Holy Thursday as Christ dines with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist.

Holy Week 9

May we also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.

Holy 4

More than anybody who are most vulnerable are the children…. ” 

Holy Week 10

PLEASE NOTE:   Filipino volunteer Bryan Mattilano, is a professor at the University in Tacloban.

Bryan grew up in San Jose, and his parents and family still reside in the village (barangay). San Jose is a 40 minute commute by jeepney or other public transportation from Tacloban. This work of great love and compassion, is done by Bryan, his family, and other volunteers, without pay, and during their “vacation” times.

Bryan, Chp Jamie 1

Bryan and Chp. Jamie – January of 2014, providing trauma support for the local population, and trauma training for the teachers of the elementary school.

Please consider becoming a sponsor of the feeding initiative in San Jose so we can continue to help rebuild lives, while caring for the least of these.

Compassionate Reach is a volunteer organization.  100% of donations go towards helping the poor, needy, and traumatized victims of disasters.

For more information email:  jamie@compassionatereach.org  and go to our website.

Thank you on behalf of San Jose and the volunteers of Compassionate Reach International. 

Contact us to find out how you can train as trauma chaplains, and/ or volunteer for mission outreach and disaster response, with Compassionate Reach International.

The Face of Jesus in the Philippines; Holy Love

As we enter into the weekend, please consider how selfless servants in developing countries spend their Holy Week, and may we learn from them as we read the words of Filipino volunteer, Bryan Mattilano,

Holy 5” Compassionate Reach International , together with my family and the Barangay [Village] Health Workers (BHW), initiated feeding operations in our barangay beginning] Holy Thursday.

As Christ dined with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist, we may also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.”

Holy Week11

Thursday: Supper of Salvation

Day 1 “There were 192 identified malnourished children in the barangay, and 163 of them participated in the feeding program. All the children were weighed and the height was measured. The MUAC strip (Mid Upper Arm Circumference) was also used to determine how malnourished each child is.

Holy 2

The menu was composed of rice, chicken adobo, egg, vegetables, and hot milk.

Holy 3

The Barangay Health Workers (BHW) identified each of the malnourished children in every purok (sections of the barangay), getting the weight, height and the MUAC measurements, for the locations of the feeding, and follow-up home visitations.

Holy 6

From 163 respondents, 103 of them (63%) are already at risk for becoming malnourished, while 38 children (23%), were identified as malnourished. Only 22 children, (less than 13%) were in normal ranges for nutritional adequacy.

Holy 1This malnutrition is due to scarcity of resources: sufficient food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, brought about by the devastation of Super-typhoon Yolanda, in November of 2014.

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines 1/2014

The super-typhoon also destroyed the local crops, rerouted water sources, killed coconut trees, and negatively affected the landscape and other resources in this fishing and farming community.

IMG_0489

The feeding operation was just on time with the Holy Thursday as Christ dines with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist.

Holy Week 9

May we also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.

Holy 4

More than anybody who are most vulnerable are the children…. ” 

Holy Week 10

PLEASE NOTE:   Filipino volunteer Bryan Mattilano, is a professor at the University in Tacloban.

Bryan grew up in San Jose, and his parents and family still reside in the village (barangay). San Jose is a 40 minute commute by jeepney or other public transportation from Tacloban. This work of great love and compassion, is done by Bryan, his family, and other volunteers, without pay, and during their “vacation” times.

Bryan, Chp Jamie 1

Bryan and Chp. Jamie – January of 2014, providing trauma support for the local population, and trauma training for the teachers of the elementary school.

Please consider becoming a sponsor of the feeding initiative in San Jose so we can continue to help rebuild lives, while caring for the least of these.

Compassionate Reach is a volunteer organization.  100% of donations go towards helping the poor, needy, and traumatized victims of disasters.

For more information email:  jamie@compassionatereach.org  and go to our website.

Thank you on behalf of San Jose and the volunteers of Compassionate Reach International. 

Contact us to find out how you can train as trauma chaplains, and/ or volunteer for mission outreach and disaster response, with Compassionate Reach International.

Letters to Jesus (You Know My Name)

Dear Jesus,

You may not remember me. I met you a few years ago at a “charismatic coffee house.” I thought it was pretty cool watching men, women, children, and even nuns all raising their hands to praise you. They all got along and seemed to really like each other. You may already know that I went outside to get high while they were singing. Even though I was high, I felt something there. It was something real. Something good. There was that one night when I prayed with two other teenagers to follow you. I liked those kids – I mean they were really square but seemed to be happy about being so uncool. I felt like they genuinely liked me. Me! Not for the drugs I could provide, or the parties, or an act I put on to be accepted – but just for me. I can’t really explain it, but for the first time in my life I felt kind of clean. Maybe even good. I felt like my life mattered. 

Dear Jesus 1

The coffee house was pretty far away from home though and I didn’t have anyone to take me there. When I went back to school I was called a “Jesus freak” and mocked out. I was known for being a fun person, a party person. I didn’t have anyone who would accept me. I couldn’t stand being alone. I hope you can understand that. I mean you created Eve because you said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. I was all alone and it just wasn’t good. My old life drew me back because that’s where my friends were. I don’t know how to be alone. I guess I am kind of like Adam in that way.

I never stopped looking for you. I went to a church one time, but the people were really cold. I don’t think they liked me. Maybe it was the smell of cigarettes, my ripped jeans or Sarah on my hip that turned them off. I didn’t know there was a special way I had to dress or act to go to church. I really didn’t like living with David, but that’s where we were at. I wasn’t sure if you liked it either, but it seemed to matter more to the people in the church, than introducing me to you. Besides, the pastors I called refused to marry us anyway. Ben had been raised going to church and he told me I shouldn’t expect anything different. There it was again. Where are you? I kept reading my bible and trying to find where you hung out, but the people I asked scared me. Actually, the truly kind people were everywhere BUT the churches. I was very confused. What I was reading about you in the bible was really different from the people who said they knew you. I would have liked that coffee house again.

dear jesus 2

I met an old lady who said she knew you. She was really kind and brought us cookies and meals after Katie was born. She used to talk all the time about what you “did” for her, and how much she loved you. I had no idea what she was talking about, I didn’t understand what “saved” or “born again” meant.  It was all sweet, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I wanted her to introduce me to you, but I was afraid to ask. I figured because of my drugs, cigarettes, jeans, and unholy lifestyle you wouldn’t want to meet me. Maybe, I don’t really want to you meet you if these are the people you like to hang out with now. Come on, I am nicer than most of the people who say they know you! I may not dress all that great, smoke cigarettes or swear, but at least I am kind to strangers. They are all so “better than thou.” Didn’t you write the story about the man who was hurt on the side of the road?

I began to understand that I couldn’t possibly have really met you because if I had, I would have said a “sinner’s prayer” and given up my “old ways.”  At the least I would have “known” I was “saved.” That’s what they told me. I guess there would be some kind of lingo I spoke to show I had met you. I wasn’t really sure about all the things they said I had to give up either. I didn’t understand what they meant by “sin.” It didn’t seem like I was doing anything wrong or hurting anyone. I am still trying to find someone who likes me the same way those kids in the coffee house did. I am still trying to find someone who is willing to be my friend, and show me where you live or hang out. I think I’d still like to get to know you Jesus, at least the Jesus who hung out with people like me. But the “Christians” who tell me that they know you make me question if you are even real.  Or worth it.

Maybe those nice people at the coffee house who said you loved me just for me, were were just my imagination.

Sincerely,

You Know My Name

Lenten Love (Wk 3)

Suffering comes in many sizes, ages, shapes, weights, degrees, educations, and cultures.  He doesn’t play favorites or care about our economic or social status. It doesn’t matter if we are religious – or if we shake our fist at the sky in derision. Often he visits without notice and leaves abruptly; sometimes he chooses to stay with us for a long duration. Suffering is the great equalizer.

Suffering masks the presence of what is real. 

Lent LoveIn the movie the Matrix, Morpheus explains to Neo,

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad… You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church…when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

To blind us from the truth of God’s love.

There isn’t a cure for suffering, because once you walk alongside him, he changes you forever; but there is an antidote – “something that prevents or counteracts injurious or unwanted effects.”

lent love 6Love

The other night someone asked me what I do, and after discussing family and school, my ministry as a chaplain came up. I mentioned how it is beyond words for me to describe what happens when a person finds hope and healing in their suffering. This led the conversation onto a theological path that I had no intentions of following. Sometimes once we get a foot on that path, it is difficult to change the direction.

The person I was speaking to said they had never experienced suffering. I chose not to tell my story. The simplest of explanations were irrelevant as I found myself staying focused on the One who rescued me. Past theological perspectives swirled quietly around and tried to pull me down into an abyss of PTSD, judgement, and questions of “Why?” The thoughts and images fought for a place in my mind as I smiled attentively, and listened to the voice the Holy Spirit resounding more loudly, “It is finished. That includes you. Never ever forget His great love.”

Ten years ago it would have crippled me. Seven years ago I would have continue to chase the demons of why God had purposed to drive me through the tunnels of suffering which led to death, confusion, chaos, and hopelessness. Five years ago I would have rambled my defense, all the while hearing the fragmented voices of judgment questioning if I had done something horribly wrong – wondering if there was something horribly wrong with me. 

Lent Love 1I did do something horribly wrong – I made a horribly wrong choices which led to death.  But Jesus did something incredibly right which led to redemptive life.

God’s love is the antidote to the “unwanted effects” of suffering.

God is love. 

When someone is walking with suffering, Love takes them by the hand and leads the way through the murky depths. Love bandages the wounds and feeds the soul. Theology gets replaced by mercy, doctrine is put aside for compassionate acts, self-ambition is buried, and the law is drowned by the fountains of grace.

Lent love 2

“Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. ‘Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?’

He answered, ‘What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?’

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

‘Good answer!’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you’ll live.’

Looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?’

Jesus answered by telling a story. ‘There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?’

The one who treated him kindly,’ the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, ‘Go and do the same.”’                    Luke 10:25-37 The Message

lent love 7

We can only reveal to others what we have embraced for ourselves.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon one day last week, and I hadn’t eaten yet. I knew there was little in the house so I drove through a food chain to pick up soup and salad for myself, and a brownie for my son who had just joined me. As I left the take out window and rounded a corner, he was there holding a sign, “Homeless.” I stopped next to him and prompted my son to ask him, “Have you eaten yet?” He said he hadn’t. We quickly handed him the bag of hot soup, salad, and a water bottle and he replied, “Thank you. God bless you.” As we pulled away I looked at Sam and laughed, “Darn, I’m hungry.” Immediately the Lord spoke to my heart and I said, “Sam, it was so easy to give him a bag of food, but what we didn’t do was give him our love. If we see him again, we need to take the time to invite him inside the restaurant for a meal, and learn about his life.”

lent love 4Dave was waiting in line at a Piano guys concert with Sam, birthday gifts to the two of them from our daughter, when he gave his last ten dollars to homeless vet to catch the train. As he watched him walk away, he questioned if they could have done more.

We only lived a portion of the Good Samaritan’s love. It was within my means to walk beside the homeless man, and possibly bandage some wounds. Even if just for a brief moment. What would it have meant instead of ten dollars, to drive him to N.Y.C. and in doing so, maybe change a life by an act of Love.

Last night in a powerful Lenten message of love and suffering, my brother in Christ gave an example, “Ever notice how everyone who gets a flat tire can laugh about it a week or a month later? She shorter the distance between the flat and the laugh, the healthier the body, the keener the mind, the stronger the spirit.”  He expounded upon the love of God expressed to others in their suffering. He has been there, and love won.

We are called to stop and help with the heavy burdens of life’s tires, not to drive by and call a tow truck, or even hand out tools. We are to help restore the laugh.

lenten 5The words of others from varying backgrounds – justice, judgment, forgiveness, or deliverance no longer hold any ground over the actions of Love. What a powerful, irreversible, and life changing moment takes root when the love of God and others, provides the antidote. The unwanted effects of suffering become the channel by which our own love is deepened, restored, and extended to others.

Paul said in Romans 11:33,

 “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.”  

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
    that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.”

I learned during my conversations the other night that flat tires no longer phase me. My laugh comes within hours, even moments.

Love is winning.

God grant us the grace to love.

Lent as Listening (Week 2)

He spoke about suffering. Putting aside the theological debates surrounding the “problem of pain,” “why bad things happen to good people,” and “sovereignty,” to speak about the One who knows suffering intimately. He knew that those who were not yet acquainted with grief wouldn’t understand the message. He spoke from his heart.

There will always be individuals who never really know grief, choosing to quote it away with religious platitudes, or push it deep under the surface where it can’t be revealed, felt, or understood. A “new creation” means the past is over. Deal with it. 

Jesus gardenI held back the tears as I listened to his words. I know the place he spoke from, not just from my story, but from the thousands of others whose pain I now share. Afterwards I spoke to another minister of the Good News, whose kindness and remembrance of me touched my heart. Later, I shared with him and his wife the deep healing I have experienced in the past year, admitting I had almost given up believing I would be completely free of symptoms of PTSD. Free from anger. Free to love.

Healed.

I left for the first time in three years thinking perhaps I was finding a home in this community, as I have found my home rooted firmly in the unconditional love of Christ. Finally settled in a church with people who dare to love deeply, and are learning to risk wildly; and in Christian community of fellow ministers I can connect with under the cross of Christ. People who listen to the story of pain and redemption woven deeply into the lives of others; fragile humanity who endeavors to feel the souls of those they meet.  People who understand that relationships take work – in truth.

Listening people. 

Last week I spoke to one of my daughters who shared about an important relationship – a future relative – who doesn’t care to listen to her when she speaks. If she begins to share who she is, desiring to develop a relationship based on truth, the other person immediately preaches, lectures, and attempts to convince her of her need to change her thinking, and the error of her ways. She no longer tries to have a relationship with this person, settling instead for superficiality and shallow, non-redemptive words.

I mentioned that people react this way from their own defenses, out of their own pain and fear. I apologized for behaving this way myself during her childhood. Mostly I listened. Why is it more important for the church in this country to do – to speak, rather than to be. Why are we as Christ followers as competitive as the world we live in? Do we hear His words to be in the world but not of it?

 People are more interested in defending their beliefs than listening to another’s pain. 

jesus washing feetJesus humbly washed the feet of the ones He loved, even to the one who would betray Him to death. Perhaps when someone opens their mouth to speak, we need to pick up the towel and bowl as He did and humble ourselves by listening.

If we listen to the story of another – their beliefs, their pain – we have to admit that some things in the cosmos simply don’t make sense. Maybe we don’t have all the answers. Maybe God is slightly bigger than our understanding of temporal things. We have to acknowledge that if bad things can happen to them, then perhaps they could happen to us. We have to accept that what is theoretical in our lives could very well become experiential. It requires humility to embrace the opinion of another, rather than  defend the truth we think we know.

We need to be attentive in listening, learning, and finding the Sacred in the lives of others, rather than focusing on theological differences.

There is no greater story in a person’s life than the one that rings of redemption. Without the suffering of Christ, we would not have been redeemed by Him. If we were to sit at His feet right now, would we be more interested in speaking to Him about the reasons for His suffering, or which of our beliefs held the most theological truth? Would it really matter if our lives had been played as chess pieces or as a result of our own choices? Or would we lean into His suffering and embrace Him, experiencing the pain, joy, and redemption that we hold common?

As I approached my home last night I began to weep uncontrollably. I sat in my car in the driveway, and for a moment I was taken back to the trauma of my son’s death, the brutality of pain, and the wounds of my soul. I leaned deeply into the grief as I leaned deeply into Christ. I felt the warmth of His blood as it poured down and covered me. I experienced the embrace of  His resurrected joy. I no longer ask Him why.

It no longer matters.

Just as Peter taught in last night’s message, it wasn’t my theology that held me in that moment of pain – it was the presence of Christ and His wounds. We have been given an opportunity to hold others in their pain as we listen and bow before the One who makes all wounds equal.

May God help us to be better listeners this Lenten season as our own healing pours forth as a balm upon others.

It is by His wounds we are made whole.

 

Lent as Unifying

When I saw them standing upfront in their robes, placing the sign of the cross with ashes upon the foreheads of those kneeling before them, I was transported back thirty-five years to my last Ash Wednesday service as a practicing Catholic. Evangelicals aren’t known for celebrating the season of Lent, yet in recent years there has been an increase in Lenten practices. There seems to be a few reasons for this, but many people attest to finding the need for some tradition in a country that is global, instant, and quickly losing touch with the past.

lent-purpleLent is meant to mirror the season of Passover and the 40 days are representative of the time that Jesus spent in the Wilderness, and Moses in the desert. It expands 46 days with Sundays padded in as feast days, when individuals can rest from their weekly fast.

At this past Wednesday’s service I was accompanied by Dave, who having been raised in a Baptist home had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service.  The service we attended was a uniting of the local Ecumenical clergy, as well as my own faith tradition and some other “evangelicals” all part of this pastors group I have embraced.

Some noted theologians are against the idea of evangelicals embracing aspects of Catholicism, stating that it is a smorgasbord of pick and choose  liberality, i.e. celebrate Lent, throw out infant baptism, celebrate Ash Wednesday, throw out transubstantiation. With a critical eye, I can understand this kind of thinking and yet, I believe this is more as a point of commonality rather than opposition. I believe this can enhance the evangelicals thinking about what they are picking and choosing and open up the possibilities of different doctrines as just that – doctrines – not the identifying basis for a fellowship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

For David, his first Ash Wednesday was both “educational” and put him in touch with “church history.” He felt connected to the Universal Church in knowing that roughly a minimum of 1.5 billion worldwide would also take the sign of the cross on their foreheads to be reminded that it is from dust we have come, and to dust we will return. As for me, I was put back in touch with the God of my youth, who was not so different from the God I now worship – except now I have a richness of history and a deeper relationship based on knowledge and understanding that was lacking in my past.

I for one am very glad that I am being reunited with a theological, liturgical, and historical depth to my Christian faith in unity with others who are revering Jesus as Lord of Lord and King of Kings.

This seems like another opportunity to remember the words of Christ in Mark 9:39-41,

“But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”

They will know us by our love. David and I are both looking forward to this Wednesday’s Lenten service with anticipation.
 

When the “Church” Wounds

Dave and I talked deeply today, as we always do during our Saturday morning devotions. The word – devotions feels almost trite – so other worldly, religious at times – held as a scepter for the truly spiritual to hold up. We are far from super-spiritual. Just us – no more, no less, but everything to God and to each other.

when the 6Yet, “devotions” is exactly what they have become for David and I – a time of deep commitment, to each other, and to God. We are totally devoted to our time – the three of us. Five if you want to view it from a Trinitarian perspective. We are learning who God is at the core of our being, and by doing so we are learning who we are. We have learned how much he truly likes us, for exactly who we are. It makes it so much easier not to be offended by the actions of others when you know how much God likes you. It no longer matters as much what a frail human thinks about us, or does to us, when we know God thinks we are awesome.

Broken, but more than OK.

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God thinks I am remarkably OK. Actually, He completely delights in me, even if you don’t. Even as a lady “pastor.” A missionary. A chaplain. Even as none of those, but just his daughter and friend. Just Jamie. He is smiling at me- right at me. 

Right now.

Very few people have gotten to know Dave and I. At fifty-six years old, we are both very aware of how rare it is to meet people who are willing to take the time to go deep – to know our story – or to remove their masks enough that we might try to enter into their story. Especially not the tale that is told with words, but the one that is reflected in the emotion or our lives and the fabric of our humanity. The place where wounds are caused and then healed. The place where love is given, taking back, and then given again – empowered by the One who gave us His love.

That kind of love involves risks. It involves pain. It is a torn and repaired tapestry, wrought with a history of short redemption tales. Most people don’t want a tapestry with holes, they would rather throw it out and replace it with something new. A new friend, a new relationship, a new ministry partner, a new church, a new pastor.  Even a new marriage. Out with the old, in with the new.

when the 4It is even more difficult to develop relationships when you have been forced to move as many times as we have. Start over, start over, and start over again. Relationships take time, and time is not easy to find for many in our rushed society. There is no history in new relationships, and our history is deep. Our history points to our gifts and our gifts speak of who we are.

For all of us frail humans to tell our story means we are going to breathe deeply of the spirit of God, and admit that many things we believe about other people, we may be wrongly interpreting through the grid of our past experiences. It means we perceive rejection when there is none. We unknowingly try to control outcomes and behaviors out of fear. We hurt each other, apologize, get hurt, get over it, and hurt again.

To live with redemption stories means the church has to be the church; not just a place where you gather on Sundays to listen to a preacher, or the building that is dependent upon tithes to pay the bills, or classrooms of Sunday school teachers trying to get the Word of God, into hungry people.

It has to be a place where Jesus is found in the loving relationships that happen in the everyday fabric of our stories.

A place where people go out and serve others who have stories waiting to be told, so they can be received, and also redeemed. A listening place. A healing place.

A Jesus place.

A place where everyone who enters has at some point sat down with others in the “church” and broken the bread of communion which extends far beyond the cracker or wafer we celebrate in remembrance of the “ordinance.” Beyond the pot-luck suppers, or fellowship dinners to our homes.

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There is a vulnerability in welcoming people into our homes, and into our lives. It is the place where wounds are made and healed. It is the place where love is given and received.

It is the place where Christ dwelt when he walked upon this earth.

The church cannot grow beyond the relationships it develops. We have for too long made the church the building where we gather on a Sunday, or for a mid-week small group. We too often think in terms of inviting someone to church, instead of being the church to people.

If we were to ask Paul if he would like to “come to church” with us he would most likely wonder what strange doctrine we were referring to. We are the ekklesia, from the greek word kaleo (to call) with the prefix ek (out) added on. We are the called out. The English word for “church” however is derived from the kuriakon, which more commonly referred to a building or temple. At the time when the bible was being translated into Latin, the word most commonly refer to the building, as opposed to the people assembling in it. Sadly, the word has often translated into the attitude.

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We are the called out, and we assemble together. We need a place to assemble and the “church” building has become that place. I am incredibly thankful for the “churches” that are showing great love in developing relationship both with the “church,” and with other “churches”  (assemblies), for the sake of ekklesia growth – Kingdom growth, and not just individual growth. But it should never replace the intimate relationships developed within community, and outside the building.

Sometimes that happens within the building as well, but if it does not extend to the outside, if it remains the Sunday only, I only see you wearing your finery – your Sunday masks, and your spiritual attitude, then we are not living as the ekklesia – the called out. Instead, we are living no differently than the Pharisees did in keeping to the commandments, doctrines, routines, and rituals of men.

We will be known for our love.

I am so thankful for the few who have reached out from within the walls of the “church” to get to know Dave and me. With our cult background of spiritual abuse, an invitation to “church” was never really going to get us there. We’d lived through the writing on the wall. I am even more thankful for few in leadership who reached out in love, revealing to us not all pastors, teachers, or leaders are manipulative, abusive, or control freaks. Some, even reflected how we saw Jesus to be. In love with all His people, regardless of where they “assemble.”

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Some even loved us for exactly who we were, and love gave us the courage to could step through the doors to “assemble.”

So for those pastors, leaders, clergy, laypeople, churchgoers, humans – let me encourage you to look a little deeper – just like Jesus did. Stay a moment at the well and ask for the story of a women; actually listen to the “publican” with a faith perspective you don’t understand; help the young man you find appalling in his words and actions.

You may learn something about them. You may learn more about yourself. Most importantly, commune with the ones who God puts in your path, both inside and outside the “church.” You may just be an instrument of healing in their lives. At least you won’t wound them any further.

Twenty-Four Years and Twenty-Four Months – Advent Expectation

What we are doing is often mistaken as a mark of a mature Christian more than who we are becoming.

Advent is all about expectation.

IMG_7550Second only to the coming of Jesus, our greatest expectation should be who we are becoming as disciples of Jesus.

Twenty Four Years ago today, December 10th,  I buried my infant son.

Twenty four months ago, the effects of the traumatic loss were drastically, dramatically, and painfully revealed for the last time, when I experienced an event that triggered that time in my life.

For eight years previous to the event of two years ago, a lifetime of suppressed grief had finally begun to heal, and heal deeply. Twenty-four months ago the wound was badly re-injured, revealing the need for it to be permanently closed.

Expectation

The work of grief and the work of “being,” as an important aspect of Christian growth, has been replaced by doing. We are too busy, too, too rushed, too broke, too involved, too stressed, too overwhelmed, have too many commitments – simply too “over-everything,” to actually slow down enough to sit at the feet of Jesus and give ourselves time to feel.

“Our efforts to disconnect ourselves from our own suffering end up disconnecting our suffering from God’s suffering for us. The way out of our loss and hurt is in and through.” Henri Nouwen

I see this most clearly at this time of the year – a time which represents the birth of the King of Kings, and the second coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to be still, to know, and to be.

Twenty -Four 1It is a time to heal the fragments of relationships and the fragments of our soul.

Expectation

You can’t heal, from what you can’t feel. It is like a person with nerve damaged feet, trying to prevent frostbite when they can’t feel the cold. The damage has already been done when it becomes visible.

So it is with pain.

To feel means pain, and pain is a hindrance to the false image of our ability to handle everything that is thrown at us. We are over-medicated, overindulged, over committed, and over extended. Somehow, “busy” has become the new answer to, “How are you?”  

The results?  Anxiety is now the number one reason for doctor visits.

Busy keeps us from having to delve deeply into who we are. Busy keep us from becoming Christ-like.

What we are doing, has become more important than who we are becoming. Success is measured in events, toys, jobs, careers, sports, church growth, money  – all things which represent our own image instead of the image of Jesus.

Expectation

We see the 80/20 principle applied here – 20% of people are doing all the work in a church or ministry, while 80% are not doing any of the work. I have to stop and wonder how many of the 80% are doing it because they are driven – falsely finding themselves in the work they do, instead of in Christ.

I’ve been there. I lived there after Micaiah died. My kids were raised there. Work. Do. Don’t be. Don’t see.

Expectation

IMG_7577Christian references often reflect this mentality:

“They are committed members of the church…attending every service, as well as helping every time the doors are opened. They tithe faithfully, and have been Sunday school teachers for 15 years. You cannot find more willing servants in the church anywhere.”

That is a great reference,  but it wouldn’t tell me who a person is, just what they do. Actions don’t always speak to the depth of a person’s relationship with God, or with each other.

Expectation

What would happen if someone wrote a reference that said, “I have never met a more Christ-like person in my life. Each year I have seen him/her change more into the image and likeness of Christ so I know that surely they have been with Jesus.”

Expectation

Twenty FourTwenty four months ago Jesus began to close my healing wound for good.  He said, “Look in there, Jamie and tell me what you see.”  I tried to avoid it – as I had been avoiding it for a long, long, time. I didn’t like what I saw. I had avoided the pain of the death of our son, the PTSD label, the traumatic grief, the spiritual abuse, the shame – for so many years that it had festered into something ugly. Something more painful than the death itself. Eight years ago I accepted and acknowledged it for what it was.

Eight years ago the healing began.

Expectation

But twenty-four months ago, Jesus was asking me to see myself with the same love and forgiveness that He did. He wanted me to look into the raw wound and see grace. To forgive myself for the years of traumatic grief that my children endured; for the years of loss and pain and legalism, and anger.

“Even when I’ve hurt the ones I love most Lord?”  “Especially when you’ve hurt the ones you love the most.”

Expectation

“But Jesus, you never had to forgive yourself, you were perfect in relationship.” “Exactly. So sit here quietly with me. Do not move, or work. Be with me. Just be. ”

Expectation

Jesus revealed the years we confused works with growth, quiet for peace, happiness for joy, sin management for grace filled acceptance. He taught me not to confuse religious expectations with genuine friendships, or to accept wearing a mask in the place of His grace.  I no longer confuse Christians with Christ, or aspire to be someone else who I thought was more spiritual than I.

Expectation

I am the most spiritual person I know.

After all, I am the only person I know.

Expectation

And only Jesus really knows me. He is enough.

Dave is next, and Jesus reveals Himself through Dave to me, and through me to Dave. Such is the way of love that has endured the floods and fires together.  It becomes a bond made of Titanium.

Unbreakable. Unstoppable.

Expectation

For wounds to close, we have to be still. We have to be willing to sit with Jesus long enough for Him to speak into our healing.

Expectation

My son was born, and died, during the second week of advent; the week most commonly known as the week of Love, Peace, or Expectation.

IMG_7564Without the pain, I couldn’t know  deep joy.

Without the pain, I wouldn’t know true Hope.

Without the pain, I couldn’t know the healing given by the Son of God, born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Immanuel – God with us.

 Expectation

“The birth of Christ is the central event in the history of the earth — the very thing the whole story has been about.” — C.S. Lewis

Happy Birthday Micaiah James.  I wait with expectation.  “I’ve never been more homesick than now…” Mercy Me