Archive for ‘Faith’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

photo 2

New life can be found in deep water


“Drowning must be a terrible way to die, breath snatched as dark waters cover you, panic rising as you’re claimed by murky coldness.”–
From Confessions of a Big Girl  

When I think of murky cold water, I’m taken back to my childhood and images of the muddy Ohio River. I recall strains of “Shall we gather at the river…” sung loudly and fervently, a thick Kentucky accent wrapped around each note and phrase, as a group of earnest believers made their way to the banks of the river for the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the minister slowly entering the water up to above his waist, finding his footing before those who wanted to be baptized made their way to him. I don’t recall the liturgy in full. But I do remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” being said for each person. Then I watched how each one trusted the arms of the pastor, leaning back into that brown seemingly dirty water to profess their faith in Christ.

Water can be a very beautiful and safe thing.

Water sitting in a clear glass is a nourishing beverage. Healthy. Harmless.

An inch or two of standing water outside after a warm summer rain: that’s a puddle perfect for splashing in, running through. Fun. Whimsical.

A crystal blue pool with a deep end, or a community pool with a lifeguard; a pond on a farm or a lake with rippling water ready for water skiing: these places are where the water can get over your head if you don’t know how to swim.

And what about an ocean? You can’t drink the water there. That can be a problem. Especially if you need it, if you are lost at sea that deep water will not help you. In the ocean, the stakes are higher. It takes the proper equipment to survive the waves and the mysteries that swim there.

A few years ago I saw first hand the devastation that water can do when a flood damaged much of the bottom floor of our church and claimed the lives of two of our members. I wrote about that incident, and I learned to respect the power of water like never before.

Sin is like water. We think we can control it. When it is just sitting there in a glass, we know we’ve got it covered. We can swallow it whole, and it won’t be trouble. But what happens when the water gets too deep and murky?

I’m currently reading Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush’s book Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity. Even though I grew up a world away from the one Naima did, and we have very different stories of how we came to faith, the book is filled with connection points for any woman. There are few of us who haven’t struggled with body image, self-worth, and believing that God can really love and fulfill us so much.

In her chapter entitled “It Led to My Death,” Naima tells of a time in her life when even with caution signs, she decided to go her own way and before she knew it, it was too late to turn back.

Naima’s deep and dangerous water was the all-too-common destructive relationship with a man who said all of the right things and showed love and respect for a time, but who actually represented a dark and powerful undertow. As the relationship continued, she recognized he was robbing her true beauty and self respect, but it seemed there was no way out.

Fear and desperation led Naima to her dusty Bible for answers. And as her faith slowly strengthened, she began to fight the current. Bravely, she acknowledged the part she played in the real-life drama—how she willingly “held [her] breath and sank.”

Naima’s story could be my own. I have taken part in destructive and confusing relationships covered in sticky sweet layers of deception. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that I often did not have the discernment skills nor spiritual depth and wisdom to handle those relationships properly.

Looking back results in the classic phrase, “If I had known then, what I know now.” But I believe that sin has an ongoing purpose in our faith journeys. I’m honestly grateful that though forgiven and free, I can still feel a tinge of pain when I think of the times I succumbed to the deep waters of sin.

But as Naima reminds me, and all of us really, it is precisely those times that lead to a death that can save us. As she so skillfully states, “…dying to sin and self-loathing, I drowned and was buried only to rise again because the Lord called me from the depths of the waters to walk upon them and not drown beneath them.”

Sin can be like water. But as He does with so many things, God takes the water meant for our destruction, and He redeems it to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God.

If you would like to read Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush, it is available now at www.amazon.com. As I am sharing a piece of her story with you, Naima has graciously offered that the first two people to leave a comment on my blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book. For more information about Naima and her ministry, visit www.facebook.com/ministryofnaima.

2013/11/30

Wonder

WonderRecently I was honored to be asked to go to Grandparents & Special Friends Day at a local private school as the special friend of a young lady from our church. I was doubtless filling in for grandparents who did not live close. Plus, when I thanked the sweet girl for her invitation, she honestly said, “We don’t know many people around here.” At least I am blessed to be one of the few.

The day entailed a sweet program where each grade did a musical presentation before we were given tours of the school. The program was progressive from the youngest grades up to eighth grade. As I watched the kids, all uniform clad and many eager to share their hard work, I started noticing more details about the students. The uniforms did not hide the occasional student with unkempt hair, or an untucked shirt here and there. They couldn’t hide the weariness in some kids faces, or the students that didn’t smile as they sang.

I sat there realizing that adults are more like kids than we like to admit.

There’s a commercial out right now which features a dad and his son eating pudding. Dad starts talking about his adult life, and the kid’s imagination takes him into the scenarios he hears described. Suddenly we see the son is balding with a small suit on. He goes through the day, fighting traffic, dealing with jerks in the office, and so on. By the end of his dad’s explanation of why he needs pudding, the son simply hands his cup of pudding over saying his dad needs it more than he does.

It’s cute to see the kid in the commercial walking through his dad’s paces. We adults sometimes like to think we have it all together because we have learned stuff along the way. But in reality, we are messy, and we get hurt. We fall down, and we make mistakes every day. In those ways we are very much like kids.

We sometimes have to deal with bullies in the form of bosses or mean people. We don’t always choose good and faithful friends. We forget to take our lunch with us, and someone has to spot us until we can pay it back. Then we spill the lunch that we had to borrow money for down our shirt and we don’t have an extra one at work. We are like kids.

If only we could capture the playfulness, wonder, and the spirit of joy that kids have this time of year. 

We are at the beginning of Advent, and the new year in our church life. The story starts again–the most amazing story every lived. And we do have the chance to act like kids. We have the chance to approach the next few weeks with childlike faith and wonder as we visit the manger and think about how God changed the world forever with a little baby.

Yes, there will be mall traffic, and school programs, and decorating, and family functions, and so much more to navigate. But let’s act like kids this year as we focus on the coming of our King. Let’s anticipate His arrival by (at least inwardly) jumping up and down, just like kids at Christmas. Who’s with me?

2013/08/31

Good Form

running-symbolA couple of weeks ago, I went to a running clinic on Good Form. I’ve been running for almost a decade, so why would I need a Good Form class? After my car accident earlier this year, it took me a while to get back into my normal workout schedule. And unfortunately by the time I was done with physical therapy, much of my endurance that I built up last year was lost.

This hasn’t been discouraging for me. In fact, I’ve focused on more cross training with dance, shorter running routes, and strength work as I gear up for a Warrior Dash in October. But even as my focus has been other types of exercise, I have this longing to train for another longer race. And with that longing has come a desire to improve my running both in form and speed, which I know will increase my overall benefit from it. It made sense then to start with my form as a precursor to speed training.

At the class, our experienced instructor Tammy Sanders took a video of each of us running past her. Then she played our videos back one by one in slow motion, pointing out how our feet were striking the pavement, what our posture looked like, and if our arms were in the right position. We learned that cadence, or the number of steps per minute, is important too.

It was very enlightening to find out that I’m a heel striker, my arms are coming across my body too much, and that I have good posture and head position. I left the class focused on the simple truths that would help me correct my poor form: bend my knees, center my posture, look down the road and not down at the pavement, lean slightly forward, run with light steps to stay balanced.

My first solo run to practice the good form tips I had learned went well for the first mile or so. But I noticed after that, my body wanted to return to old habits. I struggled at times to keep the new, better form even though I knew that it was more efficient and would help me avoid injuries common to runners. I measured my cadence that day, and found out that mine is about 170 versus the optimum 180 strikes per minute. I have work to do there too.

For a decade, I’ve been running—with success—as far as I would define it. I’ve never been fast; I’ve had very few injuries, but with good form now added to the mix, what more might I discover I can achieve?

What if I practiced good form in my spiritual life as well?

I’m not asking this question to lead into a discussion on “works” here. I’m talking about what if I consciously started to address the bad spiritual habits or baggage I picked up along the way that is throwing my form off.

For those of us raised on church, sometimes bad spiritual form is linked to our families and how they relate to church or other believers. If we’ve been hurt at church, sometimes it is linked to forgiveness we refuse to extend to other Christians or a church as a whole. For those of us who were or are preacher’s kids there’s a reason that there is a negative stereotype equated with many of us. And we see many pastors and wives of pastors (I was also one of these) wound up in burdens that while related to ministry also have to do with poor spiritual form due to burn out, unresolved conflicts, and living hidden lives outside of their parish.

But like the formation of any bad habit, poor spiritual form doesn’t happen overnight. I know for me, I can think of several very distinct instances or situations even in the last five years of being a Christian where certain seeds planted bad form. And frankly, I let those seeds take root.

This bad form has made me more cautious about being “too involved” at church sometimes. It has made me distrust certain Christians without real cause. Basically bad spiritual form has given me excuses to hang some of my decisions on, a place to justify a distance and a separation that I sometimes have practiced in order to protect myself.

I know there is a different way. I can practice good spiritual form. It isn’t easy. Bad habits are hard to break.

But I can start with some simple truths:

bend my knees in prayer

center my posture on God

look down the road and see who is in need not down at the pavement absorbed in my own problems

lean slightly forward into hope

run with light steps giving my burdens to God to stay balanced

Father, help us to practice good form in our spiritual lives that we may be strengthened in you and that we might discover anew what you can do through us to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.

2013/05/31

Serendipity

40 years ago my grandparents celebrated their 25th Anniversary here.

40 years ago my grandparents celebrated their 25th Anniversary here.

I’m nearing the end of my “School’s out for Summer” vacation. Traveling with my mom Ginger and daughter Emma, we spent most of the time in Mayfield, Kentucky visiting my aunt and uncle and their oldest son and his wife. We had a great week of movies and food and church happenings around the congregation my uncle pastors. I’ve made an attempt to get things in that both mom and Emma like.

In that vein since my family has always loved baseball, I planned for the last leg of the trip to take us to Jackson and Memphis Tennessee so that we could take in ballgames at Pringles Park and AutoZone Park. Lucky for us, we were running late to the game in Jackson when high winds and a thunderstorm rolled through. We caught the storm en route in Milan, Tennessee and had to wait it out. By the time we did get to Jackson, things were a bit too soggy for the game to start on time, so we had a nice dinner at a local Mexican joint and headed on in to Memphis.

After some business and fun with friends and musicians Linda and Cecil Yancy, we had planned on heading to the Redbirds game. But a mix-up with comp tickets left us high and dry, so we opted for dinner in a sweet Irish restaurant and pub called The Brass Door. A man named Seamus runs the joint, and I highly recommend the food and the vibe of the place.

It was there at The Brass Door that serendipity became apparent. Tomorrow is my grandparent’s 65th anniversary, and as my mom explained over fish and chips, 40 years ago she and my dad were taking them out with my mom’s kid brother Steve to celebrate. We sat just a few blocks from the very restaurant they went to that is unfortunately no longer in business. It was one of those rotating places high on top of a building overlooking Memphis. I snapped a photo of the building as we drove past (as pictured).

Who would have guessed that we would be sitting in the same town that my grandparents Elmo and Verna Melvin celebrated their 25th anniversary on the eve of their 65th anniversary? Wow. I wasn’t even born when that occurred.

It’s a season of anniversaries for us. This month marks the 13th anniversary of Emma being baptized and my confirmation in the Episcopal Church.  In just a few weeks it will be the 5th anniversary of my divorce, and the 4th anniversary of our move to Nashville.

As I think about these milestones, I realize they represent such an amazing spectrum of feelings and events. My grandparent’s anniversary is truly awesome in that same way with everything that those 65 years hold. 65 years!

They have faced so much together: poverty, abundance, love, anger, tragedy, joy, family, more family, a growing faith, health, sickness, loss, comfort, constancy, patience, and…well…I could go on and on. This short list represents how the good stuff is mixed in with the hard stuff. And as I look down the short path to the 40th anniversary of my birth this December, I’m starting to appreciate this tension more. I think there is a richness that can be savored in the good things when we have overcome the challenges on our way to the celebration of a milestone.

As Jesus so wonderfully shares in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When I think about my grandparents being married for so long, I see this verse (and many others) being lived out. I think they would both admit they couldn’t have made it to this milestone on their own, but only through the power of the Prince of Peace. So I pray that they can celebrate the full spectrum of all this anniversary represents between them and to those of us that are near and far thinking of them. They have overcome all that life has handed them for 65 years, together, walking with God. I am so blessed by their testimony of love and perseverance, and hope I can continue to walk through the trials and milestones of my life with such honor and faith.

2013/03/21

More body of Christ

Body of Christ

Body of Christ

It’s one of my favorite stories from my daughter’s toddler years. Our family was attending our first Episcopal church. Our daughter had been baptized there, and Emma’s dad Chuck was in the process of becoming a priest. We were learning the traditions of a church much different than those of our childhoods.

I did not leave the Nazarene church due to any deep seeded angst. I did sometimes feel like a square peg in a round hole while I was growing up in the church, but much of that could be explained by being a preacher’s kid and a theatre geek. I left simply for love—love of a new tradition of worship and love of my then husband, Chuck.

I felt if each of us went to different churches our house would be a house divided. So though Chuck studied at Nazarene Theological Seminary, he soon felt a call to be an Episcopal priest. And through my own personal prayer and discernment, it seemed the very right thing to do was to support him and join this new church steeped in liturgy and ancient worship such as I had not experienced before.

One of the traditions that I fell in love with is the celebration of Christ’s sacrifice through communion every Sunday. I simply love how that is the center, the climax really, of most weekly services. No matter the priest, the sermon, or the season, we all come together at the table to acknowledge that Christ died and rose again to save us.

I don’t remember the exact time of year, but our church was meeting in our fellowship hall due to some renovations in the main sanctuary. The space was seemingly less sacred as we used it as a place for lunches after service, weekly meetings, and the annual pancake supper. To accommodate all of the weekly worshippers, chairs were now crowded in row upon row. We sat near the back. With a squirmy toddler on my lap, I didn’t know when an exit would be necessary.

And so it was that on that Sunday in the bottom level multipurpose room of our church, the time for communion came. We went forward to receive the body and blood, Emma in my arms. The customary words, “Body of Christ,” “Blood of Christ,” were issued as I received the bread and then the cup. Then Emma received a wafer. She chewed the remaining bits as I turned us back up the aisle and began navigating the narrow path to our seats.

She finished the bread and then without warning yelled out, “More body of Christ!” Everything seemed to stop as all eyes landed on Emma and I. Then throughout the hall laughter from our friendly congregation erupted, and smiles were exchanged as communion continued, believers celebrating Christ’s sacrifice together that day amidst linoleum floors, fluorescent lighting, and folding chairs.

As Lent draws to a close, I know I am not the only one eagerly anticipating the celebration of Easter. I pray that even with it’s reverence and awe, as we honor days such as Good Friday with the solemn and rightful digesting of the price that was paid for our sins, that we will feel a true rush of joy at Easter. And like the words expressed by my little girl many years ago now, I hope we feel that Easter once again marks a day where we encounter a desire for more of Jesus.

When we celebrate with our families and friends whether over creamy deviled eggs, ham, and carrot cake or fried fish, hushpuppies, and homemade cobbler, may we enter into the season of Easter—which goes beyond that one Sunday—to a place where we cry out, “More body of Christ!” And may we share our enthusiasm for the One who has saved us with the people we love and everyone around us. Amen.

2013/01/31

Take the shot

Take the shot

Take the shot

“Goal of the century.”

“Best goal of all time.”

That’s what the London AP said last fall about soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal in a Sweden versus England match.

What made the shot so incredible? Zlatan was shooting blind. The goal was made with a 25-yard overhead kick that sank right into the net.

The odds were clearly against him, but it didn’t prevent him from taking the shot. When you watch the replay of the goal, you see that Zlatan didn’t even hesitate to take what looks like a completely impossible shot. The commentator mentions Zlatan’s “improvisation and skill.” I love the juxtaposition of these two words.

Cynics and naysayers would probably say this was a lucky shot. I look at it a bit differently. His physique, his coaching, his hours of practice all prepared him for this moment.

Sometimes even though we are prepared for a moment like this, we fail to take the shot.

Zlatan’s shot reminds me of faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV) This chapter in Hebrews goes on to trace the history of a team of faithful followers who did extraordinary things in the name of God, taking blind shots, as they trusted Him to lead the way.

  • Abraham faithfully raises a knife over Isaac
  • Moses faithfully leaves the privileged house of Pharoah to eventually lead the Israelites to freedom
  • Rahab faithfully helps the spies who come to Jericho

These stories just scratch the surface of a myriad of believers who have taken the shot with a promise unseen or a blessing yet unfulfilled, and often the promise or blessing is somewhere far off in the distance. This particular passage of scripture doesn’t tell the whole story—how many of our forefathers and mothers doubted God’s words to them, tried to manipulate events to quicken God’s promise, or even wallowed in their own insecurities. And yet, they all stepped up to take the shot, however unclear the future was.

Sometimes we can’t see what is ahead. Sometimes the path is so foggy the brightest flashlight doesn’t help. Sometimes though we study scripture and learn from sermons and seek counsel from fellow Christians, we still aren’t sure of what to do next.

I have a pretty extreme need for knowing the course ahead, ever the planner, I want to take the safest path. But frankly the lack of trust at times has stopped me in my progress. Sometimes I’m too afraid to take a calculated risk because I’m trusting in myself versus trusting God and His sure and lasting promises to me.

As 2012 came to a close, I felt God pushing me out of my comfort zone in some surprising, life-giving ways. When my humanity takes over, I get scared and start talking myself out of moving forward. But as 2013 is now a full month underway, I’m praying for courage and strength, even if my back is to the goal, to trust the training, the coaching, and the practice, to step up and take the shot.

May you find the courage to do the to take the shots God is leading you to take in 2013.

2012/09/30

Good eats

Was it my charred onions on the meatloaf that turned my daughter away?

I love food. I often joke that I only exercise so that I can eat. I also love to cook. Like the kind of cooking that can take hours. I love sitting down with some good recipes, making a list for the grocery store, shopping for the ingredients, and then preparing the feast.

On a recent visit to my Nana & Papaw’s house, I got to cook Sunday dinner. Now this was a rare treat. It used to be that my Nana would chase you out of her kitchen if she didn’t want your help. Unless she was teaching you how to make something, you were an unwanted guest in that kitchen. She didn’t need anybody to help until it was time to take the sumptuous dishes to the table, and believe me, there was help standing by to do so.

Now that she’s in her 80s though, Nana has relinquished more control over her primary turf. In fact, my Pap often cooks for them now. It’s pretty great to see this man who worked on railroads and in the steel mill to don an apron. From an era where man’s work was man’s work and woman’s work was woman’s work, he’s come a long way.

So when I had the chance to let both of them take a break from the kitchen on a Sunday, I leapt at the chance. I decided to make a classic—meatloaf. This wasn’t made from any ordinary recipe though. I chose Martha Stewart’s meatloaf. I had made the recipe before with my own custom modifications, so I knew it would be moist and delicious. My meatloaf would not conjure up “bad memories” as a worn out dish from an ancient edition of a Betty Crocker cookbook.

No, the meatloaf I make is so good that it should be renamed so as not to associate it with that nasty meatloaf covered in ketchup. As if ketchup could rescue dry, cheap ground beef, bread crumbs and eggs!

We sat down to dinner and everyone “oohed” and “ahhed” as I dished the entrée out. Mouths waited in eager anticipation. The compliments flowed as my family chowed down. Then I noticed that one person was silent. My daughter. Emma did not like the meatloaf.

I was baffled. Hadn’t she eaten it before? I gently tried to get her to understand that this was premium meatloaf before her. She didn’t really care. She didn’t like it.

I felt a little defeated. Why wasn’t my meatloaf a symphony of flavor to Emma? I had put a lot of great ingredients and love into that meatloaf. But she didn’t taste any of that.

Later, after getting over the rejection, I wondered if God ever feels the same way about what we reject. He prepares such good eats, such blessings for us, but sometimes we turn our noses up and say, “Nah! I don’t want it.” It doesn’t matter the quality of ingredients, or the special custom sauce that rests on top; sometimes we refuse the good things God has for us. Sometimes it’s because we are too proud, or we feel too damaged, or we are blind to see what he has laid before us.

This takes form in the wife who has forgotten how good her husband is for her and her children. She wears him down with nagging and never encourages him. She‘s careless with her words and carries a cold heart and a chip on her shoulder.

This takes form in the son who is not yet a man but thinks the world owes him something. He doesn’t honor his parents even though they have raised him to be a good person and to love God. The son complains about everything he doesn’t have, failing to recognize how grateful he should be.

This takes form in my own heart when I don’t keep my eyes wide open at how truly rich my life is, desiring more not for the sake of expanding God’s kingdom but rather so I will be more comfortable or more successful in my own name.

The key is love. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” When I focus on love, and specifically loving God, I have better vision and I am ready to receive his good eats. I can see that what he is serving is premium meatloaf, not what I expect to be served, but notches above my dreams.

Lord, may I see clearly the blessings before me and the quality and care you take in your provision. Amen. 

2012/08/22

This is where life is now

Life starts from the reality of where we are now

My neighbor turned 40 a few weeks ago. This vibrant, beautiful woman that shares a wall with me is celebrating four decades of life. Though we have lived beside each other for about three years, we only recently became good friends. Two single moms passing like ships day and night are now sharing Zumba and laughter and more conversations about life, love and God.

Because our friendship is relatively new, I was really honored when she asked me to come to her birthday party. It was great for a number of reasons but perhaps most of all because she was inviting me into her close circle, and that was a wonderful gift.

At one point in the party, we talked about the “big 4-0” and she confessed to being a bit sad and unexpectedly emotional about it. Most of her feelings centered on her expectations of “where she would be” at this age. Birthdays, especially the mile-marker ones, have a knack for making you evaluate your life.

But even though she has faced a lot of tough stuff through the years, my neighbor doesn’t just sit around waiting for life to happen. She is actively shaping her life around the things she knows are valuable.

Years ago, this is not where my neighbor would have envisioned herself at 40, but this is where her life is now.

I have two friends both who have lost their moms in the last few years. They each have small children some of whom will not remember much about their grandmothers. Their moms have left this life too early, and life just isn’t the same without them.

I know these friends think from time to time about the big things their moms will miss like birthdays, and weddings, and great-grandchildren. And they think about the ways they miss their moms right now in the day-to-day stuff of life.

Losing their moms so early in life is not what they planned on, but this is where their life is now.

I have another friend who spent 10 years writing a book. Ten years is a long time to work on anything. At times, she was very discouraged in the process, and she thought about giving up. Sometimes she beat herself up for taking so long, and yet as the celebration of the release of the book grows nearer, I think she knows now that the timing is just right.

She would not have planned to take this long to write her book, but this is where she finds herself now.

So many of us have similar stories. We have unexpected break ups, a move across the country to find a job, a miscarriage, a betrayal that forever changed the course of life. I certainly am not living the life I once imagined. I’m not married, I only have one kid, and I continually bounce between laughter and tears at my bank account.

But this is where my life is now.

And I know I need to embrace it.

It’s scary to let go and move on. Forgiving ourselves and others; taking another risk; rising to a new challenge; believing that God’s timing is perfect timing…these are tough things to make peace with. Sometimes though, we willfully choose to stay shackled to the past and to the pain, to the failure and the loss.

God knows how to use our pasts to help us live in the present and wants us to have confidence that our futures are redeemed in him. When we pray, trust, and keep ourselves open to him, we can see glimpses of this truth.

So whatever you are facing, look it in the eye and come to grips with, “This is where life is now.” And choose to see that statement as a fact that is your friend. From that reality, you move forward.

Just like the beautiful women I’ve mentioned here. They remind me in inspiring ways that life goes on with realigned expectations, new dreams, and unexpected hope.

This is where life is now.

But with a hope rooted in the God of all, it’s just the beginning.

2011/07/31

I want

I want.  Yo quiero.  It’s a phrase we are all used to saying. We order the delicious items that call out to us on a menu by saying, “I want.”  We take off for the mall, cash in hand to buy the things we want.  We make plans and create strategies spending our lives pursuing the things we want.

As I grew up, my sole dream and desire was to be in love.  Like many young girls, I dreamed of a prince and being treated like a princess with a fairy tale wedding and life.  As I got older, my vision changed, but I’m not sure I traded those fairy tale dreams in for the more realistic stuff of falling in love with a real person versus some superman on a white horse.  But I always wanted a family and a home, and at the center of my dream was the relationship I would have with my spouse.

This dream was very powerful in my life.  Looking back I would say that above anything else, including God, (though I wouldn’t have always recognized or acknowledged that fact) I wanted a deep, loving relationship with someone.  That dream was so strong for me that I know I made decisions along the way solely based on the very narrow vision of what I wanted.

As life has happened and as I have changed, I have come to realize how much I took care of that dream to the detriment of other parts of my life.  Most importantly, I’m very aware today of how much that dream came between God and I.  I know that I did little to make sure that dream was built on the right foundation.  Looking back, I feel I was like an Israelite who heard the words of Moses saying, “Love the Lord with all your heart; fear Him; keep his commandments; put no other gods before Him…” but the way I was living you would have thought I just heard, “Blah, blah, blah.”

Scripture is filled with the idea that loving God and putting him first is the key to prosperity and the desires of our hearts coming to fruition, but I really need the story of the Israelites to remind me of the lifetime journey I’m on to defeat the idols in my life. In Deuteronomy before Moses hands over his leadership to Joshua, he reminds the Israelites over and over of this very thing, and in chapter 30 he basically says that if the people will love God with everything in their being that he will restore their riches and gather them all back to ultimately give them the promised land.

It’s great to think about God in unconditional love kinds of terms, but we don’t like to focus much on what is required of us when there might be pain and sacrifice involved.  Here’s just one reference to it from Deuteronomy—emphases mine:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts (ouch!) and the hearts of your descendants (not my kids too!), so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” 30:6

Life—that’s what we all want.  And I’m not just talking about the act of living of course.  When we define what makes a good life, certain images come to mind based on the desires of our unique hearts.

But what happens when our dreams are idols that we put before God? Circumcision.  Yeah, I know it’s not a pretty word to use, but it fits.  God has circumcised the dreams of my youth, the ones that kept me from his true promises.  It’s been a painful—oh so painful—but necessary part of my faith journey.

A few years ago, I stopped uttering, “I want,” and it wasn’t because I’m some super spiritual person.  It was because I couldn’t really even lift my head.  I was in a valley that overcame me for a time.  I was taken to that place beyond thirst to a place of survival, and amazingly I realized that only God could get me out of there.

I think he is still in the process of doing that, and now I’m more attentive now to his presence.  I’m desperate to live the life he wants me to live.  I know I won’t get it all right.  I know I need to constantly be reminded not to put idols before him.  I know it would be so easy to go back the way I came into the wilderness of old plans and dreams.  But that’s not what I want anymore.

I want what he wants for me.

In May I stood on Mount Nebo.  I looked across the Jordan valley into the Promised Land just like Moses did when he begged the people to remember to put God first and no other.  What a view I had from up there.

I was in Jordan on a theatre in missions trip with Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA)—a dream trip that God miraculously and unexpectedly gifted me with.  Our mission was to work with Muslim and Christian high school students in Amman.  After we left Jordan, we toured several towns in Israel performing scripts at many of the biblical sites we visited.

Our group’s collective journey was very meaningful, and to this day I can’t really believe that I was so blessed to go along.  Being in Jordan and Israel gave me a perspective on my faith that I’m not sure I would have gotten any other way.

My favorite days were in Jordan.  I loved waking up too early and sharing breakfast and conversation with Anna over a delicious bowl of cereal with dried strawberries in it.  I loved sharing food together and reflecting over the amazing things God was doing through our group with Tom.  I loved the late night silliness with Morgen and the prayers we lifted up for one another.

My roomie for the trip was Bev.  Bev has a wonderfully rich soul and lives life with rare vigor and earnestness.  She does not give up easily, though her life has thrown her a number of curve balls.  And she helped me to learn about 5-bar experiences with God—those moments when the communication with him is so full and rich like when all the bars are lit up on my iPhone and everything is clear and unencumbered by interference.

Music was a part of our mission trip as our group worshipped together in the mornings sometimes on our bus.  For Bev and I, both being Anglican and away from our respective churches brought up chats about some of the hymns unique to our tradition.  Once in a while we would just break out into song in our room.  We discovered that we both loved one of my favorite hymns.

Bev and I didn’t have a hymnal or a good internet connection to find all the lyrics while we were on the trip, so we did the best we could scribbling a line or two along the way when one of us would remember, adding up to maybe one or two full verses and the chorus by the time it was all over.  Like bad karaoke we would sing with fervor the parts we knew and then hum the rest until we got back to a familiar word or line.  When I got back to the states, I found my hymnal right away so I could fill in the blanks:

V1:

I want to walk as a child of the Light.  I want to follow Jesus.

God set the stars to give light to the world.  The Star of my life is Jesus.

REFRAIN:

In Him there is no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the Light of the city of God.  Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.

V2:

I want to see the Brightness of God.  I want to look at Jesus.

Clear Son of Righteousness shine on my path and show me the way to the Father.

V3:

I’m looking for the coming of Christ.  I want to be with Jesus.

When we have run, with patience the race we shall know the joy of Jesus.

This hymn is my prayer of the year.  It speaks to all that I hope I’m living out right now. I want to follow Jesus.  I want to look at Jesus, and I want to be with Jesus.  Though I don’t consciously want to hurt, I don’t want to be so far away from the pain it took to get here that I forget that sacrifice and even circumcision are necessary parts of a life dedicated to God.

I stopped saying, “I want” when I went to that desperate place.  But he has lifted my head and helped me to walk again.  And in the stillness he has begun to let me know that it’s okay to ask again.  It’s okay to dream again.  He is whispering to me, “What is it Kim that you now want?”  And from this new place with new perspective, I humbly pray for the desires of my heart.  Psalm 37:4

Lord, may what you want for my life be always what I want.  Amen.

I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light composed by Kathleen Thomerson  (lyrics) © 1970 Celebration.
2011/04/30

VDay

This year my Valentine’s décor was up in my house way past the time it should have been taken down.  Yes, even in April there are a few people in my neighborhood who still have Christmas wreaths on their doors, but Christmas is a major holiday. Sometimes we linger, even if a bit too long on keeping the Christmas décor and lights up because it’s a holiday with real meaning.  It has a weight and depth to it.

Valentine’s is more of an excuse to spend too much on greeting cards and to gain a few pounds eating chocolate.  Now, I don’t have much in the way of decorations for VDay—just a little bit of heart soap and something that hangs on my mantle and some old cards from people from various years.  I have a few cut out hearts and some things that Emma made when she was little.

Since I’ve gone through divorce and all the disenchantment with love that goes with that, the last several years I have pretty much refused to celebrate VDay.  In fact, every time the day rolled around, I could be found cursing the holiday more than relishing in it.  So, to put out any decorations, meager as they were, and to celebrate what has been a somewhat complicated day for me is at least a small victory in the scheme of my life.

Last month, our choir sang our last major concert of the season.  It was a Holocaust Memorial concert.  For it, we stood in front of the altar instead of our usual semi-hidden place behind the altar—yes, the other other side of the altar.

The Memorial concert was a mixture of songs and words from people that had been in concentration camps.  Jewish survivors and also liberators from our community were invited. For many of us in the choir, it was emotional to sing and say the words in the program.

The stories of torture, torment, family separation, human experiments, children being treated as if they were lower than animals and mass murder are sadly very real, and these things happened not too long ago.

We sang that night, not just in memory of what happened during World War II, but also for the injustices that continue around the world and even in our backyards and in our personal lives. Some of the songs deal with faith issues, and the fact that anyone could hold onto a belief in a loving God during such a time was telling and humbling. One song in particular wouldn’t stop playing in my head and swimming around in my heart long after the concert was over.

The song is called, “Even When God Is Silent” by Michael Horvit.  The words are from an actual basement in Germany and written by someone hiding from the Gestapo.  Knowing the context of the text, it is very hard for me to imagine writing such a thing.  It is faith at its pure essence.  The words simply say:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when feeling it not.

I believe in God even when God is silent.

To this day, I can sing the first and third lines convincingly, but it is that middle line that really gives me trouble.  When I really start to break down the words in the sentence, “I believe in the sun when it is not shining” it doesn’t take long to think it through.  Yes, of course, it’s grey some days, but that doesn’t mean the sun has not gone away.  Here, reason it seems, wins out.

Third line seems a bit tougher until I break it down as well.  “I believe in God even when he is silent.”  Yes, I do.  Who else am I screaming at when I can’t hear him?  Why even bother if I don’t believe he is listening?  Why he does not answer in those moments my human limitations cannot illuminate, but if I don’t believe in God when he is silent, then I have to believe I am crazy for yelling at no one.  Not ready for that admission quite yet.

And then there is that darned middle line.  “I believe in love…even when feeling it not.”  No, this one I cannot easily sing and believe.  The notes and the words come out, but my heart is not in it.  Believing in love when I don’t feel it.  How?

I readily admit that this is a big issue for me.  In human relationships, I need reminders, markers that love has not strayed or diminished. It’s not so much that I’m the jealous type or that I have to be with someone 24/7 or anything, I just expect love to grow and progress.  I expect loving relationships to evolve and deepen.  I love with so much of my being that I want that in return.  But for me, this type of loving has seemed to overwhelm people in my life at times.  When it comes to the opposite sex in particular, loving this way has simply not worked.

And frankly, that’s really confusing.  I’ve had several years now to ponder all of this, and honestly I don’t know if I would be able to recognize real love that might last from mere romantic love that might not.  I hate thinking that I’m somehow jaded, but I think I’ve been betrayed one too many times to know if I will ever be able to rest in love again.

In my relationship with God, I’m proud of the fact that I rely on him more today than I ever have.  But the days of aching loneliness and a sometimes-silent Father become true tests of my faith.  I don’t feel as if I’m meant to be alone forever, and yet I am for now, so I look for what God is trying to teach me in these days.

After the concert, I became curious about the word “holocaust” since I had only really known it’s meaning as it related to the horrible tragedy and war crimes of World War II.  But when it is not formalized and capitalized, the word holocaust means, “a sacrifice that is totally consumed by fire.”

When I read that, I thought about the great prophet Elijah.  What a holocaust God provided for the prophets of Baal to witness.  That is before we read that Elijah hightailed it to the desert in fear.  Yeah, he has this great victory, fire raining down and consuming everything, and then gets threatened by a girl and because he can’t take it, he disappears.  And not only that, he basically asks God to end his life right then and there.  Finally exhausted from the stress of it all, Elijah falls asleep.

Of course, in all fairness, it was God’s victory out there with the prophets of Baal.  Though he felt the victory, Elijah may have just been completely overwhelmed at that point.  He had seen a lot happen—he had relinquished his own power and allowed God to use him.  And who knows what seeing that miracle did to him.  As scripture says:

“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also (I love this part) licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38 NIV)

Say what? Even the trench water was gone?  I can’t even really imagine it, and somehow I totally relate to Elijah taking off after this.  I mean, things should be great for Elijah for a while, right?  His God just rained down fire on a soaking wet bed of timber and rocks in front of 950 false prophets. But shortly after this when Jezebel unleashes her fury, Elijah takes a sudden leave of absence.

I think there are some people who when they have amazing experiences where they see God at work they are somehow able to put those experiences into spiritual banks that help them get stronger and more confident and faithful even.  But that’s not me.  I regularly need touch stones and altars to remind me of the goodness in my life and the great things God has done.

I need God to wake me up from my stress-induced slumber saying, “Get up and eat.” (I Kings 19:5).  And this is what Elijah does.  Then he makes a long journey to a cave.  Still in hiding perhaps? Was he going to the mountain of God to purposely meet God or was Elijah just avoiding facing normal life again?

There God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks, not once but twice. (1Kings 19:9 & 13) And in kind, Elijah gives God the same answer both times:  “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty…” (1 Kings 10 & 14) and he goes on from there to talk about what everyone else is doing—like he is trying to avoid God’s question almost.  And then Elijah pulls out the real sympathy card: “…and now they are trying to kill me too.”

For a long time, I too have been pulling out my pathetic sympathy cards and laying them out before God:

“Oh Lord, you know the pain in my spirit that I have been dealing with these past few years.  I lost my job some time ago.  I still feel very alone at times.  And it’s really tough out here in the desert.  There are times I almost long for death because if I died, then all of this would be over.”

Like Elijah, I tell God the details of a story he already knows.  I spell it out for him again and again, just in case he missed it the first hundred times I said it.

And like with Elijah after the wind and the earthquake and the fire, God’s answer, though in the form of a question, is still the same…

“What are you doing here, Kim?”

He asks this because he knows.  He knows I’m not my best when I’m stuck in a place of fear while looking back over my shoulder at the distant past.  He knows that my wandering in the desert and hiding in caves because I don’t know what to do next is a lack of faith.  He asks this question in a gentle whisper so that I really have to stop and listen to hear his voice.

He asks me what I am doing here because he has something better for me.  If I get my rump in gear and get out of my funk, he is ready to show me.  He gave Elijah a very specific list of things to do once Elijah stopped to hear God’s voice.

I had a rough start to this year, but in the midst of that God gave me work that challenged and inspired me.  And I believe in recent days, he has given me some specific things to do too in regards to my long-term future.  So every day I pray for the courage to believe and trust in his plan while fighting the urge to hightail it to the desert again.

I know he wants me to believe in love “even when feeling it not.”  That starts with digesting more fully the way he loves me.  It means looking down at the foundation that has been underneath my feet all along.  He is patient enough to hear me recite my sympathy card script again if need be, but I know that he wants to see me release the grip on that tired story so he can give me a new script for love and life today.

May God give all of us the strength and courage to live in his truths and rest in his perfect love.  Help us Lord to stand our ground after the holocausts–whether they are true tragedies or an outpouring of your power–and to look forward to the work you have before us.  Amen.