Archive for ‘forgiveness’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

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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.

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2013/10/30

Recovery in Question

Recovery in question...

Recovery in question…

Emma turns 14 this weekend. I can’t really believe that 14 years have passed. I can’t believe that in 4 or 5 years my nest might be empty. To celebrate this momentous birthday, an age marking awkwardness but also independence, we are having a party. Not just a party, but a Masquerade Ball.

It is sooooo Emma. There’s a dress code for boys and girls. There’s a fabulous menu, beautiful masks, a long song list for DJ Doug. And I’m hoping the songs I don’t know won’t embarrass me or the other adult guests coming or that my dance moves don’t embarrass my daughter. Who am I kidding?

In the vein of throwing a classy party, I mean Ball, we are trying to stay away from the usual party fare of chex mix and BBQ wienies. But since our budget won’t allow for a caterer, I’m the chef at hand. That sounded like a great plan when we were leisurely driving over fall break, planning the menu and decor.

Now in a week that has turned stupid by all of the things that have hard and fast deadlines, including the Ball, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed. I’ve had delicious moments of energy and productivity, but the pile is so very large and daunting on both professional and home fronts. So the other side is me barking and grumbling and nagging for someone in the universe to please help! Like someone who is 13.95 years old who I live with…“Hey you there, offspring, help me!”

The result is sorry-filled teenager staring blankly. “What can I do?” her eyes and voice say.

Indeed, what can she do for this always-setting-the-bar-too-high mess of me? I like to think I am a recovering perfectionist, but am I really recovering? Am I putting all of this pressure on myself? Have the “shoulds” taken over?

I think my perfectionism was dampened in Emma’s younger years due to the perfect storm of going through the trauma of divorce, transitioning to single parenthood, and scrambling for income at every turn. It was a period in my life that basically showed me that failure is a launching point. It was the first time I really started seeing and understanding grace at work so that I could accept it and begin to extend it to others.

But I tell you, there are times now since Emma has entered into this age of pushing back and stretching her wings, that I feel like that old person again. It’s like I’m grasping for more control by boxing her in with too high standards and my way of doing things. How can she learn to be her own person, to be her own capable adult, with this kind of perfectionist bullying?

She can’t.

On our chalkboard where we write the dinner possibilities for the week, where there is now a pumpkin face, I sometimes write, “Harp less, encourage more.”

This statement is totally 100% for me and no one else in the house. Not for Emma, not for our cat Mo, not for anyone else who comes to visit. It’s just for me. It’s where I want to live but sometimes find it so hard to live out.

In my mind the week where this important milestone of 14 happened for the one and only time in Emma’s life, looked so different. I was going to be a little more Martha Stewart + Jesus, calm, organized, brilliantly creative and loving. I feel more like Jeff Lewis from Flipping Out, obsessive, frantic, and demanding (minus the psychics and “scream therapy,” though maybe that would help at this point).

And I’m realizing that I need that statement from our chalkboard now more than ever. But this time I need to say it to myself.

“Harp less, encourage more.”

Stop trying to do too much. Stop worrying so much. Stop striving so much. Stop beating yourself up. Hug more. Pause more. Love more. Celebrate.

And maybe, just maybe if I can resolve to put less pressure on myself to be more than I really can be anyway, I can let go and enjoy the process and the time with Emma between here and this celebration and even, God willing, beyond.

Lord, thank you for loving recovering perfectionists like me. Help me, in the moments where I stop to listen to you, and feel your love, to then live out of that reservoir and not return to my silly way of striving and pushing. Amen.

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.

2013/07/09

Grace

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The favored coconut cake

I cook and bake as often as I can, though not as often as I would like. The thought of having time to leisurely shop at the grocery store for a list of delicious ingredients, only to come home and use those ingredients in a recipe (perhaps from my “Food I want to make and eat” list on Pinterest) sounds to me like luxurious hours well spent. Like other foodies, I don’t really linger on one type of cuisine. I have favorite dishes and restaurants inspired by my international taste buds, a product of getting to travel the world with my parents as a child.

However, during holidays and birthdays, I have come to be somewhat of a cake maker. Some of my favorite cake recipes are in the pages of Giada’s Kitchen and Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam. But at the top of the list as voted by friends, family, coworkers and even clergy is absolutely, undeniably my coconut cake.

I once brought two leftover pieces to my church’s music office for our director and associate director of music. I didn’t even have a chance to get the pieces separated on two serving plates. My tasters dug in right there on the paper plate, and one even ate the crumbs off his desk.

Of course, it isn’t my coconut cake. I didn’t develop this recipe of greatness. The recipe is actually in a cookbook by none other than Paula Deen.

Yeah, I know. Paula Deen. I have to say right off that this cake is so good that there is no way that I am boycotting the recipe. It’s actually her son Jamie’s recipe according to the book, not that that makes any difference to me. I’ve been following the story, and this whole Paula Deen thing bothers me. Yes, she is currently being sued for harassment, a case that certainly needs to take it’s course, but the “sin” that has really put her on trial seems to have been almost 30 years old.

I know time may tell a different story, but my point here is not to defend Paula Deen in particular. If we take a look at how people like Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner have seemingly out lived their own scandals in the public eye, Paula Deen should have a lot of hope for her own career.

Celebrity aside, I’m worried that a situation like this says we are in part, living in a graceless age. Consequences are important, don’t misunderstand me. But when a person cannot be forgiven for something like this that happened in the very distant past, what does that say about our society? Are we inadvertently telling people honesty is not always the best policy? I mean does anyone else feel like we may be witnessing a hefty dose of Pharisaical self-righteousness in all of this?

I used to be a pretty self-righteous person myself. It’s a heavy mantle to wear honestly because when you are self-righteous, you just simply cannot screw up. There’s never a moment where you can let your guard down or appear less than perfect. When you are a Pharisee and you do screw up, you instinctively turn up the heat on someone else’s sins if you feel that you might get burned by your own mistakes.

Thanks be to God, I did make mistakes—major ones—and then other life circumstances turned my world upside down. I was tired of the act, so I took a good look at my Pharisee self. And all of that broke me.

And I’m so glad it did because even now as I type these words, tears well up in my eyes in complete and utter gratitude. That refiner’s fire taught me about grace. Before I didn’t understand anything about it, so of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t extend it. I pray that the Kim of those days is dead and gone though I know I need steady reminders to live out my faith with a grace-covered and grace-offering spirit.

I’m imagining that this Paula Deen story may be scary for some people. Beyond the consequences for poor choices, how many of us live in fear that someday, maybe 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years from now we’ll have to face and confess anew something that was long ago covered in Christ’s blood? Is there fear beyond the comfort of forgiven sins in a world that seems so ready to tear someone down?

As Don Henley helped write in the expertly penned song, “The Heart of the Matter,” 

These times are so uncertain

There’s a yearning undefined

…People filled with rage

We all need a little tenderness

How can love survive in such a graceless age?

I propose it can survive in those of us that understand a little about grace, enough to share it at least. Our forgiven sins and new selves can manifest in grace and show up in the ways we love one another. And when we practice the grace we have experienced, forgiveness and love cease to only be biblical edicts. Grace in practice changes the way we engage with the world around us in the everyday stuff of life.

We show it when we support a friend through a messy divorce; when we give a job to a recovering addict; when we love a pregnant, unmarried teen, and maybe even when we keep making that coconut cake from a star that has fallen from grace in the court of popular opinion.

Dear God, help us to combat the graceless age we live in through the power of your spirit. Help us recognize our own weakness and desperate need for grace and by that recognition extend it to those around us. Amen.

The Heart of the Matter © EMI Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.