A Place to Stand

A little over a year ago now, I found myself surprised with what God showed me. As soon as the brilliance of the place settled on me, I voxed and texted two friends.

“Look what I found!”

I sent these pictures.

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I couldn’t believe my eyes. I kept thinking, “it feels like I am in Europe or some other far away place, not Chicagoland.”

I wasn’t sure I could find a spot to get close to the water. I wandered down the path asking myself if I was allowed to be here. What are the rules? What are the boundaries? Is this part of the Nature Preserve?

Down to the water, I was drawn like a bee to honey. I couldn’t help myself. For a moment I imagined I was back in Israel at the Sea of Galilee at the edge of the water. Rocks lined where water meets the land. Water.

Step in the water.

I remembered back to when the story of Joshua at the edge of the Jordan River captivated my heart.

“When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.” Joshua 3:8

The leaders went first. Leaders go first. The waters didn’t part until the leaders pushed their toes past the edge.

Step in the water.

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Sensing God ever so close to me, as I took in his spectacular creation I said,

“What is it, God?”

God drew me to himself as his Spirit brought to remembrance scripture and past times with him.

“You already know,” he whispered to me. “I am going to give you places to stand.”

“And step.”

Eyes closed, feeling the sun on my skin as summer warmth bleeds into fall. Water lapped at my feet. Quiet tears fell down my face.

“I praise you. I praise you. I praise you,” was my only response.

Then God again, “This is where I’ve placed you. You want to be so many other places rather than here.” God knows me.

I began to sway. Music in my head. But there were no drums. There were no guitars. No voices. No keyboard.

“Your love is like the wildest ocean. Nothing else compares,” came into my head, a song by Hillsong we sing at church.

I don’t want to leave this spot.

God gently reminded again, “You need times like this. Away. To refuel. To simply be with me. Then you can go back out. Or go out for the first time.” The verse about struggling with God’s energy came to mind.

“To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:29

“You gotta go. It’s ok. It’s going to be ok.”

I say, “But you are here.”

“I am here. But I am also there.”

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“Now go.”

 

I hope someone can use these words. Is God prompting you to do something? Go somewhere? Listen closely. Get away with him. Be with him. If God is leading, God will give you places to stand, to step. I pray your feet touch the water. I am cheering you on.

“Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. …..so the people crossed over….the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on firm ground in the middle of the Jordan…”                Joshua 3:15-17

 

Two Things We Need When The Funk Threatens

I don’t care what triggers it or exactly how it happens, we all face it from time to time. Maybe for some of you it is often, very often. Funk. The discouraging cloud descending upon us, forcing it’s way over us and into our thoughts. The mood which tells us it won’t get better and we should just give up. The dim, dark filter which pushes us to despair and wants us to stay there.

First, a disclaimer: If you are dealing with signs of depression please talk to your doctor, counselor, or a trusted friend to help you determine if you need medication or therapy to assist you. This post is not meant to take the place of any of those things which may be necessary for you. These thoughts and practices could be a supplement.

One of the ways my funk manifests itself is in dramatic statements, usually proclaimed to my husband.

It started off small, “I am struggling today.” He looked up from whatever he was doing. But it quickly progressed to, “Just look at my calendar. It has nothing. Nothing. I have nothing to do.”

BTW, this is not entirely true, haha! I am a mom of six with plenty on her to-do list. I also am currently serving in two short-term capacities. But overall, I am in a waiting, discovery period not sure of clear, next steps with regard to job and professional development. (See this previous post- http://wordpress.com/post/jennifermarysmith.com/356 )

My husband has been learning how to listen to me and not give a fix-it solution too quickly, or at all. Poor guy, I have requested so many kinds of responses from him, he never knows which I am in the mood for! He also gets gun-shy because there have been times when he is sincerely trying and no response he gives is adequate for my finicky desires. Often whatever he says or does only makes me more angry. Can I get a witness? Marriage is for the long haul, guys, the long, stinkin’ haul. Stay at it. Stay engaged.

He did listen today. He did offer a possible action step, which he knows I am currently ready to hear. I was able to receive it because he was informed about where I was and what I was feeling because we covered it in a previous conversation last week. He is beginning to more clearly understand where I am. Also, right before he left for work, he said, “I’m sorry,” and kissed my head. Tears filled then and roll now as I recall the tenderness he gave. He stepped down into my place of sadness and discouragement and did not yank me up in an attempt to make it better. I stay engaged and did not fly off the handle and put up a wall. As he acknowledged me, he allowed me to be right where I am, yet offered a small measure of hope at the same time. After 24 years of marriage we are still learning!

Conversations and connection with my husband. Check. To be continued. A good marriage is a one long conversation over time. I will say it again, stay engaged.

Now, onto God. As I felt myself ready to spiral, I was like, “nope.” I became determined not to let the funk win. Sometimes my process is to simply open up my Bible and ask God to speak. Where I go in the Bible just depends. Today I started with John, wandered my way to 2 Corinthians and landed in Isaiah.

What I discovered compelled me to pull out this computer and get to you, my readers.

The Darkness

We are surrounded by darkness. Hopelessness can easily take hold. We do not have to look far to see darkness around us and in us. Murders. Hate. Disunity. Disparity. Injustice. Darkness surrounds. And it also rises in our hearts threatening our minds. Jealousy. Unforgiveness. Judgement. Withholding. Resentment. In the first chapter of the book of John, in the Bible, we get some insight,

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”  (John 1:5)

And speaking about the coming light, Jesus, John writes,

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” (John 1:10)

This light that has come into the darkness of our world. The light that has come into my darkness. The light who is life and power and everything is Jesus. Jesus. When the darkness of my thoughts threaten I need these two things to happen. I need to understand the light and I need to recognize Jesus.

Understanding the Light

The word for “understand” in verse 5 is “katalambano” in the Greek which means “to apprehend, to find.” Somehow those words shift something in my brain. Apprehend. Find. The light is something I can have in my hands. Immediately, I think of times I say to myself, “I just can’t handle it!” Those times when I can’t get a grip: when I struggle to connect and find common ground with one of my teenagers, when I completely lose patience with my 8-year-old boys, when I look at bills and income and needs (and wants) of our family, and when I just can’t seem to see how I will find the right job for myself. Or as I look at the world around me when I can’t handle the headlines. I can’t find hope. I can’t understand what I see. How is it this dark? How are we this far off from what is good and honorable?

With the word picture painting a way through, I hear,

“Don’t be discouraged because you feel overwhelmed. Don’t feel like a failure because you can’t handle things. Come to me to grab tight to what I have for you in the dark. I will give you something to grip and hold onto that will not disappoint. And don’t give up on the work to be done in this world.”

As I pray,

“Help me understand the light shining in the darkness,”

the Spirit of God descends down into the dark with me lighting just the smallest bit of my mind and heart.

“This is actually how it is, broken and dark. You are in this broken world but I am here, too.”

It’s why Jesus came. To be with us in the dark. To light the way. To light your way. To lead us to show light and life to others.

Recognizing Jesus

But, as verse 10 is clear, we need help recognizing him. If you look across the story of the Bible you will notice a theme for us humans. We are prone not to recognize the work of God and the presence of Jesus. Just like today, across our country and across the globe, we, humans, need help recognizing the light and life of Jesus. We need help seeing the image of God in others.

“Jesus, let us recognize you in our world. Let us look for you. By your Spirit, help us see and experience you, especially today as we, those of us who live in the U.S., vote and hope for all that is good. Wake us up to you, Jesus.” 

The word “recognize” is “ginosko” in the Greek, meaning “to know, come to know, experience.” Oh, man, here is where it is getting to me. You and I can experience Jesus here and now in our darkness, whatever it looks like. My heart and mind perk up, literally, my soul starts to rise up from the dying, dark place and begins to look and hope and see.

I don’t have all the answers for what threatens to bring me down. I don’t know exactly how I will get to where I want to go. I don’t see the exact provision God will provide. But I know where I am looking. I am experiencing Jesus here and now in the middle of my funk. He has not left me.

I don’t know what hope will rise out of these elections today. But I do know I have seen light and hope in some of the candidates. I do know there are people who love God and are fighting for justice in the realms of politics and non-profits. I see glimpses of upheaval of long-standing biases and systems. I do know God is still here pursuing people and working to this very day for people to grab hold of and see the light, myself included.

My hope in the dark is Jesus. What my weary, grubby hands can get a handle on is Jesus. He is giving me eyes to see and the ability to experience him today. May it be for you as well. Light and life intersect with our discouraged hearts.

Where is it dark for you? How are you beginning to see the light?

Jesus, in our funk, we lean into your light. You will not let us down.

If you have ways you deal with funk, share in the comments. I would love to hear.

One Thing we Can Know for Sure as we Mourn, Willow

As a member of Willow Creek Community Church, I have been devastated and heartbroken as I have read the stories of many women regarding sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of our former senior pastor Bill Hybels. It has been a shocking, difficult few months as newspaper article after newspaper article and blog after blog have been published. We are broken, as individuals and as a church.

I believe we have finally begun to take the correct steps toward healing and rebuilding. This will take a long time, but I am hopeful. It does sadden and anger me it has taken this long to occur, but I can do nothing about this now. I wrote a letter to our elder board early on when things came out, used my voice, and shared what I thought should occur. I have prayed to and begged God to help and guide individuals and us, as a church, especially the leaders with authority. I will continue to speak up as I feel compelled and led.

While there are systems, structures and cultural issues to address, I feel compelled to address something else in this post: the hearts of the people of Willow Creek Community Church.

If you are a mom or a dad or a caregiver of children, you are familiar with the cry and shriek of a small child when they fall and hurt themselves. Scrapes and cuts are a right of passage in childhood. Our personality type and our parenting style will determine the speed and tone with which we react. But no matter what, if someone young we love is hurt we come to them, diagnose the situation, and determine next steps. Do they need a kiss and hug, a band-aid and ointment, or a trip to the ER? With six kiddos, 5 of them of the boy variety, we have had our fair share of all levels of wounds. One of the latest required a trip to the ER and 5 staples to the head.

Our 7 year old twin boys were playing a game outside. An argument about rules and winning ensued which escalated to a physical fight. This was brought into the house as a tornado of sorts. Before I knew what was happening, Dylan came to me screaming and crying. He had been pushed by his brother into the corner of the dining room table. With blood gushing, my adrenaline pumped and I put on my mommy-nurse hat. (which is not a very good role for me–admittedly, I am not the greatest in these situations. Usually with lots of blood I freak the freak out.) I tried to stay calm for him and tried to look carefully at his wound; but it was difficult to see and examine because of the amount of blood. How deep is this wound? What is the damage? After we pressed and pressed and I moved his hair out of the way; I was certain a trip to the ER was in order. All the while, I reassured him he was going to be okay. Every single time I see a doctor to help me or my children I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for people with expertise, tools, and experience to help heal us. People who help us determine what is needed for healing are a gift. A few hours later, after the wound was flushed, examined, numbed, stapled, and lathered with ointment, we were on our way home to heal.

Willow, we are broken and wounded as a church, but also, as individuals. For each of us, our wounds are a little different depending on how long we have been at Willow; how much influence Bill has had on our life; how we may have been mistreated or abused by someone else in our lives; or how high we may have had Bill up on a pedestal, just to name a few. We need to allow for these differences as we process and move through this mess.

As I was praying and reading the other day, God lead me to Matthew 5, verse 4,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

One thing I have learned to do over the years to help me–when I do not know everything, when certain things are out of my control, and when I am not sure how things are going to turn out–is to think about and ask what I do know and what God has promised. I begin to lean into those things. One thing we can know for sure: we will be comforted. 

But we must let God come to us and examine the wound. Just as sure as I am living and breathing right now, I believe God will help determine where we need healing. It starts with our mourning and ends with his comfort. He promises to comfort us.

I have experienced this process in my own past in a profound way. God knew I needed more healing and restoration around something that happened to me when I was younger. I was sexually assaulted by someone I knew and loved. There had been previous healing of the top layers. Something was done to me against my will. I worked through forgiveness at the level I could, closer to the time it happened. But later resentment, despise, and judgement showed up in my life. All signs pointed to unhealed wounds.

More recently, I discussed some of this with my counselor and he affirmed a truth I had not previously understood: drunkenness by either of us did not negate the fact I was sexually assaulted. It was still sexual trauma. My wound was named more clearly. This alone brought more healing to my soul. When we name hurt more accurately, fresh layers of healing can come. For me, God wasn’t done healing just yet. Months later I attended a worship gathering led by Jesus Culture, a group of musicians, artists, and singers from California, where something extraordinary happened. I believe God gave me a vision, so real and deep to me, but not a physical thing, which is hard to articulate. With eyes closed, as I sang the words from my heart to the God I love, the picture came:

I was in the middle of a battlefield (think Braveheart) on the ground, injured, bleeding out. The skies were dark, grey and dark purple mixed with a few flickers of white. There was chaos around me, hand to hand combat the field over. It was a wide open, large field. Then he came. In the deepest part of my soul I knew it was Jesus. I couldn’t see his face clearly. But he came on a white horse (think the book of Revelation in the Bible, Rev. 6:2 and Rev. 19:11). He got down off his horse and tended to my wounds. He pressed on my wound to stop the bleeding. He cared for me and came to my aid.

And just like that, the field and Jesus were gone, but the experience seared love and healing onto my soul. Jesus comforted me and I was changed.

You know the word from the Matthew verse I mentioned previously “comforted?” In the Greek it is the combination of two words, “para” and “kaleo.” Para means “to the side of.” And kaleo means “to aid, help, comfort, encourage.” This word “comforted” is not a mushy, hope you feel better kind of word. This is an action “which is intended to produce a particular effect; comfort, exhort, desire, call for, beseech.” When Jesus comforts us, something changes. We are different.  Jesus heals wounds, friends. He does. One of the reasons I am filled with hope during these dark times at Willow is because of what he has done for me. I know what Jesus can do.

As a mother goes to her child and does what it takes to cause the healing of her son, so Jesus comes to us, Willow, and does what it takes to cause the healing of us.

You have permission to be wherever you are. The grief process has twists and turns which can not always be anticipated. Consider where you are in the process. As we are sad and we mourn, lament, and weep over what has happened, ask God to comfort you. Ask him to help you name your wounds more accurately. Is it betrayal, deception, or something else? Let God and others in your community who care for you help you name it. And let God come.

He will comfort us, this I know for sure.

 

 

Is it Truly Freedom for All?

A Typical American Fourth of July

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Photo by Aaron Schwartz on Pexels.com

Matching flag shirts. Fireworks. Barbecues. Parades. Burgers. Friends and Family. Cookouts. This is what represents our nation’s holiday for many Americans. Commemorating the birth of our nation is a time when we celebrate and are thankful for the freedom we have. We are thankful for the women and men in our present and in our history who stand up for, lead us into, fight for, and protect our very dear freedom. Freedom is what we love. Freedom is what we stand for as a country. “Let’s celebrate this,” our politicians, marketers, business owners, church leaders, and televisions tell us. Celebrate the freedom we have. I read recently that the U.S. will spend about 7 billion dollars on Fourth of July celebrations.

Here’s the thing. I lOVE celebrations! I love happy, good times. I love parties, people, food, and good, golly, I absolutely LOVE freedom. Yet….

I haven’t felt like celebrating today. I found myself kind of jumbled up today, if I am honest.

The Idea of Multiple Narratives

Ever since I have been introduced to the idea of multiple narratives on my historic trip to Palestine and Israel, my worldview has shifted. I am now always on the lookout for the different narratives people can have on the same subject. The most basic example in the Middle East is the birth of Israel as a nation in 1948. This is a day of celebration for those who identify with the nation of Israel. The Jewish people had been scattered for centuries. In their scattering they experienced lack of respect, abuse, and the holocaust, a truly unspeakable tragedy and horrific injustice. They finally were given a place to call home again.

But hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose families had lived on the land for decades and in some cases centuries do not celebrate freedom on May 14, 1948, the day the modern state of Israel was recognized as a nation by America and some of the rest of the international community. This is a day of sadness and lament for them. Some Palestinians were forced out of their homes and put in refugee camps. Sometimes newly established Israeli citizens moved into these homes. These were peoples’ homes. Some Palestinians were forced out. Some voluntarily left. Some stayed. For some, their homes were demolished. Whole towns were leveled. Some Palestinians still hold the keys to their homes hoping to go back someday, hence, the term, “Right of Return.” To them, May 14 is known as “Nakba,” which means disaster or catastrophe in Arabic. As I heard this other narrative my mind was blown. Growing up I only heard one narrative, a freedom narrative, a celebratory narrative. But, as it turns out, it was only for one group of people.

At some point, on my 9-day pilgrimage in the Holy Land a lightbulb went off. I thought, “I think we have multiple narratives for some of our historic events and experiences in the U.S. as well.” I think this dynamic could partially explain the issues of race in our country. Now, some of you reading may be like, duh. You are in your 40’s and just now seeing this. My friends of color have probably always known this from their earliest memories. Or there may be other people with different experiences and backgrounds reading to who this is not new. I carry a certain amount of embarrassment that it took me this long to wake up to this. I wish I could tell you a different story but I can’t. I am white, an European American. I am learning to accept my story and my white culture. (That doesn’t mean I am not letting the bias and untruths within it be challenged! In fact, quite the opposite is true.) I grew up in a predominantly white community. I went to a predominantly white college. But thank the good, Lord he gave me some good friends of color at the University of Richmond who expanded my perspective and challenged my biases in very good ways. I just wished I would have listened to them more while I was there. There are real tears here as I think of this. I wish I could blame it on the fact that I was too busy pining for my boyfriend who was attending college in Indiana! We were a upper middle class family. I had everything I needed growing up and more. I did not have to fight for opportunity. I feared almost nothing as I walked around in my communities.

In the last couple years, post-trip, I have slowly become a little more educated in the realms of race, immigration, refugees, incarceration, and our history. I still have so much to learn! But, for now, I am in the middle of the deconstruction of my version of America’s history and present. This is hard, but ever so needed. Through listening to and learning from voices different from my own, especially voices of color, I find myself engaged in multiple, layered narratives of the American experience.

Three Possible White Perspectives

Like mine, your pride in America might be teetering today. You might be much more in the mood for lament. And anger. You might see what is happening on our southern border and cry. You may have been watching scenes of injustice done because of race over the past few years. Maybe you have awakened to a truth about American history you didn’t know before. You may have an urgent, nagging desire to do something about it all. You may be trying to learn from people unlike yourself. You might want to build bridges across the things dividing us as Americans. You may be unsure of how to build and fight and stand up for justice.

Or maybe you don’t have any idea what the heck I am talking about. You might believe from the core of who you are: America is the best nation on earth. You might want to preserve America’s traditions and history of freedom. You may feel as though America is being threatened by other religions, ethnicities, beliefs, or lifestyles. You may want to preserve, what you believe are, our Christian foundations and Christian principles as a nation. It may feel like the America you know and love is crumbling before your eyes.

Or maybe you are in the middle somewhere, and you think we are always going to have problems. There are good people and there are bad people. We might not be perfect, but we live in a damn, good country. You may think the news makes the problems seem bigger than they are in actuality. It’s much to do about nothing. Maybe you believe we will get through this hard time in our history eventually and come out stronger on the other side.

One of the Ways Through

No matter where you would place yourself on this continuum, this Fourth of July I challenge you to listen. Listen to others. Be open to hearing another narrative. Especially be willing to sit across the table from someone who is different from you in some way. No matter what, we can listen to each other. Really listen to someone else’s story. Be ready for your own perspective to be challenged in some way. This is not to be feared. This is the kind of thing I LOVE to celebrate and enjoy!

For those of us, who have faith in Jesus, this process does not diminish our faith. The art of sitting at the table and interacting with someone who is different from us was modeled by Jesus himself. The example coming to mind is his interaction with the Samaritan women at the well, recorded in the book of John in the Bible. (John 4:1-26;39-42. Go read it if you never have!) Jesus was Jewish. The woman was a Samaritan. Right in scripture, we are told Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other. Jesus breaks through this division with a conversation and with a need. He, the one who was supposedly “better” asked the one who was in the “worse” condition, someone lower on the social status scale for something he needed: a drink of water. Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah to a SAMARITAN WOMAN! I just love Jesus, he is my favorite. Jesus crossed cultural, societal, economic, gender, and ethnic boundaries time and time again because he loves all of humanity. As Christ-followers, we are taught every single human on this earth bears the image of God. That is all we need folks. This is our call to see and be for the dignity and worth of every human. It will take intentionality and be messy but it’s who we are. Let’s do this.

Coming up soon on the blog-my first protest and what I am thinking about doing now.

 

What’s your Frequency?

We sat at the table for the gazillionth time. I am the more “relational” one, the one who could strike up a conversation with just about anyone. He is the one who gets tired if he has too many conversations in one day! I could talk about a subject until the cows come home. I like to hit every angle of every angle asking question upon question. I want to know the why behind the why for my personal health and for the health of all others. Some might call this intense. To me, it’s normal. He, well, let’s just say there is an inordinate difference between our word situation. He usually uses the least amount of words possible in just about every situation. He is the classic internal processor. I am the classic external processor.

It’s like we are trying to communicate but we are on two different frequencies. He is on AM and I am on FM. How do we come together to hear and understand each other?

I like to talk it out. I once sat in a Panera with two friends at the same table for over 7 hours talking. And we could have stayed longer! To him this is reminiscent of a nightmare. After 24 years of marriage, sometimes it is hard to remember those days when we couldn’t get enough of each other. We wanted to spend all of our time together! There weren’t enough right words in the English language to explain our love for each other. He was the best! And I was the best to him! Something happened to this love fest as the months turned into decades. Just the other night, I had to leave the room he was in to get “a break” from him because I was annoyed so badly! Oh, the ups and downs of a long term, committed relationship.

So, who are you? An external processor, one who needs to verbally talk through an issue or a problem to get to a better place or an internal processor, one who does most of your thinking through issues in your mind? Can you interact act with a situation with words immediately or do you need some time in thought and reflection to formulate your perspective and ideas?

Recently, while on the roller coaster of staying connected and fighting for our relationship, I had a light bulb moment. I couldn’t tell you if it was a first time revelation or just a revamped view of the same thing we have had to learn over and over again. But we had some breakthrough again. I wonder if a good marriage that stands the test of time really is just two people willing to learn the same lessons over and over in new ways, season after season?

At the table, I could feel hopelessness threaten.

I don’t know how we will navigate this. He is so different from me. How many times do we need to have a similar conversation? He will never understand what I am going through. It seems like it is so hard for him to open up. Will we be able to move through this difficulty staying in tact, stronger and not weaker?

Staying is what we’ve committed to for all the days we have on this earth. This underlying commitment is the foundation from which we jump into the sometimes hard work of connecting, being emotionally intimate.

I, as the external processor, had to stop talking and give him some moments. I asked questions and left room for him to think and respond. My default mode is to snap back at him in some way, sometimes stomping on his authentic perspective and feelings. I may have grinned through my reactions and thoughts a few times, trying not to say anything instead of spewing my immediate thoughts. His default mode is to be more quiet and withdrawal. I don’t know exactly why and how it happened that we made space for each other in our own unique wiring that day. But finally, he shared a few struggles with me. Finally, I wasn’t the only one with “problems.” For an internal processor, they know their struggles but they often do not say anything out loud. They don’t “need” to verbally talk out their issues. They process most things internally. But if they are in a relationship of any significance with an external processor, saying things out loud is vitally important to connect with this person. It made all the difference for me! I was not alone. Even though our experiences were not exactly the same we connected through our humanness. We connected on a deeper level than the day-to-day activities and schedules with work, ministry, the house and the kids.

Creating space in the middle between two people for connection requires work on both sides. We pull back from our “normal” modes and new threads are tied, pulling us together instead of apart.

Instead of anger having its way, love takes root. We are quick to listen. If you are an internal processor being quick to listen to someone you love means actually talking, saying something to allow the other to know you more deeply. But, listen, the talking very likely should not be the step-by-step process of how to fix the other person’s problem. The talking required here is sharing of your own issues and struggles. This includes God, as well. God wants to hear your heart, your cries, and your celebrations. And, of course, for us external processors, we need to hold our words at times and truly listen, making space for someone to speak, whether it is our husband or God himself just waiting for us to take a breath and hear, truly hear the other’s heart and soul.

This pulling back from our go-to mode does not negate the beauty of our natural wiring. We bring life to others through who we are. The light bulb here is when we need to step out of the default in order connect with someone who is very different from us. If we can do this, we make room for the other. And it is a very, good thing.

If you feel a little different, this one’s for you

What was it about those orange flowers I saw on my run? There were just a few sticking out amidst a plethora of green. They stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t sure exactly why but I snapped a pic, leaning into God as I took my next steps.

Sometimes I feel so different than others around me.

Sometimes I feel so alone even when I am surrounded by other people.

Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with all that is in me.

Sometimes I just want the desire I have for more to stop.

It all threatens to make me crazy. What stands out, what makes me different sometimes isolates me, making me feel down and sad.

When I saw the orange flowers, it was a reflection of me. God’s like-

It’s you…and it’s okay. It’s okay you’re different. I have created you like this. It’s okay if you stand out. It’s okay if you feel alone. It’s going to be okay. You have beauty to bring to this world. Pain does not negate the beauty.

Be orange.

Be you.

How are you different?

Are you alone in some way?

Is there something inside, you have to get out into the world?

It’s okay.

Be orange.

Be you.

Stand out. Be you. God marked you with beauty and color. God marked me with beauty and color. He’s an artist. And he is not done recreating you and me.

I have been asking God to meet me in this time of unknown. My next steps professionally, in ministry and calling, are not crystal clear. So I’ve asked God to help me remember what’s imperative in order to live well now and live into the next moments. (One of the ways to get through door #2-see previous blog post.)

I have created you. You. You are not a mistake. You are not ugly. You are not too much. You-with all that-you are like these orange flowers in a field of green. 

Be orange.

Be you.

Transitions and Goodbyes

I used to always say, “It’s the transitions, those are the hardest,” for my little ones. Time to leave. Transition. Time to clean up. Transition. Time to go to bed. Transition. Time to eat. Transition. Time to leave the playplace. Transition. When mine were toddlers and preschool age, transitions were killer.

Was it because they loved what they were doing and didn’t want to stop? Sometimes. Was it because they just simply didn’t like the in-between time, the space on the way from one thing to the next? Sometimes. Was it because they didn’t like the next thing? Often. But they cannot do the same thing forever, can they? They need sleep, food, rest and activity. They need to go to school and to visit others and to go grocery shopping.

I feel like a toddler not wanting to take his nap right now. I didn’t want to stop what I was doing. I didn’t want to give up a position that made me feel like I was contributing, significant to our church. I don’t want to wait on what is next. I resist the in-between just like my little ones.

As I check my emails each day now, I can feel it, sadness comes over me. All my emails now are mostly from stores. Just because I order something online, doesn’t mean I want to get an email a day from you, you commercial hounds! I try to unsubscribe, but who can keep up? Are you with me? I liked the action of making sure things were as they should be as the volunteer lead of Women’s Ministry at my church. Even though I had a love/hate relationship with email. Emails can drain me with their incessant nagging. But the sense of accomplishment, knowing I am part of impacting people’s lives for good. What I really miss more is the meetings, the strategizing, and the people. I absolutely love thinking through mission, vision, and values! Now that I have stepped down from my volunteer position I am in the grieving process, transitioning from one thing to the next.

Problem is, I don’t know what is next.

At my worst moments, I feel as though I will never get another opportunity. I am not needed. I am not an integral part of where my church is going. They don’t need me. They don’t want me. At some level I know these are lies. But those thoughts badger and attack, threatening to take me down for the count..3, 2…no, stop.

This is where the fight begins. This is when my toddler needs to listen to me. The moment she arches her back and uses all her strength to fight me as I try to buckle her seatbelt in her car seat. I have good plans for her. Food, sleep, education, friendship, activity, work, are all good things I have planned for her. But she resists because she can’t see the wisdom or the benefit in the middle of the transition. God is no different with his good plans. Rest, work, learning, nourishment, growth, are the plans of God for me. Will I listen? Will I release control? Will I allow sadness and frustration to be a doorway, instead of a wall?

I came across a book in Barnes and Noble the other day. I went in there because bookstores feed my soul. I needed some TLC. I wasn’t expecting to find a subtitle so perfect for my season. The title is “Begin Again.” The subtitle, “the practice of releasing hurt and finding rest,” could not have beckoned more clearly. The author, Leanna Tankersley, wrote a chapter called “the threshold.” She describes moments when we come to a place where can enter or we can turn back and go the other direction. In my spirit I know this is where I am, at the threshold. Enter or turn back. Entering includes moving away from all the disappointment and unfulfilled ideas and moving toward new possibilities, ones I can’t see.

Even though the plan I had worked out in my head was not the reason I said yes to leading women’s at my church, I did see it as a way through to what God had possibly planned for me. We are at a place in our family life in which it would be really helpful if I got a paid job to help with all the upcoming college education costs for our 6 children! When I think about jobs, I can’t see myself getting back into early childhood/elementary education. I am “kidded out” now. I have been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. I. am. done. Since I have been a stay-at-home mom for all that time I do not have much job experience to help me land many jobs I might like. And when I think about the jobs I could easily get, Target or something along those lines, I just can’t get myself to apply because A: I don’t want to work in retail and B: the pay is really very poor. Next time you are in a store or restaurant, thank them and treat them well because they are doing work with very little compensation! I have said to myself, “I will work at one of those places if I have to.” I do want to stay open if necessary.

Reality is, I have been a pastor’s wife for 24 years and because of this I have experience in ministry with people. When it comes right down to it, I want to spend the rest of my life helping people know God more deeply and inspire them to do all that God has created them to do. Ministry is in my blood. A minister is who I have become.

With twinkle in my eyes, I started serving in women’s ministry imagining the possible future outcome: a part-time or full-time paid job in the church. Can I be honest with you for a minute? This is hard to admit, but I saw myself working so hard and so well that someone would see me and my work and think, “we need her here, we want her here, let’s pay her for her work. She is an integral part of where we are going as a church. Let’s hire her.” These words and exact details were not all worked out in my brain, but I did imagine volunteering would turn into something else. This did not happen. I did not imagine feeling like I had nothing to show for my hard work these last two years. I did not imagine I would have to begin again and have to choose to trust again with nothing of substance in my sights as far as a fulfilling, paid job goes.

So, here I sit, in the in-between yet again, fighting, waiting, on the precipice of either drowning in doubt and anger or entering into the unknown with hope and anticipation. It’s time to revisit what helps me get to door #2.

How about you? Are you in a transition? What’s door #1 for you? What’s door #2? Where are you in the whole trusting process? What do you do to fight and stay on track?

 

 

Stories from the Holy Land: the power of peacemaking instead of revenge

We sat in a circle. As we walked in, the air was thick with somberness and respect. They have been living with the death of their children for years. We were meeting them for the first time. Without the deaths of their children, we probably wouldn’t be meeting them that day. Without the tragic death of her son and the tragic death of his daughter, the two probably wouldn’t be friends. An Israeli and a Palestinian inextricably bound together through pain and hope. Their friendship and partnership for peace has grown to such an extent, sometimes now they finish each other’s sentences.

He is calm, cool, and collected. You can see the wise compassion in his eyes, no doubt grown over the years. He smiles with a small grin every time she says something funny. She is a bit more of a spitfire, full of wit and intelligence. She, ahead of him by a few years, looks at him as a friend who has traveled many miles together would. They find laughter amidst their deep, never ending pain. It puts us at ease. They have a focused energy and commitment toward hope and peace for themselves and for their fellow community members, who live both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in the modern state of Israel.

Basam Aramin lost his daughter on a “regular” school day. She was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier after school.

Robi Damelin lost her son while he was on duty as an Israeli soldier. He was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper at a checkpoint.

 

Robi and I

Israel-Palestine is a land of checkpoints and schools. Try to imagine, guarded checkpoints throughout the United States. Try to imagine, only some people allowed to drive on certain roads. Palestinians are not allowed to be on some roads at all, “sterile roads” as they are called. On some roads, Palestinians can only walk and not drive.

In a land where Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined amongst hills, deserts, olive trees, and vista views, citizenship status and permits, or lack their-of, determine where you can and can’t go. Remember Israel and Palestine are only about the size of New Jersey.

Jericho, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories

Sea of Galilee, Northern Israel

Hebron, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories

Israeli soldiers guard these checkpoints which keep in force these limitations. Escalation can erupt at any time. Tension is part of the fabric of their lives, rising and falling, rising and falling, again and again over the years. Some seek revenge. Some react out of fear. All, deep down, want security. But a clear, easy path to security for all is not part of reality.

Basam and Robi know this all too well, but they refuse to give in to hopelessness. They refuse to give up. Their pain and their friendship spur them on as they continue to educate others and tell their stories. Their lives are a testament to the difficult, less chosen path toward security and peace.

They are part of an organization called the Parents Circle-Families Forum. It is a “unique, grassroots organization made up of more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families, who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict.” As international spokespeople for the organization they travel and spread awareness as part of the “long-term vision..to have a reconciliation process as an integral part of any future peace agreement.” They “want..permanent, sustainable peace.” http://www.parentscircle.com

To think, the ones who have suffered and lost the most lead the charge toward peace.

As I sat in the circle, trying to process the weight of their loss and stories, I was stunned at the power of peacemaking. Choosing to listen, forgive, and love, working toward peace, instead of seeking revenge is stunningly beautiful and strong. I want to be like them. I haven’t lost a child. I don’t live in the tension-filled Holy Land. But as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be a peacemaker.

What does it look like for me to live like this? I am still processing this. One thing I can do is pass on their stories. Please let them affect you. Feel their pain. See their passion. Ponder the laying down of arms. Allow them to give you perspective.

Now let’s look at injustice, suffering, and prejudice in and around us here in the States and abroad. Our shared humanity urges us to pay attention and seek to understand someone else’s pain and injustice. Where does hopelessness threaten in our areas of influence? Let’s make peacemaking our goal. Like Robi says, “if we can do it, so can you.”

With Israel and Palestine back in the news, because of President Trump’s remarks and decision, I find myself begging God to intervene for these peacemakers, and many like them, who live and work in a place where America’s influence is significant. I am rethinking what I can do, starting with convincing more people here in the States to get educated about and engaged in the conflict, which continues to affect the lives of Robi and Bassam.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.”  Matthew 5:9

To Be the Church…is to Move

to be the church is to be on the move
to be the church is to be willing and available
to be the church is to care for the people on the fringes
to be the church is to go
to be the church is to care deeply for others, all others
to be the church is to love
to be the church is to give of ourselves
we are not called to a holy huddle
we are not called to the status quo
we are not called to stop, stay, and hide
we are not called to think of ourselves first and mostly
we are not called to save ourselves, our stuff, our preferences
we are not called to build up around us
we are not called to keep a tight hold of this thing called the gospel
to be the church is to move, one and the same
the people of God have always been called to move
the people of God have always done hard, extraordinary things
the people of God have always been the unlikely ones
the people of God have always been pushed to the uncomfortable
the people of God have always had questions
the people of God have always had to learn dependence on God
the people of God have always found the risk outweighs comfort
because God alone is worthy of our lives
because God compels us follow him to purpose and meaning
because somehow God lets us see
because somehow God speaks and prompts and whispers
because somehow God changes and transforms our hearts
because somehow God leads us in the unknown, unfamiliar places
because somehow God gives us peace in the middle of this world
we can’t help it
once we truly discover, behold, and know in our bones the goodness of God we will move
we are the church and we will move
it’s who we are
it’s who God is

I can sleep (Reflections on Mark 4)

I wrote this a little while back. I didn’t feel comfortable posting it. The language felt too simplistic. Writing in this form feels more vulnerable. I wasn’t sure if this was just for me or whether it was meant for others. But since the time I wrote it down, it has come to me over and over as I see God working here and there. I see God doing things around me and in me I know I didn’t do. God works as we sleep and rest and trust. These words came when I saw connections between several stories in Mark chapter 4 of the Bible.

I can sleep.
I will grow.
I can sleep.
Storms will rage.
I can sleep.
Results will multiply.
What am I listening to?
God, tell me the secrets of your kingdom.
I can sleep.
Small seeds will grow.
I can sleep.
God will rise.
I can sleep.
I will wonder how.
I can sleep.
The kingdom will expand.
Can I hear?
God, tell me how you work.
I can sleep.
Fear can go.
I can sleep.
God will speak.
I can sleep.
Faith can rise.
Please, God let my faith arise.

Others, like the seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop -thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.
Mark 4:20

Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.
Mark 4:27

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Mark 4:40