There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anaïs Nin

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lent Day Twenty Three - The Calm After the Storm

My favorite movie of all time is Forrest Gump.  I love it for so many reasons, but one of the scenes I like the best was Lieutenant Dan on top of the mast of the shrimp boat yelling at God during the storm, which was ultimately how he made his peace with Him.

I have spent a lifetime questioning God, although not quite as dramatically as Lt. Dan.  I used to think my questions implied a lack of faith, but it was just my way of understanding something that is ultimately beyond human understanding. 

And I found that often times, my questions just led to more questions.  God has been faithful though.  Sending just the right book or person my way, who helped me make sense of the things that were holding me back from completely putting my faith in Him.

Since Lent, my blog entries have been focused on many of the questions that I have struggled with over the years, but today  as I sit at my computer to write my entry for the day, I realize that I don’t have any questions.  Not because I have all the answers.  That will never happen in this lifetime, but because I am satisfied with what God has chosen to reveal to me.  I believe, much like Lt. Dan, I have finally made my peace with Him.

And that’s all I have to say about that…

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lent Day Twenty Two - The Lighter Side of Life

“And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live”  -  The Rose

It’s a little more than halfway through Lent.  I have put my focus on God for the last 21 days, and He has been faithful.  Helping me with my questions, my doubts, my fears.  I have taken them all to Him and while I am sure I will never run out of questions, or be satisfied with some of the responses, I am reaching a point where I can let go of the doubt and just trust.  Trust that God knows what He is doing, that He is in control, which frees me up from feeling like I have to be in control.

Having said that, I look back over my life.  And how much time I have spent focused on figuring out God, Christianity, religion.  And I wonder how much of that has been driven by this fear that was instilled in me as a little girl about Hell.  It’s been difficult for me to overcome what I internalized in my childhood.  And I wonder how much this fear, which expressed itself as a fear of dying, has kept me from fully living.

People often talk of their bucket lists.   A friend asked me today what’s on my bucket list and I said I don’t have one.  I actually don’t have a bucket list.   I definitely don’t need to go sky  diving or bungee jumping to make my life complete, but I couldn’t in that moment think of anything that I dreamed of doing, or that I was passionate enough about to make sure I do it before I die. My friend, on the other hand, proceeded to count off ten things on his list.

So what does it mean exactly to put God first.  I have been reading my Bible, going to Bible studies, retreats, focusing on His word and practicing service.  All good things but what about enjoying life.  Just living life as a way to honor God.  Enjoying his creation, enjoying friends, good food, seeing the world.  In other words doing something just because. 

I think its time to make up my own bucket list.   And if I can muster up the courage, maybe I’ll even knock a few items off of it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lent Day Twenty One - The Best Compliment I Ever Received

I was looking through some old pictures of myself when I was about 25 pounds heavier than I am now.   What surprised me was that because I lost the weight so slowly I didn’t realize how much heavier I actually was.  I guess sometimes we change without even realizing how much we are changing.

Around that same time, I had coffee with a friend who shared with me her relationship with Jesus.  When she finished talking I said “you sound like you know Him personally, like He’s sitting right next to you.”  And she smiled at me, understanding that I just didn’t get it.

Typically in my life, as I experienced hurt or pain, my response was to build a wall around myself.  A wall of self protection.  Brick by brick over the years I was able to build quite a fortress.  Inside this fortress there was no room for God.  I was quite stubborn thinking I could handle life on my own, thank you very much. 

But there came a time, when I realized that not only was this wall keeping me safely inside, but it was also keeping others, including God, safely outside.  And I was lonely.  Even in a crowd of people, I was lonely.  Disconnected somehow.  So I took a leap of faith and removed one brick.  And by doing so, although not realizing it at the time, I let God in.

God, who I thought had long since abandoned me, was just waiting patiently outside the wall.  And though it took years, that one little gesture I made toward God, has allowed Him to do His work.  Even at times when I was completely unaware.  Much like looking at myself in that old photo and not realizing that I had changed.

Today, I had a conversation with another friend.  A friend who is struggling with God, asking the same questions I once asked.  And I talked to Him about Jesus, and who Jesus is to me and he said “you sound like you know Him personally, like He’s sitting right next to you.”   And I smiled, realizing that I finally get it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lent Day Twenty - A Rude Awakening

This morning, I felt confident about my challenge for the day.  To go a full day eating nothing but one bowl of rice. (To see why, please read yesterday’s blog post A Lesson In Uncle Ben’s).  Now that the day is over, I wish I could say that I rose to the challenge, graciously enduring this uncomfortable experience, but all I can say is this…

It sucked.

The morning was not too bad.  I dropped my daughter at school, then came home and crawled back into bed so I could sleep away some more of the day. When I awoke for the second time, I was definitely feeling more hungry.  So I distracted myself with my computer.  I googled hunger, and read many websites about the children in this world who face it every day, to remind myself why I was doing this. 

By afternoon, I was starving, and so looking forward to the one bowl of rice I was allowing myself.  The longest 20 minutes of the day was waiting for the rice to cook.  By this time, I felt tired, I had a headache, and as my kids predicted, I was cranky.  I was not their favorite person by the end of the day, and it probably didn’t help that I responded to their every statement with “at least you ate today”.

By evening, all I could think about was crawling into bed and praying for morning to come so I could eat a hearty breakfast.  And now that it is night time, and I am sitting in my bed typing this entry, I think back in disbelief to the thought that I was going to give up chocolate for Lent, as if that was some sort of great sacrifice.   I think of all the times I tossed out perfectly good leftovers, or let food go bad in my fridge because of poor planning.  Tossing it away thinking that there’s plenty more where that came from.

But the most sobering thought of all as I think of that one bowl of rice is this…even my dogs ate twice.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lent Day Nineteen - A Lesson In Uncle Ben's

When I was a 21 year old college graduate starting out in my new career, the first thing I did with my very first paycheck was to sponsor a child from Save The Children.  Each month, I would send my check to support this child and I continue to do that to this day, even adding several more children over the years.  But other than that it makes me feel quite altruistic, I don’t give these children much thought as I go about my day to day life.

Today, my pastor shared an update from a couple in our church who recently traveled to Swaziland. During their time there, they visited an orphanage where the children receive one bowl of rice per day, and on weekends sometimes they don’t even get that.   I felt sad hearing this story, even as I thought of what I would have for lunch after the service.

When God became human through Jesus of Nazareth, He didn’t come here to wave a magic wand and make everything all better, He came to show us that He understood what it means to be human.  Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, dealing with temptation, hunger, thirst.  Throughout his ministry, He suffered terrific pain and loss.  By entering into the human experience, God was no longer this great being in the sky that we had to appease through burnt offerings, but instead He became someone we could relate to, talk to, someone we could love.

There is no question that charitable donations are helpful, but unless I can better understand the plight of the people I am trying to help, I am merely assuaging my guilt.  Jesus, through his actions, has taught me that true compassion means suffering along with those towards whom I feel compassion.

But could I go a whole day without eating anything but a bowl of rice?  I’m not sure I could even go a day just skipping lunch, but this is Lent and for 40 days I agreed to put God first in my life, and if this is what He’s asking me to do, I better do it. And tomorrow is as good a day as any.   But next year for Lent, I’m just giving up chocolate.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lent Day Eighteen - Perfect Love in an Imperfect World

“We live in a cynical world. A cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors. I love you. You... complete me.”  “Shut up, just shut up…you had me at hello.”    
                    - Jerry Maguire

Unconditional love at its best.  I cried at this scene. Partly because it was so touching but partly because I wondered about my own marriage.   Do we have that kind of love? That kind of romance? Do we complete each other?  I suppose in the beginning we did, or thought we did, but then the expectations crept in.  And when the expectations came and went unmet, that’s when the love was tempered with anger and disappointment.

Is it possible for me to love my husband unconditionally?  What about my kids?  I think I do because when my best friend tells me about her daughter’s latest academic award or community service project, my first reaction is to report the fact that my kids just hit level 80 in World of Warcraft, secure in the knowledge that my gamers are doing just fine. But my second reaction is to storm into the house and yell at them to get off the video games and get some homework done.

As a flawed, imperfect person, I am incapable of loving unconditionally, at least on my own.  As long as I am looking to another person to complete me, to build me up, or validate me, I will never have my expectations met.

So is there any hope?

One of my favorite Bible stories is the one about the adulteress. 

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” – John 8:4-5

What did Jesus say?  Did He say “what were you thinking, woman”  or “I told you this would happen.”  No, because Jesus is complete.  Our actions do not reflect on Him. He, the Son, being in perfect relationship with God the Father, doesn’t need validation or acceptance so there are no expectations.  There is no anger or disappointment.  His response to her was simply “Go, and sin no more.” - John 8:11

And if this woman was interviewed on Oprah after that encounter, I am confident that she would report that she sinned no more.  Not because yet another person was telling her what to do, but because she felt, probably for the first time in her life, unconditional love.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lent Day Seventeen - A True Test

I have a confession to make. I am not always a cheerful giver.  When it comes to putting my money into the collection basket, or lending butter, eggs, milk to a neighbor, or giving a friend a ride to the train station, I’m happy to help where I can.  Where my giving becomes less cheerful is in my own home and specifically with my husband.

I have been known to say things to him like:

“Do I have to do everything around this house?”
“Why can’t we watch what I want to watch?” 
and “I’m too tired to cook, can you pick up take-out?”

Recently, as I have been reading my Bible and my devotionals, one thing about Jesus’ life that is glaringly obvious, is that He came to serve.  He took care of others and He taught His disciples to do the same.

And because I would like to be more like Jesus, I have asked Him to guide me to where He wants me to serve.  Where can I help?  What can I do to be a blessing to others?   And I have been met with silence.  Surely God wants me to serve, doesn’t He?  Why, then, are no doors opening to me?

This morning, I happened to be reading my Bible and I came across the Parable of the Talents.  Jesus tells of a man who left varying amounts of money to each of his servants.  Rewarding those servants who made more money for him, and becoming upset with the servant who kept the money safe.  Jesus concluded the story with the following words…

     “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.”  Luke 19:11

This is a story about faithfully using what God has entrusted to us.  And I considered this.  Is it possible that God hasn’t opened a door for me to serve “out there” because I haven’t earned His trust by serving “in here?”

So for the rest of this Lenten season, I am going to practice service.  In my own home. And yes, that would include my husband.   I’m sure, with the right heart, the right attitude and the strength of the Holy Spirit, I can learn to put the needs of my husband before my own.  My only question is this…how many more days are left in Lent?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lent Day Sixteen - Am I Part of the Problem?

Last night I went to see Limitless. 

This was a movie about a man who took a pill that gave him the use of his entire brain.  He basically became superhuman in his ability to think.  He used his new found intelligence to accrue great personal wealth.  He also, lied, cheated and murdered to get to the top, but that’s just movie drama, right?  In the end, everything works out for him.  But what struck me as I left the theatre, is that I wanted everything to work out for him.  He was, after all, basically a nice guy, with a nice girlfriend, and we are talking about Bradley Cooper here.

Not to mention, that this movie cost $27 million dollars to make.  It drew $6.6 million dollars at the box office on the first night.  This movie about a drug addict who wins the day by taking a short cut to the top.  Which, between tickets and food, I spent $35 dollars to see.

I am also a Yankee fan.  The New York Yankees. With their new $1.5 billion dollar stadium.  I love to go see them, not that I can go that often given how difficult it is to get tickets. And who can afford them now anyway, with that price tag and the salaries of the players.  But I watch them on TV and given an opportunity to see them live, I will jump at the chance.

So I watch movies, and I watch sports, but I also watch the news.  And I listen to the stories of war, crime, earthquakes, hunger, poverty and I ask why does this happen?  Why does God allow this?  Why doesn’t He do something…. and I wonder… is God asking me the same thing?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lent Day Fifteen - What's It All About?

“Meaningless, meaningless!
says the Teacher,
Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless”
Ecclesiastes 1:1,2

Yesterday I watched the CNN interview of Victoria Jackson’s comments on the controversial gay kiss on Glee.  I don’t know who she is or how she suddenly became the Christian voice but she was clearly upset about this kiss and went on in her interview to say   “muslims kill gays…muslims hate God and gays hate His word” all while waving a Bible in her hand.

Is this what God had in mind when he said “love your neighbor?” 

When King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes he was questioning his life. Having attained great wealth and wisdom, all the things of this world, he still felt empty.  And ultimately he drew the conclusion that there is no meaning in anything without God. 

But God has been reduced to fit agendas, He has been reduced to fit into our churches, and our limited understanding of who He is.  Some question my need to question God, saying God is beyond our understanding, but then those same people seem to claim they know God and what he wants because they rely on the Bible.  The infallible word of God. 

A book that has been translated and interpreted so many times, that the original intent may have been lost.   A book that some say should be read literally, and some say should not be read literally.  Learned theologians who reach entirely different conclusions.  Educated pastors who lead churches with opposite messages.  So is it like a salad bar?  Take what I like and leave the rest?  Pick and choose the Bible verses that serve my agenda?  Leaving me so confused that I wonder…what does one do when God becomes meaningless?

And then there’s Jesus… who came to teach us how to love others, how to be in a relationship with others so we could ultimately have a relationship with God.  Jesus, who died for us, to bridge the gap between a perfect God and a sinful world.  And I cling to that truth.  That one truth that God is love.  And any message that causes me to step away from love, any message that encourages hate, intolerance and divisiveness is not from God.  And how do I know this?  Because the Bible tells me so.

1 John 4:16  God is love.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lent Day Fourteen - It's a World Gone Mad

     There’s a Pastor named Rob Bell, who is the leader of a church called Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I have read several of his books, most recently a book called Love Wins.   In his book, he tells us essentially that all people will eventually go to Heaven.  That when Jesus declared “It is finished”, He meant it.

      My understanding has always been that there is a definite Heaven and Hell.  An in group and an out group,  although there are many opinions as to who makes up those two groups.  But I figured this pastor’s message would probably be met with some controversy and when I searched online for responses to this book, I learned quickly that I was correct.

     Many religious leaders have offered their opinions about this book.  Some are quite vehement, going so far as to call Rob Bell a heretic.  A heretic?  Like…Galileo?  Some didn’t like his message about all being saved and nobody going to Hell because they believed that without the fear of judgment people would not choose to behave morally.  What a sad commentary on what that message says about human nature.

     My own father was a strict disciplinarian.  When I was a teenager, I was afraid of my father. So the more he laid down the law, the more I rebelled.  But as I matured and started to see my father in a different light,  I understood that he loved me and that he wanted to teach me things about life.  It wasn’t until I was able to let go of the fear of my father and embrace the love he had for me that I wanted to please him. In fact, I even wanted to be like him.

     I find love to be a much more powerful motivator, but I am not a theologian so I continued to search for responses from people who were much more educated than me.  I have been following Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle on podcasts because I enjoy his sermons. I figured he would have an opinion and a quick google search led me to his video response of Rob Bell and others like him.

   As I listened to this video clip of Mark Driscoll I was impressed with his big words and fancy theology, but the message that I kept hearing from him was “who does this guy think he is talking about God in such a loving way”.  He was clearly upset about Rob Bell and it reminded me of another time when the religious leaders were up in arms about someone’s message and I think it was about 2000 years ago.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lent Day Thirteen - Be Careful What You Wish For

     From time to time, I hear people speak of their new possessions as having been a blessing from the Lord.  A new car, new job, new husband, whatever it is they happened to have just received.  I just got a new pick-up truck which, following that logic, I guess was a blessing from the Lord.

     I love my new truck.  I personally like a big vehicle.  I spend a lot of time driving my kids around and running errands, so my vehicle is really more like my office.  And when I drive around in my truck, I feel like I own the road.  Yes, I am one of those drivers who has very little patience for people who drive slower than me, or faster than me, or in any way different from me.

     I know this is an area I need to work on.  And as with anything in life, practice makes perfect.  My son, for example, is a baseball player.  A pitcher.  Every day he heads over to the field with his teammates to practice.  He throws the ball over and over and over again.  He does this so he can become a better pitcher.

     Today, I had to drive my other son back to college.  I was on the highway for about three hours in total, becoming increasingly impatient with the other drivers (where do these people get their licenses?).  And it suddenly struck me at some point during my travels, that the blessing from the Lord was not the big truck, the blessing was the many opportunities He was sending my way that allowed me to practice my patience while behind the wheel of that big truck.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lent Day Twelve - Follow Me @God

     Today, at church, my Pastor spoke about Passionate Worship.  The kind of worship that involves an unrestrained, pouring out our love for someone, bowing down and kissing their feet.  The way we should worship Jesus. Then he asked us to share with the person sitting next to us our first memory of worship.  I turned to my husband and said “I got nothin’”. 

     I have kept my heart far too guarded to allow myself to express that kind of deep love for anything or anyone.  Thinking back over my life, the closest I came to that kind of worship was when I saw Top Gun for the first time.  Something about Maverick and that whole alpha male thing he had going on, but I’m pretty sure my Pastor was referring to a different type of worship.

     When I used the word worship in my vocabulary it was always about girls who worshipped the ground their boyfriends walked on.  Or people who worship movie stars, showing their love by hanging on their every word through Twitter.  But I don’t worship like that either.  In fact, I don’t Tweet at all, but mostly because I am far too self-absorbed, caring much more about my own opinions than what Charlie Sheen or even Tom Cruise has to say.

    So this idea of passionately worshipping Jesus in the manner my Pastor was talking about gave me much to think about.  I do have a relationship with God but I realized that there are still barriers that keep me from pouring my love out to Him.  But the more I focus on getting to know Him, the more I listen to His voice above all else, the closer I get to having a real worship experience worthy of sharing with the person sitting next to me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lent Day Eleven - Cosmic Job Security

     Throughout the years, I have spent a significant amount of time reading books about God, faith and religion.  It fascinates me to read about other belief systems and I have always been amazed at all the different theories there are about God.  But what amazes me more is how many ways there are to think about God within the Christian faith.

     The two obvious differences are Catholics and Protestants, where Catholics have their Pope and their traditions and Protestants are typically more Bible based.  Then within the Protestant faith there is even further breakdown…Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Pentacostals, Unitarians,  and the list goes on.

     And each of these churches has their own slant, their own personal agenda as to which areas of the bible they tend to focus on.  Then there are all the books that I have read by various pastors, reverends, bishops, even the Pope.  All with their opinions about the bible, God, religion, faith, etc.

     And for each book that I have read there is commentary online about why this opinion or that opinion is wrong or right.  Of course to eliminate confusion, I could just read the bible.  But which one in my house should I choose from?   The New International Version, the King James Version, the Message?  With each bible comes a slightly different interpretation, so its wise to read the bible along with further commentary, or within the confines of a bible study, but which one?

     So my thought for the day is this:  If there is a devil, and his job is to keep us separate from God, he must be ecstatic.  He doesn’t have to do anything but sit back and watch us all fight amongst ourselves about the truth about God so we never actually come together as a united front and put the devil out of work.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lent Day Ten - Fair Weather Fan in the Sky

     March Madness…one of my favorite times of the year.  I don’t generally follow college basketball, but I love this particular tournament.  Full of upsets, overtime games, and exciting finishes with the prize of the Final Four hanging in the balance.  It gives me the opportunity to watch teams play that I otherwise would not take the time to watch.

     But at the end of each game, I always wonder about the coaches who thank God for the win.  What message does that send to the losers of that game?  That God was not with them?  And with so much trouble in the world is this where God is focusing his energies?

     Once again, the human perspective of God is skewed,  leaving me with my myriad of questions, but the most important question remains…

    Did God fill out his bracket before or after He decided which teams to bless?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lent Day Nine - Break the Dam, Release the River

     In my efforts to understand God I often got stuck on the question of why bad things happen to good people.  If He’s all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful why does He allow evil to remain in the world, thinking that evil is some “thing” out there that can be eradicated.  Much like when he flooded the earth because everyone, except Noah,  had become wicked.

     So I thought about my own life and while I do think of myself as a good person, someone who follows the laws of society and makes every effort to treat others with respect and kindness, I’m certainly not perfect and I wonder…would God have asked me to build the ark?

     God has handed down laws to us in the form of the Ten Commandments.  For example, Thou Shalt Not Steal.  Well, that’s easy, I don’t steal.  I mean maybe when I was a teenager.  And there have been times when the cashier handed me back too much change and I didn’t make the drive back to return it.  But does that count?  The commandment doesn’t say Thou Shalt Not Steal except if peer pressure is involved or you are stealing from a corporation that has too much money to notice.

     God also asks me to love others as myself.  I do that.  Generally.  I mean unless I’m in a really cranky mood or the person in front of me is driving way too slow, but does that count?   Did God say love others until it becomes inconvenient?

     So before I press God any further on why He doesn’t eliminate evil, I better make sure I know where He draws the line.  After all, I am a really bad swimmer.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lent Day Eight - Let There Be Play-Doh

     I vividly recall my first Christmas after learning the truth about Santa Claus.  I woke up, went downstairs to the Christmas tree, saw the gifts, and I felt sad. Gone was the sense of wonder, the magic that surrounds that day and I knew Christmas would never quite be the same again.

     I felt the same way when I learned the truth about Hell.  My relationship with God changed that day.  And all the wonder and magic of the world disappeared, leaving a hole in my heart that I have been trying to fill ever since.

     I became very serious after that.  Confused because nothing made sense anymore.  All the songs I sang about Jesus loving me seemed empty and hollow.  How could God love me, and banish me at the same time? The questions have overwhelmed me, even to this day. 

     Last night I watched Toy Story 3.  And I was reminded of my childhood, before Santa, before Hell.  I used to play. My heart used to be light.  I loved Tonka trucks and hula hoops and pogo sticks.  And there was nothing better than opening a brand new container of Play-Doh. 

     But I don’t play with those things anymore. And my heart is heavy because it’s filled with worry and concern. I think no wonder Jesus wanted the little children to come to Him.  Because they laugh and play. They still have their sense of wonder and awe.  I see it on their faces during our children’s sermons, as they wait eagerly for the pastor to tell them a story and hand them a treat. 

     And yet, Jesus must have had a heavy heart as well.  Nobody endured more pain and suffering as a result of the evils of this world than Him.  But still he called the children.  He didn’t rebuke their silliness, their innocence.  He loved them and even instructed that unless we become like these little children we would not see the Kingdom of Heaven.

     I would like to find that sense of wonder within myself again. I believe its there but just became buried.  Perhaps the way to find it again is to act just a little bit like a child.   And while I would love to swirl around the inside of a hula hoop, I think my hips would be grateful if I settled for a coloring book and some crayons.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent Day Seven - I Want The Truth

     John 3:16  “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

     The Gospel message can be summed up in this one verse.  Beautiful, simple, elegant.  Accept Christ and you will be ‘saved’.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we become  a new creation in Christ.  Our hearts our changed. Go and sin no more…

     Why then do I still sin?

     Last night I did not do what Jesus would do.  I chose the low road, allowing a comment to bring up old hurts, old pain and it sent me into a tailspin.  How do I go from a place of love to hate in 24 hours?  Where was the Holy Spirit? Where was my changed heart?  Are the promises of the Christian faith true? 

     These are the same questions I had as a little girl. Back then, after accepting Christ but learning I still had the capacity to sin left me feeling Jesus had passed me by.  I believed what I was told. That I would be a new creation. That I would “go and sin no more.”

     But that doesn’t happen.  I still sin. Why?  Because I am in a spiritual battle, I’m told. There are evil forces trying to win my soul back, trying to make me ineffective, useless for God.  But I’m a new creation, filled with the Holy Spirit.  Isn’t this Spirit strong enough to defeat my sinful nature?

     A new friend commented on one of my posts, stating she sometimes loses her patience, but she is trying harder and I know exactly what she means. Why, though, if I am a new creation, do I need to try harder?  Why must I, on a daily basis, put on the armor of God and go into battle, fighting against the desires of a selfish nature if I am supposed to be a new creation?

     I don’t have all the answers but if I have learned anything it is this. God does not run from my questions so neither will I run from Him this time. Instead what I will do is ask for forgiveness for my quick temper, accept that I am in a battle and, in the words of Colonel Jessup, pick up a weapon and stand a post.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent Day Six - A New Dialog

     I am a bit of a control freak. I like things done my way and on my time frame. So last night when I was ready to turn out the lights and go to bed I was mildly disturbed that my husband was using my computer and I wanted everything off before I could sleep.

     The dialog went like this…

     “Are you finished? I would like to shut the computer down and go to sleep.”
     “Yea in a minute, I’m watching something.”
     (1 minute pause)
     “Well, how long is it going to take?”
     “I don’t know.”
     (1 minute pause)
     “Just ‘cuz I’m really tired.”

     I could feel the tension in my body rising. Not because I really needed to turn the lights off in that moment but because I was not getting my way.   But just as I was about to berate him for being inconsiderate, I heard a voice in my head.  A voice that reminded me about the words I had read earlier that day in my Bible about patience and kindness.

     Those are not the words that usually come to my mind when I think of God.   The God I knew was full of vengeance. Hellfire and damnation kept me from loving Him at all. By continuing to fear God, I could easily dismiss Him. Especially when He was asking me to do something I didn’t want to do, like put someone else’s needs before my own.

     But lately, the messages have been different. As I read my Bible I am getting to know a different God. One that loves me, that forgives me, one that accepts me right where I am.  And I can’t dismiss this God.

     So I resisted the urge to start an argument,  not to gain favor with God, or because I would in any way benefit, but for what may be the first time in my life, I simply wanted to do what Jesus would do.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lent Day Five - Behind Curtain Number One

     I was so excited to attend church this morning.  Since Lent started and I decided to actively seek God first, I have been excited about any opportunity to hear His word.  I attended a women’s retreat at church yesterday, listened to a fabulous speaker and enjoyed fellowship with the other ladies who attended.

     And this morning as I sat in the pew I was looking forward to my Pastor’s sermon.  As I sat there, the sun was shining in on me.  I felt as though I could feel God’s presence through the warmth of the rays of the sun, which I believed He was sending down to me in that moment.

     I smiled at the woman in the pew in front of me. She returned my smile and said that the sun was too bright, and hoped an usher would come by and close the curtains.  And sure enough, two minutes later, the usher did just that and I lost my sunshine.  I considered how differently this other woman and I responded to the same event.  I welcomed the sun as a glorious sign from God.  A reminder that spring was surely on its way.  The other woman saw the sun as an annoyance and preferred the darkness.

     This woman wasn’t wrong and it certainly didn’t say anything to me about her relationship with God.  She just wanted to read her bulletin without the glare of the light.  But I thought about our different responses and I wondered how many times I have missed God’s signs.  How many times was He speaking to me and I closed the curtains on Him?

     God speaks to us in so many ways.  Through scripture, through nature, through books, and people but I am not always aware of his messages.  I close myself off to the signs, sometimes dismissing them as coincidences and sometimes just too caught up in my own schedule to take the time to notice. 

     God is constantly revealing Himself to me.  He offers endless opportunities to feel His presence, to experience the divine.  And yet I have often felt that God was unavailable and hard to find, not realizing that all I ever had to do was open the curtains.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lent Day Four - Blessed Are Those Who Hear

     Yesterday afternoon I was surfing the internet and I came across a website that had a list of very inspirational stories and poems.  The sun was streaming into the room, I felt warm and cozy and as I read these stories I felt so peaceful.   But my moment of solitude was suddenly interrupted by the loud barks of my dog and I realized my daughter probably hadn’t fed her. 

     I yelled down the stairs for her to please feed the dogs and when she didn’t respond quickly enough I snapped at her.  Here I was reading these beautiful stories about God and love and human kindness and in my heart I was so inspired but none of that translated into my actions.

     Several hours later, I took my daughter and her two friends ice skating.  Unfortunately, Rachael fell on the ice and hit her head so hard she blacked out.  Concerned that she had a concussion I drove her to the hospital to get checked out.  And as I was sitting in the emergency room comforting her, I thought about my reaction when I yelled at her earlier that day.

     How many times have I lost my patience with my kids? Or yelled at them for something small like a poor grade, or missing curfew because I was tired or in a bad mood.  Treating them in a way that I would never treat my friends or the random people I encounter throughout my day. 

     And how many more times have I asked God to reveal to me His plan for my life.  Should I volunteer here or there, God? Should I return to work? Should I go back to school? What is it that You have planned for me.  Constantly asking, seeking,  searching with an intensity that would drive anyone crazy.  I have grown frustrated with God’s silence.

     And I realized as I sat in that hospital room, with my daughter’s hand in mine,  maybe God isn’t concerned about what I do.  Maybe he is much more interested in who I become.  And perhaps he is not being silent but simply waiting for me to hear what He has been saying all along… whatever you do, work at it with all your heart. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent Day Three - Rain, Rain, Go Away

     There is a large pile of snow at the end of my driveway that I run over every time I back out.  This morning was no different, so I said to my daughter “I hope the rain melts the rest of that snow, I hate backing over it every day.”  To which my daughter replied “why don’t you chip away at it with the shovel?”  And I said “It doesn’t bother me enough to do anything about it, it only bothers me enough to complain about it.”

     There is some comfort in complaining. In my commiserating I find a sense of community.  Casual conversations are struck up in the grocery store about the length of the lines, the price of gas, and, of course, the weather.  The rain is a perfect conversation starter, but if I respond with a big smile and a comment about April showers bringing May flowers I am met with uncomprehending blank stares. 

     Because the point isn’t the rain, it’s about bonding through our negativity.  By dismissing someone’s opinion about the weather, I have lost the opportunity to validate their feelings.  But communicating this way has fostered in me a habit of griping.  Not out of any sense of despair, depression, or unhappiness, but just because it’s how I learned to interact with people. 

     During this Lent season, I am intentionally focusing on my relationship with God. Through daily Bible readings, I am paying attention to how Jesus interacted with people and I am struck by how often he gave thanks.  Not Pollyanna, April showers positivity, but simple gratitude.  And again I am faced with a choice. Do I choose to remain comfortable and secure in my habit of complaining? Or do I choose to give thanks for the fact that I own a house with a driveway and a shovel, while I chip away at the snow.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent Day Two - What Color Am I?

     Sitting in church last night during my first ever Ash Wednesday service, I listened intently to the words my Pastor spoke about the meaning of Lent.   When he spoke about putting God first, and doing everything we do for His glory, I thought about my own life in relation to that.  I don’t always do things for God, in fact, I don’t think much about Him at all when I am going about my day to day life.

     When I do things only to glorify God, my reward comes later.  But I prefer the instant feedback I get when I do things for people.  I give to charity, but I have never done it anonymously because I want people to think of me as generous.  I take care to dress well and put makeup on every morning so people will find me attractive.  And I change my opinions about things sometimes because I want people to like me. 

     I used to think that meant I was open-minded and flexible, but actually it leaves me wondering what my opinions about anything really are.   I feel like the chameleon who walks around confidently in his brown skin only to find that two minutes later as he lays on a leaf that he is green.   Think of the identity problems he faces.

     I guess I always thought living a life that is pleasing to God was too hard.  He is, after all, perfect, so His standards are pretty high.  But the alternatives are to please people, and live my life constantly trying to figure out what it is that everyone wants from me, or worse, please only myself, and live a life not caring at all what anyone thinks of me. 

     So going forward during this season of Lent, I feel inspired to examine my motives.  Who am I living my life for and what am I expecting in return?  And will my answers change the more I focus on getting to know this God who loves me so much that He gave me a whole book to read to figure it out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent Day One - Taking the First Step

    This morning, being the first day of Lent, and Day One of my journey within my journey, I thought I should pray.   Not one to get down on my knees and fold my hands together, I wasn’t quite sure where to start.  Formal prayer is not part of my life, in fact, it confuses and frustrates me at times.
     When my son was a cancer patient, many people prayed for him. His name was placed on prayer circles at our area churches and when Erik’s cancer went into remission many of those same people praised God for their answered prayers.

     I was quite flippant in my attitude at the time, thinking that the chemotherapy had a lot more to do with curing Erik than a group of people praying to a God who would allow a ten year old boy to get cancer in the first place.  And what of the other children in that oncology wing that we met during the year that Erik received his treatments who were not so lucky.  Children who lost their battle.  Did they not receive prayers?  Were they not on prayer chains? Did the people in their lives not pray hard enough?

     Why would God answer prayers for Erik but not prayers for others? Because some things are just a mystery, beyond our understanding, I was told.  Even God essentially said that to Job in His speech that began “where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation?”   Unlike ever faithful Job though, I have, at times, turned away from God because of that answer, much like a child who runs crying to his room after being told no, you can’t have what you want.

    But today begins my journey to step toward God, rather than away from Him.  And while I am still unsure of my ability to pray because I don’t know the words, I do know that whenever I start anything new it’s always best to start right In the beginning…

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Forty Days

    In honor of Ash Wednesday I have been doing a significant amount of research online to try to understand the true meaning of Lent.  From what I have read, it seems that Lent isn’t really just about sacrifice, but rather it’s about learning to lean on God.

     So it is in that spirit that I have decided to give up everything and nothing for Lent.  There are so many times during my days that I feel things like boredom, loneliness, frustration, anger, etc. and in the past I have used alcohol to overcome those feelings.  Having decided to give up alcohol for this whole year, I have found that I still haven’t dealt with so many things head-on. I have simply chosen new “things” to use to run from these unpleasant feelings.

     I have used everything from chocolate to Starbucks tea to people to avoid trying to understand why I feel lonely, bored, frustrated.  There is nothing inherently wrong with having a cup of tea, or a few chocolates, or even a glass of wine.  It’s only when those things become something I need to get through my day, or to solve some problem I have that they become an issue.  None of those things will take care of my negative feelings long term.  Only God can do that, but I never go to God first.  I go to God only when all else fails.

     So for the next forty days, my plan for Lent, is to make a conscious effort to put God first, before the tea, the chocolate, or whatever else is taking His place. For me, that means reading my Bible.  It’s the place I go to when I want to learn more about who God is and what He wants from me.  It’s where I go when I am looking for strength, wisdom and guidance. 

     I am excited about the next 40 days.  My hope is that I will have a greater appreciation for what Jesus suffered in the wilderness, during His time of temptation. And that I will have a deeper understanding of the true meaning of Easter Sunday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Only For A Moment

     This weekend I visited my oldest son at his college.  I haven’t seen him since he left for the semester in January, which is the longest separation we have ever had.  We took him and his roommates out to lunch then did a little shopping.  Our time was limited because he had other things to do…weight training, baseball practice, studying.

     When we said our goodbyes and I gave my son a hug, it was the first time that I felt that he no longer belonged to me.  I realized in that moment, that he is changing, growing, becoming his own person.   A man with his own plans for his future, with his own agenda, his own choices.

      It was a bittersweet moment.  As a mom, I have focused my life on raising my children to become independent, to follow their dreams, to charter their own course, but now that it has actually come to pass I feel a sense of loss.  Our  relationship has shifted, permanently.

     I am reminded of the beginning of a poem by Khalil Gibran in The Prophet…

On Children…

Your children are not your children
They are the son’s and daughters of Life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you…

     This reminds me that my son was never really mine.  He was lent to me to keep for a time.  To raise, to care for, and finally, to set free.  So I will embrace this shift, accept my new role in his life, and hope that as he continues to spread his wings and fly he will take his laundry with him.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Darker Side of Faith

     According to the Christian faith, Jesus died on the cross for me. Taking my sins upon Him he made the ultimate sacrifice so I could have fellowship with God.  And all I  have to do is accept this gift.  It sounds so beautiful and so simple.  But I believe there is a fine print.  I do not believe that it is enough to just accept this gift of grace and leave it at that. I believe acceptance of this gift also requires me to follow Him. And I don’t find that to be a simple thing at all. 

      That’s not to say I never do what Jesus would do, but some days I’m tired, so I would rather just sleep in than get up and make breakfast for everyone.  Some days, I would rather go shopping at the mall, rather than pledge a little bit more to church this year, and some days I’m just cranky so I swear under my breath (and sometimes not under my breath) at the driver who just cut me off, rather than be gracious and let it go.

      When I stand before God in all his glory and review my life, will he be disappointed?  Will he say why did you ignore that homeless person on the street?  Will he say did you really need that new car or was your old one working just fine?  Will he say why did you complain about having no time for yourself when your kids were small, did you not realize they were my gift to you?

     I have made a lifetime of mistakes, which is ok if I learn from them, but I find myself sitting in church, every Sunday, asking for forgiveness of my sins, the same ones I asked Him to forgive last week and the week before.  So as my days move onward toward my judgement day, I wonder…has my constant seeking and searching and questioning been about convincing myself there is a God? Or am I trying to convince myself there isn’t one.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing

     As a mom, when asked what I want for my kids, I have often said “I just want my kids to be happy.”  But what does that mean exactly.  When I say it to myself “I just want to be happy” what do I really mean by that.  That I want to live a life free from pain? That I want to do what I want to do? That I want all my troubles to go away?

     TV advertisers make it sound so easy. All of my problems will melt away in a bowl of Campbell’s soup and I can dance and sing my way to a great day with Folger’s in my cup. If I’m sad, I can have a Coke and a smile, and if I buy the world a Coke, just think of the possibilities. So finding happiness should be as simple as a trip to the grocery store.

     But when I buy those products, they don’t deliver as promised.  So my search for happiness takes me elsewhere. To Starbucks, to the liquor store, and at times in my life, to the pharmacy.  But still this strange thing called happiness continues to elude me.  So where do I find it? And was it really promised to me at all?  Well, yes, in fact, the Constitution of this great country informs me that I have an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

     But when I look to the life of Jesus, I learn that when He approached His disciples and asked them to follow Him, He did not promise them happiness, in fact, He knew that they would be faced with a lifetime of persecution, pain and suffering, and ultimately death.   Of course, they didn’t have the option of Coca-cola to make the world a better place, but I digress…

     Ultimately, the choice is mine to make.  Do I continue to buy into the notion that the goal in life is to pursue happiness, and that there is something “out there” that will give it to me or do I trust that greater things wait in store for me by surrendering my life, my desires, my plans for the only One who can really make any promises to me at all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Clearing the Static

     I have been on a quest to find my purpose. To figure out what it is I am supposed to do with the rest of my life.  I am not quite an empty nester yet, but by September all three of my boys will be in college and my daughter, who will enter 8th grade, is so independent I find that other than driving her around, there is simply not the same level of day to day care.

     So I have asked God to guide me, I have actively pursued new activities, I have made some changes in my life that I thought would lead me in the right direction. But it’s a frenzied type of searching, not peaceful at all, and I wonder if I am going about this the wrong way.

     When Moses fled from Egypt, and found himself in Midian with a new wife and new job, I am guessing that he wasn’t asking God about his future or his purpose. In fact, he may even have been hiding from God given that he just killed a man.  And yet God came to Him anyway.  And Moses, who wasn’t looking for anything suddenly found himself face to face (well actually face to burning bush) with Him, listening to God’s plans for his future.

     And consider Paul, who seemed confident about the direction of his life and was not questioning his purpose, when Jesus decided He had other plans for him.  Choosing to use a bolt of lightning to get his attention, Paul realized that his future was going to be much different than he planned as well.

     I ask God for guidance but I am met with silence so I continue on each day wondering if I am doing something wrong. Am I not being patient enough? Am I not listening hard enough?  Surely, God has a plan for my life, and I am expending so much energy trying to figure that out.

     Yet, if I look at the lives of these and other people of the Bible, it’s quite apparent that if God needs me, He pretty much knows where to find me, and I’m not going to miss His call because He has very powerful ways to get my attention.  Perhaps, its time for me to stop interfering and just let God do what He needs to do, and hope that just a small electric shock will be enough to get my attention. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

     I remember learning about the concept of Original Sin during Sunday School classes. The idea was that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world and now we are all born with sin.  Sin meaning that we are separate from God. The church I belonged to at the time baptized infants as a way to cleanse babies of sin bringing them back into union with God.  Yet when I held each of my children for the first time all I saw was a miracle.   A new creation, and although I had each of my kids baptized within weeks of their births, I began to question this notion that we are born already separated from God.

     But if we aren’t born already separated from God, when does it happen?  Or does it happen at all?  As I watched my babies grow, I saw them transform from innocent helpless beings to demanding toddlers and impossible adolescents.  But did that come from something within them or did it come from our culture.  Our culture that teaches about survival of the fittest, and only the strong survive.  A culture that rewards achievements, being number one, being better than others.  I watch reality TV shows and hear the mantra “I am going to stay true to myself” which sounds harmless enough, but really means “what’s right is what’s right for me.”

     In the animal kingdom we see the theory of survival of the fittest at its best as animals instinctively know that for the herd to remain strong they must sometimes sacrifice their oldest, youngest and weakest members.  If humans are simply evolutionary creatures, I would conclude that we should also sacrifice for the good of the herd, but thankfully we are also created in the image of God.  A God who has taught us to resist the temptation to think only of ourselves.  A God who teaches us to care for the needy, the poor, the down and out, which was what Jesus spoke of in His sermon on the mount, and was radically opposite to the teachings of the strong religious leaders of the day.

    No I don’t believe that I was born separate from God, but I do believe that immersion into this culture has caused me to lose my way. I have forgotten who I am and where I came from.  And the only way back is through service.  Because each time I put someone else’s needs before my own, I move myself forward on the spectrum from my human nature to my spirit nature.  And while I may have a long way to go yet, I only have to remind myself that it’s not about being a better person  than anyone else, its simply about being a better person today than I was yesterday.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

For the Love of Things

     I had an interesting conversation with my daughter last night about the upcoming Lenten Season.  I explained to her that during Lent some people give something up for the 40 days until Easter Sunday, a sacrifice of sorts.  I started to suggest what I might give up, and our conversation went like this…
 “I’m thinking about giving up chocolate”
“Oh my God, Mom, you could never give up chocolate! Why don’t you give up soda?”
 “I don’t drink soda”
And she said, “I know, so it will be easy.”
Apparently I didn’t explain this well enough.

     The point of Lent is to give up something that is truly a sacrifice, but if I really wanted to do that I would give up something even more difficult than chocolate…my Starbucks tea.  Just the suggestion of that causes me to hyperventilate.  I don’t think I could do it, which is precisely why I should.

     Anything can become an unhealthy attachment.  Once I “need” anything, it’s controlling me.  But there is so much more to the tea than just a beverage.  I spoke of this in my previous blog post A Crutch is a Crutch.  My daily (or twice daily) trip to Starbucks reminds me that I am part of a community.  It gives me an identity and giving that up means standing on my own.

     But isn’t that the point?  To give up our worldy attachments?  I suppose the real point of Lent is less about the 40 day sacrifice and more about leaving behind old ways, and moving forward as a new creation.  It’s about learning to lean on God.

     So over the next week, I have a decision to make.  Do I give up soda, that’s easy.  Do I give up chocolate, more of a struggle, but definitely possible, or do I give up my beloved tea and all that it represents in my life? 

     Of course I could bypass the Lenten season and all the stress of sacrificing anything…after all, I’m not even Catholic.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heaven By Way Of Doubt

      I accepted Christ as a young girl, but only out of fear of going to Hell, not out of any real love for Him.  My best friend at the time explained that now that I was a Christian, my sins were gone.  Well, it only took until the next fight I had with my mother to realize my sins were right where I had left them, so in my nine year old wisdom I concluded that Jesus passed me by.

     That was the beginning of what would become the central focus of my life.  Figuring out what I need to do to get God to let me into Heaven.  And thirty years later, I can say with some conviction that I have absolutely no idea what God expects from me.  I am more confused than I ever was about who Jesus is and what it means to be a Christian.

     Jesus said that all we have to do is love God and love our neighbor.  If that’s all it takes then I can do that whether I am a Christian or not.  But Jesus also said that nobody comes to the Father except through Him.  This is where it gets tricky.  Do we need Jesus to be saved?  And who decides which among us has Jesus in their hearts?

     Lil Wayne, a rapper, who sings ‘colorful’ lyrics has a Bible verse tattooed on his back.  He sings of open Bibles on his nightstands.  It would appear that he has reached out to God, and yet many would suggest he is not a Christian.  Why? Because he still struggles with this life?  Even Paul, probably the greatest Christian who ever lived, struggled with sin.  He spoke of it often, he was terribly distressed by his actions at times and yet I would be hard pressed to find someone claim that Paul is not in Heaven with Jesus. So lack of sin doesn’t seem to be the determining factor.

     When the rich man asked Jesus what to do to get into Heaven, Jesus told him to sell all his possessions.  One look at the lives of prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen would suggest that they skipped over that verse.  So much for blessed are the poor.

    The more I seek God the more questions I have so I tell myself to just have faith, believe and trust in what I cannot see. Yet, Thomas doubted Jesus right up until he could actually feel the scars on his resurrected body, and Jesus did not condemn him. 

    Figuring out God is not an easy task, and while I have many opinions, I have no answers.  But that does not deter me from continuing to seek Him and His kingdom first, and hope that from that, good things will come.