Saturday, March 29, 2014

Take It In...

Mari Alexis Schaeffer

Yesterday, my friend and I attended the funeral of a recent graduate of Greenville College.  Beginning a post with that sentence grieves me deeply.  A recent graduate.  Class of 2012.  She was 26 years old, and suffered from an illness that, until just a few days ago, I'd never heard of and even now can't pronounce properly:  scleroderma. Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a chronic connective tissue disease generally classified as one of the autoimmune rheumatic diseases.  As with most chronic diseases, the effects of scleroderma range from mild to severe.  For Mari, the disease took her life.

They called her funeral a "Celebration Service," and the family's faith in God was inspiring and contagious.  This precious child who had suffered for so long is now free, in the arms of her Savior and Lord, awaiting the arrival of all those who will follow after her.  Those who led the service reminded us often of Mari's desire that all would come to know and love Jesus.  For Mari, showing people the way to Jesus became her life's goal.  She turned her suffering into a platform for showing others the love and mercy of God and the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Since yesterday's service I've found myself deeply in thought about Mari, about her journey, and my own. I suppose it just makes sense -- the longer you live, the more you experience all the "stuff" of this mortal life.  All the stuff that makes us human and vulnerable in so many ways.  All the stuff that makes us laugh and cry and grieve so hard and so deeply that we think we will die ourselves.

I've discovered something along this journey.  While we cannot avoid suffering and death, disappointment and anger, rejection and sorrow, we DO have a choice.  We can choose not to let it all in.  We can choose to protect ourselves from it.  We can put up some pretty elaborate defense mechanisms.  We can rationalize and spiritualize it all.  Or, we can choose to FEEL.

A precious young woman has passed from this life to the next.  I could have gotten to know her better when she was a student, but I didn't.  I knew her, but I didn't REALLY know her.  How I wish that I could change that, but I can't.

What I CAN do, is choose to let life in, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows.  I can choose to let PEOPLE in -- with all their pain and sorrow and suffering, all their passions and dreams and visions.   

It will most certainly hurt.  No one knows this better than Jesus Himself.  Jesus took it all in, which is really the only way to truly love people.  And He's asking us to do the same.  To really love each other.  For His sake.  Because He loves each and every one of us.

Take it in.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When it's time to let go...

Letting go.
God has been taking me through a season of letting go, helping me see that I am at the point of my spiritual journey where letting go is essential to freedom.

Letting go of normal.
Letting go of expectations.
Letting go of results.
Letting go of impressing others.

Letting go of comforts.
Letting go of false securities.
Letting go of people.
Letting go of appearances.
Letting go of who gets the credit.

Letting go of who I thought I was.
Letting go of the limitations I put on myself.
Letting go of the limitations I put on God.

Letting go of fear.
Letting go of my future.
Letting go of my past.

Letting go so that I can live in the present, and live as if I really DO believe.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the One who came to live among us, and die among us.  The one whom God raised from the dead, and who sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, who loves us with a love that will never let us go, who gave us the gift of His Holy Spirit, just as a down payment of what it will be like to live in His FULL Presence.

It's time to let go of everything that doesn't confirm this reality in my life.

It's time to let go...and LIVE.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Permission to be human...

I am so thankful to my brothers and sisters in the faith who have 

granted me the grace to be, well, a human being.

To Henri Nouwen who gives me permission to FEEL, and feel DEEPLY.  When I read Nouwen's works I am less alone with these feelings because Nouwen understands and is somehow able to beautifully articulate exactly what I am experiencing (how does he do that?). Nouwen confirms what I want to believe -- what I NEED to believe -- that feelings of despair and depression and loneliness are not wrong or evil, they just ARE.  And while God can and will teach me a great deal from difficult times, emotional pain is real, it's a part of my faith journey, and I don't have to deny it or "get over it." I can still love Jesus and still be His follower in the midst of these feelings.

To Richard Middleton who gives me permission to read the Bible and enter into the story and discover, once again, that the Bible is an account of real people with real struggles who were desperately trying to figure out how to follow God in the midst of the battle.  In his chapel address entitled, "Can We Trust God In the Midst of Radical Disappointment," he demonstrated that yes, indeed, we can trust God, AND we can be brutally honest with God as well.  Jeremiah certainly was.  So was David.  And Job.   And many others.  I am so very thankful for permission to be brutally honest with God.

To Rachel Held Evans and others who have given me permission to THINK and ASK QUESTIONS and be UNSETTLED most of the time.  Honestly, there are many days when I would love to be settled.  There are times when I long for all the "right" answers.  But I long to be honest and transparent with God more.  I long to be filled with His love and compassion more.  I long to be moved by what moves Jesus more.  I long for these things far more than I long for settledness.  At least in this life.

There are others in my life who give me permission to be a human being.  They are true gifts from God.  They are truly my brothers and sisters in Christ.  They don't try to fix me, or move on quickly to the "application" phase of my journey ("So, what is God trying to teach you through this?")

Instead, they allow me to be me, while together we turn towards Jesus Christ.  And I am most thankful that we serve a God Who knows what it is like to be us -- who knows what it is like to be a human being. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why I like Justin Bieber

I used to hate country music.  Fortunately, I grew up in the Chicago area where country radio stations were scarce (at least they were back then) so I could easily avoid listening to it. But then I moved down to Southern Illinois and began dating someone who regularly listened to country music.  Because I loved him, and because many of my friends down here also liked country music, I started to listen as well.  And I started to appreciate some of the artists.  And eventually I started to like some of it.

I've never fired a real gun in my life.  If I had to shoot an animal for food in order to stay alive, I would likely die of starvation.  But my son loves to hunt.  He would do it everyday if he could.  And I love my son.  So I've learned quite a few things about hunting and guns and deer (I'll even eat deer meat, if it's disguised in sausage).

I knew very little about the game of soccer, until my daughter became the "keeper."  Suddenly I wanted to learn everything I could about this game -- sweeper, mid-field, forward, wing-back, off-sides, corner kick, penalty kick -- all new to me, but I'm learning.   I'm learning, because my daughter is the goalie and I love her.

Justin Bieber?  Really?  OK, so my other daughter loved Justin (thankfully she's grown out of this stage!).  As hard as it was, I started to listen to his music.  And as hard as it is to admit now, I actually liked some of it.  I liked it, because my daughter loved it.  I invested my time and energy into the Bieb's music because I love my daughter.

When we truly love someone we look for ways to get to know them better. One of the best ways to get to know someone is to discover what they love and then invest our time in that.  We value others by showing them that their interests, their dreams, their passions are all important to us.  What inspires them, inspires us as well.  What is close to their heart becomes close to ours as well.  That is, if we truly love them.

I've changed in many ways over the years because of the people in my life.   I've come to appreciate a multitude of things -- music, sports, art, coffee, poetry, photography, and yes, even Justin Bieber -- because I've encountered people with different interests than mine and I wanted to get to know them better.

I love Jesus Christ.  But what is the measure of that love?  If my greatest desire is to follow Jesus as closely as I can and to truly live my life as a demonstration of my love for Him, how do I best accomplish that?  I believe one way is to strive to know as much about Him as I possibly can. 

  • What is Jesus passionate about?  

  • What inspires Him?  

  • What are some of His greatest interests? 

  • What is closest to His heart?

I think I know some of the answers to those questions, but there is still so much more to know.  And I want to know, because I want to love the things that Jesus loves.  I want to be inspired by the things that inspire Jesus. I want to be moved by the things that move Jesus.

Jesus is passionate about the poor, the sick, those on the margins, the forgotten.  Jesus seeks out those who are outcasts.  Jesus values the very people that many of us see as unimportant or worthless --  or worse still, we don't even see them at all.

If Jesus is God in the flesh, then to know Jesus is to know God.  To know the heart of Jesus, is to know the heart of God.  I am seeking to know.  And after knowing, may I have the courage and the resolve to be changed -- to actually DO SOMETHING with that knowledge.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Do We Lie to our Children?

I'm not a Scrooge.  I'm not a cold-hearted, tight-fisted, greedy man, who despises Christmas.  I adore Christmas.  All the mystery and wonder and joy and love of Christmas is overwhelmingly beautiful to me.  But it has absolutely nothing to do with the man in the red suit.

So I have a question:

Why do we lie to our children?

I've done it.  To all three of ours.  I've lied my way through Christmas.  And when it came time to open presents, I made sure that Santa's reputation remained in tact.  He gave them decent presents.  

And I'll admit that  I love "The Santa Claus," "The Santa Clause 2," and "The Santa Clause 3" movies.  "Miracle on 34th Street" still makes me cry.  And I never, ever get tired of watching "Elf."

But look at some of the characteristics we ascribe to the Jolly Fellow:

"He sees you when you're sleeping.  He knows if you're awake.  He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"

Santa sees me?  I'm not sure I want him watching me as I sleep. 

And now there's "The Elf on the Shelf."  Honestly, I find him (or her) to be a bit more disturbing. He moves all over the house, but only at night when no one can see him.   He is always in view of the children, keeping an eye on them (for Santa, of course).  He can't be touched, or he'll lose his "magic."  And on Christmas Eve he is "magically" taken back by Santa on his sleigh.

I hope I'd be willing to offer hospitality to anyone in need, but I think I'm drawing the line when it comes to the elf.

The mystery, the wonder of Christmas is all wrapped up in Santa and his little elf on the shelf. 

Wait!!!  That's the mystery???  That's the wonder???

No, no, no!!!

God became a HUMAN BEING.  God came HERE.  "The Word (Jesus) became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message).  Why?  Because He LOVES US.  God sent Jesus, God came to live with us, because He loves us so very much!  There is NOTHING more mysterious, nothing more amazing than the fact that God CAME HERE.

God sees you when you're sleeping.  God knows if you're awake.  He watches over you.  He who neither slumbers nor sleeps WATCHES OVER YOU.  Fear not.  FEAR NOT.

THIS is the mystery.  THIS is the wonder.  THIS is the joy.  THIS is LOVE.

Now, I know there's a much more beautiful history to Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, than most of us take the time to discover.  Nicholas was born during the third century, of wealthy parents.  They died while he was still young, and he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.  He became known throughout the region for his generosity to those in need and his love for children, and he had a reputation for secret gift-giving.  It's a beautiful life-story, that has morphed into the Santa Clause we know today.

What happens when our children grow up and they realize that much of the mystery of their Christmas was, in fact, a lie?  What happens when we tell them, "Well, Santa Clause isn't real, but Jesus is -- that whole 'other' part of the story, that's true."  So, we lied, AND, we told the truth?

I realize being anti-Santa is about as counter-cultural as being anti-baseball, or anti-ice cream, or anti-Facebook.  I don't want to be "anti" anything.  I just don't want to give a fictitious character credit for the love and joy that TRULY is Christmas.  God deserves all the credit.  And that's the Truth.  And THAT Truth is ETERNAL. 

EMMANUEL -- God is WITH US!!  Jesus moved into the neighborhood and He STAYED in our hearts.  Because God loved us so much that He gave His One and Only Son -- not to condemn us, but to SAVE us.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Good Stuff

We got married in the 80's.  One of the first things my mom told me to do, after I announced to her that I was engaged, was to go and pick out our china and silver patterns.  Dishes and silverware.  Both formal and everyday.  So I did what I was told (well, it was a joint decision).

For almost 30 years we've lived with the choice of our "everyday" dishes -- Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne.  Dozens of chips and cracks and broken plates later, these dishes are still in our cabinet.  My children are as familiar with these white dishes embellished with blue flowers as they are with the wallpaper in their bedrooms and the carpet in our living room. The image has appeared before them every day since birth.  It is with them forever.

But I doubt whether any of my three children could describe our "formal" dinnerware.  In fact, the other day I walked by the buffet where we keep the "good" china and silver and I stopped.  I stopped and opened the drawers to look at the silver.  I opened the cabinet to look at all the dishes and cups and other items.  I couldn't remember the last time we'd used them.  And then I asked myself two simple questions:


What are we saving them for?

 For what "special occasion" are we waiting?  

Recent circumstances of life have caused me to take serious inventory of what is most important to me, and what I believe God wants me to prioritize in my life.  Not surprisingly, it has nothing to do with dishes and silverware.  It has everything to do with people, and time, and love.

I've come to the following conclusions, for now:

  1. Every day is special, and a special occasion occurs when people gather together.  Family, friends, strangers.  When we get together, it's a special occasion because Christ is present.
  2. Things are not meant to be "saved" -- things are meant to be USED.
  3. I don't want the legacy I leave my children to be made of china and silver -- I want it to be the love I shared with them that overflowed from the love of Jesus within me.
  4. God has given me this day -- THIS precious day -- and I don't want to waste it.  I want to be used by Him to speak truth and show love to others.
  5. I am convinced that my greatest regrets will be the things I have NOT done and the words I have NOT spoken.  I am praying for the strength and courage to limit those regrets now.

And on a practical note, we're going to start using the good stuff.  Maybe not every day, but on a more regular basis.

Just don't tell my mom.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Maybe We Should ALL Be Minions...

Lately I've been taking life pretty seriously.  There are good reasons for this.  Lots of good reasons.  But I suppose that could be said for many of us.  The other day I posted a quote on my Facebook page from Edmund Burke, an Irish philosopher.  He was speaking about how adversity is a "severe instructor" but it "strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skills."  It was Saturday afternoon.  A beautiful day outside.  And I was posting about the benefits of adversity.

Within seconds someone commented on my post.  I assumed they were commenting about how true, deep and challenging the quote was to them.

Nope.  To the contrary.  This friend told me it was time to lighten up.  Now I've written a post on this very blog expressing how I don't like people telling me to lighten up.  But she was right.  Actually, she told me I needed to go and get an ice cream cone with sprinkles and skip all the way there.  I haven't skipped in years -- so I'm pretty sure I would have looked ridiculous.  Maybe that was the point.

Instead of skipping to the DQ to get an ice cream cone, I decided to go to the theater and watch "Despicable Me2" for the second time.

The first time I saw "Despicable Me2," the majority of the crowd was over the age of 12.  There were a few kids scattered around, but in general it was a more "mature" crowd.

But not this time.  This time the average age of the audience was around 6.  So, although there were lots more trips to the bathroom, there was also a lot more laughter.  Which was great, because now I could laugh out loud and blend in.  Really, how can you watch the minions doing ANYTHING and not laugh?

And I love the girls, especially Agnes.  This is one of my favorite moments in the film:

Agnes:   I know what makes you a boy.
Gru:    Uh… You do?
Agnes:   Your bald head.
Gru:   Ah, yes.
Agnes:   It’s really smooth.  Sometimes I stare at it and imagine a little chick popping out.  Peep-peep-peep.
Gru:   Good night, Agnes.  Never get older.

With all due respect to the rest of the characters,  though, everyone knows it's really all about the minions.  They are so easily distracted!  In the middle of an important assignment, they see a butterfly and drop everything to follow it.  A bright light in the sky immediately captures their attention -- and their trust, unfortunately!  They're constantly going down rabbit trails.   But most of the time, the distractions, the rabbit trails, bring them joy.  They walk around with an openness to wonder and simple surprises.  They are the opposite of taking life seriously!

As I was watching "Despicable Me2" I actually thought of Lamentations 3:23, "God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness."  The Hebrew word for “new” as used here means “fresh, new thing, to rebuild.”

The application here is pretty exciting -- and extremely encouraging!   Because what this Scripture says is that every morning, EVERY MORNING, God's mercies are fresh and new.  Every morning, God is doing something new in our lives.  He is rebuilding.  His fresh mercies are flowing through us.   

Maybe God's mercies are actually IN the distractions -- the butterflies and stars.  Maybe God is trying to show us that He is doing something NEW all around us, but we're just not walking around with an attitude of wonder...and expectation...and hope.  Maybe we should all be a bit more like the minions!