Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Parent Heart of God

I've been thinking about how much of the struggle to really let myself be loved by God is completely natural. Having two babies has revealed that to me in ways I don't think I understood before. Because those babies started out with such unflinching trust in my love, and then slowly and subtly it has a tendency to shift and change. They experience my humanness and it creeps into their doubtless world and steals a little bit of that trust. Like I said, it's completely natural. No one can attain perfection in parenting no matter how much we wish we could and so it just....happens. This loss of a pure belief in love is not only due to imperfect parents, although most of us would like to blame our own. But it's also that we then venture out into a difficult and surprisingly painful world and sooner or later, we put our human experience on God. We are either downright upset with Him for allowing any of the pain, or at least subconsciously, we begin to put some sort of human attributes on Him.

The "love lesson" God is teaching me these days comes from my love for my children. Not that this love, even as a mother, could ever be as raw and radically accepting as that of our Father in Heaven. But maybe it's a good start in seeing what His love looks like.

Knowing how I love my boys is a beautiful glimpse into the unfaltering and nurturing heart of God. I am crazy about them. I think they are the best two boys to ever hit the planet. Of course I do, I'm their mom. I've been keeping a very close eye on them since their very first breaths.

As they grow older and there are times I don't do right by them, I pray these two boys will never completely doubt my love for them. Hopefully they never will. It would break my heart if they did. I know fully that I could never stop loving them, not even for a moment. There is absolutely nothing they could do to lose my love, my attention, or even my time. I will always notice the things, big and little, that make them lovable. I really want them to believe that. Mostly because if they ever don't believe it, they will be finding themselves unlovable. That's just ridiculous. If it happened, I would tell them a million reasons why my love for them is unconditional. I wouldn't want to stop until they believed. And if they wouldn't hear me, if they just couldn't listen, I would wait expectantly with a thousand words on the tip of my tongue, ready to pour out my love for them. They are beyond lovable, perfect just as they are, and there will never again be anyone like them. My heart does a little leap just at the thought of them. It really does.

And this is the beginning of a greater understanding of God's love. He thinks the same way of me, and more. He has done nothing to steal away my child-like, unflinching trust. It has been my limited understanding of Him that has done that. His kind of love is not of this world. It's beyond human understanding, but still worth seeking.
There is a real freedom and joy that comes with searching after the goodness of God's heart and asking Him what He really thinks of me.
I imagine He's been waiting expectantly for me to ask Him to pour His love on me, despite anything I have ever done. After all, there is absolutely nothing I could do to up and lose His love. He is still there, I have His attention, and even His time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Leap

I keep starting to write things and then not finishing them, or choosing to not post them. My head and heart are a jumble of thoughts and feelings and I'm having trouble sorting it all out.

God has been driving home a point and I'm not sure why I can't seem to seek it or hold on to it. Every speaker or teacher I come across these last few months wants to talk to me about God's love. You wanna know why something so simple and obvious is tricky for me?

I don't think I believe in it as much as I'd like to say that I do.
I am finally uncovering the root of my strained relationship with God. Finally admitting and seeing clearly that I don't really get it. I have put my human understanding on an all-powerful God. I assume He doesn't really care anymore. I assume He's tired of my "circle of error," as Sixpence once called it. I assume that He isn't all that impressed with the way I mistreat the gifts He's given me and how I continue in a cycle of anxiety and sometimes depression. I assume He may not be looking for me to come up over the horizon on a dirt road like the prodigal son did. I assume that He is not like the father in this parable. If I really take a good look at what my heart believes about me in this prodigal story, I see that I'm afraid He wouldn't be waiting. And maybe He wouldn't even want to look at me.

Of course my head knows this isn't true. But somewhere along the way I started to get pretty insecure, to feel like I'm not worth waiting for. I'm sure there are a myriad of reasons that I don't need to go into, but for now I just really need to figure out how to feel loved by God. He is making it quite clear that He's trying and for some odd reason I'm resisting. Maybe I'm afraid of what He might reveal, what I might need to get rid of, or do. I'm starting to realize that's pretty silly since His plan and even the ways He works stuff out of me are probably pretty incredibly cool.
In my previous post about the Potter and the clay, I talked about this incredible love because I'm just starting to really grasp it. Isn't that funny? I've grown up with Christianity and I'm just now starting to get the love part. To really get it. What exactly does it look like? What does it feel like to really know it? And I'm starting to see that if I don't truly allow myself to learn more about that kind of love and believe God when He says it, then nothing else will work.
An amazing woman said something yesterday that I totally agree with. She said (and I paraphrase) that we come to this faith and then we immediately jump to trying to be all perfect and obedient and follow a list of do's and dont's and we totally skip learning about how God loves us. We don't allow the Holy Spirit to really get that message to the core of who we are. She said maybe we need to spend a little time away from any other kind of teaching, away from the fears that can be instilled in a Christian even at church, and just rest our head on the chest of a loving Father, letting Him speak His love to us.
So I think I need to do that. I'm so tired of thinking my same old self-defeating thoughts. I'm so tired of feeling unlovable. Maybe I need to study God's attributes from HIS perspective only and stop clouding my mind with the opinions of others. Just HIS word. And me. Reading about love and putting myself in the stories of love He left for us in His book. I've never really done that. I'm going to start with imagining me being the woman at the well. In those days it was an incredibly big deal for Jesus to talk to me. And then He knows all my stuff and still talks to me, looks at me, loves me enough to tell me I'm worth changing my ways. He points out that the way I'm trying to fill myself isn't really working and that He wants fill me with something that won't fail me. Him. His love and water, leaving no space for emptiness.
"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you." Isa. 54:10
P.S. I'll be posting little updates as a way to keep myself accountable to doing this. I usually get distracted and forget. I'm probably not the only one who needs a little dose of love... so I hope we can take this little trip together, learning that there's a Father who really is watching the horizon to see the faces of children He never forgot and eagerly awaits. Simply to start by showing us His unfailing love.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

50 Hours and Five Minutes, But Who's Counting?

I am counting the hours until the International Justice Mission banquet (this coming Tuesday). I mentioned on my other blog awhile ago that I couldn't stand the excitement. To prepare I have been reading two books by the president of IJM, Gary Haugen (he rocks). I love "Good News About Injustice; A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World." Wow. Great book.
I would like to say watching Bono interviews on YouTube a lot is also preparing me, but I guess it might not totally relate to IJM, but I love IJM and Bono for the same reasons. The philosophies of both just make perfect sense to me.
"Precisely because it is not our first and natural inclination, we are called to a conscious effort of reserving a space in our thought life for those who suffer abuse and oppression in our world." - Gary Haugen
So expect a rambling post after the banquet. I expect to be inspired.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Lovely Clay

Since I love a good analogy, this morning was a perfect morning for me. I got to see a video called "The Potter's Hands." I think that's what it's called anyway.
A woman named Grace (gotta love that) sits and "throws a pot" while talking about the ways that she is portraying what God does for us. To put it simply, it's beautiful. I've always somewhat understood why God called himself the potter and we the clay, but this opened my eyes to brand new levels. Of God's love. I had never really thought long and hard about the love part of God's pottery analogy. I've got more of a tendency to focus on my imperfections and thought solely about this analogy driving home the point that God has to keep molding me and molding me and molding me because I mess up so much. And I think that's true too. But His point very well may have been more about the love a potter has for his creation.
Grace (the potter) wants to cherish and hold and love each thing she has poured herself into. Because each one is uniquely made with her hand-prints all over it and she considers them "exquisite." Each creation is the only one that can do it's job in it's own unique way, even if the potter has to start over a number of times because the clay is being so unworkable. Each new creation is carefully and diligently handled, respected and admired, and brings the potter such joy and pride.
And then there's all that stuff about molding and forming and stretching... this is a never-ending analogy. I just had to focus today on the love part. Because the entire analogy comes back to that. Our lives, our faith, our impression on the world, that all starts with understanding fully the depths and heights of God's love for us. It starts with finally setting aside our thoughts of worthlessness, our fears and our unbelief. They are like the little pebbles inside a pot that make it crack when it's under fire. They need to be removed for the vessel to be strengthened and entrusted to live out it's purpose. Lately God has been trying really hard to get me to see His love for me. I'm slow to learn to say the least. But I'm starting to grasp just a glimpse of how accepting this love might do wonders in a million ways. So I'm trying. I suppose he'll have to mash me down about a hundred more times before I look as I was made to look, I just keep getting in the way of the project. But for today, I'm thankful for another lesson driven to the heart of me by analogy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good Grief

Grief is a bit like being sucked into a vacuum. The brush has pulled you under and in, and it's out of your control. You feel like you've entered a whole new place. Everyone on the outside appears to be going about business as usual, and you wonder if they notice you're covered in dust. As horrible as that may be, it's good. Grief is good because it pulls you through. It forces you to take a look at how you feel. It pushes you through the sadness that would overtake you if you were left where you were right after a profound loss. Of a person, or a place, or a way of being that felt like home. Something is gone, sucking you into a period of grieving.

Grief will not let you stay in one of the ugliest places you could stay. Swallowed.

The churning inside and the rush of memories is too much to ignore. So you are pushed forward, heels dragging in the dirt, thanks to grief.

Because of grief, you press on, thinking the thoughts you might have been too afraid to think. Feeling things you wouldn't have allowed yourself to feel without it.

Thank you, grief. Thank you, God. You knew there would be healing because of grief.

Friday, May 9, 2008

This and Not That

There are times when I run smack dab into something that I can't stand to be in. Times when I have to grit my teeth and bite my tongue and hold my breath. Or at least take a deep breath and try to clear through the mud of my thoughts because I can't really believe what's happening.

Today I ran smack dab into someone and proceeded through an awkward conversation. I have a tendency toward awkwardness when it comes to certain subjects. These are the only kinds of conversations that make me truly uncomfortable. For the most part I'm pretty at ease with talking with people. I love to do it. I can disagree with someone on something and still enjoy their company and respect them as people while muddling through our differences. But there is one thing that will shut me up. Or make me stammer through, unable to find my words. It is in these moments that it's probably pretty important for me to know how to respond, but I'm not quite sure yet that I do. So I shut up. Or off. It's possible that I still can't say much because I get pretty angry and hurt and it's probably better if my mouth stays closed.

The core of what angers me is judgment. But there's so much to that. It blows my mind when a fellow Christian assumes I'm on the same page as they are on issues. Then they feel they have the freedom to say whatever hurtful or criticizing thing that they think or feel and I'm expected to vehemently agree. Or at least nod or tsk to show my support and disgust. And I don't. Then it gets awkward.

It's tricky because it's not that I don't love the person I'm talking to, it's just that I don't love how they look at other people in those moments. Most of the time the person or persons they are judging is someone whose lifestyle doesn't align with conservative Christian values. Maybe I shut down because I've been in a pretty "unclean" place in my life and know fully that I was loved by God the entire time. Maybe I want to extend that same grace to anyone who is doing anything. Maybe it just hits too close to home and I want to scream, "Do you realize you're talking about ME?" Maybe it's because I still carry so many imperfections of my own, I in no way have a right to point a finger. Or maybe it's just that I don't get it....

keeping the focus on everyone else's failures or choices and off of yourself seems so obviously avoidant.

I also just don't understand how the way Jesus lived and the way He treated sinners is just totally disregarded? How did that happen? Is it just human nature? The same people who live by a very strict moral law for the sake of Christianity are unable to use the same restraint in the judgment arena. I just don't get it.

And now I'm judging the judgers. I guess I'm thinking out loud again because of the random run-in of the day and the conversation that ensued. It left me hurt and sad for the state of Christianity. The way it's about this and not that.

Lessons from a Cat

My cat is kinda fickle. If there is food in his bowl and it's not fresh, he won't touch it. Every morning and every evening, the cat circles around his bowl, crying out, Feed Me! And I walk over and see that he has a full bowl of food and think, Just eat what you have!
But then it hit me the other day, Don't I like fresh food daily? What if everyday someone set in front of me the same meal, partially eaten and said, Just Eat it! I would cry out, but i want something new and FRESH! I get it.
I think that is how we also are with spirituality. We have come to demand something fresh and new everyday from God. And I especially see this in the church. Churches constantly have to re-invent themselves to stay relevant, new, hip and FRESH. No one wants the same dull worship and sermon week after week. And what happens when we get bored? We seek other places to find that freshness. Im not talking about a church that has literally dried up, where because of various reasons, the Spirit is no longer moving, the shepherd is no longer leading and it is dead. What I am referring to, is the constant merry-go-round of feed me, fill me and entertain me. Sadly, it mirrors our culture. Kurt Cobain said it best, "Here we are now, entertain us."
Thus goes the way of the church, if they want people in the pews, there better be a good show. I'm not saying this is right or wrong, because believe me, sometimes church is very boring. I really don't blame the church at all, you have to move with the tides. But as Heather wrote not too long ago, what if church wasn't just a Sunday morning ritual but an everyday practice? Living in community and fellowship with others. Maybe we could find our true joy in serving others and helping others find their joy. Or maybe we can find something new and fresh every morning, just by waking up and saying Ok God, pour yourself into me, so i can pour myself into others. Is that possible? That is my struggle, because quite honestly I do want to be entertained. I want life to be fresh and new, but I tend to find it through media, culture and entertainment. But can life just be entertaining and fresh just by being regular life, and can I truly find joy in the little things???

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Seen vs. Unseen

"You can in no manner be satisfied with temporal goods, for you were not created to find your rest in them." ~ Thomas à Kempis

"Our work here is brief but its reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes away like a shadow." ~Clare of Assisi

Sometimes I wish I realized these simple things a long time ago. But they really aren't so simple are they? I love the temporal, i lust for the things of the earth. I want, I need, I find comfort in what i can grasp. The fact of the matter is, is that i spend way too much time not just in the world, but of the world. I often lack the faith to believe that someday there will be an eternity waiting for me that is better than this earth. But then again, I often loathe this life. The sadness, sorrow, pain, death, hurt, and all the other evils. Sometimes when i talk with God, I say, Why do you play so many cruel jokes? As if there is the proverbial carrot dangling in front of my face, almost mine, but always just out of my grasp. I live with disappointment, my heart has been broken one too many times and I sometimes don't have a lot of hope. And yet, I still go back for more. Why? because i love the things of the earth. We are called to "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen" but how do you do that? Faith? Trust? But i like what i see! I like things, and I take comfort in human relationships that may or may not fulfill me. But is it enough? No. That is the crux of the matter. The things of this earth are never enough, never quite fulfilling. I get my fix, but i am never full. The beauty of this mess is that the Lord is still faithful to me, when i am not always faithful to him. His mercies really are new every morning. His love endures forever. I don't know if I will ever reach a place in my life where i will be completely selfless, with no agendas of my own? I wish i knew for certain that everyday I would bear the fruit of the spirit, only say and do kind deeds for others, love wholeheartedly with no reservations. But reality is there will be times when I will want more than i am ready to give and all the pretty little things that entice me will continue to do just that... entice. And I will fail at times... but Thankfully(!) God will never fail me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Maybe I'm Just Thinking Out Loud About Church

I was sitting in church the other day wondering why I've never felt like I fit in. This discontent sneaks up on me. I probably shouldn't feel it in the prescence of other believers, but I do. Like I'm all itchy and uncomfortable. It reminds me of how I have a tendency to feel with my in-laws. Like people are trying to consider me family, and they have good intentions, but it's sort of forced.

I like the whole "small group movement" in church these days because it's an opportunity to get real. But then again, I'm not too good at attempting those either because I feel like I'm expected to get close to people I maybe naturally wouldn't have gotten close to. Maybe I'm just a brat.

Here's what I think would be a really cool church:
Maybe there wouldn't even be a building. The "Church" would be people. And the people would come together naturally because of what they believe and a divine connection they feel to one another. Like how I feel with my dearest friends. So I guess it would be them. And we'd all live in the same neighborhood. We would be together like the disciples were because we're just so crazy about figuring out what God is really saying about a whole lot of things. We wouldn't neccasarily have to do church meetings on Sundays because it would just be happening naturally any day of the week. Praying over a meal could turn into "praise and worship,"because we'd get all fired up praying about all the things God is doing in our lives. We would share the truth of who we really are on a regular basis without fear because we would love each other too much to judge. We would share in every day conversation what God is teaching us as we seek Him. So I guess those conversations would be the sermons. We would be left refreshed and inspired by talking regularly about the goodness of God and the gifts He has given us to fulfill an amazing purpose that only we hold. Last but not least, all would be welcome and we'd keep the potlucks. There's nothing like a good potluck.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

It's Unanimous

In my mid-twenties I played a game with a name I can't remember. But I will never forget the moment during that silly board game that changed my life. You see, the object of the game was to learn a little bit more about what your friends think of you. So there were light and simple questions like, "who has the best legs?" and "who has the strongest personality?" You had to do a secret vote. Every person was a color. When the question was asked, you would secretly cast your vote, pulling out the color card of the person with the best legs for instance, and put it in a ballot box. It seemed harmless and silly enough, but every once and awhile we came across a more difficult question to answer. Which brings me to the unanimous vote that changed my life;
"If life is a highway, which one of you got off on the wrong exit?"
The ballot box went around the circle, returning to the questioner, who emptied the cards on the table. There they lay. Clear as day. Blue. Blue. Blue. Blue. And blue. The irony. I was officially and unanimously off on the wrong exit. Lost. Confused. Possibly forgotten? Funny thing is, I voted for myself too. I knew. I just knew. My dearest and most lovely friends couldn't look me in the eye. The game suddenly became a bit too honest and a lot less fun. When someone starts crying, the game kind of fizzles out. But I couldn't stop the tears no matter how hard I tried because it hit me that I wasn't fooling anyone. My friends loved me no matter what road I was on, I knew that without a doubt. They probably didn't even realize how much I had changed, and how far off my appointed path I had strayed. They meant absolutely no harm. But it was a defining moment for me. This unanimous vote got me thinking about far more than mistakes in vocation or relationships. I suddenly realized that the damaging choices I made in these areas were just symptoms of a deeper issue. I had to start asking the hard questions. How did I get here? When exactly did I exit? Why? Now what?
Being the one who got off on the wrong exit isn't all bad. If not for having done so, I would never have been prepared to live my dream.

I love to write. I started this blog because I want a place to write. I want to write about faith. I want to write about today's Christianity versus the Christianity brought to us by Jesus. I want to write about justice and what it really means to "love our neighbor." I want to write about the love of God and the desire He has for us to live more fully; to live out the passions He alone instilled in us. I want to write about why we're so far from doing that. Why I was so far from doing that.
I want to write about all of this and more because I've made a journey off the "wrong exit" toward a Divine destination. Along the way, I've discovered some of the hidden reasons that brought me to a place of insecurity and disillusionment in the first place.
I know I'm not the only one with my particular reasons for turning on the blinker at the wrong moment and taking a detour. If anything, I want to help someone see that they're okay. Sometimes being in a pit is a part of being in God's love for you. Sometimes it's the only way to see what He really means when He says He loves you. Or what it really means to love other people. If left in a subculture of Christianity, acting as if we're fine, feeling as if we don't fit in anyway, we would not be able to fulfill His purposes. So here we are. The prodigals. The wanderers. The seekers. The thinkers.... Only now, after the "wrong exit," are we able to do more than we ever asked or imagined.
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