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Are You Burned Out on Religion?

Since our son Noah died in 2007, I’ve been on a journey reassessing pretty much E V E R Y T H I N G.

People, things, involvement, passions, even thoughts or beliefs at times have met a death grip in my hands. Some days only purging keeps me grounded. Recently I attempted to strip down to few possessions, selling our home, even shaving my head, in search of the essentials. It was my outward reaction to an internal battle. I decided to apply this perspective to my relationship with God.

"Hope is where the door is, when the church is where the war is..." Lyrics by U2 from the song, Sleep Like a Baby Tonight, Songs of Innocence album

“Hope is where the door is, when the church is where the war is…” Lyrics by U2 from the song, Sleep Like a Baby Tonight, Songs of Innocence album

 

My experience in American Christianity had become a compass for measuring God’s pulse, as well as my morality, and truthfully, the morality of everyone else. I justified, “I’m part of ‘non-denominations,’ so at least I’m not religious, but I’m definitely more dialed into God’s Spirit than so and so.” [Read more…]

Growing Up With Bobby and Bebe: A Series

Agree to Disagree

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When my parents moved to Colorado 6 years ago, they drove in from Phoenix and walked in my front door into the kitchen where I was standing at the sink. I heard in my heart (when God tells me something, it’s something smarter than I could have thought of…), “They are here for the rest of their lives and your job is simply to love them, not try to change them.”

I think I literally glanced up at the ceiling trying to get eye contact with God, as well as position my ear better to hear the response to my rebuttal, “Even my Dad?!”   [Read more…]

I Choose Life

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Me and Bobby circa 1978-ish

Oh my, God! I just did one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I took a baton that felt prematurely passed, and I’m going forward with it, because retreating isn’t an option. Stopping and raising my fist to the sky and screaming, “WHY?!” won’t alter time or the impending outcome, it won’t make this pain disappear or life suddenly make sense.

So I’ll embrace the pain, kind of walk through the side ache, so to speak…and I will press on.

This morning I soaked my Dad’s t-shirt for the last time with tears mixed with deep grief and appreciation that he has been my Dad on this earth. [Read more…]

I Had a Dream

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Right before waking up this morning, I dreamt a friend and I were standing in the middle of a four-lane road with cars flying by in either direction. We were discussing the vital importance of practicing the act of writing for 20 minutes everyday, no matter what…

And then I woke up

Prior to waking up and prior to standing in the middle of the road, where I was, incidentally, holding a vintage typewriter under one arm, I had been at a beautiful gathering of writers and journalists who were sitting at tables together, sharing and listening. [Read more…]

Speak: Contemplation

Speak love. Speak it with, and without, words.

Speak love. Speak it with, and without, words.

I’ve been contemplating many things for quite some time and the more I keep it in, I feel I may implode.

Why have I held these things in rather than go with my usual mode of verbally processing my thoughts to whomever may be in the room or on the other end of the phone? To be fair, my husband would attest to me processing these with him over the years, and each time he reminds me, “Adrienne, THIS is the content of your book. Write it. Write it down. People need to hear.” I love him and need him to say this to me, especially since writing it down is part of the equation: In order NOT to implode I must write these things down and get on with living.

So, again, why have I shared these thoughts I ponder day in and day out with only a few?

Open confession: I’ve feared segments of Christendom. [Read more…]

Speak Love: A Series on Semantics

I heard this recently from someone concerned about Target restrooms and transgender persons and homosexuality and how important it was that people know their sins, because, “Life is short and what if they were to die tomorrow and not know they were sinners who needed a Savior?”

They were talking about an opportunity they had to talk to someone they just met about their sexuality. I listened, “Life is short, and if they were to die, what if I hadn’t taken those 5 minutes to share the Truth about their sin?”

The problem is, that isn’t the Gospel. It’s NOT the Good News, nor is it the original message Jesus pointed back to in God’s Garden. Rather, it’s a strategy, approach, and delivery of many Christians skewed by fear, fear which has snowballed into a messy slop of anxious evangelism, the opposite of the way Jesus approached His, “God WITH us,” day to day ministry. To a degree, Christianity and the Church have lapsed back into a state of religion rather than pushed on through to its original design of intimacy and freedom with God. It’s become more “us vs. them…get them into our camp…have everyone believe all the exact same things and act the specific ways we’ve mapped out so people will know us by our behavior…” rather than recognize us by our Love. Sadly, some people don’t want to have anything to do with God, which is the opposite intent of the Christian in the first place. Delivery matters…

I was asked if I even thought homosexuality was a sin, was told what the Bible says, and could open “Bible app” in case I needed to see for myself.

I listened. In my head a scenario played out of the Savior of the world kneeling down, drawing something in the dirt, waiting for sin-free people to cast stones at a woman “caught” in adultery…you know, because she didn’t know what she had done. And I wondered, “What if he was a cheating, lying, tax-evading, gossiping, animal beating, drunken drug dealer, who was also gay? Seriously, which thing should I choose to address in these 5 minutes, if this, in fact, is how we are called to steward 5 minutes with strangers we meet…? And while I’m at it, what sins of mine should I go ahead and confess to him, since I suppose I could die, too…?”

You see, I know life is short. Time is my love language and 5 minutes can mean the world. I know people can die between breaths…between the last time you talked, before you get a chance to wake up another day…but mentally and emotionally functioning through a filter of anxiousness and fear, that the world needs to be made aware of their sinful nature before they meet their Maker because they could die in the next 5 minutes, well, I can’t seem to draw the correlation between that and the commission to declare, “Good News!,” the Good News Jesus came embodying of God’s unconditional love for a hurting world. The Bible isn’t a machine gun to point at sinners. And Jesus didn’t come declaring, “In YO face, suckas!”

Nope. I wasn’t created with a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind. I won’t let fear push me around, no matter how “righteous” it looks.

So then I was asked,

“What would you say if you knew you only had 5 minutes with a person?
What if they were going to die the next day?
What would you say to them?”

What a humbling question! To even ponder the choice and precious words leaves me a bit wrecked and in awe…I will tell you, my experience with Noah radically changed this very “5-minute scenario” for me, as well as my perspective on life, and death, and loving God, myself, and others.

You see, if I knew a person still had 5 minutes to LIVE, I would hopefully savor the opportunity to speak this, if anything at all…:

“For sake of argument, let’s start with a clean slate, forget any preconceived notions, beliefs or disbeliefs.
Let’s pretend there is a God and He is really, really, really, really, so very Good.
Everything He ever did was miraculously Good and born out of love and creativity,
and the day He made YOU, in His image no less,
He said, ‘Oh Goodness, Me! SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOD!

Speak love. Speak it with, and without, words.

Speak love. Speak it with, and without, words.

That way, if the person died at the end of 5 minutes, they would know Who it was they would be meeting on the other side of life on earth…the Very One who designed them, knows them best, and loves them dearly, and the two of them would have their “none of our business” conversation. There would be no need for fear because the last thing the person this side of death would know their value and worth and it was their loving, heavenly Father greeting them…

…and I just have to trust and believe God’s BIG ENOUGH to handle the details from there…

HOW THEN SHALL WE LIVE?  Every minute of every day is potentially the last 5 minutes for anyone…we all know how much we fail on any given day, which is why, I believe, Jesus said the greatest of all the things, rules, directives for life wasn’t to cast stones, call out sins, or compete and compare on a scale of religious righteousness and law-keeping, but to LOVE.

Love God. Love ourselves. Love others.

“Just keep asking God what you are supposed to do
and then be found doing it.”
Betty Biebel

 

Our Next Adventure

So, I’ve drafted a few versions of this. One is the detailed version that doesn’t leave out any specifics, emotions, or thorough history. Another is the elevator answer. And then there’s this one for sake of time and sanity and also so I stop procrastinating from the inevitable of purging and packing once again:

The Graveswolds are moving to Nashville this weekend!

Short answer: We don’t really know. We just know an undeniable door has been opened to us and we feel God leading us down that way for this new season. We’ve only been there twice before, and those trips for me, at least, were in May and June of this year. Nashville had been on my heart for about 10 years but I didn’t really know why…so, I just prayed for friends I knew there and for God’s love to be poured out there.

Anyway, we’ve been praying about what our family values as it relates to time, love, life, serving, and experiences. We knew we didn’t want to spend our lives in the car commuting kids to and fro because: life is short. And we really wanted to be involved in their schools and with their friends and their families. Our desire for a smaller radius of life for school, community, and service, and convenience to an airport for Jason were key. And accessibility to creativity and team collaboration was one of my big needs.

While we were in Nashville checking out the city the first week of June, friends encouraged us to apply at a wonderful school, K-12, which was a big leap for Jason and me since financially it wasn’t feasible. (***SOOOO many details leaving out for sake of time…) Then, after spending the rest of the month in Denver with family, they called to tell us they had spots for both kids and offered generous scholarships. Jason and I have been a bit verklempt ever since…humbled they would make room for our kids, so excited and grateful for the awesome experience available to them, and us as a family. So, we took that as a door flung open and are walking on through. We’ll rent an Airbnb for a few months while we get them rolling in their school routine and Jason and I will search the area for the right space for us to put down a few roots. I’m really excited because I’ve decided to relocate my non-profit down there, as well, so am looking forward to get back to 1/2 or 3/4 time work this fall.

 

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That’s the short version and the only one I have time to share at this moment! We are so excited and hope our journey and yours will continue to overlap in the future! Many thanks for the love and prayers and cheers and support over the last couple years while we wandered a bit.

I suppose I’ll need to brush up on my accent and , “Y’all!”

 

NOT Another Political Rant

(*This post is an unabridged version of a comment I left on someone’s repost of some guy on Facebook, a selfie of a 50-year old male caucasian US citizen of Slovak decent with a nice SUV in the background in front of a Walmart, ranting about what he assumes is an illegal alien or recent Mexican immigrant using an EBT card, driving said SUV, and he’s been working 7-day weeks his whole life and is in debt and why doesn’t he get an EBT card?)

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Imagine the ripple effects of our words, loving or hateful…either one, there are ripple effects. What kind will you set into motion?

 I was just pondering this the other day how we compare what we see on the outside when we don’t have a clue of what’s on the inside, the deeper story of EVERYONE AND ANYONE. I was thinking about how some people say they’re successful financially because they work hard, however, my husband works just as hard at his job in the non-profit world as the immigrant farmer in southern California who is farming the organic veggies for the hipster artists in popular cities who work the same amount of hours but their work looks differently from the person who’s working just as diligently in a high pressure factory job or a white collar profession, the same amount of hours, different amounts of dollars. The truth is if the guy whose 50 year struggle still has him in heap of debt is complaining about immigrants being better off than he is, I wonder if it’s more a question of the way he stewards his money (and maybe his attitude?) and whether he lives within his means (see Dave Ramsey). Because some people around the world live on a fraction of what the average US citizen (or other first world citizen) makes in a year and are not indebted to “the man.” As are some US citizens living on way less than the next door neighbor, working just as many hours, but they live within their means.  [Read more…]

Who is Invited to the Table?

A year ago when we sold our house and stuff and embarked on this journey as The Graveswolds, God put two words on my heart: GATHER and TABLE. I said, “Really, Lord!? You are teaching us about hospitality, but we don’t even have a house OR A TABLE?!”

And He said, “You don’t need those to experience hospitality. Wherever you go, gather around tables with friends and strangers and break bread. Share your hearts and listen to those gathered. Do this often. This is Kingdom Come. This is the work of peacemaking.”

I’m sorry I haven’t spoken up sooner, at least not in my writings or a more formal venue. I honestly thought my voice and heart didn’t matter on a scale other than loving others and practicing peacemaking in the day to day.

I’ve rethought that a bit…and my voice and heart matter big time, just as much as yours!

I’ve grappled with these feelings, and a deep down knowing, for likely my whole life. The last several years they have resurrected, and too many “coincidences” and gut feelings have “fallen into place.” When I was a kid growing up in Arizona, there were reminders everyday, but since life seemed peaceable, I wasn’t sure what to do with how I felt or the things I wondered. It just was what it was and life kept going…my life kept going, at least.

Specifically, these feelings resurfaced when I found myself in Auckland, New Zealand and Australia, last year on holiday, and again, just a few weeks ago. I walked the streets freely, my accent the only thing distinguishing me from the locals at first glance, and that, only if I used my voice. I sat stunned on a park bench one day, overlooking the bustle, watching the swells of people, diverse, colorful and living, thinking of tensions around the world and back home on American soil. And I can’t say it any other way as I thought,

“Holy shit! Some Europeans just went all over the whole freaking world and started ‘discovering’ other places to live, in spite of whoever lived there first…”

Not only that, they swung by Africa and other countries and continents to do a little “shopping” on their way there, for a “workforce” to make their dreams come true. What the what?! #$%^&*?

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A bumper sticker on the back of a car we saw while recently in Australia.

As a kid, celebrating Thanksgiving and learning about the earlier days of the “discovery of the New World” and the founding of the United States, my young heart wrestled with some key, un-ignorable logistics.

Wait…people were already here, so really, did Columbus ‘discover’ a New World?”

I remember a commercial with a Native American chief atop his beautiful horse, overlooking pollution, a tear streaming down his cheek, and my guts hurt. Every single day of high school, and then some, I drove across an Indian “Reservation,” past government-issued housing, to get from my custom home to classes and activities. I pondered, too, the very real possibility that maybe some of my German blood could have been traced to the brutally hateful side of things in the world wars, but hoped they had sheltered or helped, and seen the deception, instead of the devastating alternative. I wondered if any of my earlier Stateside relatives had befriended Natives or rallied for or against slavery in America’s history, or civil rights, which crowd they followed, or if they blazed trails of healing instead. I hoped distant relatives had loved well as much as it depended on them…

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Me, circa 1977, leaning against our house that was an old hunting lodge my parents remodeled, along the banks of the Maumee River in Ohio.

 

I am a vanilla white, mixed breed American girl, born and raised in the United States. From word of mouth, as well as DNA testing, my bloodline includes: German, French, Swiss, English, Irish, Scottish, early Egyptian Jew, and 2.67% caveman… (“23andme” is an interesting way to learn about genetics from a medical standpoint, as well as an historical one). These things don’t define me, but they are part of who I am today, no matter how far removed I am from them.

My family moved to Arizona in 1978 to be closer to relatives. Had my family personally removed the Natives from the Phoenix metro in order to move there? No. We didn’t. We simply moved into the neighborhood, just as we had on the riverbanks of Ohio where we found exquisite Native tools and arrowheads, and, as an adult, I’m aware of this now, mindful of this, conscious of the fragmented reality that my freedom to move about wherever I want, to vacation to the ends of the earth, to drive and fly here and there, have come at a cost.

I’m a peacemaker. Why were there battles in the first place? And if someone “won”, that means others lost, and I don’t really think we have “enemies” since our battle is not with flesh and blood, soooooo, what does that really entail? What happens to the “losers?” Is there a better way to do all this? Is anyone actually speaking to each other or are WE all just pulling weapons on one another, pointing fingers, erecting walls, or corralling people into segregated groups, heaping label after label after stereotypical label on each other?

One thing I know…we have hurt one another. WE. There is no “us” or “them” but WE. And WE belong to each other. WE are a family of humans who cannot choose the members. WE ARE FAMILY. But this God-breathed human family is hurting. We may not have family trees to point a finger at who the bad relatives were versus the good ones, but the human family has a common trunk in the Tree of Life and the breath of God, and somewhere in the Garden WE began distinguishing, deciding, and judging between each other rather than belonging to each other.

I’m from a mixed bag of a lot of history…none of us knows all the specifics on how our blood has been woven into this world’s pain. I know I’m not a racist, nor do I have ill will towards anyone, but the reality is, not knowing what to do about the broken system doesn’t bring healing if I don’t do anything at all. If I’m going to be completely honest with you and myself, I can hope and wish and pray all I want that my ancestors were trailblazers of peace, but here I am today, comfortable in society in 2015 while heartache abounds on every side, so there’s been a breakdown somewhere along the line.

It’s not a matter of pointing fingers…we all have logs in our own eyes. WE have ALL hurt someone at some point, just as WE have all been hurt. Instead, it’s simply saying, “I am sorry. And I forgive you. I’m responsible for my life and actions and how I see and treat others. Help me understand…will you please tell me your story?”

I think TODAY is as good a day as any to start trailblazing peace and love. It starts with US…you and me. WE must stop waiting on systems to clean up the messes of our ancestors, no matter the color of our skin or our dark histories. Our SOULS run deeper than systems. We each must take responsibility for loving others well. Our present state of being is not without context.

The quote at Hemingway's in Manly Bay, Australia, the night I met a friend for dinner.

The quote at Hemingway’s in Manly Bay, Australia, the night I met a friend for dinner.

Have you ever heard the statement, “Can’t we all just get along?” Some people don’t believe it’s possible, but WHAT IF we tried? “Getting along” doesn’t mean everyone is best friends or believes the same things or even shares all the same interests, but it does imply seeking the good of all people, as long as it depends on each of us. At a table, we are compelled to sit with others and look into another persons’ eyes, to really SEE them and HEAR them and seek to KNOW them.

In this beautiful, bustling, broken, and hectic world, I believe there’s been a breakdown in making peace over time. We are naive to believe ALL the Native Americans and ALL the Pilgrims sat around that first Thanksgiving table…or that just because the lunch counters didn’t have dividers anymore that all the white guys saddled up next to the black guys for biscuits and gravy…or that within our own families, certain relatives were ever even on the guest list. Perhaps mealtime got interrupted, was hurried, or became all about the food and not about who was gathered there to share stories and break bread?

I’m a simple girl…idealistic, but unabashedly hopeful. As long as it depends on me, God has given me a glimpse of my life’s work and it’s to live and breathe peacemaking, everyday. I don’t know all the details of how it will work or look, but Someone modeled Love for me many years ago and it looked a lot like gathering around tables, breaking bread, and sharing stories.

 

Maybe the basic act of breaking bread together again
is where everyday peacemaking must begin?”

The Great Boxing Ring

Two years ago in October, my mom and a couple of my friends and I gathered around a friend who asked us to pray for her. She was weary. Her marriage was tumultuous, to put it lightly, and her head and heart could hardly take it anymore.

We all knelt around her and quietly waited on the Lord before we started praying. One by one we offered love, hope, and encouragement in prayer. As my eyes were closed, I saw a vivid picture in my head…it was a great boxing ring, and my friend and her husband were pitted against one another…fists raised in protection and ready for attack.

 

I waited and prayed quietly for a moment, opened my eyes and closed them again.

There in the other corner, opposite my friend, was the Devil and her husband, and God was in my friend’s corner, behind her, rubbing her shoulders, squirting her mouth, drying her sweat. Suddenly, the opposite corner was being filled with more and more people, one by one, groups, individuals…it just kept getting more and more crowded.

And as the bell rang for the fight to resume, the look on the Devil’s face grew pridefully sinister…he was quite pleased with himself.

As we wrapped up, I told my friend what I had seen while we were praying and encouraged her how the Enemy of our hearts would have her believe she and her husband were pitted against each other, because of course, that’s how it appeared and felt and was expressing itself in reality. I brought up the point of how our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual principalities in a totally different realm, and that she could unfortunately never change her husband other than to leave the marriage, but that it’s not him who is the enemy but the Enemy of our souls.

Fast forward to one night in April, 2014, when I spent the night with my mom while she was in the ICU. We had a pretty amazing evening together, sharing hearts, reading scriptures to each other, talking about revelations the Holy Spirit had given us about this, that, and the other thing. I tucked my mom into bed, saying what she said to me every night of my life growing up and what I say to my kids every night, as well:

“Goodnight! God bless you! I love you!”

…and then I cozied up in the chair at the foot of her bed and fell asleep right away.

Suddenly I woke up and there were two people standing over me, the only light from the nurses station in the hallway. I had to get my bearings the way you do when you fall asleep, but can’t remember where you are. Some friends had gotten off work late and stopped by to bring my mom flowers. We talked in hushed whispers, then headed over to the side of my mom’s bed. She roused and wanted to pray for her friends, and pray she did…prophetically, with God’s assurance. Tears shed, hands squeezed, cheeks kissed, we said goodnight and they headed out the door. It had only been about 1/2 an hour in all since I had fallen asleep to when our friends came for a visit, but during that time, God showed me the rest of the dream from the previous October.

I told my mom how everyone in the world was in the opposite corner of that boxing ring, all ages, every demographic and ethnicity, people of every tribe and tongue…the opposite corner of the boxing ring just kept getting more and more crowded, to the point of crowding out the real opponent, the only opponent, the very place where the Devil was positioned…

…and as the bell rang for the fight to resume, the look on the Devil’s face, now nearly lost in the crowd, grew pridefully sinister…he was quite pleased with himself…his deception from the Garden had woo’ed the masses to believe that our battle is with anyone and anything other than him, other than the spiritual forces in this world.

“And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” – Ephesians 6:10-12

 

To me it was significant that the rest of the dream came when I was with my mom near the end of her life. And, as I think of it now, funny how it happened in a hospital. When Noah was in the hospital I had a lot of quiet, late nights to sit and read scripture, pray uninterrupted, and silently listen to God’s heart…then life gets busy for the listening, I guess.

My mom and I talked about it extensively and then spent some time praying.

See, the Enemy of our hearts, in the Garden, woo’ed us into thinking that judging between ourselves was a good idea…he woo’ed us into believing that God’s GOOD for us wasn’t sufficient, it wasn’t the whole picture, that possessing the knowledge of Good and Evil was something that would benefit us, that we wouldn’t surely die if we possessed it…but God knew better…He didn’t say we couldn’t eat it, He said not to eat it because if we did, we would surely die…

we would die a death of paranoia, fear, sizing everyone else up, comparison, competition, living on the defense rather than cohesively, ready to throw a punch rather than offer a loving hand.

It’s the Enemy of our hearts, the one set to steal, kill, and destroy, who would trick us into believing that anyone else is in his corner…because we all know misery loves company.

The finale of the dream was quite profound…when the lights came on and the bell was rung, it was Satan in one corner, all alone, and opposite him was God and the rest of mankind, His beloved creation, those made in His image, the ones He said, “It’s good,” about…us, all of us gathered together, living abundantly, not fettered by fear, but loving each other through the telling of an extravagant Love Story.

 

* My prayer is this: Father, You told us to love our enemies, and to pray for them…but it’s confusing who is our enemy and who is our friend…Lord, be gracious with us as we simply love and pray for everyone in our paths…we trust You who sees the bigger picture…Amen.