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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…]

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

 

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…]

My Mid-Life Crisis, Part 1 of Many

I’ve been wrestling a little lately, though it’s not unfamiliar. To say it was foreign would be false, because drifting, floating, uprootedness, wandering and wondering, going from place to place, and being curious about this and that isn’t new to me. I’ve moved 30 times in my 43 years and 11 months and 3 weeks. That’s included different cities, states, suburbs, churches, states, and dorms, apartments, and houses.

The last year since we sold our house and most of our stuff hasn’t been all I thought it would be, but also has been, on some levels. My dreams was to get rid of it all…I’m an extremist that way. I wanted the four of us to load up one carry-on each and walk out the front door of our previous lives, out into whatever and wherever God was leading. Jesus told the rich young man it would be difficult…I guess He was right...since my dad’s basement is filled with our boxes and some chairs and beds. Looking back, I wanted to run away from the reality of my mom’s absence…

The steps have only come one at a time. This is fine for my free-flow spirit, but it’s dark and discouraging and heavy for my HSP-ness, for my eyes that want to look ahead and plan for the future, to have a thumb on my “passion and pursuit” without all the unknowns. In a split second I can go from being grateful and content for where God has us, to being frustrated and distraught with zero answers to why are we “here” and “where” is next and, mostly, what the heck is my purpose, like, why did God make me?

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(A great chart and article about “Highly Sensitive People”-click here for link for a great quiz and insight into, likely, someone in your life.)

Problem is: I realize I am often waiting for my circumstance to dictate my action or obedience, when that was the point of most of the stuff Jesus said in the first place, simply, “Follow Me.”

Most days I’m selfish.

I haven’t been obedient.

I could blame not knowing HOW to do something I feel passionately about with not doing anything at all.

But I don’t want to make excuses anymore.

I’m just simply sorry.

I could write a list and check off a long page worth of excuses that carry truth in my own eyes, but the Truth is, I’ve been designed by God for this day and age, regardless of circumstance, in spite of influences and obstacles, and all He designed me to “do” is BE the woman He made me to BE, right here, wherever “here” is, right now, accountable to the one in the mirror and actively loving to the ones I encounter every day…living the Kingdom, sharing the Good News.

We just got back from a 2-week trip to Australia. The jet-lag bites and the postpartum from daylight and sunshine and warmth and sand and salty air and great food, coupled with hormones, has had me in tears off and on for a couple of weeks. Did I mention we came home to a snow storm?

Anyway, when I got back I had some messages to catch up on, a few of which included encouragement from friends to watch a 1/2 hour video clip from Elizabeth Gilbert titled, “Flight of the Hummingbird.” I sat in my office in Caribou bawling, tears streaming, muttering, “Holy cow! This. Is. Me…all of it…thank you, thank you, thank YOU, Lord…bless this woman for her faithfulness in speaking truth in the face of fear, for living without shackles, outside the box…bless Liz for throwing me this life-line, without all the cliches…bless her for doing what I know I’ve been designed to do…” I’m including the video at the bottom for you to come back to when you have a bit of time. It’s not something you’ll want to miss. Share it with friends, male and female, dad’s of daughters, brothers of sisters, too, who come to mind when you listen. Besides the fact that every word spoke to my heart; the Facebook letter from the Australian woman, Liz’s husband’s life of uprootedness, and the whole idea of a hummingbird, the specificity for me was mind-blowing.

Well, one of the squares on my check list of half-assedness living has been momless-ness. I miss my mom. I want my mom. I really could use MY mom in my life. I want to hear her wisdom spoken fresh again. I want to have her in my corner, praying over me. I want to hold her hand and watch her facial expressions, to hear her voice and prophetic heart. A great chasm has been left in me since her departure and there have been days of flailing, still.

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So when Liz referenced a hummingbird, I kind of freaked…my mom’s favorite bird in the world was a hummingbird (a close second being the sweet Gambel’s desert quail of the Southwest)…wherever we lived, she always had the feeder filled for the curious little beauties…and as long as she had food for them, they returned faithfully.

So, Lord, open my eyes to see…
I’ve been self-absorbed, worried about opinions,
wondering if I’m qualified…
questioning Your creativity,
asking, “How can I leave a legacy or step out boldly when I’m not rooted, not planted, not grown-up enough?”
I’ve looked into the mirror, but mostly at my thighs…
measuring my worth in a toxic, twisted way, rather than
greeting myself in the eyes, face to face, in the mirror, Your daughter, Beloved. Holy. Sacred.
I’ve been busy, so “busy,” I’ve allowed the concrete to set up,
and the fears begin to creep in,
and the lies, to bear rotten fruit.
It’s painful.
You don’t need my permission,
though my admission may be part of the unlocking, unleashing,
cage-opening, branch-trimming…
trim my branches, Father…
graft me into Your Tree of Life.
Open my cage, Lord…
free me from the lies I’ve believed, the un-truths I’ve told myself.
Lord, You put that man to sleep after a time in order to hand-craft woman…
that must mean You had something special in mind for Your daughters, as well…
all of us, me, and her, and every other girl, also made in Your likeness.
Illuminate the path, Lord, as You see fit, what You know is best, and and I will walk in it,
everlasting…here I am…I’m stepping out into the unknown…the place where I’m free to be me…a butterfly, a curious soul, like a hummingbird, led by Your Spirit, for Your glory, discovering Your beautiful creativity in the day to day.

Come.

 

hummingbird photo courtesy: pixabay user/omissivart

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.

“For I Know The Plans I Have For You…

…declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” – Jeremiah 29:11

This is a scripture a lot of Christians quote to encourage one another of God’s goodness over them. And it’s good. It’s truth. He does have good in mind for all of His creation.

But it’s important to read some of the sentences that surround this statement…not because God only functions in scriptural context, because He doesn’t…He won’t be confined to a box of our limited comprehension…but because sometimes we need a reminder that His goodness and His ways don’t always look like glitter and fireworks and shiny fancy packages…

Also, I don’t view this story as one solely for people a couple thousand years ago, non-applicable to today, but as especially pertinent for people who claim to be Christians, as a directive that still holds true wherever they may live.

A few years ago, some friends and I did what was supposed to be a 12-week study on the book of Daniel, from the Old Testament of the Bible that we stretched out over the course of 10 months. The content was too rich to cram into 12 weeks, so we unboxed it and soaked in it to really get a taste for it. Well, I haven’t stopped thinking about Daniel’s life and relationship with God, and the Babylonian kings, ever since.

There are SO MANY ANGLES to go with the stories in the book of Daniel, but as far as his character, integrity, and dedication goes, I’m blown away in light of the circumstances of why he is even in Babylon in the first place and how he remained faithful in a godless nation.

Daniel was a promising young man, intelligent, strong and handsome, of noble birth and character. It’s presumed he was a teenager when he was taken into captivity in Babylon, and there he spent the rest of his life, learning from, working for, serving, and ultimately befriending, the foreign rulers. Specifically I think of King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel’s relationship with him, namely his behavior while living in a culture totally foreign to him.

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It never says Daniel tried to thwart the rulers he served under, never talks about him trying to change their governing systems, disrespect them, or slander the king’s name or laws. We know he didn’t eat the food or drink the wine the king provided for the leaders in training, and we know he prayed to God three times a day, and we also know he would interpret dreams for the king, even pleading with the king to heed the warnings…affording the king time to change.

But, we also know Daniel’s remainder of his life was spent in captivity, an exile from Jerusalem in Babylon, because God allowed for this. And we know he had huge favor and was the king’s right hand man.

The part about Jeremiah 29 and the promise of God’s good over His people is especially beautiful when the other sentences are read along with it, and especially challenging when filtered through a lens of “being in the world, but not of it” and how “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual principalities in the world.”

Here are some of the other sentences, the words and charge from God to Daniel and ALL the leaders and exiles who were carried off to Babylon:

This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:

“Build houses and make yourselves at home.

“Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.

“Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.

“Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.

“Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

8-9 Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.”God’s Decree!

10-11 This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

(The Message version)

It seems like Daniel was in tune with these truths, in tune with God, because he sought God, in spite of his surroundings and circumstances. His dedication to serving the king faithfully and with integrity, not trying to butt the system but rather praying for the good of Babylon, was met with great favor. It would seem Daniel’s lifestyle was a glimpse of what living and serving looks like in an upside down kingdom…what God will do when we trust Him despite what we see with our eyes or are experiencing in what feels like the darkest of hours.

I want that kind of intimacy with God and trust from Him. And that kind of favor for my “earth life.” Daniel’s example to me is to pursue God, regardless of surroundings, love my “enemies” extravagantly, and pray for the good of all people…liberal with the love shown me, liberal with the grace shown me, liberal with my trust that God sees a bigger picture…and it’s good.

(photo credit: pixabay user/TanteTati)

 

 

Heavy Lifting

Tonight I ran over to a friend’s house to borrow a drill bit. Cuz I drill stuff.

Like, holes in wood and stuff.

Anyway, these friends are dear to my heart and my heart was heavy. So, I asked if they would pray for me, pray for my heart, pray however God led them to pray, because these friends are filled with God’s Spirit and listen to His voice…they are familiar with it, because they stop to listen, they pause to hear, they want to know His voice above all the other voices vying for our attention on any given day.

And though I know how to seek God for myself, because there is nothing hidden in my heart or head from God, we were meant for each other. He made more than one of us so we could walk alongside each other and pray and cheer and lift one another up.

Because some heavy lifting takes the strength of more than one person.

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(photo credit: pixabay user/sarangib)

 

So they prayed, and God spoke His life through their prayers. There was no agenda in their words, just waiting on Him to speak good and love and freedom over me.

Tonight I went to get a drill bit, but instead had a bit of church for my soul. When I was hurting, they prayed. When my heart was troubled, they prayed, my elders, my loved ones prayed for me...because they love me and would pray for me any old day. But today they prayed because I confessed to them that my heart was heavy and that I needed prayer, I longed for it…I hope you have these kinds of people in your life…the kind you can share your heart with…the kind who will stop and pray.

 

 

In Which I Tread Into Politics

Oh dear. The yelling on both sides is deafening.
Meanwhile, I’m over here, all, “Hey, I’m totally voting for Kid President!!!”

So, I am a grown adult. Like, I’ve been voting for 25 years now. Originally I registered with the same party my parents did, because, hullo? In my young mind, Reagan and my childhood were idyllic. Familiarity, the fact that voting was scary and bore weight and responsibility, and if my parents had identified with one party and I respected and loved them, well, that must mean I should vote the same, Doesn’t it?

Plus, a subliminal message at the time from my “community of faith” (not my parents), was implied, “You’re only a real Christian if you are a conservative Republican.”

Well, I sure as heck wanted to make sure I didn’t lose my way following Jesus on account of my earthly political affiliation…because that can happen, right?!??

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The years passed. One day at church I invited a couple of girls to meet at a coffee shop so we could get to know one another. It became an every Monday night date as we spent hours sharing our stories and what following Christ looked like for us. One of my friends shared about her journey of being a Jesus-follower and how it included loving people different than her.

“Of course,” I thought. “Of course you love people who are different from you…you are a Christian…that’s what Jesus modeled for us. I do, too.”

And then she told me she was a registered Democrat.

I was like, “Wait. What? How can you be a Democrat and a Christian?
What about the babies?”

She shared her heart about how she follows Jesus, not a political system where people are trying to set up laws in the land to influence people’s moral choices. “Only God can know our hearts,” she had said. She told us she doesn’t agree with killing people, babies or in wartime, but trusting in laws set up by a government cannot minister to the heart and soul of a person created in the image of God. That’s heart-to-heart work that has to be done in laying down our lives for others, not fighting through a system for our own rights at the expense of another.

And this made sense to me. It sounded Jesus-esque. It sounded like the Good News I remembered loving and pouring over ‘til late hours of the morning as a new believer and follower of Christ. It reminded me of the Red Letter Words in the New Testament, spoken by Jesus, rather than the human-tainted messages that had been filling up my head ever since.

I decided to explore what I believed, rather than only accepting what others and my circles of life, preached. I started paying attention more, not just to politics, the local news, and world happenings, but mostly to my heart and the pursuit of living a life that more closely reflected the Life of the One I claimed to follow…I started filtering ALL OF IT THROUGH THIS THING: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself…like a litmus test of fruit-bearing for myself, checking my heart with the way Jesus treated people, not buying into man’s political systems and polarizing camps.

I started paying attention to peoples’ stories rather than their stereotypes.”

I’ve been reminded of Daniel and his friends in Babylon, living as exiles because God allowed it, for years living there, yet not trying to change the system, but rather praying for the people there, praying for, and serving, the leadership, for their well-being as in Jeremiah 29:7, and reaping the benefits of what happens when you pray for your enemies.

A few months before my Mom died she said, “You are a hippie, aren’t you?” This she said with a smile and in love. Her words had life, the part about “hippie” that bears the Free Love of God, not the acid and bellbottoms.

I had just told her, “Mom, we are ALL souls, made in God’s image…every single one of us. How can we keep walking around labeling each other and boxing one another into stereotypes, trying to make laws and cast votes to feel better about our moral choices when God calls US ALL His beloved? That can’t be politicized! He showed us how to love radically. Jesus didn’t come through a political system then, and He’s not returning that way either.”

I don’t have all the answers, but I know my identity, value, worth, and eternal grace from God, are not found in a political system or by aligning myself with a political party. I identify as a child of God. People on both polar extremes of our political spectrum also do, as well as millions of those in between…and there isn’t a law in the land that can know the heart of a person, but there is a loving Creator who does, and He is big enough.

 

 

(photo credit: pixabay user/dweedon1)