When was the last time you cried because of a single word? Were they happy tears or sad tears? This morning, on my commute to work, I was listening to music and looking out the bus window and I began to think about a phone conversation from the night before. I went over it in my mind and ended up misty-eyed. Not because of the conversation, but because of a single word uttered by the caller.
The word was "unanimous." What?! Not bringing you to tears too? Perhaps I should explain. My husband went through the interview process for an interim-pastoral position at a church in our area the past few months and it went very well. All along the way we were encouraged and the pastor search team seemed to be encouraged as well. When you apply for a job at a church in our denomination, however, the committee doesn't typically get the final say. It is the committee's job to present their best candidate to the church as a whole. The church then takes a vote about whether or not to hire that candidate. Can I confess something to you? The process intimidates me. This is the second time Jason has made it through to the voting-part of the process with a church and both times made me uneasy. I inevitably flash back to high school where I ran for student body office positions every year and never got voted in. I was never turned down for something that I had any control over... If I wanted to be on the honor roll, I worked hard and made the honor roll. If I wanted to be on the cheerleading squad, I practiced until I made it. If I wanted a summer job, I showed up in a suit or dress, respectfully asked for an application and proved that I would be a good employee, and I got the job. But when everything came down to an anonymous vote... it never worked out for me.
The last time Jason went through to the church-vote-stage of a hiring process, the vote came back as 83% "for" and 17% "against" (if I remember correctly). I remember where we were when we got that call as well and how it gave us both a moment of pause and deep concern. Who were the 17%? Would they be angry if he accepted the job? Would they make ministry difficult? Did we really want to walk into a position knowing that, right off the bat, 17% didn't think it was a good fit?
Fast forward to this morning. As I sat on the bus and replayed the phone conversation with one of this new church's elders from the night before, as he said "The vote was unanimous, we would like Jason to be our interim pastor," my mind singled-in on that one word, "unanimous," and I started to cry silent, happy tears, surrounded by a bus full of strangers.
One can certainly minister for many years in a church that didn't vote him or her in unanimously, and conversely, just because a vote IS unanimous doesn't mean that there aren't those who aren't 100% on-board but just didn't want to rock the boat by voting against the majority. The point of this post isn't about church voting policies or the sometimes gut-wrenching process of finding a ministry position in the United States. The point is - there is tremendous, encouraging power in being accepted, 100% accepted. It is even more encouraging to be accepted when you have been 100% yourself.
I am reading a devotional book right now by Angie Smith entitled, "Mended." In it, she quotes the following from the book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale,
"'Do you know the story of Rabbi Zusya?' he asked. 'He was a Chasidic master who lived in the 1700s. One day he said, 'When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me, 'Why weren't you Moses?' Rather, he will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?' "
The quote goes on to say,
"Churches should be places where people come to hear the story of God and to tell their own. That's how we find out how the two relate. Tell your story with all of its shadows and fog, so people can understand their own. They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses."
What an encouragement to be 100% fully who God made you to be. Sometimes you will be accepted as such and other times you won't. Sometimes it will be unanimous and other times it will be more like 83%-17%. Regardless, God didn't call you to be anything other than who you are.
Today I am thankful that, this time, it was unanimous, and I am also asking God to remind me that it has always been that way with Him where I am concerned. He knows me fully and is unanimously for me. Totally undeserved and completely phenomenal!
Romans 8:28-31 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He alos justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
A couple of days ago, if you'd peeked in my window you would have found me sitting on the couch in my living room weeping after reading a story, shared by Shauna Niequist in her book, Bread and Wine. Shauna had been struggling with infertility and it seemed that everyone around her was pregnant. She wanted to be happy for her pregnant friends , and most of the time she was, but somewhere inside her the desperation increased and the sorrow deepened with each new pregnancy announcement. Finally she felt like she couldn’t take it any more and she posted about her feelings on her blog in a moment of complete transparency. Soon after that she received a call from a friend, a newly pregnant friend, saying she was going to be in town and wanted to get together. Shauna cringed, hoping that her friend hadn’t read her blog post.
When they met at the restaurant, Shauna’s friend handed her a gift and told her that she had, indeed, read the blog post. *cringe* She said that she understood that this was the point in a friendship where many friends would have to walk away from each other for awhile, because the pain and the awkwardness would be too great. She explained, however, that she felt that the two of them could do better than that. Shauna opened the gift and found two pairs of safety goggles. In her blog post she had admitted telling her husband that if she didn’t get pregnant that very month, she was going to break something glass just to feel it shatter in her hands. That day in the restaurant, her friend told her, “If you feel like shattering something, I’ll be right there with you. We’ll put on our safety goggles. I’ll help you break something and then I’ll help you clean it up. You’ve been celebrating with me and I’ll be there to grieve with you. We can do this together.”
Even now, tears sting my eyes as I imagine that moment and as I picture the friends that God has brought into my life in the past who would do the same for me, who feel the same way about me.
Here’s the rub. With Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest, it is more common for people to compete with friends, to feel disconnected from another’s pain or joy, or to assume we know what is going on with someone without ever talking with them or looking in their eyes. Upper-division, safety-goggle-moment friendship is uncommon. It involves phone calls, coffee dates, walks, snail mail, impromptu texts, it involves sacrifice and awareness. It requires emotional commitment, not just an emotional attachment. I long to be that kind of friend, and I long for these kinds of friends in my life. I long for depth over breadth… to know and be known.
My go-to thought whenever I realize something is lacking in my life is to re-prioritize and then adjust my schedule. I’ve been known to put the most ridiculous things on the calendar just to make sure they happen. Is that the answer for making room in our lives for deep friendship? Can friendship be scheduled? Calendared? Itemized? Is it something that I commit to a certain number of hours per week, then check off the friendship box on my to-do list? That may be a springboard, but it certainly is not a way of life… at least not my way of life. Friendship, like a meal at the table needs freedom to take whatever shape is needed in each season to not only be the most nourishing, but to make room for celebration, for fasting when needed. That sounds a whole lot more like an art to me and not at all like an exact science, which, I must confess, makes me uncomfortable. Science leans toward the proven and exact. Art is subjective, open for interpretation. In other words, friendship involves risk. Risk of being rejected, risk of giving more than you receive and feeling vulnerable or foolish, risk of entering too far into the pain of another – making them dependent on you rather than encouraged by you, risk after risk after risk.
The question then becomes, “Is it worth it?”
John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." - Jesus
Proverbs 17:17 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
It is absolutely worth it! But we'll have to come to grips with the transient, free-flowing nature of relationships without insisting that they conform to our idealistic definitions. Sometimes friendship may be the main course in our lives, sometimes a side dish or dessert, sometimes we may go through seasons of fasting altogether, but none of these is meant to be the ONLY way to approach friendship for the long haul. The longer I live, the more I believe in embracing the ebb and flow without constantly feeling the need to label it: success or failure, good or bad. We were created by a God who gave us a world of infinite variety and who expects us to delight in that variety and give Him glory in it, not get overwhelmed by a complex and multi-faceted world and, by reaction, sequester ourselves in a tiny corner of it, building protective walls of definitions and patterns of behavior that make us feel like we’ve got a handle on things. Safety-goggle-friendship happens outside those walls, and it is worth it.
"When it is most difficult to worship God is when it is most important to worship God." ~Mandisa
On Tuesday, January 15th, I tuned in online to watch "A Night of Hope and Healing." I was not disappointed. Not only was I not disappointed, I was inspired and thrilled to my core at the display of the love of Christ that was taking place. The event won't get any national media attention, but I can't let it go by without talking about it here. It was profound to me.
The event was billed as "a free event designed to bring comfort to the community (surrounding Newtown, CT) through music, prayer, and uplifting messages." The lineup of talented servants was impressive: Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, Steven & Mary Beth Chapman, Mandisa, TobyMac, Building 429, Laura Story and Casting Crowns. Lest you think, the ulterior motive of this event was to make money - It was a FREE event, and 10,000 tickets were distributed to the Sandy Hook victims' families and community members affected by the recent school shooting. I can't even begin to fathom what putting on this event cost. To say it was an extravagant gift to total strangers, is an understatement. Here is a taste of what the event included:
Familiar scriptures were recited corporately - the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm - taking on more personal meaning in light of recent events. Less familiar scriptures were proclaimed boldly:
Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Hebrews 4:14-16, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Songs were sung with rich lyrics that ministered healing to those who would accept it:
It is Well With My Soul
Beauty Will Rise:
"It was the day the world went wrong. I screamed til my voice was gone, And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down. Slowly panic turns to pain, as we awake to what remains and sift through the ashes that are left behind. But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams, we have this hope:
Out of these ashes... beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins. We will see Him with our own eyes. Out of these ashes... beauty will rise. For we know, joy is coming in the morning..."
Whom Shall I Fear:
"I know Who goes before me. I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side."
"When all I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, Still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins. I will worship You and give You thanks, even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah."
Stories were shared. Mary Beth Chapman, in particular, shared openly, while holding back tears about the tragic loss of their own 5 year old daughter, Maria. Letting those present know they were not alone and they would not be forgotten. She shared her conviction through it all that in the end God is enough and He is faithful.
Prayers were prayed. At one point the names of each of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were displayed in the stadium and a time of silent prayer for their families took place. Louie Giglio told the group that the pictures and stories of each victim were on display backstage and that the performers had been looking at them and reading about them and asking God for help to minister to those left behind.
One of the performers tried his best to explain why they had all come and put on the event: "We just want to bless you and encourage you and enter into your pain with you and say we hurt too, and tell you
of the God who makes life worth living." I'd say mission accomplished, and I've never been more inspired by a group of fellow believers trying to live out their faith in the world.
Some of the heartfelt comments I jotted down as I watched include these:
Louie Giglio said, "In times like this people ask, 'Where is God?' We are the body of Christ. We aren't a building with four walls, an institution, an organization. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. If the world is going to see Jesus, they will see him through His sons and daughters. Where is God? God is here because the people of God are here."
Steven Curtis Chapman: "The world keeps spinning, leaving many paralyzed, angry, numb and stuck while the world goes on. We have not forgotten you. Not because we are wonderful in and of ourselves but because Jesus is in us. We may move forward, but we will not move on. We will keep listening to you, praying for you."
"I drove a stake down in the ground when everything went dark in my life. Even though I am still angry at times and even though I still don't get it - I have two choices - run away from God or run toward God and trust Him and trust His word is true. He is whispering, 'WILL YOU TRUST ME? I know your heart is broken. Will you trust me?' The story ISN'T over. We have lost so much but nothing is lost to God."
Max Lucado: "What Steven Curtis Chapman just did for you, you will one day do for someone else. For the rest of your life you can speak from a place of 'been there.' If you'll let God be your teacher then what was intended for evil will bear good - you will be a missionary to the brokenhearted."
The Night of Hope and Healing was an absolutely perfectly lived-out illustration of why I am a Christian. We do not "have" souls, we ARE souls and that night a group of humble, talented, people acknowledged the soul ache (that continues in CT long after the media attention fades away) and very respectfully and gently provided an outlet for those souls to reflect on the the Word of God, to pray and praise and thank and cry, and to find a way back to their Maker for restoration. Beautiful and powerful to behold.
The most poignant moment to me was when Chris Tomlin and a full band was singing the song, "I Will Rise" (listen below). There is a part of the song where the lyrics say: "Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He is risen from the dead." The 10,000 people in the arena began to clap and cheer upon singing "The victory is won," and the clapping was so loud Chris Tomlin just stopped playing. And waited. And let the moment happen. People continued in their applause for several minutes and then they continued with the song. Truly, worship is never more beautiful than when it is offered in times of great sacrifice. When I find it hard to worship in the future because of something that has caused me pain, I will remember that night and offer a sacrifice of praise.
I do not normally (ever) write about particularly controversial things on my blog. I just write about what I'm thinking about. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is spiritual, sometimes it is introspective. Well, right now I happen to be thinking about something that is controversial. It happens on occasion. I've sat here and debated whether or not to write down my thoughts, and finally decided that I should. Not
to make a point. Not
to become a lightening rod for opinions and criticism. Just to continue doing what I've always done...write what I happen to be thinking about at any given moment. So here goes.
Just down the road from us in Bellefonte, PA, a jury is currently deliberating and preparing to come to a verdict in the trial of former Penn State football coach,Jerry Sandusky who has been accused of many different crimes related to inappropriate sexual contact with multiple young boys over the course of several years. This case has drawn intense national media attention. As reporters and news outlets are each trying to come up with a different angle on the case, and gain more readers in the process, articles are emerging on the periphery that have nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky or his accusers. They are focusing, instead, on pedophilia. Analyzing it, dissecting it, puting it out there for the world to consider and talk about. Tonight I read one such article on CNN.com. Here is the link: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/21/opinion/cantor-pedophila-sandusky/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
The article asks two questions: 1. Are people born pedophiles? and 2. Do pedophiles deserve sympathy? First, the article defines a pedophile as someone who has a sexual attraction toward children. The author distinguishes a pedophile from a child molester by stating that not every pedophile acts on
their urges and actually molests a child. Scientific evidence is then given that points to the possibility that people can be born with a bent toward being sexually attracted toward children. Thus, the question the author poses, "If people are born this way, should we feel sorry for them?
I've been thinking about the greater questions that this conversation brings to the surface and I wanted to jot down my thoughts here as I process them. I am not a theologian. I am not a doctor. I am not a geneticist. I am the sum total of the thoughts, experiences, knowledge, and faith that God has blessed me with. It is from this humble place that I offer these observations:1.
As I read the Bible, I read of a God who has created us in His image, knitting us together in our mother's womb. I read of a God who does not make mistakes and has no regrets. 2.
This fact does not mean that our physical bodies are "perfect" in the way that we
define perfection. As simple human beings who, apart from faith
, have only this world as a frame of reference and only other human beings to compare ourselves to - we define perfection as that which is most desirable to the most people. God is not limited by this world and thus does not define perfection in that way.3.
We do not understand when someone is born blind, or deaf, or autistic, or with a physical malformation. We see these things as disabilities
, and at times we question a God who could allow someone to suffer such "imperfection," undeservedly.4.
As science continues to delve into the area of genetics and attempts to separate out that which is nature versus that which is nurture, more and more physical and psychological "imperfections" are believed to have been hardwired into people before they were born. 5.
As a person of the Christian faith, I must choose to compare myself, not
to those around me, but rather to Jesus Christ alone. The Bible tells me that none of us is perfect. Nope, not even one. Not because of our "flawed" God-given physical bodies or psyches, but because of what we've chosen to act on, sinfully.
We do not know what proclivities were hard-wired into Jesus' physical DNA while he was on Earth. We do know that the Bible says he was tempted in EVERY WAY
but was without sin. Every
. Whatever his tendencies were, he never
acted on them sinfully. He is our gold standard, not each other, but the one who walked this Earth and was tempted but did not sin. Jesus, when tempted, returned to scripture and prayer, and he never acted on any temptation. We are to do the same, with His help. These tendencies toward sin, these imperfections, can actually drive us right into the arms of the one and only Savior of the world, and that is where we have belonged all along.6.
Should we feel sorry for the pedophile? No. But not because he/she is repulsive and undeserving of our sympathy. We shouldn't feel sorry for him/her for two reasons: 1. Because we are no better, and 2. Because he/she is NOT WITHOUT HOPE
. We should feel grateful that God has designed each and every one of us to need a Savior, to be faced with our flawed tendencies so that we seek out His help. Otherwise, we would never turn to Him, and the truth is that He is the center of the universe. Not you, and not me.
He is what life is all about and living our lives thinking and acting otherwise is foolish.7.
Who should we feel sorry for then? I believe we should feel sorry for those who think they have it all together.
Who believe they have no need of a Savior. Who have looked at their own flawed tendencies, whatever they may be (pride, drunkenness, lying, rage, laziness, sexual deviancy, passivity, etc.) and rather than humbly putting faith in Christ to save them from themselves, they determine to just give into their instincts and define their own morality, choosing to make themselves the center of the universe and elevating themselves to the place of god in their own minds. He/She is to be most pitied, and prayed for.
And that's what I think about that.
I just finished the first week of a training program that is supposed to get me off the couch and running a 5K (3.1 miles) in nine short weeks. The first week involves a 25 minute workout that alternates 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking, three times per week. As the program progresses, walking time will decrease and jogging time will increase. Yikes!
In the spirit of not taking myself or this very minor accomplishment too seriously, here are the top five things I learned prior to 7am today during my 25 minutes of jog/walking:
1. Ants, apparently, get up earlier than I do and are tougher than I am. As I was stretching at the track before my workout, I noticed little bits of "stuff" moving slowly on the ground beneath my feet. I realized they were hundreds of tiny ants carrying food-stuffs many times their body weight to an unknown location. They reminded me that I have a hard enough time carrying my own body weight. Show offs.
2. An idea of blogging about a Taylor Swift song and relating it to a deep spiritual truth, is probably the runner's high talking. Mid-way through my jog/walk, I actually had this "brilliant" idea to somehow relate Taylor's single "Our Song" to my relationship with God. Those endorphins can create CRAZY TALK in your brain, I tell ya. Beware!
3. The only place it is acceptable for me to wear spandex shorts is at the track at 6:00am when no one else is around. I think I burned more calories constantly adjusting those crazy shorts to keep them from sliding down or riding up than I did while actually jogging/walking. Thank God for long, baggy t-shirts.
4. Getting spiritual while exercising is for the advanced, not the amateur. Toward the end of my workout, as I finally realized this was going to end (eventually) and wasn't, in fact, going to kill me, I had the bright idea to pray for my friends and family during each of the 90 seconds of walking (praying for myself was all I could manage during the 60 seconds of jogging... more specifically, praying that I'd suck it up and not be a wuss and quit). Sounds reasonable enough, right, except that when I would pray while I walked I would lose track of time and the 90 seconds of blessed walking would go by too fast or I'd feel gipped somehow or I'd go longer than 90 seconds and mess up the rules of the workout plan (I'm nothing if not a rule follower). Bah! #AmateurProblems
5. Having something poking you in your shoe while jogging can make you look insane. If you were hiding behind a tree or sitting in a car somewhere, or were flying overhead in an airplane, or had concealed yourself in some other way this morning, and you had the misfortune of watching my workout while I thought I was all alone - I apologize and I feel I must explain. I HAD SOMETHING IN MY SHOE! All those crazy moves, random kicks and shakes, and the stomping, and toe tapping all while trying to continue moving in a forward direction without falling down, must have made me look a bit off my rocker. Perhaps I am...
Starting on Friday, I will be jogging for 90 seconds and walking for 2 minutes for a total of 25 minutes a day, three times per week. Heaven help me! I'll keep ya posted on the hilarity that ensues and the poignant lessons learned. I know you're on the edge of your seat.
PS - I love the little girl in the picture above. I don't know her, but I love her. I found her on Pinterest. I am not making fun of her, I am making fun of myself... she is, quite obviously, trying to dodge the bubbles that are about to land on her head and that is serious business indeed.
Have you ever attended a group meeting where everyone involved had the best intentions, but you all quickly realized that your meeting was in vain because an important person was missing from the mix? If the right people aren't at the table, you waste your time. Sometimes you need the decision makers there, so you can act and move on. Sometimes you need the person with the history and background knowledge to make everything make sense. Other times you need someone with the technical expertise to help decipher new information. Usually it is wise to have all of these people present to make sure that the full picture is in view.
I am in the middle of reading The Resolution for Women, by Priscilla Shirer. In the third section of the book, she urges women to be "authentically themselves," not trying to be someone else and not shirking away from who they truly are. One problem we run into, she says, is that many times we don't know ourselves very well, aka: we don't know what we bring to the table. It is hard to be authentic when you don't know what makes you, you! It could be that there is a meeting table right now that needs you and your unique gifts, talents and abilities. That meeting table may be in your very own home. My husband is very good at gently pointing out to me the areas of giftedness I have that I may be underestimating or devaluing within our family life. He wants me to bring everything I have to the table of our family decision making so that we are not lacking in any way. People at work expect the same, as do people on ministry teams.
One of the strategies that Priscilla suggests in her book for figuring out what makes you, uniquely you, is to ask those who know you well for their insights. She states, "It's often more difficult to see yourself as clearly as another person can who's close to you. Beauty tends to become familiar. Genius eventually feels commonplace. You get used to yourself. You overlook the astounding, remarkable aspects that make you uniquely special because you've grown so accustomed to having them. Your rarity becomes unremarkable when its just another part of your regular routine." So, I challenge you to ask those closest to you what they think makes you unique. Then listen, and WRITE DOWN what they say. Then pray over it and ask God to help you live it out. The world needs you at the table!