learning

Beyond the Catch-Phrase

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Have you seen those gimmicks on social media that ask if the car is blue or green? You plunk in your answer only to learn the car was actually green when you said blue, or vice versa. It’s not a new lesson; either our DNA or our perspective can take us down a completely different path than the person next to us.

At one point I was part of a ministry that emphasized learning Scripture as one of its core values. I learned how to navigate the Bible, to understand the nature of God and how He wants to interact with us. (Confession: I was just a tiny bit of an over-achiever back then. And laid-back was only used in reference to a car seat.) If the Scripture passages were about self-discipline, I was going to be the most self-disciplined. If they were about purity, I was going to be the purest.

Scripture is amazing, and timeless. There are a myriad of teachings that convey God’s heart toward mankind and His standards. The Sermon on the Mount from the Gospels and Jesus’ numerous parables teach us life lessons for relationships, money, time, and prayer. The fruits of the Spirit give the briefest insight into the outcomes of a God-centered life, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  (Still working on some of those…) The Epistles teach us how to live in community with one another, as followers of Christ, how to love and forgive.

In any culture young adults find affinity in groups and doing things together. It’s an exciting time of life, with new-found independence and (hopefully) income. Everyone dresses alike, group-thinks and adopts trendy catch-phrases to reflect their one-ness. One such phrase we adopted was the pursuit of “God’s best” for our lives. It was sort of a shared core-value, and it got tossed around more than a set of Yahtzee dice. “You could go to New Jersey but you want God’s best for your life, don’t you?” or “You could become the Surgeon General but maybe that wouldn’t be God’s best.”

Whether in this group or some other, catch-phrases or group-think mindsets evolve. Most likely God’s best was originally intended to imply a life surrendered to God’s ways and standards. Instead we inferred a sort of nirvana of a painless future with dreams fulfilled, and problems solved. At what point did fantasy replace an authentic pursuit of godliness? Speaking of which, what would the phrase, God’s best have meant to Mother Theresa? Based on the evidence of her life, it must have meant a life spent emulating the Gospels, i.e., feeding, clothing and loving the unloved, where ever God led her, i.e., Calcutta.

This diatribe about God’s best is only one example but a ginger, truthful examination reveals much. I, for one, bacon-wrap phrases and principles with my own dreams or wounds and then pin it on God with questions, pain or expectations. Suppose my visual of God’s best has always entailed the proverbial white picket fence, a husband, and 2.3 children and a dog. Wouldn’t that be misleading for me as a condo-renting, non-parental, non-dog owning single? It’s a lens that I see through, and one that can lead me to misunderstand God’s abundance toward me.

What if we were to choose authenticity over catch phrases and clarity over shallow communications? What if we were to stand in the midst of what’s done and dreams unfulfilled and took the risk of owning our life, calling it what it is, and reaching toward the One who gave His only Son?

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Carriers of Heaven

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It is right now, here in the midst of this chaotic world where we need to be able to convey Heaven to a friend or a stranger, our beloved or a foe.  I’ve an example of one of those serendipitous moments where I simply knew that I was carrying Heaven for a near-stranger.

Years ago a conversation struck me as most poignant for, without prelude we began talking about exquisite beauty and that elusive emotion, joy. We both knew with certainty that the two are not the same. One so often thinks that with great beauty comes joy. And yet I could see violent pain in her eyes, and I said so.

Sometimes the greatest gift that we can give to someone is to identify with the moment they’re in; simply acknowledging the pain they’re stuffing deep inside can bring such permission. And permission is so empowering isn’t it?

I think what was surprising was not the seeing the pain but it was the surety in my words to her, “You need to go through the veil. You need to walk through your valley. This grief keeps bubbling up and you keep shoving it further down inside anytime it grabs you. The thing is, when a person refuses to feel the pain they also lose access to joy.”

It’s true that I’ve paid the price to be able to offer those words. I know from experience that pain and sorrow can catch you blindsided. Oh, without apology they’ll knock the wind out of you, and leave you motionless for years. The faraway look never leaves the woman in the mirror until she takes their hands and permits Sorrow and Sadness to teach her how to live.

We are incapable of loving deeply, of laughing stupidly loud, of rolling in the depths of undignified belly laughter until we follow the footsteps of pain … who has hurt you? What have you lost? What, oh what has slipped through your fingers like so many grains of sand?

Sometimes the greatest mistake we can make is trying too hard, going too fast with grief. Just say “Yes” to Father. He’s a gentleman about this sort of thing. You’ll know His voice when He asks again if you and He can look at this thing together. Sign up for the multi-year plan. In the end a few years that are set aside for grief-work are so much fewer than the decade you spent trying to avoid it. I might know about that first-hand. I’ll say this … the fruit of working through grief is being able to feel. Period.

Psalm 31 says, “Thou hast set my feet in a broad place.” The journey of unresolved pain and grief is constricted, and narrow. It’s like walking a tightrope. But that broad place that Father leads us into when we decide to look pain square in the eye, ah it reminds me of the nature of God Himself. It’s all upside down, you remember. We think pain and losses are His doing. They’re not but He’ll use them to lead us into a new space in life, a new vista that is more reflective of who He is.

The Kingdom of Heaven is about a wild range of emotions, and colors, and sounds. The Kingdom of Heaven is about people, and relationships and being able to scale the cliffs of pain, and releasing and embracing. A vibrant way to live. But it’s here on Earth that we learn how to live in the Distant Kingdom. Say yes.

Carry Heaven. Now.

Ciao!

Family Life

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Do you ever stop to think about your adult siblings, and compare them with the awkward, pimply teenagers you grew up with? (Note to self: do not alert family members to this post.) It’s really hard to believe that those adults-in-the-making became the professionals that I interact with today. Seriously? You’d hire my brother as your engineer, or let my sister near your baby with a needle? Why, exactly? And when did they become experts in their field, and where was I? Believe me, they’re saying the same thing about me. “That’s my little sister! You’re not going to let her consult on anything, are you?!” What was really happening while we were so busy coping with one another?

My intent in focusing on family is not to define what a family is. As a single, I’ve been adopted into a family or two, and I’ve been incredibly grateful to have the lines re-drawn to include me at the table and, in some years, under the Christmas tree. I know the quiet desperation, at times, of wanting to have my own family, so I do not take any relationship lightly. But families are different from friendships, even the best of friendships. As adults we are in a family paradigm as a result of choices we’ve made. We choose to stay relevent to one another, or we allow our loved ones to be cast aside like a paper boat,  listing and taking on water.

I have had the amazing and wonderful blessing, in these last few years, to connect with my sister’s family now that I live here in the Midwest. As the interactions take place, I see family from a different perspective. There is simply nothing to prepare you for what comes next: a crisis with tears; a question; a deeply profound insight from an unlikely source; two more questions; an argument over an undetermined, yet coveted item interrupted by the bleating of an abandoned toy and the repetition of the first question, only louder. There’s nothing extraordinary about repeated questions, howls of distress or the “Shh, I’m on the phone.” What’s extraordinary is that before we have the chance to ponder it twice, these family members will be conducting teleconferences in the middle of La Guardia and flying stand-by in order to get home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be doing our dishes and reminding us of doctor’s appointments because we’re not as razor sharp as we once were. Oh, believe me. I’m thankful for the moments.

My growing up years were more about relationship than I realized. I learned how to live with my siblings, in spite of their inane, absurd, highly annoying, arrogant or antagonizing ways. And they with me. It’s true that my parents taught a great many life skills, e.g., cooking, and gardening, etc. but maybe those were the superficial lessons after all. Is it possible that conflict resolution, forgiveness, patience, listening-while-frustrated, and peacemaking were the lessons they were modeling but not really discussing? I wonder if there was anything else they were saying?