Some days

Some days just are.

Some days invite creativity, cleaning, sorting and spiffing.

Some days invite solving, mastering, mulling and conquering.

Some days invite rest, renewal, naps and movies.

Some days invite constructive criticism, problem solving, checking off list items and errand-ing.

Some days just are.

Some days are neither inspiring nor boring. Some days reflect the mood of the sky, a gray, cold expression. Some days invite washing windows and cleaning out closets and coops and shampooing rugs and dogs. Some days are toilet days, where bathrooms define the smell of the house, instead of the other way around.

Some days are restless, read, get up, write, get up, prepare food, sit down, eat, stand up, clean. Drive here, park, drive there, park. Talk to a child, grunts in return. Listen to the radio, nothing but chatter. Drink a coffee, same old, nothing new.

Some days are leftover days, piles of noodles, old fruit, on-the-edge soup, muffins lovingly made – yet still sitting on the counter not eaten. Some days the list is long, but the energy and ability to accomplish – nil. Some days the children are annoying and needy and teenager-y.

Some days the bed is unmade, uninviting. Some days the jeans are uncomfortable and sweats pulled on far too early. Some days, the bra stifles, the watch catches on everything, the ring denting the finger.

Some days the screens occupy too much space, populate time not providing anything but a heaviness behind the eyes. Nothing new to see, nothing new to hear, talking heads, talking points. Some days my skin has shrunk, my eyes are tired, my nose clogged.

These days, normal, blah moments, sandwiched between high and low events. These days are stock up days, where the energy is low, but the need will be great. These days are about keeping the whining in my own head, not letting it leak out too much, not letting it take on a life of its own. These days, bound by difficult circumstances are the days to feel, the days to be, the days to wander the four walls of house and car, to take in the humanity. To recognize neither mountain nor valley, just the flatland of a soul. No highs nor lows, just a day.

What is one to do? Put on sweats, eat vegetables and drink beer for dinner, drive the children, ask questions but don’t expect great answers, keep the mouth closed more than open, do the dishes, wash towels. Take a shower, but don’t fight for exercise, read out loud to a kid, put the feet up. Remember the good things, the simple things…don’t make the expectations such that it’s all wrong or not enough. Avert the eyes, don’t look at the wood floors in the sunlight, and certainly DO NOT lay in a position where you can see under couches or beds. Shut your children’s bedroom doors. DO NOT check grades or math pages.  Try really hard to wear comfortable shoes and pants. Don’t smell the dog, don’t peruse the vegetable drawer, don’t go beyond picking up. You will want to throw things and donate necessary items, and make kids pay. Do not do anything you will potentially regret. Take a moment, put yourself on time out…be the grown up and cry uncle on today.

Lovingly dish up the ice cream, find a cloth napkin and clean spoon. Make mention to your husband and children, it’s time to be done. Eliminating any guilt, walk into your room, shut the door, climb into your bed, secure an easy read or episode of Parenthood. Set fear aside, no, not every day will be like this forever. Turn the light out at a decent hour, wait for a new day, pray hopeful for hefty sleep. Keep in mind, knowing deep down the truth but certainly not admitting…

You are awaiting the visit from the untimely and always inconvenient, the peak of womanhood, female-ness and femininity. The part of you that gave life to three embryos, sustaining. The part of you that comes as a surprise every freaking month. It will get better tomorrow.

Some days just are.

Thin

photo credit: Nietnagel via photopin cc
photo credit: Nietnagel via photopin cc

There is a Christian term, originating from the Celts, known as a “thin place.” It seems a bit of an odd term one might use to describe a measure of scarcity, maybe referring to our nerves or time or bodies. In Spiritual practice, a thin place is where the distance between heaven and earth is minimal, where divine and human connect, or maybe even collide.

Heaven and Earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. (Celtic saying)

These places have been described, by many, as actual physical locations, particularly Ireland, where the idea originated. In my experience, the mountains are a thin place, where the cacophony in my head stills and I can be present and aware of God. Or the ocean, particularly where the coastline is especially rugged. Sometimes, travel takes me to a thin place as I am removed from routine and forced to reconcile myself to new surroundings, people and customs. But often, in my life, thin places usually are related to current circumstances, to carrying the burdens of others, and realizing I am but a single thread in a great tapestry. I rediscover no man is an island, that we are all connected on an invisible plane.

Today, I am in a thin place. One of our own, in our community is desperately hurting, in pain, with many unasked questions and few, if any answers. The uncertainty is running deep, and the fear difficult to keep behind the guard wall. The what-ifs, which started as a whisper, have reached a fever-pitched growl, ready to nip at the truths one clings to in the quietest of moments. This time, the only solution is a break-through, a miracle, the perfect puzzle piece in an infinity of choices. The only suitable answer is an answer to prayer. The only acceptable answer is a miracle. This thin place, where Heaven and Earth are closer than three feet apart, is aching for understanding and relief.

These thin places, for me, are not exclusive to trials. I am finding that of late, opportunity and need are smashing together. One minute, I can be ecstatic with the fruition of long held dreams, and the next reminded of the heartbreak of many. One minute rejoicing with a friend, the next lamenting the choices of another. The both/and. Both hold equal opportunity to experience a moment of the shrunken distance between heaven and earth.

In today’s early morning hours, longing for sleep, but knowing deep it would remain at arm’s length, I sat with a candle lit in the window for our friend. I sat silent witnessing the flicker of determined light dancing in the darkness, recognizing the thin-ness, the combined frailty and fervor of the moment. Light overcoming, demanding notice, unceasing. This thin place where human effort and understanding halt, yielding space for the Divine to do what the Divine does best…bring hope, laughter, peace…out of the most wretched of situations. To shine the rays of Love through community, through grace, through understanding, through blessed peace.

When we are worn thin, the One who knows, who suffers with His children is shining His light of generous Love bright and unrelenting into our hearts through the sheerest of membranes, the most thin of places, breaking down the barrier to demonstrate His heart of solidarity and provision. May we sit still long enough in discomfort and ask the questions in order to experience the complete and marvelous beauty in it all.

May we recognize that perfect moment when Divine and Human meet.

A Parental Thank You

December 1989: My high school senior year. Dad accepted a new pastorate 40 miles from our  home of five years. I was to be removed from my high school, the middle of senior year, to finish up at another. My sister, a junior with a long term boyfriend, was devastated. I, surprisingly, was not.

Turns out, the second day of classes, I noticed a cute boy in AP English. At first glance, I thought he was short and chubby…not true. At 6’4″ my crush, turned boyfriend, turned husband was nothing but everything I ever wanted in a man.

January 2015: Twenty-five years later, we all returned to California, all five siblings plus spouses and children, to celebrate my father’s retirement…the final Sunday at this same church and 40 years in the ministry for my dad.  Many of the congregants are original to our 1989 arrival, and watched us all, especially my brothers, grow up.

In all my questioning with today’s church, and the frustration I have regarding who is in and who isn’t, this weekend was a welcome relief. I watched a sizable group of people express heartfelt and earnest love to my parents. And I have seen my parents over the years, do this in return. I saw a body of believers, who in our human messiness, remained for the long haul. Sure, their 25 years had it’s fair share of difficulty and disappointment. But I also recognized laughter, generosity, abundance, integrity. I witnessed a church who stood by my parents, earning the right to speak into one another’s lives.

In conversation with my mom, she tearfully said the church received their best. The five of us have had to figure it out, sometimes not being the priority in a minister’s family, sometimes craving the attention of two very busy, very tapped out parents. We each have had to come to terms with this, some more easily than others. However, on Sunday, I recognized redemption. Each one of us was a minister too…maybe not actively, but certainly passively. We learned how to love well, how to give generously, how to prioritize our families, how to seek health. We were taught how to give grace to others…how to forgive…because my parents, possibly wishing it was all perfect, know it wasn’t. They know things fell to the wayside, and sometimes they fell apart. But, these relationships, family and church, are long running. This honesty is where healing begins, where forgiveness happens, and where the past can be laid to rest.

I long to give this gift to my children…to see me in my messiness. Maybe I will recognize it and seek forgiveness, or maybe they will tell me about it later. I pray that I handle it as mine have. I own it, seek to make amends, and move forward the best way we all know how.

Thank you to my parents, who have modeled humility and kindness. In this, I think maybe we kids did get the best. We got to be privy to the real pastors, and what it looks like when things fall far from ideal. I am grateful to you, Dad and Terry, for the model of integrity and humor that has carried you through many a difficult time. I am grateful to you for resting in the lack of resolution, knowing things would eventually come around. I am grateful to you for being honest about what not to do. You have provided a wonderful jumping off point for each one of us in our own life journeys. I am indebted to you for demonstrating what love truly looks like, and sometimes it is not what we expect. You have been faithful in what God has entrusted to you.

I hope the next chapter provides a new place of freedom and discovery. Plus maybe a healthy dose of Colorado goodness.

Perfect love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.          1 John 4:17 NIV

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. 1 John 4:17-18 MSG

This past summer, I finally relented and purchased a new-to-me mountain bike. My previous ride was a tank with squealing brakes. It was not a fun experience…or safe, for that matter. The hope was if I got a lighter, better bike, I might actually enjoy mountain biking and not be so darn scared. In the past, I may have been known to, in a moment of desperation,  throw set aside my bike before sobbing in the fetal position, Eric looking on in disbelief, but not surprise.

I began challenging myself more on local trails, going out alone, taking my time. I became aware of a problematic tendency. Through some patient coaching from my husband, I came to realize how uber focused I was on each obstacle. Every rock or root, instead of increasing my pedal cadence and moving up and over, I would come to a near stop to maneuver around, so as not to fall. However, anyone who has ever mountain biked or skied, knows that momentum is essential. The moment I allowed fear into the experience, I became virtually paralyzed.

Fear is a powerful motivator…a motivator towards control, perfection, scrutiny. When I become afraid in my life, like on my bike, moving forward well is impossible, and each bump in the road becomes an object of concern. I exist in a land of extremes. Everything becomes worrisome, everyone is criticizing me, I can do nothing right or valuable, I am always going to fail. I can never live up to my expectations (nor can anyone else). I get blocked, creativity comes to a stand still, because I’m terrified of what others will think. Relationships are harmed, when I feel lonely as a result of my fear, because I isolate myself. Health suffers because of the need to strive and be in control. I cannot enjoy the things that bring most pleasure…typically, the small things.

While mountain biking, when I allowed fear to motivate my actions, I was miserable and actually less safe. When I let fear in – instead of yielding to trust – hope, joy, and peace all leave, along with desire.  I become so overwhelmingly concerned with the “what-ifs”, there can be no joy or promise in the journey.

What about fear and love? If perfect love drives out fear, could it be possible that the reverse is true…fear drives out love?

If there is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear and God is love, then the Holy Spirit would also be love. The indicators of a life lived according to the Spirit (Galatians 5), are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. If we live a life characterized by fear, and love and fear cannot co-exist, then potentially could our lives demonstrate hate, misery, conflict, impatience, unkindness, harshness, cheating, gluttony and greed?

I wonder, how has the Christian expression of love, possibly been perceived as the opposite, hate? We may think we are loving someone, because we don’t want to be complicit in their “sin”, by speaking Truth as we see it, or as we believe the Bible says. Is love actually motivating our hearts here, or is it mainly fear? I have to check my motives. Am I being motivated out of generosity, freedom and grace? Or scarcity, control and shame? God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’sThis is a game changer. We are to be free of worry…our standing is identical with Christ’s when we live a life of love. Why are we so afraid?

Fear is a block. Fear cancels our ability to perceive the love of God, and our ability to love others. When I am afraid, seeing beauty or experiencing grace and gratitude is an impossibility. I live stuck. I live in scarcity. The only way I can combat fear when it rises up, is to stop. I have to stop in the moment, seek the face of the One who adores me, made me, knows me and loves me beyond measure. I have to look up and give up. There is no way I can move forward when I am living while trying to control. I have to surrender…turn my palms over, dump out the contents, face them upward to receive the goodness that only the Lord can give. Only in this “letting go” can I receive again.

Living in love or living in fear is a choice, it’s a fight. Honestly, some days, fear wins. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. Thankfully, I recognize the power of God’s wonderful and magnificent grace that comes in and breathes relief, hope, freedom and mercy into my soul. It reminds me, through Jesus, I always get a do-over. I always am loved. I always am worthy.

I always have hope.

Complete Stop

photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc
photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc

Internal tension reaches a fever pitch the week between Christmas and New Year’s. So much mental and physical energy is spent getting to Christmas, and then…done. We have our day or two of detox, yet life doesn’t quite return to normal. The Christmas tree and decorations are packed away but the kids are still home. I am always in a bit of a netherworld during this time. Naturally, as the New Year approaches I take stock of the previous year, and anticipate the next…thoughts turning toward new goals and ways to improve self. After being on this planet as long as I have, and having only ONE resolution stick, EVER, I know to be reticent seeking big changes. New habits don’t happen overnight, requiring intentional small choices over an extended period of time to take purchase.

After the month of parties and not running, I notice my pants are fitting not as kindly. Previously, I would jerk quickly toward temporary correction…dieting, plans to exercise more, self loathing. Like a car skidding on ice, the worst thing to do is jerk the wheel. Instead it must be gently guided back on track, or better yet, pulled over to a complete stop before moving forward.

This morning, after a day of paying way too much credence to my pants fitting problem, I realized the essentiality of a complete stop. My mental, physical and spiritual health require far more than two days post-Christmas 2014 to commence on Project New Year 2015.  Of course the tension is present, the tension of living in the ache of Advent conjoined with joy, expectation and hope, along with the inevitable forward trajectory of life.  I do not want to short circuit this important work by rushing headlong into new goals, expectations and improvements. This week represents the magnitude of what God has done for us through the sending of Jesus. It is not to be considered lightly, requiring me to live small. To set my course well, reflection, thoughtfulness, generosity and grace are all required, along with evaluation of where I am cutting corners, expecting too much or little, and making assumptions.

Dreaming is scary business, asking the question, “What do I really want?” Fear is quite a contender when seeking these answers. I have a problematic tendency to believe old goals and dreams, not accomplished to the level of my expectations should be renewed.  It is probably time to let them go, while beneficial in the past, they are not to remain part of my present and future.

So, in this week (or more) of waiting and resting I will practice what Anne Lamott calls “radical self care”. I will walk, eat until satisfied, go to bed and wake up early, drink coffee, pray and write, date my husband, clean the house, wear stretchy clothes, and spend time with family and friends. I will protect my mind and heart by minimizing comparisons to others..Facebook may need to be curtailed. I know when I’m in a fragile or contemplative state, it’s important to protect from the potential pitfalls of social media. Experiencing the “less than”, the “lack” is difficult but so important. I don’t want to trudge ahead without concern for what is best for myself, my relationships, just because I’m feeling vulnerable…being excessively focused on the markers that determine my self-worth.  Is joy possible in the midst of these moments? I have to believe that it is entirely possible. Joy is always mine when I can surrender…surrender my need for significance and longing for more or better. I may have to fight for her, but she is mine as long as I settle to a complete stop and trust. Wait. Learn. Embrace. Rest.

There is no need to rush or be premature. I want to approach 2015 intentionally, without fear, but with anticipation.

Be

Claire Jepsen
“C” — daughter of the broody hen

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Of all the holidays, Christmas is my favorite. The others I let go so I can summon the strength, energy and motivation for the BIG One.  Our traditions bring much anticipation and joy, for both us as parents and our children.  I love the decorations, getting the tree out of the box and placed in the window, planning the menu, buying the gifts, stringing the kids along all month and seeing their faces light up on Christmas morning. Eating together and enjoying one another…and putting myself back to bed at 10:00 AM when it’s all over.

This year, though, has been more difficult than in the past. Each task has been monumental, like trudging through sand to get to the destination. I do it because it’s my job and I do want to, but I have wrestled.

The strain of Advent is big. The wondering if it’s all just a sham. Is it true? This Child can and will honestly bring hope, joy, peace? But what about____? And _____? And _____?  Really?! I don’t quite trust it. I don’t quite believe that He can do all of this. The world He was born into, really was worse than this? And here I am in my suburban living room, surrounded by my life, recognizing my privilege in so many ways feeling just a bit guilty for having these questions and doubts.

Sitting in the dark, remembering grace, silencing the voices, I am reminded:

Be still and know that I am God. 

Be still? Really? There’s so much to do, so many details. So much confusion and misunderstanding…and fear. So many hurting people. So much uncertainty.

Be still and know that I AM.

God, Omniscient, Personal, Human and Divine. More than Enough. Grace. Wholeness. Sufficient. Satisfying. Hope. Joy. Peace.

Be still and know.

Because God already IS, I am enough, known and loved beyond measure or comprehension. Because He is perfect, I never need to be. I have permission to let go of the fear in the form of expectations that I put on myself and assume others are putting upon me. I get to accept Hope, choose Joy, receive Peace.

Be Still.

Be restful, find pleasure, celebrate, eat, give and receive with grace, let go, be kind, love well. Be myself, and find joy in what is now, what is here. Be expecting the gifts of this present moment and be fully who I was made to be. Accept peace.

My prayer is we will trust in the generous provision and abundance of our loving God, Emmanuel, come to us. Let us love generously and receive the many gifts that our ours by virtue of this Baby born in the humblest of ways, tended to by a young mother and terrified father, lowly shepherds, assorted farm animals, and the angels. Let us know we are each loved regardless of our circumstances, our performance, or how we “feel”. Recognizing the immense beauty of gracious rest, we are invited to participate in the generosity of this time.

Lord, let me not forget this…the beauty of Your coming to our world as a Baby, in a dark, makeshift delivery room, a cave, for us all in all of our mess, muck, busy, dysfunction, longing, joys, hurts, and fears. The mess of the stable is the mess of our hearts.

He knows!

Be.

Soft

large__65829367As long as I can remember, I have desired to have the body of a little boy…thin, lanky, hard-edged, muscular, straight. I have no idea when this notion implanted itself upon my conscience, but as a young girl, I felt too curvy, too feminine. It may have been the “style” of the day and Lord knows, we were in the age of discontent when it came to womanly form.

As my back issues have progressed, exercise has been set aside: running, Pilates, spin. While grateful for the break, having more time and energy to focus on the Holiday season, I have feared losing my edges, of becoming soft. As a not-boylike grown woman, I admit the temptation is still present, to long for the lean, athletic model physique. Fortunately, and I say this honestly, I have not the desire to go the lengths required.  More frequently, I am practicing kindness…embracing, upholding and appreciating my created form, recognizing the opportunity my health and strength afford.

With Advent upon us and all occurring around our nation and world, it is easy to draw parallels between our modern times and those in which Jesus arrived as an infant. The society was harsh…oppression, pain, hunger, injustice. The culture hard, lined, furrowed, people desperate for relief and hope. He, as a toddler, hunted by the authorities. Yet when He entered our world, He came in through softness, through humility, through simplicity. The stable reeking;  the night cold; father afraid, but trusting; Mary pondering, body providing sustenance for her new precious Life. Who got the first word of the Messiah’s arrival? Shepherds. Worn, tired, grimy, less-than.

Softness, of body and spirit, provides a delicate place to land..of safety, security, and grace. To be soft is to yield, to allow for displacement. When my babies arrived I had brief moments of relishing my soft. Breasts created to nourish, belly providing a nest for the new life, arms and shoulders supple to rock. Emotions at the ready to process  joy and grief, fear and awe…all simultaneous.

I am learning what it means to appreciate softness, in body and mind, tears ever present. I want to be that place to land…a place of not issuing judgment or decree, but a listening ear. To see the world around and grieve for what should be, that which God created, yet is not. I pray this Advent that we may experience the both/and, as Glennon Melton says, the Brutiful…the brutal and the beautiful. This world has enough hard edges, and harsh stares. Let us be softness and kindness and grace to all we encounter. Let us give generously and mercifully in all aspects of our lives. Let us seek first to understand another, rather than make assumptions. Let us be open in the moments of loneliness  and lack to seek the generous voice of the Holy Spirit, the One who longs to demonstrate His Love and reveal His Presence to us. We are deeply loved and cherished, let us remember the One who came, to bring life abundant, to feed the hungry and satisfy our souls.

This Comfortable Perch

In the past month I have had two quite debilitating episodes with lower back pain, the kind where I walk as if my tail is tucked between my legs. Once the critical stage is over, I can function in short bouts, for an hour or so at a time, before needing to lie down. I have been able to catch up on a few worthless TV shows, plus finished a book about Martin Luther King Jr’s last year of his life (Death of a King by Tavis Smiley). I finally visited a local, well-respected physical therapist yesterday. I thought he was going to say something like, “Running is damaging to the body, you need to find other forms of exercise.” Or something else that would threaten my love for pounding out my problems on the road. Nope. He inquired about my couches and didn’t need to ask any more..I immediately understood. My down-filled couches are deep, fluffy, cozy and horrible for my posture.  Who knew one could develop a bulging disc from being too comfortable?

What other crucial parts of my life are damaged or injured because of my comfort? My relationships? My spiritual life? My learning? Friendships? My ability to honestly see myself?

What am I afraid of?

Over the past month, since the Ferguson grand jury reported they would not seek an indictment in Michael Brown’s death, I have been Twitter-crazed, scouring constantly for information  about what it must be like to live as an oppressed individual in this nation of ours. We stand by while people in power are not held accountable in hundreds of deaths each year. And maybe this power, for any and all of us, needs to be held with great fear and trembling.

The question remains, what damage is my comfort as a white suburban, Christian causing to the very fabric of my home, my community, my nation? And, the greater question: what power do have to shine a light on the oppressed and misunderstood folks in my own backyard? How do my choices and actions (or lack thereof) contribute to a deeper attempt to understand another?

I have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man in America.

I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless.

I have no idea what it’s like to be elderly.

I have no idea what it’s like to be transgender.

I have no idea what it’s like to be depressed or have serious mental illness.

I have no idea what it’s like to be obese.

I have no idea what it’s like to be chronically ill or have a chronically ill family member.

I have no idea what it’s like to be hungry.

I have no idea what it’s like to to suffer grave injustices in a foreign land and come to America, only to be cast aside and told to go home.

I have no idea what it’s like to be gay.

We each have a serious responsibility.  To learn. To ask questions. To place ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a moment, a day, a year, a lifetime. I have been on the receiving end of someone else’s stereotype. It feels wrong and frankly, kinda creepy to have assumptions made about me by someone who doesn’t know me. Imagine what it must be to have your entire existence scrutinized. This imagining? It’s called empathy. Empathy then breeds compassion, and compassion, love. True love…that thing we are called to above all else is our work. Those of us fortunate enough to only experience a shadow of living oppressed or misunderstood, let us take our comfort and challenge it a bit each day. Let us recognize the gifts we’ve been given and that not all are gifted the same. Let us use our individual and collective power to stand for those who have little, if any.

I am moving towards discomfort, towards not having answers, towards learning and remaining quiet..unless I want to ask a question. I am moving towards freedom from fear, where I can humbly approach another person, genuinely inquiring about what it must be like to be them. I want to not have to know everything, from my privileged perch…but to sink down and rely upon the perspective and beauty of another who must fight each and every day to be considered fully human.

Let us not rest in our comfort…for too long, anyway.

Saying Good-bye to Church…for now

There is no tension like that which occurs when I, as an adult, married for 20 years, mother of three, spends more than 24 hours consistently with my or my husband’s family of origin. The tricky balance happens while managing the expectations of each people group: the parents, the grown siblings, the children, the husband, the nieces/nephews, and most difficult…those of myself. I get caught between seeking out my own needs, to stay safe internally and sane, with the desire to be a hospitable host, entertainer and conversant. I have not found the solution to this strain, other than to manage my own needs most of all. For an introvert, this can look rather selfish on the outside, as I hole myself in the little corner of my house that provides me with a brief sense of relief. As a 42 year old, as much as I feel I’ve made little headway in this land of fog, I do know that I have grown.

As a college student, when this process really began, I would return home for breaks, longing for the comforts of home: good food, safety, familiarity, laundry facilities. Yet, even after being gone for a short time, I noticed that I didn’t quite belong anymore. Life in my family’s home did not stop for me, I felt a bit like an outsider.  Now that I have been out of the nest for over 20 years, I can say I have reached a differentiated state, where as an adult, I am learning who I am, what feeds me, exploring boundaries and respecting differences. The process, however, has not  been ideal, pretty or comfortable.

 Early in our marriage, my husband and I would have our worst times while with extended family. He would gravitate toward the old patterns of his youth, and I would do the same…trying to navigate the minefield of how to differentiate as a couple and as grown adults, while with people who have provided and nurtured life. There were many tears shed, particularly as I felt  pulled in every direction, trying to please each party entirely. Thankfully, after almost a quarter century, we have found a happy medium and a united front.

 I often wonder if this might be part of my tension with church. Just as my church served me well throughout my formative years…protecting, teaching, showing and guiding…I believe I am in the process of differentiation. The church was faithfully present during the traumatic events of my youth. I was known and deeply loved. I could say that church saved me, it provided identity, safety and clear boundaries. As I reflect, I realize now that much of my devotion to God was defined by church involvement.

I have left the faith of my youth. When I attend church now, or get with certain Christians, I feel tension. The “proving” component of my faith, the earning and the doing, needs to take a backseat.

I long to rest in the work of the Holy Spirit, in and through me. As much as I crave the comfort and safety of the people, the songs, the messages, I am still learning what it means to walk by faith, in my own expression.  I want to live in the knowledge and confidence that His love for me is sure. I want my work to be characterized by love, justice and humility. I want to live my faith out by listening, waiting, and resting.

It’s time to hang up the credentials of being a professional church-going Christian.

Spirit matters

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.  John 16:7

This has been a long winter of questions, of seeking, of long-held assumptions and beliefs being flipped and turned. Growing up under the spotlighted fishbowl of a pastor’s home, one learns how to do the right stuff, be the right way, believe the right things (some don’t..but I did, people pleaser that I am). And I wouldn’t say it was all placed on me by the dominating force of The Church (enter big deep voice) or of Religion. No, I truly believed this was my Calling. I desired to please, honor, glorify and praise God, which meant I chose well. I chose to follow the rules, I didn’t dance with my now husband at prom, I didn’t go to the theater (very often), I certainly didn’t cuss, didn’t drink alcohol, smoke or do drugs. I worked hard, was kind (mostly), was a Bible Study Leader in college, attended church all Sundays, prayed, read the Bible (even bored out of my mind), waited until marriage (barely) to have sex. I was quite the good girl and so thankful that I didn’t have to undo any major poor choices.

There is a flipside to all of this..guilt, fear, condemnation. Grace, redemption, freedom…all foreign concepts. These good-girl rules prevented the full experience of beauty and life in the Spirit. I was gifted at finding fault in others and really great at finding fault in myself. Any little thing could potentially bring the wrath of whatever and whomever.

Surprisingly, however, I discovered that in some ways living by Grace is actually harder. I did difficult  things and made tough choices in my quest for holiness (perfection) but it was spelled out…do this, do that, certainly don’t associate with that group, etc. Living by Grace or the Spirit is tricky. Sometimes there isn’t a way to define the next thing to do, or to validate a choice, or to define if I’m good with God or not.

Church…all things church…have been the source of my personal winter. It started when my youngest brother came out as gay. I didn’t wrestle in loving him, but I wrestled with the “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing. I lived with it for a time, but knew that he longed to be loved as a whole person, not in parts. He deserved to be accepted for being human, my brother, my parents’ child, friend, musician and brilliant man. It felt disingenuous to part and parcel him out in pieces…love this piece, hate this piece. Good grief, I practice the “sins” of gluttony and greed, people weren’t telling me they could only love bits and pieces of me. So why him?

I started viewing the church differently…seeing that only certain things are discussed and other things very much aren’t..or if they are, certainly not with an affirming or even loving sense. Sure, anyone can attend, but really? Can they really be fully LGBT in church? Can any of us really be fully ourselves in church or Christian circles? Fully honest? Fully authentic? Heaven forbid I honestly discuss with someone my frustration and anger at the Bible. And we think we have the authority to lord certain scriptures over people for their various “poor choices”. I’m not saying all churches are this way…certainly I have been in places and with groups of people that listen and respond with not only grace, but something even more important…understanding!

Living by Grace and in the Spirit is messy. The above scripture really challenges me, as I read it I recognize how essential the Spirit is for us. The Spirit is in us, leading, guiding, commenting, affirming, challenging. If left unchecked, my inner dialogue has the potential to take me to dark, hopeless places. When I slow down, sit quietly, surrender in the moment, I hear hope. I hear kindness, patience. I hear “I love you so much”. I hear, “You’re good..I’ve got this..I know..hang on.” I hear, “Why are you working so hard? What is your goal or motivation here? How about a little rest?” Granted, there are times where I do have to challenge this happy spirit voice.  Richard Rohr says in Falling Upward: “The Holy Spirit is always entirely for us, more than we are for ourselves, it seems. She speaks in our favor against the negative voices that judge and condemn us. This gives us all such hope-now that we do not have to do life all by ourselves, or even do life perfectly ‘right’ “.

Living by the Spirit means there is almost no black and white. Things are gray. Most issues and choices are complex and have multiple approaches from which we can get a better understanding. To me, this is Grace. This tells me that I’m not God…it’s not my job to judge, condemn or think I have the answers for or about a particular person or situation. The Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, and as unique beings, there are infinite expressions. I hear so frequently, “I just wish Jesus had been specific about the issues we face today like homosexuality or women in the church”. Some people believe Scripture is clear here, but I have to question if that is the case when it calls us to cast out instead of include, when we hear it saying, “Yes, but”.  

What if The Church was characterized as a place of safe seeking, of grace, mercy and freedom? What if we, as a body of believers lived this out? What if we checked our fear? It seems we are more known for our fear of Hell and striving for Heaven than by much else. We mistakenly think we operate best with a list of do’s and don’ts, rather than in the trust and faith in the God of the Universe, the Holy Spirit living in us. How would Jesus be viewed if instead of determining who’s in and who’s out, we love, we see people as people…created in God’s beautiful image, recognizing none of us are better or worse than another? What if we sought to understand through listening? What if we chose to see and sought to love all people? What if, as a Church, we started dialoguing thoughtfully about the hard-to-understand issues in our culture today? What if we agree to disagree respectfully, but we still continue the dialogue?

I believe this is our only hope.