Galentine’s Day and Real Love

Thanks to Leslie Knope, Galentine’s day is upon us. There are so many things that I love about Leslie Knope. And even though she’s just a fictional character, I wish I could be her, have her energy, her zest for success, and her never-ending devotion to her friends. (Thanks, NBC, for gifting us with Parks and Rec. We rewatched it three times during this pandemic.)

My favorite Leslie moments usually include Galentine’s day, the day preceding Valentines Day when Leslie gathers her female friends and celebrates their relationships. Usually an over-the-top celebration in true Leslie style with excessive, yet personal, gifts while making more than a few people uncomfortable with verbose declarations of Leslie’s appreciation. Leslie’s Galentine’s day celebrates female friendship, getting closer to others, and love outside the demands of Hallmark, chocolate, and romance…and the requirement of women to have an interested male in their life in order to feel valuable.

I have no issue with Valentine’s Day. My dad has bought me chocolates in a heart shaped box for as long as I can remember. I like the floral cards and all the hoopla, but Galentine’s day is slowly becoming more important to me. You see, I was that girl. That girl in adolescence who didn’t feel pretty unless a boy noticed her. That was me. You know her, that annoying girl too infatuated with princess stories of damsels in distress waiting for her knight in shining armor who always showed up in the nick of time. Fast forward 25 years and now I observe my husband and my sons and how impossible it is for men to meet those expectations, and when men don’t cower to whatever female particular of the day exists, they are punished severely for it. See, Valentine’s Day is difficult for men, too.

Further, when I look into the eyes of my daughter, I never want her to feel valued because she is simply pretty or has a boyfriend. As I tell her: pretty fades but smart stays. I don’t want her to give up who she is for a manufactured and commercialized faux love. I also don’t want her to expect a prince when what she will find may in fact be the opposite. You see, my prayer is that, our children are autonomous servants of others and God regardless of what earthly relationships occur.

I fear this world’s definition of love fluctuates between impossible expectations and/or gratuitous sex. Both extremes will break all of us and are not love at all. Wouldn’t a healthier option be to celebrate real love like Galentine’s day? I suppose unyielding loyalty, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness are not sexy enough words to use in a red and pink card. If you are like me and you’ve witnessed divorce after divorce and scandal after scandal, those words are sweeter than chocolate and more lasting than the most expensive rose. And really, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness are the only things that keep any relationship strong.

You may have an amazing spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or whatever else kids call it these days, but rest assured, friend, that significant other in your life doesn’t make you important, valued, or more of a person. God bestows your worth and value and purpose. You are uniquely qualified to fulfill a God-chosen purpose on this earth. While a partner may help you, they do not bestow those gifts to you that God intends for you alone to put to use. And if that relationship falls apart or never happens, you are still expected to be the good in the world. Because the reality is human love is fallible, but you can bank on God’s love and He is all you need.

So, to my dear friends on this Galentine’s day who have stuck with me through the tough times, through ugly tears, who show up and ask the hard questions, challenge me, and move me toward action in order to change the world for Jesus, thank you. Thank you for being my loyal friend, for sacrificing your time, and forgiving me all my gross mistakes. I’m thankful for the chance to serve alongside you. I hope you thrive today. I hope you practice real love. Happy Galentine’s Day.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-7‬

Anti-masker.

I was an anti-masker before Covid 19. I’ve written articles, taught bible classes, submitted papers, led retreat discussions, and pleaded till I was blue in the face about masks all before we lost anyone to this horrible virus. And now I wonder if these literal masks, that we need to wear right now, are a lesson from God, albeit a sort of discipline from God for those of us who are professional mask-bearers.

For some of us, years before we ever wrapped those little strings behind our ears, we so often walked before God and others with our fake smiles and well-rehearsed “I’m fine” responses. We hid our sin, our struggles, our pain, our doubts long before we had the luxury of hiding our smiles or frowns behind three layers of fabric.

This is not a comfortable blog to write. I write these words knowing full well the masks I’ve worn and still wear. There are some things you cannot share at an open mic, you see. This is a fact that either you won’t understand if you are like me and hate inauthenticity OR you will understand and reading about it may make you uncomfortable. I have learned a few things over the last few years. In essence, I’ve learned that sometimes you need to wear a fake smile. You fake it for the sake of self-preservation and for the sake of the wounded around you. There are some pains you can’t share with the sharing circle. (And, gosh, I hate sharing circles. *Introverts in the room unite!* We need them at times…blah blah blah.) There are times when you must be selective about what you tell certain people. This is a fact. A fact that 1) you learn the hard way after someone betrays you or 2) because the grief or wound you wear is so insidious that sharing it sucks the air right out of a room of happy people. If you are in that precarious position of smiling through pain, please find someone somewhere where you can untie those strings and be you and be painfully, emotionally naked. It doesn’t have to be your church family, though I pray it is. Remember, church is bigger than the people you see on Sunday. Find someone somewhere who sees behind your mask. Please.

Do I believe God is punishing the world with Covid? (See, I knew someone was asking that.) And my answer is, no. No, I do not believe that God is punishing us with a virus that has stolen the lives of so many. I DO believe He will use this virus to mold us, change us, and draw us into a deeper relationship with Him because that is His goal, to draw us to Him. I absolutely believe that, and at least today, I considered that this mask issue may be one way of drawing us into deeper relationships with one another AND God, our Father.

So, for today, when you pull on that mask and you walk through a grocery store or at your place of work, ask yourself–what protective layer am I really wearing in addition to this little mask?

Are you ok? Because I’m not. I’m tired. I’m weary of smiling through pain. I’m weary of distrusting everyone… as if I needed a virus for help with that! Heck, I fear people who don’t have a fever and cough. I fear judgement. I fear unforgiveness. I fear the pain that comes from being in relationship with failable people. I fear others’ insensitivity. I have enough distrust for us all, and because of this, I wear a mask so I can hide those fears from you to protect myself and to protect you from me. And here I am writing all this while finding it very comfortable hiding behind layers of cotton so I can safely stick my tongue out at the rude lady at the cash register, and yet I am so tired of not seeing your smiling face. I’m so tired of this extra layer that I wear just to stay sane– literally and figuratively speaking.

And knowing that I cannot protect myself -much less you- from people who say and do hurtful things when they get a glimpse of the real us. I do understand if you want to stay underwraps. But you see, the world will always have jerks; the world will not always have you. And I need you to show your face for the sake of the rest of us who are barely treading water and feel alone. Your realness may just be the lifejacket that someone needs.

So enough. May these literal masks remind us to free ourselves from our figurative masks.

  • To be real, no matter how unloveable others’ may deem us to be!
  • To be authentic, no matter the judgment that comes roaring toward us!
  • To be our sinful, wretched selves whose only hope is Christ’s sacrifice!
  • To truly live as free men and women not for the sake of pleasing humans, but solely pleasing God!
  • And finally, to shake off our fear, dust off, and to try to learn to trust again!

-in love.

Cup of Pain

Here’s the deal. You know those ‘Christiany’ posts about filling your cup with joy so you spill out joy? I believe that. I do. I try to fill my cup with joy. I try to fill others’ cups with joy. I’m trying to fill all the cups. Joy. Joy. Joy in all the cups.

BUT- life is just not that simple. And the plain old fact is life is hard. Most people, especially now amidst Covid and our country’s general morale, are living lives of pain and anxiety. In fact, there are a lot of cups spilling out pain all around us and that pain will splash onto our clean, white newly pressed joy shirts should we bump into their proverbial emotional cups of coffee.

Expect pain.

And rather than shriek at the stain on your shirt and the pain of that burn, greet that person with compassion and kindness and patience and understanding rather than contempt. Then maybe, just maybe, we will season their brew with a little sweetness.

Grace, always grace, especially over platitudes. -in love.

John 6:37-38

What if…

What if every single thing that has happened around you in your life, both tragic and blessing,
every sunset,
every sunrise,
every laugh,
every tear,
every burial,
every birth,
what if every single second that passed, God intentionally and specifically used all those moments to draw you to Him?

Not causing the bad but taking hold of it and molding it into a moment to whisper in your ear…”I’m here.”

Are we listening?

God’s sense of humor.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Two years ago, I was inspired by an amazing friend who prays for God to reveal a theme word to live into every year. At first, this sounded to me like that crazy mystic-Christian fluff stuff that drives me bonkers. Nevertheless, with a cynical heart and a sense of desperation for God’s guidance, I tried it and asked God for a word for 2019. I know many of you will think I’m crazy, but I believe He gave me two words whilst I was in the bathtub ugly sobbing my way through a prayer that only a mom who is about to send her first kid to college would understand. (I wish sending a kid to college was the most difficult issue we faced in 2019.) It is probably because I am hard-headed and needed an extra dose of heavenly lessons that God gave me two words rather than just one. I wish I could explain how I know that these words were from God. I can’t. Let me just say that He inaudibly finished some sentences for me before I could think or speak them.

The words for 2019 were Trust and Loved. God proved in that year that I can trust Him, trust others, and that I am intentionally loved. The lesson was loud. The lesson hurt, but the rewards are healing and precious. I came out of 2019 no longer doubting God’s promises and viewing my world very differently.

The words for 2020 were Joy and Run. I was excited about the first and frustrated with the last. What I learned was that Joy from God doesn’t come from financial security, good health, jobs, perfect marriages, children, food etc. Joy from God comes when you can look around you into a crumbling world full of fear, hate, and mistrust and still smile knowing that God is there amidst chaos. Happiness is earthly and temporal. Joy is heaven-focused (and can be stolen–hold tight to it). As far as running goes, I did try to get back in the habit. And especially once we moved north I was running about every other day. I have wondered if that extra strengthening of my lungs helped me get through Covid, honestly. Because the cough I developed was no joke. God knows. Perhaps God was telling me to run toward the hope of 2021.

Enter 2021. Since January 1, I’ve been praying and wondering about my theme word for this year. And on January 2, I think I may have received the word…maybe. Regardless, I did get a good laugh. On January 2, I woke up and immediately thought the word “unfettered”. Now this is not a word in my everyday vernacular. I was only halfway sure I knew what it meant. At first I wondered what the heck I was dreaming about. Then, when the word stuck with me through my shower rather than fading into my subconscious like most dreams do, I researched.

Unfettered: Adjective. not controlled or restrictedFREEUNRESTRAINED

Because I believe in testing the spirits, I pulled up the Bible on my phone to see where this word fit into God’s Word. Unfettered? Could this be my word? In my quick simple search I pulled up three verses where this word is commonly used in various translations of the Bible. The first is found in the book of John where John says he is not worthy to untie/unfettered Jesus’ sandals. The second is before the triumphant entry when Jesus tells the apostles to go and find a colt or donkey and untie/unfetter it for Him to ride upon. And finally the last verse that pulled up is found in Job. When I saw one verse was found in Job, I thought, “Yep. This is it. This is the word for me.” I thought this may be it because last year, when my husband and I were going through one of the most horrific spiritual journeys of our lives, we read Job. Now, post spiritual crisis, that seems melodramatic as God led us and guided us so much more pleasantly than poor Job. Nevertheless, I pulled up the verse in Job that uses the word unfettered…

“Who gives the wild ass his freedom? Who unfetters his ropes?” Job 39:5

Wait. What? Did God just call me an ass?

I laughed. I laughed hard.

In hindsight, over the last two years, there were several, or if I’m completely honest, plenty of times when in fact I was an incomprehensible ass when it came to my faith. I doubted God’s provision over and over again, and even so, He still showed up. I was so angry at God for taking us on a journey of loneliness and abandonment that there were days when I wouldn’t speak to Him. Like a spoiled child, I refused to do what God was calling me to do because of my lack of faith. I blamed everyone in my path for my lack of effort in my relationship with God. I blamed the liberal left. I blamed the self-righteous right. I blamed the heretics living next-door. I blamed churches. I blamed church people. I blamed my parents. I blamed my husband. I’m pretty accomplished at the blame game. So, yes, I deserve that name among a few others, I suspect.

After I got over the initial shock of Job 39:5 and the potential of God having a great sense of humor and justice, I reminded myself which word I was given twenty minutes earlier. I read on. The rest of Job 39 is a list of several animals described by God that exist as a result of complete dependence upon Him. God was putting Job in his place in this chapter and essentially reminding him who was boss. Spoiler, it’s not Job…nor you…nor me.

This very same lesson God was teaching Job is exactly what He wanted me to learn over the last two years. And since I finally let go and accepted God’s guidance, the sensation that I continue to have is one of freedom. In fact, I’ve said that very word – freedom – many times since God relocated our family. I feel free.

I feel free of my fear and anxiety. (Though I do have some moments of relapse that I’m working through.)

I feel free of the constant judgement and expectations of others. (Whether those were real or imaginary, probably both, they plague me no longer.)

And quite frankly, just being able to get back into nature and seasons that I recognize and enjoy has set my soul to soaring. Leaving behind the concrete jungle has freed my spirit in ways that even surprised me, and I knew I loved nature, but now it seems as I inhale cool crisp mountain air…I can finally breathe again.

So, yes, I think unfettered is a fine word for this year. I will thank God daily for the freedom He gave this awkward questioning soul– both my freedom from the law of sin and death and freedom from where I was literally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am free indeed.

“I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” Job 42:5-6

I’m Sailing Away.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of TV news I consume and my anxiety levels. Ignorance truly is blissful. There are days when I want my naivety back and I simply want to trust that the faces I see on the street are not about to key my car or scream at me for buying white bread. My fear of others is relatively new, but I would have to admit to having some kind of social anxiety since I was a toddler. The talking heads seem to nourish my disorder by reminding me, albeit in the subtext, that anyone outside my small circle is not trustworthy especially if they look, talk, vote, worship differently than I.

And now it isn’t just the news. Social media news outlets and “friends” also remind us that we are all just fragmented parts of a very divided America. There are two distinct sides and you should firmly plant yourself in one of those groups or so they will it. Many of my family members and friends have bought into the derision of unity. We witness strangers openly attack one another and make outlandish accusations against people they don’t really know at all based upon hearsay and heartburn. And if you put yourself out there, chances are someone will take issue with what you say or even imply. Honestly, these divisions have existed for a long time. Churches have a long, ugly history of division. We should own that. Division is louder now and it sells in the marketplace. As it turns out, playing on our fears of the unknown is an easy way to control the populace and make money.

When I close my eyes I feel as if we are all on a ship heading for uncharted territories, and whether it is the apocalypse or utopia is yet to be seen or described by the captain. Depending upon the day or the current, I’m either nauseated or I’m enjoying the sea mist in my face. My vote, even if I cast it, will not stop this ship. I have zero control of the rudder and regardless of where we land, I have no choice but to trust this captain and be content with the destination. This ship doesn’t reach port until the captain says so. Sure, the ultimate destination is heaven, but right now I’m just sailing toward next year. It matters not, same captain.

I’ve learned that a great deal of fear comes from a lack of control. The older you get the more you realize that you have control over very little in life. I control my choices. That is it. I don’t control my circumstances, and I can’t get off this ship. I definitely do not control my spouse or my children. I can’t control the weather or politics or my health. I can’t control what others believe about me. I only control my attitude. Letting go of the facade of control is both terrifying and a reclamation of that lost bliss. A great deal of flexibility is required in letting go because it insists that you ride with the current more than against. Sail on!

Not everyone will like you. In fact some people, just don’t. You are not Miss America and chances are, if you are Miss America, most people will only be your friend until the next princess gets the crown. Be kind anyway. Don’t assume people hate you because of your color or religion or otherwise, and if they do, let them. Often some of us never get the memo that it is really is ok to be disliked by others and that life is not about competing for likes or popularity. And I know this is un-American, but you are not even required to fight for your right to be whatever it is you chose to be. I don’t know if you saw Titanic, but the party was definitely better below decks. When I let go of trying to please the masses, I became extremely intolerable to some, but the greatest part was being freed from the slavery of pleasing others. I know a guy who gave up all His rights. It was painful, but it worked out well for the rest of us.

I’ve had some battles with my God over trust. Yielding to Him has not been pleasant. I confess that it took me being completely empty and hopeless to let go. I do not wish this for you. Avoid it if you can. Like most virtues, peace and trust take effort and practice especially in times of unrest and uncertainty.

The waters are murky right now and fierce waves on the horizon.

Don’t be afraid.

COVID-19 and Shifting Sand

Every day I waver between believing this COVID situation will all be over soon resulting in the return of normalcy as we knew it OR right now we are all witnessing society being reset in some kind of slow cataclysmic wave. I am not exaggerating when I say that every day my feelings shift back and forth in this regard. This emotionally charged shifting sand of feelings is primarily ignited by social media scrolling and by consuming regular news media neither of which are particularly reliable or healthy.

If I am not careful my mind will take me six months into the future, and depending on the day, that future may include sitting and listening to my daughter play cello with her orchestra OR sitting in my house in a hazmat suit holding her as she watches her college dreams slip through her fingers. My mother heart worries about my sons and whether they will ever go back to school and march with the band. Fear can consume a lot of my time if I let it.

And yet, I cannot control the future.

We don’t know the future.

While it is annoying that we cannot see where this is all heading, it is probably a mercy that we can’t. Our human minds can only handle bits of tragedy at once, and speaking hopefully, perhaps we are moving toward blessing rather than tragedy. Why does our mind take some of us to tragedy so swiftly?


Shifting Sand.

The last time my husband and I were facing a big change in our life I listened to a song over and over and over, and it comforted me. You can listen to that song here. I hope it comforts you to know that you are not alone in your shifting sand faith.

I’ve learned that my faith shifts depending upon what I consume. Like the fable about the two wolves living inside a man, and the one who survives is the one he feeds, fear grows when you feed it. Make no mistake. What is happening in our world IS scary. Whether we are being controlled by the government OR whether we are all bound to contract a serious illness, both are terrifying prospects. In both scenarios we, the public, lose. And I don’t know what the solution is to either reality. I cannot control it. Neither can you. What I can control is whether I live in fear or whether I live in faith.

Am I suggesting we visit Walmart without a mask and lick the credit card scanner? No. Am I suggesting that we trust everything out of the mouth of the government? Absolutely not. I am not even telling you to avoid watching the news. But…

If you will grant me this moment in your media diet, and listen to the voice of someone who struggles with depression and who has family members who are enslaved by anxiety, be mindful of how much you consume and be aware of what beast lurking within you are feeding. And the beast within will tell you that you need to be well-informed. And the beast within will tell you that you have everything to lose. And the beast within will tell you that information will help you maintain control. And I tell you, as a survivor who still wages these battles every day, the beast lies.

  • Be informed, turn it off, and make your own educated decision based upon hope and not solely based upon a daily charged tweet, post, or newscast. Remind yourself that people make money off of those mediums, and sensationalism sells big.
  • Be aware that nothing you own is truly yours. Give it away.
  • Be aware that the people around you are of God’s concern, and He loves them more than you do.
  • Be assured that you do not even have control over your next breath. Appreciate the next inhale… and exhale.

(None of that is a comfort to those of you clinging to sides of the fear pit trying to get out. I know how it works. This is not intended to comfort; rather it is a reality check. You might even feel angry right now after being told to turn off the TV. Anger is born out of fear.)

Things ARE changing. Good things are happening within that change. People are stepping up and speaking out. Look for the good. Seek out what NEEDS to change in your family system and in your church system and in your work system, and be a part of that growth. Notice that families are walking together outside. Notice that the sky looks bluer. Take your next breath and be thankful. Be grateful to live in a time where you get to watch all this unfold. Both the tragedies and the blessings bear witness to God’s plan and provision. You may be part of His plan, so support the sick. Protect the endangered. Pick up the phone. Love your people. Make the pain of this change worth it. Breathe.

Wherever we are going, God is there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick meals.

“…to the church that meets in your home.” Paul penned those words when writing to Philemon in his letter to encourage the freedom of Onesimus. Philemon is a heartfelt letter to a personal friend for a shared personal friend. It’s about trust and love and acceptance. It’s a short letter from Paul to Philemon and the church that met in his home.

Meeting in a home is not a new thing for the church. It isn’t a trend or even a thing that only happens during pandemics. It isn’t merely what non-conformists or eccentric divisive spirits practice. Churches meeting in homes, sharing a meal, sharing the Lord’s supper, sharing scripture, and spiritual intimacy has been normal for two thousand years. What makes today different is that just our individual families are meeting together and trying to figure this out without much guidance from professionals…until all the prerecorded services hit facebook last week. But there are those who practice this out of necessity, out of a call to do so, out of desperately wanting more out of spiritual relationships.

For now, most of our friends are across town. Our loved ones somewhere else. We are all going at this alone and digitally tuning into other believers around the globe. But good things are happening in this precious time. Good conversations between parents and kids and believers from all over are happening. Questions are being asked. Answers are being pursued.  Prayers are being uttered and heard by those who’ve never spoke nor heard them. Your faith is either being discovered, growing, or revealing that it needs to grow. Good things are happening for believers, likewise good things are happening for the church. Perhaps God is allowing a sabbath where we are called to remember Him. He didn’t cause the virus. Perhaps he is allowing the break. Perhaps he wants us to ask what the point of all this church stuff truly is.

Church was always more than Sunday. Church was never supposed to be a quick meal. The Lord’s Supper was not created to be fast food. It’s now. It’s time. It’s neighbors checking on neighbors. It’s buying groceries for others. It’s making phone calls and sending cards. It’s family learning about one another. It’s brainstorming together how to DO good. It’s the ache in your heart to see and hug the people you love and to look into their eyes again…to be known, absolved, and loved for who you are. It’s waking up and becoming aware that family is seated around the table laughing and sharing and there are no time constraints or quotas to be met.  The church consists of relationships built upon the love of Christ that are so unique and so real and so accepting that you want to include others. I hope you have that. I hope you see that you need that and the world needs that. I hope you feel the call to add more plates when you set your table. 

As you miss your people, as you dive into potentially awkward prayer with your family, as you begin to notice that sweet things happen in tiny moments in tiny groups who know each other inside and out, remember to take that with you when you go back into your congregations. And don’t let this lesson be wasted. Don’t let this call to love better be forgotten. Expect better conversations, pursue closer relationships, live out your faith through the week rather than consuming a fast food Sunday. Make life together more than a quick meal. Make church more than a quick meal.

 

 

Facing Social Distancing Free time? Read the Bible.

bibleI love the Babylon Bee. I just ran across a recent article entitled“Christian under Quarantine Resigns Self to Read the Bible”.  I chuckled. The Babylon Bee puts out some of the best satire these days. I strongly suggest a follow. At any rate, I realize that many of us do have an abundance of time on our hands right now as we anxiously await the end of the Covid-19 crisis, and for the first time, many of us are not being spoon fed Bible verses once a week at worship gatherings. Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m just keeping it real. Soooo, dust off your Bible and see where it takes you. You don’t need a preacher nor a Bible degree to read, I promise.

I thought I would take a minute to share what I’ve done this year during our searching season in regard to my personal daily bible reading. It is nothing earth shattering and maybe you’ll think I’m lame. But I’m sharing anyway because this is my blog.

Here are three things I have done that have proven helpful and have developed a better understanding of scripture and growth in my faith. First find a good interpretation of scripture that is easy to read and understand. I know some people love the NIV and still others, swear that King James was the last apostle. Fine. For me, I really like the New Living Translation when I do my personal reading. I reference the New American Standard when diving into a study of the text. (We also have some Greek and Hebrew versions around here, but I won’t encourage that unless you get really excited about it.)

1. I lay aside my interpretations of the past.

Because I have been through a season of searching this step was easier for me. Maybe it will be for you too. In the past, I usually just read the Bible to prove what I already believed to be true whether it was my tradition or my doctrine or straight up my opinion. If I wanted a proof text, I’d find it just about anywhere. However, this year I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to read the Bible critically rather than trying to prove my preconceived notions. And guess what, I found some pretty amazing things that I’ve misunderstood my entire life. I began to see why other people come to the conclusions they have. I judged others less. I considered my own character and beliefs more. I had to ask myself a lot of challenging questions. This may be difficult and even painful. Take note of every time you read and think to yourself, “See, why doesn’t so and so get it!” If you find yourself saying that often, you may not be reading to understand. You may be reading to prove your rightness. There’s a difference. Pay attention to how often you treat scripture like a game to win rather than a window into the heart of the Almighty God. (And maybe you ARE right, but that’s still not the point in reading scripture for your own growth, but I’ll move on.)

2. I don’t just read a verse or a chapter.

I now read the Bible like a novel. I pay attention to the characters. I try to understand their personalities and why they matter in the scheme of the story. Take special note of customs that are weird to an American or to anyone living today. Also, ignore headings. Some dude chose those headings, folks. Sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don’t. Ignore. What I’ve found is that I get more invested in the people stories when I pay attention to the heart of the people IN the story. Instead of trying to apply what is said to my life, I apply what is written to them- about them. I’ve found this radically changes my opinion and pre-dispositions toward the people in scripture. For example, I really don’t like Jacob nor Rachel now. I’d share some pretty dark feelings about them, but this isn’t the time or place- and that is for you to determine. You may find villains and heroes in people who were once the opposite in your mind. Minor characters may touch your heart in ways that you’ve never noticed before. This really is OK to have these feelings and opinions about real people. It doesn’t change who God is. In fact, you might appreciate your own spiritual story more as you look into the lives of others written about so long ago.

I start with choosing a book and move on from there. I started in the gospels and after a year, I am on my second time through the whole thing…including Leviticus. Oy.

3. Words and phrases stick out.

I’ve also started color coding certain words. Each time I read through a book, I color code one or two significant words that I read. For example, the first time I read through the Gospel of John I noted that the word “believe” was used over and over, at least in the translation I use. I went back and started highlighting “believe” in green. This helped me to see some significant teachings that I had never truly noted before. Each of these words or phrases in my Bible are highlighted with a different color. This process of selecting a word or phrase really stands out when you read other books in the Bible. Most books have thematic elements. It reveals something about the authors in what they heard, in what meant something to them personally, and perhaps in what we are supposed to take special note. There are remarkable echoes throughout scripture from the beginning to the end.

I hope this helps someone out there in digital land. I hope it encourages you to dive into something new or something old in a new way. If you have any questions, message me, and we can talk. Don’t be surprised if you convince yourself of things you’ve never believed and are stretched to have more faith when what you read seems implausible. It’s all faith. I know this because “faith” was one of my words I highlighted in Matthew.

See you on the other side.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole: The journey begins.

ONE

Once the sour taste of love unrequited starts to fade, and you stop eating gallons of ice cream, you begin to think about slipping a toe into the relationship waters again. But commitment is not the goal. The notion of diving in gives you acid reflux. So, after forty-three years of buying into the belief that there is one way to do church and having been spiritually reared that our brand was the right brand, my family began a journey over the last year of visiting all varieties of the Christian church, all denominations. Because when you’ve been burned in a relationship, the last thing you want to do is jump into another one. And to us, church was about relationships, commitment, and love. A notion that was shattered. So we walked out the door and down a rabbit hole. 

Our roots, the Churches of Christ, have a surprisingly recent history of believing they singularly hold the cards when it comes to biblical interpretation. And while I love my roots and respect my people, my tribe, I no longer adhere to the arrogance that in the 1800s in the hills of Kentucky,  Stone and Campbell’s Restoration movement finally figured it all out. Sadly, what many in the Churches of Christ have forgotten, in their historylessness, is the original intent of the restoration movement “to be Christians only, but not the only Christians.” It was a beautiful, ecumenical, and unifying idea. As a matter of fact, the earliest members of the restoration heritage worshipped with just about anyone. Don’t believe me? I have a book for you regarding Christians on the Oregon Trail. (For now, I personally apologize to anyone who has been maligned by members of the Churches of Christ who have made you feel like less of a Christian because you don’t worship in one of their buildings. May God forgive us. And I pray you do as well. Most Churches of Christ have a rich history of remaining biblical in practice and belief. On that front, I encourage you to give them another chance. I want to. I hope they let us back in after I write this blog.) Back to our journey…

Despite my youthful understanding of Christianity, the core of what Christians believe across denominations is the same, brethren. And here it is:

A perfect Christ, the Son of God, was willingly crucified for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation because we were so loved by God.

After visiting twenty plus churches from the liturgical Catholics to the rocking worship at a predominantly black church, this is a constant.

Every church used the bible.
Every church had some form of musical worship.
Every church prayed in Jesus name.
Every church mentioned the struggle with the surrounding culture and sin.
Every church included deeply committed adherents to their practices and the faith.
Every church responded to the gospel with repentance and some form of baptism.

I have news for you friends, the order of worship is basically the same between all the denominations give or take a few participational variants and incense waves. The biggest difference you ask? Music traditions and prescriptive theology or descriptive theology. But by and large, yes, we are the same. And while some of our baptismal practices and traditions do vary which would be a point of contention with many of my readers, truthfully, we have much more in common than not even in our interpretation of baptism. The fight is always semantic.

If life would allow it, I’d take a piece of each tribe and pull it together to make something amazing; a beautiful conglomeration of Christian faith and practice. Which I pray is what God sees as He looks into our many gatherings. I pray He sees our love for Him amidst the diversity of His creation, rather than our intentional divisions because we don’t play well together. I dream of a fellowship of all believers. We need it. Our country needs it. Our future depends upon it. And Christ prayed for it.

My heart breaks when I think about how merging just two denominations would wreak havoc amongst us, because that is exactly what should happen. But we, the prideful, always right in our way, would disallow it. And we, the pastors and ministers, comfortable in our pulpits would feel threatened and defensive about our own heritage rather than the heritage of Jesus Christ’s plea for unity, His last plea by the way. 

“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” John 17

Somehow the Gentiles and Jews figured it out in the early church, but take a old school Church of Christ kid and put them in a room with a conservative Baptist and it will be a biblical bloodbath…and not in Christian love. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Oh and Catholics, do they count as Christians? Didn’t Luther clear that up for us? On that we can agree with the Baptists- Catholics are all suspect.  Here’s my confession, I’ve learned a whole lot from Catholics over my years, and if we would listen, we all could. In fact, the greatest lesson that I’m taking from this year, is how I feel protective of all these people in these different houses. And I’ll defend them. And I respect them. But that is what happens when you enter a relationship looking for truth, authenticity, and commonground. You make relationships. Lasting relationships sit in the dissonance of disagreement side by side working toward the same goal.

If you find yourself on a team with believers whose first goal is to disprove the theology of the church down the street, gently remind them that there are people walking this earth who see our divisions as evil. Christ said they would know us by our love for each other. And to the world, Christians all fight for the same team…until they start fighting with each other. Then the world shakes their confused heads, and tweet about us and call us crazy. Get to work, church, and reach out to the people who don’t already know Jesus. Listen more assuming you don’t have all the answers, and refuse to live in fear of people outside your walls who also read the bible.

Finally, I would say, if you haven’t had a chance to take a journey like this, I encourage you to do so– IF you do so to find commonality. If you go in guns blaring for bible blasting, your intentions are not pure. You are a divisive spirit. Jesus is the great equalizer. Make finding Him your goal and you will.

THe Rest of this story is currently being pulled together into book form. Pray for this endeavor and for all those on a journey of their own. Keep seeking Jesus.
If you have specific questions about our experiences, please don’t hesitate to message me or leave a comment.
I hope you don’t give up on me. I am a work in progress until my Savior calls me home. Until then, you are loved.