Depression, Billy Joel, and the Goodness of God.

Three days ago I was in the pit until Billy Joel pulled me out. Those of you who have or currently struggle with depression know what I mean…well, you know about the pit. The pit is when you hit a low and you feel absolutely worthless questioning your existence, your purpose, your everything. Yes, logically I know I am blessed. I have a loving family, beautiful children, a good husband, a roof over my head, an amazing Savior- I have all of the things. It is at this point when I list all the blessings that I usually start feeling ashamed about not being grateful enough for all of the things and then cycle back into the…you guessed it…the pit.

I don’t blame others for my emotional issues. My emotional struggles are largely hereditary and somewhat situational. The hereditary thing is something I will fight until I meet Jesus. The situational thing just isn’t getting better lately. Depression is tough. Cheery paragraph, right?

When I’m in the pit, everything about my brain tells me God is not there. My spirit gets so low in the pit that HIS Spirit is often muted. I hate this. Medicine helps. Staying in the Word helps. Loneliness hurts. Media hurts. For those in the struggle, you know what I’m saying.

Here’s where it gets weird. I am one of those people who still believes that the Spirit of God is living and active in our lives and speaks to us– maybe not audibly–but in sweet ways to remind us of His presence, His provision, and His love. This guidance has occurred many times in my faith walk. Sometimes His voice is louder than others. Three nights ago, I pray-cried myself to sleep. Have you been there? I was in the pit. In an effort to claw my way out of the pit on my own, I begged God to change me. I pleaded with Him to change our family’s situation. I asked Him again to make me the kind of person that would be a better, more supportive, minister’s wife. I drifted off somewhere between rehashing all the ways I needed forgiveness for my part in the ruination of my husband’s career for being too much me and not enough what I should be in a willingness to go wherever we are called or behave in acceptable ways etc etc etc. Some of you recognize the self-loathing journey down into the pit well.

Cue the next morning and my waking to Billy Joel singing LOUDLY in my head, “Just the Way You Are”. When I say loudly, I mean, it was shockingly loud and so odd that I giggled as I woke up wondering if Dave had changed the wake-to-radio alarm station. I am a big Joel fan. However, I haven’t listened to that song nor an album since we all transitioned to listening to music on our phones. I have the CD somewhere of his greatest hits. (My husband is really glad that we no longer own a CD player.)

Surely not, God. Surely you are NOT sending me a message through Billy Joel.

That’s crazy, right? Some of you have already written me off as delusional. Of course Joel is the greatest songwriter of all time (Don’t argue. I’m right here.), but God wouldn’t use THIS guy. This WORLDLY divorced guy who may or may not actually even believe in Jesus. I mean, I think he’s Catholic. <GASP> Shouldn’t I be hearing Hillsong or a hymn or something more…acceptable. Just to prove to myself this wasn’t God and that I was in fact losing it, I went down to my computer and pulled up the lyrics and here they are…

Don’t go changing to try and please me
You never let me down before,
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore

I would not leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far,
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair,
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard,
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
Oh, but what will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you?

I said I love you, that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart,
I couldn’t love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

The final straw to prove this was straight from God was that I had considered the day previous about coloring my hair. When I read that line, I laugh cried for a good while. These lyrics hit every topic of my prayer the night before. I was reminded of God’s acceptance, His grace, His devotion, and love…all through the reverend, Billy Joel.

Please know. No matter how long you’ve been in the pit. God hears. He knows. He’s there in the pit. Pay attention though because it might just be Billy Joel speaking words of truth to help you on your journey out.

Graduations, Vapors, and Smelling Salts.

Our middle child, Elijah, graduates from High School in a couple of weeks. We are not young bunnies, as my mother would say. Before I sat down with my son last week with the intention of helping him address a few graduation announcements, I pulled out a nearly thirty-year old address book that I received upon my own high school graduation. As I turned the pages of this well-worn little green book, memory upon memory invaded my mind. I couldn’t help myself, being the sentimental mama, breaking into another round of tears while sitting next to my confused six-foot giant son wondering what he did wrong. Seeing the names of my past jump off the pages of this handy book while thinking about sending off my second baby was WAY too much for this particular moment.

I never quite graduated to the digital address book like most of my peers, you see. I still refer to the little green address book when I send out Christmas cards…well, that is, when I still sent out Christmas cards. I referred to this little green book when I sent out wedding invitations to MY own wedding. This little book has traveled with me to college in Oklahoma, to Oregon on our first big married move, to Texas for grad school, to Michigan for more church work, to giant Houston, and then to Pennsylvania where we find ourselves currently situated. It’s pages are falling out and more address have been crossed out than kept as most of my contacts have moved over the years and I’ve neglected to keep up. The names remain.

There are names from all over the place and not just the U.S. Over the years I’ve collected Canadians, Germans, Ukrainians and added them to my little book.

My grandparent’s addresses are in the little green address book as are my husband’s. All of our grandparents have now gone home to Jesus, yet their addresses and names are there. Our parents are of course in the book. His have stayed in one place. Mine have moved a bit, but I do actually have their corrected address.

Old high school friends are listed in my book; some whom I never spoke to after graduation day and some who (thanks to Facebook) are back in my life again. I was just texting my friend Kara tonight. She’s in my book, and her address is also incorrect.

College friends fill the pages; all with their first apartment addresses. Now, most are in house number two and many are likely also addressing high school graduation announcements about now.

There are a ton of old church friends between the pages; elders and wives, youth group parents, friends. My son was particularly dumbfounded when I read through those people. It went something like: “dead, moved, dead, dead, awww they were so great, moved, divorced, oh what happened to them????, dead…divorced…deeaaaad?…no that guy IS still alive, well God bless that guy!”

After a big sigh from my son and tap, tap tapping of his pen, “Now that we’ve covered all the dead people in your book, can we please just address these dumb announcements?”

Page one of my little green address book has my daughter’s four year old script where she listed her phone number as 1234870292133. This made me cry harder and made poor Elijah just lay his head on the table in frustration. I took a breath and returned to the duty at hand.

It doesn’t feel like it has been twenty-eight years since I first wrote my name in the front of this little book. I can still see the faces attached to these names and places. I still feel the feelings of what it was to be with those people IN some of those places. I can still see my little girl writing her number down so carefully so I wouldn’t forget.

Life is a vapor. (James 4:14)

People are more than names on a page, and I want you to know that if you made it into my little green book, you meant something to me and my life. You helped me grow. I always remind my kids that often people are like waves, they come in for a bit and go back out. Waves are always changing and shifting like that. But you, my little green book friends, were attached to a precious memory; a passing moment that I wish I could have back for a bit, but I also wish I could update your address.

I’m still not ready to transition to a digital address book. You can call me old, hand me a cane and get my smelling salts. That’s just the way it is going to be. There’s just something to writing your names down and carrying them with me from place to place.

I did replace the little green book with a little blue book today. It was time. I kept the page with my daughter’s number and tucked it into the blue book, but I am letting the other pages go. It’s a graduation of sorts. It is time for new names, new friends, and new family members. I’ve rewritten a lot of the original names and updated to current addresses, if I have them, just to hang onto you for a bit longer in my new little book. Know that when I see your name, I smile and say a little thanksgiving prayer.

Embroiled.

My husband gently reminds me when I weigh in on social media debates, that “I’m getting embroiled in the mess again”. Then I feel silly and try to back out of the debate ensuing on my facebook feed. But by that time my brain is already somehow staring at the digital car crash, and I can’t look away. Have you been there?

In the last 48 hours, I observed humans, supposedly Christians, tear into people whom they don’t really know in cruel and damning ways over worship music. I mean, again with the demon guitar?!? This was the special kind of argument that people from my faith tradition seem to flock to like rats fighting over a cheeto. You can pick people from my heritage out pretty easily. They were dismissive, condescending, steeped in pharisaical legalism, down right mean at times, sure that you are going to hell, and painfully lacking on two particularly big deals to Jesus: grace and mercy. The ones who were absolutely sure of their righteousness just straight up ignored logic and common sense revealing their god of tradition; their god of absolute obedience to their creed (though they would deny having a creed). My heart broke for them as they are slaves and don’t even see it.

I grew up with this kind of religion. The kind that is sure the baptists across the street are all bound to burn for eternity, but somehow were sure that our way got all the sacred texts right… because we don’t use a piano and use just the right words during a baptism. I once heard about a kid that had to be baptized four times at bible camp because his toe kept rising above the water and the people watching were sure that baptism didn’t take if his toe didn’t go under with the rest of him. Yep, those are my people. They’ll drown you just to make a point.

Anyway, I was “embroiled” as my sweet husband says. I’d like to say in my defense, that I sincerely forgot that some of us white knuckle our biblical interpretation and honestly feel justified in our harsh judgement of others who are working out their own salvation. Nevermind the scriptures about judging others. We ignore those where I come from. We ignore quite a few actually, but there is NO piano. So we are good.

The funniest, yet most poignant, comment I read on the “embroiled” thread was “the church invented cancel culture”. Sadly, so true.

So here’s where I’m the loser, if you hadn’t already assumed as much. While I was embroiled in this mess of legalism and white washed tombs destroying others with rhetoric and biblical violence, my husband was having a bible study with an old friend over the phone. But his experience was quite different than mine. They are working through the book of James together. His friend confessed that he was struggling with the verses in James about showing favoritism because, as an animal lover, sometimes he shows favoritism to his beloved dog over his other pets. He was sincere. He was child-like. He wanted to make sure he was doing what he should do in every way. My husband told me this story and I felt ashamed of myself and of my people, frankly. I wished I had been a part of that conversation rather than my trivial facebook nonsense where no one’s heart was changed or even challenged.

My guess is, if I were to show these threads of embittered church-y battles to my husband’s friend, he would be really confused and definitely not want to join our ranks. He would take one look at the sacred words of James he is reading for the first time ever and hold them up to compare them to us and not see any similarities at all.

I love the church. I do. I love my heritage, though I probably would never be fully accepted by them as both a woman and a heretic now. I guess I’m just sick of watching “believers” destroy one another and then offer bible studies to those of us who sing Hillsong worship songs instead of Fanny Crosby Hymns to assist us in getting us back on the straight and narrow. (Actually happened in the thread. To paraphrase, “You’re going to hell for using that piano during Amazing Grace. Let’s have a bible study!”)

My encouragement to you if you have never read scripture is to start. Please forgive the hateful pharisees. Give them grace. They honestly don’t get it. Please don’t pick up a King James or an American Standard to get started. You won’t understand it. I’m not being condescending. I don’t understand those versions, and I teethed on the back of a church pew, was a preacher’s daughter and married a minister. Grab an NIV or, my personal favorite, a NLT. Start with James, and then try the gospel of Mark. I’m happy to message with you if you need someone to talk to. If you have questions, I will do my best, but I don’t have all the answers.

My encouragement to you if you were raised the way I was and going to worship is more like a box to check or a place to remind yourself that you are right, please start again. My biggest spiritual awakening and change came when I decided to completely walk away from everything I thought I knew and just read the bible again. I had to ask myself why I believed what I did a lot. I befriended people who believed very differently from me. One of the biggest spiritual giants in my life was widowed Catholic lady. She challenged me without making me agree with everything she believed. My eyes were opened. Faith over fear. If you seek God, He won’t fail you.

Above all, be kind. Be humble. Be open to the Spirit of God.

Laughing at the days to come.

You don’t have to let it all drag you down. I let it for a while. No more.

Here are a few spoilers for you:

The 24 hour news is probably bad news.

No one is making you watch.

Friends fail.

He doesn’t.

Jobs end.

He provides.

People are mean sometimes.

People knock your socks off sometimes.

Marriages crumble.

You are not alone.

Kids rebel.

They come home.

Wrinkles come.

Wisdom is better than youth.

Potato chips will never be healthy.

I’m sorry.

Pastors don’t always pastor…or actually even know what that word means.

Learn what that word means and live it for someone else.

Churches are cram-packed full of sinners and hypocrites…every single one of them.

Go anyway. It sounds like you’ll fit in. I do too.

You will mess up today and tomorrow and every day for the rest of your life.

Welcome to humanity.

This all sounds pretty horrible. Why go on? BECAUSE despite all this we have this promise that I cling to every morning when I wake up. We KNOW that God makes ALL things work for the GOOD of those who LOVE Him and are called according to HIS purpose (Romans 8:28). There is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). What else matters?

So, this culture may actually be deteriorating into a big yucky mess where you hide the eyes of your children and your stomach turns at how swiftly people forget their Maker and their redemption. You will see hundreds fall away. You will see even more willingly walk away from the promises of God selling out to the cultural trends of this moment. Press on, head to the wind.

You are not alone. There is a tomorrow with Him. The truth is, healing may not come here. You may never find your place, your home, your comfort here…but rest assured, you will there.

So…

find the beauty in the journey. Look for the good. Like a song sung in different tongues with missing notes and skipped beats…hear the message and the beauty that there are masses singing the same song. Note the resounding call that He is and will be.

Be the good in this world.

Press on, head to the wind.

You matter. He came. He won. Laugh at the days to come.

Why my husband is intolerable.

I wrote a blog last week. I hated it. I was the same old tripe that I’ve raged on about for years. Don’t get me wrong; I stand by every word that I said. But the truth is: the institutional church does not care one iota about the ravings of a wounded minister’s wife. Why? Because: money. Because: tradition. Because: power. I’m over it. I’m done writing about all that. They can continue to kill all hope for authenticity and continue to make Jesus a brand. God be with them.

Today, I want to talk about another raving lunatic: my husband. He drives me crazy. I mean that in the literal sense at times. Here is something that we struggle with that perhaps is just us. I hope someone out there can relate. During this no man’s land of being without a church to feed us (again I mean this literally and metaphorically), we’ve been given some very curt criticisms about our online personas. “Don’t post too much.” “Don’t talk about your pain.” “Don’t address that.” All good advice if you want a job, right? Our public image says so much about who we are. Our digital self is a description of how we function in our real life… right? And since my job…my real life daytime job… is marketing, I know the absolute truth is that digital image matters in real time. No one wants an employee who rants on and on about polarizing politics online. We either want silence or submission or pictures of puppies.

Enter the Blanchards. (I’m a slow learner, I guess, because I still share most of my opinions on social media.) The Blanchards share our “truth”. (Gosh I hate that phrase. Of all the stupid things American’s say, that is the worst. The Websters are rolling over in their graves.) The Blanchards are open about who we are. This was a blessing to churches ten years ago. Today, this kind of authenticity is a curse. “Don’t question the establishment. Don’t make others uncomfortable. Don’t challenge people in digital spaces. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Be the semblance of all joy all the time! Accept everyone….actually don’t do that. Just don’t talk about it. That’s better. Be silent as the grave even as the ship goes down. Congratulations on not upsetting anyone on Facebook!”

As a social media content creator, even my philosophy is “Never go viral unless it brings in money’. Today if you go viral for something deemed negative, you lose your job.

This morning while discussing my vacation time and PTO my husband was adamant that a week was nine days. In his computer-like mind, he made complete sense. He sounded like a crazy person from my end of the bedroom. To me, when discussing PTO, a week is 5 business days. It was a stupid argument, and at one point I had my finger on the phone ready to call the mental institution and guys with the little white van. He gets irate when people don’t listen to his logic. This is a trigger for him. I get irate when computer-people (generally enneagram 8s or 1s) cannot have normal conversations and infer without having to get out a calculator. It was a stupid argument.

I’m not alone with my irritation with the people God granted with precise computer-like brains. I DO respect these folks because they have a tendency to constantly seek clarity. They have a high sense of justice and fairness. They are achievers and perfectionists. They ask questions and expect answers. They enjoy being held accountable and having a standard to reach. They call-out inconsistencies, and people who are sneaky, lazy, and/or practice faulty logic or ethics absolutely abhor them. I know this. I’ve seen it happen to my husband and my daughter who is a lot like her dad. Most people hate being held accountable.

If you have read this far you are probably wondering why on earth I would write a blog like this. I wrote this for 3 reasons.

  1. Our entire culture hates this kind of person, and it is our downfall. It isn’t just unhealthy institutional church leaders that hate these people. It isn’t just me that gets irritated with people like my husband. I see resistance to status-quo questioners in my job. I see it in politics. I especially see it on social media. If you make an authoritative statement grounded in truth OR question the logic of the common accepted narrative, expect extreme push back. The sensitive policing trolls will pounce. Our culture abandoned the ability to accept other viewpoints and go about our days around a decade ago. We certainly no longer encourage dialogue. Today we allow people to be destroyed for holding others to account, for asking too many questions, and for simply saying black is black and white is white. We are no longer allowed to question anyone’s ambiguity or feelings. This line of questioning is deemed as an attack and the ultimate demonstration of hate. Logic no longer matters. Feelings are our god and guide.
  2. You are a brand whether you like it or not. Social media has made all of us our own personal brand. It has allowed us to market a digital persona and make money off that if it is deemed worthy and pleasing. Follow that through. What exactly are you marketing? There is a reason why it is important Cheerios maintains their happy yellow box. You know it when you see it in the cereal aisle. That branding is maintained for the sake of the customer so Cheerios continues to make money. Who are you serving if you are maintaining a brand? Who are churches serving if they make their ministers a brand or… Jesus into a brand? Forget about posting anything of consequence ever again. Pleasing the customer so you can maintain a bottom line is all that matters. If you have chosen to be an media influencer, fair enough. If you simply want to live authentically, sorry. You are now a servant of your bottom line and your customer base. The ship has sailed for authenticity online especially if you are a natural questioner and take note the titanic is going down or want to maintain a job.
  3. We will go down with the ship. I will be the first to tell you how much I hate having to dissect every conversation with my spouse. It exhausts me. I’m positive that I exhaust him. But our family desperately needs him. Not because I am weak. Not because I cannot make it on my own. We desperately need him because he keeps us focused on what is true, relevant, and actually my busy days are a million times more successful because of his brain organizing life constantly. When you silence the questioner, the logic seeker, you will go down with a ship that may be pretty and fun, but it also may be a ship that forgot to replace a broken valve… or whatever ships use to be functional.

Because I’m a Christian and because I care deeply for the church, I find it important to remind you (See, you didn’t think I wouldn’t take this full-circle did you?). There is a reason Israel as a general rule hated the prophets. There is a reason why John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. People have always hated the account holders. From the beginning until now, we have silenced the questioner, the logic seeker, and the folks who remind us of our purpose, of real TRUTH. Don’t hear me say that my husband is a prophet. Hear me offer a warning. If we silence people who have a logical bent or a sincere question, we put ourselves at risk. If we stop listening to truth to maintain the comfort of the cabins, we put the entire ship at risk. Lots of churches and organizations are willing to do just that for the sake of their customer base and bottom line.

Does history ever bode well for questioners?

Does what follows ever bode well for the silencers?

Baaaaarack (no, not THAT Barack).

Meet Baarack. Baarack was found in the Australian bush recently. He was so burdened by his coat that he could barely stand. In fact, he was found lying down and the gentleman who found him thought someone had just discarded a load of dirty smelly wool. Baarack was weighted down with an extra seventy-seven pounds of wool. Had he not been found and cared for, Baarack would have died within days, plain and simple.

I don’t know a whole lot about farm animals. From my tiny bit of research, I discovered that not all sheep require regular shearing. Many breeds of wild sheep drop their coats in the spring. It is believed that most sheep, being domesticated for 10,000 years now, have been intentionally breed to grow thicker and thicker coats. In essence, we did this to poor Baarack. In our efforts to do a good thing, provide cozy blankets and coats, we bred sheep who if not cared for properly will die under the weight of their own quality product.

Baarack had disgusting swarms of insects growing in his wool by the way. The filth that he was carrying with that wool that had grown over his backside…let your mind wander. Did you know that if female sheep are not regularly shorn their babies cannot nurse properly and will die? So, not only does the parent need shearing for it’s own health, but the children suffer if the parent isn’t properly cared for. The videos of the arduous process of shearing Baarack are fascinating (and gross). You can imagine, Baarack was fairly miserable during the shearing task and needed intense medical care after being freed of the wool. He had to learn to walk again.

The notion that we did this to Baraack really pains me. In our good intentions to make thicker and more affordable coats, we bred sheep desperate for the radical and regular care of a skilled shepherd.

(I once had a friend tell me that I over-spiritualized things. I believed that for a hot minute. Then I was unbelievably grateful that I DO spiritualize a whole lot of things. Sometimes a sheep is just a sad sheep, but even a sad sheep can teach us big lessons. I like that my mind naturally looks for lessons. Moving on back to Baarack…)

Baarack reminded me that in our efforts to produce a LOT of good things with good outcomes, religion has essentially created heavier burdens for all of us to carry. What makes me giggle is that a whole lot of us don’t see that we are bound by religion. A lot of people in my particular heritage will argue with you for hours about how they are not religious.

Church, we’ve weighted ourselves down and we’ve weighted our people down, and now there are a whole lot of Baaracks wandering the hills trapped under loads of guilt and confusion and non-essential “needs”. Many Baaracks are so blinded by their wool burden they have wandered looking for freedom, authenticity, and salvation in the hills.

Christians learned a lot of lessons over the last three years. We don’t need a building. We don’t need a paid pastor, preacher, youth guy, children’s gal, worship team, leader, dancer, band, bounce-house, Superbowl party, annual retreat, lock-in… the list goes on and on. You don’t need it, and if your spirituality requires it, you are definitely missing something that those things won’t ever provide. None of those things are bad things. Not one. But I fear in the age we find ourselves, these ‘good’ things have burdened us all in ways that are not helpful, and we desperately need a Shepherd to shear us all down. Shear us down from financial burdensome buildings and salaries, shear us down from consumer driven church cultures, shear us down to the absolute basics…

Christ and Community are all we need. Can your faith survive that shearing?

Note that Baraack went through some great discomfort to be healed.

May our faith be strong enough to withstand our required shearing.

May we trust the Good Shepherd to know what He is doing.

Squirrels Storing up Angst for Winter

There is a lot to stress about, and should you begin to forget all our troubles, the news and your social media feed will swiftly remind you of all the many reasons to be upset.

This morning I am watching the first snowflakes fall while a backyard squirrel chews on a corn cob feeder we put out for him, and I take note that squirrel isn’t panicking or crying because winter is coming. He’s just living his life and enjoying his blessings preparing for the cold even as it covers his fuzzy tail in specks of white. He is attuned to what he needs to do and his provisions. He isn’t gazing up at the sky, shaking his tiny fist, and counting the unjust flakes as they fall around him seeking for someone or some god to blame. He toils onward.

We are not squirrels. I suppose our issues are more complex. We face painful losses in human life. We have all lost friends and family over the last year. As I’ve observed though, the biggest loss we accrued over the last few years is our trust and kinship in our fellow man, and perhaps even our trust in our maker. We have all been on the receiving end of both a literal virus and a hateful virus where we are attacked for beliefs we hold true or behaviors that others deem unacceptable. This makes me more sad than sending friends to heaven too soon quite frankly. One is physical and cannot be stopped, the other loss is optional and is a divorce of our choosing rather than understanding, forgiveness, or reconciliation.

I do know that when I feed it my fear it grows; just as when I feed my anger, it seeps out in all areas of my life. Hope and trust must also be fed and nurtured. Loyalty and love must be lived and practiced. Like the squirrel storing up for winter, love, hope, faith, loyalty must be our focus and sole agenda if we intend to move forward in healing and healthy ways.

If your news media makes you distrust your neighbor, turn it off. If your social media feed is full of hateful rhetoric, unfriend, unfollow or log off. Prepare your winter stores with what will sustain you and your neighbor: love, hope, faith, trust.

Honey and Vinegar and Proverbs

Whenever I was particularly surly toward my parents as an adolescent, my mother with her mild southern drawl that you can only catch if you have lived north of the Mason-Dixon line, would resort to saying something like “you’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with that vinegar”. Nevertheless because I am who I am, I’ve heard this old adage about a million times from my sweet mom. I don’t know if this happens to you, but I’ve reached the age now where my mother’s voice is my inner voice. This, of course, means I hear this phrase often before I even utter a word. I’m embarrassed to confess that since I still have days where I live out my adolescent rebellion, I’ve conducted my own study of whether or not this maxim is true as far as catching fruit flies that swarm old bananas that my children neglect. And I can tell you after a non-scientific study, that in the art of catching fruit flies, honey nor vinegar can complete with a nice glass of cabernet sauvignon.

I get it though. Be nice and people may like you. Be kind and win friends. Gentle words may influence someone, and I suppose those things are all true. I work in conflict resolution and communications, and believe me, the way you spin things matter to the hearer. The adage may be a loosely summarized Proverb after all.

“Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

Proverbs 16:24

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but hard words stir up anger.”

Proverbs 15:1

Can you feel a but coming?

But, kindness is subjective. Is honesty kind? There are a lot of honest words that don’t go down as smooth as the golden bee slime. Some honest words sting and feel a lot more like astringent… like vinegar. I find it interesting that vinegar is a disinfectant and an antibacterial. It cleans windows and mirrors and has been used for thousands of years for medicinal cleaning. It may not taste as sweet and your teeth may buzz, but vinegar is equal in usefulness as honey. So if honey is the equivalent of kind words, then vinegar may just be honesty. There are a few proverbs regarding honest words as well.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

Proverbs 27: 6

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”

Proverbs 12:1

I don’t know if you have experienced this, but especially in our current cultural context, honesty is difficult; especially if you are sharing your perspective with someone whom you know may disagree. I want to suggest that vinegar you perceive spewing from someone’s mouth, may suggest one of three things:

1) Pain. Unhealed wounds have a tendency to explode from our mouths and spray anyone in spitting distance. People in physical pain can be some of the meanest people on the planet. People in emotional pain can cut your heart to pieces.

2) Expertise. There are people who communicate assertively and directly who do not waste time with niceties and ego massaging. They will speak up and out exerting their expertise and experience. Expertise doesn’t always come from academia.

3) Unheard. If you ignore someone long enough, one of two things happens. They get louder and more angry or they give up and walk. A large portion of our communities feel unheard of late. Their noise has purpose.

It is almost safer to not say anything at all, and, guess what, there is a Proverb for you too.

“It is foolish to belittle a neighbor; a person with good sense remains silent.”

Proverbs 11:12

But before you make silence your communication go-to, I want you to consider that silence is often an avoidance strategy made by people, often fearful, who simply don’t want to take the time to sort through difficult conversations and be forced to feel the ping of vinegar on their tongue much less burn their eyes.

On the other hand, silence in the presence of those in pain, or those who have experience to share, or those who desperately need to be heard is healthy and helpful. Scripture is consistent in warning believers about the danger of too many words and how the tongue can damage relationships.

So where does this leave us?

What I keep coming back to is this: Listen to understand not to respond. Speak only after you think about what you are going to say. And be gently honest always. If the motive is to be an encouragement and benefit others, then saturate the conversation with honey! If the motive is to generate friends, save face, or manipulate, stop in your tracks. If you see feel a pull to share something from your experience or to bring someone closer to Jesus, speak gently. Use vinegar sparingly and attempt to be self-aware enough to be careful in it’s application.

I love words. Words have meaning and those meanings matter to the hearer. Words are powerful; they can heal and destroy. I love that Jesus is known as The Word and though he didn’t always choose to speak, he did assertively and often. Take heart, not everyone loved the words Jesus spoke because they were just not sweet enough.

“A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.”

Proverbs 18:4

“Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach; the right words on a person’s lips bring satisfaction.”

Proverbs 18:20

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.