Life Lightening

“The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light… whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.” -from John 1, The Message

How many times have I read through the traditional language from the standard versions of this verse and skimmed right past the the words “child of God”? Of course, being a child of God is a staggering idea if you take time to give thought to it. But that phrase has been used so much that it rolls off of me like water on oil. In The Message, Peterson expands it just enough to make me wake up and pay attention.

My true self is my child-of-God self. And that changes everything. Suddenly I see that the spiritual enemy’s primary goal is to prevent us from ever believing this astonishing statement. And if he cannot keep us from the initial belief, then the new goal is to make us forget who we are.

This broken world is all about stealing innocence and marring childhood. Our child-of-God selves get buried beneath layers of insecurity, expectations, abuse, self-doubt, and shame.

What I am learning in my middle years is that every moment I am not connected to God, I am actively moving away from my child-of-God self. This broken world floods me in an instant. But when I return to His company and protection, I am instantly back where I belong.

What does it feel like to be our child-of-God selves? Most of us cannot look back at our own childhood to find it, but maybe we knew moments of it – moments of freedom so pure we were floating.

Returning to The Message, Peterson shines a new light on the verse about the yoke and the burden. I think this is what living as a my true self is like. From Matthew 11:


 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”


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Grocery Store Gut Check

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I love my H.E.B. grocery store. It is ridiculously enormous – even for Texas. I imagine it would shock the socks of most people coming from another country, or even a big U.S. city. It is like our S.U.V.s and Ford trucks – loud, colorful, and too big for our own good. On the weekends, along with a dizzying food selection, this store also provides me with some fascinating people watching.

This past Saturday, I parked at the back of the also-gargantuan parking lot, snagged one of the last shopping carts, and headed into battle. Even with aisles as wide as most people’s living rooms, it was a challenge getting around. From the moment I exited produce, I was moving opposite an older-than-me gentleman, passing him on every aisle on our westerly adventure across the store.

This guy was fantastic. I watched him, crowded aisle after crowded aisle, gently guiding traffic, inconspicuously moving carts of unsuspecting aisle hogs, reaching the top shelf for little ladies and making funny remarks to his fellow shoppers, me included. He was ahead of me in the checkout line, hamming it up with the cashier and the tiny, tattooed, purple-haired high school girl bagging his 2 carts worth of groceries. He hollered to us, “Ya’ll have a good one!” on his way out.

Of course, he was parked directly across from me when I finally completed the trek to my car. When I finished unloading and turned around to find the nearest place to stash my cart, he was standing there waiting to snag my cart for me. I often grab people’s carts as I am walking by if I can help, but he made a special trip to the back of my car.

After that, he climbed into his big, old truck, well marked by the political stickers of my least favorite politician, and lit up a cigarette. 

My heart just sank – and not because of who he voted for. I asked myself, “What if I had seen him in his old truck with his political display, sucking on that cigarette, before I SAW him – the REAL him – in all his glorious action?” Ugh. I realized that I would have immediately viewed him differently – probably as less educated, possibly even as less kind. And he was an amazing person who had added real joy to my day! When on earth did cigarettes become associated with lower human value in my broken head – a head that struggles with plenty of addictive behaviors of its own?

I have read several things written by talented black authors this past year in and attempt to better understand the racial tensions that continue to simmer in this country. I have come across the word microaggressions almost daily. Here is a simple definition of microaggression from Google: “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.”
I don’t walk out my door planning to discriminate against anyone, but I probably do it without realizing it on a regular basis. My hope is that the rest of this week – the rest of this life – that I will remember my kind HEB smoking buddy when I interact with anyone who is a little different than me. If I would let one lousy cigarette cloud my judgment so easily, imagine what other unintentional judgments have escaped my attention.


“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen” – John Steinbeck


Ouch.

For now, I am thankful for a lesson learned, and thankful for the kindness of strangers. My eyes are at least opened a little wider.

The Customized Caring of Jesus

Birds of the AirI was reading in John (The Message version) this morning. I love how Peterson’s phrasing gets me to look at passages in a fresh way. I read about several of the miracles – the official’s dead daughter, blind men, the woman who touched his robe, demon possessed, etc..

Then, that chapter ends and in the last paragraph I saw this: “He…healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke…”

A couple things struck a chord with me. First is how he used very particular methods to heal each person. He could have been like the evangelists on T.V., slapped everyone on the forehead and spouted, “Be healed!” Instead, he took each case on its own and found creative ways and specific words to tend to the wounds of each individual.

It says he “healed their bruised and hurt lives”. He wasn’t only tending to physical needs – this implies he was dealing with heart pain, anxiety, grief, abuse – you name it.

I think He (meaning the God-man Jesus, not just some out-there, big, invisible God) is still doing stuff like that today – even though we aren’t experiencing it as directly.

If you have a bruised and hurting life right now, Jesus looks upon you the same way He did that crowd, and His heart aches for you. He is there for you in a specific way with a healing of singular design. I have no idea what that looks like, but I hope that one day you will be able to look back on your time of pain and recognize His hand in its mending.


“Our glory is hidden in our pain, if we allow God to bring the gift of himself in our experience of it.”     ~Henri Nouwen


This might feel distant or hard to believe if you are stuck in the muck. If so, just tuck it away in a brain file so you can find it later.

Christ Among Us

Christmas – Christ among us, taking on our form, knowing the touch of our skin, our little blip of a world as viewed through our eyes, choosing to live life time-and-place bound, feeling our losses, our celebrations, our hopes, our deceptions. It is a wonder beyond description, a mystery beyond explanation.fullsizerender-1

It was The-3-in-1-United who understood, who understands, the full meaning of what happened that night of His birth, when the cornerstone was thrown into the center of an infinite ocean. The ringed waves of His love and His life-giving grace continue to spread through all time, to all of us.

I went through much of my life unable, unwilling maybe, to connect to God in the form of a man. Too vulnerable, too messy, too frightening, too weird. But I live in a human body with a human brain and a human heart. And trying to know God while boxing off that part of Him left me cold, confused, and often doubtful.

Although I could never adequately explain this in words, there came a point where I needed the tangible, palpable love of the human part of God so much that I could no longer live without it. And at the moment of that realization – there He was. I immediately understood that He had always been right there waiting.

Even though I know my physical skin did not rest in His hand and the tiny bones inside my ear did not vibrate to the sound of voice, it felt that real. Maybe it was that real in some dimension I do not understand.

What I do know is that it was Jesus who met me in my desperate hour. It was that Christmas baby grown, gone and raised again. It was the Son of Man, my Savior. He was and is Emmanuel, God with us, then, now, and forever more.

Why I Avoid Taking My Daughters to the Grocery Store

fullsizerender I could post this image and shut up, but I’m a writer, so I’ll comment briefly.

I actually L’dOL when I saw that Real Simple magazine in the mix – PEACEFUL SEASON?! As long as you don’t stand in grocery store lines contemplating just how far your body is from what it evidently is supposed to be.

I have 2 beautiful girls, 14 & 11, at the time I’m writing this. Short of starving themselves, living in a gym, and possibly undergoing plastic surgery, they will never look like the women on the covers of the magazines.

I had the delicious thought of taking a can of spray paint and skipping down the aisles covering every last bare butt, perfect breast, and veneered smile just to make a point. I’m tired of it. Aren’t most of us tired of it? I wish I knew how to stop it.

I would like to start a petition among all the women in our nation – sign it and agree that you will not ever again spend a pretty penny on a magazine with an airbrushed cover promoting a false sense of beauty, creating shame, or identifying women by their body parts. Because you know what? If people weren’t buying these magazines, they would no longer be starting at us every time we buy our eggs and milk.

Anybody with me?

Fear-Free – I’m the Daughter of the King!

“True nobility is exempt from fear.” ~William Shakespeare

I stumbled across this quote a couple days ago. I almost blew right past it, but it managed to catch a thread on the edge of my heart before it disappeared.

There was a quiet stirring inside me – a whispering, “Do you know that you are noble – far more so than any king or princess? Do you believe you are exempt from fear?”

I love this translation of 1 Peter 2:9-10 from J.B. Phillips:


“But you are God’s “chosen generation”, his “royal priesthood”, his “holy nation”, his “peculiar people”—all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light. In the past you were not “a people” at all: now you are the people of God. In the past you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours.”


I heard J.P. Moreland say something at a conference  years ago, and it has stuck with my fickle heart like superglue: “Belief is anything you hold to be true more than 50% of the time.” THANK YOU, Dr. Moreland, for the immense grace of those words. They have saved me from despair on many occasions.

For I DO hold to be true (a little over 50% of the time) that I am a daughter to God. He has shown me, especially in the past couple of years, that he is intricately involved in particular moments, in my almost magical experience of His creation, in His unique provision for my complicated self. I have even captured a handful of these “moments” with my camera. Here is one from a morning when I felt a spiritual compulsion (as close as I get to a voice from heaven) to stay out of my warm bed because something was waiting just for me – a moment in space and time to which I would be the only human witness.

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What was Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote the word “exempt”? It reminded me of today’s ultra-rich – the multi billionaires, the handful of humans who live in a world without borders, without rules, the “untouchables”. From a physical sense, they have little to fear compared to the rest of us. Maybe that’s Shakespeare’s reasoning – the “haves” need not wonder if there will always be a next meal, whereas the “have nots” spend each day enslaved to ensuring it.

EXEMPT – to free from an obligation or liability to which others are subject

And God is telling me that my status has permanently, eternally shifted from the “have nots” to the “haves” column. I cannot do a single terrible thing to move into my old column. When Paul tells us “be anxious for nothing” in Philippians, it is because he knows God has given us an EXEMPTION from fear.

I can still refuse to live out the truth of my new identity, scrounging through life for the love, security and approval that already belongs to me. How crazy is it for me to live that way? It’s as if someone payed off my mortgage, but I still send the check to the bank every month. Only a very disturbed, sad person would do that.

I will try to act more like a princess and remember that God’s peace that surpasses all understanding (also Philippians) is available to me every moment. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop sending that spiritual mortgage check.

Psalm 45:13-15: “All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.”

Pay It Backwards

Hey sweet Mamas – I’m paraphrasing my favorite author here – “The day you delivered your sweet little bundles, you brought them into a crazy world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen to them. Do not be afraid.” – thought borrowed from Frederick Buechner.

Other human beings will hurt us. We will hurt some of them. The question is what to do with the pain. Of course, there are different levels of pain. What I’m thinking about today is the small-to-moderate variety of human-on-human hurt. And with the start of the school year, my mind is also on my kids.

My middle kid, 8th grade girl, got my attention yesterday. I asked her if she had any particular hopes or goals for 8th grade. She said, “I would like to be more focused and present in class, but really, I just want to try to be kind to 7th graders because I wish 8th graders had been more kind to me last year.”

We hear a lot about paying it forward, but she wants to flip pain on its head and pay it backwards. What a sweet picture of redemption.

I’ve watched the same thing with my senior. He experienced a ton of rejection from 5th grade through last year. Now most of the kids who dished that our are gone, and he seems intent on making sure every kid he comes in contact with feels accepted and respected. He is investing time and energy encouraging younger tennis players, to help their hearts as well as their tennis game.

Our hearts are drawn to redemption stories. We eat up redemption movies. It is because we all understand brokenness. The thought that we could be mended, that relationships could be healed, goes to the very depths of us.

But to live a redemption story means that you must experience pain.

Brutal Redemption

This is not intended to be a brag session on my kids. Don’t worry – we have plenty of whining, door slamming, and eye rolling around here. And I have cried myself to sleep many a night knowing my kids were in pain because of social rejection.

But what an awesome thing to help our kids consider how they can take rejection, flip it around, and pay the beauty of redemption back to younger kids. This works for me, too. I had a lot of internal pain and anxiety during my years with babies and toddlers. Now, years later, how do I flip that around and give back to the Moms who are in that season now?

What does this look like for you?

 

 

A Short Poem for My Fellow Writers

Water Will Have Its Way

I aimed to be real and wild and free and bold

No secret is worth this prison stay

I emerged to find there was no one to know

No one to hear what I needed to say

So I climbed back into my safe little hole

Built a stronger dam to keep the waters at bay

But the water erodes from inside my soul

And the water will have its way

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Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde

Go with your gut. Follow your heart. Trust your feelings — right? If I lived according to my Twitter feed – absolutely! But where would that really take me?

We all have occasional (or more than occasional) splits between our “thinking truth” and our “feeling truth”. For example, my thinking truth about a serial killer is that he or she is a broken human, still made in the image of God, with the gift of complete grace extended and waiting his or her acceptance. My feeling truth is a little more human. Being alone in a room with them would make me feel scared and probably sickened.

Or consider an extended family holiday dinner. You arrive in thinking mode. This is my family. I love them. We are all grownups now. And then, one snide political comment later, you and your brother are exchanging nasty sarcastic remarks reminiscent of your teenage trauma years. What the heck? Do you and your family love each other or not?

So which one reveals our real personal truth – thinking response or feeling response? I used to believe that feeling brain always held the trump card as it exposes what is true in our core. I still believe that our feeling responses can be useful and telling, but many times those responses tell only of our baser selves – not the self we desire to be – not the self we are growing into.

When we are hit with unexpected emotional chaos, it triggers our fight or flight response. In our house, that usually means he fights and I fly. It dredges up the ancient remnants we thought we finally buried deep enough. Both fight and flight responses are equally self-centered, with the understandable, innate goal of self preservation. These reactions are legit and reflect a real part of us, but they only tell a fraction of the story.

I am now convinced there is more merit or truth to the “thinking” responses. During an emotional storm, grace gives the benefit of the doubt to me and to others. Feelings come and go. People can change. Most of us are changing, or at least we desperately want to be. Making judgments about one’s character in the middle of a fight or flight moment is unlikely to promote healing and reconciliation when things settle down.

Thinking response zone is where my beliefs rest the majority of the time. At this stage of life, it is my chosen, mindful truths that serve as a steady compass. I have learned the hard way that although my emotions sometimes help and inform, they can also distract and destroy. They should be regarded with great caution, especially in the middle of life’s chaos.

When emotions calm, my mind can step back and acknowledge that the hurt caused by feeling responses is a part of reality, and this reflection is important. It brings humility, reminds me of my weak spots, helps me be vulnerable, and prods me to reconsider the trigger circumstance in a healthier way.

Because I continue to have patterns of self-destructive feeling responses – usually set off by haunting insecurities –  I need to pay attention and possibly make some different choices about the way I am living. But I would never want to make those choices out of fear or shame.  I want to make decisions about my priorities and my family based on the true and better me I am growing into.



On the days when my feelings and thoughts are as mismatched as the socks from my latest load of laundry, I can choose to lay both sides down at the feet of my steadfast God and trust in something far bigger than any part of myself.


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Look ‘Em in the Eyes

Intentional Acts of Kindness

We have all heard of “pay it forward” and “random acts of kindness”, and participating in this is a blessing – for the receiver, and even more for the giver. I’m all for it and try to find ways to take part in the fun.

However, I started doing something a couple years ago that has had a bigger impact on my life – and hopefully on the lives of others. It is an activity that leads to thoughtful, focused, and intentional acts of kindness.

This is what I decided – I would look purposefully into the eyes of people I interacted with. That’s it – one tiny thing. But it turns out it wasn’t so tiny because our eyes hold oceans of information and emotions, and it is hard to hold someone’s gaze without taking some of that in.

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Making eye contact has a way of throwing fast, busy connections, like checking out at the grocery store, into slow motion. You cannot do this when you are blabbing on your phone or checking Facebook. It has made me put the blasted thing away when I’m about to engage – especially with people who are serving me.

My choice has led to fascinating conversations and some meaningful exchanges of kindness. Sometimes I have been the beneficiary. People amaze me.


Intentional acts of kindness have a lasting impact because they match the deepest needs of the receiver with the best of what the giver has to offer.


Would you be willing to make this commitment? Maybe you already have. If you have or if you do, let me know about your experiences – and pass on the challenge.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.” -Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark