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Pharisees

You haven’t noticed her at church before.  She must be new.  She seems awfully young (a teen!) to have a babe on her hip.  And, what’s this?  She’s pregnant, too?  She slumps in the pew as if to make herself smaller, almost invisible. 

She’s sitting with a woman you recognize as a long-time member.  The people who have offered the young woman welcome inquire as to the whereabouts of her husband.  The two women are vague on this point.  Rumor has it that the babe on her hip and the babe in her belly have different fathers. 

Should you greet her?  Welcome her? Invite her to brunch?  Maybe it’s better to keep your distance.  Obviously, this gal hasn’t been brought up right.

If this was your response, you would have rejected my great-grandmother.

Yes, the young woman in this story was real.  The babe in her belly was my grandfather.

We all make judgments based on the limited information that we have.  The trouble is that we don’t have the whole story.  Only God does.

God sees our whole truth – the reasons we behave the way we do, the circumstances surrounding our actions, our baggage, our history, everything.  While He doesn’t excuse away our bad behavior, He does have infinite compassion for us. 

God has tasked us in return to love others without judgment, to choke back our pride long enough to realize that we don’t know everything about every person we meet.  Isn’t this what we would want from others?

Now, here’s what you didn’t know about the young woman in the story:

My great-grandmother married at the age of sixteen.  Her husband was an Englishman who swept her off her feet.  But he was a terrible drunk who beat her.  At nineteen, she took their two-year-old son and fled for her life to her mother’s house.  In that town, she fell into the arms of a man who promised her the moon – and got her pregnant.   The boy born to her (my grandfather) was treated by society as rubbish because he was a “bastard child.” He carried the shame of this label his whole life. 

Later, my great-grandmother married a good man who took them all in and raised the boys as his own.  My grandfather grew into an upright, wise man of exceptional character, who in turn mentored other fatherless boys.

I have been guilty of judging people without knowing their story.  I have judged people who seem just a liiiiiitle less “good” than me.  Unless you and Jesus are twins, you have done it, too.

For just one day, remember that each person you meet has a story. 

Remember that God is the only one who knows it. 

And leave the judging up to Him, who loves us all.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV)

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Legacy

I am unearthing skeletons.  Exhuming secrets.  It’s not really what I intended, but when you follow a thread of curiosity, you must be prepared for the unexpected.

My mother has always been the record-keeper of the family: whose great-great-grandmother married whom on what date, which cousins are twice removed (does anybody really get that?), birth dates, death dates, anniversaries, etc.  The whole genealogy thing seemed a big bore to me.  Why should I care?

But I am middle-aged now.  If my life follows the insurance agent’s actuaries, I am half-way through that dash between my birth date and the date God waves me in to home plate.  I will likely have descendants, not just ancestors. 

I am not the end.  One day, there may be a great-great-granddaughter who thinks the particulars of my life a bore.  In light of this, I decided that perhaps my ancestors deserved a little more honor, more care, more respect.  After all, they were people like me.

So I began to research.  Through www.ancestry.com, I am peeking into the lives of the family members who lived before me.  It has been anything but boring.  There are mysteries.  There are lies.  There are cover-ups for sins.  There are essentially good people, making mistakes, fumbling, struggling, and trying – just like me.  Yes, you would be surprised what the records will show about a person’s life.

If some days hence, my great-great-granddaughter takes a peek at my records, the way I have lived during my vapor of a life, what will she see?  Will she see that I messed up a lot, but that I have been forgiven much?  Will she know of my struggling faith, and the faithful God whom I serve?  No, she won’t see that from the census records, or my birth certificate, or my death certificate.

But she will know.

Yes, she will know.

On Sunday, my older daughter was confirmed into the church.  Dressed in ivory, hair up, heels, she looked so beautiful, so grown up.  Side by side, we served communion to the congregation, signaling that she has not just passed some test to “get in”, but has agreed to live her life in service to God.  As people came up to receive communion from my girl, I knew…

The faith will go on.

My faith…

Her faith…

Her daughter’s faith…

That is what I hope my great-great-granddaughter will find – when one day she goes looking for skeletons to exhume.

Choose

It was a beautiful day – crisp, blue skies, cool air, falling leaves.  It was a horrible day – screams, fire, unthinkable evil.  It was each.  It was both.  One decade is not enough to make sense of the dichotomy, to reconcile the extremes.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, and we peered into them, the black, starless night of cold eyes.  We saw evil.

 

 

We saw faces of courage, honor, and loyalty.  We saw love.

 

 

 

On that day, we saw the depravity of humankind.  We saw its capacity to inflict unspeakable pain, its ability to destroy life – the gift that is life.  Against that crisp blue sky, we watched it.

 

 

Too many.  Too many people died.  Too many good people with their song still in them.

But others were born.  Life emerged, if defiantly.  Life happened anyway.

If we continue to look at the destruction, the hatred, the evil, if we continue to peer into the gaping mouth of hell, if we fear, if we hate in return, then they have won.

But if we resolve to cherish life, to care more deeply, to love more intensely, to inhale intoxicating fall air, to take in a crisp, blue sky, to reach out with all we have…

…well then, LOVE wins.

We have a choice.

Will we prove their assumption of our greed, or prove them wrong with our generosity?

Will we respond in kind, or will we respond with yet more kindness?

Will we serve a god who says, “You must die for me,” or the God who says, “I must die for you.”?

We did not choose what happened that day, that beautiful, horrible day.

But we can choose now.

We can choose love.

For recovering perfectionists like yours truly, failure is a curse word.  Failure is at best unthinkable, and at worst, catastrophic.  To fail at something would mean that I, personally, am a failure.  But this week, I failed at something – and it was good.

As part of my no-more-whining-about-the-way-things-are approach to life, I signed up for a few sessions with a personal trainer.  Stacey Parrish, my trainer, is a body building champion.  Nothing jiggles on her.  Nothing.  Dear readers, meet Stacey:

 

staceyparrish

 

By contrast, her client is a middle-aged mom who has indulged her affection for chocolate chip cookie dough a few too many times.  Many things jiggle on me.  (Don’t worry.  I will spare you the photo of me in a bikini.  Wait.  I don’t even own a bikini.)

In our most recent weight-lifting session, I tried so hard that I failed.  That is just what Stacey was hoping for.

“Failure is good!” she said.  “That means that you have worked the muscle as far as it will go.  You’ve reached muscle failure.” 

Apparently, the point at which the muscle fails is the point at which the magic starts to happen (i.e., more lean muscle mass, less flab).  I may want those weights to move with all my might, but they will not – until Stacey actually helps me to lift them.

This happens in life, too, doesn’t it?  We try so hard.  We work ourselves sick.  We chase after things, people, dreams, careers and perhaps even ministry.  And sometimes, in spite of all our trying, we fall flat on our faces. 

We fail.

But like muscle failure, this is when the magic happens!  When we at last come to the end of ourselves, God is there to do the heavy lifting. 

There is no such thing as failure to Him.  Everything is under His supreme control.  The moment we feel our weakest is the moment He really goes to work.

Have you failed at something?  Then give thanks!  Thank Him for what He is about to do in your life.  Thank Him for being there to lift the burden.  Thank Him in the midst of failure.

Then sit back, and watch the magic unfold.

 

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  (1 Corinthians 1:25, NIV)

I checked off another birthday this week.  This one was difficult to accept.  It wasn’t a milestone birthday.  It’s just that upon examination, my life isn’t what I thought it would be by this point.  I am not who I wanted to be.

I asked Hubs, “What’s so great about being this age?  Please tell me.  I need to focus on something positive.”

Sweet thing that he is, he tried to comfort me with talk of wisdom and depth.  Somehow, those perks seemed worth little when weighed against drawbacks like wrinkles, gray hair and sagging body parts.

So I had myself a good, long think.

I thought about how I spent my youth borrowing against the future.  I couldn’t wait to get to the next thing.  I always wanted to look older.  Never satisfied…

I thought about how that shifted.  Around age forty, I started looking back.  I missed the trappings of youth.  I wanted to look younger.  Never satisfied…

Like a giant light bulb illuminating my pity party, it hit me: 

Why not just be satisfied with this moment, this age, this life right now – just as it is? 

What if wishing to be somewhere else, or pining for my youth, or nursing my dissatisfaction is sapping my energy and joy? 

What if all this “wishing for different” is really me playing the victim?

Gasp.  Shudder.  Ew.  Gross. 

As folks say in the south, “I tell you what.”  (Contextual translation:  “I am so over that.”)  It is time for some changes. 

I don’t have God’s perspective, so I’m leaning on His.  I have laid out my every activity and attitude before Him and asked, “Is this what You would have for me?”  The answers have been surprising. 

He is renovating.  I am an observer, watching Him work.  As the drywall dust settles, I see glimpses of a new creation.

And what freedom!  I am no longer a powerless woman having a pathetic mid-life crisis.  I am His project, which means I am fully empowered to move forward – with boldness.  I can say “no, thank you” to things which might be burdensome, and give a resounding “yes!” to things which He has determined are right for me.

Birthdays need not be a funereal passing of another year. 

They can be the start of something wonderful – a birth-day, a cause for celebration.

Today can be a birth-day.  It’s all in the attitude.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!”  (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)

Roadrage Man

Sometimes the smallest events can be lessons from heaven.  I just got one.  The teacher?  A bonafide jerk on the freeway.

My mother-in-law is here for a visit, and rather than try to squeeze a lunch out of an empty pantry, we thought we’d go out to lunch.  As we drove down the road with my ten-year-old daughter in the back seat, I became aware that the guy behind me was getting intimate with my rear bumper.  I was already speeding (ahem), so I didn’t go any faster.   I couldn’t really move to the next lane because it was fairly occupied by other cars.

That made him mad.

He got within kissing distance of my bumper, and then darted into a gap in the right lane.  Just as he passed my mother-in-law and daughter on the passenger side (at probably 80 mph), he expressed his feelings in no uncertain terms.

That’s right.  He stuck his arm out the window and flipped us the bird.

Without hesitation, my husband’s mother raised her hand and returned his gesture – by blessing him with the sign of the cross.

Ha!

Honestly, that was not what I thought of doing.  If I had been alone, I might’ve shouted some choice words from the comfort of my car.  (With the windows rolled up.)  Jerk!

But my mother-in-law is older and wiser than me.

So we prayed:

“Dear Jesus, that man must be a very angry person.  Please help him to be calm and not hurt anyone today.”

Even after praying, I felt … violated.  As if he had spit in my face.  But scripture worked its way into my mind.  God’s word spoke softly to me, like a gentle melody.

“A soft answer turns away wrath,” it whispered.

“Do not return evil for evil,” it instructed.

“Love your enemy,” it thrummed.

And eventually, I exhaled. 

Calm. 

Mercy. 

Grace.

Mr. Roadrage Man , wherever you are, I really do wish you the best.  You must have had a really crummy day.  Or maybe someone mistreated you.  Or maybe your mama never taught you any manners.  Whatever your situation, I hope you find peace.  I pray you find Jesus.

Much love,

Wendi

I almost quit blogging.  I came face to face this weekend with what I thought was a disparity between being “Christian enough” to have a faith blog… and where I am.

I joined 649 other women from 44 states and 4 countries in Concord, NC for a conference of Christian women speakers, writers and ministry leaders.  It is a conference for those who are serious about spreading the gospel.

Then there is me.

I came away from the conference feeling totally inadequate to speak in His name.  Ill-equipped.  Not Christian enough.  If I tell you what reasons I thought others might find me unworthy to write a faith blog, you might laugh at me.  Or perhaps you’d be convinced to unsubscribe from this blog immediately.  Either way, here goes:

  • I do not raise my hand(s) in church during songs.  I like praise songs, but do you know what really sends me over the edge?  This music right here.  I am incapable of listening to this without being moved to a puddle of reverent, emotional, holy adoration.  A Bach fugue on a giant organ in the hands of a master organist sends me, too.  (I also like Alison Krauss, Sting, Ella Fitzgerald, Dianna Krall, Colbie Caillat, etc., etc., and I happen to think that Eminem is outrageously talented, even though he cusses too much.)
  • I am often confused about the man/God Jesus.  Sometimes I even doubt the whole trinity thing.  Yup.  Thomas and I would’ve been friends.
  • I love a good wine/food pairing.  I also like a margarita with Mexican food, and a good beer with a burger.
  • I have gay friends, some of whom are the godliest people I know.
  • Every so often, a colorful word will escape my lips.  (You can take the girl out of Montana…)
  • I do not read my Bible every day.

Well?  What do you think?  Are you ready to hit the unsubscribe button?  A few days ago, I would have if I were you, too.  But let me ask you this: what makes someone “Christian enough” to share their faith?  And does our imperfection make us unworthy to speak in His name, or does it make Jesus approachable?

If you unsubscribe, I’ll understand.  Really.  No hard feelings.

If you stick around to read my chicken scratches, please forgive the areas where I may be less faithful than you. 

I pledge to you that I will be authentic in what I write.  Otherwise, why would you believe me when I say that there is a God who loves you wildly, beyond all reason, beyond our puny human understanding, beyond what you can imagine?

Nobody has all the answers.  Nobody is without mark or blemish.  If you have ever felt that you are not “Christian enough” to go to church, to speak His name, to ask for His help, I would ask you – no, implore you – to think again.

Certainly, you are not perfect.

But most certainly, you are enough.

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!'”  (John 20:27-28, NIV)

 

 

 

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