Rejection

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

It’s Rejection that kills me
pain so similar to grief,
it’s like dying,
like being stabbed in the place just between my shoulder blades,
like being punched in the stomach with a lead fist,
like having a hand shoved into my chest, fingers wrapped around my heart
…and squeeeeezed…
slowly at first, because Rejection likes to watch the pain creep up my neck, over my face, into my limbs, my fingertips, so that I can’t move.

Rejection likes to watch me die.

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He Held the Door

Written in response to  the Weekly Writing Challenge | Fifty:  …write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words. Writing a word limited story was challenging –  I would much rather try to write a 50 word poem. But even so, the story below is true: 

Her grandparents waited in the car while she, 12, ran in to buy their tobacco. Times were different.

On her way out, he held the door.

“Thanks,” she smiled.

“You’re welcome,” he nodded.

She climbed into the backseat.

“That was your father,” grandma said. “He held the door for you.”

10 Facebook Statuses You’ll (Probably) Never Read & What it Means, if Anything

1. Look, I gained 20 lbs.!
Do I blame you for not advertising the new, softer, rounder you? Duh. Of course not. Take my profile pic, for example. It’s from a NYC wedding I attended over a year ago. I’m wearing contacts, make-up and a formal gown. It may be the best photo I’ve taken in 10 years. That’s the me I want people to see. I don’t want them to see 6:30am, gray-haired, bespectacled me. In my defense, it is called “Face”-book. Besides, I wouldn’t want to embarrass the kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m doing it for the kids. Point is, maybe your boyfriend’s ex doesn’t look quite so fine as her FB page implies. I mean, you did see those celebrities on The Talk without make-up, didn’t you?

2. My husband forgot our anniversary. I don’t even know why we’re still married.
OK. So, I’m guilty of posting a brag on my man here and there. But for all the good things I post (which isn’t much because I’m not the gushy type), there’s at least an equal amount of crappy stuff that goes unposted. And, barring newlyweds and the ridiculously blissful, this is true for most of us. Because marriage is hard. Sometimes, it’s really hard. Not that I recommend posting all your couple troubles on Facebook…talk about a sure fire marriage-killer! But maybe next time you come across Sally’s post about her best-ever husband who makes her breakfast in bed every morning and serenades her with loves songs written just for her each night – maybe you’ll remember that even if her husband is perfect (which, trust me, he isn’t) the rest of us are slogging it out in the trenches of love, just like you.

3. We’re struggling financially and now our house is in foreclosure. #soblessed
I write this from a desk in suburban Connecticut, where UGG’s, a North Face fleece and an iPhone are practically requirements for middle school. Imagine what it would be like to endure foreclosure while rubbing elbows with lawyers and brokers at the winter choral concert. It was bad enough having to explain to my kindergartener’s friend how we get on without a garage. I’m so tired of feeling like our financial value mirrors our personal value. This is America, after all…you know, give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses…right?

4. See me and my boyfriend in this pic? Aren’t we the cutest? He gave me an STD and now I’m pregnant. He’s taking me to get an abortion tomorrow.
I know. I know. You’re in love. For real. Like totally. And it’s going to last forever. Yes, I know, for some of you that’s actually true and aren’t you cute? But for most of you, it’s fantasy. So when you see a pic of Ashley-Ann and her sweetheart Lance all snuggled up under the blankets “just watching a movie” remember that when she gets pregnant, catches herpes or gets her heart broken, chances are she won’t share a photo of that. In part, because those who once envied her will then judge her, when what she really needs is support. Lesson: Don’t set your relationship goals by what you see on social media.

5. I didn’t get the promotion I wanted and my boss says I suck.
No one wants to be told they don’t measure up. And sometimes we do measure up and still get passed over. Haven’t most of us been there at one point or another? Of course, no one is advertising their professional failures online, likely because they’re hoping to actually get another job. (And now that companies purchase social media records of applicants, this is probably a good plan.) However, rest assured, you are not alone. And you are more than your career.

6. My son was arrested for DUI. My other son is an A student plagued by perfectionism. And my daughter’s addicted to prescription drugs (which she stole from me).
Now this one’s tricky, because posting negative stuff about our kids online would just be bad parenting. And of course, we all love our kids. We think they’re adorable and funny and talented and loving and generous and compassionate. And they are! But they’re also challenging, demanding, selfish and struggling through this life like the rest of us. They aren’t trophies. We can’t use them as the measuring rods of success. Let’s not put that on ourselves. Let’s not put that on them. Don’t compare. Don’t compare. Don’t compare. Just do the best with what you have and trust God to fill in the rest.

7. The dog has fleas, the kids have lice and the house has bed bugs. #partyatourhouse
When it comes to honesty, some things are off limits. With cleanliness being what it is in America and not wanting to be treated like we’re under quarantine, we keep these little things to ourselves. (Which, in a literal sense, is perfectly fine.) But isn’t hiding exhausting?! If I can’t tell you my dog has fleas, are we really friends?

Photo by LiveLifeHappy

Photo by LiveLifeHappy

8. I prayed and God didn’t answer. I worshiped and felt lonelier. I read the Bible…nothing.
How easily we equate a “positive attitude” with being a “good Christian.” Failing to live in victory? Bad Christian. Are you complaining? 40 years in the desert for you. Haven’t heard from God? You must have an unrepentant heart. I, too, am tempted to think that if I’m struggling, I must be doing something wrong. But what if I’m struggling simply because I live in a fallen world? What if there is no explanation? Sometimes, life is just painful and confusing. Ask Job. Or read this book and see if it makes sense to you. Bible quotes are encouraging – seriously, they are – but I need spiritual transparency, too. How else can we travel this road together? And how else can we let others know that following Christ is more than putting on a happy face?

9. I spent the weekend doing homework, staring at the ceiling and wondering why I’m the only one not out having the best time ever. #imaloser
I can’t imagine living as a teenager today, feeling the need to prove my own self-worth with photographic evidence of a booming social life on Instagram, Twitter, FB or wherever. Just trying to find a hairstyle acceptable to the middle school powers-that-be was enough for me. (Especially after my Annie perm debacle.) But at least I didn’t have to worry about someone snapping a shot of my bad hair day and sending it into cyberspace for all eternity. Anyway, remember, no matter how old you are, much of life is ho-hum, looking a lot more like Lorde’s Royals video than My Super Sweet Sixteen. And that’s ok. Mountaintops are great for inspiration but life happens in the valley.

10. You don’t really know me and I hope you never do.
Really, this sums up all the others. In many ways, it sums up social media entirely.

I believe that deep down we all want to be known – truly known, understood, accepted and loved. At the same time, we spend most of our time hiding because we’re afraid that if we are truly known, we will be rejected. So we hide…behind our achievements, behind our looks, behind the personas we create for ourselves, behind the personas people create for us, behind our busyness, behind our defenses.

Social Media feeds this part of our human nature, enabling us to be known by many but only as the person we want others to see. We can live like mini-celebrities, presenting ourselves to the world however we wish while hiding all the ugly bits. The problem is everyone is doing this. And because we are so easily deceived, we begin to believe that the happy, shiny faces of our “friends” are real and constant. Then they, in turn, believe the same about us. Thus, we create this vicious cycle where we think we are relating to each other but instead we are isolating ourselves.

But that’s not what I want. Not really. And I don’t think it’s what you want either. The question is, will we settle for the superficial connections we make online or do we have the courage to seek genuine community and real relationships? It’s risky. Believe me, I know! Because there’s a part of me that hopes you never really know me. But there’s another part of me that desperately hopes you do.

So my advice to you is not that you give up Facebook or that you bare your soul online, but rather that you think about the time you spend there. Why are you on social media? What is it doing for you? Are you honest about who you are? Do you spend too much time comparing yourself and your family to others? How can you connect more honestly with others? I don’t know. Just a thought.

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge, Dear Abby.

In the Mirror

The following post was written for the Weekly Writing Challenge of WordPress.com.

Every scar holds a memory.

When I was little, my mother used to wince at the sight of it. 42 stitches from my scalp to my eyebrow. There are others…smaller ones…including the one inside my upper lip. Sometimes, I still run my tongue up and down the jagged ridge that cuts from the edge of my lip to where the skin meets my gums.

The memory is my mother’s, not mine. An empty aquarium shattering over the hard skull of her 14 month old daughter. Blood. Deep red. Heavy.

Washing glass from her little one’s hair while she waited for the ambulance.

“No time!” the police officer shouts. “I’ll drive you in my car.”

My father screaming, blaming. The officer leaves him behind.

Doctors whisking her baby girl into surgery.

“Will she be okay?”

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

Wait and see…and be questioned by protective services. It’s the standard protocol, they tell her.

Wait with empty arms as her little girl sleeps a dreamless sleep in a cold, sterile room down the hall. Wait as they pick glass splinters from her baby’s soft skin, as they stitch the broken, delicate flesh together. Wait and see the new face. The face of a memory she can never forget.

A memory I can never remember.

In the mirror, I see the only face I’ve ever known. Scars from a memory I own but cannot find.

I don’t remember my father screaming or the officer leaving him behind. I don’t remember my father much at all. But he left a scar too. Sometimes I can feel it – running along the outside of my heart -the jagged edges I sewed together to close up the cavity he left when he left us behind. It’s not a pretty scar. I was only a child, not a surgeon. But I needed to stop the bleeding…to keep the life from spilling out of me…to stop the world from getting in.

Like the scars on my face, this heart-scar is a part of me. It’s the only heart I’ve ever known, shaped by so many memories: memories I love and memories I loathe, memories I can’t remember and memories I never made at all, but could have, had he stayed.

Scarred hearts beat funny sometimes. And they ache…for what was taken and what was never let in.

Looking in the mirror, I ask The Surgeon, “Will she be okay?”

He gently rests a hand – a hand carrying scars of his own – on my heart. Knowingly, his eyes smile into mine as he whispers, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

A Love We Cannot Fathom

The other morning as I was praying for a friend, these words just poured out onto the pages of my journal. About halfway through, I realized that this message is not just for one particular friend (though it is certainly for you, my dear) but for all of us. Happy Easter, my friends.

What if we just stripped away all the theology, all the questions, all the seeming inconsistencies of life … and just let Jesus love us?

What if we took a step back from our toil, set down our work and opened our hands. I would like to sit in a chair – perhaps a rocking chair – and rest my tired feet and aching muscles. And then, what if we just sat back with nothing left to do but receive His love?

No need to labor over this or that. Forget about if you’re doing a “good enough” job. Stop fretting over whether you said this right or thought that right. Just stop and let Him love you.

Because His love just is. There is nothing you can do to change it. You can’t increase His love or decrease His love. His love has no limits – past, present or future. His love is perfect, bottomless and complete. God’s love just is.

So what if instead of thinking about love, trying to figure it out, you just sit back, relax and open your heart?

You may say that you don’t get it – this love. You wonder, how can you receive His love when you can’t even fathom it? Here’s the thing: you will never truly be able to fathom the depths of His love because it’s His love… and He is God.

But you can experience His love. You can receive His love.

When you were a child, you didn’t understand or fathom your parents’ love. How could you? An infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager can’t know what it is to love with a parent’s love. They can’t even begin to understand such love.

Oh, but they receive it! Like a dry sponge, they soak in every ounce of love their parents will give them.

And so it is with God. We don’t have to understand His love….we just have to receive it.

He loves us. Whether we love Him or not. His love never changes, never runs out, never gives up. His love for us, for me, for you… just is.

And this love is more faithful, more powerful, more rich and deep and warm and consuming and freeing and nourishing and redeeming and forgiving and compassionate and nurturing and constant

Photo by natasha555

Photo by natasha555

and merciful and gracious and fierce and healing and completely free… than any love we’ve ever known.

His is a love we cannot fathom. But it is a love that is ours.

Let go of your toil. Let go of your work. Let go of your need to figure it all out. Let go of every last shred, every little thread, every tiny cord of control. Let go so that you can open your hands and receive.

Let go. Let go. Let go. And let Him love you. Let Him have you.

He waits. He waits at the gates of your heart for the moment you will turn the lock, pull back the heavy doors and let Him in.

He waits. He longs to give Himself to you. Receive Him. He is yours.

Lessons from Grandma

I haven’t posted anything in quite some time, but I have been writing! Today I want to share an excerpt from that writing. It is about my grandmother, the most influential woman in my life after my mother.  She passed away 3 years ago this August and I miss her as much as I did the first day she went away. This post is not only about her, but about me and just a few of the life lessons she taught me. I hope they speak to you and bless you as well.

Grandma. 5’ 10” with short, dark-blond hair (before it went white) which she set in curlers weekly for that June Cleaver kind of look. Not that my Grandma was much like June Cleaver. Gosh, I’d probably catch heck if she heard me comparing her to June Cleaver! Kim Novak…or Angela Landsbury…maybe she would like those comparisons better. After all, Grandma traded in skirts and dresses for elastic waisted, pocketless denim or polyester slacks long before I came along. And whenever she was at home, the only thing she wore on her feet were those toeless, backless, slide-on, terrycloth slippers. I guess she figured if clothes weren’t comfortable then they weren’t worth wearing.

I, along with my brother and mother, had the privilege of spending more than half my childhood living with my grandparents. While she didn’t work outside the home – and she cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed on a schedule you could set a watch to – my Grandma, Arlene was her name,  found no bliss in her domestic duties. Domesticity was her job. Period. She lived for the moments in between. Those filled with piano playing, crossword puzzles, game shows, family visits, apple pie with cheddar cheese, diet coke, Pall Mall non-filters, Murder She Wrote and Fred Astaire.

One afternoon, when I was about 10, I came home from school with an assignment. I plopped myself down on the floor in front of the chair where she sat.

“Grandma, I have to ask you a question for homework. If there was one thing you could have done differently in life, what would it be?”

“Oh, let me see,” she said, resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her wrinkled hands together. She turned her blue-green eyes to the floor to think, then looked back up at me and said, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have had so many kids.”

I, the firstborn of her fourth and very last child, stared back, wide-eyed, slack-jawed.

“I think I would have stopped after the first one. Raising all those kids…ah.” She waved her hand as if brushing away all the chores of childrearing. “Then maybe I would have gotten a job or something.”

She said it so casually, so matter-of-factly. My mind reeled. My grandma – the most dependable, reliable, non-threatening person I knew, one whose love I never doubted and whose care I never lacked – just wiped my name from her book of life!  I imagined the consequences: my mother, my aunt Joanne, my uncle Gibby, my cousins and me…all gone. Uncle Thomas and his kids the only survivors. How easily she dismissed our familial line!

I took a breath and checked myself, searching for any internal hurt or anger. There was none. In fact, if I hadn’t been so shocked, I might have even laughed. Geez Gram, I thought, you can think those things if you want, but maybe you shouldn’t say them out loud…to your grandchildren!

But I found that I couldn’t hold it against her. Rather, my appreciation for her grew. She had hopes and dreams beyond motherhood and housewifery; she wanted more than us. I wondered what held her back. Was it falling in love with grandpa that caused her to settle down and have kids? Was it her limited education? Or just a lack of options for farm girls in the 1940’s? Whatever the case, she wanted something different and yet her dutiful, personal sacrifice betrayed none of those regrets.

My grandmother was the solid ground beneath my shifting sands of life. Borrowing from singer Sarah Evans, “she was steady as the sun.” Faithful. Predictable. Available. Consistent. She loved us all and would stand by us until the end. Of that I had no doubt. That day, I saw in her, perhaps for the first time, the incomparable value of a life sacrificed for others.

She was no saint. I’m pretty sure a woman who at times shared vocabulary with sailors can’t be canonized. And her insistence that “that Mary, she wasn’t no virgin” probably wouldn’t have won her any votes either. But she was ours and nothing, not even her own dreams, would change that.

At that moment, I made a point to tuck this little conversation away, knowing that someday, when I was old enough, its retelling would make us all roar with laughter.

I learned a few more things that day. I learned that while our choices matter, life is bigger than our choices. And that our regrets don’t have to define us. But perhaps, most importantly for me, an unplanned child, I learned that our plans might not always be the best plans.

How precarious was my entrance into this world! What if my parents never met? Never dated? What if they’d chosen to abort me? It was 1973 after all.

Or what if my grandma had stopped at just one child and went off to get a job instead?

Life is not only bigger than our choices; it’s bigger than me, bigger than all of us. That day, I stopped asking “What if?” and began to wonder “Why?”

Why was I here? Why was my mother here? My grandmother? Anyone?

I was Curious.

Promises

Promise me you’ll never leave. Promise you won’t tell. Promise to help me, no matter what. Promise you’ll never hurt me. Promise you won’t turn your back on me. Promise you’ll never give up on me. Promised me you’ll never forget.

Promises. We ask for and give them so easily. What does a promise mean to me? To you? Why are promises important?

For the last month I have been reading about promises kept, even at the most difficult times. About soldiers who risked their lives to save a woman who had earlier shielded them from the sword of her own countrymen. Not only did the soldiers save the woman, but they rescued her whole family as well. In the midst of a raging battle, the soldiers fought their way down city streets, back to her home, bringing her and her family to safety. They did this not because they loved her, not because they were a search and rescue team, not because they feared her. The soldiers rescued her because she asked them to and, in gratitude of her mercy toward them, they promised her they would. It was as simple as that.

I also read about a nation tricked into making a treaty with a neighboring village. The villagers claimed, rather convincingly, to be something they were not. The nation would never have entered into the treaty had they known the truth. Even still, when the national leaders discovered the deception, they honored the treaty. One day, a coalition of five enemy states attacked the village. Without hesitation, they called on the very nation they had deceived and pleaded for military support. As a man of his word, the national leader agreed. He then traveled with his entire army throughout the night until arriving at the village. The next morning, and for what seemed like days, they waged war on the invaders and successfully defended the villagers in perhaps their most difficult battle ever. Why? Because in allying themselves with the villagers, they had made a promise, of not only peace, but of unity.

Promises. What kind of promises have you made? Have you ever been tricked into making a promise? Or maybe you just feel like you didn’t get what you bargained for?

I read about another promise. The promise of a father. He was the father of the two soldiers and of the deceived national leader. The father had raised his children to be strong, faithful, compassionate, wise, loving, patient and honest – not because he told them to, but because he too was all those things. Their father had never made a promise he didn’t keep and he never would. In honor of their father, these sons did the same. A promise made was a promise kept.

For the last month or so, I have spent most (not all, but most) of my writing time deep in preparations for our summer play and camp. I have so much I want to write about that I’ve begun to envision the topics piling up before me like a stack of sweet pancakes just waiting to be devoured. But there is no time for self-indulgence, there is a script to be written! So, in an effort to be faithful to my blog and my commitments at the same time, I have combined the two.

By now, some of you recognize the soldiers, the woman, the leader, the villagers and the Father as characters from the book of Joshua, and our focus for this summer’s program. These last few days, as I think of the story of Joshua, I see a sweeping account of a Father’s faithfulness to his children and his determination to keep his promises, no matter what the cost. As a testimony to their Father, the children live with the same passionate, sacrificial integrity.

Do I take my promises and commitments seriously? Will I honor my commitments even when they fail to meet my expectations? Will I keep my promises, no matter the cost? Am I aware of how my faithfulness reflects on the Father who risked everything for me? The Father who promised He’ll never leave. Promised He won’t tell. Promised to help me, no matter what. Promised He’ll never hurt me. Promised He won’t turn His back on me. Promised to never give up on me. Promised me He’ll never forget. That’s a Father worth keeping promises for – am I willing? Are you?

Something to think about!

Hungry Anyone?

If anyone had told me a month ago, that my next favorite book would be about a futuristic society that punishes their citizens with high-tech, Hollywood style gladiator games, I would have thought they were crazy. But when my cousin showed me The Hunger Games movie trailer on his phone at Christmas, I was hooked before I even had the book in my hands! My daughter and I spent two nights reading it aloud to each other, alternating chapters. Shouting when it was time to trade the book, “Hurry! Give it over!” or if the person reading paused to catch her breath, “Keep going! Read! Read!” On the last night, we stayed up until 2:00 a.m. sustaining ourselves with granola and chocolate just so we could make it to the end. Which of course was only nominally satisfying….because it is a trilogy!!! We devoured the next two books in a matter of days.

A book that keeps me up at night is one thing. Lots of books keep me up at night. So how do I know if a book’s really gotten to me? If, when I get about 50 pages or so away from the end, I stop reading, because I just don’t want it to be over, don’t want to let the characters go. When I pick it back up, I take my time, savor those last few pages. Even with my daughter waiting anxiously to talk about the final book that she’d already finished, I read the ending slowly, mourning its passing with the turn of each page.

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, hardly lacks attention on the blogosphere. In fact, I may be the last blogger in the world to write about it. That’s why I am not going to give the standard review, critique the book or conjecture about whether this trilogy is a rip-off from a Japanese novel with a similar plot, as apparently some have suggested. (The one thing I have to say regarding those rumors is that good writing requires hard work, creativity and talent, and while these books might not rise to the level of classic literature, they are riveting. That doesn’t happen by accident.)

For those of you wondering if you should read the book, I will offer these general thoughts: Many people may be turned off by the overall concept, the graphic violence or the complete lack of anything spiritual in such a dark world, but the novel itself isn’t dark, like say The Golden Compass. The Hunger Games trilogy is about hope and the power of life to endure, spring up even, in the most neglected of places. If your kids read it, I suggest you read along with them so that you can discuss it together. My daughter and I are still talking about it!

So why am I really writing this post? What do I have to share of any real substance? Well, perhaps nothing more than to say this book confirms the relevance of Christianity’s message and the power of its imagery even in our post-modern world. I am not suggesting The Hunger Games is a Christian book or even that the author was using Christian themes. In some ways, I think Collins was avoiding religion altogether. Why else would she have created a society who faced death every day, but spent so little time thinking about the afterlife or searching for meaning? Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining! Just acknowledging that some of the treasures I found hidden in this book were likely not put there on purpose.

*Spoiler Alert* The next several paragraphs contain some spoilers. I tried not to give away too much, so I think you could read it without ruining the books or movie, but proceed at your own risk!

First, I find that the premise of the story – that a higher power, The Capitol, rules over the masses by deceiving, oppressing, enslaving and dividing them, causing them to fight one another instead of their real enemy, the sinister President Snow and his government – is not all that different than the spiritual battle depicted in Christianity. Are we not being deceived on a daily basis? Are we not oppressed by doubt, fear, self-righteousness, pride and resentment? Do we not war with one another, if not with swords and guns, then with words and emotions?

Then, there is the love story. Peeta, who represents hope, practically oozes all things good and light. He is a baker, an artist, a natural leader and a man willing to sacrifice his own life for the one he loves, Katniss. In fact, at one point he dies and – wait for it – comes back to life. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell this one out for you, but the material’s too good – I can’t not write about it.

At a pivotal moment in their relationship, when they are far from home and in danger of dying, Peeta gives Katniss a locket with pictures of her mother, sister and best friend, Gale. Gale, like Peeta, is in love with Katniss; however, Katniss is unsure of who she loves, unsure if she is even capable of love. While Katniss doesn’t know what she wants, Peeta is unwavering in his love for her. When she needs him, he is there. When she pushes him away, he loves her from afar. When she’s at her worst, he loves her anyway. As they look at the pictures of her family and Gale, Peeta offers Katniss his life, asking her to let him die in her place – he wants her to live, to be happy, to marry Gale and have a full life, even if that means giving her up, giving everything up. That, my friends, is sacrificial, selfless love – the truest form of love there is.

Do humans universally long for this kind of love? A love that sacrifices oneself to save another? If our music, movies, plays and books are any indication, then we must. Images of heroes surround us – heroes that can save us, from loneliness, grief, pain, danger, self-obsession, self-loathing, even death. So it should come as no surprise that so many people love these books. Whether we know it or not, the story stirs something deep within us.

Finally, as a baker, Peeta literally feeds and nourishes people in a starving community. This, I imagine, was no accident on the author’s part because he is ultimately the one who satisfies Katniss’s deepest hunger. I can’t help but smile a little at his name, which is actually a homonym for a kind of bread eaten by millions of people the world over. But I wonder if as Collins was writing Peeta, she considered the One who truly satisfies.

We, every one of us, are part of a Hunger Game. Only this is no game. This is real. Look around you. Think about it. Why are you here? Who’s really in control? Are you still a slave to the unseen powers of this dark world? Do you know who your enemy is? Are you hungry? Starving for the truth? Desperate for something…or someone to satisfy your soul?

He’s out there, you know. Your Rescuer. The One who said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” is all the food your starving soul needs. And He’s the only chance you have of getting out of this arena alive.

Unexpected Gifts

Do you remember that Christmas present you always wanted but never got? I found mine while reverently flipping through the Sears Wish Book, eyes wide, excitement bubbling through my veins. I circled the picture over and over, practically cutting a hole through the paper with the tip of my pen. Then, when I showed my parents, they promptly informed me that a Barbie Dream House was not in the budget nor would it fit in our two bedroom apartment. Even after a letter to Santa and some earnest prayers, come Christmas day, among all the presents under the tree, there was no Barbie Dream House. So goes life. Sometimes, we ask for one thing and get another.

Most of the time, such disappointments are small and quickly forgotten. But at other times, they hurt. Imagine the child who wants a set of paints or a guitar but the parents keep buying soccer balls and shin guards. Might such a child wonder, “Do my parents even know me? Do they care at all?” A good and genuine gift – material or not – is one that says, “I know you and I love you. I know you and I love you.”

I think that’s why we’re often confused when we ask the Lord for one thing and He gives us something else. Doesn’t He know us through and through? Doesn’t He love us more than anyone ever could? Scripture tells us that God gives good gifts to his children – we just have to ask. Then why do we ask for work and find none? We ask for friends and are still alone? We ask for healing and death comes anyway? We ask for answers and are left with more questions? What then?

Lately, I have really wrestled with this. It’s not that I think He can’t hear me. I know He can. And it’s not even that He’s silent. In fact, He’s talking to me all the time. But sometimes I feel like we’re having two different conversations. I ask for an apple and He answers with an orange. I ask in English and He answers in…well…God language.

One particularly frustrating night, I picked up the book Beyond Opinion. After flipping to the chapter “The Role of Doubt and Persecution in Spiritual Transformation” by Stuart McAlister, I skeptically began reading. What? Doubt? Me? Never! To my surprise, I found some nuggets of truth, a new perspective, and it’s radically altering how I view the Lord and my relationship with Him.

Do you remember what happens between Moses and the Lord in Exodus 33? I consider it one of most beautiful moments in Biblical history. At first, the Lord, angry with the Israelites for their rebellion, tells Moses to take the people and go on without Him. Like a forsaken lover, the devastated Moses shamelessly protests; the Lord immediately and lovingly responds. With an almost palpable tenderness, they lay bare their hearts, declaring their love and devotion to one another. In that moment, raw with vulnerability and heavy with expectation, Moses realizes that nothing else will do but to know and be completely known. Boldly, confident of his lover’s love, Moses beckons to the Lord, “Now show me your glory.” Time almost seems to stand still.

With passion for His beloved, the Lord agrees…but there’s a twist. The Lord only allows Moses to see His back, lest Moses die. I don’t know about you, but I might have been disappointed, hurt or even angry. After such an intimate exchange, how could God not know what Moses really wanted? The usual, standard answer would be that the Lord was protecting Moses – and that’s true. The Lord did protect Moses and He did it with moving, powerful, symbolic, almost prophetic imagery of the coming Christ. (I could write a thousand paragraphs about that, but not today!) There is no doubt that the Lord was protecting Moses, but perhaps there’s even more to it than that.

What if what Stuart McAlister, Alister McGrath and Martin Luther believe is also true? That God was indeed showing Moses his glory because God’s glory is present even in “the back parts of God”.  Perhaps Moses, and we alike, must be “forced to turn our eyes from contemplation of where we would like to see God revealed, and to turn them instead upon a place of which is not our own choosing, but which is given to us. We like to find God in the beauty of nature, in the brilliance of an inspired human work of art or in the depths of our own being – and instead, we must recognize that the sole authorized symbol of the Christian faith is a scene of dereliction and carnage.” (McGrath)

We want to see God’s glory….just so long as that glory is powerful, beautiful, awe inspiring…and safe. Yet the core of our faith rests on Jesus, who was humiliated, violently tortured, brutally murdered and abandoned by his Father; the same Father in whom we’re asked to put our trust. Are you willing to look at that God? Do you want to see all of Him?

God isn’t neat, tidy, predictable or tame. Just think of Jesus for a minute. He showed up in some unexpected ways, didn’t He? After entering the womb of a poor, unwed, teenage virgin, He was born amid scandal and worshiped by mystics and the dregs of society. He acted in some unexpected ways, too. The Israelites asked for a savior who would conquer their political enemies, bring national freedom, and raise Israel up to rule over all the earth, eternally. But the King of Kings preferred to socialize with outcasts and eventually submitted to humiliation, defeat and death on a cross. Through means no earthly soul could predict, the Lord attained complete victory, spiritual freedom and eternal life for all people who would receive it.

So, when you contemplate the miraculous work of the cross, do you, like me, see the Lord’s strength and glory prevailing in spite of Christ’s suffering, humiliation and defeat? I once envisioned Christ as somehow outside of it all. But He wasn’t…if anything, He was more present, more alive, more aware of His experiences than we who live with veiled hearts have ever been. Christ wasn’t victorious despite defeat. He was victorious in and through defeat. He wasn’t strong despite the appearance of weakness. No! He was strong in and through His weakness. And He wasn’t glorified despite his humiliation. Rather, He revealed His glory in and through humiliation. In the cross, and even in the manger, we find that “God reveals himself through a contrary form. It is the back of God, which is revealed – but it is God, and not another.” (McAlister)

Recently, while meditating on God’s glory as revealed through the degradation of the cross, I imagined Jesus there – beaten, broken, humiliated and hanging on a tree. He looked like any other brutally tortured, dying man – but He wasn’t any other man. He was God. All the power of the universe, wrapped up in the flesh of one man, and nailed to a cross. The Lord, the Mighty One, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, a picture of human weakness. Then this word came to mind: vulnerable.

In Jesus, the Lord Himself became vulnerable – vulnerable to all that mankind could throw at Him. And it was in and through that very vulnerability that He rescued a cursed creation. Sometimes the Lord reveals his power with a mighty arm, but at other times He places us, as He did Moses, on a Rock, hides us in the palm of His hand and then shows us a side of Himself we’ve never seen before. He does this because He, the Great I AM, longs for us to know Him…all of Him…even the back parts.

Suddenly, I am overcome, breathless at the thought that through some divine mystery, I might actually encounter the Lord in and through my weakness and suffering. That in those cold, dark places, if I watch with the eyes of my heart, the Lord will reveal Himself to me. That He and I, for a moment, might share even a thousandth of the intimacy experienced between the Lord and Moses.

Can I be that vulnerable? What do I need to do Lord? And I hear: “Give. Give. Give. Give, yourself to Me.” The Lord knows us and loves us. He gives us, always, the perfect gift: Himself. We may not always get what we expect, or even what we asked for, but we always get Him. And for once, I see the possibility, I long to respond and give Him the only gift I ever can: Me. All of me. Warm, expectant and trembling ever so slightly, I find myself whispering, “Lord, show me your glory.”

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:9-10

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. I Corinthians 1:27

 

Why I Love “Revenge”

Confession: I love the new television drama Revenge. It’s a bit like eating a heaping plate of cheese covered, chili soaked, French fries…so delicious and yet so wrong. For those of you unfamiliar with the devilishly delicious show, it is basically a contemporary re-telling of The Count of Monte Cristo. And by contemporary I mean two things: 1) in a modern setting, where the main character is a woman and 2) NOT for children! Actually, in light of recent content, I am still determining if it is appropriate for me.

Oh, but there’s just something about watching a young, victimized woman exact revenge on her filthy rich, powerful and morally corrupt perpetrators, while posing as the beautiful, wealthy, sophisticated, girl-next-door. Who hasn’t dreamed of possessing such power, poise and endless resources? Even if just for a moment. The temptation to avenge oneself is forceful…it thrusts itself upon us when we least expect it. One minute I’m changing the radio station in my car and then I find myself devising scathing, witty comments with which to slay my enemy’s soul when next I see him.

Thankfully, such reveries are quickly interrupted by a harsh dose of reality upon remembering that I am not  clever, cold or courageous enough to act on my imaginations; which, after all, is a good thing. Fear really does come in handy sometimes. Revenge, a nasty, violent affair, often inflicts its greatest wounds on the avenger.

The main character, Amanda (a.k.a. Emily) initially experiences great success in taking down some of her fringe enemies – those who are guilty by association. Yet, like a lioness closing in on her prey, she circles closer and closer toward her main targets, the people who destroyed her family. This made for especially entertaining television at first, as every Wednesday night Amanda skillfully destroyed another immoral, hypocritical elite…so much reward for so little time invested.  That’s how they get you! I knew it was coming, the inevitable slow down. As expected, complications arose and now the story moves about as fast as a car stuck in mud…but it’s too late. I’m hooked!

However, for the first time we are beginning to see the cost of Amanda’s quest. Life rarely goes according to plan and even the resourceful “Emily” is not omnipotent. Revenge, we see, is a complicated, messy business. We find ourselves asking: What about Daniel, the man who’s fallen for Emily? Will he have to pay for the sins of his parents? What of Victoria, Daniel’s mother, and Amanda’s archenemy, who’s horrible actions are often the result of a lonely and desperate life? And what about Amanda, who Emily has locked away in a small, dark room of her heart? What happens to such a person, consumed by rage and obsessed with revenge? Can they ever know contentment again? Can they love? And if not, can they ever really live?

Revenge may not be the kind of show that inspires people (Well, let’s hope not anyway!) but it does raise some interesting questions. And for now, it holds my attention. Can it go on for years? My initial thought is “NO!” I want an end to this story and truth be told, if it goes on too long, I’ll probably lose interest. But a bitter heart can last a lifetime, and some people will wait forever to see someone “get what’s coming to them” even if only vicariously.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;  if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21