Compartments of My Brain

I’ve noticed that there are sections of my “brain” or thought area. It became very clear when I began playing games with my Echo Dot’s “Alexa.”

There is one game in particular where I do this. It’s called Animal Letters, where you take turns saying the names of animals that begin with a designated letter of the alphabet. For instance, if you are given the letter A, Alexa will start by saying something like “Aardvark” and I’ll respond as quickly as I can with “Anaconda.”

When I’m having trouble choosing an animal or coming up with names that haven’t been said already, I find myself searching through my mental filing cabinet. In the top left area are the raptors: hawks, eagle, raptors, etc. In the middle left are snakes and bottom left is where the bugs creep and crawl around. In the middle are small mammals, like groundhogs, chipmunks and badgers. In the lower middle are big cats. In the upper middle are sea creatures. Upper right contains apes, chimps, etc. Middle right has birds, and lower right has things like lemurs, duck-billed platypuses, etc.

Barnyard animals are in the middle – somewhere near the small mammals. Various types of goats, deer, antelope, etc are in the upper left next to the raptors. Then there are pets – dogs and cats – who are way over to the far right, separate, and special.

It’s actually kind of cool to rifle through the mental files. I picture my back yard a lot – the birds in the big oak to the right of my yard, the moles and mice in the middle of my yard and bugs creeping around the lower spots next to the pine tree and lilac bushes. Bees buzz around over there too.

I wonder if I do this with other thoughts, without knowing it. After some thought, I can see more clearly.

Childhood memories are packed away in my mind – the happy ones on the front porch, and the not so great ones under my bed. Memories of Amber are everywhere, surrounding my heart, close, cozy and sometimes melancholy.

Memories of loved ones past, like my grandpa and my favorite old dog Happy – they are like a cozy shawl I wrap around my shoulders once in awhile.

Memories of my youth, falling in love with my dear husband, and our early years as a couple, dating, marrying, adventuring in the Army together, those are smack dab in the center of my heart, where I tuck them away under my old Michael Jackson jacket, and bring them out for fun once in awhile.

Memories of people who’ve done me wrong, of hurts and wounds I’ve suffered, those are shoved away in a drawer, under lock and key. When they escape, I shove them back after awhile of brooding with them, and praying to let go.

What is hard to do is remain in the present, and to enjoy the days and minutes I have going forward. I have to shove past the jungle of past memories, but, I’m reaching out more and more to make new memories.

I really have to fight to be happy, unlike what many people assume based on some responses I’ve gotten over the years when I post something positive on Facebook. So many think it’s easy for me to be positive, that I have some sort of charmed life. I have had a great life. I am thankful for it. But, like most people, it hasn’t been easy. There’ve been more than a few times when all I wanted to do was give up. All I wanted, was release from despair and the overwhelming sadness and grief I’ve borne. Believe me when I tell you it isn’t easy.

But, it’s worth it. I never want to give in to the weight of sadness and just throw in the towel. I’m stubborn. So for me, I really have to work to meditate on the good, beautiful things of life and believe that in the end, goodness wins – love wins.

I do not hide my head from the evils of the world or the suffering of others. In fact, my tendency is to take on the pain and suffering of others in an attempt to not deal with my own. But, I have learned this: I am not the only person on the Earth who cares, or who can help others. I am only one person – and I only have to take up the things I can carry, the things that I can do to help others and then join with people who want to help too. And, then, I have to put these pains and struggles – which are vast, deep and very real – into a belt of Truth around my waist. I can carry them without taking them in and making them all-consuming.

And, I cannot let bitterness and anger become my default setting. I just cannot. I don’t have the capacity to poison myself with these things. They hurt too much. So, the brain in me shoves them away when other people try to foist them onto me. But, I feel the weight still, even with the expressions of anger I see. Anger and I haven’t figured each other out yet. Yes, I do get angry. No, I don’t always know what to do with it. And, I avoid it as much as possible in other people. It’s an extremely uncomfortable emotion. But, I’m learning here too.

I am learning that everyone who is angry, is not angry at me. And, I’m learning that many times, when someone is angry with me, it’s not really anything to do with me. It’s often something they’re feeling from another source, but I happen to be around, or I bump into them while they’re carrying that load and it splashes out on me. But, if I’m aware, I can shake it off and maybe even help the person see that I’m not against them. I’m not everyone’s therapist, I’ve said that a few times to various folks who seem to want to dump all of their anger and venom at me because I have cared about them in the past. At some point, I have to say, “I care, but I cannot handle your emotions for you. You have to find a way to deal with them besides pouring them all over me. I refuse to take that load anymore.”

And, if people don’t like the lines I’ve drawn around myself, really, that is not my problem – it’s theirs. Ultimately, I am not responsible for the emotions, or the care, of other grown people. I have to do my best to help folks, but, I don’t have to lay down and let them wipe their feet on me. I can’t do that. I’ve done it too many times and it sucks. I refuse to do it again, though often I find myself throwing myself on the ground before I remember that I don’t belong there.

In the end, it is each person’s responsibility (at least, each person who is able) to take care of their own feelings and pain. I go to therapy. I take medication. I pray. And, I share with people who support me. But, I don’t make them responsible for my happiness. Often, they help a LOT, and I’m thankful. But, they cannot “fix” me and I cannot “fix” anyone else. That’s ok. We can walk together in the brokenness and let our unique and crazy light shine through.

So, I’m tucking these thoughts into the compartment that is writing – a very good way to deal with thoughts and feelings – and I share them. Because I think there may be other people who struggle too (in fact, I know there are.) So, here you go. Know you’re not alone. Know that you can keep going and that there is help. Each person can lighten the load of the other, even if we cannot carry the entire burden.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just take the next step toward healing. Here, grab my hand. I’m holding on tight to the person ahead of me.

Raised to Hate Me

I’ve been thinking about some of the women I idolize, and the ones I look down at. I love Beyoncé, but, I’m not a fan of Britney Spears, and there were times when I looked askance at Madonna.

As I was just scrubbing my floor, (the most humbling, insightful thoughts come when I’m on my knees scraping gunk off my kitchen floor) I started to wonder about it – what was it I didn’t like about one and loved about the other? Now, part of it is voice. I like Beyoncé’s voice better than Britney’s. But, it’s more than that.

I never liked the baby-doll persona of Britney, and when I was critical of Madonna, it had to do with her sexuality, her open disregard for sexual mores, etc. But, Beyoncé is no nun. So why is she brave and why are they not?

I think it’s partly because Britney and Madonna remind me of myself – and I don’t like myself much. I’m also uncomfortable with someone like me – white and female – seeming to enjoy sex, publicly. But, I don’t bat an eye when Aerosmith sings about going down in an elevator.

You see, when I was four, my dad molested me. I don’t remember it. He confessed and asked for forgiveness. At first, I didn’t believe him. Then I had confirmation from family members and I started to have a brief, troubling memory of a hand, reaching for me. In my child-like brain, it was the devil’s hand, and I remember being terrified.

That same year, at Christmas, I had my spirit broken, I have been told. Through a long ordeal, I was forced to touch a doll that I was afraid of, one that my grandmother had made. I learned not to have any opinions about anything. To this day, I have the worst time deciding.

So, when I see women who remind me of myself, my damaged ideas about sex squirm inside of me and make me uncomfortable. Maybe realizing this is helpful for my healing. I’m not sure. But, I know that it’s better to reason things out then to just let them creep along, hidden within me.

As girls, so many of us have been raised to fear sex, to be victimized by it, to be prim and proper. Boys are raised to believe they cannot resist sex. That’s an equation for a lot of pain all the way around. My dad hated himself all his life. And, he passed on to me the feelings of self-loathing that he had.

It is the hardest wound to heal. But, I don’t believe it’s impossible. I may not ever be completely whole (this side of the Heaven that I long for) – but, I can get close, I think.

I once talked to a 92-year-old woman who grew up in Italy. She was confined to her bed in a nursing home. I had come to visit a lady from my church and I had a pin on that designated that I was affiliated with a church. The lady asked me to listen to her and I did. I can still see her face, with pools of tears sitting in her eyes as she lay there and bared her soul. An evil priest had molested her and her brothers. She told me all of the horrible things this man had done to her, from childhood into adulthood and said that her brothers and she had struggled with having faith in God because of how they were treated and abused by a representative of divinity. It broke my heart. I completely understood the struggle with God. I’ve been there in my own way. All I could do was bend down to hug her, a fellow victim, and say, “God is not happy with what happened to you. God loves you and hates what that man did to you. One day, he will pay for it.”

I keep thinking of how this beautiful lady’s life was wrecked by another person, and the wounds were still fresh at 92. It’s no wonder so many women have said, “Enough!” and joined the #MeToo Movement. We have to stick together and lift each other’s burdens. So, rather than me looking down on any woman for any creative expression, I need to lift them up.  Because, if I go with my gut, and personal experiences of almost every woman I know, I realize that Britney, Madonna and Beyoncé have probably suffered their own pains and wounds. And, if they remind me of myself, maybe I should cut them, and me, some slack. We’re part of this crazy world, where real love and kindness are very rare. May we all be kind to ourselves. May we all be kind to each other.

Barb’s Message at Living Faith United Methodist Church

July 8

Following God

Hi. I’m Barb. I am going to tell you about how God has led me through my life, through Scripture, tradition, experience and reason. The journey has been beautiful, heartbreaking, and most of all, surprising. But, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

First, I want to read a well-known poem called “Footprints in the Sand.”

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,

One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this poem before. In my case, God added a few lines that fit me best. They say: “Or, in your case, my child, look over there. — You see those drag marks?”

I haven’t always been a willing follower. There have been things that I felt God wanted me to do that I resisted, especially when it comes to people and relationships. I relate to the story of Peter and Cornelius found in Acts chapter 10. (NRSV)

 In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three[a] men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter[b] invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers[c] from Joppa accompanied him. 24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31 He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”

Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

From this chapter, we can see that Peter was resistant to God’s surprising call to visit a Gentile home, even though that Gentile was a believer. That’s because Peter, like all Jews at that time, was taught from a young age that there were things a godly Jew did not touch, eat, or do. You didn’t touch unclean things. You didn’t eat unclean food. And, you most certainly did not willingly associate with unclean people, like Gentiles. It was a way that God had helped them protect their traditions and customs for generation after generation. But, now God was revealing something new to Peter.

Peter said, when he saw the vision of the unclean animals and was told to kill and eat, “By no means, Lord…” It took God a few more times to get through to Peter, as he said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Thank goodness for this grace that God revealed to Peter, because it was through that grace that we are here, as Gentiles, today. The voice of God was clear then, and it can be now, if we choose to listen.

I used to hear stories about people hearing God speak to them, and I felt a little bit snubbed. I had expected something like this, “Barb, take that job!” “Get gas now, Barb!” “Barb, go be a missionary!”

I had forgotten that God spoke to Elijah, not in a whirlwind or an earthquake, but in a still, small voice. At just the right time, that’s how God has spoken to me, and let me tell you, the voice may be quiet, but it is very clear.

Like Peter, I was invited to be in contact with someone who I believed was unclean. More than unclean, I had been taught that people like her were enemies. God taught me otherwise.

I was working at Fort Jackson in the Public Affairs Office as a civilian journalist. All the other journalists were soldiers. A rumor began to go around the office that a “witch” was coming to the office. They meant that a soldier who follows the Wiccan religion was going to be stationed there in MY office, where I had carved out for myself a nice, cozy little Christian comfort zone. Now, along comes a witch to mess things up. I was not happy.

But, I was also surprised when she arrived. I had expected her to look like Elvira, mistress of the dark. Here she was, a short girl like me, but with glasses and freckles. And, she was scared. She was new. Her kids and husband were in California, along with her car. And, nobody was particularly welcoming to her, not even me.

My heart was on guard. I was annoyed when they set her in the desk next to mine. I didn’t then realize that God was a part of how we two were constantly thrown together.

For example, she needed rides to her newspaper interviews and back because of not having a car. One afternoon, at lunchtime, she called to be picked up, and there was nobody around but me and a soldier who couldn’t leave because he was tasked with answering phones. “Oh great,” I thought. But, I went to pick her up. And, I brought her back to the office, dropping her off. I was getting ready to leave for lunch when God said, “How is she supposed to get to lunch with no car?” Reluctantly, I invited her to lunch. She was so happy and friendly. We had a great conversation as we ate our scrumptious Burger King hamburgers. Yet, in the back of my mind, I was congratulating myself and waiting for my chance to convert her.

That didn’t happen over fries and a Coke. And, I was still on guard. One day, I heard her say something that I felt was insulting to Christians. I was just about to pipe up with an argument when I felt God putting his hand over my mouth. Believe me, I was surprised, as it felt so real. Then, I heard him say, “I don’t need you to argue for me. I’m big enough to take care of myself. SHE needs a friend.”

So it began. We became very close and still are. In fact, we became best friends, surprising everyone. I let my guard down and just loved her, like God wanted me to.

Then, in 2011, two months after Amber died, her son, Logan took his life. He had been struggling all of his young life with mental illness that caused him so much pain. He was a kind, sensitive soul who just seemed to be unable to carry on any longer.

My friend, Tess, told me that she was looking to me to help guide her along the difficult journey of grief. “I’m looking to you, Barb,” she wrote me. It was then that my mind flashed back and I realized that she really did need a friend.

God was not finished with me, however. He had more to teach. He had another Peter-Cornelius lesson for me. Just because God had convinced me that witches were not necessarily my enemy – and definitely not God’s enemies, doesn’t mean I had fully opened my heart to all people. There were still folks I was on guard against, and it took a lot for God to help me tear down that dividing wall.

Once again, I had created a nice comfort zone for myself, where God and I were cool, and I was on autopilot, just happily waiting for Jesus to come back and give me my reward for being so good.

Then – life took a hard turn. Amber died. My world, my heart, and my comfort zone were shattered beyond repair. At least they’d never be the same. In my pain, I reached out – not for the god of the comfort zone, who had deserted me – but for a solid, loving God who was strong enough to bear my pain and carry me over the sand and through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is a lonely place, but God showed up there in a new, and even beautiful way.

Because I was now raw, emotionally, and weakened more than I’ve ever been, I was open, vulnerable and ready for more guidance from our amazing God and His Holy Spirit. He did not disappoint, but like I said before, he did surprise.

My heart was so soft and pliable then, but the lesson was incredibly mind bending because of the traditions and teachings I had thought were so carved in stone. God did not approve of LGBTQ people, I believed. I could care about them, and love them. But, I was supposed to help them see the error of their ways.

I hadn’t been open, mentally, to the idea that God made them, loved them, and wanted me to just love them without judgment, the way he did. That grace of God! How expansive, revolutionary and amazing it is! How beautifully God works. Praise His name.

For you see, I began to meet people who were gay, and they became friends. I finally saw their hearts, and the pain many felt because they thought God couldn’t love them. Many of their own parents didn’t want them anymore, so how could they ever believe God did? When one of my friends, part of a married lesbian couple, told me about how her heart was broken because her mother and father told her she was dead to them, I had just lost my own daughter, so I cried and said to her, “I would be proud to have you for a daughter.” In my heart I was thinking, “here I have lost my only daughter to death, and these parents have thrown away a perfectly healthy one. They don’t know what they are doing.”

My heart softened more, and my mind opened. But, it was not easy. I still felt that I was supposed to try to convert my gay friends, and that I was never to approve of what I thought they had chosen to be. Hearing their stories, however, and knowing that they had trusted me, and been vulnerable, I could not think of wounding them by judging and pronouncing sentence on them.

Through prayer, study, and more prayer and study – including the passage in Acts 10, I finally yielded my stubborn heart completely. It felt so good to just open up and feel free to love everyone with God’s grace and acceptance.

God’s grace had been made perfect in my weakness, you see. In the utter devastation of the loss of my child, God’s grace met me, and filled in the broken places with so much abundance that there was no room for judging anyone. I had only the capacity to follow two rules – the ones Jesus laid out long ago: love God with everything, and love my neighbor as myself.

My prayer for us is that we will always be open to the Holy Spirit’s surprising lessons. May we follow so closely that we can see the footprints. And, may we believe that when trouble comes, Jesus will carry us in those arms that were stretched out on a cross to save the world.

Love to you all.

For Sharon: Love Never Dies

Monday, the world lost one of the most beautiful people I’ve never met. You have that right. I never met her in person. But, through the miracle of the internet, we knew each other very well. She was part of a movie group that I started a few years ago for just a few trusted people to be able to respectfully chat about our love of film. And, she was part of a small support group of women who trusted and loved each other enough to share our struggles, our truths and our joys without judgment. So, Sharon Walker, our beautiful friend, was an important part of many lives on Facebook. I can only imagine just how much of a graceful presence she was to her family and friends from her life in Los Angeles. What a tremendous lady who is so missed.

I was honored to have many conversations with Sharon. In every conversation, she made sure to communicate that she loved me, and I would tell her the same. She called me sister and I called her the same. I am not sure I deserved such an honor, but, it was something I treasured. I know that she was that way with many people in her world on Facebook. She suffered from MS, and it was painful for her to write sometimes. But, she loved to be a part of the lives of so many of us. She treated these fine women as daughters, sisters, and friends. Her loving words, her encouragement was something all of us needed and craved. And, we gave back too. I’m thankful that I was able to make her laugh sometimes. I know all of her friends in our groups made her life a bit more joyful and rich. And, she needed that connection as much as we did – maybe more.

Whatever the case may be, because of the bond of love and trust, we were all able to get to know one another honestly, and without judgment. Her love reached across racial, national and religious boundaries. She was raised Jehovah’s Witness, I was raised conservative Wesleyan. Others of us have shaky faith, but those differences didn’t matter. We were from Chicago, Texas, Indiana, New York, the UK, Colombia, Mexico, Michigan and Georgia. None of that mattered. Love knows no boundaries.

And, that is why — though I miss her so much and wish every day that I could share with her some crazy movie I’d seen, or some funny thing my cat or dog did — I know that we are not truly separated. That’s because we loved each other. And, love doesn’t die.

If we could love each other across the miles, and social divides, we can love each other still. Even though her body is beyond repair on this Earth, her love is still alive (call it spirit if you will).

I think of this verse, from Romans 8.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sometimes, it feels like loving people is a risky business. When Sharon died, I had many emotions running through me at once – and one of them was the thought that I don’t want to get close to anyone again and feel such pain. But, when I remember that love is forever, then I realize that I can take the step to love again. Whatever love I give, whatever love I receive — it is not in vain. And, that’s because, love will NEVER, EVER fail — and love never dies.

Rest my sweet sister Sharon. Thank you for your amazing, loving heart. We will see you again. Hugs.

The Dreams of Youth

I love how my nieces and nephews go for their dreams so vigorously, so filled with hope. They are making their lives happen. They’re grabbing happiness, the kind that comes from possibility. Their futures hold so many of these precious gems. It’s the maybes that propel their talents and creativity.
I remember when I was young and was sure that I would write books and get paid to “dream stuff up” as my thinking told me. I believed it.

Unlike my nieces and nephews, or even my husband, I only tinker with my dreams once in awhile and mostly give up. I’m not sure why. I think the hopes I have get crowded out by the need to go to the bank, take out the trash, pull weeds and put gas in the car.

Yes, I still write. My dreams took a different shape than I thought they would. And, maybe that isn’t a bad thing. I joined the Army as a journalist and was trained at the Defense Information School. I learned a lot there that my English degree hadn’t taught me. I learned, for one thing, that I’m good at interviewing people. I generally really like people and I like to hear their stories.

So, for a little more than four years, I did stories about soldiers getting promoted, an Army surgeon who could reattach limbs, awards for the best mess hall (or dining facility, as the military prefers them to be called), new gas masks, and the anniversary of World War II. I interviewed a young man who won the chance to be Lt. Governor for the day in Columbia, South Carolina. He told me, when I asked him who his hero was, that his little brother was his hero. I interviewed many World War II veterans, including Francis “Bull” Dawson, who served in World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, and who helped found the Green Berets. I went with him to Ft. Benning, Georgia when he was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame. And, I listened to him talk about his golf game and his wife. I interviewed Tuskegee Airmen and Nuremburg prosecutors. I interviewed a Holocaust survivor and the chief of the South Carolina Cherokee, a man with a PhD who taught a room full of soldiers a complex history of the Native People here, a history seldom taught in schools. I am not sure I could write a novel better than so many of the stories I heard back then and the story of my life is richer because of these people.

Still, the illusive novel has not sprung forth from my brain yet. I’ve participated in the National Novel Writing Month every November since 2009 and completed all but two years. But, writing 50,000 words in a month can be discouraging for a perfectionist like myself because they become such an overwhelming jumble and I begin to think that maybe I will never see my dream come true.

And yet, I can’t give up. There’s something that stirs inside me that tells me I have to do it. My nieces and nephews are my inspiration. When they create works of art, I am inspired not just by the wonderful creations they make, but by their belief in themselves and their willingness to take risks to pursue what stirs inside them. I’m proud of them. And, so, my hope is renewed because of them. I am beginning to think that’s one of the purposes for children in this life – to remind us older folks how beautiful it can be to follow the voice of inspiration that speaks to all of us if we’ll listen. I think I hear it calling my name. What about you?

Beauty in the Breaking

I just returned home a few days ago from spending four days at my sister’s house in Michigan. She and her husband purchased the house after many years of living in a very nice suburb of Grand Rapids. My sister had wanted to downsize to a smaller house now that her kids are grown, and they finally got a wonderful house on Campbell Lake.

Last month, I had the experience of an emotional break due to years of pushing ahead and trying not to feel the pain that had been building up inside of me since my daughter’s passing. While the episode was difficult and painful, a lot of good came from it. I finally realized that I need to stop and listen to my own inner self. I realized that I had been neglecting my own needs in an attempt to look strong to others and to myself. I also discovered that I had not communicated just how much I was suffering to those closest to me – not my husband, not my family – not even myself. The painful crash was my spirit’s way of calling for help. So, I began to seek help for myself for the first time in a long time. And, it’s been wonderful. I can’t tell you just how joyful and freeing it is to actually be able to express my truth to those I love and to have them listen. This journey toward healing is truly a joyful one.

The trip to visit my sister was part of my healing. I needed to just be somewhere without any expectations for awhile. I needed to be surrounded by love, and beauty and peace.

I took the train to Grand Rapids and arrived late on a Monday evening. The next day, my sister had to babysit two adorable kids. One of her neighbors had a farm and invited us to come to pet her two horses and get fresh eggs from her chickens. Right away, I knew that God had designed this special time for me. Since Amber’s death, I had strongly felt that I would find healing in the company of horses. I have always loved them. Touching them is something that speaks to my soul. Not only that, but I got to be around children. I love being around children. They really bring healing and light with their innocence and fresh ways of seeing the world.

Being with my sisters and mom was also wonderful. We were able to share honestly, and lovingly. I have never felt closer to them than I do now, after this time together. I know that I am loved and cherished. I have experienced the love of God through them.

As the weight of the false need to please other people, to jump through hoops to prove that I’m good and worthy to others and to myself, and to save everyone but myself, was lifted, life started to look brighter than it has ever looked. It’s as if I’ve been wearing dark glasses and I’ve now taken them off. And, that’s why I have begun to see beauty in places I never did before. I sort of laugh a little at myself because one of the favorite things that happened at the lake was the time I spent communing with minnows. You read that right – minnows. Something about them spoke to me for the first time in my life. I’d always just sort of ignored them before. But now, I started watching them and hoping they would come up to me. While I used to try to avoid having them nibble my toes, this time, I invited it. It took a long time of me sitting mostly still in the water before they would get close enough to touch me, fleetingly. I loved their tiny bodies, eyes and fins. They darted around so quickly. Their touch felt like kisses from angels. I have been very puzzled at my reaction to these unobtrusive, almost invisible creatures for a few days. But, looking back, thinking, I see that its a symptom of my healing. I am noticing the little things again. I am appreciating the small joys life brings and I feel abundantly blessed.

I still have a lot of work to do until I can overcome the weight of years of pain, trauma and neglect. I am learning though, and I feel ready finally for this journey. Yes, I have been broken. But, you know what? These cracks, as I’ve heard said many times, is how the light gets out. I hope that all of the healing light I’m receiving can spill out in beauty from my life and bless other people who need healing too. We all need each other, cracks and all.

No to Barbie Doll Jesus

My little girl liked Barbie dolls. A lot of children, and even adults, like them. Since 1959, there have been billions of these dolls sold. There have been Barbies of every type, from Malibu Barbie and Cat Burglar Barbie, to Princess Barbie and Star Trek Barbies. When it comes to dolls, it’s nice to have variety. But, when we’re talking about Jesus, the savior of humanity who died on a cross to save people from their sins — there is only one. At least only one that is real.

Most people who are Christians agree that there is one Jesus written about in the New Testament of the Bible. They believe he was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, that he had 12 disciples, did miracles, taught people about God, threatened the religious establishment and eventually was arrested, tried and executed via crucifixion. We (I claim to be among this number) believe that his death was a saving sacrifice, taking away the sins of the world. We believe that he was buried, and after three days, was raised from the dead, showed himself to many people and then ascended to Heaven. Sounds pretty simple really.

But, maybe it isn’t. Since the time of Jesus, there have been questions about who Jesus is, and there has been mountains of material written about him. Yet, the Christian church has had some basic agreements about who we believe Jesus to be. The problem is that in order to finally tame the unruly, rebellious Christ followers of the early years, Roman ruler Constantine decided to legitimize and co-opt Christianity to become a state religion. I learned this from a few books I’ve read, one Brian Zahnd’s Farewell to Mars and Mike Slaughter’s Renegade Gospel. Suddenly, Jesus wasn’t Lord and Savior, Teacher and Resurrected Living Master, but he was State Jesus, Jesus who is on OUR side, a Jesus who cares about what we care about, loves who we love, hates who we hate, and who looks very little like the Jesus of Scripture.

So, now this rebel, this One who tamed the seas and raised the dead has many identities thrust upon him – identities that I don’t think are accurate, or reflect who Jesus is.

We have Sunday School Jesus — everybody loves Sunday School Jesus. He’s meek, he’s mild and gentle as a lamb. He loves the children, he is everyone’s friend, and he glows white. He is not Middle Eastern. And, he does not make waves. There is some truth in this one. We read about his gentleness, and how he blessed the children in the Bible. We hear him talk about love and turning the other cheek. And, we hear him called the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God.

Then, there is Hippie Jesus of the Jesus Movement. That’s the Jesus I sort of grew up to embrace. I turned from Sunday School Jesus to a hipper, peace/love dude who looks like he came straight from Godspell or a grunge rock music video. He loves Christian rock, the beach, bare feet and rap sessions where we all just tell him our problems and he listens. He is totally cool with whatever we do, as long as we’re “cool” with each other. He’s still white, btw, but, he’s got black friends, so that’s pretty progressive. And, there is some truth in this picture. We do read that Jesus tells people to love their enemies, to not take revenge, and we read where he turned water to wine and didn’t fit into the establishment. He even surfed, dude! Well, I guess you can call his walking on water hanging ten.

There is Superhero Jesus. I remember a pastor made waves by saying he couldn’t worship a wimpy Jesus, a Jesus that he said “he could beat up.” He wanted a manly, he-man Jesus who could flip a table with one hand and punch a bad guy with the other. This Jesus glows, rides the clouds, and is ready to zap out some retribution on all the evil types that we are prepared to sic him on – all those people we don’t like. We get some truth to that somewhere too. His miracles were certainly displays of power. Demons cowered before him, and the Scriptures do talk about him turning over tables in the Temple. They also say he’s coming back to judge people one day.

Irrelevant Religious Jesus. This is a popular Jesus these days. He’s the one who keeps in his place, a little religious box we’ve set aside for him. He’s the Jesus who politely stays quiet while we do what we want, and who we can then take out on Sundays or other religious events, and wave around to show we are Christians. He is interchangeable with Bumper Sticker Jesus, except with this version, you don’t have to remember not to drive like a jerk. This Jesus might also be called Stealth Jesus. He’s there when you want him, and invisible when you don’t. This Jesus isn’t really found in Scripture, but, he’s popular anyway.

American Patriot Jesus. This is the Jesus I consider to be the most dangerous and annoying of them all, but, I will take a look anyway. I’ve actually followed this Jesus a bit in my life because he looks darned good to most red-blooded (white) American evangelicals. This Jesus backs every political opinion we have. He supports our favorite TV pundits, radio hosts, televangelists and political candidates. American Patriot Jesus loves our troops, supports us in war, roots for our sports’ teams, waves our flag, supports our rights to own guns, and he hates who we hate. He cares a lot about un-born babies, hates criminals (and believes that anyone a policeman targets is in deed a criminal, no need for a trial), and he does not tolerate any gay people, except maybe if they vote Republican and are white. He also is white but he likes people of color who show the proper amount of respect for their white superiors (meaning, they are people who spend a lot of time burying their own identities to fit in with the establishment), and he has a real fondness for Independence Day parades. He is the one who finds politics life or death important. He is the one who can’t stand all of those fancy, think they know-it-all scientists who think the earth’s climate is changing, who think that evolution is actually a thing, and who want to use stem cells to try to cure diseases. He also thinks poor people are freeloaders that you cannot trust, that those living in certain neighborhoods with certain skin colors are most probably drug dealers or prostitutes (aka thugs). He thinks that Christians are indeed persecuted in the good old U.S. of A. because stores consider there are other people besides Christians in the country and don’t all say Merry Christmas and they put bunnies out for Easter — oh, and they make them make wedding cakes in their open-to-the-public bakeries for gay people (gasp!). That stuff makes American Patriot Jesus steaming mad. This Jesus gives white Christian evangelicals special blessings that nobody else gets, like sunny days when they want to golf, forgiveness if they’re male leaders who do inappropriate things to women (because it is always the woman’s fault anyway), and extra raisins in their raisin bran. I am not exactly sure where this Jesus came from, but he is hugely popular, and is one good guy for a good ol’ boy to hang out with. Oh, and he ALWAYS votes Republican!

Here’s the thing about Jesus though. He doesn’t come in a box, and you can’t pick and choose what parts you want to add on to him. The Jesus that Scripture gives us is a man who is first of all from Israel, a Mid-East country where people have darker skin tones. Secondly, Living Jesus is Lord and gets to tell US what to do if we are Christians, and we are supposed to actually obey. This Jesus, the only real Jesus, DID teach us to turn the other cheek. He DID tell us to love our enemies (and killing them is not loving them). He also taught us that what we do the least of these (Matthew 25) we do to him. (Deporting Jesus are we?) Jesus didn’t punch anyone. He did turn over tables. Turning over tables is not our excuse to be jerks (we’re just being like Jesus!) unless we are doing it in protest of the poor being taken advantage of. Jesus didn’t come to support an earthly (worldly) government. He brought the kingdom of heaven. He is not endorsing people for president. And, he most certainly isn’t endorsing someone who has no Christian values of any sort. The most public thing Jesus did was die. When he performed miracles, he told the witnesses not to tell others. He was not showing off his power. That wasn’t his purpose. His death was public. His humility and sacrificial love took center stage there and proved once and for all who God is. God is master, but he is also love. And love serves and gives. Love gives everything if it has to to save the object of its passion.

I want to follow a real Jesus. I want to walk in those footsteps of humble, sacrificial love, as I serve others to help bring about a just kingdom, ruled not by greedy billionaires, but by the Prince of PEACE. The Prince of Peace weeps over Jerusalem, and over us all, and says, “If only we had known the things that make for peace, but we would not have it…”

Lord Jesus, be lord again of all of us who have blindly followed the wrong Jesus. Forgive us, master, savior, merciful one, for our lack of mercy, our stubborn certainty, our embrace of evil and our lack of love. Restore a right picture in us of who you are. Don’t let us exchange the beauty of your reality for something made in a campaign headquarters. Forgive us for sullying your name and presenting such a false picture of who you are. Lord, I pray for our world, let us love it like you do. Don’t let us remain puffed up in our own pride. We pray in Jesus’ name – Amen.

Taking a Break

I’ve been trying to make a mindful activity for every day of Lent this year, hoping to move people to think outside of themselves, especially Christians, and to re-orient their inner selves. We all need to do that from time to time. And, I should have a third part to post today, but, I don’t. I don’t have it done and there is a reason for that, besides being really busy. Another reason is that I need a break.

Some people may know that March 28 is the 6th anniversary of my daughter’s death and I am not healed. Far from it. What can ever heal a gaping hole left by someone so very dear? Yes, I do believe Jesus heals, but this is a huge wound. I have tried to fill it with doing more and more things, soldiering on to prove that I’m strong, but these things don’t fill me. In fact, they drain me. I have a disease, and it is called depression. Others suffer this too, I know. The fact is that every day is a struggle for me. I am in therapy, and that helps, but I need to do more. And, I need to do less. I need to find ways to care for myself and I need to actually face the huge loss and trauma that I’ve endured instead of trying to perform for what I think others want to see from me. God knows who I am, and God loves me the way I am. God heals in many different ways. He uses people with talent and skill and he uses medicine. Yes, sometimes, healing happens magically, but that doesn’t mean that other types of healing are not just as special or as much of a blessing. Needing others, needing help, is not something to be ashamed of. It is the way God made us – to be interdependent, not independent.

So, I am taking a break for the rest of this month from trying to fulfill expectations of what I think people want from me. Sure, I will do essential things. I’m a secretary. I have a job. And, I have other responsibilities. But, I am freeing myself from this drive to be perfect.

My daughter, Amber, was (and is) Beauty, Joy, Laughter, Purity, Honesty, Unconditional Love and my best friend. She was my world for 23 years. When she died, I was thrust from a place where I felt safe and loved into a world that I was a stranger to. I am a toddler in this world that I have been born into since her passing. So, I’m going to need to navigate it the best way I know how – learning, growing, taking steps, and maybe falling down sometimes. I am going to try to give myself grace to do that.

And, if any of you are also suffering from mental health issues, depression, anxiety, phobias, PTSD, etc., please, do not be ashamed. It is not a failure. It is a struggle. Everyone has struggles, and each person has a different struggle than their neighbor. Whatever the case, reach out for help because we do need each other. That is how God (or Love) works.

So, for the rest of Lent, just re-read the first two parts of my Lenten blog and repeat some of the days. That’s the best I can do right now. Peace and blessings.

Giving Up Privilege for Lent Part Two

This is a continuation of my 40-day challenge to help us all seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God during the season of Lent. I want to especially thank Jacqueline Menjivar for allowing me to use her work, a true blessing.

Day 8 – Mindful Activity
This one is simple but not very easy to do.
For every person you walk by this week, if you can, look into their eyes. Acknowledge that they exist. If you feel inclined, smile at them. Say hello if your heart feels the desire.
When you talk to someone, don’t watch their mouth, stare into their eyes. It’s overwhelming how a person can disarm you this way.
Stop staring down at your phone and look at every person that you can. Then take the activity I gave you guys before and give yourself a moment to think about their life.
You become human when you feel on a human level towards someone else. Be human this week, be raw, real and open. Jacqueline Menjivar

Day 9 – Think About Christianity and Justice
There are areas where evangelical Christianity has fallen short – very, very short when it comes to the issues of racism, justice and equality.
Recognizing this fact may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary if we are ever going to change what we know to be wrong. Correcting wrongs, REPENTING, is God-honoring. Repentance is more than just saying “sorry” and continuing in the same direction. It is TURNING AROUND, and working to undo the wrongs you have committed. Obedience is key here. So, please, plow ahead in the spirit of prayerfulness, humility and obedience.
Read one, or all of the following links that address the issue of racism and/or injustice within Christianity, especially in the United States.
Disparity in Christian Publishing

Or read this article from from Fuller Studio

Day 10 – Giving Up the Center
As Christians, we very often talk about who is on the throne of our lives. Is Jesus on the throne as Lord of our life, or are we on the throne and living for ourselves (carnally)? Part of growing up in a society of white centeredness is instinctively centering our conversations, and thinking around ourselves, rather than on others. But, when people of color are constantly drowned out by us, their very real needs and their humanity, is hidden from us. It takes work to de-center ourselves, but as Christians, we have some help – and that help comes from God.
Practice for the rest of this season of Lent consciously stepping down off of the throne and recognizing Jesus as your Lord, and then practice being humble and thinking of others first. Paul writes about this in Philippians 2:3-11 When he says that we should think of others first and be humble like Christ.
Here I am posting it from the Common English Bible translation. Feel free to read it in whatever translation you prefer – or read it from more than one translation.

Philippians 2:3-11
Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Day 11 – Fast and Share
A lot of people fast during Lent. The practice of fasting is an important part of our spiritual journey. It reminds us that spiritual food is just as (or more) important than physical food. It reminds us to put our needs, wants and cravings aside to humble ourselves and seek God above all things.

Even Jesus fasted. Remember the famous story about how Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days, when Satan came to tempt him? The first thing Satan tempted him with was food. How shrewd. He knew how hungry Jesus must have been. He told him to turn the stones to bread so that he could eat. What could be wrong with that? What is wrong with us pursuing and seeking what satisfies our own hungers and cravings?

It isn’t wrong to eat. Far from it. God created us to need food. But, obeying Satan would have been destructive to Jesus’ ministry and spirit and Jesus knew that. When we throw aside the service of God to satisfy ourselves, that destroys our ministry and wounds our spirits. It moves God off of the throne of our lives. Fasting is another way of moving ourselves off of the center throne of our lives so that we depend on God to save us.

Of course, we don’t have to fast for 40 days. But, how about fasting from junk food for a day and donating the money you would have spent for it to a charity that feeds people who really need food? How about donating non-perishable food items to a local food bank?

I leave it to you to figure out how you might fast on this day, but however God leads you to fast, share with others the food that we so easily obtain – but others struggle to possess. And, while you fast, please remember to fast from hate, fear and a spirit of judgment against others. Instead, feast on love, humility and reverence.

Read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Luke, chapter 4, beginning with verse 1. Pray that God would strengthen your spirit while you deny your flesh.

Day 12 – What About Our Enemies?
Do you have enemies? Are there people you fear? Are there people who you think might consider you their enemies? When Jesus walked the Earth, he had many enemies. People regularly wanted to kill him, and eventually they did. He and his people were occupied by Rome and the empire was often cruel, harsh and destructive to the people they occupied. Crucifixion was a terrible, tortuous punishment. Floggings were brutal and debilitating.

So, Jesus, as the Son of God, did he advocate that his followers seek to overthrow the enemies that ruled them? Did he suggest that the kingdom of heaven would be a place where all injuries and injustices would be avenged?

How many Christians today see Muslims as enemies? How many feed themselves on a constant diet of scandalous news and teaching that highlight cruelty by extremist Muslim groups? How many Christians condone torture, drone strikes, and all-out war against Muslims because of this? How many condone banning Muslims from entering our nation? How many Christians have labeled all Muslims as the Enemy?

What did Jesus say about what our attitudes should be toward enemies?

I believe any Christian who has ever been to a worship service or a Sunday School class has heard the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus lays out his (and God’s) will for how people should treat one another if they are to be followers of The Way of Jesus.

Read Matthew 5 for yourself and ask yourself this – Was Jesus a savior with his head in the clouds? Do you consider his teaching on the Mount to apply to others but not to you? Do you feel as if our government cannot really follow the way of Jesus, but that it’s still Christian anyway? Do you consider that Jesus is incompetent to run a government? Consider these questions as you read this and ask yourself if you’ve truly been honoring Jesus in your attitudes toward others, in what you accept, support and even celebrate from our government.

Matthew 5:38-48 (CEB)

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.[e]39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor[f] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Day 13 – Repent by Loving Others
After yesterday’s study, you may feel convicted about attitudes that might be off-center of Jesus’ teachings. Maybe you’ve been following Christian leaders who have ignored these teachings and haven’t questioned them. It can happen more easily than you imagine. Our enemy, Satan, is wily and deceptive. He spreads the cancer of hate through so many subtle ways that we often embrace it without realizing it.

But, thankfully, God is a forgiving, merciful God. The Bible says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins. So, pray with me to repent – and THEN, don’t let that repentance stop with a simple prayer.

In order to truly be obedient, I challenge you today to pray for someone you consider an enemy today. Don’t pray that God strikes them dead, either. Pray for their lives. Pray for their well-being. Pray that you would learn to love them.

Then, perform one act of love for someone, or some group, that you consider at odds with you or what you believe. That loving act could be to donate to relief agencies that help people in a people group that you feel is hostile, such as those in Muslim nations. Perhaps it could be to speak up, or call your representatives to denounce the ban of Muslims flying into our nation. Perhaps it is doing something to support refugees fleeing war-torn areas. Let God’s Spirit lead you into this mindful activity that will be in obedience to the rule of love.

Day 14 – Refresh and Take Care
While we work to transform our person, our spiritual outlook and our world, we need to take care of our spirits and emotions. When I think of the vast amount of injustice and heartache in the world, I can get overwhelmed to the point of feeling helpless. The one thing we want to make sure of is not to let our emotional wounds hurt other people, especially people who are already hurt by the unjust systems of our world. So, as you come to more honest realizations about your own privilege and what is happening in the world, you have to take time to process your emotions in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone.

The best person to go to with any hurt is God. But, God has also given us other people, and institutions to help as well. Sometimes, talking to your pastor or your Bible Study group helps.
Today, I urge you to talk with someone you trust about what you’ve been learning and feeling. Rest in the peace of God and remember, God is the peacemaker (through us). Know that God will not give you tasks without giving you the strength to complete them. Rest in God. Trust Jesus and pray about everything.

Read Philippians 4:4-7 here in the CEB or in your own Bible.
4 Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! 5 Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. 7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Philippians is my go-to book for a lot of great advice for living.
After my daughter’s death, my emotions were so raw and painful that I could not pray. I could not stand to read the Bible. I wasn’t angry at God, but I was hurting badly. During that time, God gave me Psalm 4. I’m not sure how I knew to read this passage, but I did, and I read it over and over until I had it memorized. I share it here for you, so that it might minister to you as it did to me.

Psalm 4Common English Bible (CEB)
For the music leader. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.
4 Answer me when I cry out, my righteous God!
Set me free from my troubles!
Have mercy on me!
Listen to my prayer!
2 How long, you people,
will my reputation be insulted?
How long will you continue
to love what is worthless
and go after lies? Selah
3 Know this: the LORD takes
personal care of the faithful.
The LORD will hear me
when I cry out to him.
4 So be afraid, and don’t sin!
Think hard about it in your bed
and weep over it! Selah
5 Bring righteous offerings,
and trust the LORD!
6 Many people say,
“We can’t find goodness anywhere.
The light of your face has left us, LORD!”[a]
7 But you have filled my heart with more joy
than when their wheat and wine are everywhere!
8 I will lie down and fall asleep in peace
because you alone, LORD, let me live in safety.

Thank you for sticking with me. Stay tuned for more, and may our gracious Lord bless and keep you this Lenten season. And, may he make us all more just, so that we can change the world to look more like the kingdom of Heaven.

Giving Up Privilege for Lent, Part One

Privilege is a part of society, not necessarily something you’ve done intentionally.
It is part of who you are, in a society that values whiteness and maleness above all other states of being.

Most of us have varying level of privilege granted us, even if you are also part of a marginalized group. If you are a white woman, for instance, you experience marginalization in the form of sexism, but you also have the privilege of whiteness.

Think about how society interacts with you. Do you generally think of police as the good guys? Or, do you fear police because of your experience with how you and/or people like you, have been treated by police? Do you see people who look like you on television and in movies that portray those like you as predominately good, heroic, or high achievers? Or, do you have to look hard to see anyone who looks like you in any media? And, do those portrayals paint those like you as generally honest, in predominately negative roles, such as criminals or dangerous people?
Privilege blinds you to the experiences of people in marginalized groups. Without realizing it, you see things through a different lens, one of unconscious (or conscious) superiority.

So, for Lent, in solidarity with those who suffer injustice and oppression (and in solidarity with Jesus himself, who was NOT white, and who spent time as a refugee and an occupied person), let us lay down our privilege like Jesus did.

Day 1 – Reflection and Invitation Prayer
There’s a form of meditation that cultivates compassion. It involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion.
If you could just for a moment out of your Day think about where you live. Think about someone outside of yourself. Someone outside of your religion, your race, or your ethnicity. They don’t have to be a real person but it helps to put a face on the thoughts I’d like you to have.
Think about their life. Think about how their morning begins. Think about some of the trials they face daily. Think about their joys. Think about how humanly raw they are and what type of things they face that you may not have ever encountered.
Move through that today and if you feel inclined, write about that experience and share it. – by Jacqueline Menjivar

Day 2 – Learning
Please, read this article which is a transcription of an event called, “Living With Unjust Legacies: Race, Justice, and Privilege” at Fuller seminary — Living With Unjust Legacies

After reading this article, spend some time thinking and praying for greater understanding of how privilege affects you, and how, if you are privileged, you can lay down your privilege (at least your defensiveness, and sense of entitlement) and realize that others have real stories to tell that you might not have considered before.

Day 3 The Least of These
Because we are Christians, we need to come back to the words and teachings of Jesus, to help guide us through our interactions and thinking. So, today, please read Matthew 25:33-46 – sometimes called the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.

Ask yourself the following questions afterwards, and pray about your answers:
1. Why do you think Jesus told this parable? What was he trying to teach?
2. Who are the people separated into the category of “goats?” Are they people guilty of sexual sin? Are they people who are of other religions? What makes them unacceptable? Conversely, what makes the sheep acceptable?
3. Why do you think Jesus says, “When you’ve done it for the least of these, you’ve done it for me?” With whom does Jesus identify himself with? Why did Jesus, the very son of God, identify himself with strangers, the poor, prisoners, the sick and the least? Ask yourself, and pray – if Jesus has such love for the least of these that he identifies himself with them, what makes me think I am too good to do so?
4. Do you think that this important story was taught by Jesus to teach us how God will judge us and our nations? If so, what might we be doing to ensure we are sheep and not goats?

Day 4 Repentance
If you are like me, the story of the sheep and the goats can be frightening because the people who thought they were so godly and accepted by Jesus, were told, to their utter shock, “Go away, I never knew you.” To think you have claimed Jesus as your very own your entire life and then realize that you were mistreating him for your lifetime! What a wake-up call that story is. So, today, I want us to confess and repent. God offers us forgiveness, but he also requires obedience, as this parable illustrates.

Pray with me:
Dear Lord, forgive us for the great and horrible ways we have turned our backs on Jesus, our Savior, when we have allowed our fellow men and women to suffer injustice, poverty, illness and hatred. We throw ourselves upon your mercy as we confess that we have gone our own ways, and have mistreated the least of these and so have actually misused our own Lord. We cannot change our past, dear Lord, and so we ask you to forgive us. But, we can change our present, and our futures because of your grace. So, help us Almighty God, to keep the vows we pray to you right now – and so we vow (asking for your assistance to keep these promises) – we will not see the hungry and not feed them, we will not allow the prisoner to suffer without ministering to them, we will not turn our backs on the stranger, and we will not continue to allow people to be degraded, dehumanized and used as political pawns because we acknowledge that your word is truth. And, your word has told us that when we allow these things to happen to anyone, even those we see as the least, we allow them to happen to Jesus. We offer you our humble obedience, confessing that we cannot rightfully carry out our vows without your Spirit to guide us. Thank you for your mercy to us. Please let us show this same mercy to everyone else. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Day 5 – Going Deeper
Now, it’s time to do a little work. I challenge you to do a search online and read at least three articles about privilege, racism, feminism, or civil rights today, and discuss what you’ve learned with one other person at least.

Or, you can click on the following link and read three of the articles (or more) that are listed here: how white people can learn about race.

When you talk to someone about what you have read, make sure that this person is not a member of a marginalized group so that you are not using them as a mentor. People in oppressed groups already have enough on their plates without educating privileged people who are capable of learning in other ways.

Close your day by simply praying: Lord, thank you for helping me to learn and step out of my comfort zone. Thank you for giving me a mind, and a heart that is open to you. Please, help me continue this journey so that I can honor you and my neighbors in healthy ways. Amen.

Day 6 – Love is the Key
Today, reflect on the fact that God is Love, as 1 John 4:8 states.

What is Love? Read 1 Corinthians chapter 13, commonly called The Love Chapter. It describes what Love is, and it tells us that no matter how much we think we know about God, no matter how much we feel we give of our money, no matter how much we think we sacrifice for God, if we don’t have Love, we are nothing.

Those are strong words about Love. Too often our notions of Love are light, fluffy and frankly, nauseating to God, in my opinion. Because love is not the same as feeling affection. Love is not the same as not hating, or actively, physically harming someone. Love is not simply refraining from terrorizing others. If we love others, that means we have to actively seek their good. Many abusers in domestic violence situations “feel love” for the very people they are abusing. But, they do not really love them, because they are harming them.

Reflect today on whether you might be the cause of harm of those we are called to love, either by your attitudes, your careless words that cut, or through the way you back political systems that oppress them. Maybe you are causing harm simply by doing nothing while the ones Christ calls you to love suffer. That is not an easy thing to face, but one who Loves as Christ calls us to love would most surely face these facts and do what it takes to change. It is not simply enough to have good intentions. You might not mean to harm someone, but the harm is done, nonetheless – through carelessness, through self-centeredness, through vying for control of various situations, through refusing to listen and think about what someone else might be saying. When someone shares the truth of their life with you, the loving thing to do is listen and accept their truth – and the more loving thing to do is be there for them and join them in trying to end the things that harm them.

You are doing good. Stay with me. Remember, this is an exercise that will ultimately honor Christ as you learn to honor others.

Day 7 – Loving Acts
Today, I want you to join me in doing something to make the world a little more just. Step out of your comfort zones in love. Here are some activities that you might want to try, or find some way that you can help someone who is in a different social group than you are:

1. Call out a racist, sexist, or unjust comment, whether on social media, or in person. You can read casual racist, sexist and unkind remarks everywhere online. It isn’t hard to do. Look on Twitter, Facebook or some other website forum, and you are bound to read someone putting someone down for their gender, religion (anti-Muslim bias is at an all-time high right now), their sexual orientation or gender identity, their race, or their abilities. I’ve seen more than a few people online post an insulting remark about people being stupid by using the “r” word, for instance. I would remind them that using the “r” word is unkind. I’d ask them if they happen to know anyone who is mentally, developmentally or physically challenged and let them know that these people do have dignity. Find a way to remind someone that racism (or another form of insulting bias) is not accepted by you, and harms society.
2. Make a phone call: Call one of your representatives and stand up against unjust laws, harmful government actions, or other such problems. Use your voice to let them know that you care about immigrants, refugees and human rights. This is one place you can go to find out information about how – and who – to call about these issues. Call Your Rep
3. Donate to a charity that helps people who are marginalized. There are many to choose from – from Standing Rock Water Protectors to Refugees and the ACLU. There is even a way you can make loans to help others via a non-profit organization called Kiva. Check it out here: Kiva.
4. Volunteer at a local food bank, homeless shelter, school or charity organization. Get some information about how here: Volunteer

These are just some ideas. If none of these appeal to you, find SOMETHING to do that will make the world better for someone in a marginalized group. People need LOVE, and Love is a verb, so act out your love in a real way today.

Okay, stay tuned for more as we all work together to honor God by laying aside our pride, privilege and biases to help create a more just society. Thank you.