"Burn the Ships!"

The group ‘For King and Country” released their third studio album in October 2018, which included a song entitled “Burn the Ships.”  In an interview, they shared that one of their wives became addicted to a prescription drug and had to be admitted into a psychiatric treatment center for substance abuse. She had to leave the past, surrender the addiction, and commit to abstinence.

Lyrics to “Burn the Ships”

How did we get here?
All castaway on a lonely shore
I can see in your eyes, dear
It’s hard to take for a moment more
We’ve got to

Burn the ships, cut the ties
Send a flare into the night
Say a prayer, turn the tide
Dry your tears and wave goodbye

Step into a new day
We can rise up from the dust and walk away
We can dance upon our heartache, yeah
So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships
And don’t you look back

Don’t let it arrest you
This fear is fear of fallin’ again
And if you need a refuge
I will be right here until the end
Oh, it’s time to

Burn the ships, cut the ties
Send a flare into the night
Say a prayer, turn the tide
Dry your tears and wave goodbye

Step into a new day
We can rise up from the dust and walk away
We can dance upon our heartache, yeah…

The term “Burn the Ships” originated in the early 1500’s when an explorer arrived in the New World with six hundred men after a long, dangerous voyage. The explorer was ready to leave safety and head into a new place. He told his men, “We are going to conquer this new territory!” All the men were terrified and the commander realized that the cramped, damp, unsanitary, rat infested conditions of the ships were where they wanted to remain because it was familiar. The next day he called them out and when all the sailors were on land, he gave the command, “Burn the ships! We are not going to retreat!” In that instant, he totally committed himself and crew. He sent a clear message to his men: “There is no turning back!”

What an awesome metaphor!! What “ships” do we need to burn? What are the things that we need to surrender?  What obstacles litter our paths that hinder us? What are the sins that strangle our lives, need to be crucified, and left behind? What weighs us down and pulls us under water? What griefs consume us? What idols do we cling to, trap us, and ensnare us? What are our immoral behaviors and habits? What are our chains of bondage mentally? What do we need to abstain from and leave behind?

Abortion

Abuse of Animals

Adultery

Anorexia

Anxiety

Any Involvement with the Occult (i.e. Witchcraft, Sorceries, Casting Spells, Demonology, Satanism, Black Magic, Voo Doo & White Magic, Divinations, Tarot Cards, Ouija Boards, Séances, Fortune Tellers, Etc.)

Arrogancy

Bestiality

Being a Negative Influence on Others

Believing That God Will Refuse to Forgive You or Could Not Love You

Bitterness

Boasting

Breaking Promises Deliberately

Covetousness

Deceit

Deliberately Choosing Evil

Depression

Despair

Destruction of Other Persons’ Property

Dishonesty

Disobedience

Drug Abuse including Prescription, Over-the-Counter, and Street Drugs

Drunkenness including any Drinking under the Age of 21

Embezzlement

Envy

Evil Thoughts

Excessive Gambling

Extortion

Fear

Filthiness

Foolishness

Gang Activity

Gluttony

Gossip

Greediness

Grumbling

Hatred

Homosexuality

Idleness

Idolatry (taken from the book by Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods)

  • Anything in this world that becomes a God alternative; a counterfeit God
  • Whatever captures the human heart or takes priority over God
  • Things turned into supreme things
  • Anything we build our happiness and security on
  • Anything more important than God
  • Anything that absorbs our hearts and imaginations
  • Anything we seek more than God to give us what only God can give
  • Anything so central and essential to our lives, that should we lose it, our lives would feel hardly worth living
  • Anything that has a controlling position in our hearts that without a thought we spend most of our passion, energy, emotional, and financial resources
  • Whatever we worship or serve as a deity (whatever we love, trust, and obey, we serve)
  • Anything that becomes more fundamental than God
  • Anything more important and non-negotiable that becomes enslaving  
  • Strongholds – causes or beliefs that we strongly defend and uphold

Impatience

Impure Language

Impure Thoughts

Incest

Indifference to Good or Evil

Ingratitude

Intentional Violation of Rules

Irreverence toward God or Toward His Holy Name

Jealousy

Laziness

Littering

Lude Jesting

Lust

Lying

Malice

Materialism

Mocking

Murder

Narcissism

No Absolutes or Conscience of Sin

Not Practicing Spiritual Disciplines (Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Fellowship, Stewardship, Submission/Obedience, Study, Evangelism, Confession, Solitude, Gratitude, Self-Examination, Silence)

People We Need to Separate Ourselves From

Perjury

Physical, Emotional, Sexual Abuse

Premarital Sex

Pride

Rage

Rape

Reckless Driving

Resentment

Ridiculing Others

Rioting

Rudeness

Selfishness

Self-Superiority and Importance

Sexual Immorality

Slander

Stealing

Stirring up Trouble

Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

Theft

Unbelief

Unforgiving

Unmerciful

Unthankful

Using Others for Your Own Personal Gain

Watching or Looking at Pornographic Materials

Worshipping False Gods

I am not pointing the finger at anyone. I had absolutely no one in mind as I compiled this list, except for the glaring, flashing red warning lights of my own. You see, we ALL have ships we need to burn; we ALL have sin! The Bible says, “for ALL have sinned and fall short,” – we are ALL guilty before God! We ALL struggle with sin every single day. However, I am solid in this belief – “Apart from Christ, I can do NOTHING!” – I cannot overcome anything; I cannot have victory over sin without Christ. Oh yes, absolutely I can burn some ships, but how often have I found myself constructing another ship, sinner that I am!

Paul says in Romans, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Romans 7:18-25

James states, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived…” James 1:14-16

And Peter says, “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed…and in their greed they will exploit you with false words. For if God did not spare angels (Satan and his followers) when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if He did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others (Noah’s family), when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;  if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes He condemned them to extinction (death), making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if He rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them (the wicked) day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority… For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.  II Peter 2

This all sounds so fatalistic! Satan loves nothing more than to attack us with discouragement and defeat. Where is our hope? Here is our eternal hope, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him (Jesus) should not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 Christ is our hope for overcoming our sin, not a New Year’s resolution. Satan never has the final word. In Christ lies victory! I believe our sins are in need of continuous atonement. Christ is our once for all atonement for all sin, but I need to continually apply His blood over all my sin. No matter how many mistakes I make, no matter how many setbacks I experience, I can always start again. In humility, confessing my sin and asking forgiveness, He always offers atonement for me; he always welcomes me home.

It does not have to be a New Year, a New Month, a New Day, a New Moon, or a New Dawn to try again. It does not matter how many times you have tried in the past. Through Christ, you get a second, third, and fourth onward chance to try repeatedly for however long it takes. We get innumerable chances to try again – yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, or by the minute. Our goal is continuous progress in the right direction for however long it takes. Change is a process; repentance is an action of sincere remorse; and Christ’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness offer renewed hope each and every time. Never give up! Never stop trying! You get to start fresh each and every morning!!

  • “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23
  • “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
  • “…greater is He who is in you than he (Satan) who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4
  • “… we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
  • “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” 1 Peter 5:8-9
  • “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper… Isaiah 54:17
  • “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:11-17
  • “In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37
  • “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57
  • “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6
  • “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3
  • “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Luke 10:19
  • “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
  • “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
  • “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
  • “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
  • “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
  • “Fight the good fight of the faith…” 1 Timothy 6:12
  • “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
  • “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Romans 8:31
  • “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
  • “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Surely, he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart…” Psalm 91:1-4
  • “This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” 2 Chronicles 20:15

Let’s ‘send up a flare into the night, say a prayer, light a match, leave the past, and burn some ships!!’

Love you, mean it!!

Crosses to Carry

Raise your hand if you have burdens you bear. It does not matter if those burdens are permanent or temporary, heavy or light, exposed or hidden, or even perhaps you are driving with your eyes closed, trust me, eventually you will crash! Come on, raise those hands, we ALL have our crosses to bear in this life. Some crosses are unchangeable and interminable. Some crosses are an adversity lasting an indeterminate, but limited amount of time. Some crosses are things that ‘happen to us’ causing severe ripple effects throughout our entire lifespan. Some crosses are consequences from conscious or ignorant choices made. Some crosses are life, redefining moments that establish a time marker of before and after where life breaks forever, you are now stumbling through an unfamiliar dense forest, and your life story is instantly getting re-written; life will never be the same.  Now that all of your hands are finally raised, you ALL can put your hands down now.

If we put together an impromptu list of crosses people bear, I imagine it would be a scroll stretching out unfathomable miles and truthfully still would never be all-encompassing.  I have my truly unbelievable ‘stuff’ to me, but I know every single person on the face of this earth has their personal story filled with hardships. I wish I had an anonymous PO Box to receive anonymous stories from willing people about their adversities. I think it would be quite therapeutic and safe to unload a portion of that weight. Whatever your crosses and however you define them, at times the pills seem too hard to swallow. To me I can feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up that steep hill; sometimes I would like to let go of that boulder and just let it steamroller over me. Crosses equal suffering! Suffering equals grief, pain, agony, anguish, despair, temptations, trials, and tribulations. I have had times when I felt like I simply could not tolerate my constant-never-ending-at-times-desperate struggling.  

For me, I did not exactly win the “Wonderful Parenting, Happy Childhood” lottery. Life was MESSED up!!! Nevertheless, I drove through life with my eyes closed. Externally, I gave the appearance of all together, life was a bed of roses – clean, pruned, good job, faithful employee, bills paid, nice clothes, friends, attend church and served, practiced personal spiritual disciplines, warm and cozy tidy meticulous home (all things said in no certain order,) the only external red flashing beacon of light giving off urgent warning signals was my ever-increasing weight. I was over-qualified at surviving, recovering, and denying and onward I raced through my inner obstacle course. On the inside, I was MESSED up! Weedy vines began choking out and killing my roses! Those vines intertwined around everything; they were killer vines invading and smothering my landscape. Yet, I was merrily speeding through life with my eyes closed at a high rate of speed. I did not even realize these vines had suction cupped and attached themselves to every piece of me, until eventually, I crashed. In reality, I was being internally strangulated by choking vines; I was being attacked by rose thorns causing injurious deep scrapes and cuts; I was slowly fading and dying. I carried crosses labeled spiritual, physical, gender, marital, financial, bankruptcy, loss of house, moving, friendships, family, financial, employment, disability, death, mental issues, therapeutic abuse, medical nightmares, insomnia, buried feelings of emptiness, loneliness, resentment, shame, PTSD, etc. – all symptomatic seepage from my internal brokenness.  I was fighting a fierce battle of survival, trust me I had an extreme arsenal of weapons acquired in childhood where I learned how to survive. Eventually, profound despair, exhaustion, and hopelessness turned into a daily crusade of desperately wanting to take my own life. I would sit at work on the third floor, thinking about going down to the vacant first floor restroom and slashing my wrists. I would think about OD’ing on pills. The abyss kept getting deeper and darker the further my mind slipped into searching for an escape hatch.

This is just a mere glimpse at the tip of my iceberg; it is the unseen mass below the surface that truly needed to be worked at chipping away. It takes a whole lot of courage to choose life; it takes a brave soul to look at what lies beneath the surface. It seems the holidays and winter months can capitalize on my weaknesses, even though I have gained many coping skills. I know that I am not alone. There are oh so very many who suffer during this joyous season – sadness, loneliness, estrangement, anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, fatigue, isolating and social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, depression, PTSD, grief, tearfulness, financial constraints, fear, shame, perfectionism, frustration, irritability, fixating on the past, physical ailments, aches, and pains, etc. These too are symptoms of floating icebergs. It takes bold audacity to drill down inside those frozen parts and take a hard long forward look at what is actually causing behavioral and symptomatic manifestations of deeper causes. It is hard work! It is hard to get gut wrenching honest with yourself and begin identifying your junk. And, it is even harder to implement the life-long changes in order to stop the hemorrhaging. There is always a different way to manage carrying our crosses. Now, I am no authority or professional, and quite honestly am still in recovery, but we have been able to cut away some of the vines, remove some of the thorns, I am breathing a little better these days, and definitely I am not suicidal.

I don’t begin to know or pretend to know what cross you are bearing; I don’t know if it is a thorn in the flesh, a death, a divorce, a sick child, someone terminally ill, mental illness, personal injury or illness, addiction, family issues, troubles at work, change in work status, less than favorable custody arrangement, financial decline, foreclosure, change in residence, school, or church, betrayal, loss of trust, loss of safety, violated, crime, imprisonment, a bad hair day, or hell on earth. Here is what I do know. There is ALWAYS hope, there is always something to be thankful for, and there are acts of service we can do for others to switch our focus!!  I do not mean denial; I mean concentrating on good things. Your situation might not change tomorrow, next week, a month, or a year from now, but there is hope and something to find gratitude for in the midst. You may spend a lifetime praying for something that will never be and at times, it makes your heart so painfully sad that you recoil from life for a bit, lick your wounds, and slowly emerge with renewed hope. Press the reset button and do a good deed for someone else. Somehow, find gratitude and bless someone else. You may spend a lifetime battling an addiction – rising and falling, rising and falling, time after time hoping this time will be victory at last. Do not give up hope! Extend grace and mercy to yourself. Stand up, brush yourself off, and try again! You may be carrying a hidden grief so heavy and painful that at times you are drowning and suffocating. Do not let hope slide away. Look around for even a miniscule something to be thankful for and spread a little joy somewhere. Whatever your cross, keep hope alive, find gratitude in the waiting, and grasp that little mustard seed of faith. Miracles happen everyday!

I want to share a writing by someone anonymous to me:

THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

The whole Christmas story is full of miracles. 

I personally find them hard to comprehend. 

It makes no sense. 

How could the infinite eternal God become a baby? 

Not only how, but also why? 

Why would He choose to be born to peasant parents? 

Why would He empty Himself of every advantage of His divine nature? 

Why would He choose to become a servant and become obedient to death?

even death on a cross? 

Why to sinners like us did He do it?

It is because of his all-encompassing love.

I cannot explain it, but I believe it.

I thank God for sending His Son to an imperfect world. 

To a world that celebrates the spirit of consumerism

Where Christmas comes from shopping lists, catalogs, and the almighty credit card.

I pray God delivers us from empty cheer and season’s greetings born of obligation. 

I hope He delivers us from all the social events that supposedly honor Jesus. 

Surely, Christmas is supposed to be more than packages, paper, bows, silver bells, Frosty, Rudolph and all his reindeer friends.

You see the true spirit of Christmas cannot be found in a store window or in a Christmas carol.

Christmas is not giving bigger and better so we can get bigger and better.

You cannot count Christmas by the number of decorations you use.

We cannot even count Christmas by the number of manger scenes and stars we have on the tree. 

In fact, we cannot even count Christmas by the number of verses we memorize. 

I pray God would grant us the true spirit of Christmas:

Generosity of heart and the love, which caused Christ to wrap Himself in the garments of our humanity.

I pray God shows us the true meaning of Christmas and affirms our worth apart from what we have or what we do.

For reasons which only His Holy love can explain, God gave Christ to become one of us and to suffer the consequences of our sin.

This Holiday season as we’re in the middle of singing carols, baking cookies, decorating our homes and opening our gifts

remember to leave room for CHRIST.   

“For unto us was born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Prince of Peace, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father.”

As we celebrate Christ’s entrance into the world, let us try to make our world a little better.

Mend a quarrel

Call a friend

Seek out a forgotten friend

Do random acts of kindness

Give compliments, encouragement, and appreciation

Do not be critical of others

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a letter

Send cards of kindness

Share some treasure

Cook dinner together

Bake something and take it to a neighbor

Pay for someone else

Let others go first

Give a soft answer

Say ‘Thank You’

Encourage one another

Be loyal in word and deed

Keep a promise

Listen

Love unconditionally

Apologize if you are wrong

Try to understand and show acceptance

Disregard envy

Be joyful

Express your gratitude

Welcome a stranger

Invite a friend for hot chocolate

Gladden the heart of a child

If you’ve wronged someone, fix it

If you think you’ve wronged someone, fix it

Forgive

Go outdoors and take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of this earth

Make a difference

I am not talking about the other person

I am talking about you; you are the one that can make the difference.

It starts with you.                    

At Christmas, we tend to believe all things are possible.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

Sin can be forgiven.

Broken relationships can be restored.

Hearts can be healed.

Try to make your little corner of the world a better place!

To those who believe:

EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US!

Anonymous

Glad tidings of joy!

Merry Christmas!

Love you, meant it!

Maybe Life is a Little Bit More

For some reason, I have lost my blogging mojo! I have not lost my enthusiasm about the blog; I love writing and I love my blog. It is as if I have lost my energy and concentration. It is at these junctures, I need to push myself into deeper water. In deeper water, I can either give up and drown or dig into that well of reserves and swim with more determination.  So, here I am swimming with determination, but in what direction? I am floundering with what to whittle out, though in reality the pickings are truly abundant. Hey, there’s a word — “abundant.” Seems like a great word for the Christmas season. Now, I am not talking about prosperity, I am talking about abundance. Prosperity, on the other hand, has more to do with material possessions and affluence. Scratch prosperity, that is not what I want to talk about, though I think the two get mingled together into one ideology never considering the distinctions.  

Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the Prosperity Gospel or New Thought) peddles a controversial religious thinking filled with accusations of hypocrisy. This notion promotes the will of God as always being financial blessings and the alleviation of sickness and poverty. Faith, prayer, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. If humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity; after all, it is God’s will for His people to be blessed. One prominent proponent of these teachings is Joel Osteen. Osteen owns a $10.5 million, 17,000 square foot mansion with 6 bedrooms and bathrooms, 5 open wood fire places, 3 elevators, a guest house, an outdoor pool, and pool house in River Oaks, Texas (a ‘burb’ of Houston, Texas, paying over $260,000 in property taxes yearly.) *Picture below

Joel Osteen’s Mansion

His lifestyle includes fancy cars (for sure a Ferrari), private jets, yachts, tailored suits, a wife refined by lavish jewels, attired in top quality garments, etc. His estimated net worth is $50-60 million. A satirical joke by the Babylon Bee circulated during Hurricane Harvey saying, “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’ ” (it is worth a little chuckle!) Now, I am going to just leave this right here because I am not a proponent of this doctrine. However, I will toss out a couple questions to ponder:

  1. Who is the primary beneficiary of the prosperity gospel? The leader?
  2. Wouldn’t Jesus have been the wealthiest man on earth?
  3. How do you explain the persistence of suffering, sickness, and disaster among Christians?
  4. Where are treasures laid up under this religiosity? – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”

I really want to try to keep this simple. Abundant living is not material blessings as I interpret scripture. I believe abundant living is quite the opposite. Abundant living is:

  • Faith and hope in Jesus; eternal life –
  • A true personal relationship with Jesus – “…the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God…”
  • Pray, Pray, Pray about everything – “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
  • Reading the Bible – learning and maturing in wisdom and knowledge of truth – ““Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
  • Trusting in God’s power and presence in your life – “”I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”
  • Trusting that God is all knowing – ““I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning…”
  • Desiring God more than what the world offers like material possessions, status, achievement, recognition, popularity, approval, acceptance, attention, idolatry, fulfillment of the flesh
  • Practicing the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • Confessing our sins regularly; asking forgiveness from God and others; apologizing; swallowing pride and humbling oneself to specifically say “I’m sorry for…”  – “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in loving kindness.” The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth…”
  • Asking God for help and helping others – “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
  • Choosing gratitude, being thankful for EVERYTHING – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in ALL circumstances” (not some), “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you…”
  • Contentment in ALL circumstances – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” “O, taste and see that the Lord is good…”
  • Choosing joy and peace amidst grief, difficult circumstances, and painful struggles (the list is not comprehensive, but here are many to contemplate choosing joy and peace amidst the pain) –

Death of a spouse
Divorce or Marital separation
Imprisonment
Death of a close family member
Personal injury or illness, major surgeries
Mental Illness
Abuse
Job termination or resignation
Retirement
Change in health of family member
Loss of Pregnancy or child
Sexual difficulties
Change in financial state
Death of a close friend
Change to different line of work
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
Bankruptcy
Disability
Change in responsibilities at work
Child leaving home
Trouble with in-laws or family members
Spouse starts or stops employment
Change in living conditions
Revision of personal habits
Change in residence, moving
Change in church
Change in sleeping habits
Change in eating habits
Christmas & Holidays & Anniversaries
Home invasion, theft of property or threat of
Loss of Trust, Betrayal, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety  

  • Deep, abiding peace that passes all understanding that does not come from deep breathing and counting to ten
  • Choosing to live a changed new life as a new creation through the power of Christ
  • Surrendering our will and desires over to God – one example is addictions, which includes failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, overcoming, over and over until we have victory
  • Resting in God’s sovereignty and timing – “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” “I the Lord do not change.”
  • Loving and giving to others – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  “…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

You see, the abundant life is NOT an abundance of tangible “stuff” purchased at stores or online amassed in our homes or owning finer things keeping up appearances or keeping up with the Joneses, accumulating treasures here on earth. The abundant life is about the abundance of Jesus. I have often looked around our home and wondered what if I literally sold it all? A young man approached Jesus asking what good thing must he do to receive eternal life. Jesus replied, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Just think about that for a minute. What if we sold all our material prosperity and gave the money to the poor? What if?

Charlie Brown struggled with the meaning of Christmas and the trappings of consumerism until Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas.

And, even the Grinch in all his grinchiness finally grasps:

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

The abundant life is about eternity with Jesus – “setting our minds on things above” and “storing up treasures in heaven.”  The abundant life is a state of being from within and living it outwardly toward others. The abundant life is a continual, un-ending season of giving; it is living out our faith through good deeds and blessing others. The abundant life is following Jesus.

Love you, mean it!

Come, Emmanuel by Twila Paris

Album: House of Worship, 2003

Come and speak to us
Come and renew us
Come and live through us, Emmanuel
Grace to implore us
Ever before us
Come and restore us, Emmanuel

Come Emmanuel
Come Emmanuel
[x2]

Once mercy found us
Still You astound us
Hold and surround us, Emmanuel
Living inside us
Faithful to guide us
Cover and hide us, Emmanuel

Love that begins us
Pardons and wins us
Come and reign in us, Emmanuel
Come and speak to us
Fill and renew us
Come and live through us, Emmanuel

“The Sands” by Sheldon Vanauken

“The soul for comfort holds herself to be
Inviolate; but like the blowing sands
That sift in shuttered houses, Christ’s demands
Intrude and sting, deny her to be free

She twists and turns but finds it vain to flee,
The living Word is in the very air,
She can’t escape a wound that’s everywhere,
She can but stand or yield—to ecstasy

Her Lord is seeking entrance; she must choose.
A thickening callous can withstand the pain
Of this rough irritant, the sands that swirl
Against her thus defied. But if she lose
Her self, Christ enters in—the sharp-edged grain
Of sand embedded grows a shining pearl”

Book: Prisoner in the Third Cell by Gene Edwards

“Shall we scorn that God has revealed so little concerning His ways,
or rejoice that He has revealed so much?”

The book is a glimpse inside the life of John the Baptist, based on the scripture of Matthew 11:6, and the subject that Jesus does not give explanation or healing to everyone. Approximately five years ago, a friend loaned me this book. At that time, my world was swirling in the basement of rock bottom, asking and questioning, “Why, why am I in this dark, foreign pit? Why would God allow all this? Maybe I have been brainwashed to believe in this God?  God certainly does not love all people the same.” The author’s words offered a forgiving mat of padding for me on my concrete basement floor. The book is a gentle read in one sitting; I actually recommend it. It keeps congruency in the progression and brings it all home in the tempering summation at the end.

This is my second time reading the book. Wow! My thinking has changed immensely and I am in a different space in the house now. I am not in the basement of rock bottom. I am not wrestling so fiercely with this God who allows suffering and sorrow with seemingly no explanation. Though I continue to grieve for myself and others, I continue to wrestle with the ‘Why’ questions, and I grapple with fears of slipping into that darkness again, yet I am changed in several ways, not ‘because’ of reading this book alone, but rather through reading this book, God planted seeds of new perspective and thinking. Praise God!  Thank you, God!  

For me, the book is like rinsing with mouthwash; it disinfects the heart and mind a bit. If you allow the story to truly sink in, laying aside personal pain, heartache, expectations, resentment, anger, and anything else that seeps out and infects our hearts and minds throughout suffering, the book can soften the edges of your heart, shift your thoughts, and open a window in the house for a ray of light called hope. Though we may never know in this life the reason for our sufferings and sorrows, we can be confident that our God is sovereign and Jesus is acquainted, and I believe weeps, with ALL our suffering. We can have peace amidst suffering and sorrow; we can trust and have faith when there is no explanation.

A few quotes from the book:

“It has been said that it is impossible to forgive a man who deliberately hurts you for the sole purpose of destroying you or lowering you. If this be true, you have but one hope:  to see this unfair hurt as coming by permission from God for the purpose of lifting your stature above that place where formerly you stood.”

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“There is no end to the wickedness of the human heart.”

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“They do not know,” he (Jesus) sighed. “They will know, but not here on this earth. All they will ever know in this lifetime is that I did not come to them in their hour of greatest need. Today they, like all others, have met a God they do not understand…Everywhere I look I see my people caught up in circumstances not of their own making…Yet I have been to you, as to all others, a Lord not fully understood, a God who rarely makes clear exactly what He is doing in the life of one of His children.”

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“…every believer imagines his God to be a certain way, and is quite sure his Lord will do certain things under certain conditions. But your Lord is never quite what you imagine Him to be.

You have now come face to face with a God whom you do not fully understand. You have met a God who does not live up to your expectations. Every believer must come to grips with a God who did not do things quite the way it was expected.

Today you are resentful of those who so callously hurt you. But no, not really. Truth is you are angry with God because, ultimately, you are not dealing with men; you are dealing with the sovereign hand of your Lord. Behind all events, behind all things, there is always His sovereign hand.

The question is not, “Why is God doing this? Why is He like this?” The question is not, “Why does He not answer me?” The question is not, “I need Him desperately; why does He not come rescue me?” The question is not, “Why did God allow this tragedy to happen to me, to my children, to my wife, to my husband, to my family?” Nor is it, “Why does God allow Injustices?”

The question before the house is this: “Will you follow a God you do not understand? Will you follow a God who does not live up to your expectations?”

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“Your Lord has put something in your life, which you cannot bear. The burden is simply too great. He was never supposed to do this! But the question remains, “Will you continue to follow this God who did not live up to your expectations?”

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“Dear reader, no one can fully understand the pain you feel as you suffer your present situation. Whether it came upon you because circumstances or by the deeds of men, one thing is certain. Before this present tragedy entered into your life, it first passed through the sovereign hand of God.”

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Matthew 11:6

“And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…

 And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…

 And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…”

Book – Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

“The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
Habakkuk 3:19

This book was published in 1955 in the UK and from the brief excerpt from the back of the book, extracts considerably from the author’s life.    

The book leaves many fingerprints on me. The journey of Much-Afraid is symbolic to the Christian’s path of transformation in life from unbeliever to child believer to mature believer. It certainly portrays that God, through love, can convert the most damaged soul. The book presents human barriers through various allegories that parallel the ebb and flow tides of life and incomprehensible passageways that most endure framed one way or another  – fear, humiliation, sorrow, suffering, injury, waiting, silence, cruelty, impossibilities, heartbreaking detours, incalculable obstacles  devastating set- backs, learning to accept help, bruising, threshing, grinding, cutting, kneading ,shaping, smelting and refining of dross, complicated hindrances, and constraints  and limitations that peck away at perspective and trust. The story illustrates the importance of humility, faith, hope, trusting in God’s love, presence, sovereignty, and provisions; obedience, courage, surrender, resilience, and perseverance despite the obstacles of evil, temptations, limitations, disabilities, listening to/believing wrong voices or imaginations, attitudes, and lack of understanding. I felt the book was a quick read, yet I paused often to consider what truth the author was symbolizing. The quotes I share below gave me reason to pause and a couple I actually surfaced deep emotion.

I loved the author’s use of creation. These allegorical scenes gave depth of imagery to the struggles and triumphs, as well as the names of the characters and places.  

Nature – landscapes, waterfalls, avalanches, flowers, grass, trees, rocks, mountains, snowy peaks, precipices, pinnacles, valleys, caves, canyon, gorge, meadows, plains, woods, seas, deserts, the moon and the stars

Weather – mist, clouds, sun, blue skies, visibility, darkness, thunder, rain, floods, storms, cold, hot

Four senses – the smells of the flowers, incense, perfumes, and herbs; all the beautiful places and colors she saw as she journeyed; all sounds she listened to in nature, the birds, the songs, and the voices of the other characters; and the taste of food and bitter and sweet water.

Characters and Places

  • Much-Afraid
  • Companions Sorry & Suffering
  • Dismal Forebodings (Much-Afraid’s aunt)
  • Craven Fear the Bully (son of Dismal Forebodings, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Gloomy and Coward (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Spiteful and Timid Skulking (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Pride, Resentment, Bitterness, Self-Pity, Anguish, Despair
  • Village of Much Trembling
  • Valley of Humiliation
  • Shores of Loneliness
  • Precipice of Injury
  • Wilderness of Agony and Disappointment
  • Forests of Danger and Tribulation
  • Valley of Loss
  • The Weed of Impatience
  • Flower of Acceptance and Joy
  • Bearing-with-Love
  • Praise and Thanksgiving
  • Kingdom of Love

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Quotes from the book:

“Then will you let me plant the seed of true Love there now?” asked the Shepherd. “It will take you some time to develop hinds’ feet and climb to the High Places, and if I put the seed in your heart now it will be ready to bloom by the time you get there.”

Much-Afraid shrank back. “I am afraid,” she said. “I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can.”

“That is true,” agreed the Shepherd. “To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”

She nodded miserably and then said shamefacedly, “Yes, very much afraid of it.”

“But it is so happy to love,” said the Shepherd quietly. “It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.”

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“She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry, and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply pointed thorn. Much-Afraid had often noticed that the Shepherd’s hands were scarred and wounded, but now she saw that the scar in the palm of the hand held out to her was the exact shape and size of the seed of Love lying beside it.

“The seed looks very sharp,” she said shrinkingly. “Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?”

He answered gently, “It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.”

Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. “When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return” and a strange new courage entered into her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, “Please plant the seed here in my heart.”

 His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, “Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.”

Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, “It is so happy to love”…

“Thank you, thank you,” she cried, and knelt at the Shepherd’s feet. “How good you are. How patient you are. There is no one in the whole world as good and kind as you…

“I am more glad even than you,” said the Shepherd.”

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“Once the Shepherd stooped and touched the flowers gently with His fingers, then said to Much-Afraid with a smile, ‘Humble yourself, and you will find that Love is spreading a carpet of flowers beneath your feet.’

Much-Afraid looked at Him earnestly. ‘I have often wondered about the wild flowers,’ she said. ‘It does seem strange that such unnumbered multitudes should bloom in the wild places of the earth where perhaps nobody ever sees them and the goats and the cattle can walk over them and crush them to death. They have so much beauty and sweetness to give and no one on whom to lavish it, nor who will even appreciate it.’

The look the Shepherd turned on her was very beautiful. ‘Nothing My Father and I have made is ever wasted,’ He said quietly, ‘and the little wild flowers have a wonderful lesson to teach. They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no one to appreciate them, just as though they sang a joyous little song to themselves, that it is so happy to love, even though one is not loved in return.

‘I must tell you a great truth, Much-Afraid, which only the few understand. Of all the fairest beauties in the human soul, its greatest victories, and its most splendid achievements are always those which no one else knows anything about, or can only dimly guess at. Every inner response of the human heart to Love and every conquest over self-love is a new flower on the tree of Love. Many a quiet, ordinary, and hidden life, unknown to the world, is a veritable garden in which Love’s flowers and fruits have come to such perfection that it is a place of delight where the King of Love Himself walks and rejoices with His friends.

Some of My servants have indeed won great visible victories and are rightly loved and reverenced by other men, but always their greatest victories are like the wild flowers, those which no one knows about. Learn this lesson now, down here in the valley, Much-Afraid, and when you get to the steep places of the mountains it will comfort you.’”

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“Would you be willing to trust me,” he asked, “even if everything in the wide world seemed to say that I was deceiving you – indeed, that I had deceived you all along?”

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“For one black, awful moment Much-Afraid really considered the possibility of following the Shepherd no longer, of turning back. She need not go on. There was absolutely no compulsion about it. She had been following this strange path with her two companions as guides simply because it was the Shepherd’s choice for her. It was not the way which she naturally wanted to go. Now she could make her own choice. Her sorrow and suffering could be ended at once, and she could plan her life in the way she liked best, without the Shepherd. During that awful moment or two it seemed to Much-Afraid that she was actually looking into an abyss of horror, into an existence in which there was no Shepherd to follow or to trust or to love – no Shepherd at all, nothing but her own horrible self. Ever after, it seemed that she had looked straight down into Hell.”

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“Other desires might clamor strongly and fiercely nearer the surface of her nature, but she knew now that down in the core of her own being she was so shaped that nothing could fit, fill, or satisfy her heart but he himself. ‘Nothing else really matters,’ she said to herself, ‘only to love him and to do what he tells me. I don’t know quite why it should be so, but it is. All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.”

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“Again he (The Shepherd) smiled, but only remarked quietly that the important thing about altars was that they made possibilities of apparent impossibilities…”

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“…take the natural longing for human love and desire which you found already growing in your heart when I planted my own love there, go up to the mountains and offer them as a burnt offering…she put out her hand and with one final effort of failing strength grasped the natural human love and desire growing in her heart and struggled to tear them out. At the first touch it was as though anguish pierced through her every nerve and fiber, and she knew with a pang almost of despair that the roots had wound and twined and thrust themselves into every part of her being. Though she put forth all her remaining strength in the most desperate effort to wrench them out, not a single rootlet stirred…in the grave of her own hopes…the priest wrenched it out of her heart, her flower of human love and desire, the plant of longing-to-be-loved, and burned it on the altar.”

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“She had the feeling that somehow, in the very far-off places, perhaps even in the far-off ages, there would be a meaning found to all sorrow and an answer too fair and wonderful to be as yet understood.”

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“She felt nothing but a great stillness in which only one desire remained, to do that which he had told her, simply because he had asked it of her.”

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“Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if it is reacted to in love and forgiveness and obedience to your will can be transformed.”

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“I have noticed that when people are brought into sorrow and suffering, or loss, or humiliation, or grief, or into some place of great need, they sometimes become ready to know the Shepherd and to seek his help.”

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“For he loves each one of us…as though there were the only one to love.”

Grace and Glory, Joy and Peace

“His name is an ointment poured forth…”

Book: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher

A friend loaned me this book with high accolades. I would rather not say how long ago she passed it my way, but I am seeing her tomorrow and was determined to finish reading it. I am typically reading multiple books at the same time, but of late have been trying to dwindle down those numbers.

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The book summary on the jacket cover reads:

When his little sister Ruthie Leming was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer, cosmopolitan journalist Rod Dreher was touched by the way the community he had left behind – St Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) – rallied around her. On visits home during her illness, he was afforded glimpses of a world he had turned his back on as a teenager.

A concert at the town sports park, dubbed Leming Aid, raised $43,000 to help Ruthie, a local schoolteacher, and her husband, Mike, an Iraq war veteran pay their medical bills. At the event an old friend pulled the author aside, pointed to the crowd of people there to support his sister and said, “This is how it is supposed to be. This is what folks do for each other.”

Dreher was also struck by the grace and courage his sister displayed in the face of death. Back home for Ruthie’s funeral, Dreher began to wonder whether the commonplace life Ruthie led in Louisiana was in fact a path to hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher.

To explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife, Julie, decided to leave Philadelphia and move back to his hometown. There he would help with family responsibilities, be there for Ruthie’s girls, and raise his three children amid the rituals that had defined his family for five generations – Mardi Gras, LSU football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described the move in his New York Times column, Dreher and his wife “Decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.”

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For me, the book started out slow, perhaps that is why I felt like I was dragging it around. However, the book does depict very real issues. Sibling rivalry is a current running throughout the pages. I could not understand Ruthie’s opposition and misperceptions she held against her brother for choosing to pursue his dreams beyond the small Louisiana Parish. Her resentment toward Rod strangulated the potential warm relationship they could have shared and placed undue awkwardness on the family system. Clearly, this was in sharp contrast to the relationships she maintained with her husband and children, the community, the church, and her professional peers. These two contrasts blur her true character for me. I wonder if the author’s rearview mirror was rose colored in an attempt to honor his sister’s life, tempered with trying to bring understanding and closure for him.

The issues of cancer and the far-reaching effects on everyone involved are sad, but West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana showed true value of community. Ruthie seemed to manage her fate with grace. The story does lead the reader to ask questions about what really matters in this life. Her story brings in a little focus on how faith in Christ helps sustain a strength, perseverance, and peace beyond understanding.

I felt half of the book dealt with Rod’s life (the author and brother.) I wonder if the book was away for him to probe and workout his personal life decisions. From an early age, his heart leaned toward escaping the small town. He wanted to pursue bigger opportunities that were not possible if he remained in a small community. He had a constant wrestling inside over his choices of leaving home, which religion he would align with, employment, and cities to live in, a constant mental struggle reconciling his life inclinations.  I got the impression that he grappled with giving himself permission to have his own unique identity and preferences. A point of interest to me was Rod’s spiritual life. I felt a true spirit in pursuit of God. He began as a Methodist in the tradition of his family, but soon ventured into Roman Catholicism, finally establishing himself in Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite these transitions, I sensed a true reverence for God.

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A few quotes from the book:

“She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.”

 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They did not have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table. People dropped by constantly, and stayed for dinner—and sometimes into the night, even during the week. They wanted to be around Mam and Paw, who were boundlessly hospitable.”

“There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay—or to stay away—forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given—and to give each other grace.”

“Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you–and it will–you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want–no, you need–to be able to say, as Mike did, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”

Church 102

From my prior blog, Church 101, I wrote, “I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.

These boxes were sealed tight with an encryption that only I could decipher. They contained my interpretation of what a Christian should and should not be, what they should and should not wear, what they should and should not do, where they should and should not go, and what makes a Christian acceptable and loved by God. In other words, I was inherently a bad person on a mission to attain these perfect standards. Then, and only then, could God possibly accept and love me, as well as these church people — or anybody else for that matter. I might as well have been an Israelite trying to live under the letter of the law, conditions of a narrow, rigid moral code that imprisoned me spiritually. And here is the kick in the teeth; I knew no difference because there certainly was no one at church or home explaining anything! These beliefs seeped into me without my awareness. These beliefs coupled with my home life constantly whispered in my ear, “You are unacceptable, a disappointment, and totally unlovable.” These beliefs drove me! I had mountains to climb to achieve that which I desperately longed for – to be acceptable and lovable by God and as a Christian.  

My mother took me to church as an infant onward. Weekly, faithfully we attended Sunday morning Sunday school and then the morning church service directly afterward. Of course, I began in nursery, graduated to toddlers, and then into Sunday school for certain age groups, progressively. When I was five, I shared with my mother that I got saved. She insisted that I was too young to understand what that meant. For two years, she contended I was not saved. At age seven, I had a Sunday school teacher who I thought the sun rose and set on. I lagged behind one Sunday morning after Sunday school helping push the chairs in – it really was not about the chairs, it was about being with her. She asked me if I was saved. I told her no because my mother drilled it into me that I was not. She shared Jesus with me that morning and I got re-saved. She told me I had to go forward during the morning worship service so that it could be announced to the congregation. Huh? You mean walk down that long footpath in front of all those people and tell the pastor I got saved? With fear, trepidation, and my little heart racing, I made my way forward in front of all those people to proclaim my salvation. Two weeks later, I was baptized. As I waded out into the deep baptismal, I heard a gasp hover over the congregation and then this hush of silence. On the way home, my mother told me that those sitting around her turned to her and said it was like seeing an angel walking out. I was wearing a white robe furnished by the church and had white blonde hair. In all truth, these two events were pivotal phenomena in my life. God knew that I would need Him at such a young age to survive all that was happening and all that lie ahead. He became the very foundation upon which I found my hope to keep trying. Without Jesus, I would not be who I am today. At this church, I was further strongly commanded to be reading scripture, memorizing scripture, and praying daily. This is the one box I took from that church that I cherish and hold with deep gratitude.

Now, children’s church felt like overwhelming chaos to me – lots and lots of kids from well to do families who attended the church academy huddled in their groups of friends. Oh, not me! I was fat, which made me a huge target for being ridiculed and laughed at; I owned one dress that I wore week after week as opposed to those who wore the newest trends; I attended public school and not the church academy, which made me an outsider; and I was not in attendance every time the church doors were open, which relegated me to being less than. To make it worse, somewhere between seven and eight years old, my mother began a path of irregular church attendance, which naturally played out in my life. Some weeks we attended both Sunday school and the morning church service; some weeks we attended just Sunday school and would scurry out the door to head home before the morning church service began; and some weeks we did not attend whatsoever. There seemed to be no rhyme, reason, or pattern behind the confusion of what each week brought, but this disrupted pattern of attendance placed me under a huge spotlight. You see, they took attendance. As I entered the Sunday school room or children’s church, someone took my name and checked me off some list. The woman taking attendance for children’s church would inevitably ask me why I had missed the prior week or weeks. Every time, I would tell her, “I don’t know.” One Sunday morning my mother planned to go to Sunday school only. I asked her if we could please stay for church. She asked me why and I told her because the woman keeps questioning me each time I am absent why I am gone. My mother looks at me and says, “You tell her it is none of her business.”  I proceed into children’s church a couple weeks later praying the woman would not notice I had been absent. Not on your life!  She again asks me why I had been absent the past few Sundays and, not knowing anything different, I say, “My mother told me to tell you that it is none of your business.” Granted, I was never questioned again, but it took me years to realize that that response was inappropriate. To this day, I simply say good morning, hi, or if I know the person well enough I might say, hey, I missed you, but I will never ask anyone why he or she was not in attendance.

Because of my father’s negativity about the church and my mother’s free-flowing feelings at home about her personal scrutinization from the church, I already had the strong sense that we were a diseased family of rats attending church amongst the snakes. The way I was treated by the other kids further supported my notion of being eaten alive. To the depth of my soul, I so wanted to fit in and be a part of the kids at church. It would have meant the world to me. But that simply would never, ever be, as hard as I tried. I had not one friend. There was one girl who was the ringleader and literally reminded me of Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie – prissy and spoiled, and displayed a vicious and manipulative personality. One Sunday they announce that our Sunday school class is having an outing. They are going to somebody’s farm to go horseback riding. I desperately wanted to go. I love animals and had never ridden a horse. However, I had no one to go with. As the time got closer, the desire to ride a horse outweighed the fear of going alone and risking the mockery of the other kids. My mother dressed me in a white speckled shirt two sizes too small and off I went. When I arrived at the church, we were instructed to get on the bus. I was last in line to enter the bus and there sat Nellie. My throat choked as she squealed in her shrill voice, “How much do you weigh?” The entire bus erupted into laughter as I deflated, hung my head in shame, and made my way to an empty seat. When we arrived at the farm, the horses were lined up on the opposite side of a wooden fence. We were told to stand on the opposing side of the wooden fence. As would be my fate, a horse walked up behind me and in between the slats of the fence, proceeds to lick me across the top of my suffocating tight white shirt leaving a huge grass stain swiped across the top. Once again, Nellie erupts into laughter and in her shrill voice announces to the entire group what happened causing a ripple effect of laughter. I wish the ground had opened up and swallowed me whole. The humiliation was crippling.

My mind was continuously trying to think of ways to fit in and gain acceptance from these kids. Around my sixth grade year, in an effort to gain acceptance and fit in, I asked my mother if I could attend the church academy. She was sitting at her sewing machine, as always making herself quite the attire, when I approached her with my novel idea. When I asked, she said, “Now why would you want to do that?” I said because I do not have any friends at church and I want to fit in with the kids. She said, “That is no reason for you to attend that academy. Those kids are no better than you are for attending that academy. Besides, we cannot afford to send you there. Do you know how much that costs?” Case closed! I continued attending public school. And, I continued to be the friendless laughing stock each time I attended church.

On another occasion, when I was in seventh grade, the 50 some year old teacher of the Sunday school class I was attending announces that we will be having a back to school pizza party at her home the following Saturday. Now my motivation to go had nothing to do with pizza or being with the kids. Truthfully, I would have rather played in traffic than be the fat girl scarfing down pizza in front of Nellie. My motive was the Sunday school teacher’s niece. Remember the Sunday school teacher that I thought the sun rose and set on, the one who shared Jesus with me? That was her niece. Her niece was the co-teacher of our class. She was not present in the class every Sunday morning, but I knew she was helping with the back to school pizza party. I wanted to attend the event because I wanted to see her. Did I mean anything to her? Not so much, as the years revealed, for that matter we never had conversation. But if you recall that emptiness that I spoke of in a prior blog, I was chasing after love from birth and other than my grandmother, she was probably the first female I wanted to love me. What a mistake to go to this party! What a BIG mistake!  You know how the Grinch’s heart grew 3X larger that day? My body had grown up and out over the summer and literally I had no pants that fit. Now my mother was a fine seamstress and in her brilliancy, rather than make me a new pair of pants, she decides to take a pair of my treasured undersized knit peach pants and sew (no kidding here) a 6-inch lace on the bottom of each leg of the pants. In a panic, I tell her, “No, I cannot wear those. I will look like a freak!” She convinces me that the lace makes them look really nice, they will not be too short, and everyone will think I look so cute. I wanted to puke the entire ride there. My mother drops me off at the end of the driveway. I see the kids playing baseball in the yard. I begin walking toward the area. I hear a piercing “Look” that split the atmosphere like lightning. Nellie begins pointing and laughing hysterically creating a riotous scene. As I got closer, the niece of the Sunday school teacher is standing on the porch watching the entire incident playout. No one stopped it. I had no way of leaving. I fell into a silent world of pure hell! This was the last attempt to participate in any church activity – no more Sunday school parties, no more children’s church, and no more youth activities. Remember those  boxes – the one overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and the other box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids – they both also contained blood from the wounds that dug so deep into my very soul.

That last box of legalism contained so many rules. And, I believed every single one. They were leverage against myself, indicators of my spirituality or lack thereof, markers of defeat, gages to remind me that I was not worthy to be loved, and guides that drove me just about over the edge.

Now, here is what I did love. I loved walking quietly into the huge sanctuary, locating my mother, quietly sitting in the pew, and listening to the prelude music. I loved singing the hymns. I loved hearing the beautiful choir each Sunday. I loved special music. And, I loved hearing the Word of God preached. At the most important level, somehow God got ahold of my heart and despite the fact that my heart was broken, I believe He held onto me beyond any words that I could ever write.

Love you, mean it!

Church 101

When I was 15, my mother announces we are leaving the large, wealthy Baptist church. She was a charter member, but no longer could tolerate the scrutiny of the pastor and many other members. I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.

In this church, my mother was unacceptable because she came as a single parent bringing my brother and I on Sunday mornings, sometimes to Sunday School and church, sometimes just to Sunday School, sometimes just to church. My father adamantly refused to attend any church stating that the church was full of hypocrites. I never knew what that meant, other than Sunday morning TV, home repairs, and working in the garage was not what hypocrites did. Hypocrites went to church. The church itself had high expectations that everyone should attend Sunday morning Sunday school and church service, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and go door-to-door soul winning and visitation on Thursday evenings. She never met that mark and grew to feel judged, isolated, and lonely, particularly because she was ‘unequally yoked’ and her financial class did not measure up to their standard. I suppose she felt like condemnation was poured all over her. I believe there was solid evidence to support her feelings, but her own nefarious ways as well heaped conviction and guilt upon her soul. When she had a small meeting with the pastor to get ‘wise counsel’ about filing for divorce, it became her worst nightmare as the pastor resolutely objected. From that point on, she felt doomed to a marginalized place where only the poor were tossed a few crumbs. That is when she decided to leave.

As for myself, I heaved my over-stuffed boxes on my back, followed my mother out of that church, and year upon year, walked through life like a pack donkey. I believed those strongboxes contained all of my foundational beliefs; they contained the path and role-models to my spirituality; they contained my performance goals; they contained my spiritual benchmarks; they contained my self-assessment tormentors; they contained my mother’s boxes; and jointly  they continually catapulted me into a troublesome struggle with church and God. Now, of course, I had not a clue of all I jam-packed into my boxes at such an impressionable age. I never opened them to take a closer look and sort the contents all out. I just kept relentlessly trying to apply all these round pegs into my square holes, always expecting different results if I just kept trying harder and harder to become a round peg. For decades, the contents seeped all over my life, but here again I was ignorant and was not able to identify all the boxes strapped to my heart and mind; I was just a donkey loaded down with faceless, nameless burdens. As for the specifics of my personal experiences at this church, I will share in my future post entitled Church 102.

I am entitling this post Church 101 because boy do I have a lot more to say about church(s). Yet, I want to make this clear, I believe to the core of my being that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world – that is you too my readers! I believe Jesus is the only one true living Son of God. I believe that He was crucified on a cross, died a completely innocent man as the sacrificial lamb to redeem our sins, was buried in a tomb, and rose again in three days offering all salvation to those who believe. I believe the Bible is Truth and contains everything we need to know about living a life that glorifies God. I believe in reading my Bible and praying daily. I believe we are called to corporate worship. I believe that all true Christians throughout the entire world are the Body of Christ. I am a Christian believer saved by God’s grace and mercy. I am a follower of Jesus. He is my continual atonement!

With that said, I am one imperfect human being!! I have wrestled and struggled with various aspects of my spirituality throughout my life. Some issues have nearly crippled my faith. I have wandered off into complacency on occasion. I have meandered in and out of churches. I have felt deep discouragement. I have been angry with God. I have questioned God. I have read the book of Job about 100 times diminished to tears trying to understand grief and suffering. My pathway has twisted and turned, yet, I believe He is constantly pursuing me, in fact, I pray regularly asking Him to never let me go, to always come find me, and to do whatever it takes to humbly bring me before Him. Oh, and by the way, that prayer is continuously answered — He does not, He does, and He has! My soul truly seeks after Him.

Love you, mean it!