Archives for July 2014

Love and Fear

“There is only one metric for discipleship, only one call: to go beyond being polite, subdued, civil and nice to practicing real, even dangerous, love.” – Pastor Don Johnson, in this morning’s sermon, “Sifted,”
based on 1 John 4:7-21

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Twenty-nine times in fourteen verses — that’s how often the apostle John uses the worn-out, overused, mostly ignored word, “love,” in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.

Twenty-nine times.

I think this guy believes what he says, you know?

And I think he has the street cred to back up his instructions, his analysis, his hopes, his commands.

You remember John, don’t you? The ‘beloved’ disciple, one of three pulled out for special events, the one to whom Jesus gave responsibility for his mother while he was dying on that cross, the one who stayed around through the whole awful crucifixion scene and then showed up early at the empty tomb and immediately believed? 

Yes, I think this man’s words can be trusted. I think John knows whereof he speaks. 

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So from our perch in the balcony this morning (it’s where the scooter fits best), I sat and pondered this tableau of sifting things — fish net, colander, strainer. And as we moved through the sermon, I could see — again! — that the one thing Jesus uses to sift the wheat from the chaff in our souls is love. 

Nothing else works, you see. Only love can separate us from all those things that get in the way of deep and true relationships, that keep us from living out the peace and justice that God asks of us, that infiltrate our spirits and keep us suspicious, reactive, judgmental and jealous. Only love.

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We’ve heard that word so often that most of the time, we don’t even think about what it might mean when we see it, hear it, think it.

What does it truly mean to love? To choose love, to practice love, to live in love? Where does it come from? How do we grow it in ourselves?

It is, after all, the one thing that Jesus commands us to do, right? Love God, love one another.

And John picks up the song right where Jesus left off. Pastor Don outlined for us the powerful truths that are buried in this long list of ‘love’ words in 1 John 4 and the ones that stood out to me are these: 

Love comes from God because God is love.

God is therefore the source of love, we are the reflectors of it.

God chooses to use us as instruments of God’s love in our interactions with one another.

Our love for one another is the primary — perhaps even the only — way in which those who do not yet know God can see God at work in the world.

The clearest demonstration of love ever let loose in this world is Jesus.

When love takes over, fear flees.

Loving God and loving others are non-negotiables.

Even though I wasn’t feeling particularly well this morning, I knew I needed to hear this sermon, to ponder it and pray through it and learn from it. For lots of reasons, but primarily because of my own ongoing battle with anxiety and worry. That particular journey is a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kinda trip in my life, and I needed to think again on these words: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

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When you think about it, fear is at the bottom of a whole lot of ugly, scary things in this world. Every bomb dropped, warrior wounded, child enslaved, bit of food hoarded — all of it comes back to being afraid of something. Afraid there won’t be enough, afraid we’ll lose face, afraid we won’t get all our wants/needs met, afraid of the nameless/faceless ‘enemy,’ wherever and whoever they are.

I’ve been afraid a lot lately — afraid I’ll never walk right again, afraid I’ll be dependent on others forever, afraid I’ll be . . . what? Defective? Hobbled? Less than?

And yet, I don’t believe that about friends of mine who deal with disabilities of one kind or another. I see them for who they are, I value their insights and their gifts. So what am I truly afraid of?

Maybe that I’ll be less than what I’ve been before. Maybe that I’ll fail to measure up to some invisible, impossible standard of perfection that hangs over my head. Maybe that no one will love me if I’m not ‘together.’ Maybe that I do not and will not love myself if I’m not ‘performing’ the way I think I should. Maybe that God won’t love me if I’m not working hard.

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.

I am still doing battle with that ancient enemy, that old heresy, the one that goes like this:

Salvation is to be earned.
Worth is to be proven.
What I do for God and for others is what will force God to love me and will make me more acceptable to myself, too.

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And that is crazy-making thinking, you know? Scroll back up to the list I wrote out from chapter 4. John spells it out, plain as day. LOVE COMES FIRST, God loves us, we respond in love, God’s love flows through us to others, and the pattern is repeated.

Only, we’re really, really lousy at this thing. Just reading through the comments section at some of the more public blogging sites proves that. We can’t even be civil, much less move beyond civility to love. We so often let fear win, don’t we? Way too often.

So tonight, at this end of the day, I want to start again. Again. I want to ask for the blessing and I want to be open enough to receive it. I want to hold my hands and my heart open and let the love of God flow into and through me. I want to live in love, not in fear.

In LOVE, not in fear.

How about you?

Learning to Lean — SheLoves

Each month, it is my privilege to write for SheLoves Magazine. Here are some reflections on the idea of authenticity. . .

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So exactly how authentic would you like me to be? Would you like some of the more grimy details related to surgical recovery? A picture of what it’s like to be suddenly down to one leg?

Well, okay then. A little peek into our days just now, a glimpse of where I find myself post-surgery, and some of what I’m learning while I’m here.

Have you ever tried to get into a shower with one foot? Can’t be done, I tell you. Cannot be done. I’ve recently begun to master the fine art of hopping, but jumping? Not gonna happen. And any shower with a normal door requires one gigantic jump, let me tell you.

The only appliance — and believe me, we have several — the only appliance that helped me get into that shower is my new best friend, a four-wheeled contraption called a knee caddy. The walker just did not cut it. The crutches? Fuggedabout it. Even the shower chair, on loan from a friend, didn’t help all that much. But that funky scooter, coupled with one determined husband?

Yeah, that did the trick.

Half in and half out, my injured leg atop the cushions on said scooter, I finally managed to make the small leap over the shower lip and land safely on the tiled bench we built into our shower over a decade ago. Our shower — part of the master suite, which has become my home of late. And also, my prison.

I knew this would happen. I’ve been preparing for it for a couple of months now, practicing my maneuvers on one leg, learning to keep everything I need within reach, asking for help when I need it.

But it’s that last piece that is the worst one of all.

I am not good at asking for help. I’m pretty good at giving it, been doing that all of my life. But receiving it? An experience so unfamiliar as to be downright unrecognizable, almost undoable. It seems I would rather take the risk of falling out of bed to make that one – last – reach than to raise my voice and shout for HELP.

Why is that, I wonder?

Won’t you follow me over to SheLoves for the rest of this piece and the always wonderful conversational thread that builds in that place. . .

Gettin’ on That Mat — A Deeper Story

It’s time for my monthly contribution over at A Deeper Story today. The editors chose to put this on the family channel – see what you think.

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Matthew’s gospel has him showing up by the lakeside. Mark and Luke talk about an overcrowded house and the removal of roof tiles to get the guy into the same airspace as the Rabbi. And all three of these gospels talk about the friends, the ones who cared about the paralyzed man.

His friends.

The ones who carried him when he couldn’t walk anywhere under his own steam. The ones who laid him carefully on that mat, who got inventive when access seemed to be denied, who believed in his healing for him.

His friends.

Surely one of the most beautiful of words in the history of the English language: friends. For most of my life, I’ve been gifted with some great ones. People who have met me in the middle of the pain, in the squishiness of the mess, and in the moments of joy and silliness, too. Sisters, and a few brothers here and there, who have walked life with me — the dailyness of it all, the twists and turns, the routine and the unexpected, the predictable and the not so much.

People who know me, who get me, who hold me accountable, who call me on my crap, who encourage me when I’m down, who shoot holes in any hot air balloon that may be surrounding my head at any given moment in time. People who love me, all of me: the too-muchness of me, the outloudness of me, the bossiness of me, the loud laughter of me, the realness of me.

There have been times when the faith of my friends has carried me through some scary, dark times. When the prayers of others have had to be all the prayin’ there is, because I ain’t havin’ none of it. When the kindness of my friends has saved me from myself, from the hurtful remarks of not-friends, from the pain that comes along with the option of living here on the planet.

I’m not at all sure why this is true, but sometimes trouble comes in batches, when painful situations pile up like a rugby scrum, and hope has a tough time finding its way into the center of the throng. It is those times when the truest friends miraculously show up, when they gather round, bring in a meal, send a care package, make a phone call, drop an email or a FB message. . . 

Please join me over at A Deeper Story to read the rest of this piece.

Offering Welcome . . . Starting with Me

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The wisdom of illness for me always seems to come with the slowing down and staying present. I don’t believe these experiences come to teach us “lessons” as if God were some great schoolmarm in the sky. But out of our radical vulnerability arises an invitation to ever greater gentleness, to tenderness to the needs of our bodies. This is inner hospitality at its most intimate.
– Christine Valters Paintner, Abbey of the Arts

I am struggling with the truth of these words in a profound way these days. “Inner hospitality” is something I say I believe. And most of the time, I truly mean it. It turns out, however, that I am a desperately slow learner, one who ‘knows’ things in her head long, LONG before I know them in my heart and in the rigors of day-to-day life.

I am impatient by nature, anxious to keep moving forward to whatever the goal of the moment may be, and I’m finding it extraordinarily difficult to be patient in the midst of this particular period of waiting. Most especially, it is difficult to be patient with me.

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We heard a sermon this morning that reminded us of our primary identity as followers of Jesus. Underneath every other label we might choose to slap on our personal lapel, this one is the truest, the dearest and the most important: I am a child of God.

I will say that I am feeling peculiarly childlike (or is it child-ish?) these days. I feel small, markedly helpless, dependent on the wisdom, strength and availability of others. 

And I do not like it at all. 

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And I find myself wondering — what does it mean to be a child? I mean, besides the relative helplessness and lack of control over the ‘big things’ in life, what does it mean? What did (does) it feel like? What can I learn from remembering/observing what a child’s life is like?

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Here are a few things that rise to the surface as I ponder. I believe these things to be true for most healthy children growing up in caring, relatively functional families, where physical and emotional needs are seen and met and safety and security are the norm. Such blessed children can often be described as:

emotionally open
accepting
unself-conscious 
curious
eager
joyful

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This is not to say they are perfect. Far from it — children are humans, too, and they can be as belligerent, obnoxious, difficult and moody as the rest of us. But, on balance, there are some truly lovely things that emerge in childhood that so often get hidden away as the maturation process sets in.

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As I spent this afternoon reflecting on the sermon and on my life at the moment, I began to search for a spirit of welcome in me, a spirit of welcome for the person I am right now, hobbled by injury and fatigue, more dependent on others than at any other point in my long life since about the age of three.

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How can I reclaim that central identity, name myself a loved child of God, and extend grace and true hospitality to the me I am right this minute?

I’ve spent my entire adult life being ‘big,’ both metaphorically and literally. It’s been important that I be seen as enough — good enough, strong enough, smart enough, acceptable enough, big enough. And I’ve worked hard to earn the respect, even the admiration, of others.

So what does it mean that right now, right this minute, I am ‘small?’ I am ‘less than?’ I am dis-abled?

In the midst of that reality, is it possible that I can reclaim and cherish, the identity of child? That I can embrace the littleness, learn to tolerate the dependency, and then move through this particular slough of despond?

Maybe I can start by studying these pictures. Scroll through them with me again, will you?

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Can I stand still in the light? Can I pay attention to the life that is happening around me? Can I rest on one foot and ready myself for the next adventure?

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Can I enjoy the transience of things, the creation of moments, just moments, of beauty and delight? Can I choose to make the ‘dishwater’ a source of interest and creativity, and leave the dirty dishes aside?

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Every day, can I go on a hunt for treasure, looking for beauty and nourishment in unexpected places? Can I resist the urge to make it a contest — with myself or anybody else! — and just look around and see what I can find?

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Can I make room for, even welcome, all the emotions that are rising to the surface at this time? The pensiveness, the worry, the hilarity, the joyful abandon, the silliness, the wonder?

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Can I re-learn how to be deliberate, to concentrate, to focus? Despite the fatigue of having to re-think every single thing I’m used to doing by rote, despite the lingering after-effects of anesthesia, despite the new demands that this season places upon both body and spirit?

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Can I give myself complete permission to take a break? To veg out, as needed, to pull away for a minute (or 30) and just rest? Not this enforced resting that is so much a part of the living of these days, but true rest — deliberate, well-chosen rest?

The very fact that I have found enough interior space to write this many words is a hopeful sign that maybe, just maybe, the answer to these queries is a quiet, but determined, ‘YES.’

As with so many things in this life, it’s a matter of waiting.

And seeing.

Shall we wait and see together?

 

Finding Home

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I was young. Really young. Married at 20, midway through my senior year at UCLA, planning a Big Trip soon after graduation. I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, eagerly awaiting a chance to Get Out, Get Away, Be On Our Own.

Actually, it was a bit more than a trip. It was a two-year commitment to live and work in a country far from our home in southern California, a two-year trek to a very different life, a very different place. I’ve written about it here (see the African Journey page up top to see those six posts) and I’ve mentioned it here and at other places around the web.

But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it was like to come home again, to find my way back to the familiar, to re-enter our larger family circles, this time as a new mom and a more thoughtful and experienced world traveler.

It was good. And it was hard.

It was good because I desperately wanted our brand new, 5-month-old daughter to know her grandparents and other extended family. It was good because we were eager to see where God would lead us next. It was good because we both come from loving, involved family systems and we had missed that. A lot.

It was hard for many of the same reasons. Going away for two years was one of the best gifts we ever gave our marriage. Both number-one children, each of us deeply infected with perfectionism and performance pressure, it was good for us to move very far away, where there were no family resources to rely on, where we would be forced to rely on one another and to make our way into a complex, new-to-us cultural venue — or two. Zambian and missionary cultures presented two very different sets of challenges. 

The first two months back found us in my parents’ small guest house — really my dad’s study in their backyard — with no bathroom and no kitchen. For two l o n g months, while we waited out the job search and began to resettle into 20th century American life. Overall, it was a good time, a rich reminder of the blessings that were ours because of the families in which we grew up.

But it’s always tough to move back in with your parents after you’ve left home, isn’t it? And my relationship with my mom has always been fraught with multiple levels of complexity. We love each other very much, but I gotta tell you, there is no one on this earth who can get under my skin like she can!

I began a lifelong battle with my weight while we lived there for those two months. All of my growing up life, my mother worried about how I looked. She had me taking diet pills in high school, sent me with cottage cheese for lunch, worried that I’d be both too tall and too heavy to get a man. 

And once we came home from Africa, beautiful new baby in tow, almost her first words to me were, “Gettin’ a little broad across the beam, aren’t you?”

And I had gained a few pounds with that baby. A few. But I look at those pictures now and I wonder — what in heck was she talking about?

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I’ve often wondered if my complicated relationship with food isn’t directly related to that kind of offhand, semi-snide comment from my mother. Mom’s fears about me took root and I responded in a strange and opposite way. I think maybe it was the only form of rebellion I could muster, because I was a very, VERY good girl while I lived in their home.

But once that baby was here — and another one less than two years later, and another one just 2.5 years after that? Well, let’s just say, something in me — both physiological and psychological — shifted, and I began piling on the pounds.

Eventually, my mom seemed to find peace with the ‘real me,’ and now, in her dementing years, she cannot stop telling me how wonderful I look, what a fine person I am, how proud she is of me.

And how jealous she is of me, too.

That last one has been a stunner for me, a slice of real-life cognitive dissonance that I haven’t yet fully internalized. We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.

Because coming home is hard to do. And finding home can take a lifetime. Emily Wierenga has written a brand-new memoir, releasing today, called, “Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.” It’s a rich memoir, laced with poignant story-telling and honest reflection. She, too, traveled far to find out that home was right where she left it.

I encourage you to read this intriguing story, to reflect with Emily as she discovers that her parents, whom she never felt loved her very well, truly do love her, with all their hearts.

Described as a ‘travel memoir, this book is actually a beautiful story of two marriages, her own and her parents’. And the revelation that sang to me was this one: when her mom became so very ill that her father became a primary caregiver, Emily’s parents found one another in ways both new and beautiful.

Emily has said elsewhere that her parents’ changing marriage became the beautiful one that it now is because her sometimes acid-tongued mom began to submit herself to her husband’s caring leadership. But as I read it, it seemed so much more than that. I saw a couple blossoming into newness of love because they each submitted to the other, in the process discovering each other all over again.

Emily and Trenton go through a long and often difficult process of rediscovery as well. And there, too, what Emily describes is a lovely journey for each of them, as they both learn to love and submit, love and submit.

It’s a beautiful book, one I recommend to you for it’s lyrical prose and it’s heartfelt commitment to truth telling. I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Atlas Girl,” and am grateful to have read it and more than happy to review it. Reading it prompts a lot of personal reflection on the meaning of home and what it means to find home after a long season of wandering. I encourage you to read it yourself. 

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Atlas Girl is more than a book; it’s a journey in which Emily Wierenga takes you by the hand and invites you into the broken places in her life. She shares the unexpected beauty God has created in those places as he’s made her heart whole again, and how he can do the same for you. If you’ve ever been hurt or gone through a hard time, this book will give you hope and a new understanding of God’s love for you.” ~ Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You’re Already Amazing

“The best memoirs combine the storytelling elements of a novel–smart pacing, tactile details, people you care about–with the deep insights and spiritual takeaway of great nonfiction. Emily Wierenga deftly serves up that rich blend in Atlas Girl, a nonlinear, wholly moving account of her life’s journey so far. Her honesty is raw, real. Her faith is hard-won. And when it finally pours out, her love–oh, her love soars off the page and makes a nest in our hearts. Brilliant and beautiful.”~ Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them

“This isn’t just a book, this is a journey. Of grief and wonder, loss and gain. Emily tells a world-spanning story that this world needs in Atlas Girl!” ~ Jon AcuffNew York Times bestselling author ofStart and Stuff Christians Like