Do You Know Who I Am?

angry woman

In the sleepy little New York town that we resided in for 21 years, there lived a large family with a mother, a father, and many, many children.   The “Wrights” were a well-known family in town, despite the fact that they homeschooled their children and did not participate in many of the local activities that surrounded the small school system.    The mother of this clan could often be seen with two other women, who called themselves the “Generals,” marching around town, praying fervently, and casting out demons.    These families were all dedicated members of a Charismatic Church in the area that believed in the gifts of the spirit and in the “specialness” that they believed those gifts endowed.

 

One day, on the unholy day of Halloween, the mother sent one of her children scampering to the tiny corner store to buy a dozen eggs.    However, within minutes, the little boy woefully returned home with empty hands and explained to his mother that the store owner refused to sell him eggs on Halloween lest they be used to plaster some unsuspecting home or business with their sticky contents.   This angered Mrs. Wright greatly and she marched herself down to the little store and demanded that she be able to speak to the owner.    “Do you know who I am?” she yelled at the beleaguered man. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”

 

My husband and I, in our irreverent way, have had many moments of fun using this arrogant phrase.    When one of us playfully won’t give the other something, one of us will use our best Mrs. Wright voice, stick out our chest, and demand, “Do you know who I am? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM??”

 

Indeed, who IS Mrs. Wright saying she is?    She is claiming to have some powerful attributes that we should recognize when she asks such a bold question.    However, when she says the words, “I am,” she is saying something that is not true about herself.    “I Am” is insufficient.    Mrs. Wright must add that she is—- a female, she is good, or bad, or German, or a teacher, or a biologist, or a Christian—-in order to be honest about who she is as a created human being.    She is not the end all.    She is not all-sufficient.    That is pure arrogance and delusion.

 

God, on the other hand, is the only being who can claim to be the great “I Am” without saying anything more.    God alone IS.    All created human beings and created things must become—– but God alone already IS.    He is all-sufficient in that He wants for nothing and lacks nothing.    He is complete.    We, on the other hand, are utterly dependent upon God and have no sufficiency of our own.    We cannot conjure it up. Whatever we have to offer in this life comes from God’s all-sufficient grace.

 

This vignette of the Wrights will continue to amuse me for quite some time.    However, I often ask myself whether this woman’s outburst is really that outlandish or whether it is the echoes of my own carnal thoughts?    When I get irritated by the co-worker who refuses to greet me or even acknowledge my presence, aren’t I really inwardly screaming, “Do you know who I am?”    When someone else gets a promotion or a commendation for their work and I chafe at it inwardly, aren’t I really saying, “Do you know who I am?”    It is the deep cry of one who esteems herself as better than someone else.    It is the echoes of a prideful view of oneself that cries out for recognition and special treatment.    It is the opposite of who Jesus Christ demonstrated Himself to be.

 

And so, in those arrogant moments, when I hear my mind screaming, “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM,” I have to capture those wayward thoughts and ask, “Who am I ?”    Who am I to be given special treatment?    Who am I not to face rejection and sickness and hardship?    When I’m faced with injustice, maltreatment, and discrimination…….why not me?    When I finally empty myself of my “I AM” attitude, I then quietly bow my head to the all-sufficent One and let His voice wash over me when He says, “I am the great I AM!” In my awe of His greatness, I humble myself, repent, and praise Him!

 

Exodus 3:14 (ESV)
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

John 8:58 (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

II Corinthians 3:5 (ESV)
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.

Philippians 2:3-7 (ESV)
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

 

 

The Real Danger

Ki in the woods (5 yo)

One autumn afternoon, my husband and I drove out to our beautiful new property, half forest and half meadow, with our son-in-law and two grandsons in tow.    Robert began working on building an outbuilding and my son-in-law and I set out with the two boys to explore our timbered lot.    Our woods boast some magnificent rocks and stone outcroppings so we climbed higher and went further due to our utter fascination with our new surroundings.

At one point, I thought I heard someone yelling to us but the sounds of a 3 year old and an 18 month old……..and my heavy panting…….drowned out everything but the sound of the gentle wind in the trees.   Finally, I just knew that I heard Rob yelling and he sounded like there was panic in his voice!   I had a terrible time making out what he was saying because he was over a half mile away but I knew I heard the word “BEAR!” and “Get out of there!”   My heart started pounding and John and I each scooped up a child (how did I end up with the heavy, long-legged 3 year old?) and began furtively working our way back through the woods without truly knowing the way back to the path.   All the while I kept praying for protection.

As I was trying to hurriedly descend down from a steep rock with my grandson’s weight in my arms, I fell, smashing my knee.   Later, my grandson got caught on a briar that clawed at his tummy and he wailed like a banshee.   Surely a bear would be scared off by the sound of that??!!    I started shouting for Robert wondering why he had so frantically been calling us and warning us over and over and now I wasn’t hearing anything.    Rob was the only one of us that was armed with a gun and he was way down in the meadow.  There was no returning answer from him and I became worried that he must have first encountered the bear and been hurt badly by it.

29425287_1661552677214818_8478047914817728980_n

Our winded and frightened foursome finally broke out of the woods and onto the sodden path.    In the distance I could see what looked like Rob bent over our trailer working on sawing a board.    Now, my husband is a laid back kind of guy and a very non-reactive complement to my somewhat anxious personality but I was a little miffed that he seemed so unconcerned when we had just felt the icy fingers of death and lived to tell about it. “What’s going on?” I panted as we got closer.    “Oh, nothing,” Rob said.    “There were 2 Surveyors that showed up on the property and I was concerned that you would be afraid if you ran into 2 big men in the woods.”    “What??? I’m not afraid of 2 men!    I’m afraid of a BEAR!!!!    And why did you yell ‘BEAR!’ from over a mile away?”

 
Oh…….you didn’t yell ‘BEAR!’

 
You yelled……. ‘SUR-BEAR-ERS!’

 
Dang it!

 
It didn’t take long for me to see the humor in this event.   But the parallels to my own spiritual path demand that I ask myself, “How many times have I thought that I am running away from a fierce and raging opponent towards something safer, only to realize that I don’t understand who the real enemy is?”    So often I am presented with a crisis or a concern in my family or professional life.    I ruminate over the individual causing me the problem, think about actions or responses towards them, and consider what is motivating them to act in the way that they are.   But the individuals causing me stress or consternation are not the enemy.   The real enemy is Satan.    He is described in the Bible as one that is, “Prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5: 8).    While I am barreling head long through the brush, falling on rocks, and tearing my flesh on briars, I need to recognize that my real battles in life are motivated by a spiritual enemy.   My only response then is to put on my full spiritual armor, fall to my knees, and pray to the only One powerful enough to subdue the real enemy.

 

Ephesians 6:12
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

The Shirt Off Her Back

Shirt off her back

A bright piece of clothing had been pushed to the back of my barren staff mailbox.  It wasn’t a complete dichotomy to the usual letters and reports that could be found in my mailbox.  On occasion, I will find children’s clothing or items that are put in my box so that I can pass them on to a child or shore up our clothes closet when our students are muddy or wet.

However, upon closer inspection I found a bright pink spaghetti-strapped tank top flanked with cascading ruffles.   I squinted at the folded tag, thinking it was a trifle big for our teeny students, and noticed that it held a medium label in an adult name brand.  I looked quizzically at our Administrative Assistant and asked if she knew where the top came from.  Yes, she did.   A mother of one of our students had brought it in and asked that it be put in my mailbox.  As the story went, I had noticed it on this woman the year before and complimented her on how lovely she looked in it.  She now wanted me to have it.

I was touched by this mother’s action but my initial thoughts towards the actual garment were rather uncharitable.  It was much too big for my petite form and in a hue that I never wore due to my light coloring.  Why would this woman want me to have her top?  It wasn’t something I was ever going to wear.

Yes, why would she remember that moment last year and literally give me the shirt off her back?  I had no recollection of our momentary interaction so long ago. Something had touched her though.  Was it the moment when my face lit up at seeing her?  Or was it after I told her how the color complemented the delightful color in her face, that she felt adored?  Did she experience the feeling of being in the presence of someone who found her wholly acceptable and even more than that, unconditionally loved?

Because that’s what happened with the widow and her mite.  Like this sweet mother, the widow was poverty stricken.  She didn’t have a cash flow so that when she gave, she was fully secure in the knowledge that more finances or goods would come to her or were already in her coffers.  Instead, the widow knew that when she stood before God, she was loved beyond any human measure.  God’s face lit up and in the moment when she basked in His love and grace, she knew that she was wholly acceptable and unconditionally loved.  Out of that love and gratitude for what her Creator extended to her, the widow gave 2 lepta, a pittance in giving, but all that she had.

The adorable little top may not be my size or color but I will keep it.  It will be a reminder to me that those miniscule moments when I extend honor or love to someone may be needed more than I will ever know.   It may also be a moment in time, when they see not my face, but a momentary look into the love and heart of God.   In experiencing the love of God, our response is often to be overwhelmed with a desire for gratitude and worship, extending back to God whatever small gifts we possess.   The bright pink shirt is a reminder that love creates relationships.   Now go love on someone this day!

 

Luke 21:1-4 (ESV)
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, (2) and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. (3) And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. (4) For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

You Love Me?

Andrew & Eden with filter

There was a time when I barely spoke at all.   I felt as though I possessed little self-worth and that any attention or love I received was based upon my ability to perform.   I didn’t perform very well either.   I was an awkward little redheaded girl who didn’t seem to excel at anything no matter how hard I tried.   As I looked around my tiny world, I heard a subtle message spoken from the pulpit of the Church and throughout the hallways of my home that said that the only people worthy of love and respect are the ones who stand out in front and lead.   I coveted that attention and acceptance.   How did one gain the necessary skills and abilities to step out in front?   I needed to know because I needed to be loved.

 

As I progressed through my 20’s, I began stepping out and taking on small leadership roles in my Church.   I desired to serve God and His people with my whole heart but underneath, my motivation was just to be loved.   And then an astounding thing happened:  Our Church made a major doctrinal change from espousing legalistic theology to understanding the gift of grace.   What an exciting thing to have happen!    I had yearned for this thing called “grace” my entire life.   But what was grace?   I had been raised in the black and white vestiges of earning my love and salvation.   How did I dismantle the entire scaffolding of my belief system and learn to accept something I didn’t deserve and hadn’t earned?

 

This monumental shift in our Church doctrine resulted in many vacated seats in our Church.   For many, they just weren’t able to accept the fact that their salvation and membership into God’s family was freely given upon repentance.   They exited the Church in huge droves because their leadership and works didn’t hold the same import it had before.   There was no comprehension that they could be loved and accepted by God without working for His love.

 

This same wistful feeling seemed to whistle through my being like a violent windstorm.    I very much wanted to be loved and accepted for who I was made to be but it was a spiritual sensation that I had never been given the right to.   I continued to work and perform at Church at ever heightening levels.   And then I couldn’t.   Low level depression overtook my psyche and wove it’s way into my body.   I avoided Church. People started calling.   However, now they seemed genuinely concerned about me and not upset that I wasn’t performing my church duties.   A few seemed to still love me but what about God?

 

Yes, what about God?   I talked and talked to Him and asked Him what grace was.   I now understood the basic concept of grace but I just could not comprehend how God could love me for me.   One day, in the middle of a prayer, I had what I call an epiphany or a spiritual vision.   It was like watching a movie play out in front of my consciousness.    In this movie, I saw a newborn infant.   The infant was held by a grown being who looked at it adoringly.   The baby laid there and did nothing.   In fact, it became evident that the infant did absolutely nothing to incur the intense adoration and love on the part of the grown person.   Instead, the child exacted a great deal of patience and work from the adult being, as it needed to be comforted, fed, soothed, rocked, and changed out of it’s soiled diapers.   What in the world did this infant do to earn the unconditional relentless love of the adult?   Nothing.   Absolutely nothing.   The adult person unconditionally loved the baby simply because it was His and He created it.

 

And in that moment, I realized that I was that baby.   You and I are that baby.   We did absolutely nothing to earn God’s love and we can do absolutely nothing to lose it.   We are loved and adored simply because we are His and in His great love, He created us.      Our only response to God is to praise Him, love Him, and accept His invitation to an everlasting  love relationship.

 

 

Jeremiah 31:3 
The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

 

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

The Listeners and the Preachifyers

People talking

A gifted Psychologist I was once acquainted with departed from his lofty profession and retreated into the business world due to his lamentation that few people entering into therapy want to make needed changes and move into healthier feelings and relationships.     He further made the statement that the real individuals in life who would actually get emotionally healthy could do so with the help of a good friend, IF that friend was willing to listen.

 

Well, now….that really simplifies life doesn’t it?     Instead of paying $150 per session for a Licensed Counselor, I can now find a captive audience in my seatmate on a midnight flight to Boston, right?     It certainly is a possibility, but having a captive who is not able to get away is not the same as talking with someone who has your best interests in mind and wants to hear your story.     Let’s explore the characteristics of a good listener and dissect the attributes of a “Preachifyer” so that we can identify the valued people that we will allow to “speak into our lives.”

 

So, what is a “Preachifyer” you ask?     Preachifyers are individuals that do not adequately listen.   They rarely ask questions for clarification.     Often, they have already drawn lots of conclusions about you before you’ve even completed your first sentence and will tell you how you are doing life wrong or could be doing it better.     Preachifyers aren’t malicious people and may very likely really care about you.    They come from a different set of strengths, however.     Often, they love to instruct or problem solve.     Your challenging behaviors and relationships are opportunities for them to provide you with much needed knowledge that they feel could benefit you if you would only hear them out and apply it.     The problem is that they don’t truly know your heart, what you’ve already tried before, and what conclusions you’ve already drawn because they haven’t take the time to hear you out.     Instead, they’ve “preachified” before you even got to the main point of what you wanted to express.

 

I’ve had many of these experiences in my lifetime.     You have too.     It is always my desire to “relate” to people and I especially strive to draw people in who won’t or can’t make the effort to converse or relate to me.     When I do this, I usually share something personal that they can connect to on a relatable level to their own experiences.     Being transparent and sharing a vulnerability is often a wonderful technique for working to build relationships and making the other person feel adequately safe and akin to you.    However, in a couple of instances, these vulnerable vignettes that I shared were met with scoldings and scriptural verse used to justify their take on what they thought I just said.    The funny thing was that they never heard what I truly attempted to convey.     None of the things that I shared even came close to sinning or displaying negative behavior.     It was quite humorous.     Had they actually heard what I was really saying, asked me questions for clarification, or tried to think outside their own experience, they would have heard the depth of what my heart was truly attempting to say.

 

Many of us are “External Processors.”     We do our best thinking and become “unstuck” when we are outwardly sharing a problem or challenge with a good friend or valued listener.     The “External Processor” is the converse of those who are “Internal Processors.”     Internal Processors are individuals who work out their challenges and conflicts in the quiet recesses of their minds.     For us External Processors, we usually come to a healthy way of dealing with a situation or solving it just by talking through all the layers out loud.     Specific questions or helpful input posed by a good listener at strategic times also assists us in becoming “unstuck” and surging forward to a satisfying conclusion or answer.     A good listener brings us to “catharsis” or emotional relief faster.

 

Who, then, should you look for when you need to be heard?     There are a couple of different personality blends that are more conducive to listening, reflecting, and allowing you to speak your story.     Look for individuals, first of all, who give you consistent eye contact.     Nothing is more frustrating than sharing your guts with someone whose eyes are darting around the room, seemingly distracted with everything else that is happening around them.     This type of response generally makes you feel as though what you have to say is not very important at all.

 

A good listener might be a little quieter or slower to speak.     There is a gentleness and calmness that radiates from their core.     When you speak with them, you will find that they do not interrupt you consistently to interject their story or make assumptions about what you are saying.     Instead, they will ask a few well-placed questions here and there to clarify what you are really saying.     They are attempting to take what you say and relate the information to their own world view.     A good listener will often restate what you just said to make sure that they accurately understood the significance.

 

Good listeners work hard to fully concentrate on what you are saying and are not spending the time in which you are talking formulating what brilliant thing they are going to say next.     In fact, many of them have an inward connection to the Holy Spirit and are deeply asking God for the wisdom and insight to hear what you’re saying and respond to each specific need that you are conveying.

 

Another attribute of a good listener is this key phrase:    “Do you just want to be listened to or would you also like some feedback/advice?”     This is a profound and powerful question.     It is not always easy to decipher from the beginning of a conversation whether a person just needs to be listened to or whether they would also like some input.     My husband has learned to be an excellent listener but I have learned that I need to tell him whether I need to be listened to or whether I am looking for a different perspective on my problem.   The male population likes to “fix” things.     My husband has learned to ask me what I need when we converse.

 

The last attribute of a good listener is the ability to hold confidences.   The information that you have just shared should not be treated in an irreverent manner and shared, even lightly, with other friends and acquaintances.     A valuable piece of your soul has just been put on display and that gift is to be treasured and protected.     Often, if you share a close relationship to the person’s spouse, the listener will responsibly ask you whether it is okay for them to share it with their spouse or not.     There are times you will not mind, and at other times, you will ask them to keep the information strictly between the two of you.

 

Remember: You have a story.     You have depth and experience.     If you were only given the time to fully explain your walk and what your needs really are, individuals could more accurately speak into your life.     Look for the listeners and the question-askers.    They are the ones who deeply care and will wisely speak into your life.

 

 

 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:3

 

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
~Theodore Roosevelt~

 

 

 

A Man of the Cloth

SAM_5841

My husband, a strapping male, decided long ago that he was not a “ballcap” kind of guy.  He began losing his hair in his early 20’s, and decided that he was quite comfortable with himself even though he wasn’t delighted that his sable tresses had hit a recession. So, in our 40’s, after Rob had retired from pastoring a church we planted, we decided to begin riding motorcycles.   Robert had ridden a motorcycle since he was a teenager but I had only ridden on the back of my Daddy’s Honda 67′ Dream when I was a small girl.   For me, however, riding a motorcycle became a metaphor for overcoming the paralyzing fears that had embattled my psyche since I was a child.   So we bought 2 Harley Sportsters, one by one, and began riding recreationally across the beautiful wine country of the Finger Lakes of New York.   The “do-rag” became a comfortable piece of fabric for Rob to wear under his motorcycle helmet when riding, and as a protector of his head at other times.

 
Eventually, Rob became the Chaplain for the “Red Knights,” a riding group of volunteer firemen who continually sponsored poker runs to raise money for childhood burn victims.   It was exhilarating riding across the countryside as part of a large, contingency of cycles who were riding for a cause.   At every intersection, the group was trained so that the next consecutive cyclists closed down the converging side roads with their bikes in order that our large masses could continue on as a group through red lights and stop signs.   I loved the throaty roar of Harleys as we poured through towns and raced over the hills.

 
Our son would often ride with us on these poker runs, as well, and one day we found ourselves outside a beautiful, historic old Knights of Columbus after completion of the ride, where we were to celebrate with a beer.   All three of us extrapolated ourselves from our cycles, stretched mightily, and began removing our helmets.   A middle-aged woman, who had been walking down the street recognized my son as a school coworker and approached him with a dazzling smile.   “What are you doing with these 2 dirtbags,” she inquired?   My son didn’t have time to answer as I chimed in sweetly to say, “These 2 ‘dirtbags’ are his parents.”   She didn’t apologize nor did she even look chagrined.   She continued on talking to my son for a short time and went along on her way.

 
About this same time, we began attending a Church in a nearby town.   It seemed particularly challenging to find a healthy church in our area but this particular church was recommended by a good friend and seemed to be on the verge of some healthy changes when we began attending.   This was when our social experiment began; Rob began to wear his motorcycle do-rags to church.   Our hypothesis was a simple one: Would God’s children recognize another child of God or would they reject us because we did not look like them?

 
Now, motorcycle riding became very mainstream in New York since the early 2000’s and gradually gained huge popularity with couples riding recreationally.   Women also obtained their licenses in droves.   The stereotypic view of motorcycle riding had gone from the proverbial “Hell’s Angel,” cameo to one of a very middle-class recreational sport. Or so we thought.

 
We weren’t treated well at this new church.   In fact, we were snubbed regularly.   Not only would the women not speak to me but when I would greet them cheerfully out in public, they would totally turn their faces away even though I was just inches away.  You would often look out across the church and catch one of the professional men eyeing Rob and shaking his head with a look of disgust on his face.   They knew that Rob was a pastor but when it was suggested that Rob should be on the Board of Elders, it was strongly suggested that he wasn’t worthy and voted down.

 
One day, on a warm summer morning we decided to ride to church on our motorcycles.  Although my little Sportster had been modified to accommodate my short stature I was still struggling with the weight of it when I made turns.   We pulled into the Church parking lot and eased into our shared parking space.   However, the turn was so angular for me that I wasn’t able to handle the shift in weight and the motorcycle came down on my left leg.   It was painful but I wasn’t injured badly.   What was happening around me, however, was a little startling.   The parking lot, which had been thriving with the arrival of church members suddenly became vacated and no one came to see if I was alright.   In fact, the doors on the minivan next to us, being exited by a family, suddenly slammed and the occupants high-tailed it into the church as fast as they could.   This was followed by a second family near us who would not look at me and scurried inside just as fast or faster.   I looked at Rob in amazement, dusted myself off, limped inside and smiled as sweetly as I could at each of those individuals who saw my injury but refused to help me.

 
There were a few loving individuals, however, who looked beyond our motorcycle riding, do-rag wearing, fiendish ways.   A group of elderly ladies sat behind us every Sunday and loved on us.   They admired every one of Rob’s do-rags and especially “oohed” and “aahed” over the patriotic one he wore on the Fourth of July and the golden crosses he led prayer in.   They “got” it and so did several other spirit-led couples.

 
What insults my sense of justice is this:   Men who would risk their lives to run into burning buildings and arrange poker runs to raise money for children who have been severely burned are not “dirt bags.”   They are heroes.   A few may look rough around the edges but they would gladly lay down their lives for anyone and not give it a moment’s thought.   And then there are people like us; people who have been churched their whole lives.   If you cannot accept us because we ride motorcycles and my husband wears a little piece of cloth on his head, who can you accept?   Can you only accept other middle-class individuals into your “country club” who look like you, talk like you, and take part in activities that you deem acceptable to the Christian walk?   Are you even looking at hearts?   What if Jesus walked into your midst, would you recognize Him?   Well, sure, you say.   But would you?   The Pharisees of the time didn’t recognize Him.

 
We had the last laugh.   After attending this salty church for 5 years, they finally put out a church directory with the photos of each of their members.   If you look under the “G’s,” you will see two people who love God with their whole hearts.   The couple you will see is dressed in black and the husband is wearing his most regal leather do-rag.   If you ever see them, please hug them and tell them that you “get” it.   You recognize that it is the inner heart that God works with and adores, not the outer fabric.   After you’ve hugged this couple, go out into the street and look for other “rough” appearances and love on them.   Tell them that Jesus loves them and wants to spend eternity with them.   Tell them that Jesus laid down His life for their sins, and when it was done, a piece of cloth was ripped in half to signal the sacrifice of all time.   And when you’re done spending time with these broken, rough people, realize that you just spent time with the same people that Jesus did.   Now that’s true religion.

 

1 Samuel 16:7
….for the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks out on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Mathew 9:11-13
……why does your master eat with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that He said to them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. Go and learn what that means for I will have mercy and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

 

Giving Up to Win

Brothers Arm in Arm --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I watched the most beautiful display of compassion play out before me in the form of a 5-year old boy.   In the particular classroom I went into today, there is a little boy who has been raised with a very permissive, entitled parenting style.    He takes tremendous fits over, well, nothing and feels that he should always be first and most.

At the end of each lesson that I teach, I invite 4-5 children to come up, one at a time to work on the assertiveness or social skill that I’m teaching. It’s wildly popular to be called up and most of the children would give their baby teeth to be chosen.  After the fourth participant chose “Zion” to come up as the final participant, you could begin to see fallout in Mr. Entitlement’s voice and actions.  An all-out fit began to take place, taking both of his teachers’ strength and attention to quiet him down.  Zion, a thoughtful, quieter boy, looked at Mr. E with deep concern; went to him first before coming up to me, and said, “I’ll pick you” in the tenderest of voices.  I gently explained to Zion that he was the last child to come up but I loved how kind he was to Mr. Entitlement.

Zion looked painfully sad and hung his head. The other children all watched him quietly, holding their collective breaths.   I asked if he was going to be able to talk and interact with my puppet.  He sadly, said “no.”   You could see from his expression and every nuance of his body that his heart was paining him. I told him that it was okay and that he could pick someone else to take his place. He quietly walked over to Mr. Entitlement and said, “I pick you.”

A simple story, really.   But not really.  For you see, compassion and empathy can’t easily be taught in a classroom.   Either a child has a natural gifting as part of their personality, like Zion, or it has been modelled first by parents, and molded by life experience.   Mr. Entitlement, by all appearances, didn’t deserve to get a turn.  It was a little galling to see his egocentric ways rewarded. But I paid little attention to him, as I was too overcome by the little boy, Zion, in front of me, who now had a sweet, peaceful smile on his face.  For you see, he cared so much about his fellow classmate that he was willing to lay down his coveted turn for him. And in giving up his treasure, he found a deeply satisfing peace and happiness. Rare in a 5 year old. Sometimes rare in an adult. It raises a question for our souls: It’s easy to lay down our coveted “turn” for someone who’s kind and deserving. But what about laying down our “turn” for Mr. Entitlement?   Ooh, now that one pains our souls.  Zion gets it, though.  For there is no greater love, than a man who will lay down his “turn” for his friends    (Paraphrase mine; John 15:13).

 

 

Greater love has no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.  
John 15:13

 

A Peculiar IDentity

Mirror image of me

I love the writings of W.E.B. DuBois (The Souls of Black Folk, 1995) and have had his words come to mind countless times over the years. He talks of a “double-consciousness,” a surreal sense of feeling as though you have more than one identity.  Mr. Dubois laments, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—-an American, a negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

I have intimately identified with Mr. DuBois’ words over the years.  Anyone who is in a minority status, is vulnerable, or feels low in status or power can relate to the concept of double-consciousness. When I lived in New York, I always felt a surreal sense of being a “New Yorker and a Christian.” Those 2 identities didn’t mesh and although my allegiance was to my God, I continually was told in overt and covert ways that I was to keep that “part” of me to myself.  It was a peculiar sensation to be a follower of Christ and yet have that part of my identity be denied. Likewise, I grew up in a patriarchal church, where the attributes of males were lauded and prized.  I was a woman and a Christian but my “compassionate, discerning” feminine identity was not valued or affirmed.  It was a peculiar sensation.

How many other people feel this twoness; this peculiar feeling that they are part of a whole but not valued or included on the inside? What about the widow(er) or the single individual? Does our culture value married relationships over individuals?  How about the poor, who live in a prosperous nation?  What about the people of diverse nationalities that continue to pour through our illustrious gateways? What about children? They have so little power and clout. And what about the people with disabilities? When our mental or physical health is no longer optimal and some part of our bodies prevents us from functioning as well as another average person, do we feel as though we no longer hold value as a contributing human being? And let us not forget other diverse populations who may feel this twoness: The elderly, those who have limited education,  and on and on the list goes.

Two overarching themes come from these musings. First, we need to move beyond ourselves and always be looking to see who is on the outside and needs to be drawn into the fold. You feel as though you are on the outside? Good! Then work to draw others into a tight grouping of people that feel like they belong with you and the others that you draw into community.  It is in “community” that we are strong, supported, and have a sense of belonging.  Secondly, as human beings we will always have a sense of “double consciousness.” We are meant to feel this way until we truly see our one and only identity in Christ.  It is only when we come to know the one true God and see how intricately he formed us on an individual basis, endowed us with His attributes, gifts, and characteristics, and poured His love into each one of us on a minute-by-minute basis that we are going to understand the depth of our value and membership in His family.  It is only after we see ourselves through the lens of God’s adoring eyes that we will lose the “double-consciousness;” the sense that we don’t measure up to some capricious ideal that other human beings have foisted and propogated upon one another.

I have long felt a double-consciousness.  It is part of the human condition.  We humans do not know how to properly love each other because we do not understand how God first loved us.  So we jostle and vie for position, attempting to dominate and subvert one another.  We forget one thing, however.  Our membership is not in being an American, or even in being a member of the human race.  Our TRUE membership is in being a daughter or son of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Our membership comes when we submit our will and accept our rightful place in God’s Kingdom.   There is everything…… and nothing peculiar about it!

 

 

Jeremiah 1:5  (NIV)

 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…”
Psalm 139:13-14  (NIV)
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Will You Still Praise Me?

 

Will you still Praise me

Years ago, when we had teens of our own, my husband and I would take large groups of teens yearly to a local theme park for a 3-day faith-based gathering filled with big-name Christian concerts, seminars, and spiritually relevant events. It was all we could do to afford tickets for this rag-tag bunch of teens so we arrived at the resort campgrounds with a dilapidated assortment of tents and tarps woefully pieced together. This event was always held during the first week of August and inevitably we encountered 3 days of non-stop rain pouring down on our beleaguered little encampment. The teens loved it and years later told us that they prayed for rain yearly because they loved the way God showed up and wove His miracles around their fun and relationships. Me? I never would have prayed for rain. My days were spent cooking and preparing food for those ever-hungry fiends, mending their upsets and emotional wounds, and making sure that they were accounted for and taken care of. It was a huge responsibility and I felt it.

After days of non-stop rain, the campground became a big, miry cesspool of tents, mud, and humanity. I was exhausted and cold and badly needed a hot shower. The bathrooms were communal so it took a lot of patience and a real desire for cleanliness to stand in line for the required half hour. One pair of clean jeans remained in my mud-deluged wardrobe and I determined that my life was going to change for the better if I were to have a shower and inhabit those jeans. Coincidentally, my husband was of the same mind, so we hopped in our truck and headed off to the closest bathhouse. The tires on our truck slipped and skidded through the field of mud and then, inevitably, got stuck. It took a large number of volunteers to push, tug, and exorcise our truck out of that black hole. After we were finally clear of the mud, my husband looked down to see that his last pair of jeans were covered in the brown remains of the campground. He, who is rarely frustrated, was frustrated!

We arrived at the bathhouse in silence and soberly went off to our respective gender-dictated shower rooms. As true to life as ever, my husband walked right into his side of the bathhouse and immediately was met with a hot shower. Not so for me. I stood in line for half an hour. Finally, a shower opened up and I pitifully squeezed behind the limp curtain. I was shaking all over from the cold and barely managed to shimmy out of my filthy clothes. In a matter of moments, however, I would have warm, soothing waves of water showering over me. How wrong I was. Instead, a flick of my wrist produced nothing but a little trickle of water. A frigid trickle of water! I could have cried if I hadn’t been shaking so violently from the cold. Instead, I became determined that I was going to get clean no matter how long it took me. Unfortunately, though, there was one other problem: There was an apple-sized hole in the wall that allowed me to see right into the men’s side of the bathhouse. What was worse was that I could be seen in my au naturel state from their side. The next 15 minutes consisted of me putting too much shampoo in my hair and desperately trying to rinse it out with the pathetic little water stream while I violently shook from the cold, danced away from the hole in the wall, and sobbed with hot, angry tears.

My prayer to God was something like this: “Father, please change this cold water into hot water and produce lots of it to cover me.” And when the water didn’t immediately obey my plea, my demands to God became more piteous and more righteous! “God, I have spent d-d-days serving you and your children. I cooked for these children, and counseled them, and made sure they were high and dry. And through all of this I had a good attitude.” My piety was now at an all-time high. I remember all this because I still often hear myself in a sad little voice trying to convince God of my righteousness and piety so that He will do my bidding. Surely He owed me something for all the self-sacrifice and martyrdom I had endured? …….Or did I owe Him something?

My entitled little conversation with God continued as I could stand no more of the icy water and started toweling off. I must have paused momentarily in my whining because all of a sudden I heard this still, small voice quietly say to me, “Yeah, but will you still worship me?” This unexpected question was so shocking to me that I stopped dead in my tracks and inhaled abruptly, my body frozen in a totally shocked and perplexed pose. I quietly put on my clothes, exited the bathhouse, and rode back to our campsite in a pensive mood. I said nothing to my husband for days about my encounter until the Spirit brought clarity to the event.

You see, it is easy to praise God when He is healing us and raining down His kindnesses and riches upon us. He delights in providing for our needs and spoiling us with extra gifts, tailor made to speak to our diversity and testifying to how much He loves us. But what about when God doesn’t give us what we ask for? What about when we’re asking Him for healing and it doesn’t come? Or we need relief from unemployment or a mortgage to be paid? Will we still praise Him? The real question we have is: Can I Trust God? If He doesn’t respond to the groanings of my soul with the expected answers, is He still a Being that I can trust my life and salvation to?

Years of walking with God has resoundingly assured me that He is always faithful and can be trusted. If there is ever a question about unfaithfulness, it is usually a candid testament to my own infidelity towards God. Never, is God unfaithful. Which leads me back to the cold shower whisper I encountered: Will I worship Him when things are going well ….AND when I am wading through the mud? I still struggle with this question and my human flesh probably always will. But quite often throughout the years, as I am whining and railing against life, I’ve heard the gentle prodding of the Spirit asking me, “Yeah, but will you still praise me?” I inhale abruptly, my body frozen in a totally shocked and perplexed pose. And then I praise Him.

 

 

Hosea 6:3  (NIV)
Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

 

Gaspar the “Treasurer”

happy boy 3

Every year I have a favorite little student that works his or her way around the corners of my heart. I really try not to do this but invariably one little person demonstrates a quality or sweetness that wraps itself so tightly into my psyche that I can’t explain to you what their endearing quality is. Last year it was “Yoyo.” He was the Asian boy that daily exasperated his teacher and was always sitting in a chair at the back of the room when I entered to give my lesson. This year it is Gaspar. Gaspar is one of the little Hispanic children that have spilled a beautiful richness into the diversity of our school.

I love diversity and find that I long for it in the people groups I inhabit. This may seem odd for a member of the majority group but there are 2 reasons why I love diversity: One of the things that my parents did really well was fill my childhood home and supper table with people of every nationality imaginable. So it is very normal and comfortable for me to expect to look around and see kinship and community in the faces that surround me. Secondly, when you are raised in a highly-controlled environment with unreachable standards of perfection, you long to be accepted for who you are and what gifts you can bring to this world. You rail at the “yellow pencil” standards that guide your life and continually whisper that you don’t measure up for some illusive reason that you can’t quite put your finger on because it doesn’t seem to hold any merit.

Now, back to Gaspar. Gaspar is a short little brown-haired boy who struggles to communicate clearly in English and has a lazy eye that makes him lose his balance sometimes. Today I came to Gaspar’s classroom and waited patiently outside the door to be let in. The children are not allowed to open the locked door for safety reasons, so I quietly waited for the teacher to untangle herself from the activity she was mired in and come to the door. Guess who spotted me first? Gaspar. As he peered through the glass door window, Gaspar’s little face lit up like a galaxy of stars and he threw his fists in the air, cheering and jumping simultaneously. This exhuberance did not abate even after I entered the room and made my way over to my chair. He just smiled and smiled at me, twirling in circles, and giving short gasps of excited non-intelligible words. Finally, he landed at my feet and tried to settle his wriggling little body as I began my lesson.

Gaspar in Spanish means “Treasurer”………keeper or overseer of assets holding great value or worth. According to tradition, Gaspar was the name of one of the three wise men who came to seek and honor Jesus at his birth. This little Gaspar doesn’t seem to hold within his treasury anything the world would say holds value or worth. His eye turns in; his skin is brown; he is short; and he struggles to communicate in a way that shows how intelligent he really is. But do not be fooled. For Gaspar is no fool. He brings a gift to the throne of the great, living God that is invaluable. It is a joyful, and loving spirit. God made Gaspar to be a perfect little reflection of Him in all His diversity. So Gaspar is perfect. And His resilient and enduring little spirit endears him to me…..and to God, even more. Gaspar seeks to present his gift of joy and love to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Now, go…… and stop questioning your worth and present your beautifully diverse gifts to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
He’s waiting…..
with the exuberant joy that Gaspar demonstrated!