Embracing the Pain

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I am in physical therapy for a frozen shoulder. First thought to be a problem with my neck, an old injury resurfacing, it is now clear that any pain in my neck is a result of my gimpy and locked up shoulder. Yet for six weeks I was given therapy to fix the neck, though my neck was not really the problem.

The issue became clear when another therapist took over my case. With a new view of the situation, a new course of treatment was put in place. An incredibly painful treatment.

Tonight I asked my therapist how long it takes to “unfreeze” a shoulder. Looking me in the eye, he said, “It takes a long time and it hurts like hell.” Neither of those statements surprised me. I’d already been in pain for many months, and the treatment – especially his – was indeed painful.

I went from a therapist who weighed a 100 pounds soaking wet to one who was more than double that size and with at least double the strength. A key part of my therapy is hands on pushing, pressing, stretching, pulling and all around pain. There is no short cut. And even if there is a short cut, I’m not sure I’d go that route.

You see, although the therapy is incredibly painful and I come away aching, I am also coming away with just a little bit more mobility, a little bit more flexibility. Tiny improvements that give me great patience. I tolerate the pain, grimacing through the exercises and stretches because I know that it is helping. I may try to complain or harass my therapist, but I can’t. He is helping me even as he brings pain.

Of course, my physical pain and this therapy reminds me of all the healing God has done in my life. I had to go through incredible pain, reliving moments of abandonment, neglect and the absence of love, in order to find belonging, acceptance and unconditional love. Just as I endure the pain of working through the scar tissue in my shoulder, so I had to work through the scar tissue on my soul.

I have come to value, even embrace the pain in my life. Without that pain I would not be the person I am today. And quite honestly, the person I am today is someone I love very much. There is a freedom, a strength, a peace, a focus that wasn’t there before. I can embrace who I am, including the areas that continue to need improvement, because I know that God has embraced me. My pain has opened my eyes to all the potential in the world, in others, and in myself.

I know many people who have experienced deep pain and sorrow. I have yet to find a person who does not see life differently because of their grief. For some, it is still an open wound, tender and painful to the slightest breath. Others have scars, painful and raw but healing. Some, like me, have the faded scars to point to as a reminder, but the pain is rare and fleeting. For us life is stronger than the past and hope triumphs. The scars become beautiful reminders of healing, joy, freedom, and hope. Life is far more precious now because it has been tinged with pain.

Twice a week I endure the physical pain because I know only through it will I find complete healing. Twice a week I remember the soul pain I once endured, and I smile with joy at the life and hope I now enjoy.

Interruptions or Opportunities

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The Bible talks about “making the most of every opportunity.” In that particular context it is talking about allowing one’s faith to be evident as often as the opportunity presents itself. I have learned that the “perfect” opportunity rarely happens and that every moment is an opportunity for our faith to reveal itself.

Often we think of “divine appointments” as those seen in the Bible, especially the one in John 4 where the Samaritan woman comes to the well midday for water. We know that Jesus knew she’d be there, but the disciples certainly didn’t. There was nothing divine, in their eyes, about this meeting. They saw her presence as an interruption. OF COURSE she was an interruption! She interrupted their lunch and their plans to move on, out of Samaria. Only Jesus, the Divine One, saw this interruption as an opportunity.

An interruption is only an opportunity when God shows up. What if it had been Thaddeus or Peter who had met the woman at the well. Would they have talked with her? Would they be so focused upon their pending lunch that they would ignore her like everyone else did? Would they have listened to the Holy Spirit, like Jesus did, to know what was going on in this woman’s life? Would they have even offered to help or requested help from her? No, they wouldn’t have because at that point they did not see the normal occasions of life, which are almost always interruptions, as opportunities to show God’s love and kindness.

If we wait for the perfect or the divine opportunity to show God’s love, we will miss every opportunity every time. This doesn’t mean that we speak of our faith at every moment regardless of what is going on. That is what Jesus condemned the Pharisees for. It is what the Church has done to the world with little effect. It’s what most of those street corner preachers do to the annoyance of everyone.

What we can do is show our faith through our attitudes and our actions. Faith isn’t just about the propositions we hold. It is about the truth and love of God lived out, in and through us as his daughters and sons. If we truly embraced who were are as children of God, co-heirs with Christ, then people will see the difference even before we open our mouths. Our actions, our compassion, our empathy, our listening will open the doors that our words – or the words of Christians of the past – hurled indiscriminately have closed. Our words will then have meaning and import.

So let me ask you, are your actions and attitudes toward the world ones that attract people or do they repel? Do you distract people with your vehement need to be right while the love of God gets trashed by your words? Are you more Pharisee than disciple? Are you more American than Christian? Are you living out your life as God’s child, bearing his name and identity like it was part of your DNA, or do you wear it like a coat that you can take on and off at will?

Are you seeing interruptions? Or are you seeing opportunities?

Beyond the Surface

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The other night I and some friends were at Ravinia listening to YoYo Ma, the renowned cellist and all around good guy. It isn’t just his musicality that makes me such a fan, it is his character as he shares the praise and spotlight with those around him. A man who could have a justifiably enormous ego is a generous musician and seemingly regular person. His musical ability causes me to love his music, but it is his character that makes me like him as a person.

That night at Ravinia I volunteered to bring food. I love good food and while my skill isn’t quite up to par with my taste buds, I try. What is of far lesser importance to me is the presentation. If the food itself isn’t tasty, it doesn’t matter how pretty the presentation. Don’t get me wrong, I do like things nicely presented, but it is what is INSIDE the dish that matters most. So my walnut and goat cheese salad was served in a gallon size baggie, as was my couscous salad. We used red Solo cups and plastic silverware. There was nothing fancy about this meal, just good food with good friends.

As I think about that evening, the truth of this philosophy in all of my life hits home. Whether it is clothes, makeup or title, if the person is not someone of character and honor, there is nothing about them that will appeal to me. I can admire athleticism and beauty, but the real value of a person is not in those things. Celebrities hold very little appeal to me. What one does with their life for the sake of others is what matters, not how much media attention one gets.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting. But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” This proverb holds just as true for men. The funny thing is that a woman or man who fears the Lord isn’t looking for praise at all. Rather they are looking to honor God and live their lives for his sake and for his kingdom.

In the New Testament, Jesus talks about individuals who look great on the outside, but on the inside they are “whited sepulchers.” They are shiny graves. Looks so nice and pristine on the outside but inside they are rotting and decaying. The odor of death is trapped behind beautiful marble. Yet it is the beautiful, the glamorous, the pretty that get our attention while the plain, awkward, nerdy and dorky people who live their lives, day in and day out, as servants of the Most High God go unrecognized and undervalued.

Women are fed a steady stream of diet fads, clothing trends, impossible images and required coquettishness all geared to attract men because, the story is told, that is what men like. Intelligent, direct and authoritative women are not desirable, so they say. Men are fed the same kind of mental and emotional garbage to fit into the perfect male image, often characterized by domination and control over women. These fallacies of human life taint our world and our image of ourselves and of those we live among. Those who are uneducated, ill-mannered and illiterate are treated as less than human. They have no power and no voice.

Fortunately, that is not how God sees things. He sees beyond the surface to the heart. He choses the lowly in this world to proclaim his great message. He takes the powerful and brings them low for the sake of his kingdom. Often it doesn’t feel this way, but the truth of the kingdom is that those with the least power will be made powerful. Those with the least influence will change the world. Those who are least beautiful will be glorified as a daughter or son of God. Such beauty as the world has ever seen cannot compare to the beauty of a heart surrendered and pursuing God. There is nothing and no one more beautiful or attractive than that.

My encouragement to you, and to me, is to look beyond the surface. See beyond the dirt, the wrinkles, the strange facial hair, the body that is too fat or too thin, the grey hair, the lack of hair, the less than fashionable dress, the awkwardness, and the ordinariness. Look beyond the surface. Is there character? Is there integrity, authenticity, passion for the least of these, generosity, and compassion? Those are the people to know, the people to befriend, the people to celebrate.

In the end, when we are old, what will matter is not how good we looked or how fine our presentation was, but how we have impacted our world for God’s kingdom. What will matter is the legacy of God’s love and compassion revealed through his daughters and sons.

Grief Like a Tide

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Like the ocean which ebbs and flows, so does grief. Those acquainted with grief will know that it can come out of nowhere, hitting either like a gentle wave or a tsunami. The longer the time since the loss the more surprising the tide of grief can be.

For the last few days I have felt a turning of the tide. A gentle sadness hit after I had told my story to someone. Sadness is not often the response I get when I tell my story, but in this case, I was reminded of just how much I had lost and just how much I would never have. Granted “never” is a big word but “never” is how I felt…feel.

The sadness lay dormant until I had a couple of restless nights from a painful injury. Sadness, restless nights and pain are the perfect storm to trigger grief in me. Add to that a dose of reality and a dash of stress from work and I was a goner. Unfortunately I did not realize what was happening until it came crashing over me earlier today. Yesterday I simply felt an intense shyness at the thought of going to a church picnic today with a bunch of strangers and a heightened level of introversion at the prospect of being surrounded by people and unable to avoid small talk. These were tremors that a storm was coming, yet I didn’t recognize it.

God has done so much healing and restoration in my life that I did not expect the grief to be so visceral. In addition, it has been 12 years since I lost everything: church, home, baby, husband and mother. They are not exactly fresh wounds or even unhealed wounds. I have so much in my life now, but still the wounds of the past linger reminding me of what was, what could have been and what never will be.

So today as I sat by the lake staring at the water, the picnic going on behind me, I allowed the tears to flow unchecked. Behind the sunglasses I wept. I grieved.

Once I realized where the tears were coming from, I was able to embrace them, embrace the grief. The worst thing I could do is try to stop my feelings of loss, sorrow, loneliness, and isolation. If I deny or ignore how I feel I cannot move forward. Grief is healthy. Grief is a normal response to loss, no matter how long ago that loss was.

Grief means that we loved, that we cared, that we were and are connected to others. Grief means we can still feel. We are still alive, still human.

Grief like the tide comes in but it also goes out. It brings things with it, but it also uncovers little gems of treasure long-buried. Grief helps us appreciate that which remains.

 

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
Is 53:3

Violence & School

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Most of you will have heard of the extraordinary violence that has plagued Chicago this summer. Over July 4th alone about 84 people were shot and 14 people were killed. Each weekend it seems like there is a fresh batch of shootings with children getting caught in the crossfire. Most of these shootings are localized in various neighborhoods. One such neighborhood is Englewood. When I was looking for a neighborhood to move into last year, Englewood was at the top of the violent crime list and has one of the highest levels of poverty in the city. Yet it is also a neighborhood where families are fighting to survive and thrive.

It should not surprise you that one of the offices I work with, and occasionally in, is in Englewood. Family & Community Services has a significant presence there. So, you might ask, what are WE doing about the violence? Excellent question!

Working with the elementary schools of Englewood, we are connecting students who are at risk with the tools to deal with their situation and to find healthy alternatives. Alongside counseling, we have a Girls’ Journal Club that allows the girls to express how they feel. This helps them make better decisions instead of simply reacting. The Boys’ Book Club engages the boys in reading that helps them see the world through a different lens as well as discuss their situations in a healthy environment. What has been really great is a parents’ group that has formed from our efforts. The parents are sick with worry for their kids, for their neighborhood and are working hard to raise healthy children amidst the violence. One great challenge among many they face is the lack of viable income to provide the basics that are needed to set their kids up for success.

When I was in working in Lake County I saw many students who were not able to buy the supplies they needed for school. But because of generous churches, most students had supplies. Some even had too many and their parents worked the system to make a profit. This is definitely not the case in Englewood. Kids are ill supplied and are coming from a deficit position even before they start.

I want to raise $2000 to help the students in Englewood with the supplies they need. For just $20 I can get a backpack, school supplies and supplies for our youth program for one student for the school year.JUST $20!

$2000 will help 100 students in our program. $2000 will provide basic supplies to our social workers for the entire year. $2000 will take one more weight off the already hard-working parents’ shoulders. If we raise more, it simply means we are able to increase our efforts in Englewood.

Many of you have worked with me either in the mobile home park, in Love INC, in the nursing home, in the homeless shelter, in church or in the kids ministry in Waukegan. Or you are reading this blog because you to share a commitment to the least of these and for kids who through no fault of their own are being set up for failure. Will you help me help them succeed?

Many of you have donated to The Salvation Army before. Please do not stop or divert your on-going gifts. BUT if you are able to give an additional $20 either to the address below or by following the link, I know it will make a real difference in a child’s life.

We need the funds (or the pledge) by August 8, though we will accept funds throughout August. If you want to donate online, you may do so HERE. If you would like to write a check please send it to the address below. If possible, can you let me know the check is coming and the amount? That way I can buy the backpacks in advance. Our parent workshop where we will distribute the backpacks is on August 22. We need time to prepare.

If you are unable to give, please pray for our staff in Englewood, the parents who will be attending the workshop and who are involved year round, and for Family & Community Services as we work in the dangerous places around the city. Your prayers mean the world to me and to the people I work with.

If you have any questions, please let me know. I appreciate you reading this and praying as God leads!

Blessings!

Kim

Send checks to:

The Salvation Army Family & Community Services
Attn: Kim Dougherty
4800 N. Marine Drive
Chicago, IL 60640

Kairos – A Time to Change

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Kairos indicates a pivotal time in life, outside of simple chronological time. Kairos signals a game changing event is poised to happen. In Mark 1:15 Jesus said, “The time (kairos) is come! The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe.”

In “Building a Discipling Culture” by Mike Breen, the kairos moment is integral to the discipleship process because it is in these moments that God is trying to get our attention. We use those moments to hear God (repent/change) and then do what he says (belief). It sounds simple, but often we get stuck trying to know what God is really saying. Even if we do have people actively helping us to discern these things (and most people do not), knowing what God is really saying can be a challenge.

What I have found is that God uses our deepest emotions to get our attention. When I feel dis-ease or anxious, I know that God is trying to alert me to something off or broken. He is wanting to move me out of that dis-ease and into peace and power to do his will. So often though we prefer to stay in the known angst rather than move forward into the unknown journey God has prepared. Perhaps we realize that we will be required to change. Perhaps we know that everything that once was will be no more. We cling to the old, the broken, the painful because we simply cannot imagine something better for us, not really. We may sigh and daydream about “if only” but when it comes down to it we do not want to leave our baggage behind.

Yet once we take the step to hear what God is saying to us and actively begin to do what he says, the freedom we sense ahead of us beckons ever more loudly. It doesn’t mean, however, that the road will be straight or simple. Obstacles are bound to be in the way, and the journey will be intentionally difficult. Just like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, we may go through the “valley of the shadow of death” far longer than we ever expected. The purpose in that journey is to rid ourselves of old habits of belief and toxic behavior that keep us from realizing the whole of what God has for us. If God were to short-circuit that journey, provide a short cut around Mt. Sinai, we will enter the new land with old idolatry and a sense of self-sufficiency, rather than worship of the One True God and a healthy dependence upon God and an inter-dependence with God’s people.

As we move further in our journey the kairos moments are less like the 10 plagues of Egypt (huge, painful, catalytic, unmistakable) and more like the cloud that gently steers our steps or the fire that lights our way. All along the way we must make choices to rid ourselves of the past and tighten our hold upon our trust in God. Sometimes we need to camp out for a while, taking in the new territory and the new reality of life. Sometimes we move with lightning speed to our promised land.

If God is prompting you through deep emotion or external pressure (usually they work together), then observe what is going on, reflect on it and discuss it with someone else. What are you believing that is a lie? Rather than looking at what others have done and blame them, look at what is being triggered within you. That is the place to start. But do not just end with the discussion. Make a plan, be held accountable to the plan and then do it. Maybe the plan works, maybe you need to make another one, but at least you are doing something about it.*

What kairos is God using to speak to you? What is God saying? And what are you going to do about it?

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* The Learning Circle is the first piece of the discipleship process as outlined by Breen’s book. A kairos moment occurs which should be followed up by observation, reflection, discussion (initiating change); then progressing to creating a plan, being held accountable, and finally acting on the plan (walking out belief).

Learning Circle Graphic

Waiting for an Invitation

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Four years ago I started this blog. Amazingly that was exactly three years to the day that I started with The Salvation Army Family & Community Services. Seems God is always moving me – physically and spiritually – in the summer, at least in recent years.

Now I’m staying put. Chicago, perhaps for the first time in my life, feels like home. Granted a good part of that is the healing and reconciliation God has brought to my life, without which “home” could never happen. But happen it has.

Yet I sense once again God moving. Beyond my sight, beyond my control, God is at work. My first year in the city is over. The next four or forty remain. What I am on the look out for now is God’s invitation. What is God inviting me into, here and now?

With the help of a friend or two, I was able to discern where God is leading regarding a church. It’s not perfect, but I believe I will find and form family there. Yet what will be my role in the family is yet to be determined.

In Wauconda, I was a matriarch, to quote a fellow leader in my missional community. Welcoming people, connecting people, reaching out and loving on others was my joy. To see others flourish in their abilities and gifts was a delight. To guide people closer to Christ by mentoring, discipling and loving was my passion. To provide a tangible shoulder or simply a ride in times of need was par for the course. All these things I did. Imperfectly but do them I did.

Here my role is different. At work I have one role (or twenty). With my friends I have another. But what is God inviting me into with my new family, a family I don’t yet really know? What is he inviting me into in my neighborhood, in Edgewater, in Chicago?

There are some things in my life that are outside my control, but where I do have control or influence, I choose to follow God’s lead. It would be nothing for me to jump in and start something. It’s how I’m wired and what comes naturally. However Jesus himself chose to go only where the Father told him to go. Jesus surrendered himself and did “only what he saw his Father doing.”

I’m on the look out for that very thing. If God has me start something it will be at his invitation. If God would have me follow and support someone or something else, it will be at his invitation. My job now is simply to watch, listen, and obey.