Retreat

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This October is a retreat month. I’m not retreating from life, but retreating to recapture and redefine life. Yet these retreats have been hit or miss, sporadic and unconventional. I started the month praying, “God, what would you have me know or experience by the end of the month?” The only response that came to mind was a prayer to remember who I am, God’s daughter.

Two weeks into the month I disappeared for 24 hours. I had hoped it would be 48 hours hidden away among the prairie grasses, talking trees, and babbling brook. But it was just 24 hours that allowed me to reconnect with the stars and my art. I even got a glorious fire. Surely that escape provided the answer to my question, “God, what would you have me know or experience by the end of the month?” Sadly, no, it did not answer my question. Just the gentle prayer, “Help me remember who I am, your daughter.” And a word to meditate on, “Courage.”

And now the last week of the month is here. Once again I have taken time to retreat from the noise, as least as best I can. I have absented myself from Facebook for the week. Well, mostly. A shooting outside my office on Monday was detailed, and articles that I find worthwhile have been shared. Yet I have restrained from checking and filling the void with the noise of Facebook posts. Rather than looking outside myself, I am forced to look inside. It’s what I wanted, what I’ve longed for all month, but now that I’m looking I find the inside is a little cluttered.

The clutter is my old habits of thought and emotion. I find myself tripping over things that no longer have any use or validity. Whether or not I actively purged them from my life previously or not, I’m now seeing them as something unfitting for my life. The house has changed, the layout is different, yet the same old custom pieces from the old place are here. They don’t fit. They stick out, disrupt the flow of space, and simply look wrong in this new setting. Other pieces have been moved in to fill the gaps, but now the old pieces are ill-suited. They must go.

I’m not a big fan of clutter. This might surprise you if you saw the paper on my desk – at work and at home – or the piles of books that line my bedside, yet those have purpose and flow. Some times the piles are bigger, some times they are non-existent. It is “stuff” that I am constantly purging. If I don’t use it, need it, or love it, I lose it. It is now time to lose some soul furniture that I no longer use, need or love.

It is time to immerse myself in the new world of belonging, engagement and kinship. I need to deepen my understanding and experience of what it means to be God’s daughter. I need to learn a new language of inclusion (of myself) and embracing. I need to know what it means to have the courage required to move beyond “just” healing and reconciliation and into growth, expansion and joy.

Know Thy Self

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In order for mission to be authentic and a natural extension of our lives, we must know who we are. We need to know what makes us tick, what drives us, what gets us up in the morning, what breaks us, what lifts us, and ultimately who we are as God’s child. God will use most anything, including mission, to help us discover those things. He also uses painful circumstances to show us the areas that are most entrenched in sin and brokenness. Until we face our true image, we can never become the beauty God intended us to be, and we can never truly engage in mission.

I know this first hand. My pride, impatience and righteous indignation were easy to justify, until I saw how they impacted my life and the lives of others I loved. Yet, when I faced the mirror, I also discovered the beauty that was hidden behind the pride, impatience and self-righteousness. I came to value the core elements of who I was without allowing the sin to remain.

I’ve written in other places about the Enneagram test and how understanding who I am through that lens has helped me embrace the healthy challenger within without letting the bull in the china shop run rampant. Some days are harder than others.

I’ve also written about where I am on the APEST. As Ephesians 4 teaches, all roles are necessary to the health of the church, whether it is as an Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd or Teacher. For far too long Shepherds and Teachers have become the primary voices of the church, with little room for the Apostle (innovator, expander of territories), Prophet (voice of God’s conscience) and Evangelist (proclaimer to the world of God’s kingdom). We’ve tried to mesh them all into one (or two) paid employees, rather than empowering the Church to discover their position and role in the body of Christ. You will not be surprised to hear that I am a VERY high Apostle/Prophet. (Read Hirsch & Catchim’s “The Permanent Revolution” or take the APEST test to discover who you are yourself).

Knowing these things should not be how we define ourselves, but they and other tests help explain why we are the way we are. We need to know this so we can embrace God’s call and commission on our lives.

I am made to push boundaries, to champion the most vulnerable of this world, and to go where people don’t want to go. Adventure is how I’m wired. Always has been, always will be. Even the most mundane, domestic things will take on an adventurous twist. Certainly makes for some interesting meals.

Much has changed for me since I moved to the city last August and started with The Salvation Army last July. Yet I am still me. I am still the one to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo. I understand this even as I realize that I am not here just to push but also to learn, to be pushed in return.

As I look back on my past, it was those times when I attempted the status quo that I failed miserably. I never felt quite right, even as the things I did looked right. Because the options were limited, I went with whatever I could do. It was a very painful time. Wanting to pursue God’s call but I was not allowed. I didn’t know enough about myself to make it happen. It’s easy to give up.

As a Challenger, giving up isn’t really in my DNA.

I know who I am. I know that I am put here to push boundaries, to clean up messes, and to bring a new perspective to wherever God has placed me. In five years, who knows where God will lead me next. But I don’t worry about five years from now, today is where I live and work and have my being.

 

Overcoming Bitterness in 10 Not So Easy Steps

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Ravello, ItalyWhat does it take to overcome betrayal and a broken relationship in a Godly way? Is it possible to do it without additional regret and pain? And is it possible to not just recover but actually thrive?

A few years ago, after sharing my own sad saga, I was asked, “How did you not become bitter?” The question was asked because the person needed to know for themselves how to avoid bitterness. Yet their question also revealed the truth that I was indeed not bitter. Despite the betrayal and attack I had endured, I was free. So how did I find freedom?

Below are the 10 not-so-easy steps I took to overcome bitterness. By the grace of God, I made some good choices that set me up to heal and eventually to thrive. Understand, however, the process of recovery was almost harder than the breaking of the relationship. There is no magic pill and nothing fast about it, but a joyful future is possible if you are willing to do the hard and often painful work.

1. Honesty is mandatory.
Complete honesty with yourself is the foundation of relational and emotional recovery. Even the smallest of subterfuges and white lies will derail you from healing. Until you are willing to be brutally honest you cannot begin. Something to note about honesty: it is like an onion. Just when you think you are as honest as you possibly can be, you find another layer that needs to be unpeeled and exposed. Yet with each layer uncovered, God gives you the strength to see the next. It is painful to be honest with and about ourselves, but there is no other alternative if healing is the goal. Can’t be done. You should also know that once the honesty stops, so does the healing.

2. You are responsible for your sins.
We all sin. In a broken relationship, there will always be mistakes you made and issues you brought to the situation. They are there in stable relationships! So own up to them. Until we take responsibility for ourselves, we won’t be able to move forward either on our own or in a new relationship. That “stuff” from that other relationship comes with you into a new one, unless you deal with it and repent of it. Deal with your crap because no one else will.

3. You are NOT responsible for other people’s sins.
Just as we need to own our own sins, we cannot nor should we take responsibility for other people’s issues. In the Book of Job, his friends tried to lay certain sins at his feet, but he kept denying they were his. He was innocent, at least of what they said. It wasn’t until God spoke the truth, naming his real sins, that Job owned them. Own your sins, not what someone else thinks you did. This is part of honesty too.

4. Integrity is more important than reputation.
It sucks when people think you are the one who broke the relationship and didn’t want to make it work. It especially sucks when it is an outright lie. My situation was a little unique since there were facts I was unaware of at the time. I was clueless why the relationship had disintegrated as it had, though I could see some blamed me. It hurt so badly, yet all I could do was trust God to defend me and my reputation. God knew. My close friends and family knew. Everyone else was either told a lie, allowed to believe a lie, or chose to speculate a lie.

Then as now, the most important thing is that WE know the truth – for good or bad – and we know God knows the truth. Integrity is what we know to be true about ourselves and live up to it; reputation is what others think they know about us. Integrity is more important than reputation. Let God defend your reputation; you protect your integrity. God will honor it.

5. Lies must be denounced calmly, respectfully and by living out the truth.
When presented with a lie, I spoke the truth. I didn’t fly off the handle, breakdown in tears or scream, though I really, really wanted to sometimes. I spoke the truth simply and then let the other person be outraged on my behalf. When possible I confronted the lies with words, but most often words were not possible, especially since I refused to go on the offensive. Instead I let my life reveal the truth. I gave myself over to the deepest desires of my heart which were to care for the least of these. In nursing homes, homeless shelters, mission trips and inner city ministries, I was able to live out the life God had called me to. The truth was revealed more through actions than through words.

6. Kindness is the greatest vengeance – and it’s God approved!
Whenever I felt a deep urge to yell, confront, or bite back, which was often, I remembered Romans 12:17-20.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

When tempted to be mean, my “wicked” response was to be nice. I visualized the coals falling with each grace-filled word I said. It was rather fun. Over time the kindness had its own reward because it helped me not become bitter. My actions were able to influence my thinking. Despite how hard it was, and how I sometimes failed, I do not regret being kind to the one who broke my heart. Not one regret.

7. Forgiveness must be given freely and often. Forgiveness does not absolve us from the consequences nor does it mean trust is restored. Forgiveness allows us to move forward. If we have been honest with ourselves, then we need to ask forgiveness from God and from ourselves for the things we did wrong. We will probably even have to go to the person who had wronged us to ask forgiveness of them knowing they may never reciprocate. It’s what is required of those who want to walk as Jesus walked. Taking the first step is painful, but only the brave will find freedom.

We must also grant forgiveness to the person who hurt us so deeply. Betrayal and abandonment have a way of hitting us where we are most vulnerable, especially those of us who have a ’til death do us part’ mentality. The pain and anger rise up when we least expect it. No matter how many times we might forgive, it is necessary to forgive again – and again – and again. Until the rage and anger no longer rise up. Until that bitter taste no longer comes with the very thought of the person who hurt us. This could take years, and probably will. Yet each time rage flairs, forgive. Forgiveness is the road to freedom.

What happens, though, if the person who hurt us doesn’t ask or seek forgiveness?

8. Forgiveness is your responsibility, not theirs.
Granting forgiveness, and even asking for it, is our responsibility. If we want to be forgiven ourselves, we must forgive. The Bible is very clear here. Yet demanding to be asked for forgiveness is not something we can expect, though it would be nice. Think of it this way, you are giving a great gift to someone, but they are unwilling to reach out for it. You know this gift would save their life, yet still they resist taking it. All you can do is place it before them and walk away. You are no longer burdened with carrying this gift around and can move forward with life. Give forgiveness for your sake. Ask forgiveness for your sake. But do not feel guilty or hurt if they never seek it or acknowledge it. That’s their problem, not yours.

9. It’s not about you.
Until my life blew up, I didn’t understand David’s statement in Psalm 51, “against you, and you alone, O God, have I sinned.” Um…hello, David…what about Uriah and Bathsheba? Only when I was ripped apart did I see that the sin was not against me but against God. And ONLY God. I was simply collateral damage. Of course, collateral damage can still kill you, but I was not the real target. Once I realized that, I also realized that Jesus had suffered for this very reason. He knew what I was going through because he was experiencing the exact same betrayal. As I read the passion of Christ over and over again, I knew that my pain was only a small portion of what Jesus felt. See Jesus took on all the betrayal in all the world over all time upon himself. In fact, he even took my betrayal upon himself. Still he loved and forgave me. I found great comfort in sharing my sorrow and grief with the only one who could really know it.

10. In time you will know who God made you to be.
In the end, if you are honest and you give yourself time, you will find the beautiful, powerful, grace-filled person God made you to be. His child, born of God and co-heir with Christ. Nothing can take that away from us. We are his and that is what makes us who we are, not our sins, betrayals or hurts. Our identity is grounded and made whole in Him, when once it was shattered and broken.

I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone, but I cannot deny the beauty that has come from it.

How can I be bitter when I’ve received so much?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

What is Normal?

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Me @ 3 Yrs old“You’re becoming normal and I’m so proud of you!!!”

This intriguing text was sent to me Saturday morning after I had told my friend that I had slept in.

Not exactly the response I expected. Me sleeping in on a Saturday is hardly abnormal, for me or for anyone that works all week long. It’s rather expected actually. So what made this so unusual for me? And why was this making me normal?

As my friend clarified, it was because I was embracing what normal people did without reservation. Going out with friends on Friday night (though I, in fact, did not go out due to the slicker than snot roads of Chicago) and sleeping in on Saturday are just such normal, mundane things. Things that apparently I have not indulged in over the last few years.

This little text exchange prompted a lot of thoughts on what it means to be normal, for me and for others, and why normal is both welcome and not all it’s cracked up to be.

I was never a normal kid growing up. Adventurous and curious for the first few years of my life, a decision I made at 4 years old changed that adventure and curiosity into a solo, private venture. Fear of failure, of being a disappointment, of proving I was undeserving of love, compelled me to hold myself back from others. I was still very curious and longed for adventure, but I would never show that. I wanted to be recognized for being someone special but also not wanting to draw attention to myself. I needed to do well, and if I could not then I needed to make sure that whatever was wrong was not noticed. While I abhorred lying, I wasn’t able to be fully truthful with myself or others about who I was. I never let people really know me.

When I was 13 my mother gave me a t-shirt that said “Why Be Normal.” Not being normal was my M.O. I was interested in things others were not interested in. I listened to classical music and jazz while my friends listened to Bon Jovi, Amy Grant and AC/DC (different groups of friends, obviously). I read books completely unsuited to my age (“The Thorn Birds” in 6th grade in one day – yikes!). I drove for hours praying from midnight to 3 AM but only after leaving a note for my sleeping mom. (What teenager does that?!) I studied Greek and Hebrew, the only girl among the boys. I looked down on “normal” relationships and “normal” ambitions. I was arrogant without realizing it or acknowledging it. While I knew I had pride, I justified it by comparing myself to the young men around me for whom pride was seemingly expected. Why be normal, indeed.

Decades later and with the decision I made at 4 years old renounced, I’m now at a place where NORMAL is good. For me, normal is healthy. Now, since God has brought such amazing healing and freedom, I have no worries about whether my life is normal or not. My life is simply…life.

I have a balance that wasn’t there before. An inner peace that comes from knowing my identity as God’s daughter that I never fully understood even though I had been his daughter for over 30 years. Until I acknowledged and knew with my heart as well as my head that I was God’s daughter, I could never fully live out who I was. Knowledge truly is power.

This new-found, fledging normalcy does not mean that living in mission is not still a core element of who I am. In fact, living in mission is, to me, excitedly normal. I am God’s daughter after all. I realize, however, that many people do not see on-going mission this way. Moving to an under-resourced neighborhood, or working with vulnerable people, or befriending someone who is homeless or on welfare or pagan or undocumented is still considered abnormal. Certainly unexpected. This, unfortunately, is where we, the Church, have failed to make Jesus’ life a part of our lives. Institutional Christianity is the norm rather than the living life of Christ in us. American Christians often look and sound more like the Pharisees than like Jesus. Harsh words, but our espousal of personal rights over care for the poor and foreigner and moralistic self-righteousness over love for those in need of acceptance and forgiveness make me cringe as I remember what Jesus said to the religious people of his day. He offered them no quarter. I personally don’t want to live my life normally if that is what it entails.

So while I am finding a place of normalcy in Chicago, among friends and family, among pagans and pan-handlers, among immigrants and isolationists, I’m also embracing my own sense of what normal means. It means that my passion for the least of these burns consistently rather than flaring and then dying low only to be stoked to fever pitch. It means that boundaries are not burdensome but a simple fact. It means that I can share me – failures, faux pas’, funny quirks, faith, frivolity, frankness – without fear. Normal means that swimming against the stream is not an action to spur admiration or attention but the intuitive necessity of reproducing myself as God’s child in this world.

So the real question isn’t “Why be normal?” or even “Why not?” but “What does Jesus say should be normal?” and are we living it?

Name Change

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What's In A NameAround the western world, most but not all, women change their names upon marriage. Some are ecstatic over this event. Others find themselves unsure of who they are anymore. Once an unthinking task, remembering to sign the right name proves difficult. Yet with time the new name becomes her own. The name forms a part of her identity and her life.

When a person, male or female, becomes a Christian, it is a process of changing one’s identity. No longer is he just “John Doe.” He is, in fact, “John Son of God-Doe.” He belongs to a new family. He has a new identity. Just like the bride who changes her name, so does the new believer change his name.

New family. New name. New identity. Yet on the outside everything seems pretty much the same. Same hair. Same eyes. Same taste in food. Just like the bride, it takes time to make adjustments for the new life. We may not need to remember how to sign our name, but we may need to think through some of our other actions. Not because the other actions were inherently bad or wrong, though they may be, but because we see them from a different angle. We see them through the eyes of a bride, of a family member, of a person who bears God’s name.

When we weren’t part of God’s family, when we did not bear his name, we had one agenda: get what would please us. Our own needs and desires drove us. Food. Shelter. Water. Sexual impulses. Ambition. Love. To then have each of these desires put under the ownership of God means that some changes will happen. Our tastes will change. Our ambitions will alter. Our vision will be corrected. Some things will happen without significant conscious effort; other things will need hard work and discipline to change.  We never really know which it will take, but we can be assured both will be required.

One thing that does happen when we come to bear God’s name, there is a strength and confidence implanted by simply being His. As human beings made in the image of God, we are imbued with value from conception. As his children, that value is infused with radiance and glory that only comes from God’s presence in us. An image bearer becomes a Name bearer. The light within shines bright, though our worth and value are just as precious as before.

It is this light within that then guides our steps. It is this light that breaks through the dark corners of our formerly sinful life and creates beauty out of ugliness. It is this light that inspires us to reach out to those still in darkness. It is this light that defines our identity.

The question we need to ask ourselves then is how brightly is our light shining? Are we owning our identity as God’s children? Without that ownership, our ability to live out our identity as God’s children will be sorely diminished. It is time to know – truly KNOW – who we are and live it.

We need to change our name.

Failure to Identify

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From the time of the Fall when Adam and Eve spurned their relationship with God, our greatest failure as human beings has been in our identity. We are always seeking to find ourselves through one thing or another. The Israelites repeatedly forgot they were God’s chosen people. Satan tempted Jesus by questioning his identity. The day after Christ’s crucifixion, before his resurrection, the disciples lost all sense of who they were, feeling powerless and adrift. Apart from Jesus the disciples were nothing. Failure to identify ourselves with God is our greatest curse and Satan’s greatest achievement.

Throughout history we have tried to find labels for ourselves, to understand where we fit. Yet God provided that answer. We are made in his image with the expectation of being his children. Many choose to spurn that relationship, like Adam and Eve. Others are like the Prodigal Son who ignores his father and seeks his own life. Some of them chose to live in the pig sty rather than come home to the Father who loves them unconditionally. Some resent the Father for that same unconditional love, and so serve him in the body but hate him in their heart.

God wants us to be his children, working with him and beside him, in love. He wants us to stand confidently as we bear his name and take back the territory once surrendered to the enemy. Today we can choose to be a son or a daughter of God with power, or we can deny that relationship and bear a powerless name. The first step is ours.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:10-13

Eyes to See

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Dirty. Lazy. Eye sore. Parasite. Annoyance. Drain on society. Addict. Obstacle.

Are these the words that come to mind when you see someone on the streets begging for spare change? Do you avoid making eye contact with people on the street because you don’t want them to ask you for money? Do you get aggravated that they are blocking your way as you go about your business? Do they make you feel guilty because you are enjoying yourselves while they beg? Do you feel angry for feeling guilty because it then spoils your good time? Do you give money, assuaging your guilt and allowing you to get on with your life, all the while knowing that the cash may go directly to the liquor store, enabling the problem rather than helping?

I have thought all these things and more at one time or another.

Friday and Saturday I spent celebrating my friend’s birthday in Chicago. We had a great time doing things my friend loves to do: bikram yoga, eating amazing food, walking the city, finding more good food, showing visitors all the cool things about the city and, in general, experiencing one of our favorite cities with friends.

As with any big city, you will find people living on the street. I remember a couple of years ago when I was in New York seeing a number of folks sleeping on the steps of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church right across the street from stores like Louis Vuitton. The contrast was not lost on me. Chicago is much the same. You can walk down Michigan Ave, the Magnificent Mile, surrounded by shoppers and tourists and find individuals with placards asking for money.

Most often, we are told, “Don’t look. Don’t see. Don’t make eye contact.” I say that is all wrong.

By not looking at people, whether they be homeless or tourists or people going about life, we deny their existence. If we don’t see, then they don’t matter. If we don’t acknowledge them, then we have no responsibility. We become the center of the universe with those who have value being the ones to get our attention. Since the people who are homeless are the ones singled out for avoidance, we cast them into the shadowlands of forgetfulness and oblivion. They become ghosts and apparitions. They do not exist. In many instances they are relegated to specific neighborhoods away from public view.

This weekend I saw a clean-cut young man asking for money for a room to rent that night. I saw a woman of Middle Eastern descent asking for help for her and her two children. I saw a thin, African-American woman with a change cup outside of 7-Eleven, head down, arm outstretched. I saw an older man sitting in what looked like his normal spot. He had a well-worn Bible with glasses and incredibly infectious smile shining through his gray beard. We said hello with gladness. I saw a 40-something year old man with a “homeless” placard offering to give us directions.

Even if I felt that giving money was the right thing, I had none to give. Yet what I did have at that moment, I gave. I gave them identity. By simply seeing them, acknowledging them as human beings made in the image of God, I gave them a place in this world. They had a place in my world and I welcomed them.

Each person has a story. Each life is a story. When I imagine what brought each of the people I saw to the place that they are, I can see how complex it is. Never is it as simple as we think. But what stands out for each of these people is that they are alone. They are isolated and left to their own devices to find a way. The edge between having a roof over your head and being homeless is precarious. I have seen that for myself in my neighborhood. My hope is to hear the stories of these people. Hear the heart-ache, the choices, the abuse, the near-misses. Hear, acknowledge and learn.

The words that come to mind when I see someone begging money on the street are: Bearer of God’s image. Precious to God. They must feel helpless and hopeless. Beautiful and pained. Lonely and isolated. In need of love and kindness. Receiver of abuse and  scorn. Abandoned. Remembered by God.

Do we dare to see people as God sees them? Do we dare to see beyond the mess of their lives to the person God made them to be, whether they be homeless or not? Do we dare get a bit messy ourselves as we walk alongside those who are forgotten, abandoned, isolated and shunned? This doesn’t mean that we don’t see where they have made mistakes, or ignore their own sinful choices. What it does mean is that we ride it out and help bring transformation to their lives by helping without hurting and healing without inflicting greater damage.

Do we dare to have eyes to see?