right, wrong, and grace

Total honesty: I had a post all ready. Filters for our words, part two: on husbands and social media. Ready to go today.

And then, this thing happened.

A big to-do in the world I come from. And I was sad. Mad. Vocal. I researched. I followed. I watched and I listened. I was outraged. I was grieved.

And then, suddenly, I snapped out of it. For that, I thank my sister, and my husband, the “Ain’t nobody got time for that” lady . . . and the lovely squash I baked for dinner.

I got sucked into a “foolish controversy” yesterday. A “wrangling of words” with some people who are always right. Even when they use faulty metrics from sources they usually oppose, fail to practice principles of confrontation they preach, and paint condemnation with broad brush strokes.

It is surreal. And sort of painful . . . to collide with the world that shaped my mind as a new adult.

I struggle so much with this, this legalism, that took hold of me. The wrongness of them. The rightness of us.

The need to be right is just part of who I am. I can’t entirely blame that on my education. But it was certainly nourished there.

It felt good to be surrounded by people who thought exactly like me. If we differ on nuance, fine. Let’s just not make it an issue. Honestly, I don’t like to fight. Right felt right.

But over the past ten years, God has been peeling. Peeling and peeling the layers of me. And I am confronted often by who I think I should be and who I am.

And why.

And the who I think I should be is weighted so heavily with the years of sermons and books, and principles and seminars. I look back and find no place for the woman whose husband is a Christ-follower & church leader — and yet struggles with pain and addiction to pain pills . . . And suddenly I am there again . . . lost in a world of blue blazers and khaki dress pants, confused by how being right made you live right, because it didn’t. All the rightness in the world did not equip me to deal with addiction.

Yesterday, I thought of all the years of my life I wasted. Believing that certain denominations were wrong and therefore had nothing good to offer and all the while, in a “seeker friendly” — and therefore wrong — mega church on the other end of L.A., a program was launched that held the keys to my salvation.

12 Steps. Imagine that.

Biblical principles to release both Dave and me from bondage to secrets and shame. Truth, through which I finally understood my actual need for God even though I had known Him all my life and had been grounded in solid theology (with a degree from the right school to prove it). And through which I came face to face with the reality of God’s grace. Grace sufficient for me. Power made perfect in weakness.

A place where people prayed over me and Dave with a passion I had never heard in all my life. A place where we sang songs with repetitive choruses, read from a different translation of the Bible, wore t-shirts, and were preached to by recovering addicts. A place where we grieved, and celebrated.

I had never experienced Church like that.

And I broke. The pride. The fear. The defense . . .

. . . but the peeling takes time. These layers are thick.

I listen. I study. I read. I pray. I ask God to give me a heart of compassion rather than rightness (believe me, I have a full tank of that). I fail. I retreat. I strive for perfection. I believe knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And yet, still, I lean toward the comfort of knowing . . .  it’s just so much easier than love.

I am surrounded now by people with whom I don’t always feel completely at home. I don’t take for granted that we see eye to eye on finer points of doctrine. My closest friends worship in churches my education taught me preach a false gospel. And yet, I witness in their lives a deep communion with Christ,  and in their churches a stronger commitment to reaching out in Jesus’ name with actual love and help for the hurting — doing what Jesus would do. And I’ve been studying what they teach — from their writers — the core of what they really believe — and it’s there in Scripture — in interpretations dating back to the earliest days of the Church. And I am beginning to see how so much of what I once believed about them was based on caricature and representations and not reality.

This week, I appreciate anew that I am in a church where I am learning to have a spirit of love along with a spirit of discernment. I was — and still am — sorely lacking in actual grace. For others, as well as for myself.

I’m not always comfortable with grace. I am still overly concerned about appropriate attire (as though poor fishermen had Sunday finery). I am still self-conscious of movement, of kneeling to pray, of closing my eyes and shutting out the world to sing.

And I am slow to raise my hands.

* * * * *

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

— St. Paul, Ephesians 4:1-5

blessings for the broken part three

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. — Matthew 5:5

The endless gray sky feels forever like 11 o’clock in the morning . . . no sun to guide and you must check your watch to remind you of the passing of the hours.

Night ebbs slow. Day is a fading in and out of light. Artless.

I feel it in the heavy winter gloom. I see it in faces. Touch it in names. And it’s there on bitter pages. The year I was angry with God.

I’ve come upon it unexpectedly again in the third beatitude. Blessed are the meek.

Stretch out my life, and pick the seams out*

In the weeks our life was coming apart, another family in our church was walking through the worst trial I could imagine. Far worse than mine.

Their four year old daughter had had another in a series of surgeries to repair her heart. Her recovery was long and tenuous.

They graciously shared their home with us when we lost ours. In their home, walls covered with their faces, my prayers intensified for this beautiful family. Prayers for us. Prayers for them. Prayers for healing. For her. For Dave. I forgot myself when I prayed for her . . .

On a blinding, bright, bitterly cold January day, I walked along with the crowd from the church to the cemetery. As they released pink balloons to the blue sky, her bless-ed parents became saints to me.

But my tears became questions. If God could allow the worst to happen to them, I was not immune. The worst could happen to me, too. My story was not guaranteed a happy ending. Dave could go back to drugs at any time. I really might never trust him again. We actually might get a divorce. We may always be destitute. Our life really has been destroyed.

I began to doubt things I had believed all my life. “Plans to prosper not to harm” — oh really? Burdens piled on. Homelessness. Poverty. Social Services. And underneath all flowed uncertainty.

Issues with Dave’s former employer became daily aggravations. It seemed so unfair that they should place any burden on me. Summer days passed in a cubicle instead of at home with my kids as I had done all their lives.

My dearest sister struggled against cancer. I could barely breathe prayers for her. My chest ached morning to night. I was afraid to trust God with her. And she was a thousand miles away.

Bitterness shot out roots . . .

Months of my life burned at the edges with fear. I painted myself with a tough coat of anger to hold back the pain. I was anything but accepting of God’s will.

* * * * *

I composed this post over the past week and was reluctant to post today as I had planned. Because injustice strives so hard for control.

This morning, I feel the stretching as two-years of tearing the fabric of so many lives threatens to tear longer and deeper.

This morning, the Pope’s words of resignation resonate with the ache in my own heart.

The fight wears on you . . .

The meek shall inherit the land

Jesus’ blessing for the meek invokes scenes vivid in my mind. . .

Cain, in a murderous jealous rage against his brother. God speaks to him: sin is crouching at the door, it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.* 

I wonder if Moses had heard those very words himself before bitterness overtook him at Meribah and he struck the uncooperative rock in a display of anger.

Moses had done so much good and had obeyed so much. It seems so unfair that he should not be allowed to go into the  Promised Land.

. . . Moses had been to this place of testing before. The people were thirsty. They doubted. Would a loving God lead them to the desert to die?

I feel near that place again, too. And I want to smack that rock with every fiber of my being.

It takes conscious choice to submit my life to Christ’s care and  control. 

Meek is not about quiet. Or reserved. Or shy. Or weak. Meek is accepting God’s dealings with us as good. Meek requires the wisdom to know when the fight isn’t yours.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. Psalm 37:8-9

blessings for the broken, part two

We used to wear our grief.Black for a day, a month, a season, a year . . .

To show loss.

To let the world around us know we carried sorrow.

Appearance had meaning.

We treated mourners with respect. Spoke differently around them. Guarded our conversation to avoid heaping sorrow on complete strangers.

I wonder why we stopped. Why long, visible mourning has gone out of fashion. . .

* * * * *

Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said.

In every version of the Bible, the English word, translated from Greek, is mourn. 

Grief manifested; too deep for concealment. Often . . . to weep audibly.

(Now we cover. Allow ourselves acceptable sorrow, but keep calm and carry on. Mourning is for poets. Wailing is for pagans.)

But Jesus spoke the Beatitudes to people who bore grief visibly. No makeup or drops to hide weary eyes. Faces revealed hearts. Clothes told stories.

I think, even then, mourning had lost something.

Because they used to show real grief over sin by putting on sackcloth and ashes.

In ancient times, recorded in the Old Testament, garments were torn by the grieving. Rough, dark, shapeless clothes replaced them. Ashes on heads. Ashes in which to sit.

Ashes, the remnants of sacrifice. A symbol of sorrow. A sign of humility. Of desperation. Ashes to cleanse. Israel, David, Nineveh . . .

Public displays of repentance had become a show for Pharisees. See how religious I am?

* * * * *

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation.” 2 Corinthians 7:10a

God knows when mourning of wrongs is just for show.

Sometimes we know, too. Or sense it.

Because addicts repent a million times. This is the last time. I’ll never do it again. And yet they do . . . and we cannot make them be sorry to the point of change. Preaching at and pleading with cannot induce real repentance.

And we are the same. We who believe we are free from destructive vices.

We repent when we are caught. In gossip. In aggression. In spending money we don’t have.  . . and at once we are consumed with self. With how can I get out of this and still save face. . .

. . . Books of mourning sit beside me on a shelf. Spiral bound pages, words poured out in tears. Sleepless nights, hollow-eyed days. Bitterness and belief intertwined. Pride shredded until I thought I had none left, but I was wrong.

Mourning isn’t pretty. Mourning feels like dying.

* * * * *

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus says.

It seems He is speaking of comforting those who have suffered tragic loss. Of wiping away every tear from our eyes.

Comfort — this one word in English means so many things in Greek. Parakaleō: to call to one’s side, to summon, to console, to admonish, to encourage, to teach. I recognize it from Bible school. The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit . . .

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. John 14:16

* * * * *

Mourning and comfort. Both are process. Neither can be rushed. Sowing tears and reaping joy takes time.

Comfort ye my people, God told Isaiah. And it was more than 400 years before the Comforter came . . .

Blessed are those who are broken. Who grieve deeply over their wrongs. Who feel trapped and helpless in their chemically dependent body and throw themselves at the feet of Jesus, begging for healing.

Blessed are those who are broken. Who are exhausted from trying to fix the broken people they love. Who are afraid if they stop, no one will pick up the pieces. Who grieve over the pride that keeps joy hostage.

Blessed because they receive power greater than themselves.

* * * * *

There are hidden places where grief is still worn. 

Where masks of I am fine are set aside, confessions are made, and encouragement is given. Where tears of sorrow flow freely, waiting for the Comforter to wipe them away. Some stay months, others stay years.

We confess aloud that there is a Power greater than ourselves.* 

That God exists,

that I matter to Him, and

that He has the power to help me give up addiction, pride, control . . . whatever has broken me.  * 

* * * * *

A little more about mourning and comfort: Psalm 30, Isaiah 61, Lamentations, Shattered Dreams, A Tale of Three Kings, A Grief Observed

* * * * *

blessings for the broken, part one

I like to be strong.Confident, competent, able.

Helen Reddy in my head since 4th grade. I am Woman . . I am invincible.

I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.

Ask if I need help and I become more determined to do it myself.

I am independent to a fault.

And I will work myself into an ulcer.

* * * * *

The breaking was just as much for me as it was for him.

I see it now. I saw it then.

But my eyes are are slow to turn the image upright. . .

A friend reminded me this week: we say we are concerned about what’s best for THEM, but we’re really concerned about what’s best for ME

Addicts, she means.

Addicts don’t just one day wake up and said, You know what? I’m done with this life. I’m going to be a new person now. And then the pain ends.

But we so hope they will. And we so hope it will.

We pray for them to make right choices. We pray for miraculous healing . . .

Sometimes, it takes years of prayer to finally come to see.

Because truly admitting you need help means you have to be broken.

. . . and broken involves suffering.

* * * * *

It is agonizing to watch self-destruction.

. . .  sometimes we draw hard lines . . . sometimes we tell them to suffer somewhere else . . . sometimes we are ready for them to be broken.

But sometimes, we forgive and cover and scold and give books to read and phone numbers of people to call and lecture and pray and forgive and cry and scream and flail and forgive and weep and beg and block doors and take away car keys  and suspect and make phone calls and plead and make them go to the pastor and make them sign and believe and hope and accidentally discover and confront and forgive and cry and pray and discover again and lash out and yell and beg and pray . . . Love believes. Love hopes. Love endures. Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh, my life.

Until we are ready to be broken. Broken more.

To throw ourselves at Jesus’ feet and admit we are powerless to control.

Save me from furious rage, from appeasing, from excuse-making, from micro-managing, from holier than thou, from I can do this by myself, from this reflects so poorly on me . . . from fear of suffering.

Until  pride is stripped away and I realize. Until I admit that I am powerless to control . . .

* * * * *

 Blessed are the poor. . .* Jesus said.

Beaten-to-your-knees-by-poverty poor.* Reduced to begging.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:3)

“Blessed are the people who feel keenly their inadequacies and their guilt and their failures and their helplessness and their unworthiness and their emptiness—who don’t try to hide these things under a cloak of self-sufficiency, but who are honest about them and grieved and driven to the grace of God,” says another.*

Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.*

Blessed are the broken.

* * * * *

I prefer to forget broken.

But Jesus reminds me.

Broken is how He opened His first sermon. On a mountain, like Moses: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me.* 

I did not bring myself out of Egypt. I did not bring Dave out of Egypt. I am powerless.

Broken is not a once I was. Broken is a place to come back to over and over and remember. Especially for the self-reliant. For the self-sufficient. For me.

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ You don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.Revelation 3:17-20

God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Matthew 5:3