Making Up for Lost Time

During all my years of soldiering — of butt-kicking and name-taking — I was in constant motion, often simultaneously cooking, doing laundry, answering email, talking on the phone, and granting or denying permission to one of my children.  I got a lot done.  It seems that I was able to keep a clean house, feed a family, teach hundreds of students, and arrive most places fully-clothed for quite a few years. The down side? Very little time to reflect — very little time to examine options, consider outcomes, or feel.

I’m making up for lost time. Obviously.

In days of yore (Why, sonny, when I was your age…), I looked at the myriad obligations of the members of my family, the limited functions of two vehicles, and the tight schedules my husband and I kept, and I quickly formulated and executed a plan that accommodated everyone.  I planned my work and worked my plan.  “Here’s what’s happening today,” I would say, “You two will come with me to school.  After school, while you are at practice, I will get groceries. I’ll be back to pick you up.  When we get home, you’ll unload and put away groceries while I cook dinner.  Meanwhile, Dad will take you (other child)  to your different school.  He’ll go to work then pick you up after your practice, stop by Walgreens to fill your prescription, then meet us back here.  We will eat at exactly 5:30 because then, Dad has a meeting, I have parent-teacher conferences, two of you have homework to do, and the third one has to be at a study session on the other side of town.”  I would hit the start button and the plan would be executed.

Nowhere was there time for contemplation, negotiation, or revision.  We were in “go” mode.  In some ways, it was necessary for the season of life we were in with three kids in high school all at the same time, however, I think it could’ve been handled differently.  I think I could’ve let some stuff go.  I could’ve slowed down, allowed the kids to eat cereal for dinner more often, and let my laundry pile up.  I could’ve valued processing over producing. Contemplating over completing.

So, yeah, I’m making up for lost time.

I’m currently reading three books.  One is a book I am reading with my Bible study gals, Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way.  Another was given to me by my physical therapist/counselor/friend, Doing Well at Being Sick by Wendy Wallace.  I also picked up Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, it’s interesting to me that I have time to read three books, for one thing.  Also, I notice that I am interacting with these books, writing notes in the margins, going back to my notes, and thinking about what the books are saying to me. And, third, I am intrigued by the fact that these three books are speaking to each other.  It’s like they are three friends that said to one another, “Hey, guys, Kristin’s been still for quite a while now.  She might finally be able to hear us.”

And what are they saying?  Well, it’s not really shocking, because they are saying the same things that I have been discovering, thinking, speaking, and writing about for the past three and a half years.  However, I think what’s interesting is that I am noticing.  I am processing. I am digesting. I am not more interested in completing these books than I am in connecting with them.  I am not compelled to finish them; I am drawn to understand the meaning they have for me.

And really, the meaning is this — my soldiering is done. Even though I’m tempted almost every day to go back to that life, I am no longer capable.  God, in His mercy, has chosen a better way for me.  He has allowed limitations in my life — real physical limitations — that stop me from soldiering so that I can live a life that reflects, that feels, and that makes space for others. Because on my own, I wouldn’t have stopped soldiering, guys.  I would’ve keep right on kicking butts and taking names.  God had something better for me. Yes, you heard me right.  My “broken” life, my life with the limitations of chronic illness, is a higher quality life than my “un-broken” life.  In fact, my “broken” life is more whole than the “unbroken” one was.

It’s a paradox, to be sure. God is often paradoxical, isn’t He?  His brokenness makes us whole.  By His wounds we are healed. He turns our mourning into dancing. He doesn’t always make sense, but today I’m not going to question Him. I’ll just thank Him.

I Peter 2:24

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Best Practices

In my trudge through the mundane and my continuing struggle with crabbiness, I am making an effort  to be intentional about my ‘best practices’.  Why is it so hard to do the right thing?

I get pretty methodical about attending yoga class 2-3 times a week, but this has a pretty significant physical pay-off almost immediately.  The strength and flexibility I am obtaining and maintaining from regular yoga is noticeable. Of course, the mindfulness of attending to my breathing and setting aside my “brain activity” for an hour or so a few times a week has emotional pay-off as well.

I also don’t struggle with eating foods that improve my health.  Although I don’t notice an immediate positive payoff from eating the right things, I do experience almost immediate consequences if I eat the wrong things.  For instance, because I take homeopathic remedies, I don’t drink coffee.  Apparently coffee can ‘cancel’ any benefit you get from homeopathic remedies.  Last weekend, to celebrate my mother’s birthday, I had a small glass of kahlua — the only alcohol my mother drinks.  (And when I say ‘drinks’, I mean “flavors her ice cream with.”) It didn’t dawn on me until about 24-48 hours after that glass of kahlua that  kahlua is made from coffee.  Why did I remember?  Because the psoriasis on the palm of my right hand that had been almost completely under control, raged angrily.  When I had scratched my palm to the point of bleeding it occurred to me that perhaps I had ‘cancelled’ out my homeopathic benefit. Ok, fine. I’ll stay away from coffee and kahlua.

Exercise and diet are very easy for me to maintain.  I probably owe that to my history with an eating disorder.   Although, my motivation has changed over the years from losing weight to feeling well, the ability to stick with a plan is pretty solid.  However, the best practices that attend to my spiritual health are so much harder for me to maintain.

One hundred and twelve days ago, I got the YouVersion Bible app on my phone.  I committed to reading the entire Bible in one year because our campus pastor told me to.  I’m pretty good at following instructions, but I’m also pretty good at procrastinating.  I’m almost always running about three days behind in my reading, but I discovered recently that if I put in my headphones and listen to the daily readings while I walk, I am more inclined to stay on track.  I’m not as religious about Bible reading as I am about getting my steps in. (Insert eye-roll here.)

Last year, you might remember that I was reading Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope: Ten Weeks of Devotional Prayer.  The book encouraged me to write down my prayers in a journal after reading each devotion, so I did!  It was a great practice.  In fact, I think I have read through the book almost three times.  But when I don’t pick up the book, I don’t write down my prayers.  And, full disclosure, when I don’t have a regular time devoted to writing down prayers, my prayers often devolve to haphazard spur-of-the moment utterances.  Yeah, it’s embarrassing.

And you remember my battalion? My group of ladies that I met with on Wednesdays the first two years that I was in Ann Arbor?  The ones I did countless Bible studies with, prayed with, and got encouragement from?  Well, my schedule doesn’t permit me to join them any more.  And, though I claim to be mostly an introvert (yes, I know I look extroverted sometimes), I need the community of ladies and the regular time in my schedule to ensure that I am working through a Bible study, challenging myself, and connecting with God through Scripture in meaningful ways.

Not only that, I need my Sunday morning body of believers and a regular message from my pastor.  Even that has been disrupted over the last several months.  Because we had the distinct privilege of traveling to South Africa and Israel, the opportunity to visit with family over the holidays, and the honor of joining other congregations where my husband preaches, our attendance at our own congregation has been spotty.  Yes, we have worshipped in other places — almost every Sunday, but it is not the same as gathering with our own church family and experiencing the spiritual journey that happens when you join with others in one place.

Failing to follow these spiritual best practices — daily Bible reading, prayer, group Bible study, and community worship —  has consequences that, although not immediately noticeable, build over time and become quite evident eventually. Eventually has arrived. The evidence of spiritual apathy over here is quite real.

So, how am I returning to these best practices? Sluggishly, I’ll admit.  As I mentioned, I’m plugging into my Bible ‘readings’ while I walk.  I am meeting with a few other women who have committed together to reading Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way.  And, on weeks like this one, where I am not attending my own congregation, I am re-committing to regular attendance at chapel services here on campus.  I guess you could say that the campus community is our second congregation — we grow within this spiritual family, too.

My blog seems to follow a theme.  I’ve been teaching my literature students that authors use themes to convey messages through their writing.  Those themes, I tell my students, can be stated in terms of a subject plus a verb — for example, ‘struggle transforms’, ‘tradition endures’, and ‘lies always surface’.

I force my students to follow a formula when writing analytical thesis statements — Author, in Title,  verb + how or why.  For example, I might write this on the board tomorrow: ‘Mark Haddon, in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time uses Christopher’s struggle with autism to convey the theme that difficulties can be overcome.’

Or, I might write this: ‘In the story of my life, God, through continually offering grace despite my habitual turning away, conveys the theme that He loves me.’  That’s His best practice.

Jeremiah 31:3

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

 

Turn, Turn, Turn

In the midst of The Great Sunglasses Search, I may have lost my sense of humor.  Now, you could probably guess that it wasn’t just the sunglasses, or the way a friend called me out for being inconsiderate, or the way I reacted to someone else being inconsiderate, or the many errands I have run over the past couple of days, or even my obsession with the Minimalist Challenge (I’ve completed 15 days in 2 days — that’s 120 items so far, but who’s counting?).

No, it wasn’t any one of those things that made me lose my sense of humor — it was a cumulative effect. I was chugging along with tons of energy, feeling very positive about this trip to Israel, when I suddenly noticed that the space between my eyebrows was wrinkled, my jaw was set, and little things were starting to bug me.  Eh, whatever, I thought, so I’m a little irked.  I’ve still got to mail two packages, stop by the library, pick up a few things at Target, print out two documents, and doggone it, did I look in those other suitcases?  Maybe my sunglasses are in there!

Yes, yes, I know, I need to pace myself.  How many times have we been over this.  Fortunately, my body hasn’t revolted and flung me on the couch.  That is probably due to the fact that although I accomplished all of the above, I also sat at the puzzle table for a few hours last night and had the satisfaction of completing a 1000-piecer, tossing it back in the box, and adding it to the donation pile. (Yes, I’m a little out of control.) Also, I know myself well enough that I made sure to do yoga twice last week and twice this week already, following each 75-minute session with a soak in the jacuzzi.

Nevertheless, I’ve got to calm down a little.  I mean, we are leaving TOMORROW  with THIRTY STUDENTS for TWELVE DAYS! The one thing I can’t leave at home is my sense of humor!!

So, you know, in the spirit of my commitment to Return to the Lord, I came home after yoga this morning, did three more things on my to-do list, then grouchily opened my Bible Reading plan. If you have read this blog more than three times, you know what happened.  I was convicted right in the middle of my reading, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: …enmity, strife,…fits of anger, …dissensions, divisions,…and things like these.” Darn flesh.

Keep reading, Rathje, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Well, of course not, silly. Who would outlaw kindness or gentleness? patience? peace? Nah, we don’t have to outlaw those things — those are the things we forget to do, the things we turn away from.  The things that need to be outlawed are the ones we are bent on doing — like getting irritated and ticked off!

So, what’s a girl to do?   Ahem, keep reading, “…those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Really? Because my flesh seems to be alive and kicking, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

There it is.  My flesh is alive and kicking; it’s true.  It’s got to be crucified moment by moment.  It’s a continual act of turning away from the flesh and toward the Spirit.  That’ll probably be easier to do in the Holy Land, right? Ha-ha.  That’s funny.

Alright, guys, I’m headed out one more time this afternoon.  I’m not coming home tonight until I have located one pair of sunglasses, two travel umbrellas, a pile of cash in small denominations, and a well-fortified sense of humor.

Because tomorrow, my friends, we go to Israel.

“…the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ,

will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.

(I Peter 5:10)

 

Resolving to Return

My daughter and I spent yesterday morning together at a “Breathe out 2016, Breathe in 2017” yoga class and afterward talked briefly about resolutions — the positive thrust toward change and the set-up for unrealistic expectations and imminent failure.  The yoga instructor, intentionally or not, seemed to suggest that we could will good things to come to us by just opening our arms and our spirits to them.

Oh, that it were so.

Last night, at a New Year’s Eve worship service where my husband was filling in for local pastors away for the holidays, we sang the words, “Christ has done away with sadness,” and my daughter turned to me and cheekily said, “has He really done away with sadness?”

Oh, that it were so.

Truly, we don’t need to look far to see sadness. Every day we witness hatred, violence, murder, poverty, chaos, and, yes, sadness.  Just last night in Turkey, thirty-nine people were senselessly murdered as they attempted to ring in the new year.  The past year has had more than its share of sadness.  Indeed, the coming year will not be immune.

So what are we to do? Wear sackcloth and ashes? Walk around wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth? Shall we shake our fists at God in anger, demanding that He do something?

Nah.

We should do the same thing He’s been telling us to do since the Creation of the world — return to the Lord our God.  That’s all.  Our salvation is not in losing our holiday weight, in getting our finances in order, or in building a better portfolio.  It’s in recognizing that God is still God even when He hasn’t done away with sadness.

When my husband asked the congregation last night to write down one way to connect with God in the coming year, I wrote down the same thing I wrote down last year: return to daily Bible study, return to daily prayer, return to regular writing.  I had to write it down again this year because, as we have established, I am bent on turning away and am in constant need of returning.

The world, which is full of sadness, needs Jesus followers to immerse themselves in the Word and in prayer, because when we do this, we can’t help but reflect His mercy and His grace.  We become beacons when we allow His light to take residence within us.  We point to our Source of Hope and spread love rather than fear.

Will you commit with me to return to the Lord and allow Him to use us to shine His love into the lives of those around us?   Imagine a 2017 that is filled with hopefulness that comes from Christ’s light shining in the darkness.

Isaiah 43:19

Behold I am doing a new thing…

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

 

 

How Many Times do I have to Tell You?

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

I’ve said it to my children.  “How many times do I have to tell you to rinse out your dish and put it in the dishwasher?”  “How many times do I have to tell you to hang up your wet towel?” “How many times do I have to tell you to call me when you get there?”

I’ve said it to my students. “How many times do I have to tell you that MLA format requires you to double space and use 12 pt. font?”  “How many times do I have to tell you the due date?” “How many times do I need to tell you to document your sources?”

But today I am hearing the words myself, “How many times do I have to tell you?” But while I growl my words in exasperation at my children and my students, I am hearing the words spoken gently into my heart as my chin is lifted tenderly by gentle fingers that draw my eyes upward.

How many times do I have to write the same blog?  How many times do I have to admit that I am “bent on turning” and that I did it again, I turned and went my own way.  In this very busy semester, I went back to what I know — soldiering.  Ok, fine, it has been a milder version of soldiering.  My regimen now includes daily doses of rest, reading, and recovery.  It mandates several repeats of yoga and walking.  It requires completing responsibilities to family such as laundry, cooking, and bill paying.  On the surface, it looks pretty healthy.  But it’s subtle soldiering.  Want to know why? Because I’ve been relying on myself and listening to the voices in the trenches.  How do I know? Because I’m surly.

There, I said it.  I’ve been surly.  Again, it’s a subtle surly.  I’ve been able to be fairly pleasant to the people in my life, but my internal monologue is grumbly and negative.  That’s part of the reason that I didn’t blog last week or the week before.  I sit down to type and the interior pops onto the page. It’s the only thing my fingers know how to do. I mean, they try to produce a positive message, but it ends up sounding saccharine — not at all genuine.  And I can spot fake from about a mile away.  Even when it’s coming out of my own fingers. Yuck.

So, today I’m waiting for student papers to come in.  I’ve graded everything that’s in my possession. I have nowhere to be today.  I’ve got the day to myself.  Yes, I plan to do some baking, but I feel the pull to my Bible and prayer journal.  I feel the need to catch up on my YouVersion reading plan — I’m about three days behind.

Being my surly self, I got diverted several times on my way to my reading, but finally I plunked down on the futon and opened the app on my phone.  Yes, I know, even getting caught up on YouVersion is a bit like soldiering…shhhh…it got me there, ok?

I was scrolling through the daily readings…blah, blah, blah,….fine, Isaiah, I see you. I kept reading and scrolling, reading and scrolling, Isaiah, my friend, you have so. many. words. Like a true soldier, I continued to read and scroll, gonna get caught up, you know. But then something happened.  My soldiering self sat down when I heard a voice that I recognized.  It wasn’t a voice from the trenches.

It wasn’t saying “do more, be more, get more;” it said, “he will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms.”

It didn’t say, “be the greatest, prove your worth;” it said “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” (Hop. Flit. Jump.)

I’m tired of hopping and jumping, I thought.  And almost immediately I read, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

What must that be like, I grumbled weakly, to not grow weary?  And I read, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.”

Oh, yeah.  I’m not alone, am I?  The world does not spin because I’m trying so hard. “Fear not, I have called you by name; you are mine.”   I am His.  I don’t have to prove my identity through my performance.  “I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember my sins.”  Really?  You don’t remember that I was just blogging about my propensity to turn and here I am again, confessing to the same exact sin?

“I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

I hear you.  I’m turning. How could I not?  You are speaking directly to me.  How did you manage to do that through the Bible reading plan on my phone?

“I call you by your name.” Yes, you sure do.

“I name you, though you do not know me.” You’re right.  I haven’t been acting like I know you.

” I am the Lord your God. I am God and there is no other.”

Yes, yes you are.  And let’s just get it out in the open.  I’m bent on turning, so you’re probably going to have to tell me again.

“Fear not, I am the One who helps you.”

Isaiah 40-44, selected verses

Can you keep it all straight?

Do you want to know how God works?  I am going to try to give you a glimpse at the way he weaves the stories of his people together.

Picture this:

  • In the 1980s I went to college with a guy named Randy who would later go to the Seminary.  At the Seminary he would meet a man named Mandla Khumalo; both would become pastors — one serving in Michigan, one serving in South Africa. Randy and his wife, Jen, would found a mission outreach to Muslims in the Detroit area and then begin a church near Ann Arbor.  Mandla and his wife, Lindiwe, would plant a church and later a school in South Africa.  
  •  Before Randy and Mandla even met, Mandla was invited,through connections that I’m quite sure I don’t fully understand, to a mission festival in Arlington Heights, IL where he met Pastor David Maier and his wife Pat. Pastor Maier encouraged Mandla to go to Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  There, Mandla met Randy.  In 1989, Manda  founded St. Peter Confessional Church in Middleburg, South Africa. When St. Peter’s first church building was finished, he invited Pastor Maier to South Africa to dedicate it.
  • In the 1980s I met my husband, John.  We served in Lutheran schools and  congregations before heading to Seminary in 2004.  There, we became involved with a missional church — Crave Coffeehouse.  While serving there, we met a young couple, Drew and Lindsey, who were also on a missional path.
  • Drew and Lindsey met in Guatamala in 2006.  Lindsey was doing long-term mission work there, as a nurse.  Drew was there as a short-term missionary. They fell in love; they got married.  They moved to St. Louis, MO where Drew went to the Seminary and Lindsey completed her studies and became a nurse practitioner.  They also welcomed their first child, who John baptized. They worshipped and served with us at Crave until John was called to Concordia Ann Arbor.
  • At Concordia Ann Arbor, John became friends with Dave Maier.  They became partners in mission as their goals and paths often overlapped. One day, John invited Drew to come to Michigan to meet Dave.  The three couldn’t believe how much they had in common — how much vision they shared.
  •  When I moved to Michigan, I was introduced to Pat Maier who quickly became a dear and close friend (remember this?). Pat and Dave often worshiped at Randy and Jen’s church; John and I worshiped there often, too!  We three couples shared a Christmas Eve and a Maundy Thursday. In fact, we were joined by Drew and Lindsey for a Mother’s Day right before Drew and Lindsey moved to South Africa to serve with Pastor Khumalo.
  • Are you getting all this?
  • You see, right before that Mother’s Day, Dave and Pat, Randy, Drew, and a few others traveled to Middleburg, South Africa to explore possibilities for further collaboration between the Michigan District, St. Peter, and Concordia University.  While there, Drew, who has a business background, saw both the need for his expertise and for Lindsey’s medical knowledge.  Several conversations and some fundraising later, and they were packing their bags and moving.
  • The following fall, Randy took a position at Concordia as the Director of Campus Ministries.  Last summer, he took several students to South Africa so that they could complete internships at the school that Pastor Khumalo founded, as part of St. Peter’s now extensive ministries, in 2006.
  • Drew and Lindsey have visited us two more times at Concordia to share with the students here, to foster partnerships, and to renew our friendship. Last March, Dave and Pat, Randy and Jen, Drew and Lindsey, and John and I all shared dinner again.
  • And guys, guess what?  Two weeks from today, John and I will be in Middleburg, South Africa to help Pastor Khumalo and Lindiwe and Drew and Lindsey celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of St. Peter!  And, while we are there, we are expecting Lindsey to give birth to their second child, who John might have the opportunity to baptize!
  • It is beyond my comprehension — all of it.  I can’t keep the details of my own life straight, but God has orchestrated the lives of all of us — all of us — into a beautiful cohesive story that expresses his love for all people.  Nothing we have done has made us worthy of this honor — in fact, many things I have done should exclude me from these privileges.  Nevertheless, God is gracious to include us in His story.  He makes His story our story.

I can’t wait to share with you the next few pages of this chapter.

Psalm 107:2

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe

It’s all about that grace…

It’s been week-long lesson time over here at the little house by the river.  It all started last Monday when I arrived twenty minutes late for my first class of the semester.  I had made a mistake — missed the mark. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I fumbled through that first class making apologies and praying that my students wouldn’t base their opinion of me on that gaffe.

The same class met two more times last week, and truly, my students were gracious.  They arrived on time (mostly), they did their assignments (pretty much), and they engaged in classroom activities.  They, from all appearances, had offered me grace — undeserved favor.  My performance didn’t earn respect, but they gave it to me anyway.

So, I went forward through my week and offered the same to everyone else I interacted with, right?  That would be a nice way to end the story, wouldn’t it?

However, as humans go, I’m pretty run-of-the-mill.  I have a short memory, and I don’t like to apply the same rules to others as I do to myself.  I want everyone else to be perfect and to earn the favor that I give to them.

Turns out that most humans are pretty run-of-the-mill, aren’t they?

I’ve been struggling with a few humans in particular.  Their actions, or lack thereof, have left me fussing and fuming.  I have not been quiet about my disdain for these few individuals.  Their decisions, in my opinion, have been less than ideal; they have missed the mark.  In fact, most of the people I have fussed and fumed to have agreed with my assessment.  I have every right to cast judgment on these people because of their poor choices.  Certainly they have been wrong and should be held accountable.

It’s true.  All of us, in fact, have been wrong and should be held accountable.

So, a companion of mine (who shall remain nameless) and I were recently driving on the highway.  We were missing church to go to a family event, so the thoughtful driver (no names, I promise) had brought a devotion along to read in the car.  While the driver drove, I read the devotion about grace — this was not orchestrated; it was just the devotion for the day.   When I read the words, “Remember, grace is not given to us because of our goodness, but in spite of our sin,” I gave a hard gulp.  How many times have I received grace in spite of my sin? So many times. Each day. Today. Yet, I withhold that grace from others — maybe because their sin is different from mine, maybe because I have decided that they are unrepentant, maybe because they have hurt people whom I love.  I decide that they are not worthy of my grace.  They haven’t earned it.  But grace, by definition, can’t be earned.  Or deserved.  My driving companion and I mused on this for a moment and acknowledged how each of us had failed in this arena.  We had failed Grace 101.

Not long after I finished reading the devotion and  we had finished our musings, said driver had what we like to call “the pedal to the metal” when we flew past a Michigan State Trooper stealthily resting in the median.  Just as we zipped past him, the trooper flung himself out into the lane behind us.  My driver said, “He got me,” slowed the speed of the car, and moved toward the right lane in anticipation of being pulled over.  One other car separated us from the trooper when his flashing lights went on.  We watched the other car pull to the shoulder, fully expecting the trooper to move forward and pull us over, but instead, he pulled onto the shoulder behind the other car.

My driver and I looked at each other and exhaled.  “That,” I said, “is grace.”  We had been breaking the law after all; we had missed the mark.  We deserved a ticket but received undeserved favor.  Just in case we needed an object lesson to go with our devotion.

So I moved forward from that car ride and spread grace lavishly, right?

Have I mentioned that I am a run-of-the-mill human?  Within forty-eight hours I had meted out harsh judgment on others in my life. I had determined what mark they should reach and, noticing their failure to meet it, had poured on scorn and disfavor — exactly what they deserved.

But God, being ever gracious and merciful, gave me the lesson once more this morning.  He reminded me, through the gentle words of my physical therapist, of His great love for me and His great love for others.  Not only that, He reminded me of the privilege I have of bearing witness to His grace in the lives of those who desperately need to hear it.

I’ve missed the mark so many times, yet He continues to pour grace on me — through students, through pre-packaged devotions, through State Troopers, and through physical therapists.  Perhaps I’ll be able to bear witness to that this week.

John 1:16

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Have Mercy

I’ve heard the story of “The Good Samaritan” countless times in my fifty years.  You know the one, the guy is traveling down a road when he is attacked by robbers and left for dead.  He’s lying there mangled in the dirt, gasping for breath, hoping against all hope that someone will stop and help him.

One of our pastors this morning set this story in the context of current events. He recalled with us the tragedies of the last week, month, year, years, and asked us the question, “What does it mean for us? for the church?”

Let me just go on record here and say that in the past weeks and months I have  NOT immediately gone to that question as I’ve witnessed all kinds of horrendous acts.  I have been more often found standing in front of the television, eyes wide, saying, “What the…”

It doesn’t take me long to launch into the words I used to hear my grandparents say, “What’s the world coming to?”  From there it’s just a short trip to quoting scripture about the end times and “wars and rumors of wars”.  Before you know it, I’m in a frantic outrage trying to find someone to blame.  It must be the Republicans.  No, it’s the Democrats.  Wait, I think it’s corporate America.  No, no, it’s the extremists.  I’m not really looking for what it means for me, or, to be honest, for ways that I could possibly help.

This morning, our pastor in his re-telling of “The Good Samaritan”  pointed out that each of us, like the man in the story,  is essentially half-dead, lying in the dirt, gasping for breath. He said, “Jesus is the good Samaritan.” Gasp! How did I get fifty years into my life and not realize that the point of the story is not that I would see myself as the good Samaritan and look for ways that I can be better than the priests and the Levites and actually help out the poor hurting soul?  How have I not seen that I am the poor hurting soul!?!?!?

Jesus was telling this story to a respected expert in the law.  The expert had asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He of course knew what was written, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and  mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  He just needed a little clarification.  “Uh, Jesus, who, uh, exactly, would you say qualifies as ‘my neighbor’?”

Can’t you just see Jesus inhaling slowly, thinking to Himself, “This one is gonna take a story.” He doesn’t just say, “Every living human, you moron!” like I might. Nope.  He takes this expert in the law, pulls him onto his lap and has a little story time.

The Teacher tells the expert that, in the story, the Samaritan didn’t first check to see what neighborhood the hurting man was from.  He didn’t ask him his last name. He didn’t try to find out if he was an illegal immigrant.  He didn’t check to see if he had a conceal and carry permit.  He didn’t examine the color of his skin.  He didn’t determine if they spoke the same language.  He didn’t check his ID.  No.

He saw a dude in the dirt that needed help. He used his own wine and oil to cleanse the man’s wounds before he bandaged them. He put the guy on his own donkey and then walked with him to a place of shelter. He paid for the stranger’s care. Period.

The Teacher looks the expert in the eyes and says, “Who was a neighbor to this man?” The expert says, “The one who showed mercy.”  And the punch line? “Go and do likewise.”

Is it dangerous to meet the need of someone we do not know? Yes. Is it scary to reach out when we see someone hurting? It can be.  Is it uncomfortable to stand up for the oppressed, the wounded, the outcast?  Sometimes.

Our pastor’s challenge to us this morning was that we ask God to show us the people in our regular flow of life who need us to see them, share with them what we have, walk beside them, and befriend them.  His closing words? “Take the risk to love for the sake of the Gospel.”

Go and do likewise.

Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid.

For I, the Lord your God, will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1: 9

 

 

 

The manna-Giver

Am I “more consumed with conserving and accumulating manna than in honoring the manna-Giver”?  That’s the question that stopped me in my tracks this morning.

Let’s take a stroll back to Exodus 16.  The Israelites, newly emancipated from Egypt, fresh from their crossing of the Red Sea, quickly forget these miraculous works of God and start complaining because they are thirsty and hungry.  They don’t say, “God, you brought us out of Egypt; you’re amazing!  You parted the Red Sea; you’re incredible! We know you will provide food and drink!”  No, they say, “He should’ve left us to die in Egypt, at least there we would’ve had food.”

Stupid ungrateful Israelites.

But God, being God, casually brings fresh water from a rock and rains down manna from the sky.  You know, casually.  And He tells Moses that they should only gather what they need for each day because God will gladly provide them enough.  They don’t have to horde or worry. God, who got them out of Egypt, who parted a whole sea, who brought water from a rock, who made bread fall from the sky, said He would provide enough each day. But, the Israelites decided to, you know, just grab a little extra to make sure.

Stupid untrusting Israelites.

So, my (your?) story is not too different.  I wasn’t exactly a slave in Egypt, but I have been a slave to many things — my eating disorder way back in the 80s, my fears about money, my need to control, …. and as the king said, “etcetera, etcetera…” I didn’t walk across the dry bed of an ocean or anything, but I did witness the freeing words of Christ come out of the mouth of an agnostic therapist, I have witnessed over and over God’s financial provision when it didn’t make any sense at all, I have been taken away from my life of soldiering into a time of rest…Etcetera, Etcetera.  And still, like the Israelites, I complain and fret…

Stupid ungrateful me.

For some reason I look back on my life of slavery and remember how proud I was to be so thin, forgetting that I couldn’t think/remember/drive/communicate. I look longingly at the times that I kicked butts and took names, forgetting that my self-sufficiency felt lonely and isolated.  I long for financial security and try to store away extra, forgetting how God has consistently and faithfully provided for all of my needs.

Stupid untrusting me.

The manna-Giver has rained down bread from heaven so many times in our married life. When we had young children and seemingly un-payable medical bills, He provided. When we went to the seminary, people we didn’t even know provided for our tuition and even Christmas gifts for our children. When an error in withholding resulted in a tax bill that we couldn’t imagine ever paying, He met that need. When, just this week, one of our children didn’t know how to find the money to pay for summer tuition, within hours, a scholarship was provided to pay the bill in full. Etcetera, Etcetera.

And yet I am tempted, just like the Israelites to, instead of praising and thanking the manna-Giver, become “consumed with conserving and accumulating manna.”

This is one more area where I need to “resist the urge to continue”.  When I am “bent on turning” to go back to those days of slavery, I need stop, dead in my tracks, and remember the mighty works of God who has freed me, fed me, and provided for me in every way.

I can trust that His character does not change.

I can trust that He holds me in the palm of His hand.

 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3: 20-21