How hard can it be? pt. 2

So, it seems like the turning would be the hardest part, doesn’t it?  If you are headed down a road of your own choosing, recognizing that you are going the wrong way and deciding to turn around should be the most difficult step, shouldn’t it?  I have not found that to be so.  I have found two other parts of repentance to be much more difficult — 1)  keeping my eyes from looking back, and 2) continually stepping forward.

Here’s the thing — walking down the road of my own choosing causes a ton of collateral damage.  You would think that once I realize this, I would want to turn quickly toward a path of safety and run just as fast as I can.  Not so.  I am drawn to looking back at all the wreckage.  I get lost in regret and what ifs.  I keep thinking, “Oh my gosh, why did I do that? Why couldn’t I see how much I was hurting myself and others?”  My eyes turn back and guess what happens next; my feet follow.  Just that quickly I have lost my way again.

I can lose hours of my time paging through the photo albums of poor choices and missed opportunities.  I mean, I can still lose sleep over the way I treated a childhood friend in 1972.  A terse word with a student can occupy my thoughts all evening.  I can make myself physically sick by rehashing parenting decisions and formulating ways to do things differently.   It’s as though I think I can rewind the movie, cut out the scenes I don’t like, and splice in a version of how I wish it would’ve played out.  But we can’t do that.  What happened happened. I can’t undo what I did, and I can’t undo what others did.  I can’t, but for some reason, my brain still wants to pretend as though I can.

And I think I know why. My mom and I were sitting side by side last week, watching the Olympics and lightly chatting.  I mean, I thought it was light chatting until she said something about getting lost in her regretful thoughts.  She said that she can spiral downward very quickly when she starts thinking about the mistakes she has made in her life, but when she feels herself doing that she says, “Get behind me, Satan!” I about jumped out of my rocking chair — she had hit the nail on the head!  If the enemy can get my eyes turned toward regret, my feet follow.  He just has to grab my chin and turn my gaze toward what I did wrong in 1983 or 1998 or 2004 and pretty soon my whole body has made its way back to a path of my own choosing and I am no longer aware of Jesus walking beside me.  I can’t hear his voice any more.  I don’t care to look into his eyes.  I am a soldier on a mission to make things right, and you’d better get out of my way.

But, guys, I can’t make things right.

It won’t work.

I can’t undo what’s been done.

And I’m not supposed to try.

In these moments, I need the second part of the clause, but, so often, I miss it.

I hear, “repent,” but I don’t seem to hear “believe the gospel.”  Or maybe I hear the words, but I don’t understand the message.  I mean, what is the gospel, after all?  It’s God’s commitment to me — He already knows that I am human, that I am bent on turning, and that I cannot of my own strength follow Him.  He knows that I am going to continually walk down a path of my own choosing, and yet He has promised to be with me wherever I go.  He doesn’t leave me or forsake me.  He has seen all my lousy decisions.  He has watched me ignore the people in front of me.  He has seen me choose myself over others time and time again.  And yet, He loves me.  He has patience with me.  He forgives me.  He continually chooses to walk beside me, to reveal himself to me, and to allow me the time and space to choose over and over again to turn away from my destructive path and toward His Way.

And that is not all.  He is in the business of redemption and restoration.  He takes the wreckage from my past and transforms it into beauty.  It’s beyond my comprehension.  I thought my parents’ divorce was the end of my life, but God used that experience to prepare me to be the wife of a divorced man and the mother of his child.  I don’t hold my husband’s past against him. It’s just part of his story, and now it’s part of mine.

In the mid-80s, I was anorexic.  My whole life revolved around reducing the amount of food I ate and thereby reducing the amount of me.  I was on a path of destruction that many never walk away from.  However, God, in his grace kept walking beside me, he kept talking to me, and before I knew it, I had turned around.  I was worried that I might have done irreparable damage to my body and that I would never have children, but my worries were for nothing, because God is in the business of redemption and restoration.  Not only did he restore my physical and emotional body, he has used my path to minister to others who have similar stories.

Time and time again, I’ve heard stories of people who have witnessed God transforming much greater disasters into stories of restoration. It is what God does.  He creates, he redeems, he restores.

Lately I’ve been spending way too much time in the photo albums of regret.  There is a time and a place to look back and grieve.  Sometimes we need to spend seasons in mourning.  However, when mourning turns into self-blame and punishment, it’s time to close the album for a bit.  It’s time to turn around, walk down the path that has been designed for me, listen to the voice of the One walking beside me, gaze into His eyes, and recognize that He is in the business of redemption and restoration.

God is faithful, and He will do it.

Psalm 30

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

It is Written

My blog has been silent for a few weeks.  It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say; I just haven’t had anything I wanted to put in print.

Think of the flood of stimuli my brain has been processing — in addition to the madness that we will call the election of 2016, my husband and I traveled to South Africa for a week, came back for a week, and then went to Austin, TX for four days.  Oh, and we’ve also been holding down our day jobs — he’s the dean of students at a small university and I am an adjunct professor of English and a private tutor.

I’ve really wanted to write more about what we observed in South Africa and how that has informed the ways in which we see our community, but when we got back, we saw things in our community that were very unsettling — so much posturing and name-calling, blaming and shaming. We, or perhaps I should switch now to I, I reeled.

While in South Africa, we were in a unique position to just observe.  For as long as I can remember, my husband and I have been in positions of leadership, so being free to observe with no responsibility for others was very unusual.  We met people, heard their stories, were inspired by their dreams, saw their struggles, and shared their joys.  We didn’t really do anything other than bear witness to their lives.  And then, about a week later, we were put in a similar position.  In Austin, although my husband had minimal responsibilities, for the most part, we were again observers.  Seeing.  Listening. 

Is it too egotistical of me to imagine that God crafted these experiences so that we could come back and observe what has been happening in our very own community, in our very own country?  Because I really think that is what happened.  For the last two weeks, we have been watching and listening.  We  debrief with one another in the evenings, of course, and I’ll admit, I’ve shared a bit on social media, but for the most part, we have tried to position ourselves in conversations in which we can hear what people are saying.  We want to understand how a country can be so divided.  We want to be able to speak peace into the hostility.  But how?  People are positioned.  They are sunk in.  Nobody seems to want to move.  Where do we start?

So, yesterday, when I walked into church and saw who would be our pastor for the day, I hugged him and said, “Yay, we’re going to get a good word!”  I was joking around with him a little, because he’s a dear friend, but I think I was really speaking my hope that God would speak a good word through him.

And guys, He did.

Now, let me just give my standard disclaimer.  I am very distractible in church.  My husband often asks me about his sermon — did his main point come through?  What did I think about a particular illustration.  I want to be generous to myself and say that 50% of the time I can give him a meaningful response.  My mind often takes tangential journeys away from the sermon.  So, I won’t mention the pastor’s name or try to claim what he actually said.  I will tell you what I heard.

Jesus reigns. Over everything. Period.

No political candidate reigns. No political party reigns. No particular country reigns.  No particular church body reigns.  I don’t reign.

Jesus reigns.

It has been rather tempting over the past days, weeks, months to become aligned with a particular ‘side’, hasn’t it? I have heard Christ-followers on both sides (myself included) claim that certainly Christians “should” feel this way or that.  And we’ve been making these claims waving our fists in the air at each other.  We are passionate, are we not? We are passionate about politics, but are we just as passionate about our True Leader?

I gotta admit, I’ve been misdirected.

My friends in South Africa showed me what it looks like to be passionate about the One who reigns.  They worshipped — I mean singing, dancing, clapping, marching worship — for almost three hours!  They breathe thankfulness and reverence as they walk through their days.

Me? I’ve been grumbly and judgmental. It’s almost as if I’ve forgotten that Jesus reigns over everything.   Will he stop reigning if we turn and go our own way? Nope.  We’ve seen story after story written in His Word about generations who have turned away to idols and godlessness.  Yet, He reigns.

We’ve heard stories about how God has worked among peoples who are oppressed and disadvantaged.  We know that He is a God who steps into difficult places and makes a way for His people.  Will He stop now?  No.  He will continue to reign.

So, should I stand idly by?  No. However, I want to be careful that what I speak gives honor to the One who reigns.  I want to, as someone recently said, “speak Truth to crazy.”  The only way I know to speak Truth, is to look at what is written.  I can’t rely on myself right now.  Not in this emotionally-charged environment.  I need to turn, once again.

So what has been written?

“Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Yes, even that neighbor.

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Ouch.

“Be devoted to one another.  Honor one another above yourselves.”

“Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”

How about if we start there? What if Jesus-followers across the country and around the world just saw and loved the people in front of us? What if we stopped shaking our fists and really cared about individuals in ways that showed we were devoted to them?  What if we cared about the widow, the fatherless, and the foreigner?  What impact would that have?

I’d like to find out.  Wouldn’t you?

“It is written; Christ is risen. Jesus, you are Lord of all.”

Stronger, Hillsong Worship

 

 

 

Hope

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been tempted to feel a little pessimistic lately.  The presidential campaigns, acts of violence, international events, and their portrayal by the media could make a girl pretty cynical.  Add to that the postings on Facebook and Twitter, and I might just walk around grumbling about the ‘terrible state of the world’.   I might even be heard muttering things like, “this country is a mess,” “it’s only going to get worse,” etc.

I start, actually, to sound like someone who has no hope.

But I do!  I do have hope.  I have hope for our country in the midst of the current political climate.  I have hope amidst senseless acts of violence.  I have hope despite the changing economy of Great Britain and its effect on US markets.  I have hope regardless of how afraid and desperate the media would like to encourage me to be.

Why?  Why do I have hope?  Because our God — the God who created the world out of nothing, the God who designed the intricacies of the human body and mind, the God who provided His own Son to suffer the consequences of our sin, the God who has provided for me every day of my life, the God who has blessed me and my family beyond what we ever could ask or imagine — is still on the throne.

And he is not aloof.  No. He is actively involved in the lives of His creation.  He has seen every political speech, and He can discern every lie from every truth.  He knows already who will be elected, and He has the power to make any result work together for good. He has watched every mass shooting.  He stood amidst the chaos as lives were cut short.  He understood the motives of the assailants and the fear of the victims. He alone can comfort those who mourn and intervene to prevent future devastation. He knows how much money each of us has in our savings account and in our pocket.  He knows our needs even before we ask.  Not one of us is forgotten by God.

We have hope.  God’s people have faced worse — 400 years of slavery in Egypt, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, persecution, division, war, famine — and God has been able to step into these circumstances and work miracles.

He is still able.  He acts in spite of man’s foolishness, selfishness, and sinfulness.  He acts because He loves us, created us, and calls us to His purposes.

I believe that one of those purposes is to be flag-bearers of hope in a world that is tempted to lose hope. I have been falling down on the job lately.  I have not been communicating the hope that I have inside of me.  So, today I turn.

Hope with me, will you?

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

still learning

Parenting and teaching have changed me.  At one time I was a very black and white thinker.  Through more than two decades of parenting and almost that many years of interacting with students,  my firm, almost rigid beliefs about almost everything have been challenged and shaped. I am not the person I once was, nor do I want to be.

One of the lessons that I have learned is that there is always more to a situation than first meets the eyes.  Let’s say a student walks into my class late, unprepared, and seemingly unengaged.  It would be easy to assume that this student is apathetic about my class specifically, and perhaps education in general.  However, a closer look might reveal that the student was doing everything he could to get to my class on time, but his parents had their own timetable — they made him stay up to take care of a younger sibling all night, they got home from work late in the morning, and then made my student wait while they showered before they brought him to school.  My student wanted to complete the homework, but his sibling was demanding.  He wanted to be on time, but he had no alternate way to get to class.  Or, let’s say one of my children is snarky, disrespectful, and seemingly bent on opposing every direction I give.  I might assume that my role is to demand respect, give firmer demands, and heap on consequences, but a closer look, and some long hours of listening, may uncover some deep pain that the child is afraid, even ashamed, to share with me.  Acting out is not the problem; it’s a symptom.

Another lesson is that there is always a third option. “Mrs. Rathje, should I study education or medicine?”  “Mom, should I run track or play soccer?” “Would it be better if I took this job or if I didn’t work at all?”  My answer to all of the above, “Is there a third option?”   Why not consider a career as a nurse educator?  Is there any other sport or activity that seems interesting to you?  Is there a different job you could consider? more schooling? service learning?

Too often I have found myself trapped in either/or thinking:

  • Do I want to be a vegetarian or eat meat?
  • Am I a night person or a morning person?
  • Do I like contemporary or traditional worship?
  • Am I conservative or liberal?
  • Should I teach or write?
  • Am I a Spartan or a Wolverine.

Don’t be ridiculous, that last one was just to see if you were still paying attention.

In my earlier life, I found it comforting to ‘choose a side’.   I was forming my identity, after all. I wanted to find my place.  It felt too risky to remain fluid.  I wanted the security of saying that I was Lutheran or Republican.  I wanted a box to check.  I was anti-Disney, pro-Life, for the environment, and against dying my hair.

Here’s the thing: putting myself in those boxes positioned me against those who put themselves in other boxes.  If I liked only wheat bread, I might judge someone who only bought white bread.  If I only shopped at Kroger, I might look down on someone who only shopped at Wal-Mart.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t want to listen to why they preferred white bread or Wal-Mart.  I knew who I was and that I was right.  No discussion needed.

Yeah, it limited me.  I cut myself off from all kinds of people and experiences.  Enter my children. And my students.  Early on they were willing to listen to whatever I had to say.   They were pliable.  They wanted to please me.  But over time, as they developed minds of their own, they began to question my positions.  They began to challenge my opinions.

How dare they?  I did not like this at all!!  After all, I had been being right for so long.  If I allowed myself to think differently, I was admitting that I had been — gasp — wrong!

But not really. That was some more either/or thinking.  Once upon a time I held certain opinions based on what I knew at the time.  Over the years, I have had many experiences that have taught me.  So, based on what I know now, some of my opinions have changed. That, my friends is called human growth and development.

And here is the most important thing that I have learned.  Life is complex.  Every belief is multi-faceted.  I can, for instance, like the story line of The Lion King and still hate the over commercialization of Disney, or, for that matter, its portrayal of female characters. These opinions can co-exist.  I can understand the health benefits of whole grains and still appreciate a nice loaf of French white bread. I can appreciate Wal-Mart’s low prices and still object to the business practices of the Waltons. I can enjoy both meat and vegetables or choose to be a strict vegetarian, but only on the weekdays.

The amazing human mind is capable of far more complexity than we give it credit for.  We limit its capacity to grow when we compartmentalize ideology into false dichotomies.

And that, my friends, the mother learned from her children; the teacher learned from her students.

 

Job 32:9

It is not only the old[b] who are wise,
    not only the aged who understand what is right.

Speaking of Politics….

How about a new topic?  How about politics?  I know, it’s quite a shift from chronic illness, but with primaries scheduled across the nation and all the news stations covering debates and polls, it’s kind of hard to avoid the topic.

We shouldn’t avoid it, yet we often do.  For years I dodged the subject– I think because I didn’t want to disagree with anyone.  Also, I didn’t want people to judge my views.  And, to be quite honest, I didn’t know a lot about the issues. I was just ‘picking a side’ to pick a side.

Over the years I have tried to become more informed.  I won’t say that I have achieved this goal, but I have learned a lot and changed quite a few of my early-held opinions. And what were those naive opinions?

Well, for one, I thought that all Christians had to be Republican.  I was shocked to learn  when I first met my husband that his parents, devoted Christians, were very actively involved in the Democratic Party.  For a long time I did not understand that, nor did I try.  I had decided that Christians were Republicans. Period.

But that’s way too simple isn’t it?  Certainly there are Christians on both sides of the aisle — and there should be!  In order for our system of checks and balances to work, we need diversity in the ranks!  We need people of prayer within all political circles! If all Christians join one party, we set up an us vs. them scenario which makes it very difficult to find common ground.

Another early held belief was that I was right and I had to force my ‘rightness’ onto everyone else.  Do you know what I discovered? I discovered that when I walked around declaring my ‘rightness’, nobody wanted to listen to what I had to say.  They didn’t want to enter into dialogue with me.  Do you know why?  Because I was rigidly opposed to hearing what the other team had to say.  So, they took their ball and went home.

I began to experiment.  What would happen if I, instead of trying to coerce others to agree with me, asked questions that would help me understand their point of view.  You won’t believe this, but listening to the reasoning of others has not only helped me see the complexity of a variety of issues, it has also sharpened and molded my own opinions.

I also used to believe that you had to declare your allegiance to one party or another, and that you had to vote accordingly.  So, for instance, if I was a Republican and the best candidate the Republicans could put forth was Kermit the Frog, I would be obligated to vote for him. Well, that’s ridiculous, isn’t it?  Why would I vote for a Muppet?

I mean, deciding to vote according to party allegiance is simple, right?  You trust the ideals of the party to guide the selection of a candidate.  You agree with the ideals, so you vote for the chosen candidate.  You don’t really have to take the time to research the individual issues, to study the complexity of the election, or to enter into complicated conversations with people.

Simple is not usually smart, though. I mean, I haven’t found a party that matches my ideals.  I haven’t found a candidate anywhere that loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind, and loves his neighbor as himself.  I haven’t found any human who is unfailingly trustworthy.  I haven’t found any politically-driven group of individuals that consistently acts in the best interests of its constituents.  So why would I align myself with one?

You may be wondering what will I do when it comes time to vote next month in my primary?  How about the actual election?  Those are tough questions.  They are questions that have caused me to read a lot and listen a lot.  They also prompt me to pray — not that my candidate would win, but that God would place into power the person who will serve His purposes.  I mean, if I’ve learned anything in these past fifty years, it is that I don’t know what God knows.  I don’t know who the best candidate is, what our country will face in the next four years, or where our country is headed.  But He does.

So instead of running my mouth and telling people what they should do and who they should vote for, I am going to go to my knees and pray that His will would be done and that I wouldn’t stand in the way.  And, of course, I’m going to vote.

 

Romans 13:1

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.