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.

How hard can it be? Re-visit

First written in February 2018, this post further examines the topic from Righting the Course. I’ve cleaned it up for you here in May 2019.

It sounds pretty easy. I mean, it’s really just one independent clause. I’ve read it, or heard it read, certainly dozens of times in my life.  In my mind, I see Jesus peacefully walking along a dirt path, probably next to the Sea of Galilee, wind blowing through his hair, gazing lovingly toward his hearers. His voice is gentle, as though he’s giving the simplest of invitations, “repent and believe the gospel.”

How hard can it be to 1) repent, and 2) believe the gospel?

Pretty darn hard it turns out.

I have spent a fair amount of time writing about repentance. It’s such an archaic sounding word, isn’t it? Kind of King James-ish, if you ask me. Why in the world would I use a word like repent in 2018 when it conjures another image, one of a wild-eyed, locust-eating John the Baptist, shouting at the top of his lungs, “Repent and be baptized!”

Can’t we all just hold hands and sing Kumbaya?

We could. We could gather together, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya. It might be soothing for a moment, but it wouldn’t provide the healing and restoration that true repentance gives.

Perhaps way back in confirmation class was the first time I heard repentance described as “a turning”. I have imagined myself walking down a street of my own making headed toward a future that only seems bright, and then, realizing that the path is actually headed toward harm, I turn on a dime to head in the opposite direction toward a future hand-crafted for me — one that I don’t have to manipulate myself into.

Doesn’t that sound so “one and done”-ish? Yeah, true repentance isn’t like that. True repentance is realizing that I keep ending up on that same darn street and that I have to keep turning around and heading in the other direction. I am bent on turning. I keep ‘figuring out’ a better plan, a more exciting path, a way that seems right to me.

The road I typically end up on is one that promises to make me happy. In my younger years, it promised make me thinner. Over the years, it has offered financial security, family peace, work satisfaction, physical healing, or some other sort of relief from some other sort of stress. It promises an escape from the troubles of this world. But guess what — it has not once delivered.  Oh, sure, I walked a path for a while that certainly made me thinner, but it also left me empty. I have patched together short-term fixes for all kinds of messes, but none have lasted. All of my efforts lead me to the same conclusion — I do not have the answers.

So, I turn. I walk away from my own path, and I promise myself, and God, that I’ve learned my lesson. I’m done trying to soldier through. I’m done coming up with my own solutions.

But before long, whether I realize it or not, I’m back on my own path.

Why?  Because I forget the second half of the clause — “believe in the gospel”.  I know, I know, more John the Baptist, but guys, the dude was running around shouting because he understood the good news! He knew what has taken me a lifetime to learn — all my answers are crap. They set up me to be my own rescuer and they inevitably fail. John the Baptist understood that Jesus was the answer, and not just in the Sunday school answer kind of way.  He was the solution. The remedy. The Way.

But you know, even though I believe that, I don’t always believe that. Instead I believe that I need to solve my own problems, pay for my own mistakes, and forge my own path. I get confused and think that repentance means guilt and punishment.

It doesn’t.

Let’s picture the scene a little differently. Let’s have Jesus walk right up beside us wherever we are today. Let’s have him walk with us on our path for a little while; let’s hear his voice and begin to trust him. I see him walking as quickly or as slowly as we want to go. I imagine him making a lot of eye contact, so much so that I stop looking at whatever it is that I’ve been chasing at the end of the path of my own making. Before long I  want to go wherever He is going, just so that I can continue to see those eyes and hear that voice. I imagine hearing him say things like “Follow me. I love you, and I forgive you. Don’t worry; I’m preparing a place for you.”

Turning isn’t so hard when you know that you are turning toward love, when you recognize where you belong, and when you understand, finally, that he’s had you all the time in the palm of his hand.

In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.

Isaiah 30:15a

Bent on turning

Why am I amazed every single time that God reveals Himself.  I mean, He does it so often, you would think I would begin to expect it. Yet, I am always surprised.  Consider this.

Way back in November, my Wednesday morning Bible Study battalion started discussing what we would study next.  Several studies were suggested, so we considered each of them as we made our decision.  Right before Thanksgiving we decided to study Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea: Unfailing Love Changes Everything.  Well, that was November, and then Christmas happened, and I forgot all about what we would be studying.

God took me on a journey through December that landed me in January, longing to turn back to my good practices of Bible study, prayer, and blogging (read my post ‘Turn at any Time’).  In fact, this idea of turning starting churning around in my head last January when a couple of friends and I were meeting once a week for what I’ll call ‘prayer talking’.  Each of us was embracing the idea of repenting, or turning.  We were deciding together that we had been walking the wrong way and that we were willing to turn around and walk back toward God.

Actually, I just took a scroll through my previous blog posts and saw that like the thread of ‘healing’ that I mentioned yesterday, there is also a thread of repenting — of turning.  Perhaps you, like me, find yourself learning the same lessons over and over again.  Learning and forgetting.  Straying and turning.

So, when I joined the battalion this morning to start our study, the one that we chose last November, I could hardly keep myself from gasping when our leader paraphrased Hosea 11:7: My people are bent on turning away from Me.  Yes, Lord, I am!  I am bent on it!  And you see it!  You’re speaking to that tendency in me!

God used Hosea to speak to this tendency that is common to humans.  He knows us!  He knew that we would take his love for granted, that we would wander to look at any little shiny thing that caught our eyes.  He knew that when we did this we would feel guilty, helpless, unloveable and beyond hope. So, He gave us Hosea.

Hosea was a man of God, who sought out Gomer, a prostitute, and continued to love her despite her unfaithfulness.  This, my friends, is a picture of God’s covenant relationship with us.  God, who is God, seeks out unfaithful humans and continues to love us!  He keeps both sides of the covenant!

Hosea is a love story, friends.  It’s a tale of the unconditional love of God for His people. A love that pursues the wanderer. The kind of love that steps into squalor to find us.  It’s a story of  God’s love that is bent on turning away from anger in order to save us. A love that welcomes us back and embraces us.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled…

return to the Lord…

I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them… 

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;

they shall flourish like grain.

Hosea 14, selected verses

Now, come on, why wouldn’t we want to return?

I’ve been wrong, re-visit

This post, first written in October 2015, is an early layer in a lesson I’ve been working on. It’s worth re-visiting in April 2019.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I attended a workshop on personality types. Everyone in the room was broken into four groups based on responses to a questionnaire. The groups were illustrated on a four-quadrant chart, each quadrant labelled with a catch phrase. My responses landed me in the quadrant labelled with the catch phrase, “I’m right.”  My husband landed in the quadrant labelled “I know.” I reflexively looked over at him and said, “As long as you know that I’m right, this marriage should work out beautifully.”

Yeah, it has been a long painful fall from that kind of pride.

During my first year of teaching, the seasoned teachers on my hallway were keeping their distance from me. One morning, after a huge mistake resulted in catastrophe, I indignantly marched down to the other teachers and said, “Why didn’t you say something? How could you let me do this?” They quietly replied, “Well, you seemed to have everything figured out for yourself.”

Ouch.

In the early years of parenting, I was intentionally ‘getting everything right’. This belief was evidenced by my judgmental glances toward others who ‘didn’t have it all together’. I harshly judged another mother whose son punched my daughter, but winced weeks later when my daughter bit another child in the church nursery.

Yup, it happened.

I would like to say that it stopped there, but it’s hard to quit “being right”. Often in my classroom I have joked, “I could be wrong; it happened once in 1973, so I imagine it could happen again.” Of course my students roll their eyes. In fact, I have had students who document in their notes every time I make a mistake specifically for the purpose of reminding me whenever I tell that joke.

I’ve gotta laugh at myself. I mean, really, it’s ridiculous to think that I would be right all the time. Yet, I’m always shocked when my humanity shows through.

The most painful falls have come through parenting, of course. I guess, as a mother, much of my identity comes through my children. It shouldn’t, but it does. I pride myself on their accomplishments — their success in school, sports, the arts, and their careers. I sternly corrected their failures when they were young — failing to turn in assignments, treating friends poorly, or –gasp– sassing their parents. They are, in my mind, a reflection of me.  So, it becomes very painful when I see them struggling because of something that I have directly, or more often indirectly, taught them. When they adopt the patterns that I have modeled for them, the very ones that have caused me so much pain, I ache. I tend to see these times not as their failures, but as mine. If only I would have taught them that it is ok to fail, that it is healthy to admit our mistakes, that it is freeing to apologize, that it is not helpful to rationalize your sins. If I had done that, then they would have learned to apologize quickly and forgive quickly.

When they were toddlers and misbehaved toward one another, I taught them to say, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.”  I prided myself in that. My kids were going to learn how to forgive quickly, darn it. But here’s the thing — kids don’t learn what you say, they learn what you do. So, when they misbehaved and I stomped through the house slamming doors and muttering under my breath, they were not learning that I would readily forgive them. When I explained away my misguided parenting decisions instead of admitting my error, they learned how to explain away their decisions — to rationalize them, to somehow make them seem ok.

Along the way, instead of me teaching them, they have taught me about apology and forgiveness. Kids do that. They teach us the lessons that we most need to learn. They are worlds ahead of me in this process. However, from time to time I see my stubbornness in them — the stubbornness I taught them. That breaks my heart.

So, let me go on record and say, I’ve had it wrong, guys. I haven’t always admitted that I have made a mistake. But here let me say that each of my days are full of mistakes. I am hobbling along in life, sometimes trying my best, sometimes doing my worst.  And, I’m sorry.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.

Psalm 86

Repent. Rest. Re-set. Repeat.

I just opened my Bible study.  I was hoping to spend about thirty to forty-five minutes preparing for my Wednesday meeting with the battalion, but I only got to the end of the first page when I read these questions:

What is the biggest transition you’re going through right now?

Does it feel like you’re moving from captivity to freedom,

or does your transition seem to be leading you to a more confining place?

Now would you look at that?  Seems like a pretty benign question, doesn’t it?  But you know, it cut right through some baggage I’ve been carrying around and provided a moment of clarity. And I haven’t event opened my Bible yet!

The battalion and I met for the first time after our summer break about ten days ago to start our journey through Lisa Harper’s study called Malachi: a love that never lets go. Harper paints a picture of the Israelites at the time that Malachi wrote as similar to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind — not ball-ready Scarlett, but Scarlett returning from Atlanta to find Tara a hot mess in the wake of the Civil War.  Harper says that, like Scarlett, the Israelites are raising their fists to God in anger and indignation, “How could you let this happen?”

Well, I am certainly not there.  Oh, I have been.  Trust me.  If this is not your first time reading this blog, you know my history of raising my fist to God and even turning my back on Him.  But, folks, I am — thankfully — not in that place at the moment.

In fact, this whole blog has been about my journey past that time of soldiering self-righteousness into a season of resting in His provision, His goodness, His faithfulness.  I’ve gone on  and on about our little house by the river, sitting on the couch, working fewer hours, spending time with my husband, going to the gym, swimming in the warm salt water pool.  You have to be getting sick of hearing about this time of refreshing!

Well, I’ve got a confession to make.  I’ve been having a hard time sleeping.  I’m worrying.  I’m not resting.

Ok, I am resting.  I am enjoying a much lighter work schedule.  I am experiencing a slight improvement in my health thanks to the lessened stress and some new medical interventions.  The nest is empty again.  We are enjoying ourselves.

But I lie awake at night stewing and fussing.

Why? Well, to avoid over-sharing let me just say — finances.  Leaving my full-time position and enduring a constant stream of medical charges has caused a change in our financial situation — at least from my perspective.  I get myself pretty charged up about how we are going to recover financially — I lie awake shifting this account and that account; I picture paying off this bill and that bill.  I get myself convinced again that it is job my to resolve this situation.

I am going to pause here to let you shake your head for a few moments.

You finished?

Those few little questions at the bottom of Lisa Harper’s page jolted me.  Do I feel like I am moving from captivity to freedom? Or do I like the feeling of captivity so much that I want to keep picturing myself there? Just when I have been freed from my doing and soldiering and butt-kicking to rest in my little house by the river, I want to find some other battle to fight.  My last blog post was about repenting, resting, and re-setting for goodness’ sake.

Last Saturday I stood in the front of a classroom and showed a group of ladies how I had been walking in one direction and God had physically picked me up and turned me around to go in a different one.  I shared the relief and the new opportunities that this turning has given me, but I was not acknowledging that in the wee hours of the night I have been looking over my shoulder trying to see if that other way is actually the answer.

Go ahead, shake your head some more.  I am.

So, let me put it in print so that I don’t forget.  God brought us to this place.  He will provide for all of our needs.  He always has; He always will. It might not make sense on paper. I might not have all the answers.  However, our God who created the earth, who clothes the lilies of the field, who numbers the hairs on our heads, does have all the answers.  He has worked out our finances.  He has said to me, “Be still, Kristin, I’ve got this.” I feel like He has to say it over, and over, and over again.

But this morning, I hear Him.  So, I’ll just be over here chilling in my little house by the river.

Matthew 6: 30-31

 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

Walking in Confidence

It seems only fair that since I put you through the preliminary thinking for the workshop I taught today, I would also share with you the final product.  In retrospect, I feel that God used this opportunity, including the fact that my husband, who originally agreed to co-present with me, was called out of town, to allow me a chance to look in the rearview mirror to see what he has been doing within me for the past year or so.  It was really quite amazing to see the broader view and to then share that view with the ladies who joined me today.

The keynote shared some words of wisdom she had learned years ago, “you don’t have to step on every landmine that I have.” In that spirit, I share my presentation from today.

Walking in Confidence

This sectional is supposed to be about walking in confidence in ministry.  After 25 years of ministry with my husband, I can say it is really quite simple; just follow these instructions:

Proverbs 3 1-6

My daughter, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success [a in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

That’s it. Ok, go home and do that and you will be walking in confidence in ministry.

Wait, you say you can’t do that? What’s so hard about keeping commandments, binding love and faithfulness around your neck and writing them on your heart? You simply have to trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Simple. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

No? Can’t do it? Me either. I keep failing. Over and over again.

I thought I was doing pretty well, way back in 2004. My husband was the Minister to Families at a local congregation. Our children were being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I was finishing my Master’s degree, substitute teaching, and writing for a National Lutheran publication. My husband felt the call of the Lord, so we packed our bags and moved to St. Louis to enter the Seminary. That should be an easy place to keep God’s commandments, bind love and faithfulness around my neck, write them on the tablet of my heart, and trust completely in God, right?

You’d think so.

But a lot of change happened very quickly. We not only got a new address, our kids got new schools, I got three new jobs in the first six months, my husband dove into studies, we lived in a small community of other families that were going through all the changes that we were, and, I’m gonna be honest – it was too much.

I went into survival mode.

I was the primary breadwinner – neither my children nor I were familiar with that. I was also still primarily responsible for all the things of the home—groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. Yes, my husband helped with all of these things, but I still wore the responsibility for making them happen.

My position went from part-time to full time to full-time plus in just one year. I was a Lutheran educator wearing a variety of hats while still wearing the hat of mom and wife.

I abandoned all my good habits of Bible study, prayer, and fellowship – I forgot about God’s love and faithfulness, I decided to lean on my own understanding. I held myself responsible for making it all happen at Seminary. I put all my confidence in me.

Been there? If you have, you know that it got pretty messy.

God allows us to get there. He allows us to try out our own way. He allows us to have confidence in ourselves and our own strength. He allows it to get pretty messy.

Family relationships suffered. Friendships suffered. Finally my health suffered.

Yeah, my own strength wasn’t working out that great.

Over a period of time, God intervened. He drew me close enough to Him that I could hear His voice saying, “Come on, Kristin, it’s not working. Turn to me. Repent.

I didn’t want to hear that, because I am a stubborn old gal. If I turned to Him, I would have to admit that I had been walking the wrong way,…for quite a long time. I pride myself in doing the right thing. Yeah, pride. That, too.

But He kept drawing me closer, kept repeating His message – “this is not working. You are suffering. The people around you are suffering.” I knew He was right, but I really didn’t want to change.

So, He did what any parent would do – He intervened. He relocated us and gave me a six-month opportunity to refresh. And during those six months he placed just the right people at just the right junctures. He placed me among women who invited me into conversations that helped me turn. They gave me a reason to do regular Bible study. They surrounded me with prayer. They encouraged me on my journey. They helped me re-set.  They helped me remember to put my confidence in Christ instead of putting it in myself.

This year has taught me a lot. It has taught me that God is a God of forgiveness and renewal. I want to invite you into that.

Repent – The word ‘repent’ carries a lot of baggage with it. We associate weeping and gnashing of teeth, sackcloth and ashes, and all other kinds of misery with repentance, but at it’s heart, it’s a turning.  It’s a turning from heading in the wrong direction to following in the right direction.  I know I tried to avoid being repentant, which in retrospect was rather foolish.  After all, God only wanted me to turn because He loves me.  Hear Him in this:

Proverbs 3:11-12

My daughter, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves those he loves,
as a father the daughter in whom he delights.

Isaiah 30: 15

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Take a moment to acknowledge any ways that you have ‘forgotten God’s teachings and disregarded his commands’. In what areas have you ‘leaned on your own understanding’?

Rest – The word ‘rest’ seems laden with laziness and irresponsibility rather than it’s true intention — restoration, recovery, and healing.  Many of us push through difficult times rather than allowing ourselves to rest.  Hear God on this:

Psalm 61:3-5 (Message)

You’ve always given me breathing room,
a place to get away from it all,
A lifetime pass to your safe-house,
an open invitation as your guest.
You’ve always taken me seriously, God,
made me welcome among those who know and love you.

Isaiah 40:29-31

He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even wives shall faint and be weary,
and mothers shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Matthew 11:28

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

God desires for us to rest from our weariness.  He did create the Sabbath, didn’t He? Rest should not come merely in moments of desperation; it should be part of the rhythm of our lives  — daily rest, weekly rest, and seasonal rest.  It’s ok to schedule this in — to plan time each day, each week, and throughout the year to be still, be quiet, and to recover.  It is only when we take the time rest that we can be refueled for service.  It is only when we are quiet that we can hear God’s voice telling us to re-set.

Re-set –When you are resting, after you have had a chance to catch your breath, think about how you can re-set.

Ask yourself, what are my priorities? Then, does the way I spend my time reflect my priorities? How can it?  Am I putting my confidence in Christ?  Or am I putting my confidence in myself.

It’s not a magic cure.  I imagine I will be reliving this cycle over and over again in my life.  I know I will be tempted to take control, to rely on my own strength, and to go charging in my own direction.  However, I am confident of this — God will continue to beckon me back to Him, He will continue to welcome me back into His safe house, He will continue to set me again on His path.

May He do so for all of us.

Repent. Refresh. Reset.

So, as usual, my writing has sharpened my thinking.  I always tell my students this.  You don’t always know what you think until you start writing — so just write something.  You, my dear reader, may think that I write this blog to share my life with you, and indeed that is a nice bonus. But actually, I write this blog to figure out what I am thinking.  Knowing I have you as an audience is an additional check on my honesty.

Yesterday I shared that I will be speaking next weekend on the topic — ‘confidence in Christ’, specifically, how have I kept my confidence in Christ through the seasons of ministry.  Writing what I did yesterday got me to the place of acknowledging that it’s ok if I haven’t consistently had confidence in Christ, or more specifically, haven’t behaved as though I had confidence in Christ.  After all, it’s probably safe to say that all people falter in their faith.  In fact, women who come to a Saturday conference on having confidence in Christ have most assuredly had their moments of doubt.

And, from the comments I received from you, I think that at least some of these women will find it refreshing to hear that others have had a similar struggle.  One of you said that I should be ‘brutally honest’. Another said ‘bring the noise’!  Thanks guys, because you know me well enough to know that that is likely going to happen, whether I plan for it or not.  I am who I am.

One friend reminded me of a conversation that a few of us had last winter.  She simply said ‘Repent. Refresh. Reset.’ And I heard the song of my heart.  I love that those words don’t focus on the sin, as I am wont to do.  Rather, these three words focus on the remedy.  They remind me that in His story, God knew in advance that I would falter.  He knew that I could not remain consistently confident in Christ.  So, he provided a plan.  He said, Come to me all of you who are tired of soldiering, tired of kicking butts and taking names. He said, I will provide rest for your souls. He said, I don’t desire for you to die fighting; I desire for you turn to me, to try my pattern of living, and to realize that my way is much easier (Rathje Revised Version, all). 

So perhaps that is what will fill fifty-five minutes, stories of repentance, refreshing, and resetting.

That’s what this blog is, really. It’s the tale of me repenting of my self-sufficiency, of realizing in my weakness that He provides me with strength, of recognizing that a new way is needed, and beneficial, and blessed.

So, I share a few of my stories, and allow the ladies to share a few of theirs? We devise a way to keep sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness in our faithlessness? We commit to being brutally honest with one another?

Can you imagine the strength and encouragement that could come from such sharing? So many of you shared with me yesterday that you will be praying for me as I prepare for this Saturday.  Thank you!  Would you also pray for the ladies who will join me?  And pray for our time together? Please pray that our confidence in Christ would be renewed.

Acts 3:19

 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

Change is in the air

THE. SNOW. IS. MELTING!!!!

I am pretty excited about this.  Yesterday, my husband and I took our dog to the park to walk after a long winter hibernation.  We were not alone.  The paths were crowded with prisoners set free from the bondage of subzero temperatures.  We sprung the clock forward and were launched into spring, or so it seems.

My husband announced this morning, “I packed my winter coat away.”  I walked across campus in just jeans and a sweater.  The sun is shining and it looks like we’ll hit the high forties and low fifties most every day this week.  Yippee!

Spring is so hopeful.  I just know that under the thick crust of snow, some daffodils are waking up and thinking about breaking the surface of the soil.  As the dingy whiteness melts into the river, fresh green grass will sprout and blanket the yard outside our home. It’ll be fresh and new.

I could use a little ‘new’.  Could you?

Some friends and I are meeting once a week to talk about turning, repenting, resting, renewing, and re-setting. It’s a pretty Lutheran/Lenten thing to do, really.  We start with Ash Wednesday acknowledging that “dust we are and to dust we shall return.”  We enter the Lenten season contemplatively, acknowledging the truth about ourselves and admitting — “I’m getting it all wrong.” So, these friends and I are really opening ourselves up to one another and inviting one another to ask, “How can I turn from this? How can I rest in this? How can I be renewed? How can I re-set?”

I didn’t really give anything up for Lent, but the addition of this weekly community of confession — of agreeing with one another that we don’t have it all figured out — has provided a space for me to be ok with my insufficiencies, to openly admit that I am a work in progress.

Now that may not be revolutionary for you, but for me it’s a space that I haven’t always allowed myself. I have spent a lot of energy over the years thinking I was right, justifying my actions, and plowing over (or simply ignoring) those who didn’t agree with me.

I mean, as long as I’m confessing, why hold back, right?

Over the years in my classroom, I often taught my students that “anybody can change.”  This was one of my many “mini-sermons” I gave to teach life lessons.  I would give the “anybody can change” sermon when students were annoyed with coaches, other teachers, each other, or their parents.  I would say, if we expect that people will never change, we don’t allow them the space to make changes.  I sometimes cited as an example a former student who prided himself on being the class clown.  He disrupted almost every class he attended and found himself meeting with the Admissions Review Board on more than one occasion.  We would say, “You are a natural born leader.  Please, use that power for good!  Lead your peers positively, not negatively.” For four years, we encouraged this student to change.  For four years we believed he could.  Yet, as he walked across the stage at graduation, we were still witnessing the immature disruptive student.  Three years later, the student showed up at my classroom door — shirt and tie, freshly cropped, and somewhat sheepish looking.  He wanted to let me know that he had become the captain of the football team at his university and that he had made the dean’s list.  “You were right, Mrs. Rathje.”  Anybody can change.

Now, I usually tell that story to point out the fact that anybody can change, but also to show what an amazing teacher I am — see what an impact I had on that student!  But really, the object lesson is for me.

Anybody can change.  Anybody can turn.  Anybody can re-set.  Even me.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

The old has passed away; behold the new has come.

Inhale. Exhale.

I feel like I keep writing the same thing over and over — how I am amazed at all the friendships and connections I have in this next chapter.  Some of these connections are new — my husband’s coworkers, my Bible study battalion, and my new students.

But some of the characters that show up in this next chapter were players in earlier chapters — some a long, long time ago.

My Thursday morning walking buddy was my college suite-mate.  Back in the 1980s we shared bathroom space and late-night snacks. Today we share our journey through chronic illness, marriage, and parenting while walking laps at the mall.

Before Thanksgiving I reconnected with another friend. She was a member at the congregation we served in the 1990s, where all of our children were born.  We became close through our home Bible study group, Marriage Encounter, and the church’s worship team.  She was the director of worship; we’ll say I was support staff and cheerleader — I wrote song lyrics, prayed with the team, and led them in Bible study before practice.  Her children attended my high school Bible study on Sunday mornings.  We were friends.

Another friend from the past is actually responsible for us being here in Ann Arbor.  She is on staff here as Director of Worship Arts and alerted us to the posting for a Dean of Students.  Back in the 1980s she and I worked side by side as work study employees for this university’s Office of Development.  Computers were new and we were hired to enter thousands of donor names into a database. We also wrote thank you letters and gave campus tours.  Through that connection, I began attending her father’s congregation, ate dinners at their family table, and felt like I belonged.

These three women from my past want to join me for a Bible study.  I already have my Bible study on Wednesday mornings — you know, my batallion.  But these gals are my friends, they know parts of my story, they belong in my story.

So today a few of us met to discuss what we should study.  I was running late — the only one without a job and was late.  I sank onto a sofa with them and just breathed.  Familiarity.  Love.  Acceptance. Inhale, exhale.

We talked for over an hour without touching on Bible study.  We just swapped stories of life.  And as we were preparing to part, I think I asked, “so what do we want to study?”

It seemed like we were going to go with Ephesians when one of the others said, “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about Acts 3:19.”  We turned to find it. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you.” Repent.  Turn. So that times of refreshing may come. Ahhhhhh. Inhale. Exhale.

One of the others said, “It reminds me of Isaiah 30:15: In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.”Ahhhhh.  Inhale.  Exhale.

The first woman said, “It sounds like we could all really use this.  A turning away from the way that we are going so that we can experience refreshing.”

I said, “Maybe we could just think about those verses for a little bit and see where that leads us.”

The other woman said, “Maybe we could write a devotional book for women like us who could also use some refreshing.”

Could we? Really? You would want to do that with me? We could spend the time together? We could commit to that project together?  And through it we could grow closer and we could all be changed together?

I hugged them tightly saying, “Is this real?  Are we really here together? Is God really this good?”

I pinched myself, and guys, I think it’s real. Inhale. Exhale.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.