Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Size of a Mustard Seed

A friend recently shared the following with me:  When life leads you to the edge, trust in God and let go.  One of two things will happen:  1) God will catch you or 2) He will teach you how to fly.
A favorite story from my growing up involves the fine art of roof jumping.  Roof jumping occurs in winter time when the snow is piled really high and you, well, jump off the roof.  As one can expect, parents are generally against this idea and my sister and I knew that.  But Mom and Dad were away for a few hours so my sister and I grabbed a ladder and put it against the neighbor’s house (they were away for the winter).  We piled up the snow and started up the ladder.  My sister jumped first and then I stood on the edge – for a long time!  I did finally jump but I was scared.  The snow caught me, surrounded me with icy cold softness and the adrenaline really kicked in.  Once again up the ladder and this time, with my sister in midair and me half-way up the ladder, the thundering voice of my father echoed through the houses, “What are you two doing?”  Of course the only thing two kids can say at a time like that?  “Nothing”?  Well, ‘nothing’ got us grounded for a month! 
What will you do when you get to the edge?  Will you try to walk backwards, avoiding the cliff?  Will you try to run or will you jump?  Will you try to stop yourself mid jump?  Will you scream out to God or will you totally surrender to Him and, arms outstretched, jump in absolute faith?  No one can answer that question until they are at the edge. 
I still remember the edge though.  Standing on the edge of the roof and looking down, ready to jump but not ready to jump.  Hopeful yet fearful.  Excited yet nervous.  Now as I face another edge I need to jump and I know that either God will catch me or teach me how to fly but I’m still nervous.  I’m still scared.  I’m still really not ready to jump.  But faith teaches me to jump.  Recall this scene from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
With his father groaning in the background, Indiana walks ahead, following an ancient book that gives clues to guide him through a maze of obstacles to the place where the Grail is hidden. He comes to the brink of a chasm deeper than the eye can see. There is no visible way for him to cross the chasm.
Indiana is faced with the impossible. All he sees is the sheer cliff edge and the vast gulf beneath him. Then, as he studies his guidebook, his face relaxes in realization, and he says, "It's a leap of faith."
With his father whispering, "You must believe, boy, you must believe," Indiana looks straight ahead, gathers his courage, and slowly raises one foot into the empty air in front of him.
With a thud, his foot lands on solid ground. The camera pans to show Indiana standing on a narrow rock bridge, deceptively carved to match the exact outline of the ravine beneath it.
Overcome with relief, he quickly crosses the chasm and discovers the Grail on the other side.[1]
Each day we are called to believe – have some faith – take a step of faith.  Abraham offered up his son, Noah built the ark, Moses raised his rod to part the Red Sea and Daniel walked out of the lion’s den.  Each one did it on faith. 
When one of my nephews was baptized I gave him a pin to wear on his shirt.  In the pin was a mustard seed.  I told him that God says that we need to have faith the size of a mustard seed.  He said, “I can have that much faith every day!”  Surely it is possible for all of us to have that much faith, right?  How big is a mustard seed?  It is about as big as the line beneath this letter O. 

[1] www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2003/december

Friday, February 17, 2012

It Really Is Sufficient For All You Require

Richard J Mouw, current President of Fuller Theological Seminary, addressed students and faculty at the Festival of Beginnings in the Fall of 2009. He spoke on the following lyrics from the hymn How Firm A Foundation:

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross (garbage, useless ‘stuff’) to consume and thy gold to refine

The words are harsh and talk about the flames of our trials.  They cannot harm us.  We feel its heat and that often times causes pain.  It can be hard to see through the heat and the smoke and it never seems to run along the side of our pathway rather right in to our path, delaying our journey and forcing us to question our current route.  God will cause those flames to burn up all those things in our life that are, simply, garbage.  The flames shall refine our gold and refine us in this journey.

Mouw says, “Life is a series of stepping in to the unknown”.  We do it every single day.  We do not know what we will meet on the road as we drive from here to there.  We do not know who we will meet or what thoughts will enter our minds and hearts throughout the day. 

On Wednesday, February 15, 2011 I did not know that I would hear that day that my mother has only a few months to live.  The words stung my heart and my eyes burned with tears.  I stepped in to another unknown and did not want to be there.  I found myself facing yet another series of flames and the fires of destruction seemed, at first, to burn through all that was good in my life instead of the garbage.  But as I looked more closely; those flames continued to burn away feelings of anger and refined, indeed enhanced even more, my love and adoration for my mother and my commitment to her.  God’s grace continues to be all-sufficient, supplying me with everything I need to face this unknown with strength, dignity and integrity.

Mouw goes on to remind us of the words of St Ignatius:  “In consolation remember desolation.  In desolation remember consolation”.  We must remember the times when God is with us; both the good and bad times.  No matter where we are on our life journey we must never lose sight of the fact that God has never lost sight of us.  Not once.  We have fallen, we have been hurt, we have cried and cursed but God has never left us.

My mother is the brightest star in my sky.  She is the person I admire the most in this world.  She has brought me comfort and shown me what love truly is.  She has taught me how to care for myself and to care for others.  She has shown me a raw faith that very few people have achieved in this life time. 

When you face the next inferno that crosses your life-path, and you will; remember to thank God and give Him the credit for sustaining you – for holding you – for supplying ALL that you require.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Anchor Holds

When my parents committed to ‘better or for worse’ fifty years ago, I am sure they never thought they would both be ‘worse’ at the same time.  It was assumed and talked about often that one would decline from age before the other and, therefore, they would be able to care for one another.  Unfortunately, right now, that isn’t the case.  Mom is fighting to save her life and lacks the necessary energy and patience that Dad requires to keep him moving forward.  Dad is confused and not sure about what’s happening to Mom and lacks the mental strength to care for himself or for her.

Mom and Dad have a ritual every night.  It’s the type of pillow-talk that is healthy among couples and should become a ritual in all our lives.  With the lights off, the noises shut down, and listening to the rhythm of one another’s heartbeats, they face each other and talk about their day, their lives together, and their love for one another.  Dad always reassures Mom by saying, “I love you more today than I did yesterday”…and then he kisses her once on the chin, then the nose, then the forehead; and repeats that three times before sealing it with a final kiss on the lips.  It is as if, for a few moments, God grants them enough grace to by-pass all their cares, all their sorrows, all their troubles and all their pain, enough for them to remind each other that they are one, together.

The scripture tells us that God’s grace is sufficient for all our needs.  There are times I wonder if God is out of touch with reality – if He has forgotten or maybe doesn’t know all-together the stresses and demands on our lives.  I wonder if God needs a reality check.  I recently spoke to someone who said she cried to God and got mad for feeling like she’s not being heard.  I told her to keep yelling.  I think it is perfectly acceptable to show God how passionate you are about something including your pain.  Christ yelled to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?  Even Christ felt abandoned.  I wonder if Christ felt that His Father was out of touch with reality and failed to fully understand humanity.  Then again, that’s why Christ was sent in the first place – so that we would have an advocate, an attorney, if you will, to God the Father.

When we hire an attorney it is easy to get angry or upset when things don’t move as fast as we want them to.  An attorney friend of mine once said that attorney time and human time are different.  Attorney time is typically last-minute because they are so consumed with other people’s issues the other minutes.  Makes sense – as long as they get the job done, right?  He went on to say that he encourages his clients to be proactive.  It’s ok to call him and push him, to let him know how eager you are to settle the case and move on.  I think the same is with us and Christ.  Tell him – yell if you need to – but let him know from the depths of your very being how important your needs are and He will listen and He will supply all your needs.  In the movie, Contact, Jodie Foster’s character stands before a few powerful men and asks them for the money to help her project continue.  They say no.  And then she shows them the passion, the burning desire within her to get this done.  She revealed, through her passionate plea, the importance of this project to her very soul, her very reason for being.  She was given the money – her needs were met because she was brutally honest with the people who could make a difference. 

My partner recently asked me how it is that I am able to remain so positive all the time.  When I look at people like my parents, the answer is pretty easy.  What choice do I have?  I can wallow in self-misery, self-pity, and have a woe-is-me party, but what will that accomplish?  More depression, more sadness, more misery, and it tends to push people away.  So I CHOOSE to remain positive because the other options just are not sufficient for me.

My prayer for you is that you have no other option but to remain positive through ALL situations.  Conquer every evil that comes your way.  Stand strong in the face of adversity.

Your anchor holds fast through the angry seas.  Your anchor holds in spite of the storm.  Though your sails are torn and tattered, your anchor holds.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Drama and Trauma

How quickly do you bounce back?  Do you have people in your life who tell you that you should ‘get over it’ or ‘move on, already’?  Whether it’s because someone insulted you or something as traumatic as a loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to hear is, “move on, already”.  But those of us on the other side, those of us who have to witness you going through this trauma or drama, don’t want to deal with it so we want you to hurry up, deal with it, and move on.  It can be very emotionally draining and trying on a relationship if you are constantly re-visiting a trauma or drama.

Drama is something we want to people to ‘get over’ a lot more than trauma.  With trauma we will allow you some time, not much mind you, to heal and then move on.  With drama we tire ever so quickly of hearing the story over and over.  We are selfish creatures and if it’s not OUR trauma or OUR drama, we want people to move on.  When it belongs to us, we’ll take as much time wallowing in it as we want to and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’m not sure that any of us can simply move on.  What people really want you to do is get over it, stop talking about, and move AWAY.  What if we just recognize that we all need to continue moving forward and allow the wounds to heal as they may?  And what if the energy required to continue moving forward WITH the drama and trauma actually comes from those around us who patiently and lovingly stick with us through all of it?

I think its ok to continue on our life journey WITH the sting on our cheek from the slap in the face.  It is ok to continue on our life journey with the knife still stuck deeply in our backs.  It is ok to continue on our life journey with the holes in our hands.  Move on?  Be careful not to say “move away, already!”  Move on – pick up - move forward – continue the forward motion, the forward momentum, of your life and allow the things you carry to eventually get easier.  

Paul had an affliction that he referred to as a thorn in his side.  There are many theories about what exactly this was.  When Ananias prayed for Paul’s eyesight to be healed perhaps it was only a partial healing, leaving Paul’s eyesight poor.  He did have others write for him and in his letter we find in Galatians he says (6:11), “see what large a letter I have written unto you with my own hand”. 

Maybe Paul had experienced the loss of someone so close to him that he was tormented with depression and anxiety.  Many of us know what an affliction that can be.

Perhaps Pauls’ affliction was something ongoing such as habitual sin, maybe sexual issues or envy or pride.  Maybe he struggles with his own identity as a person, a man, a Christian, a human.  A personal description of ‘thorn in my side’ may not be physical.  These internal struggles or habitual sins can be just as painful as a physical ailment, after all. 

I think God did not reveal Paul’s true affliction so that he could show us that he can identify with any type of ‘thorn’.  If we were actually told what it was it may dilute the authority and power behind 2 Corinthians 12:9, “my grace IS SUFFICIENT for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. 

Our drama and trauma can become a thorn in our side.  We may never completely ‘get over it’ and perhaps the point is to not get over it.  The point is to pick it up and continue your journey.  The point is to allow the experiences to make you wise.  The point is to learn from it.  The point is it is YOUR drama and YOUR trauma.  It is absolutely possible to continue moving forward with your life while processing all that has happened to you. 

The next time someone suggests to you that you need to deal with your drama or move on from your trauma, simply tell them, “you first”.  For we all have these issues that continually haunt us, that continually poke us in the side like a painful thorn.  Pick it up – carry it with pride – claim it as your own – and then show the world that you can continue the forward momentum that God started in you. 

Creating God, you are a mercy-filled God, always granting mercy and grace to us who do not deserve it.  Forgive us when the pain someone feels is our fault.  Forgive us when we have ill feelings towards others who have caused our pain.  Help us to forgive those who do, indeed, sin against us and thereby causing trauma and drama in our lives.  Thank you for recognizing that we have a hard time moving forward.  Help us to energize one another enough to continue moving forward – to continue our life journey – whether we are walking, running or crawling it.  Help us to continue working together, loving one another in spite of the knives in our backs, the pain from lies, and the agony of hurt.  Your Son knows all too well the feelings that utter betrayal can cause.  May we never forget that.  In the name of Christ…Amen.

Philippians 1:6 “For He (God) who started a good work in you WILL be faithful to complete it in you”.