Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Whole Heart - A Christmas Muse

I think that I became aware that something is missing about the same time that I found out that Santa was not real. All of a sudden my world was shaken. I don't think it was the myth's fault I just think it was the awareness that is suddenly granted about that age of distinguishing fantasy from reality, of knowing ourselves and becoming aware of our own hearts.

Along with that realization comes the potential for realizing something about our human condition. Our heart is not whole. There is SOMETHING missing. At first, it presents itself as just an unnamed uneasiness. We start to reach out for that next birthday, Christmas, TV special or a promise made to us by the adults to do something fun. Later it becomes the promise of potential fulfillment that an education offers us, the job that will allow us meaning in our life or the alluring promise offered in the next kiss, date or the ultimate partnering with another.

But, as we begin to find out on that day where Santa becomes a story in a book and something is shattered in our sweet childhood world, a whole heart is a difficult thing to obtain. Just when you hold that new toy and it breaks, just as you plan that outing with your dad and he has to work or just when the sparkle has begun to fade on the new engagement ring with the first real disappointment that all relationships bring you begin to realize that - yet again you are not whole.

I think Christians have it worse in some ways. We were promised that Jesus would satisfy every desire. Wholeness was to be found in Him. "Come to Jesus and he will satisfy every desire." Be at the next revival and your longings will be met. God will completely fill the void in our lives, is what is proffered by many pulpits in our country. But anyone who is completely honest with themselves will whisper that the ultimate Christian life did not fill the void either.

The thing that makes this so maddening is that all of us have experienced those moments. Moments where it did seem possible. Moments where the stars aligned and we smelled the vague fragrance of wholeness. Moments of rapture, being, knowing and being at peace. It happened unexpectedly as we gazed that the stars that one night, as we prayed and felt a presence with us, as we looked upon our first born in the hospital that day or as we sat contentedly with a loved one, a glass of wine and a sunset over the ocean. Those moments did (and do) happen but if we even try to grasp them they disappear like champagne bubbles in our glass. We just cannot keep them in our hearts long enough to understand how to corral them even for a day.

So what do we do? Some of us become destructive in our pursuit for wholeness. We simply stuff our hearts full of anything that presents itself. We pacify, medicate, distract or try to micromanage our way to happiness. We make expectations of ourselves and others around us so high that we are impossible to live with. We hurt our bodies, our souls and our spirits with our pursuits. We destroy our friendships and the relationships with our families as we demand that they fill the hole that seems to just grow larger and larger. We come to the end of our lives and wonder what has become of that simple love of life that we had as a child.

I realized this again as I looked toward our time as a family together this Christmas day. I realized ahead of time that being together, the laughter and joy that will ensue, the gifts, the food, the wine....all will not totally satisfy my heart.

I propose that it is only as I become at peace with my un-whole heart that I can even start to experience true joy. As a Christian I propose that Jesus came into this world to walk with me in my desires, hopes and dreams. He did not promise to eradicate them. He came to earth so many years ago so he could also live in a vessel with the same un-whole-ness. He knows that I am made of dust because he, too, was made of dust once.

So this day I rejoice at being human. I propose to love my family and friends - just as they are. I propose to love my God for stooping low to understand me. And I look forward to those tiny moments where, just for a second in space and time, I feel whole and wonder if that is really what heaven will be like.

Merry Christmas to all.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Global Guilt

Does anyone else suffer from Global Guilt?

I realized I did through a couple of circumstances. I was reading a book that a friend gave me, (Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh) when I came across a passage that talked about how we deal with living in the age where we have so much information about our world. (And she lived in a world before the internet!!) She says,

"But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in pulic print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The interrelateness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather — for I beleive the heart is infinite — modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry.

I realized, in reading that passage that I am overwhelmed by how to do good in a world that is so very big and hurting.

Add that to the guilt that we as Christians, are supposed to be saving the world.

For 20 years I belonged to a church that, in my opinion, with great grandiosity defined their role in the earth as having great impact. We, by just belonging and participating, were responsible for keeping our city safer from the demonic, bringing God's kingdom into whatever place our foot fell, bringing righteousness to whatever country we sent our monies or our leaders to and so on and so on. Belonging to that church assuaged my global guilt because I could say, "Look at all the good we are doing."

Stepping out of that culture for 3 years I have struggled again with how to do good. What is my role as I receive information about the children sold into slavery in Cambodia, the starving mommas in Africa, the children on the streets in Romania or the babies with AIDS that need a family? (And that was all in one weeks worth of reading!) Some information even comes with it's own pile of guilt to help you along. "How can you live in your homes with warm heat when you know children are dying of malaria because they have no nets?" "How can you prepare for your retirement when the people of Haiti are desolate?" Not to mention the training up disciples and spreading the gospel!!

I was asking Marshall about this the other day as we were driving to meet up with some dear friends in Pittsburgh. We were going to visit them but to also visit their little church. Marsh and I talked about what Jesus had said about the poor. It was fascinating to talk over different passages where the poor are discussed. We talked about not only that, but how very different our worlds are from the world Jesus spoke to. There, the poor were people that actually crossed your path. You knew the mom down the street that needed help or the poor by the gate that were there every day as your passed. We talked about how that was so different without the global knowledge that we have now.

Anyway, that was the topic of conversation in the car. I was so tired of carrying around this burden of Guilt that weighed me down with every click of the internet or every purchase I made, whether it was simply milk for the household or a new computer for the business or, heavens take note - a New TV for the boys!!

Now onto the church meeting. (As an aside - I had told God that I DID NOT want him to speak to us about anything in this meeting. I told him that I did not want anyone to prophesy over us or anything like that. I want him to speak to me in my own home and not have to depend on Him to be at any sort of Gathering that I HAVE to attend to hear him. - Just my issues :)

We walk into this old, stately church building. Half of it has been made into the kitchen and eating area as they get together each week on a Saturday night for a rotating schedule of worship, prayer, teaching from any of the members and just being together and then a big meal that each of them donate for everyone on their week. It truly seemed a lovely way to "meet." The other half is the old sanctuary that has been stripped of everything but a few chairs and an overhead projector. As we entered they were singing. I was tense as it is still a trigger point for me to walk into a charismatic service. I went right away to sit in a chair with my friends and bunker down to see what would happen. It was then that I looked up to the banner on the wall across from my chair and began to weep.

Now we all are used to banners on church walls. "Jesus is Lord" "Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving" "Light of the World" and "The Harvest is White" kind of Banners graced many of our old churches.

Not here! Across from me was the answer to my question of the year. It was a verse from Nehemiah 8:10. And in banner form that reached from the top of a 20 foot ceiling to the floor I stared at this verse.

(Neh 8:10 KJV) Then he said unto them, Go your way,
eat the fat, and drink the sweet,
and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared:
for this day is holy unto our Lord:
neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

I looked up the passage to see what was going on in the text that Nehemiah would say such a thing. The Israelites had just found the books of the Law and the leaders had read them to the gathered people. They were in deep sorrow and grieving because they had never heard the words and so were in deep Guilt of where they had not done what was required. To this guilt Nehemiah was speaking.

His words boomed at me from centuries from off that church wall. Go my way. Do what I do. My way is not evil. Eat the fat and drink the sweet. Partake of the good of life - in fact the fat and sweet are the best portions of the feast. Send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared. I am to share, but the important word to me was "portions." Not the whole thing. Not 9/10ths But a portion. A "portion" is not measurable by anyone as to if I am doing enough. I love the word portion. It is up to me and what I feel God is saying. This was truly liberating. Don't be sorry or in another translation, do not grieve. The Joy of the Lord is your strength. This life is to be lived in joy not in guilt. And this was from the OLD TESTAMENT!! How much more as we live in the new!

I know I asked God not to speak to me there that day. I guess he didn't though. Nehemiah did. But it was just what I needed to hear.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spiritual Tyranny Dot Com

Here is a link I encourage you all to explore. In some way this author may have gotten pushed aside as simply a discontent from the Sovereign Grace Ministry churches. The site is MUCH more than that though. He speaks/explains fluently the language of tyranny in all forms - church, social, political. He does this by challenging the very basis of our preconceptions. I have been simply blown away by his ability to make me feel as if I am a rational, volitional thinking person capable of knowing Good and acting on it. (I'm growing a spine as I sit here and read :)

Here is one for those in controlling churches that I think you will be able to digest and go "OMG!! What was I thinking?" "Spiritual Crack" by John Immel

But don't just read this one article. Go back into his previous articles and simply read from the beginning. It will challenge everything you have ever believed but it will make you look into your heart and find that he speaks what we always knew was true and gives us a platform to actually build something.

Interested in church government? Leadership? Politics? or just simply are you in despair because of what you have walked through? Strap on a water bottle and grab your best hiking boots because this is not for the faint of intellect or spirit. (as an aside, there have been times where I wondered if I had the background to understand some of the things he is trying to explain. Hang in there. What you don't understand becomes clearer the more you read and exercise that part of the brain that may have laid dormant for a while. For you brainier will have no trouble and actually enjoy the exercise.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Home for Sale

We put it up on the market today. It is just so hurtful still to be here, we love Florida, it is Marshall's home, it is a good time to build down there, I love the water....

On the flip side we wonder if it is the right decision, we do have good friends here, the boys like their schools, mom is happy in her attached apartment....

What does God want? Does he care one way or the other? When He said we could leave the old church did he mean we could leave State College?

House for sale. Says a lot.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Family First

Overheard in all of my churches growing up and even in my last church we were always saying, "God first, family second and Church third.

The one that I have learned much about this past 3 years is about putting family first. Because we are out of a church setting and away from any formal "ministry," it has put us smack dab into the middle of our family. It is hard to put anything in front of them because there is nothing else to replace them with. It's just US here on this island for the while. Of course we have people in, one family that has always been family to us and another couple that has become just like family but in contrast to the crowds of people we were used to having in and being responsible for it has really become just our family.

What I learned is that I had never put my family first. I thought I had. I would have been mad at you if you suggested that I had put Church in front of my family but this is just what I had done.

It was hard to see back then. Sundays were always more important than family. We never missed one except for being out of town and even then we tried to plan around what was happening. If someone in the church needed something I felt totally guilty and unwilling to say "No," to the request. If we had people over to the house for an event, my kids worked like servants to pull it off. They never got a vote whether to do it or not. That is just what the "Peters Family" did. We worked hard at getting it ready and I often waived off any help cleaning it up by saying, "No, the girls will help me get just run along." We were busy most of Sunday's and I always found church things to be involved with during the week. If there was a crisis with one of the kids, it would have to wait till after the church stuff we were involved in. Family first? Hardly.

My daughter just related a story the other day where she remembered a birthday of hers that happened to fall on a Sunday where we had a lot of people over. She had told some of them it was her birthday and I had urged her not to make a big deal of it in front of our guests. I did not remember this day so I'm not sure what I was thinking but we were so taught to put our needs last that I'm sure that is what I was "teaching" her. Yuck!

Plus, we were giving so much, financially, to the church that we really did not have much extra to spend on just "us." When I think of all the 100's of thousands of dollars giving in the offering plate and the building funds I am sick. My family should have had that money for college, needed cars, and time together. Family first? Hardly

See, I think that somewhere in my thinking putting God-first became putting the Church first. I showed my devotion to God by showing my devotion to the Church. Some of this was my fault for getting my identification from my role in the organization. But some of this was directly taught. Not so much directly from the pulpit but much of it by what was said behind someone's back that was not as "involved" as we were.

So I find myself here today, on a month-long vacation with my family. We have the finances, the time and the desire to do this and looking back at the time where I thought we were putting "Family-first," I just shake my head and wonder what universe I was in.

It breaks my heart now that I have tasted the richness of spending time with my kids and husband. I love them and would drop anything to be with them. We have grown to relate and listen to each other. It was intense at first. We had to work at it because we had grown up mostly being busy and avoiding the conflicts. But it is so worth it. I love my family. I want to protect my time with them. This is truly God-first, Family-second and Church....Well, Church as it happens around us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Prayer...Still Re-thinking

I have been thinking about prayer the past month and decided to finally put my thoughts down.

Situation: A close friend of mine had an accident on his bike that also involved their 2 year old son. Both were really skinned up and for a while we were worried that the child had suffered a concussion, a broken arm, a tooth impaction and would at least need stitches.

Being out of the church circles for so long now has changed how I react in a situation like this. I realized when the bike accident happened that my first impulse a few years ago would have been to pick up to phone and "get everyone praying" in the church. (Note: this is often done without permission, thus shoving someone's lives into the spotlight that is not even yours to unveil. I'm amazed how much is shared between Christians that is not theirs to share!!! It also always made me somehow feel important that I was the one privy to the information. How sick is that?)

In this instance, I simply went over and offered my help deciding whether or not to go to the emergency room, getting the bike picked up and back to the house and yes, praying that the Father would be there amidst the pain and confusion. But it was just me...and them. It was intimate but it was also a revelation to me to realize that I did not need EVERYONE praying to feel like God heard me. I was suddenly confident that my prayer mattered.

Before, I think my faith was watered down. I felt that if more people were praying then somehow I had a better chance of getting my prayers answered. Or if the RIGHT person would pray, then God would hear and answer. Who knew who that "right person" would be. So you got everyone to pray. There were people in the church "prayer warriors" who you just had to call as if they had the special hot line to God. Where did we get this stuff????

Now I experienced a surge in confidence. It was just me and God. He heard me. He loved us. He hurt for the skinned and broken skin and pain. He wanted to walk through this with us and who knows, He just may have stepped in and healed a few things. The child had no concussion, no broken arm, needed no stitches and his teeth were all fine. The scabs healed and in a week you could not believe he had looked so bad the week before.

I know in a church situation it would have been held up as the Miracle of the Week because we all prayed. But somehow it was so much more to me. It was personal between me and God. It was relational between me and the family involved. It was intimate and I think because of all that, it was also very powerful.

I think that we water down our faith when we believe that the more people we get praying the better the chance of God answering. How would I feel about my relationship that I have with my son if, when he needed something or wanted something, he got all his sisters and brothers and friends and their friends to ask me for it. Wouldn't I look at him and wonder if we were somehow missing something between the two of us if he could not have the confidence that he just needed to ask.

I'm not proposing that we never share our lives with others. I just saw in this instance that those who needed to pray were actually already connected relationally and involved in the situation, therefore they prayed. If I'm having a bad day or in need of finances and a friend drops by and we talk about our lives and they decided to pray for me...I think that is great. But again that is relational.

Just still re-thinking...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stuck - Not Dancing With The Crowd

I watched this video this morning with a grin that quickly became an ache. See, I get what this guy is saying about leadership. I was the "second guy" to get up and dance. My husband was the "second guy" and I made my family be the "second guy".

We validated the leaders. In fact, people would tell us that they would look over at us to see what our reaction to a new thing was going to be and then when we joined in - they felt assured that it was good.

But what happens when you find out that the dance you are dancing is hurting people? That it has shipwrecked so many it is hard to count? How do you deal with the fact that you aided, validated and in doing so, hurt those that you were dancing with?

I thought for so many years that my validation of our movement was pure and good. I thought that anyone who got hurt in following our "dance" was just doing it wrong and it was their own fault. I thought that submission to the leadership was key.

And the ache this morning comes from the fact that I am so terribly afraid to be the second or even third guy in anyone's dance. How can I validate anyone's leadership? How can I shoulder that responsibility ever again? Even if I were the 50th person or the 100th person, doesn't that still give me a responsibility that scares me to death?

So this morning I find myself home....still not participating in the "dance" of a organized body of believers.

It does look fun though, doesn't it? I just can't face the responsibility - not yet.

HT: Hamo @ Backyard Missionary

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Love and Its Sacrifice

I've been continuing to think a lot about the concept of love lately. In some ways I feel that I am trying to see everything through the lens of love. For instance, it changes something in to to simply start to ask yourself, "What would Love do in this situation?" instead of the traditional, "What would Jesus do?"

One thing I notice is that I use the word far less frequently. It means far more to me today than it did a few years ago. When I speak it, I realize I am making a commitment to that person.

I was listening to Darin Hufford talk the other day and he was describing his work among some homeless people years ago. He learned that when he told them that he was doing the work because "Jesus loved them" it was far different than when he begin to tell one of them that he, Darin, loved them. When he finally said, "I love you" it demanded that he DO something. He ended up bringing a homeless man to his home to live with him, all because when he said, "I love you," he could no longer let this man live on the street.

I realized that what Darin was saying was so very true. I cannot say I love you and then pretend that your needs do not matter to me. Love cannot be ignored. Love, in its very nature, demands sacrifice.

I always thought that if I do something for someone I was loving them. I'm beginning to sense that I have it all backwards. If I love someone, the doing will come naturally. I was always about doing. It was exhausting. But if you love, the doing flows naturally. Yes, you get tired and sometimes it does take an act of your will but when you love, something wells up inside of you so that you simply cannot pass by.

I wonder if when Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments," that what he was really saying was that if we loved him we would find ourselves naturally keeping his commandments. I've always felt guilty and tried to DO the commandments to show I loved Him. When I finally let myself be loved by Him I find myself returning the love and then I suddenly find it in me that I am doing what he wanted me to do all along.

I have seen no greater love than this, that a man will lay down his life for his friend. Not because he goes around laying down his own life so that he can see that he loves but that he loves and therefore finds himself naturally laying down his life.

Or maybe I'm parsing the words and their meanings too much.

One thing I notice is that I use the word far less frequently. It means far more to me today than it did a few years ago. When I speak it, I realize I am making a commitment to that person. I like that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Parts of Me - My Father's Passing

We are presently in the days that are preceding my Father's death - or as Marshall explained it to the boys, - his graduation. He will probably pass away sometime in the next few days and so we are with him almost around the clock. There have been a few nights when we have come home from the hospital to get a full night's sleep but other than that you can find us at his bedside most of the day. I sit with Mom and try to guess his immediate needs and then visit with whomever comes into our little space. The visits from my family and our friends are always a pleasure as they pop in to give a quick hug, a smile of assurance, an offer of anything we would need to be met and even a laugh or two.

We are not sad in this room. In fact we are probably the rowdy-est group they may have had in the hospice room. To us, this passing will be a delight. We are so glad that we get to attend to this event. All of us want to be there when it actually happens - both to say a tearful good by but also to see the amazing beginning of a journey from this world to the next.

Thoughts are flying around in my head as I sit there these past few days but the one I wanted to write about today is about what I see in myself that has prepared me for this moment. It may sound a little selfish to write about myself at a time like this but that is how it is. I am me in this moment and seeing it from my perspective is the only one I have.

The thing I notice about myself is that I have several persona that are viewing and participating in this passing. There is the daughter in me, the mother in me and the member of the human race in me.

First the daughter in me. There is a little book for children that you can pick up in any bookstore called, Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch where it chronicles the life of a mother caring for her infant son through his adulthood and then his care of her as she grows sick and dies. I find myself as my father's daughter doing this very thing. I sit beside his bed and remember the times where I ran to him across the tarmac as he de-boarded his plane and he scooped me up in his arms. I remember playing with him in the waters of Hawaii as we visited him for a week during his "vacation" from Vietnam. I remember him teaching me how to drive my VW Bug in the back 40 of the property in Puerto Rico. I remember wanting to NEVER see his lips pursed together till they became white because he was disappointed in me. And I remember a day where we were talking about God and he looked at me and said, "Where did you get such a mean God? He loves you, Sis. He is just not like how you have described."

So as I sit by his bedside and give him a sip of water to wet his mouth or a cool rag to wipe his forehead, I remember and am his little girl, his daughter. I find myself saying things he said to me as a child. When he wanted to take off his socks yesterday, I said, "Daddy, you are wearing your piggy toes," just as he always said to me. I love the daughter in me.

Then there is the Mother in me. Having all the kids that I did, prepared me to care for my dad. There is not much difference in cleaning the butt of a toddler and tenderly attending to the bathroom habits of your dad when he can no longer do it himself. We have laughed in that I can understand his slurred, toothless speech, better than anyone else. Who knew that toddler speak is also a very close form of old man with no teeth speak! I'm an expert translator of both I guess. I have also learned to read and respond to the small gestures of someone who just can not think of the words that are needed to get their needs across to you. I'm in tune what what he wants and needs most of the time. I remember holding my babies and trying to decide just what it was that they wanted. All that practice is coming into good stead right now.

I'm so grateful for the mother in me. It allows a closeness to my Daddy that becomes a true delight as I care for him. It does not feel burdensome. I was prepared for this time.

And there is the realization that I am part of something much bigger than myself. I am seeing the broadness and circular nature of human existence. I often step back and realize just how our existence, our being and our lives are so absolutely amazing.

Carla mentioned the other day that death must be very much like birth. That thought has had me pondering this event like nothing else. I have never witnessed a death but I have been through several births of mine and other friends. I am amazed at the sameness that this has to those. The room where we sit with Dad feels like a birthing room of sorts. His labored breathing, the signs of deterioration, the progression towards death is not unlike the feelings you get as you watch the last signs of someone going into labor. The similarities are uncanny to me. They feel so familiar. I almost feel bad because I anticipate the moment as I would a birth. I'm sure it would be different if I were watching a life passing before it's natural time. But this death of my Dad is not a sad thing to me. It is as natural as birth. It will be a wonderful thing for him. He longs for it and has prayed for it. It will be an answer to his and our prayers. So maybe that is why it takes on the excitement and joy that a pending birth has.

So I love the fact that I can view it as part of the human experience - that I can see the full circle of our human path. It is a wonder to me. I think if I could add a phrase to the Bible I would add it to a portion of scripture where David is himself in wonder of the world around him.

He says: "There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden."

To Davids list I would add, "And the way of a life from the newness of birth to the passing of an old man."