WHEN YOU RUN OUT OF PETALS

In reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God, I had to stop and meditate on a section, much as you would stop at a solitary painting in a gallery. Not because it’s the most spectacular painting in the show, but because it touches you – and perhaps only you on this particular day – in an imperceptible but undeniable way. This section of the book spoke to me of the incredibly fierce, passionate potential of love; rather than the simple sweetness of a valentine card we mandatorily distributed in grade school and often enough didn’t receive in complete reciprocity in grade school.

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This kind of love is hard for me to understand when it comes to my children, much less for the rest of world. I struggle to love someone very close to me when the “love” I grew up with was conditional, with strings attached, at a price that I could never hope to repay. And repayment would be expected, although I never knew when or how.

What I’m coming to understand about loving others as my Father loves me is this: God loves me always and anyway. If I were to hold a daisy and play “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,” it would have but one single petal. Because he loves me!

But what about my sin? Surely each sin should add another link in the a shackle for the world to see, a reminder of my human failings, an ever-growing statement of my shame, a testament of God’s exhaustive mercy. Yet it’s not only forgiven, it’s undeservingly forgotten, and I doubt very much that God’s glory would be as evident if his children walked around with the chains of their failures dragging behind them. No. We are set free!

Several years ago, about a week before Christmas, I told my husband I was going to Kmart to pick up a few stocking stuffers. Everything I got was less than $3.00, more often under $2.00. Imagine my surprise when the cashier informed me that I owed her over $200.00! As I drove home, I considered every plan I might use to return at least half of the items. Would I return a few things at a time, or should I just bite the bullet and return half of my haul at once?

Neither option allowed for me to hold onto my dignity. And I gave up any hope of simply not telling John, because I’m a lousy liar! He was naturally taken aback by my abundance of small stocking stuffers. Two hundred dollars was way more than we could afford! He said, “Just keep it all. It will be fine.” I’ve always remembered his quiet mercy. But here’s the thing – when I told this story to some friends a few years later, he said, “I’d forgotten all about that!”

Actionable Steps to Create Body LoveI can’t imagine how! I’d spent years keeping that mistake on my list of “Things to be Ashamed Of”, and he had stopped thinking of it entirely! I began to wonder what other things he may have forgotten, how many other things should I be cautious about reminding him of – just in case he’d forgotten them as well. (Wink, wink, nod, nod, know what I mean?)

To make the comment all the sweeter, he wasn’t aware of how very many times I’d heard my mother say, “I’ll remember that.” And she did, bringing up a slight on my part every time I did something wrong and she wanted to make sure I, as well as my step-father and brother all knew how very horrible I was. Yet here was someone who had not only chosen to not keep a $200 mistake in his arsenal, but had managed to forget it. And he loved me.

Now, if my husband could not only forgive but forget one of my wrongs, what God promises is mind-blowing! But this is exactly what our Abba promises. Imagine what we could do without the weight of remembered faults. Imagine the freedom of being able to not only forgive others for being just what they are – people capable of disappointing us, failing us, hurting us, ignoring us, or just plain getting on our last nerve – but to actually treat them as if they hadn’t slighted us at all. What if our mercies could be new every morning, too?

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

What if, before I even open my eyes in the morning, instead of getting irritated because I know that I know that I know a certain empty can of Pepsi is not in the recycling bin, but rather right where my husband left it – so close to falling off the counter next to the recycling bin that a faint breeze would be enough to push it off the edge, I thank God for the man he gave me? (I have a more adhesive memory than my husband does, which is inconvenient for him. ;D) What if, instead of expecting my co-worker to misfile something because she “always does”, I look for the woman God sees; a woman who loves her family dearly and has immeasurable potential?

Don’t expect a sermon or a Power Point presentation on how I learned to forgive and forget. I stink at both! (Although forgetting seems to get easier each year that I grow older.) Sadly, I simply cannot grasp how anyone can forgive and forget. I can’t imagine there are many of us who can. Remembering where our pain has come from can be as much a means of survival for us as remembering where the nuts are hidden is for a squirrel. And part of becoming a good, upstanding citizen depends upon our behavior being rated on a scale from selfless to horrendous. Our parents, teachers and other authorities are there to nudge us back to mid-scale so we don’t hurt others, to prevent anarchy. Unfortunately, those “nudges” are sometimes tainted with shame along the lines of “Naughty boy!” Some of us have had those lessons reinforced with the more effective use of punishment and fear, from being disregarded and unloved to being beaten and malnourished.

Have you ever thought that if people knew more about you, they’d be amazed that you can function at all? I have. Often. But then I realize that there are a lot of us out here who are functioning the best we can, in spite of so many things. If only we could extend to them the same compassion and patience we crave.

_I think it’s just that kind of love that Jesus was here to share and demonstrate. When he healed the crowds, I very much doubt that he stopped to decide if someone was worthy or not. I would imagine there were those who were cruel and abusive to their families, those who had stolen from their neighbor, betrayed their spouse. Perhaps they were among the very ones who needed Christ’s touch the most. The kind of healing they required had the potential to create healings far beyond a broken hand or restored hearing; this was the kind of healing that impacted everything and everyone the hand ever touched thereafter. To think that Jesus knew the hearts of everyone he touched and still loved them enough to heal them. He had to have known there were people for whom a healing touch may not change anything, but such is his love for us. His healing provided hope that things could be different!

Today Christ doesn’t see just what is, but what should have been when we were formed in our mother’s womb, and what still could be because of the future he has spoken over us.

It’s not too late until we draw our last breath, because our Father loves each of us always and anyway. Imagine…He loves us as much as he loves his own son.

Wile E. Coyote, Simon Peter & Me: A Christmas Story

[Note: This is a long one! And it’s not for everyone; in fact, it may only be for my own edification. Just know that while this post may appear to be a snapshot of discouragement, it’s actually about the ashes from which I anticipate beauty. To paraphrase Rumi, this is my descent from which I plan to rise.]

If you grew up in the Warner Brothers generation, your first physics lesson probably came from Wile E. Coyote. You are not bound by the law of gravity unless and until you look down. Then you crash. Simon Peter combined this lesson with a more powerful – and  authentic – lesson in faith when he took Jesus’s invitation to step out of the boat and walk on water in the midst of a raging and terrifying sea storm. Gravity is a bear if you take your eyes off the One who created the earth & its natural laws and start to look around. Then you get wet.

And me? For as long as I can remember, I believed that I was holding my world in balance, everything held in place by two other laws: The law of motion and the law of cause & effect.  If I did this, then this would happen, and as long as everything kept moving along, everything was fine. I truly believed I could keep myself safe by maintaining careful control over everything.

I need that!

  • Say the right things and be seen as bright, competent & clever; always offer to help, and I’d be liked.
  • Keep all the bills paid on time and in full because that’s what responsible grown-ups do.
  • Make sure the family has food to eat, and they stay healthy and happy.
  • Work harder than everyone else at work and be rewarded with respect, raises, better opportunities and preference.
  • Above all…Don’t make a mistake!

However, I’ve been in the process of having any of the identification or security I thought I had ripped and stripped away from me.

Old Hag by TurnerMohan on DeviantArtTo be brutally honest, I am a 55 year old woman who stands 5′ 1″ and weighs about 225 lbs. Both of my knees are in great pain, so I waddle. I also lose my balance easily, so my gait is unsure and cautious. When I’m tired, excited or frustrated, my speech is slurred. My left shoulder, being dislocated, fails to fill out my clothes the way it once did, so it’s not unusual for my shirt to be nearly falling off my shoulder. I seldom notice my bra strap showing because I’m busy trying to stay focused and on task. The hair on the top of my head is so thin that there’s as much skin showing as there is hair, but I finally gave up wearing wigs because they insinuated a deeper shame than my thin hair did. And in the last few months, I’ve lost two crowns – both of which are right up front.

I am not attractive to look at. And some days I feel a deep sympathy for anyone who has to look at me. (Not really, but pretty much.) I’ve given up my driver’s license in the best interest of everyone because my brain and body don’t work they used to.

I wonder what people see when they look at me. Do they see a woman who’s had too much to drink staggering through the store? Or perhaps a “special needs” woman who needs to hold someone’s hand? I’m confident they don’t see an intelligent, clever woman whose wit puts others at ease and makes them laugh. I’m sure they don’t see a woman in pain who’s absolutely terrified of falling. I do know they no longer see a woman who is quick to flash a wide open smile at a total stranger because it just bubbles up out of her spirit.

I’ve whined, complained and explained so much of this in previous posts. It would be simple enough to say I have been a big baby, but in all fairness I don’t think I’m all that different than most people. In the past 12 months, I’ve dealt with a lot of unknowns that, quite frankly, I can’t even Google. If I can’t Google it, I can’t research it. If I can’t research it (for at least 36 days in a row until 2 am each day), I can’t understand it. If I can’t understand it, I can’t control it. And if I can’t control it, I am vulnerable. 

I can’t bear to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a sure opening for pain, fear and discomfort. And I am no match for pain, fear and discomfort. This last year has changed me more than any other year.

So now, I have to reset my idea of who I am. Who is LaRonda now?

Festival oder eine Person zu erinnern oder um zu akzeptieren @ 宁馨 郁金香 éI know the answer is that I am a beloved child of El Roi, the God who sees me. I know I am loved by a Father who is merciful and gracious and who longs to bless me for his glory. I know that when my Father looks at me, he doesn’t see a short, fat, toothless woman who can’t walk straight; he sees the child he formed in my crazy mother’s womb, a child he chose before I could choose him, a child who now stands before him covered in the purifying, sacrificial blood of his son, Jesus Christ, redeemed and his.

That should be enough, shouldn’t it?   

But it’s not. What I know and what I feel are often mutually exclusive. I need to feel affirmation, appreciation and affection.

I can’t be the only one who didn’t get those things from their family or had them kept away from them as a means of punishment and control or had them horribly perverted.

I can’t be the only one who bartered herself for attention or affection, hoping to be “picked” by anyone, even if it was closing time at the bar and I was the last girl standing, feeling like the last kid left to be picked for a miserable game of dodgeball. Again.

I can’t be the only one who wanted a baby, thinking that if no one could love her, she’d give birth to someone who would love her – because that child wouldn’t know any better – for a few years at least.

At 32 years old, I was still hoping for a man who would keep me. I wasn’t delusional enough to expect love. I would be content with someone who would just help me make sure my needs and the needs of my daughter were met – shelter, food, clothing and – eventually – wifi. In turn, I would do a good job of making sure we had groceries in the fridge, all the bills were taken care of, and I didn’t embarrass him among the people he knew. That’s when God gave me John. And since God always seemed to know what he was doing, then I figured John would keep me, and I would secure my position by doing for him everything that needed to be done.

For 22 years, I’d genuinely thought that was the arrangement. Then God’s renovation project came along. I came to the end of 2019 worn down and tired, as was John. Everything we thought we had – decent insurance, acceptable health, enough money at the end of the month, a secure relationship – all fell away bit by bit. 

Just after the middle of December, our “Night before Christmas” looked like this:

  • My husband had a $55 bonus and some rebates from Menards.
  • His weekly paycheck was half of what we were expecting because he didn’t get paid for Thanksgiving after all.
  • I didn’t know if I was even getting a bonus.
  • We had no savings account.
  • We had no credit left, and we couldn’t have afforded higher or additional payments even if we did.
  • We had already advanced our checking reserve in full.
  • And we hadn’t gotten anything for our daughters yet.

This is EXACTLY how I feel sometimes_ Why is creativity so exhausting_I was looking at our balance and the carefully maintained Excel spreadsheet that listed our bills, due dates, monthly payments due and balances (you thought I was kidding about control, huh?). When there was no reconciliation to be found, I turned everything off.

In utter defeat, I turned to John and admitted, “I can’t.”

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t do anything. I can’t pay this bill. I can’t find a way to get the money to pay it. I can’t tell you how we’re going to buy anything you can’t get with $55 cash and Menards rebates to give to our girls for Christmas. By the way, Santa’s off the payroll so you’re getting nothing, and all I want for Christmas is some Xanax.”

I’d like to say a Christmas miracle happened that night as the miserly old neighbor drove 12 miles in the moonlit snow on a sled that was full of food and gifts for our starving family, but it’s not true:

  • Our neighbor is just next door, so it would have been silly for him to drive 12 miles simply for the sake of a good story. 
  • It wasn’t snowing – which was uncharacteristic of southern Minnesota.
  • The only thing our neighbor has ever blessed us with is the excess leaves that Mother Nature (that’s what we call his trusty leaf blower) happened to leave in our yard. A yard with no tree. 
  • We were far from starving, unless not having enough dip for the chips counted.
  • Our daughters are 18 and 27 years old. They each have their own jobs and can buy what they want for themselves. As could we, and we had; hence, some of our debt.
  • None of us even needed anything!

So now that it’s too late for me to say, “Long story, short”, follow me down the spiral  recap (because I obviously like bullet-pointed lists):

  • Big changes in 2019
  • History of low self-esteem with a crumbling facade
  • Hopelessly low expectations of a marriage
  • Dismal pre-Christmas/year-end
  • I CAN’T!
  • Wile E. Coyote and Simon Peter

So…the laws of nature! Wile E. Coyote looked down and fell. Peter looked around and began to sink. And I made the mistake of looking in. I’d counted and recounted all the things that had gone wrong that year ad nauseum! I was terrified of losing what little grip or control I had on things. And I crumbled.

The Whaa-ambulance came to a sudden, screeching stop at year’s end, and everything that wasn’t tied down was hurled forward into the new year. In the stress of the mess, I questioned everything – my life, my job, my marriage. I looked to find what had gone so wrong – so I could make sure it never happened again. After sorting through the debris, labeling and cross-referencing it, I came to this irrefutable (and most obvious to me, of course),  conclusion: It was clearly my husband’s fault. What a relief it was to be able to finally wrap up this mystery and pit a big bow on it in time for Christmas. 

I’d gone to a lot of effort to create a nice family letter, and I’d asked him to do one simple thing – just address the envelopes. But he didn’t do that. I don’t know how our marriage had lasted as long as it had because I obviously couldn’t rely on him to do anything I asked. Ever! Furthermore, if he didn’t want to help me, we each may as well go to our own metaphorical corners and JUST EAT WORMS!! (Except it was nastier – a lot more Dr. Phil than SNL.)

But I submit that there may have been a Christmas miracle in there after all.

After the curtain closed on my personal drama, I sat down with my husband. I explained to him that I didn’t think I had ever asked for much from him and that all I’d ever expected from him was to keep me, not walk away from me, and meet the most basic of my needs – like addressing 10 envelopes! Then I asked him what he had expected from our marriage. John simply said, “I just wanted someone who would love me.”

I thought that was a pretty stupid thing to say! Hadn’t I taken care of him? 

I had, actually. If it needed to be paid, organized, remembered or resolved, I had probably been the one to take care of it. I’d handled the lion’s share of anything done in the kitchen. To be fair, I cannot take credit for any cleaning! But God revealed to me over the next few days that the one thing I hadn’t done is love my husband. John had given me what he needed – love – yet he was so afraid of not meeting my standards and he had a such a stronghold of anxiety that he wasn’t as confident as I was at doing. And I needed some doing. What’s more, I realized that every single day that John had told me he loved me over the past 22 years, those three words had been lost in translation because I really didn’t understand love for the sake of love.

It’s time for some changes, I think. It’s time to let go of so many of the beliefs I adopted early in life, beliefs that once served as strong survival skills but have been keeping me from enjoying what’s been mine all along. I am lovable and loved – by my husband, my two daughters, my friends and a gracious Father. It’s time to take comfort and joy in that love. No more keeping score.

CAREFUL! THAT’S STILL TENDER.

I know I haven’t posted anything for awhile. I’ve been busy and a bit under the weather, but the greater fact is that I’ve been hovering around a thought and can’t seem to find a place to grab hold of and land with. It’s not so much that I can’t find anything to write about. I have too much! And entire posts are beautifully composed in my head between one o’clock and three o’clock in the morning; by sunrise, it’s nothing but wisps of disconnected words. So it’s time to put something on paper and start…something…anything.

I’ll start here, because it’s where I seem to keep returning to:

A few months ago, I read Lysa TerKeurst’s post, “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do,” and found a single sentence that I’ve meditated on every day since:

“We have to stop the bleeding from the deepest wound.”

Every. Single. Day! I’ve held this thought in my hand, turning it over, feeling it’s texture, weight and shape with my fingers. I’ve carried it in my pocket so I could just touch it once in a while. I’ve sat it on my desk at work so I could glance at it between emails. I’ve laid it on a shelf at home so I can look at it in a different light during the day. Sometimes, I think I’m looking for something that really isn’t there. Other times, I am certain I’ll find treasure in it.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I saw something! I was struggling with something in my marriage that has come up often enough in the past 22 years to really get on my last nerve. (No naming, no shaming, no details. You can fill in your own blanks!) The important things to know are:

  1. My husband did “his thing.”
  2. I reacted doing “my thing.” (Maybe it was the other way around or simultaneous, I don’t know!)
  3. We survived it.

But somewhere in the middle of it, I had some insight into Lysa’s charge. I realized I was ferociously protecting what may be my deepest wound. Alarms were being triggered and my greatest fears were at full attention, ready to protect that wound:

  1. I am terrified of not having control, especially if it means my only hope is in someone I’m not sure I can trust to be as strong as I need them to be. (This actually includes everyone I know. Because I have some serious trust issues!)
  2. I am terrified of asking for help because it would hurt too much to be denied or it might cost too much to accept help.
  3. I am terrified of finding out that I am, after all, truly alone and insignificant. Even worse, feeling the shame of daring to believe I could be loved.

Now, understand that these fears are always there, just under the surface, ready at a moment’s notice. So they’re nothing new. And any wound I have – from the most superficial scratch to the deepest gaping wound – is always there. But most of the time, I’m so busy trying to stand still  and steady as every feeling, every anxiety storms around me that I simply allow it and wait until it’s over.

I passively let it happen and wait for it to be over. I always have.

I’ve been in therapy off and on since I was 21, and I’m pretty well aware of what my “issues” are. The fact remains that I have felt powerless to do anything about it because at the very core, I have always and only seen myself as inherently unlovable. It’s like having a shirt that is so infused with a stench that no amount of Febreeze, vinegar, tomato juice or harsh chemicals can remove the smell.

you can't go backWhich brings me to today. I’m in my 50’s and have lived my life as a defective mother, wife, employee, friend. Not that I’ve been especially bad at these roles. I just haven’t been as good at them as I’d like to have been. I feel like I’ve cheated those I’ve lived with and myself. So therapy seemed like the appropriate action plan because, you see, I was defective. I was damaged. I didn’t work right. I needed to be fixed.

How did I know? Because shame was the sweater I wore to keep me warm. I spent most of the first 21 years of my life being reminded that I was optional. The person on whom I depended for food, clothes and shelter reminded me regularly that if I didn’t like it, I could leave.

I knew she was mentally “off”. And as I grew older, I came to see just how crazy it was to live in agreement with a woman who was mentally ill. Even crazier was that ultimately I was agreeing with a mentally ill woman who was dead!

What I’m unraveling now is the fact that I thought I had only two options:

  1. Be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, or
  2. Don’t be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, although I had no idea what that looked like.

But now I know that I was missing an option:

3. Be the person God created me to be.

And this option comes with an instruction manual and a love letter!

1df2fa83d020d50c90e390b7d79e1d68Believe me when I say that I do not want to write in the blood from my deepest wound. I want you to know that if you’ve been misused or abused, I know it hurts. But I want more than anything to write from the other side of pain. I desperately want to turn to you and say, “It is possible! You can get here from there. And it’s so much better here where grace abounds and mercy is freely given!”

But here’s the thing: I’m not on the other side yet. I’m writing this journey in “real time.” After all these years, I’m ready to be healthy. I want to be whole. And I don’t care if I have scars…as long as I can stop the bleeding from my deepest wound.

 

BUT WHY?

Very little is more frustrating than doing something simply for the sake of doing it. Many years ago, I attended a friend’s baby shower. I took my gift to the gift table and handed it to the gift table manager. She was quick to point out that the accompanying card didn’t have my friend’s name on it and suggest that I do that. Since there was only one mother-to-be at the shower, I hadn’t expected this social construct to be important. But in order for the gift table manager to have a fulfilling purpose beyond receiving and strategically stacking gifts, checking envelopes for names to add some value to an otherwise so-so responsibility. Or maybe she just really, really believed names should be on envelopes!

Sometimes, traditions get passed from one generation to the next. You know the story of the young mother asking her mother why she was always sure to cut off each end of the ham for dinner. Her mother didn’t really know why, so she asked her grandmother, who settled the matter saying, “Because none of my pans were big enough to hold a full ham.”

Simon Sinek examines this kind of thinking in this 5-minute short-cut version of Start With Why. And, yes, he focuses on business training, but when he says:

SINEK - WHY

When we look at it this way, our church families are challenged to determine why we do what we do.

It’s so tempting to look at mega churches and feel a twinge of jealousy when our own small parking lot and pew seats remain sparsely filled. What do we do when popular churches offer spectacles more electrifying than Hamilton and all the members are on their feet in a deafening praise, while we have a generation of grandparents and great-grandparents, a smattering of young families, and teens with a very short attention span?

The harvest Jesus talked about is still out there, always out there, until God gives the nod to Jesus that it’s end-game time. So…

whay-church-should-be-e1561400496199.jpgWhy do we have church? Why do we open the doors, call for volunteers and pay for building maintenance? Why do we have coffee and doughnuts available? Why do we congregate and sing together? Why do our pastors prepare a new sermon every week and our boards get together to plan?

Why? We aren’t a business. The offering isn’t a cover charge.

Why did the field workers who got hired late in the day get paid as much as the workers who put in a full, grueling day? Because there was still work to be done. It absolutely must be done because we’re running out of time!

People are finding comfort from the wrong things. People are living one day after another without knowing how very loved they are by the one Father that will never leave them or forsake them. People are dying without salvation.

Certainly, there is plenty of work to be done before the sun sets. There are people who need to be loved into salvation.

WHAT IF CHURCH

What if all we ever have are the members of our small church to be the hands and feet of God? Here’s what I see in my church family:

  • A generation with years of faith-building trials, heartache, blessings and wisdom that can only come from a long life. A generation that will not be here forever. Their hearts are soft enough to be pierced by the word of God; but their confidence in a good God is heard in their fervent prayers and felt by their gentle hands.
  • A generation of young parents who have chosen to raise their children to trust God, appreciate Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit, and love others. Their young ones won’t be young as long as we think they’ll be. Soon, they’ll be…
  • Our youth, the ones who will elect the people who will determine the legislation that affect all of us. They’ll create and run business that will set standards of trust and transparency. They will be the thermostat for their community, their state, their country. They are the ones to whom we will entrust the harvest we don’t have the time to finish.

I think we need to know why we do church. I think we need to determine if we need to keep putting a name on a card when it can only go to one person. Maybe we need to figure out why we keep cutting the ends off our hams. There are far too many souls out there waiting to be loved into the kingdom of God for us to be wasting our resources on anything that doesn’t help get them there.

COME HOME

I ended my last post with “You are so loved!” I tell my family that often. They give me so much joy that I could never not love them. But this morning, after I’d texted my teenage daughter that she was ‘so loved’, Holy Spirit nudged me and said, “So are you. You and the rest of the world are so loved that God gave his only son, that whoever believes in the son will not perish but will have everlasting life. We are all so loved by our Father. He wants everyone to just come home where they belong! He already has a place at the table with our name on it.

That’s a pretty decent WHY!

Let’s pray that as fishers of men, we are as able to pull in a net bulging to the point of breaking as we are to trust Christ to tell us where to throw the net out and that we’re willing to throw it out at his word no matter how many times we’ve already tried or how tired we are.

And remember…you are so loved!

 

 

 

 

 

OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

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Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.

SOME CONDITIONS MAY APPLY

Do you ever read the small print? I don’t, and I started to question the wisdom of my nonchalance recently. Probably the area I’m the least cautious is in downloading apps and songs. Do I agree? Well, sure I do! I mean it’s not like I’m agreeing to donate a kidney to the 821st person I’m a match for.

No, really. I’m not agreeing to anything like that am I? Let me find my reading glasses!

signhereI’m not overly worried about what I’m agreeing to, but I’ve learned that I need to pay closer attention to what my expectations are.

Not too long ago, my family decided to go out for half-price apps. I was thrilled that we’d be able to enjoy a treat that would not otherwise be affordable. For once, momma didn’t have to say ‘No.’

Some of you are probably way ahead of me!

Sure enough, not all apps were half-price. And momma ended up paying a lot more than she’d expected.

The Holy Spirit reminded me of this while I was considering what God’s word says about prayer. Mark 11:24 tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Now that sounds like a winning opportunity! Unfortunately, it’s not really how it works, is it? There is literally a limit to how many people can have the same job or the same spouse.

So what’s the catch? Because I know a few people who have been praying hard for the same thing for a couple of decades. They’ve prayed fervently and with unshakable confidence that God will provide, only to feel disappointment and heartache.

The book of John actually has quite a few verses in which Jesus promises his disciples that whatever they asked for in his name would be given so that the Father would be glorified. A sort of letter of righteous reference or holy hall pass. All we need to do is say the magic words – “in Jesus’ name” – and we’re good, right?

appetizersBut I kept thinking about those half-price apps that weren’t half-price after all. Perhaps the way to get what we want is to make sure it’s on “the list.” I knew a guy who couldn’t understand why God didn’t bless him by winning the lottery. Afterall, God knew how he’d use it. (Which is probably the precise reason he never won!)

The point is that in God’s kingdom, many of the things we pray for are so very far off God’s radar. It’s not that he doesn’t love us or want to bless us, because I believe he takes great joy in seeing our smile! And I’ve been blessed by tiny things that happen very quickly but are also very intimate. Something that makes me smile because I know it was from my Father. He thought about me.

Actually, I think prayer has more to do with God’s thoughts being higher than our thoughts, his ways being higher than our ways. Face it, God has a few more years of experience than we do, and he has a much better view of the horizon. Quite frankly, he’s probably a little more concerned about the spiritual battle that’s claiming souls than he is about who wins the Super Bowl. (Just sayin’.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been praying that I can see others the way God sees them – including myself. I’m praying that I can love others with the love, grace and mercy with which God loves them – and me. I’m pretty sure those are good things to want from my Father. And if I can see others the way God does, I suspect I’ll have a better idea of what’s on “the list.”

Found my reading glasses! And now I’m hungry.

 

READ ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY?

As far back as I can recall – at least as soon as we were required to do book reports in school – I discovered there was one thing I could do to minimize my effort and maximize my grade. I most clearly recall using this technique when I had a book report due on one of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. [Fair warning: If you’re a teacher, this may make you cringe.]

I don’t remember if it was because I hadn’t allowed myself the time to read or if I’d preferred to not read, but I had a book report due and little time left in which to do it. I think it was my mother who suggested it first. I read the summary on the back of the book, chewed it up a bit, and regurgitated it in a form that my teacher actually liked well enough to give me an A.

I became so skilled at synthesizing information, that I did it all the way through college. Although, in college, I probably spent more time researching commentaries, reviews and critiques on the assigned reading than I would have if I’d actually read it.

This might not seem like a particularly egregious habit – unless I confess that I was an English major who aspired to teach children the wonders of literature. (I know.) To be fair, if a degree had been available in researching literature, I’d have gotten a doctorate in it and been a very happy camper!

I did know better!  When I actually read the material, I fell in love with the words, the subtle nuances and rhythm of a sentence, the symbolism, the art with which a character was unfolded. It could be beautiful…but it was time consuming.

I’ve done the same thing with the word of God. I didn’t see a problem with it, though. After all, isn’t that what church is all about – listening to a preacher tell you about God, sharing the big stories in the Bible. Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath – they’re lessons that teach you that God is big and in charge, and you should be obedient to him and kind to others.

I had no idea what I was missing.

Fun fact about LaRonda: When I was younger, I fantasized about reckless passion. I imagined reading a beautiful love letter in which someone described how very much they loved me, that they yearned to be with me every chance they had, that they would die for me, built a home for me and, (this was added as I got older and learned about expenses) once they’d finished the construction and paid the mortgage off, would come back to get me so I could live there with him forever. What a romantic fantasy!

However, instead of actually reading the letter, I left it in the envelope on a table where I could see it, taking comfort in the fact that I knew it was a love letter. When friends came to visit and would invariably ask about the envelope, I’d say, “That? Oh, that’s my love letter. Yes…. Isn’t it wonderful?” Naturally, I’d say it in a soft, whimsical way, trailing off to insinuate an intimate mystery that only I and the one who loved me could understand.

But this isn’t simply the fantasy of a silly girl. This is the Gospel. It’s the greatest love letter ever written. It’s about a reckless and passionate relationship that God wants to have with us. I had been content with hearing about God. I had not been hearing from God, and God had a lot to say…to me.

During his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. He asked them who others said he was. There was a variety of answers, but the one he was longing to hear was that he was Immanuel – God with us. If we knew the Son, we knew the Father. He was the part of the trinity who agreed to a back-up plan for our reconciliation with our Creator before we were created.

669a0d1e281b953b71df9ab0cf423f5cWhich begs the question of Immanuel, “So who do you say I am?”

I know the answer I hope to hear, but I can have a pretty ugly heart and a fairly judgmental spirit. I also have have a great fear of rejection, so I prepare myself for the worst. I know, though, that if I believe he loves me, then he loves all of his creation and expects me to, as well.

So, I’ve been asking God to help me see people as he sees them, so I can love them the way he loves them because I don’t have a natural inclination toward grace and mercy.

To be fair, though, I don’t like myself all that much either. In fact, from the first time I heard that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, I was convinced of one thing. My neighbors were screwed.

So I was surprised to realize recently that the first person I would see with grace and mercy would be me. As a child of God. I am lovedanyway and always. And I am lovable. There is nothing in this person whom God created that disqualifies me from being cherished and beloved; if by no one else, then by God himself. And that understanding shows me what it feels like to be flawed and loved again and again. And that feeling helps me understand why it’s so vital for me to treat others with the grace and mercy that helps them stop feeling “less than.” And that understanding largely comes from reading the ultimate love letter to the world from the greatest Lover we’ll ever know.

Hmmm…Maybe there’s hope for my neighbors, after all.

 

 

 

MORE MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

In my previous post, we looked at how we can handle those things – and people – we don’t like. You can catch up here if you haven’t read it yet.

So what does social media have to do with books and recipes with mushrooms?

Inclusion and Exclusion.

It would be easy enough to discuss being kind to others. As Christians, we can take a cue from Christ and be kind to others. Heck, there are plenty of people who aren’t Christians who are kind to others! But there’s another side to the equation to that. (Don’t worry! This isn’t a math problem. I’m not nearly that clever or cruel.)

I think we can take kindness a step further. Very simply, we don’t have to share every thought we have! Or as George Washington advised Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton:

talk less smile more

I can be incredibly insecure at times. I feel especially anxious when someone avoids me or doesn’t speak to me, because one of my “punishments” growing up was to not be acknowledged or spoken to for up to three days at a time. (I was talked about, but not to.) But that’s not something anyone but my family – and now you – know enough about to be sensitive to it. And even if someone knew enough to be sensitive to it, there are those who would exploit it because they have the right to say whatever they want – whether I like it or not.

I am also really self-conscious about my thick waistline and thin hair. I absolutely hate being in photos – so much so that I cried for most of the day after seeing myself in all my monstrosity in a company photo. Words like disgusting, fat, stupid, and unacceptable were on a continuous loop in my head. I would imagine some of you have felt at least a bit of embarrassment, rejection or shame in your life, so I know I’m not alone.

you don't get to decide.jpgVulnerability can be so painful.

But it’s so easy to forget that others can feel embarrassment, rejection or shame, too. We forget how much better compassion can feel. And yet, some of us subscribe to the “misery loves company” philosophy and figure if they’re going down, they’re taking someone with them. They manage to compound someone else’s shame by excluding them from their customized paradigm by making them “less than”.

Christ didn’t come to us to save those of us who don’t sin as badly as “those people” sin. In fact, the offer of salvation is still available, albeit for a limited time. We all want compassion, mercy and grace. We don’t deserve it, but we want it

thumper

We’ve heard John 3:16 often enough that even a non-Christian  – especially if they’re a fan of Tim Tebow – would know it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

How wonderful to know that we have hope, that we are set apart. But John 3:17 reminds us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

It’s simple enough for a child to understand, really. What we don’t do is every bit as important as what we do. What we don’t say can more than what we do say. Maybe we could be quiet sometimes.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be discerning. But embarrassing an overweight passenger isn’t discerning. It’s shaming, and it’s not necessary. I doubt this passenger wasn’t hearing anything she hadn’t already told herself! And there were probably a fair number of passengers who were relieved that they hadn’t been seated next to her. In fact, the only difference between them and the vocal passenger may have been small and simple: they didn’t humiliate a fellow human being and she did.

Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU
Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). The flip side is this: Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. This isn’t “spiritual”; it’s kind and decent.

Now, I’m still not willing to make recipes that include mushrooms or read a book I don’t find interesting. I suppose I can at least try read the rest of a devotional that calls me to do what I don’t really want to do. But if God loves someone as much as He loves me, it seems only right that I try to love them, too. And if I can’t love them, I can at least I can be quiet.

MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

I have a couple of things that I need to confess:

  • I ignore any recipe that requires mushrooms.
  • When I don’t like the first few pages of a book, I simply won’t read it.
  • I don’t care how sick I am, I will not take Alka Seltzer if it goes in a glass of water.
  • I take a pass on any devotionals that even hint at something I really don’t want to do. (You know the ones, right?)

im not arguingFor the most part, this list is pretty harmless, right?

Right?

Recently, I heard a story that is all too common today. Apparently, a passenger on a flight didn’t care to be seated next to a fat person, a fact she made abundantly clear to anyone near her. She had a belief paradigm in which fat people on a plane didn’t fit.

I came across another story along the same lines. (They’re not hard to find, folks!) This was a pretty transparent, well-articulated letter that highlighted the shame felt by most people who have ever been singled out and treated as “less than”.

It broke my heart. Not because it was written by an obese person or the fact that I understood all too well what it felt like to believe you were literally taking up more space than you should. It broke my heart because the treatment of the writer was both unkind and unnecessary.

As a person who likes to share every thought that pops into my head – and a few that take the express lane past the Does That Really Need to be Said? pit stop – I know how satisfying it can be to say whatever you think and how very hard it can be to hold your tongue. Just as every single teacher I had from Kindergarten through high school.

In fact, just last night, I was in a pretty foul mood after work, and my husband and daughter heard all about it when I got home.  When I decided it was time to stop ranting, some anger still sputtered out, much like the coffee machine does after it dispenses coffee. I grumbled, “I need to calm down. I want to write about kindness!” (I know! Right?)

they'd all be right
I’ve had this on my fridge for a long time! Guess which one is me.

Most of that post was ditched this morning when I began to consider that maybe what we don’t do is as important as what we do.

God is all about balance. Christ demonstrated that. Every time he healed someone, it was every bit as much about asking the religious leaders why He shouldn’t heal someone as the fact that someone’s mind and body should be restored. I have no doubt that some of them were what their culture would call ‘undeserving.’

If there’d been a show of hands for who in the crowd of 5,000 men (plus their wives and children) should be healed, “those people” wouldn’t have been healed. Jonah had a really hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in Ninevah. Today, we have a hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in our lives, don’t we?

And doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of “those people” in our lives? Our coworkers, the government, the customers at the grocery store, the drivers on the highway, the people we are connected to through social media…They’re everywhere, and they get on our last nerve!

What gives any of them the right to be treated kindly? To be shown compassion? To be forgiven?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Except God’s grace. The same grace that we are afforded. And before you think, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but…”, think about all the times you’ve seen yourself get ugly about someone else. Yes, some times it is a righteous anger. But more often than not, it’s more about feeling justified.

We want what we want! We’ve grew up with the conveniences of refrigeration and automobiles – just two of the things that gave our families free time. Then we got fast food, and we got what we wanted right now. And then Burger King told us that we could have it our way. Today, social media allows us to create our very own truth bubble by subscribing to what we believe and blocking anything that doesn’t agree with our truth.

We are able to communicate with millions of people around the world and to access a ridiculous amounts of information, which we can customize to our liking. But instead of creating a sense of community with a variety of cultures by identifying the things we have in common, I think it creates a very egocentric mindset. If there’s something that doesn’t fit into our customized truth, we reject it. That doesn’t make us bad, though.

However, I suspect – and I could be wrong – that this customization lays the foundation for creating the culture of offense we have today. When I think my thoughts are better founded and my comforts are more important than someone else’s or my rights are superior to someone else’s, I can simply take offense. I become self-righteous. I begin to pick and choose who I will love, tolerate, affirm and forgive. That means that there are some of “those people” who won’t show up on my radar – because I eliminate them. It’s not something new, but now we’re able to dislike and disagree with people whom our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have access to.

So what does this have to do with recipes with mushrooms and books? I’ll tell you tomorrow. Feel free to type your guess in the comments below!

 

DO YOU LIKE ME? CHECK YES OR NO

Hand-written notes have been replaced by text messages. Still, there is one question we want an answer to, something held deeply in our hearts that we want clarified with a single word either YES or NO.

But whether the note was secretly passed in class or texted, the anxiety of waiting for an answer from the guy you were crushing on this week was dreadful!

yes or no.jpg

You’ve just exposed yourself. You put your heart out there and you’re vulnerable.

What if you get a NO?

What if the suspicions you’ve held onto every day to this day are confirmed?

What if you learn that you are, after all, quite ordinary, unlovable and absolutely not important?

One morning, I was dealing with some serious feelings of unworthiness. I worried I may not have any value in this world after all.

Yeah, I know the word of God tells me I’m precious and loved and important, but it’s hard to feel that deep in your gut sometimes, isn’t it?

Later that morning, I saw a tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda that made me feel so much better. Trust me, the irony or misplaced appreciation was not lost on me. Lin-Manuel Miranda I trust; God, not so much.

linLet Lin-Manuel Miranda – someone I’ve never met nor corresponded with – tell me I’m important and I’m ready to share it on Facebook with enthusiasm. (Which I did.)

(Look at this! Isn’t it inspiring?! No, he doesn’t know me, but….)

Have God reassure me that he loves me because He created me with a purpose in mind and sacrificed His son in order to have a relationship with him….not so enthusiastic.

So often, I’ve wanted a sign or a handwritten note that shows me He’s there and that he loves me. I want something tangible that I can look at when I’m insecure and need reassurance. I want something I can keep in a secret place only I know about, a place where I can go when I want to be alone with the comfort of the words written by someone who thinks I’m important when when I think no one does.

Then I realize that my Father – the one who loves me always and anyway – not only left me a love note; he wrote a whole book about his love for me. And He thinks you’re pretty special, too!xoxo god