On Miss Scarlett and Psalm 27

I really did want to be Melanie Hamilton.

In spite of her earning the jealous wrath of Scarlett O’Hara (this is all from Gone With the Wind, of course) and unknowingly earning epithets like “mealy-mouthed ninny,” Miss Melly impressed me with her strength and her kindness, even when her life wasn’t going well. Scarlett, I felt, was too selfish, too manipulative, too quick with her anger and her scheming. (On the other hand, part of me still has a sneaking admiration for a woman who can see a new gown in old velvet draperies…and has the panache to wear them.)

As a child I respected Melanie and wanted to emulate her. As I’ve gotten older, I know I’ve grown away from the “me against the world” attitude that dominated my youth. I’ve worked harder at friendships, sought reconciliation and forgiveness in my relationships and tried to grow in grace as I’ve walked with God.

For all my self-improvement, however, I still suspect that deep inside I’m more like Scarlett: prideful, singular of focus, selfish, easily angered, happy only when I get my way. She comes out at the most inconvenient times, generally when I’m feeling weak or threatened.

Lately I’m feeling weak and threatened.

I am walking (or being dragged, kicking and screaming) through a season of not knowing what God is doing—not knowing what direction to take. I have sought Him with prayers and fastings, but have come to the end of myself…and my faith. The direction I believe I have been given makes no sense. This is beyond frightening.

And Miss Scarlett returns.

“Take control!” she says. “You know you can’t depend on anybody but yourself.” “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

(Okay, well, there’s still food on my table…but the fear is there, nonetheless.)

And then there are the well-meaning friends, who tell me that God is “refining” me, or that “God helps those who help themselves,” or if I “just had more faith,” the way would be clear.

It is interesting to me that none of them say what I believe the Holy Spirit is saying to me right now. It’s from Psalm 27.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.

Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.

One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.

For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”

Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not leave me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation.

When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.

Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.

Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

Now, I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before and I’m quite sure I’ll be wrong again. But for today, at least, I am just going back to waiting on the Lord, and asking Him to strengthen my heart. Asking Him to show me His goodness “in the land of the living.” Asking Him to give me courage.

Because the alternative will turn me into someone I don’t want to be.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

“Cornerstone” by Hillsong

We did an amazing new song this morning during worship. It’s a great remake of an old hymn. Still can’t get through it without crying. : )

Link | Posted on by | 1 Comment

On labyrinths and finding the way

I recently spent a day with God in a quiet place. This year has been difficult and full of changes and I know more are coming but right now I cannot see my way. So I spent time praying in a chapel and walking pretty pathways, and I came upon a labyrinth.

Now, I freely confess, I’ve never gotten the labyrinth thing. On this day I look at it and I think, Really? Come on, I can just step over the little rock walls and walk straight to the center. Seems a little esoteric.

I think I hear God chuckle.

So I proceed to the starting point and take a deep breath. Okay, Lord. This seems silly to me but I’m open to what You might want to teach me through this thing.

I start walking. And immediately I notice something.

At first the labyrinth seems pretty straightforward. (And yes, in my head I hear a little Munchkin voice saying, “Follow the yellow brick road.”) I mean, it’s one path, right? How challenging can it be?

But when I step into it I immediately realize that, while it is organized, it isn’t exactly predictable. Because I’m not starting along the outside of the circle, which seems like the logical way it should go. No, I am immediately surrounded by other sections of the path. I can’t readily see exactly where I am going. The twists and turns of the path surprise me. But I am committed now.

Image

I look down. It is reassuring to see other footprints. Others have come this way before me; others will come after. I may be alone right now, but other friends have walked this same pathway.

I can see other sections of the path as I travel. I don’t know when I will get to these sections, but I know the path is singular, so I will get there. The path has a beginning and it has an end. But the path is not a maze. I don’t have to worry about getting lost, taking a wrong turn or coming face to face with a dead end.

Through much of the journey I can see my goal: the center of the labyrinth. But when the path turns, often I find myself actually walking away from my target. Still, I must trust the path, even when it seems I am walking in the wrong direction. If I turn around I will find myself back where I started.

Sometimes I stop in my journey along the path. I listen to the song of a bird or a rattle of wind through the trees, or to watch a lizard dart under a rock. Sometimes I fix a stone that has fallen out of place, so other travelers will find the path easier. But I never alter the route.

I like it that the pathway is a guide, not surrounded by walls. If someone else were here, I could call out encouragement to her as she navigated the path. I am not separated from fellow travelers. But because the way of the path is not marked with evidence of levels of achievement or “graduations,” once she steps into the labyrinth I cannot tell where she is, exactly. I cannot know how far she has traveled or how far she has yet to go. I cannot know what challenges she has met or which she may still face. I just know that, like me, she is learning as she goes, and we will both arrive at our ultimate destination, although maybe not at the same time.

Each traveler’s journey is the same, yet different.

Getting to the center seems almost anticlimactic. A scattering of rocks, a candle or two, dried flowers, a necklace charm, little items with scriptures engraved. Evidence that other travelers have come and gone. Encouragement. Love. I breathe deep and enjoy the sun on my face, enjoy this moment of completion.

But then my eye catches something almost buried in the dirt—a smooth rock. Here? I kneel to pick it up. It has been tumbled and its sharp edges are worn away. The translucent pink inside is clearly visible.

It is beautiful.

And I know it is for me, this rock. It is my gift from God, today—my reward for trusting the path.

My grandmother used to tumble rocks. They didn’t look like much when she first put them in the tumbler, but once they had gone through the process, they were beautiful. Tumbling rocks to perfection requires three things: time, water…and other rocks.

The rocks stay in the tumbler for many days, going over and over, back and forth. The tumbler is dark and noisy and (I’m quite sure) unpleasant inside. Tiny pieces break off of each rock, and the tiny pieces wash against the bigger pieces and slowly, slowly, the imperfections in each are worn away.

I bend down and pick up another rock. It’s a common desert rock—dirt, rough edges, crystals embedded in the chert. I clutch it in my hand and its sharpness bites into my flesh. It is raw, unrefined. It is potential.

And I see the difference. And I seek the difference.

This is my journey.

It will be unpleasant and dark at times and often I will not understand why I’m forced to endure the pain of rubbing up against these sharp, uncomfortable changes. But I will endure. Because my only other option is to stay the way I am. And frankly, that scares me more.

It is only by cooperating with the One Who wears away my rough edges—one agonizing chip at a time—that I will ever become all He wants me to be…all I want to be.

Because all I want to be…is His.

And this journey, this labyrinth—this is the only way to follow. God’s path. The one He ordained for me before time existed, before He had exhaled stars into the void. He knew I would be standing here today, seeking Him, wondering, wandering, confused. I may not understand every turn, I may not always travel the path perfectly, but if I follow, I’ll get there. He will guide my steps, because He has ordained a purpose in every one.

So I will follow, trusting. One step at a time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snCS8iw0x38&feature=related

Nichole Nordeman has a beautiful take on this concept in her song, “River God.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

On the chicken wars

Today I am weary and I just want to rest my head on Jesus’ shoulder. And I am second-guessing this blog post as I second-guess every post.

We have started an Uncivil War in this country. Or, as Billy Joel famously sang, “We didn’t start the fire…” but we are happily throwing gasoline on it instead of water.

I have to laugh at the battlefield, though. Chicken? Really? A thigh here, a pool of giblet gravy over there…

At issue for me is not whether those who oppose Chick-Fil-A have a beef (sorry, couldn’t resist) or whether “free speech” is at jeopardy.

What concerns me more are the long lines of Christians who are perfectly willing to stand up for their rights—when Jesus told us to lay them down.

The ones who believe that Americanism is more important than Christianity, that free speech is more important than loving our neighbor, that being right is more important than being like Christ.

Those of us who willingly travel overseas to help build homes for the poor, but at home vote for policies that turn the poor out on the street.

We seem to be compliant when Jesus asks us to give and help and pray and donate and love, but only as long as it’s on our own terms, as long as these terms don’t involve discomfort or sacrifice.

When Jesus said that we should pray for those who persecute us, He didn’t attach a rider that said, “Only if we can’t fight back.”

He didn’t fight back. He didn’t stand up for His rights, He didn’t call down legions of angels in His defense.

He went to the cross.

And He told us—in no uncertain terms, with no stammering or hedging—that we would have to do the same.

Why does this always surprise us?

Why am I always offended—every single morning—when Jesus asks me to die all over again? Because I freely admit, I am. I have to pray for the grace to give myself to Him all over again.

We refuse the cross, and then we wonder why no one comes to church with us.

But “Thy will be done” was not an afterthought in the Lord’s prayer. I think He knew we’d need it.

We cannot be “a Christian nation.” We cannot because we are not—we are Christian and atheist, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and Wiccan and a hundred colorful variations thereof—and no amount of anger or coercion or Bible-thumping or proof-texting or boycotting or voting rightly will bring those of other faiths to Christ.

The only One Who brings people to Christ is Christ, and He does it through love. And if people who do not know Jesus don’t see Him in His church, in the eyes and the hands and the love and concern of those of us who know Him, they may never see Him.

And we will have to explain why, while our neighbors perished for love, we were eating chicken.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

On Jesus meeting us in our place of need

Just really grateful to Rachel Held Evans for this post, written by a funeral director, that says it all far better than I did. It seemed that Jesus used this post to give me a loving hug just when I needed it most. Profuse thanks to all for your support and kind remarks… and most especially, thanks to our loving Lord.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On restoring and being restored

So I restored the post.

Not because I am standing here in my defiance, raising my fist, saying, “This is my blog and it’s my right!”

My rights are all at the feet of Jesus.

No, I am restoring it because when I first started this blog I made myself a quiet little vow that this would be “warts and all.” I am not what anyone could call a “great saint.” I struggle and I claw and I cry and whine and I make mistakes and apologize and get up and start all over again. Nothing about my life is perfect or ever will be, until Jesus takes me home.

But my attempts to hide my imperfections only make me look silly. My friends know me well enough to know I am not perfect. What I love about that is that somehow y’all still love me anyway.

God keeps answering my questions through all of you and through His Word and through other blog friends; today, it was Ann.

This quote jumped out at me: ”Smith said that family ought to see a man less for what he is, and more for what the man wants to be.  Said that’s called grace. I reckon he’s right.”

I do, too.

Not because I’m into deception; rather, I think often we can encourage each other by focusing on the good, by seeing each other with eyes of faith. When we tell a child she is smart and helpful, this becomes a part of her identity, her pursuit of herself—she wants to be known as smart and helpful. I don’t believe this changes when we become adults. Don’t we all want to be perceived in a good way? Don’t we all seek to change daily for the better—to become kinder, more patient, more giving, more hopeful?

After all, our God “calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). God speaks and things happen, and He calls us to do the same through prayer. So we speak hope and truth and what could be with eyes of faith turned firmly on Christ. We co-create when we pray in alignment with the Spirit of God.

My anger at this other Christian was all about me and my own fear. While I still disagree with him, I realize now I was not seeing him rightly. I was not seeing him with the eyes of grace—the eyes I hope he would look at me with.

The eyes that Jesus looks at me with.

We’re all on the same journey, just in different places. We face our different challenges at different times and we cope with them in radically different ways. This makes it easy to give in to “the pointing finger and malicious talk.”* Even when we stay close to Jesus.

I still haven’t figured out all the answers. But thanks to you all (and Jesus), as I find my faith in my walk restored, maybe I’m on my way to asking better questions.

 

* “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. –Isaiah 58: 6-11

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On misperception and what’s saving my life

This post serves a dual purpose. I’m answering Sarah Bessey’s question, “What is saving your life right now?” and responding to my own action of deleting my “Don’t blog angry” post from earlier this week.

For those who might remember, I posted my disagreement with a fellow Christian who had written and spoken what I felt was some inappropriate “Christian-ese” in the wake of the violence in Aurora.

And yes, I was angry. I sat on that post for 24 hours and prayed and paced the apartment and vented to God and rehearsed all the appropriate scriptures about not letting the sun go down on one’s wrath and letting God be the judge and I was still angry.

This morning I went to God in prayer and I felt His gentle nudge, as if to say, You’ve made your point. Take down the post today.

So I did.

And—finally—I started thinking. Being the introspective type, I often wonder about the source of my strong emotions. So I found myself asking, What was it, exactly, that made me so angry?

What I’ve discovered over the years is that emotions can have a Houdini factor. Often what looks like a straightforward response (grief, love, etc.) will have some other emotion in there, riding shotgun. Or in some cases, one emotion is hiding but totally driving something else. The stampede of anger often is started with a lightning bolt of fear. When the dust settles, no one cleaning up the chaotic aftermath remembers that little cloud hanging low on the horizon.

So I went a-hunting. Why would that incident make me angry? What is the fear that drove this response?

What I discovered is that I am afraid of being pigeonholed into a stereotype. Because I already have been a victim of this type of thinking, I am particularly vulnerable to it. Somewhere deep inside I was thinking, Everyone who knows I am a Christian (which is just about everyone who knows me) will think I agree with this guy, and that I am that way. I’m not.

So I kicked back. Hard.

I stayed away from churches for years because of Jerry Falwell, before I realized that being a Christian didn’t mean I had to be like him, act like him or vote like him. (And given God’s sense of humor—or sense of justice—when it’s time to attend the wedding supper of the Lamb I suspect I’ll be seated right next to him. “Uh, hi Jerry… love your hair.”)

It is easy to be angry, especially when the anger feels justified. (And really, when does anger not feel justified?) And yet, thanks to the media’s propensity for popularizing the outrageous or frightening ‘fringe’ elements of our faith, mainstream Christians are increasingly being misperceived by our secular friends and neighbors. (Just a heads up to those who might be reading: no, not all Christians are Republicans. Not all Christians hate gays and love war. And not all Christians worship wealth.)

The flip side of all this is the Bible, which gives us clear guidelines about how to resolve disagreements. The drawback to this behind-the-scenes method is that rarely does such reconciliation lend itself to neat sound bites for the conflict-hungry media. It also promotes a view among non-Christians that we are “circling the wagons,” unwilling to be transparent. So most of us are left with the impression that the silent majority are just like the outrageous few, or that we all endorse their behavior. (The Muslims faced a similar conundrum after 9-11, a backlash fostered—somewhat ironically—by many western Christians, who happily forwarded inaccurate and condemning e-mails.)

So the silent ones are left with two options: stay silent and risk being misunderstood, or speak out and take hits from our fellow believers for being ‘unbiblical.’

I should take a moment and clarify that I have no desire to be some kind of radical. I have no need to create a schism in the church, nail my Ninety Five Theses to the church door, start a new denomination, or ride through the streets carrying a banner, rallying others to my cause.

I suppose I am just…curious. How does an individual Christian compete with a media-induced mountain of misperception? How do Christians disagree in the public sphere? DO Christians disagree in the public sphere? And how do I deal with the anger and frustration of it all without turning in to The Angry Blogger?

So I am asking you for your thoughts, ideas and responses. And—going back to Sarah’s question—I’m telling you that it is you who are saving my life right now. Thank you, thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments