What Shouldn’t Be

I shouldn’t be here!” my daughter cried out, both angry and devastated that her roller derby team was about to skate for a second time at a tournament she was missing.

My daughter, in black, at a bout earlier in the year.

And true.

She should not have been home.  My own grief and anger rose up as I recalled the event that led to this moment.

How could someone be so negligent?   That Sunday before, on our way home from practice, our car was struck at an intersection.  The young driver was attempting to make a u-turn from the right lane. She was outraged that we happened to be in the left lane at the time. The impact was on my daughter’s side of the car giving her whiplash that left her with a persistent headache.

And that is life. It changes in an instant.

Shortly after our accident it was reported that three men were attacked while standing up for two young women being harassed on a train. How could they have known the aggressive man calling out racial and anti-muslim slurs would turn on them, fatally stabbing two of them?

The lives of their loved ones were forever changed in an instant.  They shouldn’t be here in the shadow of their unspeakable loss.  They shouldn’t have been writing obituaries and speaking with news outlets or planning memorial services.  One of the victims was 23, just 3 years older than my son and the other man, barely into his 50’s.

Why did this happen? An ancient question still asked by so many.

As I consider the reasons, I am reminded Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

Maybe there are things in life that will never make sense, that cannot be understood—the death of a child, a senseless murder, a cancer diagnosis, and yes, even a car accident that, if only temporarily, turns a few weeks up-side down.

Things may not always make sense, but with my faith and trust in God, I know that I will eventually make peace with all the changes life brings.

Praise God, I’m so grateful to be able to witness that same peace rising up in my daughter.

 

A Fat Slice of Humble Pie

A few times a year, I happily accept the invitation to preach at the church I attend.  Sunday morning a few weeks back, as I put the final touches on my sermon, thrilled with the ease at which it came together and ever so proud of the message, I said a little prayer that God might humble me.

Sermons, after all, shouldn’t be about the messenger.  Being in the pulpit isn’t about showcasing one’s speaking skills, or theological genius, or brilliant word-smithing. Preaching is about fading into the background while bringing to the forefront God’s word for God’s people.

Yet, there I was bubbling with pride as I saved my sermon and prepared to send it, reformatted for easy reading, from my laptop to the home computer for printing.  When the file couldn’t be opened, I figured it was a PC to Apple miscommunication.  When I attempted to open it again on my laptop, however, this is what I got:

corrupt file

Crap. I had just 30 minutes before worship, and here was Microsoft Word apologizing because it found a “problem” with the contents of my sermon.  And more than that, the file was “corrupt.”  I wasn’t expecting prayers to be answered like this!

Funny…very funny, God.  I get it.  Perhaps it was not the file, but my heart, that was problematic? Is that what you’re saying?

Uncertain if I should laugh or cry (I’m pretty sure I did both), I anxiously printed the original file, madly highlighted phrases and circled key words to aid my eyes in tracking, and raced to church with literally a minute to spare.  Thankfully with the overload of adrenaline, there was no room in my heart for self-glorification during worship. Until the end of the service, that is.  I found pride starting to resurface as I walked down the isle during the postlude. Maybe it was the smiles on people’s faces, or the woman who rose from her pew as I passed by, or the gentleman who reached out to shake my hand, but there was pride, taking my heart over again. I was beaming. And as I awaited at the back of the church, ready to receive my endless stream of fans, the unlikely happened.  The fire alarm went off and at once everyone was required to leave the building.

Seriously?! The fire alarm? Oh…that’s a good one, God.  Aren’t You clever!  No accolades for me, I see.

It still makes me giggle to recall the sensation of pride rapidly deflating.

Right. This is not about me. Not my message, but Yours, God.  Not my words, but that of the Holy Spirit touching hearts and impressing minds.

With word that all was clear, I made my way down to our fellowship hall for coffee, grateful for the few compliments I did receive while outside the church.  No sooner did I fill my cup did a favorite parishioner of mine gleefully approach me. “I could listen to you all day long, Rebecca!” Her words, so kind…and heartfelt…and…. just enough tinder to spark the flame of pride again.

Right in that moment, I kid you not, right then…the fire alarm went off a second time.

Oh, for the love of God! 

Would you just give me a fat slice of that humble pie already? I’m sure it would go great with this cup of coffee!

Friends, when doing God’s work it is never, ever about us.

I feel blessed that in the weeks that followed, similar messages surfaced. We are to do things for God’s glory, not our own.  We are God’s messengers. God’s servants. God’s light in the world.

It’s not about us.

Ironically, my sermon topic that day was about clothing ourselves in the garments God has chosen for us, God’s “holy and dearly loved” people. “…Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these virtues put on love.” (Colossians 3:12,14).

Eating my fat slice of pie, and drinking coffee, the irony did not escape me.

 

 

 

No Fear

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18

635897229513164483-866846937_heartI am not afraid.

I will not let the media frenzy lure me into the cesspool of fear mongering.

Neither will I let my own fears rule my heart and mind in this tumultuous time.

I REFUSE TO BE AFRAID.

Instead, I choose to be bound by my faith to reach out and build bridges, not erect physical walls and emotional barriers against the Muslim, the Migrant, the Refugee, the Opposing Political Party, the Other.

As a Christian, I am called to love…even my enemies. Even the politicians who condone division and stir up strife, however difficult, I am called to pray for and to love them.  For those with dramatically different views of the world as me, I must, as a Christian, pray for and love them, too. For those who carry out hate crimes or acts of terror…yes…I will lift even them up in prayer and love them. (Luke 6:27-28)

Today and every day, I will step further into my call as a Christian to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8). I will work even harder to forgive others (Colossians 3:13); I will recall that when I show kindness to “the least of these brothers and sisters,” I do so to Christ as well (Matthew 25:31-40). I will strive more and more to rejoice, pray, and be grateful in all times (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  I will put bitterness, anger, and slander aside making “Kindness-Compassion-Forgiveness” my mantra as I make my way through each day, with each soul that comes my way. (Ephesians 4:32)

I will withhold from judgment and remember that it is not mine to carry out. I must consider my own actions or inactions instead (Matthew 7:1-5).  I will trust that no matter how crazy the world appears, assurance rests in my trust in God (Psalm 27:1).

I am a Child of the Most High called to do my part to bring peace, kindness, and civility back into fashion; to show others the profound powers of love and forgiveness to mend the endless divides between individuals, groups, and nations, bringing much needed healing to our fragmented world.

I am a follower of Christ, a believer in the Way, and I am NOT afraid.

 

(I originally published this March 20. After the recent shooting in Orlando, I felt the need to revisit, revise, and publish it again…)

 

 

Called to Forgive. Called to Love.

I had done it again.

For the fourth time–not a second or third, but FOURTH time–I spilled tea in my car.  An entire thermos of tea.  I simply could not convince myself that wedging my leaky-lid thermos between my work bag and the seat of the car wasn’t the greatest idea ever.

And so, four times later, I felt like a total IDIOT.  Seriously, Rebecca?  You couldn’t learn after the first time? You are SO dumb!  You will obviously never, ever learn.  Just like with all the other stupid mistakes in your life you keep making. (My critic’s voice was impossible to silence.)

A co-worker asked later that day how I was doing. After confessing my pathetic, chronic idiocy, she, the passionate Pagan, questioned why I, the devout Christian, was unable to rise above self-deprecation and move into the belovedness of which my faith teaches I am worthy.  Why was I feeling so unworthy?

Whoa!  Mind blown.

I didn’t have an answer, but mulled over her words for the rest of the afternoon.

That evening my daughter and I went to the Ash Wednesday service at our church.  No sooner had we sat down did the pastor hand me and my daughter two copies of the Prayer of Confession requesting we read the highlighted section of each.  No hesitation on my part. I enjoy participating in worship. My daughter? Not so much.  So her copy went to a somewhat willing congregant behind us.

I then previewed my part: For the times we don’t love ourselves or others as you have taught us to love–  God, forgive us.

Mind blow, again.

Forgiveness.  I had forgotten to forgive myself AND to ask for forgiveness.  I had mostly forgotten to love myself, flaws and all.

ash wednesdayWhat a blessing to be surrounded by messengers of the Holy to call me back as a Christian to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and will all my mind; and, to love my neighbor as I love myself. (Luke 10:27)

This Lent may you, too, hear and perceive words of wisdom from God’s unexpected messengers! 

Ambushed by Grief

“I love this song!” I over heard a woman exclaimed as I sat with a hospice patient in a facility. “It reminds me of my couisn,” she told her coworker.  “He died at 16 in a car accident. My brother was driving.”  Her recollection was heartfelt.  Without missing a beat, however, her mood switched. “I can’t listen to it anymore,” she announced in a hurried voice. In an instant she had fled the nurses station and headed down the hall, leaving her co-worker and beloved song behind.

From Website: http://www.holisticdrugrehab.org/news/7-stages-of-grief-and-loss/
From Website: http://www.holisticdrugrehab.org/news/7-stages-of-grief-and-loss/

She had been ambushed by grief.

Brutal as it is, that’s how grief works sometimes. Out of nowhere and without notice, memories of our deceased loved ones spring up, snatch our serenity, and leave us stripped and shaken.

I was ambushed once in a grocery store.   It had been about 6 months since my father dropped dead at a gym, literally.  There was no warning. No signs of illness.  Zero chance of survival.  His aortic artery ruptured and he was gone.

The shock of his death had worn off months prior and the time of grieving, passed.  I was doing well.  Or so it seemed until I strolled down the canned food aisle. No sooner had I reached for a damn can of organic beans was I suddenly flooded with sorrow.

I was remembering a conversation my dad and I shared the year before in that very aisle.  He was baffled that I would spend twice the amount on an organic product when I could buy a much cheaper, generic brand of beans instead.  I couldn’t believe, with all that he had taught me about caring for our planet, that he wouldn’t applaud the extra money spent. The memory was so clear.  All I could do was stand there, crying with a can of  beans in my hand, ambushed by grief.

“The best way out is always through.”  I often call upon these words of Robert Frost when I collide with difficult times on life’s journey.  In order to soften grief, we cannot ignore it or run from it.  Rather, we must move through it—through the memories of favorite songs and canned beans as we flow with the tears and move with the pain that springs forth.

Processing a death or any kind of loss is on going and sometimes never fully resolved.  My sister, whose oldest son, Deniz, died as a toddler, acknowledged that years later the pain from his death lingers on. “The heart that beats,” she told me on what would have been his 17th birthday, “waxes and wanes with grief.”

And so it is.  With life, comes loss and with loss, sorrow.  Grief, an inevitable part of living, waxes and wanes, and yes, is sure to ambush us now and again.

Psalm 46 (NIV) begins with these two verses: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

When life appears to be giving way and falling apart, when grief rises up out of nowhere, it is scripture like this that lift my spirits and assures me that I do not journey alone. Even in the canned food aisle grieving the death of my father, God was and is my ever-present help.

As your own life unfolds, believe in something greater than yourself.  Be grounded in and inspired by your faith (or your spiritual practices or philosophical beliefs).  Have a safety net of close friends and/or family with whom you can rely on and confide in.  Reach out.  Be compassionate, especially with yourself.  Show empathy.  Embrace change.  And, when ambushed by grief, fear not.