What Imprisons You?

prison doorHere’s something I love about scripture. 

The characters are 1000’s of years old, and yet, for better or for worse, they are still very relatable.

In Acts 16:16-34 we find a slew of authentic characters.

We meet an enslaved woman, driven by a spirit to predict the future.  We come across Paul and Silas, servants of God, who only out of annoyance heal this fortune teller who has followed them for days announcing their role in the salvations of her fellow citizens.  Her owners take the stage, angered that their source of income, this now-healed woman is no-longer a cash cow predicting the future.  They, of course, drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates for their transgressions whereby drawing a crowd into the drama. And finally we read of the jailer who is so devoted to the law that he is willing to execute himself for slipping up on his duties to prevent the prisoners from escaping after an earthquake opens the prison doors.

Today’s scripture speaks of a variety of prisons.

Paul and Silas are not only physically placed in a cell after performing their exorcism but are initially imprisoned by impatience.  They cured the fortune teller only for their own sake, annoyed by her constant predictions, lacking compassion or concern for her and without thought of the impact their miracle-working would have on her livelihood.

The woman is enslaved by her owners who exploit her for their own gains.

These so-called businessmen are controlled by their greed and hope of making more money at the cost of others.

The crowd is on the chain-gang of mob mentality.

The jailer is entrapped by the perimeters of duty, unable to see that he has not failed and that the prisoners did not escape under his watch.

And so my questions to you are this:
What imprisons or enslaves you?
What keeps you chained down, behind walls, or isolated?
What restricts your freedom?
And more importantly, who or what has helped you to break free?


For myself, I typically dwell in the cell block of anxiety. For much of my life I have been bound by its power to restrict me from taking risks, or confronting others, or being driven and focused.

Co-dependency is another prison that has often blocked any freedom from unrealistic expectations, leaving me trapped in the vicious cycle of considering the faults of others while downplaying my own.  In this prison I have found it far too tempting to fix problems that weren’t mine to solve.

I am very grateful for the Twelve Steps of AA for giving me the tools to free myself from both anxiety and co-dependency.  I am also certain that my faith and the teachings of Jesus keep anxiety at a minimum (when I practice my faith and walk the walk!!) and moves me to being more compassionate and less controlling of those around me.

Take time today to acknowledge the walls around you. 
Pray for the pathways to freedom. 
And embrace a new way of being!



For the Lord to whom they could turn is the spirit of the new agreement,

and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, [people’s] souls are set free.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Phillips


BINGO! (More Sweet Than Bitter)

I found this beautiful image on the website IslamicAnswers.com. Wish I knew more about it.

Some of the hardest personalities I work with as a hospice chaplain are the ones who are bitter.  These individuals carry heavy hearts burdened with loss, betrayal, hardship, and abuse.

Their conversations are always filled with negative comments, mistrust, dark thinking, and hatred.  Isolation is typical; forgiveness, rare.

Often, I don’t even make it across their threshold.  One mention of “spiritual” and my services are quickly declined.  In too many cases, I represent the God who left them hurting in the first place.

Others allow me in, identify as people of faith, but speak in such a way that the God, Higher Power, or guru they claim as theirs might not recognize them as followers.

And they can’t just stop the “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

I counsel individuals who have lived through decades and decades of disappointment and despair.

It is extremely difficult for them to trust and to see that goodness and kind-hearted people really exist.

But I do firmly believe that one’s attitude about life is the palette from which her or his world is painted.   Dark imaginings tend to produce dark realities.  If I am convinced that my day will be crappy, chances are…my day is going to be crappy.

If I assume that everyone I meet will belittle, cheat, or regurgitate their ugliness upon me…I’m fairly sure that any words or actions of another will be interpreted as such.

As I vigilantly stay on the look out for every bleak signs that I was right about this dark world, I sadly miss out on that small blessing that just passed me by: the clerk who genuinely complimented me on my outfit, the small child who smiled sweetly, the individual who helped me for no other reason but to be kind.

  The kindness, goodness, and magic of the world sometimes have to be diligently sought after.

When my children were younger, I began creating bingo cards  (5 x 5 square grid—the center one FREE of course!) to keep them entertained on long trips.  It was a treasure hunt, seeking out the ordinary and the ridiculous such as donkeys, rainbows, rock stars and unicorns.

Never seen a unicorn on a family trip before?  Well, they exist.  They come on key chains and bumper stickers and  little children’s t-shirts.  We were looking for a clown once and found it at a rest stop in the intricate design of a man’s tattoo.

 Even the most obvious, when we are not consciously seeking, can pass us by.

On a recent trip, as part of my own bingo challenge I decided—the hospice chaplain that I am—to find the Grim Reaper.  Impossible you say?  That’s what I assumed.  But, after 12 hours on the road, with an hour left to go, there he was on a billboard—the Grim Reaper, himself,  persuading folks to not drink and drive. I was so ecstatic to find him!

But honestly, after that many hours of driving, had I not been seeking Grim, I would have blown right by him and his important message against driving drunk.

 And what about you?

How do you see the world?  What shades of color are on your painter’s palette?  What are you expecting to find on your bingo card of life?

The Apostle Paul advises in his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received of heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.(NIV).**

Perhaps stinkin’ thinkin’ can’t ever be fully eliminated.  Life, after all, can suck.  But let us strive every day to keep that which is excellent and praiseworthy on our lips, in our hearts, and on the forefront our minds.

    And when we do, I promise we will discover life to be more sweet than bitter.


**I also like this same scripture as found in Eugene Peterson’s The Message: Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.



Greed—Shame On You, Shame on Me

Let’s talk GREED.

I am convinced that greed is the greatest sin in the United States of America.

After watching a special report by Bill Moyers on the “non-profit” American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), it seemed to me that money is the driving force behind every bill crafted by ALEC that legislators then bring back to Washington or their states to have passed into law.

Members of ALEC write laws that either help generate money (like the creation of a bill that encouraged home schooling—and ultimately the purchase of the products made by the ALEC affiliated companies) or save money (like bills that prevent consumers from suing the very companies that helped draft the law in the first place.)

Now, I’m probably not being entirely fair.

After all, corporations have the right to not just survive, but to thrive (They are “people” after all—or so I’ve  been told).  They have to generate a profit to pay workers, expand production or services, and reward leaders—handsomely.

But I doubt decisions are made on a spiritual level where board members deeply reflect on how their corporate decisions will impact the environment, the livelihood of employees or the economy or even how future generations may be affected.  From the outside looking in, the bottom line appears to be money.

But let’s be honest.

Greed doesn’t just exist in corporate America.

At General Synod this summer, the bi-annual gathering of representatives from the thousands of churches in the United Church of Christ, we were blessed to have Bernice Johnson Reagon and her daughter, Toshi Reagon perform.

Having been working on this post for months, I was especially engaged when they began singing Bernice’s song “Greed.”  She opens the song with these words:

“I been thinking about how to talk about greed

I been thinking about how to talk about greed

I been wondering if I could sing about greed

Trying to find a way to talk about greed”

Her lyrics throughout speak to how pervasive greed is in our country.  No. It is not just a phenomenon on Wall Street.  We can all fall prey to it.

“Greed is a strain in the American Dream

Having more than you need is the essential theme.

Everybody wanting more than they need to survive

Is a perfect indication, greed has settled inside.”

I started this post by judging corporations and finish with a personal confession. (The Spirit is sneaky like that!)

I too am a victim—no, a participant—in greed. While already owning one home, I went and bought another 2 years later.  An “investment” I considered it.  But as reality and hard luck would have it,  I have since lost one and have been on the verge of losing the other.

In 1 Timothy 6:6-10 we read:

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

One could argue that my desire for an investment property was simply smart.  It’s not like I knew that the housing market would crash and burn, right?

But I remember the urgency in purchasing the second home.  The market seemed as low as it could get.  Wanting in on the real estate game, I was experiencing that “eagerness to be rich” the scripture warns against. It couldn’t wait.  I had to buy a house then and there.

Temptation had lured me in.  I fell for the assurances the man gave me that he could “make the numbers work” in my loan application. You’ve only worked less than a month in your new job?  No problem. You already own a home but might have to carry two mortgages if renters can’t be kept in your first home?  No problem!

In the end, it was one problem after another.  I haven’t plunged “into ruin and destruction” because of my eagerness to be rich, but  I have had to painfully face my own distorted American understanding of having enough.

In this past month, as I agonized over the real possibility of losing yet another home, I have had to reflect.

Maybe this life and faith stuff isn’t about having more or being rich—rather it’s about learning to 1) be content and thankful for what I have, 2) live within my means, and 3) trust that my needs will be met.

Today I give thanks to God.  I have been humbled and gratitude has once again taken up residency in my heart leaving a little less room for greed.

May the corporate and individual greed of this nation

evolve into a much deeper kind of longing,

one in which contentment is not sought through the eagerness to be rich,

but is found instead in the gratitude of sufficiency–a much better kind of richness.

The White Flag of Surrender. It’s a good thing.

 It would seem that I have an issue with surrender. 

It is no secret that I am a miserable desert dweller.  I struggle every day to find things I enjoy about the Sonoran Desert and there are many, many moments when I absolutely hate it here. 

It isn’t that I can’t appreciate the complex and diverse ecosystem.  I marvel at how plants and animals survive in this harsh, dry environment.   And I joyfully absorb every breath-taking sunset that accents the sky, smile with each spring’s beautiful display of wild flowers and blooming cacti,  and eagerly anticipate each monsoon season.

But I have flat-out refused to accept that I will be living here much longer.  I have constantly rejected the idea that I will have to endure yet one more dreadful, hot summer.  I have become obsessed with scanning the internet on a daily basis for jobs in cooler climes.  In short, I am unwilling to raise that white flag of surrender. 

But let’s get real. 

I’ve been fighting my reality for the last 5 years and this stubborn disposition has turned out to be spiritually unhealthy for me.

You see, I have intentionally kept myself in a temporary state of mind.  In my longing to establish roots where the sky is grayer, the air cooler, and the grass truly greener, I have created a constant state of spiritual and emotional restlessness within me.  This is only temporary, I tell myself.  From out of this exile I will return to a more promised land.

But I cannot over simplify my situation either. 

There are reasons for my stubborn attitude.  The heat is an overwhelming rationale.  When exposed to temperatures over 75 degrees—which is the weather trend much of the year—I often experience physical and mental exhaustion and at times pain.  A couple hours of working in the yard (raking rocks!) just a few weeks ago, for instance, left me resting in bed a good part of the next afternoon.  It was depressing.  I can’t just suck it up and adapt to the climate.

That said, let me return to the negative impact of my “It’s only temporary” approach to life in the desert.  In holding fast to my desperate need to leave, I refuse to just BE and reject the concept of living in the moment.  

In my stubbornness, I cannot fully surrender over to God my suffering or my longing to escape.  I want total control of my future and struggle to deeply trust that everything, eventually, is going to be okay.  (Hmmmm… Note to self: Spiritual prescription for today—Read your last entry, A Different Kind of Occupation. You’ve been allowing the wrong kind of things to occupy your heart, Silly.)

For a couple months I have been meditating on scripture aptly taken from Jeremiah 29: 11-14. Here the Israelites are reassured that they will not remain in exile forever and that someday they will return home. I know what I am doing,” God promises them.  “I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not to abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed (from the Biblical paraphrased version, The Message).

Here’s the message of hope I receive from this scripture. 

I must remain in the moment.  Just for today, I cannot change the fact that I live in the desert.  What I can change, however, is where I choose to direct my attention.  I could focus only on tomorrow, dreaming of better days when I will escape this hot, arid place.  Such beliefs have after all helped me in the past endure the hardest of days. 

Or…I can practice what I preach and get serious about finding God in my desert dwelling life.  I must desire that sacredness more than anything else—more than control, more than gray skies, cool weather and green grass, more than my own well-being. 

Because when I all out surrender, when I wave that white flag and give my whole being (health, future, serenity) over to God’s care, I won’t be disappointed.



More on Great Expecations

These lyrics come from Sara Groves, a wonderful Christian musician whose melodies and words have encouraged, strengthened and inspired me.  This song is from her album, The Other Side of Something, which I highly recommend.  Check out her website at http://www.saragroves.com. When life’s expectations are dashed, may we each learn how to be broken and grateful.

What I thought I wanted

Sara Groves

Tuxedo in the closet, gold band in a box

Two days from the altar she went and called the whole thing off

What he thought he wanted, what he got instead

Leaves him broken and grateful

I passed understanding a long, long time ago

And the simple home of systems and answers we all know

What I thought I wanted, what I got instead

Leaves me broken and somehow peaceful

I keep wanting you to be fair

But that’s not what you said

I want certain answers to these prayers

But that’s not what you said

When I get to heaven I’m gonna go and find Job

I want to ask a few hard questions, I want to know what he knows

About what it is he wanted and what he got instead

How to be broken and faithful

I keep wanting you to be fair

But that’s not what you said

I want certain answers to these prayers

But that’s not what you said

What I thought I wanted

What I thought I wanted

What I thought I wanted

What I thought I wanted

Staring in the water like Esops foolish dog

Can’t help but reflect on what it was I almost lost

What it was I wanted, what I got instead

Leaves me broken and grateful

I’m broken and grateful

I want to be broken and grateful

I want to be broken, peaceful, faithful,  grateful, grateful

I want to be broken, peaceful, faithful,  grateful, grateful