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On His Terms

sunset rays MGD©I’m writing a rough book right now. The main character has lived through an extreme amount of injustice, betrayed by the judicial system, his family, and his friends. He realizes that everything he’s done for the past decade has been on someone else’s terms–where he can go, what he can do, even relationships with those he lost. And those terms are rarely fair.

No surprise, I’ve been thinking about this in my own life lately, because of course what I write has to resonate in some small way with my own experiences, or I can’t empathize with my characters. And I keep coming up with the same phrase. Someone Else’s Terms.

I’m a peacemaker at heart. That means I will give ground to make peace. Or, I will relate on someone else’s terms to make them happy. I have friendships with women who work outside their home or have children, and of course we have to schedule our friendship on their availability, on their terms.

As an introvert, most of my relating is on other people’s terms. Often I’m expected to socialize in a group setting where I am so uncomfortable it’s laughable. I can show up and socialize on those terms, or I can be alone. As I get older, I bow to other people’s terms less often, and I kindly bow out of the most uncomfortable events. But in the past, when I was younger and it was more important to belong, it was on someone else’s terms.

This is part of life. We are meant to serve those we love, and that means discovering how to relate to them, how to love them. It means knowing them well enough to know the terms where they will feel love. Friends who know me and know I’m a diabetic don’t invite me to their house and eat pie in front of me. They know there are a few terms that are set in stone. And I am thankful for that. And it’s up to me to know the same about them. It’s friendship. It’s love.

God, of course, meets us where we are, but then He sets His terms. We are to obey certain commands and strive toward holiness. W

\hat makes Him different is that His terms are always, always for our best. He made us, so His terms let us live exactly the way we were meant to live. He makes terms for family life, sexual life, interacting with others, all kinds of things. So many people balk and feel God is unfair to dictate His will to us, forgetting that His will always trumps ours. He wants us to thrive, to live in peace, to experience great joy and comfort, even when hardship comes. That means reading His instruction manual and living according to His terms. Unlike some of our dealings with people, His terms are completely for our own good.

I’ve been letting things slide during our moving transition. Bible reading and prayer are happening, but not as consistently as they should. I’m not taking the time to drive back to town for Bible studies or fellowship opportunities. I am still figuring out the new normal. However, it’s good to know God’s terms haven’t changed. He still blesses the peacemaker or the poor in spirit the way He always did. He still loves the way He always has. And His terms for a life well lived are still the same, still written in an ancient manuscript by my bed, where I can find explicit instructions from the Creator on exactly how to get the most out of this fleeting life He’s given me.

I will continue to look for the terms for my friendships and family that are the best for all involved, and sometimes I will fail. But I take comfort in knowing God’s terms for our relationship are set and solid and will always bring me joy and lead me closer to the one who loves me more than anyone in this universe. Those are terms I can live with.

A Story Shared

friends-and-coffeeAt the end of my last blog post, I invited readers to share stories with me. To my delight, someone took me up on that. A dear, dear friend who had been out of contact for a few years asked if she could share a story with me, and of course I said yes. The story was difficult, but that’s not where I want to go in this post. Those moments were intimate and personal and private, and I am so, so honored to have heard this woman’s journey.

What I want to talk about is the fear that went along with the telling, because it’s so very universal. She feared how I would react. She feared taking too much of my time. Her story was her own, but that fear–I think that was universal. We live in a fractured, distant society where too many of our interactions are couched in great fear, and I’ve spent a lot of time this week pondering that fear and wondering what it means big picture.

A few years ago a big social media trend was articles like “Ten things you should never say to…”. Insert single person, married person, person who lost a son, etc etc etc.  The idea was that anyone who doesn’t share my circumstances can’t understand me. Why do we think we can only share with someone who has experienced what we’ve experienced? What brings us together isn’t only circumstances; it’s also emotions. God has given us limited emotions. Almost all of us have experienced fear. Disappointment. Joy. Sadness. Because I haven’t experienced every circumstance does’t mean I haven’t experienced emotions. A friend might struggle with sadness because of a death. I might experience sadness because of a dream that didn’t pan out. We can share our stories, and even if our experiences are different, we can both relate because we’ve experienced sadness. Those emotions bridge the gaps in our experiences and lead us to see and understand each other in our different places.

We’re told to bear each other’s burdens. But how can we do that if we don’t share stories? Life itself is a burden. I know it’s a gift, but it’s also a burden. There is a reason God tells us to gear up for battle. There is a reason He tells us to long for heaven and a new kingdom and a new earth and new bodies. This life can be horrible. And yet we are to share that horribleness. We need to tell the stories. We need to carry each other when we are wounded in battle, and we can’t do that from some distant place of generalities. We have to know the details. We have to know the stories.

Also, I think the only way we can nudge each other back to center is if we know each other’s stories. Otherwise, we simply speak platitudes to one another. Our struggles and even our sins stem from complex situations, complex lives, complex pasts. We’re told to help one another stop sinning. We’re told to bear burdens and be united. But can that happen if we don’t know the stories?

I am the worst offender here, both at sharing my own story and digging into stories of people I love. I have divorced friends, and I know nothing about their marriages or even the names of the spouses who are no longer in their lives. I have working friends, and I don’t know where they work or what they do at those jobs. I don’t ask enough questions. And people know as little about me (except for the stuff I spew here on my blog…). It’s easy to fear judgment, to think someone won’t understand, to be safe and not dig. We fear offending one another to the point where we don’t find out even the simple things about one another. Or we don’t take the time  to discover who is behind the masks on the people around us. At least I don’t. Maybe I’m alone in this. I know I’m an extreme introvert, so maybe others do much better at this than I do.

Really, we’re not that different. I think if we shared the stories behind our emotions, we would be better equipped to help one another, to bear burdens. I don’t know how to make that any less scary. Of  course we need to be careful and find safe people. We need to be safe people. We need to stop worrying about only finding people with identical frames of reference, because nobody has an identical frame of reference. How I react to some of the issues in my life–chronic illness, sibling loss, miscarriage, whatever–looks very different to how other people react to the exact same events in their lives. Let the similarities and the emotions bring us together instead of letting the variations keep us apart.

I love stories. I need to get better at sharing my own. I need to become a safe haven for other storytellers. Jesus tells us more than once that we are to become one with our fellow believers. Paul says the same, imploring us to unite in a way the world can’t understand. People will want to join us not because of the way we love the outsider but because of the way we love each other, with our flaws and differences. We want to pull that outsider into our circle of love and safety. That love might have something to do with how tenderly we care for each other’s stories.

God’s Touch

touch-fb This week I had the misfortune of dealing with the healthcare system, education system, and banking systems of the United States of America, all in one day. And not one of those dealings went well. I ended the day realizing I live in a huge system where I mean exactly nothing.

I think we all realize this with the healthcare system. I’ve always had great doctors, but the doctor is the tiniest part of the system. As a diabetic who wears two medical devices, I deal with insurance and bureaucracy on a daily basis. I know what it’s like to sit on hold for an hour to speak with a human being. I know what it’s like to rush to an appointment fifteen minutes early to fill out paperwork and then sit in an office alone in paper clothes for forty-five minutes to be seen. I’ve been in the hospital, where I am nothing but a chart on the other side of a door making work for harried staff.

We are moving, and this week was our closing date. Being homeless for a month with no permanent address and no printer, we had a horrible time getting all the paperwork for our loan officer, but I did it. I was so proud of myself when I turned in that final page with a couple days to spare. What I didn’t know was that I would be receiving one last email, and it would come six hours before an important deadline. I didn’t know that email would come after my husband was at work, and while he’s at work he can’t communicate with the outside world. I had told my loan officer a dozen times that we had to do our dealings before four pm, but that didn’t matter. The system doesn’t cater to second shift. It doesn’t cater to people who take more than six hours at a time away from their email. We missed the deadline, and our closing date changed. It doesn’t matter to the loan people. They’ll still get paid. Because of the change we will live in our house for a week before our belongings can be moved, but that doesn’t matter to the bank. Why would it? We’re just money to them. We mean nothing.

Finally, I registered my son for his SAT test. He’s sixteen, but he hasn’t gotten his driver’s permit yet. And because he’s home schooled, he doesn’t have a student ID. I should have thought about that, because I sat through the forty minutes of prying questions to register him, paid my money, and then realized he doesn’t have an appropriate photo ID. I can’t access the paperwork to get an ID for another week because I messed up our house closing and we can’t see our belongings for a while. I don’t know if I will be able to get it in time, and if I don’t, it will cost me money to change the test dates. Nobody in the department of education cares about this. He means nothing to them.

All of this because we don’t quite fit the molds. No ID, wrong schedules, internet behavior that isn’t the norm, illness… In America, it pays to look like everyone else, but nobody looks just like everyone else. We all know it. Our interactions on a daily basis are cold, impersonal, ‘fair’, and broken. We don’t matter.

Enter Jesus. I’m reading the Gospels right now, and it struck me this week that Jesus was weird. He could have entered a town and waved his hand over it, healing everyone. It would have been efficient and fair. He could have required everyone to show up with an ID, at a set time, and fill out paperwork to prove they were worthy to be healed of illness. He could have limited his healing to certain deadly diseases, thus allowing him to save more people.

But what did he do? He walked among the people. He spoke with them, building rapport. He touched them, and according to the law, some of them weren’t to be touched. Some of them hadn’t been touched in ages, because the system said they weren’t worthy. They didn’t fit the mold. He didn’t blanket heal a whole group. Instead, it was always individual, all the time. Each person got to look into his eyes. Each person knew he mattered to this prophet. And everyone he touched was changed. Some he told to be quiet, but how impossible was that? They walked up to him broken, faceless, hopeless. They didn’t matter and had no hope of ever mattering. And the rabbi stopped, took time with them, touched them, treated them like individuals, and healed them.

I am always going to live in the shadows. Every day I will interact with a society that doesn’t value me. But I can be careful not to let that harden me. I can care about individual people. Once a month I help feed people, and I can smile when I fill coffee cups. I can make sure my hand brushes another hand when I take the cup or set down the plate, offering harmless human touch to souls that never feel human touch. I can look someone in the eye and speak words meant just for that person, words acknowledging that none of us fit in this system.

In a cold, fractured, faceless society, it isn’t that hard to remind a person that he or she is allowed to be different, allowed to have thoughts and feelings and emotions and needs. So often we move through our days alone and isolated, so even the tiniest bit of care and tenderness speaks volumes. And I need to remember to do that. I want to be bitter. This week I was reminded that equality and fairness really mean being treated like we’re not human. But God never does that. Jesus never did that. The Holy Spirit has to prompt us because each interaction we have is with an individual, a special creature made by a special God, one with his or her own flaws, likes, joys, tears, and it is a privilege to deal with individuals and learn about their complexities.

I hope I can do better at that. Right now I want to leave the continent and never come back. I’m weary. I’m about to live in an empty house for a week, and those that made it happen don’t care and will never apologize. I feel like I’m at the mercy of a giant monstrous machine, and I can’t ever get out from under it. And all around me people feel the same. So it’s time to reach out and touch them and remind them that someone sees them, someone understands. In a way, loving people as Jesus has never been easier, because we live in a society where we’re all starved for it.

The Gift of Presence

men silhouette in the fogI had a rough week. This week we moved our belongings into a storage unit, ourselves and two dogs into my son’s house (an investment that needs a lot of work he is just beginning to tackle), and we finalized the sale of our house.

The problem was that my husband woke up at one in the morning on moving day with an optical migraine. Actually, it was a stomach bug, which we found out a couple days later when I got it, but it presented as a migraine with vomiting and blinding pain. We were a little behind in the packing, but we had plenty of time to do it before the movers came. Except, of course, that he was asleep or being sick, and I was alone. (It was also my birthday, which just allowed me to feel whinier and sorrier for myself than I should have.)

The week didn’t improve much after that day. We were behind in everything, because my husband continued to feel terrible, and then I got sick, too. Being a diabetic, I don’t handle stomach bugs well, and I ended up in the hospital for a few hours for some IV fluids. We were both exhausted.

My church jumped in to help. We have a contractor in our body, and he helped us with a last-minute repair we needed to finish before closing. And the church also paid for a maid service to do the final cleaning, since neither my husband nor I had the energy to do that ourselves.

Now, here’s where this blog needs to tread lightly, because I’m about to complain. Sort of. I was ecstatic about the help offered to us last week. I was. We had a need, and they jumped in and solved the problem. However, I had another need, and that one went unmet. Not because of any deficiency in my church, but because this is the culture we live in.

You see, the day we moved, I wasn’t ready. My husband wasn’t around to help me make the final decisions of what to store and what to take to my son’s house. I felt utterly alone. And the entire time, I kept hoping God would send someone to make it better. I needed the physical presence of a human body to tell me, in an audible voice, that it was all going to be okay.

That body never arrived. For the entire week, when I went back to the house to pack or went to the storage unit, I did it alone. The big reason for this was that I never asked. I asked for help, and some people did offer to come and help, only the maid service was paid for and took care of the physical help I needed. Nobody offered to come and be emotional support, and I didn’t know how to ask for that, especially while we were healing from a crazy contagious stomach bug. I probably should have accepted the offers for help and simply used the time to sit and talk and refresh at a nearby coffee shop. But I never quite got the courage to say I’m alone and I just sold my house and my husband is sick and I’m not sure I did the right thing and I need a body to show up and help me not go crazy this week.

Many years ago, I lost a baby. It was a different time, when more women stayed home and community had different meaning. At one point, a friend simply sat on the bed with me and talked for hours, and another one brought a bucket and cleaners and cleaned my house. I had no idea how vital both of them were to my healing. And in my head, I think I wanted to experience something similar last week. But I don’t have that kind of support system now. It’s a different world, and I haven’t been careful about creating a net in this world.

I was feeling guilty about this desire for emotional support, because people did help me. The cleaning service was a life saver. But that deeper need, the need not to feel alone… Yeah. And I can say this without feeling too bad, because I know that, had the tables been turned, I wouldn’t have shown up, either. We were sick with something that turned out to be super contagious. My son and son-in-law moved us on their own time, and the only time they had was a Sunday morning, when I should have been in church, so my community was in worship and had no idea I was a wreck at home.  My friends have jobs or small children. Not like everyone can simply drop everything and show up to hold my hand because I’m feeling a little stress about a move–something that was my crazy idea to start with.

I was feeling guilty about my desire until I started to think about the book of Acts. Several times Paul thanks a church for sending someone to strengthen him. The financial gifts from the churches were delivered by human bodies who then offered comfort and friendship. Physical human companionship is valuable, even here in the digital age when we can handle almost every task without ever having a face-to-face human encounter.

This isn’t meant to be a complaint about the people in my life. Instead, it was an eye opener for me. I work from home writing and teaching my son. I have a very relaxed schedule. If someone is in need, I have very few excuses not to show up. And now I realize just how vital simple presence can be. So, I need to be more open to the promptings of the Spirit to get in the car and physically show up when someone might need comfort and friendship. Not everyone has a schedule that lets them do that. And being the backward person that I am, I’m not completely thrilled to write this, because I easily convince myself I can’t help, that I would be a burden, that I have nothing to offer. It is much more comfortable to make excuses and stay home than it is to show up.

It was a hard lesson to learn. And I’m not excited that I learned it. But if I’m going to love the people God put in my life, that means sometimes I have to sacrifice what’s comfortable and simply show up and let the Spirit use me in whatever ways He wants. Because nobody in the body of Christ should ever feel completely alone.

 

On Being Raw

On being rawTell me I’m not the only one who has those days. Those days where you’re a giant exposed nerve, and every little thing hurts and burns. I’m having one of those raw days, when I want to find a soft cocoon and curl up and feel like I’m enough. Like my opinions are good, my choices are sound, and while the world around me may be broken, I’m enough just the way I am.

I was reading notes and posts from friends this week, and that exposed nerve was jangling. I read harsh posts about politics, which are meant to change my mind but simply sear my heart. I’m not a fool for thinking what I think, for valuing what I value, for drawing my own lines in the sand. I hope I’m not a fool. But sometimes the world says otherwise, and it’s hard not to doubt.

This week a few home school moms I know chose another path, and that’s fine, but right now my world, which revolves around me schooling my children, is so devoid of people who understand that lifestyle that each mom who walks away pulls some of my heart with her. I need new support systems. People in my life who can discuss what I value, who understand where I am. I’ve let that go and surrounded myself with people I love who, unfortunately, aren’t people with whom I can share some of those particular burdens. And normally that’s okay–sometimes the world is too big. Sometimes it’s too small.  But right now Mama Bear needs a day of Just Right.

It always comes down to support.  I’m a mom. A teaching mom. A teaching mom with a nearly-grown family who is heading into a new stage of life. I don’t always take time to look for support of my own, and too often I think I’ve found it only to have it walk away. People move away, move on, find new niches. In a fluid society in a fluid world, where are the rocks? Why does the foundation that looks so beautiful one day shift and sink the next?

And the nerves jangle. The cocoon calls, and I can’t find it. Everything hits my skin and rubs that raw, red wound. Where is the balm?

I know the answer. The Sunday school answer, but it’s true. Jesus is the balm. God draws near. Paul wrote about feeling abandoned. David wrote about it more than once, pouring out his raw nerve days and asking for help. So today, that is my quest. Reading the Psalms where David shares his fears and concerns. Where he asks God for some concrete sign of his love, for victories and blessings. He lets that raw nerve have its say, because God cares about him–and me–on the good days, the victorious days, and the days of defeat. And God wants us to share with him on all those days, even the raw ones.

Some days, I think it’s okay to put on soft PJs and step back. Raw nerve days come and go. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be stronger. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see truths and conquer the world. But perhaps today it’s okay to hide away, spend time with God, and keep the world locked on the other side of the door: the friends, the enemies, the support, the needy, all of them. Today I have my own ledges, and I’m going to tuck myself in the shelter of a Rock, a holy refuge, and simply watch the wind and the sun and wait for another day. When I find solid footing up here, then I can buttress the support systems and decide which directions to go. But not today. Nothing at all today but the steady in and out of each breath, waiting for the abraded nerves to calm.

Waiting under the broom tree with Elijah, eating cake from God’s hand and strengthening from fight to fight. The battles will still be there tomorrow.

Just me and God today, guys. In the wilderness watching the beauty of the Creator. Come back another day.

Unless you’re having a raw nerve day, too. Then come share some rock with me, and we can sit here in silence and watch God lower the sun and show off the moon and call out the stars. Breathe in and out. In and out. And of course I’ll share a little cake with you, until it’s time for us to head back down into it again.

 

Defeating the Isms

soup_kitchenFor the past few months, I’ve been helping to feed people in my downtown. Once a month I bring food to a local food ministry, and other people from my church bring food, and we heat it up in a big, giant kitchen. Then we open the doors, and anyone who wants to come and eat gets to come in and eat.

I have a confession here. I am not entirely comfortable with some  kinds of people. Like the mentally ill. The homeless. Those who never bathe. Those without teeth. I tend to gravitate toward people who have more in common with me. And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

And I know that’s not right. I have shown up to feed people because I KNOW I am supposed to love these people. And by these people I mean anyone–there are no requirements to eat at our ministry. But I find myself dealing with the little isms–some ageism, maybe some racism or sexism. Is there an ism about finances? If so, I sometimes struggle with that one. The little ways I define someone as part of a group that’s very different from me.

During these months, something has happened. I didn’t expect it. I accidentally found the cure to my personal case of isms. And you want to know the secret? I served.

I didn’t show up to fix anything. I’m not changing anyone. There are no sermons involved here. I simply pour coffee. I pass out cookies. I take special orders when I can.

And suddenly, it isn’t a room of people who are different and maybe scary. It’s a woman who likes coffee. And one who only wants water. It’s a man who doesn’t want rice on his plate. One who wants his food mixed together, and one who doesn’t want his food to touch.

It’s a table of people who are laughing, and a table of strangers giving each other the evil eye. It’s a man who says thank you and one who doesn’t make eye contact. It’s a woman who asks me to watch her backpack–which holds her every life possession–while she goes to the bathroom. It’s a man who lives in an apartment close by and one staying at a shelter. A woman who always wears a flower in her hair, a woman in a wheelchair, and a vegetarian.

It’s individuals. They’re people. And they have their own wants and needs and likes and dislikes and agendas. And the longer I serve, the more I see them that way, and the less I can apply an ism. Isms are about groups and the idea that every person in that group is identical to every other one. After people are grouped, sweeping judgments can be made. But really, nobody entirely fits in any group. People of different races or religions are not clones of each other. People with mental illness, the homeless, the underemployed–none of them are clones. I have to take each as what they are–unique people.

Somehow I am now in charge of our church’s monthly meal at the ministry. Yeah, I went from being wary to jumping in with both feet. I’m sort of hooked. I spend more time in the kitchen than out with people, because that’s who I am. But that doesn’t matter, because the change is still there. When I get a crazy special request, I smile, because it’s a new way to serve a human being, one with likes and dislikes and his or her own unique, God-given personality. Helps remind me that this is about individuals. Always.

We imagine we’re feeding people and somehow saving the world.

We’re feeding people. That’s true. But the saving part? I think I’m the one being saved.

Wooing the Prince

DSCF5974I read a marriage devotion recently, and I think, in a few simple words, it may have completely changed the way I look at my husband. And since he never reads my blogs (or my books, for that matter. Hey!), I can talk about it here.  (Don’t fear. That’s largely the end of me talking about my husband. He’s safe. This now selfishly shoots back to me.)

The devotion writer pointed out that the surest way to offend someone is to mistreat that person’s child. I know this is true. Just a few days ago at church a young boy was cruel to my youngest son, and I wanted blood. It doesn’t take much to bring out mama bear.

God is pretty fanatical about his kids, too. I mean, He sent his natural son to die so He could adopt a bunch of other sons and daughters. We have a lot of value to him. Nobody mistreats us and gets away with it, not long term. The Old Testament, especially, is filled with verses about how God will come for his people, sword out and battle ready. Nations that mistreated his kids went down, and they went down hard.

Those of you females reading this might be aware of the current trend for Christian women to think of themselves as princesses. In a world that body shames and life shames and passes cruel judgments, we need to be reminded that we are royalty, beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

And yet strangely I was surprised when the devotion writer pointed out that I married a prince. If I am beloved and beautiful and special to God, so is my spouse. He’s the son of a King. That same God who comes with sword drawn to defend his princesses–yeah, you guessed it. He’s pretty enamored with his princes, too. And I have been entrusted with one. There is a special one in my home all the time, one who is flawed sometimes, clueless sometimes, wise and powerful sometimes, and always one the King loves deeply.

I don’t know why I never thought of it this way, except I think our culture can be hard on men. I say this as a mother of three boys and one girl. Sometimes girls are taught it’s okay to abuse boys verbally. It’s okay to be hands on and play rough with the boys. Teasing boys and making fun of the entire sex–that’s acceptable. The boys are supposed to respect and love the girls as the princesses they are, and yet the girls aren’t always taught that it’s not a one-way street. They aren’t taught to see those boys as princes, sons of the living God as much as they are daughters, and just as worthy of respect and honor. It breaks my heart, because sometimes it breaks my boys, who will one day be men.

When we got married, my husband asked me not to play the wife game where we women get together and bash our husbands. He’d heard women do that, and it bothered him. It was a strange request, because he doesn’t ask things like that. This mattered immensely to him. He needed me to be on his side both when I was with him and when I was with others. (Okay, I lied. I’m talking about my husband again. But it’s good things!)

I’ve never forgotten that request. My prince, the son of my King, is vulnerable. I think most of God’s princes are. He wants to succeed at parenting, husbanding, life in general. But sometimes he’ll fail, and he needs to know I’m on his side. I’m not perfect, either, and sometimes when I’m hurt or angry I might slide into the wife game where we compare our husbands’ imperfections, but I try to guard my mouth and heart and protect him. He does the same for me. Both of us have royalty to protect and cherish. It’s a beautiful thing.

I married a prince. His Dad is a Big Deal. Am I acting like I care? Do I respect both the prince and his Father? Whether or not my husband respects his princess isn’t the question here (although, FYI, he does.). This is about me and how I perceive the man gifted to me. Do I focus on his moments of imperfection, or do I focus on his growth, on his journey to become the man he will be for eternity, a completed, mighty, grown son of his Father?

Of course, I can’t forget I’m raising little princes and princesses, too. The people in my world are important. They matter more than I can comprehend, just like I matter more than I can comprehend. I’ve been entrusted with a huge job, raising, loving, guiding, protecting such important people. It’s amazing to me that God put so many of his precious sons and daughters into my care. I pray I take that charge seriously and treat them as their Father wants to see them treated.