Gospel

What If

I just finished a book called The Way Of The Warrior by Erwin McManus and here are 2 questions that have settled in my head:

What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?

What if miracles look like aberrations because we have accepted the world as it is and not as it should be?

Sometimes ideas, concepts, and observations stand out because they are so counter to what we’ve ever considered to be true, ever imagined could be possible. Other times they give language to what we’ve always known but didn’t have the words to express. These questions, to me, paradoxically reside squarely in both.

You see, I believe the premise of both of these questions – that our brokenness and “disconnect” have led us to settle for far less of our world and of ourselves. I think we struggle so much with acceptance of injustice and suffering, and so often say, “it’s not supposed to be like this,” because it isn’t. Maybe the fantastic stories of the Bible – where Elijah asks it not to rain for 3 years and it doesn’t, where the same Elijah asks God to send fire to the altar and He does, where a few fish and loaves feed thousands, where Ezekiel breathes life into dry bones, where Jesus and Peter walk on water, where manna is provided, where seas and rivers part, and on and on and on – what if these fantastic stories aren’t the exceptions? What if we are? What if, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” he meant it? What if it wasn’t a metaphor or hyperbole, what if he actually meant that nothing will be impossible for you and me?

***That’s a big “what if” and the implications are staggering…***

Of course, the other side of this is that it leads to a perfectionism that is unreasonable. Our expectations – of ourselves, others, and the world around us – can become chains, holding us in a prison of self-loathing and judgment. 

Maybe there’s a happy medium. Or maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just a case of mistaken identity. If I think it’s my duty to be perfect or better or enough or amazing, I will try and try and push until I am. And fail, like I always do. Because even when I am awesome (we all are, you know) I open the door to the hammers that start pounding in my head, saying I’m not awesome enough or I should be more awesome. It’s never enough. 

This is where I too often go – so when McManus asks those questions, I see impossibility and yellow caution tape. Turn around! Be careful! 

But since I’ve ignored the warnings and have, instead, been feeding and caring for them, I see something new. What if the phrase “in our disconnection with God” is and has always been the key? Maybe my impossibility and less-than thoughts of not enough is simply more disconnect. Maybe as long as I’m trying to find enlightenment in my own achievement, it will just be further disconnect. Maybe I can’t make a mountain move because I’m trying to move it in my own strength, on my own shoulders. The mistaken identity is that I think I need to create me – that I decide what I was “meant to be.” That I manufacture my own miracles. 

(My great friend and new daddy Jay uses that life-changing phrase, and I’m henceforth stealing it from him and calling it my own.)

I was already created, in love, with a purpose, for an overflowing life of joy and blessing and love. I don’t have to create anything, it’s already been created. I just have to step into it. Then my expectations of the world can be a holy revolution, full of love and invitation (instead of bitterness and judgment) and my expectations of myself can be a realization, dripping with kindness and openness and awakening.         

Parties

The parable of the Prodigal Son is both wildly popular and wildly disturbing, which is a strange phenomenon. Usually ideas or art or people that challenge our accepted worldviews, that make us uncomfortable, are quickly discarded, because we defend nothing as tirelessly or viciously as our own ‘right-ness.’

Even One as beautifully, monumentally disruptive as Jesus (or the Bible), we reduce to bullet points, scouring stories and verses to find only those that confirm our already held beliefs and trashing the rest.

Yet we keep the Prodigal Son. 

(My guess is that it is most often used to describe others – always others, of course – who have walked away from our beliefs, comforting us with the hope that they will return, just like this son. I could be wrong, though. And I am more than fine with this comfort and hope. Mostly, I’m more than fine with all comfort and hope, especially the hope that comes from a God who runs to us, no matter what we’ve done or who we’ve been or if we’ve been eating the pigs food, and brings us into the feast. This story has given me rest as well – I have been the son who walked away and was welcomed back with hugs and acceptance and love. It’s a really great story. But there is so much more to it.)

The parable ends with a brother – a “good” boy, doing all the right things, following the rules, never leaving home – standing outside, in what he would surely describe as righteous anger. He honestly details his frustrations to the Father, and the Father listens and patiently answers – “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” One of the most gorgeous verses in the Scriptures: “Everything I have is yours.” 

And the story ends with the brother outside, with a decision to make.

How many times have I decided that this party is not, should not be, for them (whoever ‘them’ is)? 

It’s called judgment, and it’s not awesome. We decide where the walls are, who is on the guest list (of course, OF COURSE, we are always on the inside), what the admission requirements are, who has been good enough and who has not.

I used this parable Sunday in a message about forgiveness, because we are all the brother. We have a choice to make. Do we want a world of Fairness – because to tell the truth, it’s not fair that the brother gets in. He severely disrespected the Father and everything He stood for – or do we want Forgiveness? Do we want entrance requirements? Do we want walls?

He is with us, and everything He has is ours, now do we actually want His kind of party?

Can we really live a life free of comparison, free of being “better than” someone else? 

SO many questions… 

Can we enter a party where the guest of honor is our “enemy,” who has not followed any of the rules, who looks and acts differently that we think guests at this party should look and act?     

And if I start to look at that brother honestly (which in itself takes a humongous amount of courage) and see that I share more in common with him than I’d ever care to acknowledge, then I’ll start asking all new questions and opening the door to a whole new life and I’m pretty sure that kind of whole new life is what Jesus had in mind all along.

Far From Perfect

There are days, weeks, seasons of our lives where the walls are caving in, every phone call is at best: an emergency, at worst: the worst. There is no end to our prayers, no more tears to cry, our heart hurts even though it’s already in pieces, broken so thoroughly it feels as if it’ll never be put back together. You know these spaces, this darkness, this pain. And yet we pray, we still cry, still hurt. We keep moving, because tomorrow can’t be like this, right? And then, of course, it is. This is a season like that.

But we get up again. We don’t want to, but we do. We stand.

This is why it’s so important to examine and understand weight, priority, value – for times like this. Because it’s hard to see at night. Sometimes, it’s hard to breathe and we’re overcome with despair, and it’s precisely these times when we need to know what we are about, when there’s no time to think and the foundation is shaking. When the water is rising.

Everyone responds well when the sun is shining, everyone is gracious when they win.

Anyway. 

I love to watch court shows, like the People’s Court. The People’s Court is on where I live at 1 and 5, I record the 5 o’clock and watch it the next day while I eat my lunch around noon-ish. Today, I’m not watching it because I’m writing. This isn’t too unusual, but I’ll tell you something. I’m sad today. There’s a sweet boy I know undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor right now, I’ve had a run of bad news, relationships are falling apart – others and a few of my own, my legs hurt from a spin class 2 days ago, a good friend is trying to get home but is in the hospital while his insides bleed slowly, several people have passed away and I’m praying for peace for the beautiful friends who have lost. SO. All I want to do is lay on the couch and cry a little and watch Marilyn Milian. 

I’m not, though. Instead, I’m writing. Because that’s who I am. At least it’s who I’ve decided I want to be, who I have been created to be, long before the surgeries and phone calls and funerals and spin bikes. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time exhuming myself, getting rid of all of the walls and dirt and damaging words and thoughts and lies I’ve buried myself under, trying to discover me.       

I value honesty, mercy, and forgiveness. (I’m really working on the last 2 towards myself, but I’m working on them because they are so important to me.) 

I believe people are created in the image of God (even me, which may be the most difficult to accept, right?) I believe that waaaaay down, in the deepest parts of my soul. Then when people let me down (and we always do, eventually) and I’m tempted to think humanity is a hopeless lost cause, I remember what I know – what I learned in the daylight, when it was quiet and I could think clearly. 

But if I didn’t give the time and effort then, I would surely forget the million examples of beauty and love and be prisoner of the moment, of the offense, of the wound, and make decisions based solely on circumstance. Only on the now.

I’m finished for now. I’m going to lay down and cry a little and listen to some music. But there is this Rise Against song, that seems totally appropriate today. It’s called ‘Far From Perfect’ and this is the chorus:   

“We are far from perfect, but we’re perfect as we are.

We are bruised, we are broken

But we are [expletive deleted] works of art.”

Restart

This morning I finished a book of Elisha’s called Restart, by his favorite author, Gordon Korman. It’s about an 8th grade boy who falls off his roof onto his head and remembers nothing; not his mother, not his friends, his room or anything at all about his life. On the back cover, it reads, “Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is – it’s who he was… and who he’s going to be.” What a fascinating question this book is asking… 

It turns out this Chase was a football star and a pretty terrible person, the worst bully in the school, awful and making life hell to everyone unlucky enough to cross his path. He didn’t know why – I suppose no one really knows why we do the awful things we do, and to whom. Sure, it’s obviously insecurity and fear, but why do we choose to turn it outward and why focus on that particular him or her? 

Anyway, he wakes up with a do-over.

The principal says, “This is an awful thing that’s happened to you, but it’s also presenting you with a rare opportunity. You have the chance to rebuild yourself from the ground up, to make a completely fresh start. Don’t squander it! I’m sure you’re not feeling very lucky, but there are millions of people who’d give anything to stand where you stand right now – in front of a completely blank canvas.”

Last Sunday, the message was essentially the plot of this kids’ book. If I had read it earlier, I would have quoted it then. In fact, we also asked the question, “Who are we going to be?”

It’s New Years, and I love New Years! I always get squishy and reflective around New Years. Maybe more so this year, wondering who I am, who I’m going to become. 

The message of the Gospel is that today is new, we are new. That today is not just an extension of yesterday.

But still we repeat lies like ‘it is what it is,’ ‘I’ll always be that way,’ ‘it’s just the way he/she is, the way I am, the way we are,’ or ‘they’ll never change,’ along with so many others that keep us stuck. So we stay in jobs we hate, unhealthy relationships, or unfulfilling lives believing these hopeless stories that cast us as helpless victims, chained to narratives that lack imagination and suck our souls dry. 

We don’t usually get a cliched soap opera twist to provide us this opportunity, but we don’t need one. We already have a reason, an opportunity – we just don’t take it. 

We are more open to the possibilities at New Years, right?

There’s a favorite story of mine in Genesis, where Jacob wakes up and says, “God was in this place, and I was unaware.” I think of that often, that I don’t want to wake up and say, “I was unaware.” What if we live our whole lives with the invitation to be new, to change (us, the world, anything and everything), to imagine, to find peace, to give/receive/experience Love… And we miss it? What if we leave that invitation unopened?

We probably don’t have to leave those jobs or relationships or lives, (maybe we do), we just have to transform the way we see them. We simply have to see them from a different angle with different eyes. What if we woke up with a blank canvas, free from the disappointment of unrealized expectations – of ourselves and of others? What if we had today to ask and to answer who we are going to become?

We don’t need amnesia, just a mustard seed of faith that things could be different.  

The book was amazing, by the way. I bet Elisha would be happy to let you borrow it.