Sunday, April 20, 2014

Longing for Grace

It's early Easter morning. I won't be spending this Easter morning at church. Like many of you, I'll be spending this Easter at home. I just can't bring myself to face the demons that have caused me to leave...


I was saved one summer night, the year I turned 15. I attended a youth emphasis night featuring a concert with George King and the Fellowship. The only thing I really remember about that night is that they did "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas. Something about that song in that particular setting spoke to me. It was the first time since going to church that I was told that the Father loves me. It didn't matter that I had squandered all He had given me. He was waiting with open arms. Waiting to welcome me home.

After that night my eyes were opened. The God I met on Sunday mornings was not the same God I met that night. Sunday morning God was harsh and judgmental. Ready at a moments notice to punish me for my sin. I literally had the hell scared out of me every time the doors were opened. I found myself crying at the altar, begging forgiveness for all of the things I was doing wrong. I was going to hell. A hell full of fire and brimstone where I was destined to spend eternity.

Through the years I saw hurting people cast aside because they would tarnish the reputation of the church while other things were hushed up and covered up to protect family. The prodigal's Father was only a distant memory. I wasn't even sure He really existed.  

Fast forward 10 years. I'm a young mother with a 3 year old and a newborn. My life was crashing and burning all around me. Apparently, all those good things were not enough - were never enough. I had already walked away from church because I was weary of doing. I was told that this was the reason my life was falling apart. I was tired of the demands and tired of the works that were never enough anyway. I guess all those years I was told I was going to hell it was true, I just didn't realize it would be hell on earth. And I didn't give a damn any longer...


There have been many more things over the years that have contributed to the reasons I'm not in church this morning. The above was only the beginning. Where judgment and legalism took root in my soul and haunt me to this very day. The place where the trappings of religion wrapped themselves around my heart and have slowly been strangling the life right out of me.

And I know I'm not the only one. I see stories every day of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the church. In the name of a denomination. In the name of reputation. In the name of legalism. In the name of judgment. In the name of religion. All under the guise of being in the name of Christ.

We are victims of the church. Victims who have fallen prey to the emptiness of religion. And sadly, there are too many of us to count.

And on this morning, more than any other, we find ourselves longing.

Longing for open arms. Longing for a safe place. Longing for community. Longing for peace. Longing for Love. Longing for Grace.

And Grace is waiting for us.

Grace that understands every fear and every anxiety. Grace that understands every hurt and every betrayal. Grace that sits with us exactly where we are. In the messy and the broken. Grace that waits with open arms and a love that's beyond anything we could comprehend.


The Lord's unfailing love and mercy still continue,
fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Following the Ache

"Finding God's presence within us means going to where the hurt is, following the ache..."
Jonathan Martin


It's just too damn hard sometimes...

Going to where the hurt is, following the ache. Especially when your first inclination is to protect yourself from the hurt at all costs. Not only the hurt inflicted upon you but what that hurt has caused you to do to those around you. It's not an easy thing to face. It's so much easier to place the blame on the ones that have hurt you. Play the part of the victim. Hold them accountable for their actions.

What exactly does that look like, this accountability? According to dictionary.com, it's the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable. To report, explain, or justify something.

Truthfully though, that's not all we really want. Yes, we want answers but we certainly don't want anyone to be able to justify their actions. We want the full measure of justice meted out for their transgressions. We want them to pay for what they've done. To jump through and and all hoops we deem necessary for redemption. We want justice. And typically, we think of justice in regard to penalties and judgement for wrongs done. 

But there's another side to justice. In the bible we see that justice also deals with benefits given to those in need; the widow, the orphan, the poor, the sick. In these instances, justice looks a lot like love and grace. And aren't we all in need at one time or another? Even those who have hurt us. Especially when they have done everything in their power to make things right. They are in need of the exact same love and grace that we expect for ourselves.

But it's just too damn hard sometimes...

It is hard to give love and grace, and give it unconditionally. I, for one, have been shamefully guilty of putting conditions on my forgiveness. Conditions on my love. Conditions on any grace given. Harsh words to see in black and white. But true words...words I wish I didn't need to write, along with the conditions I wish I could take back. I have allowed my fear to get the best of me. The fear of failure, the fear of not measuring up, the fear of being hurt, and ultimately, the fear of betrayal. All things that have left me at times, broken and bitter. These are confessions I know all too well. Lessons That I'm finding difficult to learn.

Because it's just too damn hard sometimes...

Once again, I find myself mired in the ugliness of my own fear and selfishness. The shattered pieces of what God intended at my feet. I have nothing left to hold onto. As I walk through the rubble of broken hearts and lives, I'm left bleeding and alone. I'm beginning to doubt the second half of the quote found at the beginning of this post:


"Finding God's presence within us means going to where the hurt is, following the ache. Where could you be more likely to find the Comforter?"


And at this moment, there is no comfort. I find myself the one in need. The one in need of justice. The justice that looks a lot like love and grace. Knowing I deserve the justice that requires penalty and judgement. That it may be too late to receive the former. Too late to repair those broken hearts and lives. So I grasp for any glimmer of hope. Pray desperate prayers that go unanswered. Wait for the Comforter. Wonder if there's grace and love enough for me...


Where are you when I need you
When my heart is bleeding and broken
When prayers are left unanswered 
And reasons are left unspoken

Have I made too much of a mess
Of what was supposed to be
Are there pieces left worth finding
To create something new in me


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
Psalm 22:1

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tu Me Manques


We spent years in this place
Living separate lives together
An easy place once accustomed to the cold
Pretending we weren't numb to our feelings
Souls with no reflection, hearts that are broken
Slowly surrendering to the enemy within

With a kiss walls slowly began to crumble
Grace shining hope in the barren places...

But the enemy within is relentless
Knowing which wounds to reopen
Poisoning with bitterness and distrust
Stripping the hope of Grace
Endlessly throwing punches
At the bruises causing the most pain

Walls are hastily rebuilt against the onslaught
Keeping hope from the barren places...

As the past crashes in, we retreat to the broken
Dancing our waltz among the shattered pieces
I hate the ache of this loneliness, this deafening silence
The distance between us a chasm not easily crossed
I long for your touch, for a glance, a smile
For the breath of hope in the barren places

Tu Me Manques - You are missing from me...



But in your great mercy
you did not put an end to them or abandon them,
for you are a gracious and merciful God.
Nehemiah 9:31

























Friday, February 7, 2014

Living at the Edge



This is not the post I intended or wanted to write. I have three others that I have started that I just can't seem to move forward with. I guess this is the story that's begging to be told...the story that I need to tell. Someone needs to know they are not alone. I need to know that I am not alone. 


I've been living at the edge of depression these last few months. This darkness that sits just at the periphery. It would be so easy not to fight it. To let is wash over me. To let myself fall into it and be carried away. I find myself awake until 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning where I am painfully alone with my demons thoughts. In the quiet of those wee hours they speak loudly and clearly.


You're not good enough. You're not thin enough. You're not talented enough. You're not beautiful enough. Your dreams are worthless. You're too judgmental. You don't love well. You don't forgive easily. You're not trustworthy. There's not enough grace for you. You are simply not worthy of any good things. How could God ever use someone as messed up as you are? Why in the world would He even want to?


And in those early morning hours, I begin to believe those voices. It's easier to give in than to stand up and fight. Easier to accept because they explain why my life is so shitty at the moment. Why I'm not in a position to fulfill my dreams and desires. Why relationships balance precariously on the edge of destruction. Why nothing seems to go as I had planned or wanted.

And oh, the daylight hours. I just can't bring myself to face them. The comfort of my bed and pajamas are my close companions most days. Those voices that are so convincing at 3:00am are harsh reminders of my failings in the cold light of day. Reminding me how alone I am. How broken I am. Because, let's face it, as Christians we are supposed to have our act together. When someone asks us how we're doing, we're supposed to smile and say we're fine.

Why has the church so sanitized Christianity that we can't be real with each other? That we can't be honest when that question is asked. It seems the church has become so afraid of tainting their witness (ugh) or more accurately, their reputation, that we can't and won't tell the truth. We're afraid to be judged and found unacceptable. The church is afraid of our brokenness. Jesus has been made into a sad caricature of who He really is. Our pie in the sky savior who makes everything perfect and all people happy and problem free. Or the uncaring king of the hill who expects perfection and bullies us until we fall in line, defeated and broken.  Smiles plastered on our faces as we sink deeper into the darkness.

Those of us battling depression, addiction, anger, bitterness, or (insert your poison of choice), have no place in the church. We are the marginalized. We find ourselves living on the fringes. Outcasts hoping for Grace to find its way to us. We've been forced to find community outside the traditional walls of the church. Where we're not afraid to say the hard things because we know we will be accepted. Where we know we will be loved. Where we know we will be cared for. Where we know we can speak our truth.


Life sucks right now. I'm living at the edge of depression. I want, no, I need that drink, that line, that pill. I'm pissed off. I'm drowning in this sea of bitterness. I want to feel the release as the blade makes it's mark. I want to lose myself so I don't have to feel anything. Yet, I long to be known. I long to be seen. I long to be validated. I'm hanging on to the fact that I love Jesus and that it's enough.


It's in these margins that we can speak our truth. It's here that we see Jesus as he really is. He's the one who stoops down and writes quietly in the sand at our feet while those who would judge us look on. He takes the time to sit with us by the wells that are brimming with our mistakes, our addictions, our anger, our bitterness, and our depression. He loves us enough to simply be with us in our brokenness. He accepts us just as we are.  He wraps us in arms of Grace. His breath against our cheek, hope whispered. He never promised us that everything would be perfect. He only promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us.


My God is changeless in his love for me.
Psalm 59:10 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

From Trust to Beloved - OneWord 2014

2013 was a difficult year for me. The year of Trust...


One of the Hebrew words for trust is b'tach. If you take a look at the Hebrew letters this is comprised of, you get the picture of being on the inside (bet), surrounded (tet), and protected (chet). So, according to this word picture, trust could be defined as abiding and resting inside the goodness of God; protected, embraced and surrounded by His compassion and favor.


A beautiful picture of trust. One that I wish I could tell you I fully embraced. One that I definitely needed yet was terrified of from the beginning.

And of course, I was not disappointed...

This past year came in raging like a hurricane and left me battered and bleeding on the shores of December. There were moments of peace as the storm raged around me. There were moments that found me tossed about between trust and fear, faith and doubt, hope and despair. My tenuous hold on trust found lacking when life happened. In those moments, I found myself thrown against the very rocks I placed around my heart to protect me.

In the aftermath of the storm, tide pools were revealed. There are times that these pools undergo extremes in conditions, making it nearly impossible for anything of value to survive. And just like many of the living things found in these pools, our hearts have become adaptable. We know how to hide and pull back just enough to survive the hard times. The times when we feel like we have nothing; when our hearts are empty and our souls are windburned and dry. Sometimes the over spray from the waves hitting the rocks is all we need to bring life to us in our desert times. Other times the only thing that will make any difference is the high tide. Or the storm.

I apparently needed the storm, and in the early days of 2014, I am finding new life in those pools. Treasures that have been rediscovered in the fury of stormy tides. Beauty in the wreckage of what's left of my soul...


I am learning that when I trust Him, I can be fearless. When I trust Him, I can truly embrace all He has for me to learn. When I trust Him, I can risk being hurt. I can love, because as the lover of my soul, I can trust Him to take care of my heart.

I am learning that even in the messy and broken, in the devastation left by stormy days (or years), He is always with me. He cares enough about me to make sure there is always beauty to be found. Always a treasure to be discovered. It's in the small things, the things I have to take the time to look for, that He reminds me I am beloved.


Trust turned my world upside down last year.

As I stand on the shores of this new year, I realize I am weary. I'm making the decision that this year is going to be a little more about self-care. 

A little more about silencing the negative soundtrack that accompanies me daily. 

A little more about discovering who I am. 

A little more about owning who I am. 

A little more about believing who I am. 

A little more about embracing who I am...


I am His Beloved.


Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,
for he shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.
Deuteronomy 33:12   


 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And Love Came Quietly

I've thought a lot about the last week of Advent - the coming of Love. What that means for us, how we embrace it, and how we so often miss it because of all the noise in our lives. Obviously the week of Christmas has come and gone. I got caught up in the busyness and noise of preparing for the big day. I let the quietness of love get lost in the noise of my life.

Yet love still came.

He came without fanfare in the noise and messiness of a stable. He came as one of us, born into the beautiful mess that is humanity. And he waits for us to quiet down, to take a moment, to be still and to know. He doesn't get in our faces and shout it at us. He doesn't beat us over the head with his word. He stoops down and writes quietly in the sand with our accusers watching. No accusations. No "I told you so." No shame. He takes the time to sit with us by the wells brimming with our mistakes, and treats us like we really matter. He treats us like the living, breathing people that we are, accepting our only offerings; our hurts and our hopes for redemption. Not as the labels the world has cruelly written across our hearts and plastered across our chests for all to see, like the blazing scarlet letter, warning good Christians everywhere, "beware!"

Adulterer, murderer, liar, cheat, whore, gay, lesbian, atheist, Muslim, Mormon, ugly, stupid, fat, loser, redneck...

This list is as endless and diverse as the people love came for. It's sad that we have cheapened anyone by reducing who they are or what they've been through to merely a label. Anything that is used to make you feel less than, love came to overcome.  

We only need be quiet enough to let it do so.

I received the following message a couple of days ago from one of my friends. It broke my heart for her, to read her words. And it broke my heart for me as well, as I have been guilty of the same things. Guilty of contributing to all of the noise that drowns out the message love brings. Read it and insert whatever it is that has you hiding. The body of what she said might read a little differently for you, but the hurt is the same. The heartbreak is the same. The shame she is made to feel is very much the same.


"How do you insulate a closet...so that you don't hear all the noise outside and feel the effects of the pounding outside the door? How do you reinforce the door's structure so that the darts thrown at it don't penetrate to the inside?

It used to be so easy to hide comfortably in the closet. It felt fortified with personal secrecy guarding it. The curtain of an acceptable facade camouflaged it nicely. The only hurt was inside. Afflicted but not inflicted. It was a quiet existence because then it was rarely mentioned, so its existence was easily ignored by others.

Being gay was not the subject of the day. It wasn't blasted all out of proportion on every news station. It wasn't brought up at family gatherings as a topic of conversation because some bearded redneck's comment or some celebrity declaring his/her truth. When you heard the term 'glad' you thought of happy. When you heard about 'coming out' you thought of debutante parties. When the subject of marriage came up it was applauded and not debated. When you laughed heartily, retelling Ellen's jokes because she was a comedienne, and they didn't realize she was a LESBIAN. When you could appreciate a good chicken sandwich without making a moral statement.

But now it feels like there is an intercom in the closet blaring the accusations, the disdain, the ridicule, the outrage, and the disappointment.

And it does not hurt my ears...it hurts my heart.


I've grown immensely weary of social media feeds filled with hatred, and judgement, and shaming. Where's the love people? Not the 'love the sinner, hate the sin' or 'speak the truth in love' kind, but the love that Jesus was born to bring and the love he died because of.

It's not our place to reduce someone to merely a label. It's not our place to change people. Did you get that??? It's not our place! Yes, God can and will use us in people's lives, but it's Holy Spirit's job to do whatever changing needs to be done. I think Jesus actually says it much better and much more succinctly than I ever could...love God and love people.

If we would only let love be, quietly, like love came... 


And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:13   

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Immanuel, God With Us

I sit here quietly in the wee hours of Christmas Eve. The first calm moment I've had all day. Contemplating where I've come from in the past year and the changes that are yet to come.There have been some difficult moments to be sure. But this year has also been a year of redemption. I'm thankful for the gift of this day...thankful for Immanuel, God with us.

That's not always been the case though. There have been Christmases filled not with joy and hope, but with hurt and despair. Those not filled with peace and love, but with bitterness and loneliness. I know for some of you reading this, that's where you find yourselves this Christmas season. Simply going through the motions because that's what friends and family expect. You don't want anyone to know just how empty you feel.

I want to let you in on a little secret. I know exactly how you feel and it's ok. It's ok because I know.


I'm guest posting today with Rebekah Gilbert at A New Song To Sing for her "Spirit of Christmas" series. Please join me there today. Click here.