Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Your Grace Finds Me

Wandering in the wilderness can be lonely at times. The wilderness can be dark and terrifying and at other times it is eerily quiet. Even the melody of your soul seems non-existent. You know it's there but you just can't quite find the right notes. You begin to sing and somehow you're singing in a different key. The wrong key.

You wonder why it seems like everything is falling apart when you've been searching for the right thing. You wonder where God is when He's the one you've been searching for. You wonder why it feels like you've been left on your own. Left with no answers. Left with no direction. Left with no connection of any kind.

All you have is the cup of regret that no one wants to share with you. A cup filled with bitter tears.

Trying to navigate my way through the wilderness with regret and bitterness as my companions has proven to be difficult. When I feel like I get some kind of handle on Grace, some glimpse of Hope, bitterness rears it's ugly head. Reminding me of the ways I've been wronged and how I'm entitled to be vindicated.

And I have believed those lies.

Those lies that come from the deepest places of hurt. Those deep, dark places that I haven't let anyone see. No one, especially not God. Those places that I haven't wanted to even admit exist. Because how can anyone still love me if I let them see the parts of me that I won't acknowledge?

And that's the lie that has kept me in this darkness. Broken and bleeding. The broken pieces of me like glass embedded at the top of the wall around my heart. Sure that they will keep me safe. Keep me from being hurt. But those shards have cut those who are closest to me the most. Fear and pride keeping me from seeing the affect I was having on those around me.

The enemy whispering all the while that I was entitled. Entitled to hold on to those hurts. Entitled to my bitterness. Entitled to my darkness. Entitled to wear my brokenness like a badge of honor.

And there in the darkest night of the soul...His grace found me.

And it wasn't at all where you would think it would be. It wasn't in church. It wasn't during prayer or quiet time. It wasn't in a bible study or small group meeting. It happened on a Sunday afternoon at Olive Garden. There were three of us. My oldest and dearest friend from high school and a new friend I had only met the previous Friday. It was there at a table covered in dirty dishes that Grace found me. As I sat with tears streaming down my face, these friends spoke truth into my life. Not the easy, yes you were right it's everyone else's fault, kind of truth. It was the hard truth. The truth we so often run from because that kind of truth shows us things about ourselves we don't want to see. The kind of truth that reaches the deepest, darkest places. The kind of truth that exposes the hidden things we haven't been willing or able to let go of.

In the days since, many tears have been shed. Tears for my hurts. Tears for the hurts I have caused. Tears for things that should have been. And tears for things that might not ever be. Tears that filled those deep, dark places. Tears that have softened the hard edges of hurt and regret.

That's the beauty of Grace. Grace manages to find us in the most unexpected places. Grace always meets us exactly where we need it the most. And even when we have to face the hard things, Grace is always gentle. Grace is always about love. Grace is always about change. It's Grace that makes our brokenness beautiful. It's Grace that puts us back together slowly, carefully, piece by small piece. Thankfully, Grace never leaves us as it finds us.

"I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things.
Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace's arrival. 
But no, it's clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark."

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
Anne Lamott

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Losing My Religion

If you are familiar at all with Twitter, you know they have a space for a bio on your home screen. In a 140 characters or less, you are supposed to write something compelling about who you are and/or what you stand for. Make yourself interesting to potential followers. Until recently, mine read as follows:

Stone thrower. Undeservedly standing in the grace of the one who is Grace, 
as He sings love songs over me.

In the last few months, I have felt that sentiment radically shifting. Oh, I'm still a stone thrower. I'm not sure that will ever change! And yes, I am definitely still undeserving. I am still standing in grace; for no other reason than it is a gift freely given to me. It's the love songs I feel are missing. Well, missing may not really be accurate. It's more like I just don't hear them anymore. They've become lost in the noise of this world...

Lost in the noise of religion.

In my last post, Longing for Grace, I wrote about not being in church on Easter Sunday. About some of the things I had experienced in church and at the hands of church leadership that brought me to that place. Where God was painted as harsh and judgmental. My salvation was based on the things I did or didn't do. I had to behave a certain way, say the right things. I couldn't let my behavior reflect badly on the church. I had to be for the church and everything they stood for. I was being molded by legalism to fit into a neat little gospel box of conformity. I either had to live by the law or die by it. I was slowly dying and becoming more lost by the moment...

Lost in the noise of religion.

At any given time these days, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are a hotbed of negativity. I encounter it on a daily basis. Christians posting on social media, espousing all the things that they are against. That we as Christians are required to take a stand against. All the things that don't fit into our neat little gospel box of conformity. And when we don't agree we are judged as having compromised the gospel of Christ. So those of us who won't take a stand on the side of the law are found wanting and hang in the balance between heaven and hell. Whatever thread we are holding onto ready to snap; sending us plummeting into the depths. Quite obviously having lost our way...

Lost in the noise of religion.

And I'm weary. Weary of the infighting. Weary of reducing people to labels because we don't agree with their choices. Weary of seeing those same people hurt because they don't fit our idea of Christianity. Weary that we make anyone who doesn't fit into our boxes less than. Less than worthy of the love and grace that we so readily say we stand behind. Weary of being told I need to put aside my hurts; die to my pain and suffering in order for God to use me to reach the unchurched.

Frankly, this is not the church I want to share with anyone. If I didn't already have a relationship with Christ, however fragile I feel it is at this moment, I would run screaming from this church. This church of rules and regulations. This church that is strangling the very life out of me. This church that is losing me and many others every day. This church that is lost...

Lost in the noise of religion.

So, I am finding freedom in the wilderness. Freedom in wandering. Freedom in asking questions. Freedom in doubting. Freedom in the Jesus that wrote in the sand for the woman accused. Because I have been that woman. Facing those with the stones in their hands. Facing their judgment. Facing their contempt. Freedom in the Jesus that met the woman at the well. Because I have been the woman outcast. Shunned and rejected by others in the church. Dismissed as a lost cause. Valueless. Unworthy.

I'm finding freedom because the Jesus of the wilderness is finding me. Actively seeking for me. Accepting me regardless of the things I've done. Seeing my worth. Wanting to know me intimately, caring for me, even when I can't see any value in myself. Extending Grace so radical as to be considered scandalous. Even as I walk away from religion, this Grace stops me and wraps me in unfathomable Love. I'm learning that even though I wander, I am not lost.

My twitter bio now reads as follows...

Stone thrower. Wilderness dweller. Wanderer in search of Grace.

For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me.
So I died to the law--I stopped trying to meet all its requirements--
so that I might live for God.
Galatians 2:9 NLT

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, 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