The Cost of Letting Go

Conflict. It’s a thing. A real thing. Like the McDonald’s of things. It’s everywhere. On every street corner. In every community and work place and church and family. You can try to avoid it and  lock yourself up in your home. Close the windows and blinds  to try to shut out the world. But life is messy and relationships require work, so conflict will come.

The underlying thing about a conflict is it pushes on our idols. The things we really want or feel we need that turn into things we are afraid to be without. Our hearts are idol factories. The book of James in the Bible says that things that cause fights and quarrels among you are the “desires that battle within you. You want something but you don’t get it.” A desire that tips into a demand.

The only way around it is overlooking. Distract. Don’t focus on it. Put it in context of the bigger things in life and recognize that you can shrug your shoulders and move along. An active choice. But when something changes your relationship with a person for the long haul. When the awkward and sick feeling you get when you see someone creeps in, and when you either want to attack or withdraw, we have a problem…

We seem to have all felt deep hurt. The kind that pricks your ego in all the tender spots. The kind that feels like it will leave a  deep scar if the wound ever stops being picked open. Something that seems to scream in our ears – you aren’t loved and you don’t belong. My reaction  is to  pull up my knees to my chest, wrap my arms around the hurt and believe that lie that I am seeking safety and not anger.

Because anger will always lie and say it isn’t anger. Instead it calls itself sorrow and truth and justice and a whole lot of other things.

The Bible says “See that no root of bitterness springs up- this is how men are defiled.” Bitterness will twist you. It will rob you of trust, steal joy, and control the future by nursing the wounds of the past. No one wants to live that way.

But… here’s the kicker.. that actually requires something of us. Because bitterness is a by product. Something that springs up from a root.

The only way around it isn’t a way around at all. It is to forgive.

There are a whole host of other things we often want. Like a good way to confront or a reason to build a wall. We live in a culture where feelings rule. And if we are mad or hurt and feel justified in that, then we can’t forgive. I want to paint the person with my big black paintbrush. To put a stamp on them that deems them unsafe. I want a way to exact justice.

But Jesus says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” The word forgive means to release someone from debt. And like any debt that needs to be paid, it costs.

It costs you.

You let go of any need of repayment. The natural response is to engage in the fight, or even the score with hurtful words on our tongue or thoughts in our head. To inwardly root against them, and not seek for the other person to thrive. To feel the debt is being paid in small doses.

So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Um. Watch MYSELF? Cause I was super busy with my eyes on this other guy. You know, keeping a watch out for other behaviour that warranted my big black paintbrush. Prepared at any time to do some touch ups. Kind of a high alert kind of situation here Jesus… Not sure i can really watch myself right now… cause I would never do anything like that person does…

You really can stay angry when you feel superior.

Tim Keller  says “forgiveness flounders when I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”  When we are wronged we reduce people to what they have done. If someone lies, we call them a liar. But us… well we are sorry, but things sometimes are complicated so we told a little lie to not hurt anyone. We are multi dimensional and complex, but that other person is defined by this one  thing.

Jesus said we must forgive even if someone wrongs you as totally and fully as any person could wrong another human being. Seven times. The number in the Bible that was symbolic for completeness. Seventy times seven. Nothing is impossible to forgive. When we withhold forgiveness we are the servant acting like a king, sitting in the judge’s seat.

If we want to forgive, we must remind ourselves that we are both human beings made in God’s image. All have great dignity and worth.

And do you know what Jesus followers said to the call to forgive?  “Increase our faith!” They knew this wasn’t natural.  They were saying “we don’t have the power to do this”. Because forgiving just takes more than we can give.

Here is the good news. With only a teeny tiny ounce of faith- the size of a mustard seed- we can forgive. Because this isn’t natural. It is super natural.  If I have even a little understanding of what Christ has done for me, that I am a sinner saved by grace, I am able to forgive. When we understand there is no way we could ever pay the debt that we owe. When we understand that someone who didn’t owe a single thing, paid a debt of the greatest kind for us…  only then can we go and release someone from the hurt.

I once stood at the edge of the grand canyon. As far as the eye can see there was this hole that seemed to be torn into the face of the earth. If you drove for an hour down the road and got out to look- it looked exactly the same. The magnitude was breathtaking. And I was reminded that I owed a debt even greater to a holy God. I picked up a handful of stones and watched them tumble into the canyon. In a moment they were gone and they made no difference. In all of my lifetime if I stood there and shovelled stones into the canyon- I could never fill it.

I owed a debt I could never repay. That is what I have been forgiven. Enough to fill all of the canyons.  Christ paid a debt he did not owe and he will never ask me to repay. Complete and utter grace. Forgiveness is  worth the cost when we realize how much we owed.

Forgiveness can be chosen and worked toward and  granted before it is felt. A decision that is made that drags our feelings behind.

Sometimes I have needed a reminder. I once took a heavy rock and laid it in our yard. And every time that those thoughts began filling my head, reminding me what I was owed, telling me that I would never do anything like that, I looked at that rock. And I reminded myself that I laid it down. At times every one of my feelings was telling me to pick it up. And you know what, choosing this hurt. Every time you refuse to seek repayment or put down that secret bad feeling, it is surrender.

The currency of forgiveness is in the little decisions.

Slowly, in little tiny ways, I visited the rock less. And in gentle ways, I could see goodness. Preaching to myself, reminding myself of what I know about God, I surrendered. And in the depths of my heart, I found freedom.

We are never too broken for grace. Any of us. Ever. May we be forgiven forgivers.

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One Size Does Not Fit All

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I feel like I have spent much of my life figuring out who I was and who I want to be.

I am not a super talented person. I can’t sing or dance or draw or create. I am not highly administrative or super becky-homecky-make-everything-from-scratch lady . There are some things I enjoy, like painting a room, but my ceiling can attest that I also sometimes paint outside the lines. I actually can spell adequately. Except for the word rythm, rhthmn, rhythm (I really feel there is not enough vowels in that word).

I wanted to figure out how to squeeze myself into a box.

To soak up the wisdom of baking bread and making all of my salad dressings from raw and simple ingredients. Cause it felt so much more pure than buying the bottle of Thousand Island. To glean wisdom on how to be more gentle and how to make my words be just a little more sing-songy. For my actions and desires to be quiet and long suffering and not too full of passion or heaven forbid too full of questions.

I think somehow I adopted the idea that a woman of faith gets married, has a few children, loves teaching sunday school and having people over for dinner. Her husband leads family devotions at the supper table and her children grow up and learn to play some instruments so they can lead music in church. (WHO IS THIS WOMAN? Cause I have probably looked for you so I can copy you. And for awhile I thought maybe you were the one, but than I realized that you shop at M and M.)

I spent years thinking that one size fits all. And I didn’t realize that one size never really fits anyone. 

It just seemed to me that in the culture of a church and a life of faith, that certain passages were spoken directly to me. When a woman is named in scripture I would sit a little higher and perk up my ears a little bit more to glean the goodness that is for me. Let’s leave the heroic Daviding to the gents, tell me again about Mary and Martha, the woman at the well, the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair, proverbs 31, Esther and Ruth, and a good dose of Ephesians 5. And so tossing together all of those bits and pieces, I seemed to draft a job description in my head. Take that and mix in a bit of the culture of the church and voila! The ideal woman. 

Oh how grateful I am that God knows our hearts desire for a good formula. How we want to check the boxes off one by one. How we find ways to become our own saviours and kings by following the law that we have drawn up in our minds. The kingdom of Jesus has come. Restoration has begun.

The word of God is written for me. All of it.

The word wasn’t written for the men in the world and we got thrown some little bits. Truth is not divided among gender lines or job descriptions or socioeconomic status. We want to cut up little bits and copy and paste them under the categories that we have created.. The call in the story of Mary and Martha to choose relationship is not just for us ladies. It’s actually for all of us. People. The body. (I am legitimately gonna google search to see if there is a men’s study on Mary and Martha.)

The kingdom has come for me. The fullness of the Kingdom. The good news is not for some. It is for all. It doesn’t demand requirements or tell us to look and think and act and be a certain person, it just bids us to come.

And the beautiful thing is it doesn’t make us all more of one. It doesn’t mean that we negate personality or gender or giftedness. It calls us all to freedom. It makes us all the more diverse and varied. It makes the body a body and doesn’t mean we all have to be the eye.

And you know what, I need you. The body needs you. Our community needs you.The calling of God is on you. The gifts that you bring are needed. Every person, every gift matters. We need all hands on deck in our community in order to do the work that God has for us.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus is for you. The call of God is for you.  The word of God is for you. The kingdom has come for you. The gifting of God is poured out on you.

Free yourself from what you think you need to be and discover who God is growing you to be. And then throw yourself in. Find what you love, what brings you joy, and where your passions and questions and vision takes you. Find your rest and what brings you life. What feeds your soul and nurtures your body and spirit. Live your life in the dance of relationship with God and with others.

I happily buy Thousand Island. We started one hundred family devotions that we rarely finished. My husband uses his gifts to serve behind the scenes and I like to teach. I sometimes don’t know where I fit in the world and sometimes that feels scary. I am feeling more and more free to use the gifts God has given me. And I love the dance of faith and friendship.

It is a “this size was perfectly crafted for me” kind of kingdom. Thank you Jesus!

 

 

 

When you get the pity invite…

The pity invite. I hate it. When you find out that all of your friends have made plans and you “accidentally” over hear and they say “oh…you should come too…” Ya. That.

I don’t wanna.

I get offended and think, “well if you wanted me to come then you would have invited me before”. I want to be chosen.

Ugh. Being a woman sucks sometimes. Feelings run amuck like a dog clamouring for attention and barking at your constantly, saying “pay attention to me!” They just don’t go away when you ignore them.

And so you have these bad feelings. That make you feel alone and unloved. And like the mature 46 year old woman that I am, what do I do? I hide.

People may assume I am one of the “connected” ones. But if I am honest, I have times when I feel deeply alone. And instead of reaching out and finding solutions, it is so much easier to sit back and have myself a little pity party (which must include chocolate). Sometimes I just want to close my blinds, lock my door and be. Aka. My pity party.

When I am disconnected, I have a tendency to fill in the blanks negatively. To make assumptions in silence. To sit back and scatter seeds of pity or doubt or ill will. To point out unmet expectations. To let jealousy creep in. To criticize.

When we feel we are anonymous or unseen or not heard, it allows us to sit back and fill in the blanks. Because our mind does that.

Our minds always fill in the blanks.

When we feel alone.  When we don’t have a place to know and be known, we stop telling our story and stop hearing others stories.

Telling our stories is hard sometimes. It takes courage. We are complex, broken, and flawed. It takes risk because life is messy and it takes vulnerability to share that. We need to be brave enough to share and courageous enough to listen to others.

I read a book awhile ago that talked about these people lost in the midst of a war. They came across this little town and as they wandered to the town square they saw someone standing with a dying flower in their hand, talking about a memory. The town, that had been ravaged with war, was overcome with hushed silence. One of the newcomers, knowing that the town would soon be occupied, asked why everyone was standing around. With a shush, they were told that everyone was taking a turn telling their story.

Our stories matter. Being known matters. The experiences that make us the most vulnerable, often bring us the most love, belonging and joy.

So my feelings and I have a little “reality check”. I admit with a sigh that just because I feel something does not make it true.

Feelings are great companions but terrible masters.

And so I begin the battle of the heart and mind. I preach to myself what I know to be true. I battle to give others grace and to not fill in the blanks with assumptions. I remind myself that when I feel anonymous, my lenses are dark and my vision is clouded. And I push myself to not close my door, but to reach out. To choose others and invest in relationship.

Life is hard; but people get to show up for one another, as God told us to, and we remember we are loved and seen and God is here and we are not alone. May this give you the courage to share your story.

And may we always say yes to the pity invite…

On The Shoreline

I stand on the shoreline

With my arm gently raised

Poised to say goodbye

With tear stained cheeks and a breath of sorrow

 

My friend is being carried away

The water easing her to a distant shore I know is there but cannot see

And although my heart begs the waves cease

The pull to home is too strong

 

And yet I hear this sweet melody

A voice that has walked beside me and taught me

It is the wind that carries her song

A song of thanksgiving that has no end

 

Truth proclaimed in gentleness and love

Which has left behind its marks of grace

Wisdom born from sweet communion

A passing along of the story of God

 

The tune is filled with joy and longing

A harmony that gently lifts up my head

A call to fix my gaze on irrepressible hope

Hope that does not fail and does not grow weary

 

I can almost hear the song of heaven

Beckoning her on with a voice louder than my tears

A shout of jubilation awaits

And a sigh of trusting lament escapes my lips

 

Some day I will join in the celebration

Until then I pray the waves be gentle

And that she will hear my whispers of love

As the waters carry her home

 

And so today, with my hands lifted in praise

I join in the singing

Holy, holy, holy are you Lord God Almighty

Who was. And is. And is to come.

My lament

Yesterday I heard news of a friend who took his life. A young man who exuded joy and sensitivity. Who loved to help others and asked great questions.

Last week we went to a funeral of a kid we watched grow up. And at 19 his life was overtaken. He smiled readily and hugged me every time I saw him.

My heart every morning goes to my friend who is dying. Cancer is taking her body. After a life of vibrancy and faithfulness and pouring herself out for others. And although her eye is set on the kingdom of God, too many people will grieve her.

And the list doesn’t stop there. Around our table we daily talk about things like ALS, cancer, infection, loss, sorrow, sickness, funerals, struggle, brokenness…

Oh God, can you hear my cry?

My crying out to God is my lament. A passionate expression of grief, a weeping and wailing. A way to cry out with our sorrow and a plea to end suffering.

The psalms are filled with words of lament. Psalm 13 asks God if we are forgotten. If God can see us. Asking how long do we have to suffer and hold sorrow? It is a plea for God to intervene or there would be defeat and even death. The enemy is there. And sometimes the enemy is mental anguish, relational strain, physical pain, social injustice. The psalms that express lament are saying that things are not right, that they don’t need to be this way, and are asking for God to change them. It is an understanding that the sadness, hurt, alienation, questions, doubts, anger, confusion and bewilderment are something to cry out about.

And God is big enough. There is room for our sorrow. He wants us to come with our weariness and our pain. He wants us to ask the questions and sometimes to shake our fists at the air of injustice. He wants us to say that this wasn’t the way we thought it would be. And that we need it to be different.

In our suffering we are not alone. We are not alone when we ask God if he can hear our cry. The psalms are often laments that were written to be sung. We are meant to lament in community. To cry out together. They invite one to listen to the anguish of another without judgment or censure. There is something in us that takes our lament and shuts out the world to weep and wail alone. But while our reaction is to turn inwards to “lick our wounds”, a lament asks us to turn outwards.  This allows us to rely on God and the community to carry forth hope on our behalf when we have no hope in us.

The beautiful thing about lament is that it does not end in sorrow. It is not empty. Psalm 13 ends with a beautiful knowing trust.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

Praise. Planting my flag. A declaration of what I know to be true. A certainty that prayer has been heard and praise for deliverance. This isn’t a “the sun will come out tomorrow” kind of sing songy hope. But this is a deep and irrepressible hope and knowing that God will not leave us, that he loves us, and the he is good. There seems to be a kind of confidence. From a plea to praise. From sorrow to joy.

I wish I knew sometimes how the story will be written. What this next chapter of the story that God is authoring will go. But what I do know is that it is ok to feel the sorrow and ok to let it be heard. And we are called to reach out with our sorrow and not hide. And that in our pain, we can help each other plant our flag on what we know to be true.

Because of God’s great love for us, we are not consumed. His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness oh God.

 

 

 

 

 

A whole new world: Becoming a Mother-In-Law

There are few words that are said with such a range of emotions as “Mother-in-law”. This is something I have just begun to notice. Probably because I am one now. Some people say it with trepidation. Asking “hows it going?” with a sort of whisper. Others put their hands on their hips and spit those words out. Like they are sharp and pokey. And a few say it with tenderness. Mostly those who are already Mother-in-laws. Knowing that you have been ushered into some sort of club that you never knew existed.

For years we naturally parent. We set boundaries, use our judgement, make decisions, offer consequences. Even parenting beyond teen years, we have a strong voice in our kids lives. We give advice and problem solve with them. We offer our words and our help because we are the parents. We are our kids people.

And then things screech to a halt.

Not only are we doing like the Carrie Underwood song says and let “Jesus take the wheel”. We aren’t even in the car.

I loved being in the car. I loved knowing the general direction it was going. I loved hearing the chatter on the journey, even if it was from the back seat in teen years. We never wanted to get out too early. We want to stand with our kids and for them. But there comes a time when you have to get out.

One year ago, our daughter chose. For one year I have been a mother in law. Rarely in life have I learned more in a short time.

Our voice is now small. We no longer are the closest or the loudest voice. There is a natural boundary. A whole new entity was brought to life when our daughter walked down that aisle to her groom. A whole new thing formed from the little bits of our lives and story and mixed with the little bits from our son-in-law’s life and story. This is so freeing. Because it isn’t a direct reflection of the mistakes we have made. It is a whole new thing. Enriched by a whole other family  that has raised a strong and confident and godly young man. What a joy it is to see this enfold. When we watch our kids it is with a curious fascination and a lot of wonder. They have formed a union in marriage and have become a beautiful little family.

A beautiful imperfect little family. Because we don’t stop being parents, we see choices and mistakes. Fear can still creep in. We still want to control. They are entering into something hard. So hard that a lot of couples just don’t survive it. We have wisdom and experience to share.  And it is hard to feel we are right and have to be quiet. But the more and more I think about it, we have to be quiet.

I have a few people who are my “mother-in-law super heroes”. And when I watch them or speak to them, I see a common thread.

Judgement kills relationship. 

When our voice is small, judgement cannot be a part of any of the words we speak. When do we get to mention that things could be done better? Never. When do we bring up that little issue? We don’t. We aren’t in the car. We aren’t choosing the direction it is going. We aren’t suggesting where it turns. And we aren’t choosing its path.

This is scary. Because we have to trust.

We have to trust the heart of our own child. And even scarier, we have to trust the heart of the one that our child has chosen. That they will be faithful and steadfast and loving and wise. And we have to trust that God is invited in. And that He is good. That He will complete the work that is HIS and only His. This covenant was made with three. And a cord of three is strong and withholds in the trials of life. And what God has put together is better than what I could have imagined.

Our voices are not silent.

We still are part of telling our kids their story. To remind them of what we know to be true about who they are and who God is. To say that we trust the work of God in their life. Every so often this young couple asks us for our words.  We try to give them in gentle measures. Knowing that when our voice is small, it needs to be filled with goodness. With love and support. With encouragement. Full of grace and understanding.

When words are few they must be measured carefully.

I am learning. Slowly. Last week we were helping our kids paint their first home. And although I have been preaching to myself these things about not being in the car, I offered some prime advice. “I think the grey is a bit dark.” My son-in-law looked at me and said “I think its OK.” With a gentle smile,  and with a look that passed between us, I was reminded of his place and of mine.

May my words as a Mother-In-Law build up and not tear down. And may they be free of judgement, filled with hope and life-giving. You are loved Stu.

A+B doesn’t always equal C

There are a few lessons I learned early on that have made life easier.

1+2=3

Keeping your room neat makes your mom happy.

A well researched and well written paper will get a good mark.

Get a job and work and you will get a pay cheque.

Eat a lot of food and you will gain a little weight (Some lessons are harder learned than others.)

We are programmed in our world; input equals output. There seems to be a certain “rhythm” and fairness in life. Hard work pays off.  The early bird gets the worm. If you make your bed, lie in it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I love a good cliche. As we raised our kids, I am pretty sure I used most of these pearls of wisdom.  I can’t imagine a good Saturday morning house cleaning without a little mention of “many hands make light work”. They just seem so generally true and right.

Over the past years I have tried to glean other generally true and good things from those around me. Most often it was things that I admired in families. Things I wanted to recreate in our own home. The way someone motivated and rewarded their children to be responsible. How our friends taught their children to say sorry. A story of people I knew who took their kids on mission trips. And every so often I saw things in families that wasn’t so desirable. I was pretty sure we could “parent” those things out of our kids.

But as our children grew and turned into teens, I began to notice that a few things didn’t add up. Some of the people that I had watched closely now also had teenagers who didn’t do as their parents set out for them to do. Not only that, some had adult children who also did not fit the mould created for them. To be honest, I even saw a few of those “undesirable” traits in our own children, that we just hadn’t been able to parent out of them. Maybe we had failed and needed more discipline, more consistency, firmer punishment. Our little master “creations” did not necessarily reflect all of our good intentions.

How could this be? You see if A+B=C, then why did C look an awful lot like an X?

During my years of gleaning, the information age seemed to hit. Books and blogs. Websites and seminars. No longer did you just have a simple James Dobson book and your moms advice to help you along. Now the realm of possibilities, ideas and programs are endless. You can type into google “how to get my baby to sleep” and advice and products and books and and tips are wondrously at your finger tips. (This is a far cry from my Oma telling me that if you take a shot of whiskey at night your baby sleeps a lot better.) I love that moms and dads have the opportunity to learn and read and ponder. I love watching young moms talk about how to use a time out and how to use praise effectively. And I love that parents are so engaged in the lives of their children. The idea of “intentional parenting” seems to be one of the themes of this era. Parents are intentionally trying to be plugged in. Spending time with their kids. Calling each other to be responsible for the nurture and training up of those entrusted to their care. If you are a young parent, I want to say that I am amazed by you. Well done.

Although, at times I look around and wonder… has our idea of being “intentional”, slipped into a prescription?

I wonder if our strong input=output training goes into a realm where it doesn’t belong.

My heart loves a good formula. It is predictable and fair and allows me control. I can get a desired result and I know what work needs to be put in. You want to raise kids who work hard? Give them stickers on a calendar and let them pick a family activity when they have earned 50 stickers. Check. You want to raise kids who see beyond themselves? Have them write to their compassion child once a month. Check. You want to have godly kids? Do daily devotions at the dinner table and make sure they go to church and youth group. Check.

These are good things. Maybe even great things. But they are not guaranteed things.

Parenting is not a formula. There isn’t a prescription to follow with certain results. And there is a danger to believing there is. It makes us dependent upon our children and their choices. It holds us hostage with pride and fear. This becomes especially true as our kids move into the teenage years. We take pride in the choices that we approve of, wanting people to see the good job we have done. We soak in and take credit for things that are not our own. And fear runs rampant. We fear what they may choose, gripping them in control and entangling them in legalism. Fear doesn’t allow failure. Fear robs us of the freedom to enjoy relationship.

If we believe that A+B=C with our children, then who they are does not depend on God, but on us. And that burden is too large to carry.

My kids have issues. And you know what, those issues are their own. Not mine. There are times I need to ask for their forgiveness for ways that I have contributed. For hurts that I have caused and for wounds that I need to own. But the fact is, we couldn’t create the perfect people. My formula didn’t work. Does that mean that we give up and throw our hands up? No. We are called by God to be responsible for our children. To do our best. To love deeply and offer grace. To be intentional. Being conscious and deliberate in relationship, because it’s ALL about relationship. But does that mean we step into a place that only belongs to God? Because while we can love them, God’s love will be infallible. While we can train them, God can change them. I don’t know what my kids will have to go through to get to God. I can’t predict what that will look like. But I do believe in a God who is sovereign. Who has a plan that is far greater than my own. Who sees beyond the here and now to what can and will be. A God who is good and who will pursue their hearts and never ever fail.

My kids are 20 and almost 18. I am almost done an era of life. And while being a parent isn’t something that we are ever done with, this stage in life does entail a certain amount of reflection. As I look back, it is with speechless wonder. Awe. You see, God has done more than I could ever ask or imagine. Who they are is so much more than anything we could ever have created. Our children aren’t simple reflections of my husband or myself, but they are the complex and wondrous and beautiful reflections of God.

And I love that A + B = X.