Broken Praise (12/2016)

This is a poem I wrote for my Church’s annual Christmas Eve Candlight Service this year. I’ve been writing and sharing a poem since I was in my early teens. 

This year, I finally found my inspiration on Christmas Eve when I was at my grandparents. (It’s become a bit of tradition for friends to ask when I finally wrote it. This time I was in the car heading home from my grandparents, less than an hour before I needed to be at the church.) 

My grandfather said something that kept going around in my head. He was speaking of his mother, my great grandmother, who would nearly shout when praying. When he asked her why she always prayed so loudly, she answered, “I am so insignificant. I have to shake the rafters in heaven so I’m heard.”

It was something that itched my brain. Because that is the beauty of God. God doesn’t need your shouts to be heard, he listens to that quiet plea in the depths of the silence, when you have no words, he still hears you. The angels are said to rejoice when someone comes to Christ (Like 15: 10). That there is so much excitement in heaven that the very angels share it with each other.

We humans are not insignificant. God is so eager to have that relationship with us, that his messengers understand and rejoice with him when one comes back to him. We are not insignificant to God, we don’t need to shout. He hears us.

Broken Praise  (RKG 12/2016)
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
A shout was heard as the angels came
Rejoicing at the foot of Heaven’s throne.
Martyrs cried out with joy and saints danced with the Heavenly host.
The angels celebrated as Satan groaned.
Another one found is Satan’s loss.
The rafters in Heaven shook today.
The barest whisper of sound swept through Heaven with the force of a hurricane.
It had the power to close the gates of Hell and throw open the pearly ones.
It snatched from Satan’s grasp, one so lost that she found the light.
Her breathless plea, a whisper of hope, shook the rafters of Heaven today.
Lost in fear, betrayed by man, she took a leap and found faith again.
Never alone, always held, Emmanuel, God with us.
The Shepherd gathers his lost sheep, one by one.
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
A shout rang out and angels rejoiced around the Heavenly throne.
His cry was heard in the darkened room, despair so thick trying to suck him in.
But light abounded and darkness fled, salvation found, peace within hand.
A warrior’s cry so loud within his broken whisper, that demons quivered in fear.
Abused and hated, homeless and hungry, he took a leap and grabbed the hand of Salvation.
Never alone, always held, Emmanuel, God with us.
The Shepherd gathers his lost sheep, one by one.
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
The power of a broken praise that can heal hearts and find the lost.
Amazing the grace when love is given and hope restored.
The angels rejoice and martyrs cry with joy when one more is snatched from the grasp of Hell.
When Satan groaned, life is found.
When a birth foretold, and death chained the beast, Heaven’s rafters shook and a curtain tore, the joy poured out no longer contained.
Angels stood amazed as the Gospel was told, the love found in the act of sacrifice too great to bear.
My prayer so loud in my chaotic mind, shame pushed aside and grace found.
No longer condemned, I stand free.
I, I, shook the rafters in Heaven today, pleading to be taken out of the pit to live in the light of righteousness.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, take my hand and pull me free. Set me on the mountain high, out of this pit take me now.
Break the grasping talons of Satan now, shatter my chains, no longer enslaved.
Coat me in the sacrifice of love, wash me in the river of life, let me live in your perfect light.
My broken praise, my gift to you.
My rejoicing joined the angels today, as I was found in the darkness.
My Shepherd led me forth to the light, to drink deeply of the never ending life-giving water, never to thirst again.
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
Satan raged while the angels rejoiced.
I found my God when all was lost.
The gates of Hell slammed shut while Heaven celebrated.
One who was lost was found.


Failure is ALWAYS an option

I hate failure. With great passion. Admittedly, I hate it so much I fear to start something just because I could fail. Looking back over the years, I know I have missed some amazing opportunities because I fear to fail.

The world has made me fear. It’s definitely not God’s doing. God wants to push me over the edge because he knows my wings will make me fly. Fear does not have God’s flavor on my tongue at all, it’s acidic and has a nasty back-taste. Where God and his promises are full bodied and effervescent.

I have been contemplating failure a lot lately. Part of the reason is that I am nowhere near where I would have thought I’d be by now. I had this amazing life planned, working in a hospital and volunteering with retirement centers around my community as a chaplain. Perhaps finally doing a little bit of traveling. I never thought that life would be taking the look of what it is right now. I never thought God would place me where he did when he seemed to fill my mind with such dreams.

My life is not bad. I am very blessed to have the job I do, taking care of a lady who is just a few short months away from turning 100. I’ve learned a lot taking care of her. I am an active member in my church as a Sunday School Superintendent and teacher, which still surprises me since I grew up in that church. To think that these people are trusting me to teach them God’s word is daunting and occasionally nerve-wracking. The responsibility is big and I am still learning. Just because I have a piece of paper that says I satisfactorily completed Bible studies in a graduate level school, doesn’t mean that I still don’t have a lot learn.

Sometimes, I desperately miss school. I miss the constructed learning environment where I could fail and learn without it it necessarily making a huge impact on my life. I miss the drive that I had to succeed– not that I don’t still have it, but it seems to be missing a focus on a set goal. Now my drive to succeed sometimes just feels like getting to the next paycheck. Not that inspiring.

Life is about failure. It’s about coming at a situation and finding a way through it. Most time, if we are honest with ourselves, it rarely takes one time through a situation. We usually have to stop and reevaluate our tools and knowledge before attacking it again, perhaps at a different angle.

God gave me dreams for a reason. I think he has given me the ways to put them into action. I just need to learn how to trust him more than worrying about my bank account.

Failure in the science world is seen as a success in many ways. Albert Einstein famously said, “I have tried 99 times and have failed, but on the 100th time came success.” Scientists don’t give up when they meet with resistance. They take notes and then tweak a variable before attempting it again. Their brains- their hypothesis–says that it should be possible, they just need to find a way to make it work in real life.

To live life as if it was a hypothesis. A possibility that could be made reality. To know that dead ends and sudden twists are great adventures that mean it could still be an amazing discovery. To know with certainty that what you know to be true still has the ability to amaze you when you discover that there is more than that certainty.

It’s interesting. I view my theological inquires- my study of the nature of God and my religious beliefs– as a human hypothesis of God. I have long believed that if I held my beliefs as such, I would be able to be willing to let God show me his true self. My feeble human words can never accurately and completely describe the Divine. The Divine cannot be contained in the failing words that I use. To believe they can, is to shove God into a box, and he cannot be contained. I read all theologians’ writings with this thought, it is their very human attempt to explain an aspect of God that they see. They are bound to make mistakes just like I am. If I have a prayerful heart and ask God to continually show me who he really is, I am less likely to be led astray by theologians whose own prejudices influence their definition of God and salvation.

Perhaps this seems to be very childish view at God from someone who has a Masters Degree in the Bible. But, then again, Christ exhorted the disciples to come like children to him, which is to say, humbly and without artifice. When those who call themselves theologians and have the degrees to back them talk of God, do they do it humbly? Or is it with a certain arrogance that says they know it all? Listen and learn from them, but make sure you always have a faith that is open to God’s guidance. When you speak to others about the God you follow, be honest, say you don’t know everything but what you do know has changed your life.

I have been blessed mightily by the theologians that God has placed in my educational/spiritual life. But, I know that they don’t know it all.

I will always need to learn more about God. And I will never know everything about my faith and salvation until he calls me to his side and explains what it really is. My human hypothesis will then be put to the test, and I much rather hear him say, “Close, but let me show you what you didn’t understand.” Rather than, “Wrong! That is not what I was doing!”

I am attempting to live life as a hypothesis. There is nothing stopping me from trying again, but myself. It’s hard to put into practice though. Human constraints whether real or imagine seem to wrap themselves around me and I hesitate. Why am I willing to do it with the most important aspect of my existence- my faith- but I’m not willing to do it with this very human existence? Failure seems to be knocking whenever I think of going off script.

Makes me want to pull a Mythbusters and blow something up before trying again.

Here’s to living life without fear! May I seek it with a full heart, because God gave me wings and is encouraging me on.

failure-option (1)

 

The Burden of a Blessing

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Have you ever stopped to think what a burden a blessing might be?

We ask God to bless us without really knowing what we are asking for.
We wish each other God’s blessings on days of birth and holidays. We ask for blessings of health and wealth as if those are the only forms of blessings possible.

Do you know what a double edged sword God’s blessings can be?

When you ask God for his blessings, do you ever stop to think what you might be agreeing to?

Studying the major blessings that we see in the Bible, I think they all come with a heavy burden. I wonder if I were to ask Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Peter, or Paul (to name just a bare few) if they would say that while worth it, God’s blessings were particularly heavy at times?

If you knew that you were going to be plunged into the fire to be molded and sharpened, would you be eager to be a recipient of God’s blessings? 

If you knew that to get the blessing you would have to do something that was going to be difficult and trying, would you still ask God?

I think we really need to think carefully about asking God for his “favor and protection.” God is no wish fulfilling genie. There is a purpose behind everything he does. While he protects us from the talons of the evil one, perhaps his favor has a heavier load that accompanies it.

For example:
Abraham was called out of his culture to be blessed mightily by a God forgotten by most of the population. By answering God’s call, Abraham is accepting the first part of a contract between himself and the Divine. By seeking God’s blessing – the promised offspring that will be multipled greatly- Abraham is in essence sealing the contract (a binding agreement) with God.

Both God and Abraham must fulfill their part of the agreement for the blessing to be fully realized. This is where the burden can be seen.

Now, we must remember that in all subsequent contracts we look out, God has always laid out exactly what he expects and what he promises. God has never breached his contracts, nor does he hide in loopholes. He did no less with Abraham.

Abraham is a product of his own sin though. Where God has promised -blessed- him and Sarah with a multitude of descendants in their barren union, Abraham’s duty was to have faith and trust in God’s timing. Thankfully, God still brings into completion his side of all contracts despite human failings. Abraham, with prompting from his wife (also a contractee) manufactures a loophole in the blessing.

Instead of waiting for the promise to come to birth, Abraham attempts to do it in his own terms, by producing a child with Hagar. Effectively starting the war between two sons’ descendants–Israel (Isaac) and Islam (Ishmael). Two children whose blessing is a big burden. Both equally blessed by their Father’s God with a multitude of descendants who, because of that same father’s sin, will be at war against each other until the end of days.

The burden with the blessing. The burden ultimately comes from the inability humans seem to have on completely trusting God’s promises and causing problems with our bumbling. The blessing was pure: Isaac was promised in God’s timing. Abraham’s line was set up to be gloriously long. But, he couldn’t wait, because his faith just wasn’t strong enough. So, the contract had a human sized hole punched through it, causing God to do what he promised twice. Ishmael equally received the inheritance of being Abraham’s son.

God does not lie. He promised Abraham that his children would outnumber the sand on the shore. That means to completely fulfill his part of the contract, God had to bless each child from Abraham’s loins equally.

This burden of blessings, can be seen in the interactions of Isreal the nation with God as well. You first start to see the inkling of the difficulties that Isaac’s children will face before he is even born. Genesis 15:13 says, Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years.”

To be called out as different from the surrounding tribes would have been a heavy burden to carry. The very customs God wanted them to use were to declare them set apart. Isreal was to be an example of righteousness, and in that to be a shining light for the pagans to see.

When Moses came on the scene, he was part of Abraham’s blessing and a bearer of a renewing of the blessing on Abraham’s descendants. With the renewing additional blessings were handed down, along with a more refined covenant. The covenant though was still very closely related to the original blessing, but because it was dealing with a much larger contractee/ person group the language was much more defined. The 10 Commandments along with cultural laws were shared between God and the Hebrew people.

These laws were set literally in stone to show the Hebrew people exactly how different God was calling them to be. But, once again, God asked if the people were really willing to follow the very strict rules he was giving. Exodus 19:5  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples ….And they promised they were willing. Not once! But twice! Exodus 19:8  All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Even in the midst of worshipping a man made cow, they said they were willing to follow the rules.

So the blessing was given. The burden was felt. In an effort to be considered truly different from the surrounding tribes, the Israelites were in essence, declaring a cultural war. The God they worshipped became a feared unknown entity to the enemy.

The burden is truly felt when other nations attacked them on the battlefront. Or, when God disciplined the Hebrew people because they were choosing not to fulfill their part of the agreement. The burden is felt when God has them dispersed over the centuries on a number of occasions to remind them of his blessings. Through slavery and homelessness, God reminds his people that he alone is their resting place and their salvation. The blessing can indeed be heavy.

Then we jump to the New Covenant because God’s Son completely fulfills all aspects of the old contract, not just the promises that God puts forth but the human side as well.

Jesus Christ brings into complete fruition all parts of the original agreement between the Divine and Abraham. Along with all the renewing contracts with Abraham’s descendants. God does not null and void one little bit of the blessing.

God knew that we humans could not fulfill our side of the blessing contract even when we tried our hardest. So, instead of ripping up the agreement –or suing us– as is his right as the Contractor, God instead keeps not only his side of the promise, but ours as well! He provides the ultimate form of our agreed upon service – faith and trust- in his Son, who trusts his father so much that he died to complete the blessing.

Because God does not lie or cheat, he made sure his contract -blessing- was 100% fulfilled. He provided the means to make sure it happened. No loopholes.

The blessing of a baby was a heavy burden for Jesus’ mother Mary. Because of her righteousness, she was deemed worthy.

Mary’s burden was difficult. Even if you ignored the fact that she was an unwed mother at conception, she was literally giving birth to a child that she was going to have to see die. Her burden was of the heart, she was going to have sacrifice her little boy as a man on a cross. As a devout Jew, she would have known that her child was going to face something horrible. She and Joseph would not have been naive in the raising of their son. The blessing would probably have been a very heavy burden, but not nearly as heavy as when she kneeled in front of her bleeding, gasping for air, tortured, precious little baby boy who was taking on the sins of the world as he was nailed to the Cross.

The heaviness of the blessing must have driven her to the ground.

I think, to truly appreciate God’s blessings, we must feel the burden of them. God’s blessings should not feel light and airy, because I don’t think we recognize the significance of what he is giving us.

There are sayings about trials being blessings in disguise. Or that the struggle to get where you are now was actually a blessing because, now, you know you appreciate what you have.

Perhaps, to receive God’s blessing, we need to sacrifice our comfort to be a part of the contract. We live in a sin riddled world and our own sins affect the way we interact with God. We will continually fail in keeping our side of the agreement, but we are called to keep trying. Our faith and trust in God are the services we must render to fully appreciate God’s blessing.

Thankfully, God does not search for loopholes like we do. He does not void our contract every time we slip up. Instead, unlike human contractors, God fulfills both sides of the agreement.

But. We will be held accountable for our services. God is no push over. He made a promise to Abraham’s descendants. He made a promise to the world at the death of his Son, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) But remember, God, especially in his love, will hold us accountable for that which we have not done.

You cannot partake of God’s blessing if you do not enter into the contract with him. He cannot force you to sign on the dotted line, accepting the burden of his blessing.

I honestly believe that if asked, Abraham, Moses, and Mary would all say the burden is heavy, but the blessing is glorious. And very worth it.

So, the next time you wish for God’s blessings on an endeavor, think. Are you willing to shoulder the burden that comes with it? Are you willing to truly sacrifice your comfort to sign on the dotted line of working with God?

I might have to remind myself throughout the trials and probable suffering that the world will use to make me attempt to find a loophole in my contract, but I want to be part of God’s blessing. I want to feel the weight of the burden of proof of God’s consuming love.

I want to fulfill my side of the contract.

So I have to remember, as the world knocks me to my knees, the blessing might be a heavy burden some times, but oh, it is so worth it.

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A Valentine’s letter to God

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Dear Father,
I’m sorry.
I haven’t been talking much to you lately.
No, actually, I haven’t been listening to you all that much.
I don’t know exactly why or when it happened. I just kept putting it off. When I call you up, or acknowledge your presence, it’s more to talk at you. Not, you know, talk with.
Why does that happen?
I love you so much. I want to hear you, to see your hand on my life.
Am I afraid of something that I think you might say?
Am I hiding from some truth you need to impart?
I don’t know. That’s more than probable, I guess.
I know that I have been struggling lately with what I think my life should be like at this moment in time. We build up these fantasies in our minds about the grand things we will accomplish at some arbitrary time we’ve selected. Then we find ourselves just being disappointed.
My dreams feel as if they are turning to dust within my grasp at this very moment.
I had plans, I had goals!
I seem to have nothing to show for it.
Father, I feel rather useless at this time. Perhaps, I fear, that you see me that way as well. Maybe, maybe that’s why I haven’t been turning my ear to hear your soft voice.
I struggle to open your message and find the encouragement that I know for a fact is there. Waiting. Waiting for me to be brave enough.
I’m always rather, cavalier might be the word? about telling others that I’m waiting on your guidance. I am. That’s not what I’m almost indifferent about, but rather the attitude I attach to the waiting. Or is it what I’m showing the world?
I believe that you can guide my steps. But, am I eagerly awaiting your guidance? Maybe eagerly isn’t the word. Trepidation? Maybe that’s a little bit closer. I could probably fill this letter with the thesaurus, it helps me skirt the issue.
I feel like I should be moving, but instead, it’s like I’m glued where I’m standing. With blinders on, so I can’t even turn to see the way.
It’s this weird pull and push feel. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be right this moment. (Example: living with my 99 year old client is where you have me. I think this is possible for at least one more year, but maybe two.)
But, I feel as if there is something I’m supposed to be doing at the same time. What?
That’s the million dollar question, Ranelle.
I keep questioning how my struggle with education (i.e. getting my Master’s) will play out in my life.
Will my Master’s in Divinity be simply used in my local church? Not, that my church isn’t worthy of me using it to teach Sunday school, but I thought counseling was the dream…
What about the 8 long years of being forced to break new ground at my school in regards to finding the ties between Theology and Disabilities? 75 pages later and a failed attempt at a class, the school seems to have no interest in it.
But, the class seems to have sprouted legs and ran across the country to come to fruition under different leadership. Bittersweet for sure, excited though I am for another school to catch the bug for the issue.
I saw and felt your hand through every step of that fight, God. Now I wonder, did I falter? Did I fail you? Or was it just so I could see the blessings in my own struggle with learning disabilities?
What am I missing?
I know that you love me, that your dreams are so much bigger than I can even imagine. But, I’m afraid that I’ll miss them. That I’ll be so busy looking at my poor misguided dreams and not see the huge one you are driving towards me.
Are you perhaps saying, that my dreams are too limiting? That they were good to get me from point A to point B but your dreams for me will take me to point Z?
Isn’t it funny? I’m just as afraid of your big dream for my life as I am of you not having a dream for me.
Of me just being…me.
No assurances of me being special, or of me playing a key role in the grand scheme of things. Of me, just simply being average.
I wonder God, if all of your children have that secret fear as well? Do we all aspire to be truly amazing and fear we are mediocre instead?
Do we become mediocre when we let the fear of failure get in the way of listening to you?
I believe you as the Creator God never made a mistake in the making of your children. That’s what you forced me to come to realize when you made me work on that paper. I believe each person you have given the chance to be on this earth, has a beautifully messy purpose here.
But, because you are a just God who wants true worship, you gave us freewill.
And we – with freewill– have totally ignored our purposes and masked them with flimsy dreamscapes. Where your truth lies uneasily under our fabricated realities, poking holes trying to make us aware of more.
You know so much more and want to give us so much more.
But, afraid we cling to the darkness and the falsehoods we have built around us like a cocoon.
Father, make my life a love note to you. Remind me that though I only see the ugly, bumbling, hungry caterpillar, you see the brilliant, made new, freed butterfly in all its shining colors.
Remind me, when the world gets too loud with its false encouragements, that you see me as just right. That you see me as your redeemed child, just perfect for that special mission built for the gifts that you gave me.
Remind me, that I am special. You deemed me special, because you had your Son die a horrible death to save me.
Remind me Lord, that I am yours.
Make my life your love note.
My dreams are small in comparison to your’s. They have served their purpose, now help me serve mine.
Dream your dreams for me.
I want to walk down any path you lead me to, so please help me to see it laid out before me.
Though I am sure to stumble for I am weak of flesh, please help me to keep walking for you are strong.
Hard though it is, help me release the “should’ves, the need tos, the would’ves, and the have tos.”
This Valentine’s day, I recommit my love to you.
Your love is the only thing that can keep me on the right path and not stuck in my mind. I want to love you so deeply that I can never hear the words of doubt that dance in my mind. I want to love you so much that I race to the end of the known and jump into the dream only you know. I want to love you so much that fear has no hold upon me.
Use me Lord.

Casting Crowns “Dream for you”  {listen

Humanizing our Demons

We live in a world ruled by fear.
We are constantly reacting to that fear.

We are taught to fear. We cling to stereotypes because it helps us feel safer. We are told to fear the unknown because it is out of our control. We think those who “look like me” are safe, so we demonize those who act, talk, worship, and dress differently.

We now know what to fear. We must fear the “Other.”

The Other.

The non-American (or whatever country you might call home).
The one who doesn’t speak MY language.
The one who dresses weirdly.
That one who prays differently.

They are the “Other.”

We consider them untrustworthy, violent, hate-filled, unschooled, and barbaric. We throw labels at the unknown and wish to believe that everyone who is like the “Other” falls into those labels. We want to believe that the stereotypes are real.

But, heaven forbid, if they dare attempt to label me as “Other.”

It always baffles me when people get offended by stereotypes that they themselves use. I’m not saying that stereotypes and labels are good, not by a long shot. But, we as humans are delusional if we think we can use these “tools” with impunity and not expect to have them thrown back at us.

We need to humanize our demons. Or, more correctly,  what we have deemed to be our demons. The boogeyman that haunts our ideal world. The simple fact of us not trusting those who look and act differently than us.

In our actions of demonizing a culture that we don’t understand nor make any attempt to understand, is in fact demonizing US to THEM. We become the demons of their fear.

Honestly, how can we expect the world to care for the blight of a people group, if we cannot even care to shake the hand of someone who looks nothing like us?

Because we fear, we attack a person rather than an ideal.

The reason I started to think about this, is due to something that really should not have been news. It should have been common decency, but instead it went viral.

A man in the UK made the decision to sit next to a woman in full Muslim garb on a crowded train.
The reason this is so important is that on that packed train, people were making the very distinct decision of refusing to sit near this woman. There were empty seats around her. People were standing because they were choosing to demonize a woman with the stereotypes that have been put on her religion and culture.
This man on the other hand, vocally denounced this demonization by saying, “I’ll sit here!” Even though no other words were exchanged between them for the ride, this man declared that woman as “human” despite the actions of others.
When that woman got up for her stop, she supposedly said a whispered thank you to the man who ignored the mob mentality and rose above it.

This should not have made the news! But, it did because of how rare it is in today’s society for someone to go against the group and against fear based hatred.

What do you think Jesus would have done if he was on that train? Do you really think that he would have been standing in the group of people attempting to ignore the covered woman?

We want to believe that what we know is right. That nothing can be wrong with our stereotypes. That these ‘safe’ labels are truth. And that no one is harmed by them, but rather protected.

It’s time to start humanizing people again. No matter what religion a person professes, they deserve to be seen as human. When we place labels on someone, we remove our ability to see them as human. We no longer see them as a child made by God. A child that God loved so much that he sent his Son to die on a rough wooden Cross to save. We no longer see God’s love when we look at those who we refuse to see as human.

While drastic comparisons are sometimes hard to swallow, it’s also easier to point to instances that have gained historical perspective: One of the most effective actions of the Nazi regime was to dehumanize their enemies. The Jewish people were seen as lesser, in some propaganda they were equated to rats.
The same thing could be seen in the slave trade. Beasts of burden and the lesser race were all labels placed on the kidnapped Africans. These are the same labels that are being placed upon those pressed into hard work under atrocious conditions even today.

We live in a world where placing labels on others gives us power. It makes us feel a pseudo safety that disappears like vapor when people refuse to cave under the pressure of the stereotypes.

In many ways, when we dehumanize others we are in effect demonizing ourselves because we deny the image of God in those we are dealing with.

When we refuse to release our labels and assumptions regarding someone else, we devalue them. We make them lesser in our eyes. We become elitist in our ideals.

We also make it easier to not reach out a helping hand when they are in need. We don’t see them as worthy of our time and money. They don’t belong.

Sadly, the stringing our safety nets of false thinking can devalue the personhood of another person so much that we find their deaths to be acceptable.  Perhaps slightly sad, but to be expected because they were “Other.”

It is much easier to kill someone who is nothing like you. To kill a person who is so vastly different from what is considered safe, is easier than realizing that he is just a man who works hard to provide for his family. Or she’s just a woman who is worried about her mother who is in the hospital.

It’s time to start seeing God when we look at each other. It’s time to start humanizing humanity again. We must not let fear rule us.

The world is only going to change when we start seeing that something worth fighting for, can be found in the eyes of a stranger.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.
~~ 2 Timothy 1:7

Grief Illiterate

I have had a phrase resounding in my mind for the last week that I haven’t been able to shake: “We as a culture, are largely grief illiterate.”

It was reporter Maria Shriver, who said this while she and Tom Brokaw were discussing the historic event of Pope Francis visiting the sobering Ground Zero memorial. The reporters talked about how the Pope’s itinerary was not going to have the religious man visiting the site of horrific terror. Because the former Pope had already been there. Pope Francis insisted he would go to Ground Zero, as well as visit with families of those lost on that horrible day 14 years ago.

Another reporter made the remark that with it now being 14 years since the Terror Attacks, the world has moved on. But that it was good to see the Pope taking the time to do something so visual for the families.

As if he was doing it for the PR.

I don’t know the Pope. I don’t know his thought process, but according to the public persona that he exhibits, I don’t think he did it so he would get good ratings.

Perhaps it was Pope Francis’ way of showing the families that they are not forgotten in a world that has moved on. That he still grieves over the senseless act that brought so much pain.

I agree with Shriver. We as a culture are very grief illiterate. We do not know how to grieve. We don’t know how to react when those around us are grieving. We become very uncomfortable.

We, thanks to an extremely misunderstood psychological model of grief, believe that there are 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and once we progress through one stage we won’t slid back into a former stage.

We forget grief is fluid.

We forget because we refuse to really enter into grief, and when we encounter someone who is really feeling their grief, we declare them clinically depressed. Even in that diagnosis, we refuse to allow the needed action of feeling grief.

There is no timetable for grief.

God has given us this amazing ability to cry. To cry tears of joy and of sorrow, and sometimes within minutes of each other. He has created a physical release for the emotions that must burst forth in someway, to relieve the pressure that has settled upon our souls. Salty prisms that pour out of the windows of our souls, reflecting to all who desire to see our deep pain or unbound delight. God created this gift that we refuse to use properly.

Around the world there are many ways cultures show sorrow over the loss of a loved one. Monuments are built to be a standing testament of their love, belongings are burned so that none other may hold what was once theirs, wailing in the streets for hours to let the world know that someone has died, wakes for people to remember, bodies dug up and paraded through town to show they are not forgotten.

Then there are the ones who in their deepest grief, erase the existence of the loved one from the family: names no longer mentioned, photographs removed.

So many ways to express grief.

Somewhere in between these extremes the American culture lies. Even with our morbid fascination with death, we fear it. It is an unknown, with no clear scientific idea of what is on the other side. With our melting pot of religions and cultures, we have a mishmash of ways to show our sorrow, but also an inability to really let it touch us.

Life and grief must go hand in hand. One cannot hold themselves free from emotions. If you do, you never really connect with anyone. But, it is as if we attempt to not feel deeply. We shush those who laugh loudly, turn away from those who cry, all in attempt to not be touched by the emotional confetti they are spewing.

Sorrow, mourning, and grief aren’t bad. They are cleansing in the most base form. It’s God’s release valve.

He commands us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Because a joy shared is multipled and a sorrow shared is divided.

Much like Pixar ‘ s recent movie “Inside Out” says, joy and sorrow must go hand in hand. Joy makes the sorrow easier to handle because it reminds us of happier times, tells us that we can be happy again. Sorrow makes joy sweeter because it makes memories stand out, and teaches us to love deeper.

As a culture, we suck at expressing grief. It’s because we fear to be weak. Grief is all about being ‘weak’ in the face of memories. It’s about letting the memories run you down, chain you and drag you through every moment and conversation. It’s about the release of pressure on the soul and the cleansing of emotions.

Grief sucks. But, it’s necessary. You don’t have to cry to grieve. There is no set rules about how you HAVE to grieve or even when. Just make sure you do, so the pressure doesn’t force a release, ruining other relationships.

We have the ability, we always have the chance, it’s time to stop being illiterate in grief.

Even as I finish this post, we have more to grieve. Another shooting, another school, more senseless deaths. Even when answers might be found it won’t negate the need to grieve. One won’t just get over the shooting, those directly involved will always bear the emotional scars of this day. There will be days in the future when it will suddenly hit them out of the blue, and tears will come. And that will be a release for their beleaguered hearts and souls.

We do not need to be illiterate in grief. Take a moment to realize that Christ himself grieved. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he KNEW he was going to bring Lazarus back to life!

Jesus Christ wept. He grieved. He grieved knowing that it was going to be brief. He grieved because it was good to do so.

So, take a lesson from our Savior. It is good to grieve. There is no set time, place, or length to assign grieving. So, please, when you see someone grieving don’t hurry them up, but sit. Stay awhile with their grief, because a sorrow shared is a sorrow divided. Don’t let them feel alone.

“You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor would you want to. ” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler 

Praying for Saul

You are a young woman in a smoldering town. Clinging to your robes are your beloved children. Your husband was just killed for refusing to bow down to the militants who are pointing guns at you now. 

They are demanding that you renounce your faith in Jesus Christ of the Cross and praise Allah. Your life and that of your children are forfeit if you do not. But, you know the truth. Your life is forfeit even if you do cave. As a woman, you will be raped to the point you crave death. Then, to make an example of you, these Enemies of the Cross will either strap a bomb to your chest or that of your children, and send you to a crowded mall to tear apart the fabric of society. Your children will not escape just because you renounce your Savior. They will be raped, beaten, and given guns to kill others. Perhaps like that poor woman from the town next to your’s, the last thing you will see is your precious son pulling the trigger of that rifle and ending your life. 

You refuse to cave. 

Kissing the faces of your beautiful children, you tell them to be strong. That God loves them and that you do too. You look into the eyes of the vicious leader of the pack, and see the eyes of the handsome young man who walked 10 miles to flirt with your cousin. Neighbors and old friends are in this group of ISIS soldiers, people who frequented your husband’s shop and broke bread with you. Now their hands ran red with the blood of their friends while their eyes raged hate. 

Quoting your Savior, you pray in a loud voice that seems to be amplified, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Looking at these men who you once knew to be gentle friends, you say with a smile filled with peace, “I forgive you. The God of the Cross loves you more than you can hate. You may kill me, but he will still love you. I pray you find him soon.” 

The bullets ring out from the man’s gun, and your last thought is that you and your children will be standing in front of God before your bodies will even hit the ground. While hate may have taken your bodies, it didn’t take your faith. 

What is your first reaction to this fictional story? It is hard to read, probably as hard as it was to write. This story, while not based on actual first hand accounts, is similar to what is happening in the Middle East wherever the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  (ISIS) soldiers go. Centuries old Christian towns are being razed to the ground, Christians are being forced to renouncing their faith or being killed, many times they are still being killed.

No matter what religion a person professes, if they oppose ISIS they are often tortured and killed.  Numerous Muslims are also being killed if they try to protect their Christian neighbors or are from the wrong tribal group.

If you look at the International Christian Concern group on Facebook, post after post is about the men, women, and children who are literally meeting the sword point at the hands of ISIS who demand they “Praise Allah or die!”

While I have not yet had my faith tested at sword point, I know thousands of my brothers and sisters have died because they refuse to turn their backs on their Savior.

We are told by Jesus that the world will hate us for loving him. That what he suffered would be our lot if we decided to follow him. He suffered the worst agony a man could while hanging on that brutal cross, suffocating to death.

But, even as he gasped for breath, he forgave the very men who were killing him.

That is what we must strive for. Instead of being like Simon Peter eager to use his sword at the soldiers,  no matter how hard it seems we are to lay down our lives.

Instead we are called to be more like Ananias who was called by the Lord Himself to Damascus to show a blind and stumbling man the way to God. Saul was a zealot, the most righteous of the Pharisees, and he self-righteously and perhaps gleefully carried out the executions of those who professed to follow that man who proclaimed to be the Son of God. It was his duty to weed out the blasphemy.

But, one day, Christ asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” In other words, why are you killing my followers?

Can you imagine if God called out a man, a devout man, from the camps of the enemy? A man that who is known for his zealous religious beliefs to be confronted by the very Savior whose followers he is actively killing?

God has done it already! So be praying for that Saul in the ISIS camps. Pray they will listen to the voice and visions that are calling them away from Allah. Pray they will be confronted by the horror they are creating. Pray that God will create massive change throughout the hearts of the enemy.

Pray for ISIS. Not that they will be killed, but that they will be changed. That they will find Jesus Christ and accept him as their Savior.

Pray for the Pauls in the making. That they may speak loudly of the love of Christ to what was once their own followers.

Pray for the Ananias’ who are being called before the very men who would kill them. Pray for their steadfast faith that they will stand firm in the face of fear.

Only God can do the impossible. Only he can change hearts. And he will.

The young man looked at the bodies of the woman and children he had just killed. The words she had spoken reverberated through him, shaking him to the core. 

He didn’t understand these Followers of the Cross. How could they still smile in the face of death?  They weren’t the first to die by his hand. Nearly all of them had died with dignity. A dignity that he never saw on his fellow soldiers. There was a certain peace that he could see on their faces that never made sense. 

A month later, the young woman’s voice still echoed through his mind. He hadn’t slept well since. He kept seeing a man in white who kept beckoning to him. 

The young man didn’t want to listen to the dream man, but he was curious about him. After they had busted down the door of another Christian family, he had found their Holy Book, prominently on the table where the old husband had died. He had been reading it whenever he could, even slipping it into his Quran cover.

He was starting to believe that the Christians might have had something. He was starting look for this man in white. He was hesitating to pull the trigger now. And eventually he stopped. 

God was calling him out to change the world.