A Christian & A Muslim in Walmart 

A handful of years ago, I had just gotten off of a double shift that included a graveyard. I was tired, grouchy, and still in my scrubs from my job at an Adult Foster Home.

I was at the point of being too tired to sleep, so I had gone into town to do some errands before having to get back for another double shift. I hoped I could burn off some of the jitters so I could grab at least few hours of shut eye.

I was digging through one of those $5 movie bins at Walmart trying to find anything that wasn’t a B-rated movie. A gentleman stopped by just as a family of three walked off with a handful of cartoons and boxes of candy.

He murmured a hello, and I flashed a quick polite, yet distant smile as I continued to dig. I barely registered his white skullcap or his traditional white religious shirt and trousers.

After a minute or two of quiet digging he cleared his throat. “Doesn’t seem to be much in here.”

I chuckle and shrug, “No, but I keep hoping there’s a diamond in here.”

“Yes. Something to eat up the hours while waiting for the sun to come up again.” He sighed as he started to stack the DVD cases.

“I’m doing a run of graveyard shifts so I understand that.” I flipped through a few more movies as his pile became larger. He started a second and third pile and I realized he was separating them.

“Are you a nurse?” He asked with polite hesitancy on the word while motioning at my Eeyore covered scrubs.

“A caregiver. I work with the elderly.” Then, through my exhaustion, I noticed his sad look and nervous hand motions.

“That has to be hard. Do any of them…do any of them have Alzheimer’s?” He stopped fooling with the DVD cases and smoothed down his shirt.

I also stopped flipping through the movies to look at him. A gentleman who was probably in his late 50s with his own brand of exhaustion lining his face. There was a mixture of fear, sadness, and a hint of desperation in his eyes.

“Yes. I have a few clients with Alzheimer’s. I’ve worked with those living with that nasty disease for a number of years now.” A light seemed to enter the man’s eyes as I talked.

“My mother has it. I had to go home to collect her. Iran is all she ever has known. It’s so different here. I wonder if I did her wrong, bringing her here.” He rubbed his face with frustration.

I desperately wanted to give him a grounding touch on his arm at that moment, something to show him that he wasn’t alone. But, respecting his religious garb and the vague knowledge I have of his culture, I refrained and attempted to pour all that compassion and concern into my words.

“It’s never wrong to take on the hard duty of caring for your parent. It’s a lot of sacrifice. Do you have family here to help?”

“No, I’m all that’s left. That’s why I brought her here.” He started digging through the movies again. “She is so angry. Some days she throws things, others she screams. Some, she just weeps. I come here to Walmart just to wander the aisles. Just to breathe without her. Then I feel guilty for leaving her. What if something happened? My mother was never a happy woman, but now she is just so….just so full of hate. I am so tired.”

“It is tiring. Especially if you can’t take time for yourself. Does your mosque have any community services to help? I know of a few, such as Catholic Services that help in the home. If nothing else they can come for a few hours so you can go for a walk or do errands.” I wracked my brain for any of the local community services that were available for such issues. “Or a neighbor you’d trust to watch her for an hour? Someone who could do with a little money?”

“I am no longer connected to my mosque since moving down here. It’s been a few years, most of my friends are gone. They don’t want to be around a man who is worried about his mother all the time.” He sighed. “It just keeps getting worse. Some mornings, I hope she might not wake-up. I’m a horrible son.”

“You aren’t horrible! You’re burning out. You need support. I know it’s hard to even to contemplate, but if she is getting too hard to handle, you might have to think about putting her in retirement home. Where they can have someone able to watch her 24 hours a day. It’s hard to think it might be time for that, but it might be best for both of you.” The man looked near tears as I finished speaking.

“I’m just so lost. I just want to do the best for her.” He looked at his watch and sighed. “I should get going. I’ve taken up your time and I have left her too long. Thank you for talking with me.”

Nervously, I offered, “Sir, would you mind if I pray for you? I don’t want to offend you, but I’d really like to.”

He smiled, “Prayers are always welcomed. I’m assuming you are Christian?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

So, at that moment I prayed for this gentleman from Iran in traditional Muslim religious garb who was worried about being a good son to his ill mother. I prayed for wisdom for the next step, patience in his care, comfort for the mother, and a community that would support them.

After I finished, he patted my hand that rested on the movie bin. “Thank you young lady for listening to my rambles. For your compassion.” He left with a blessing to Allah.

It was a chance encounter. Two very weary people wanting to find rest. 40 minutes of talking. I’ve never seen that man again. I never found out his name. But, I think of him often.

It wasn’t my first conversation with someone in the Muslim faith. I’ve always had very nice cordial interactions with them before and since. But, this interaction in particular has constantly reminded me how very human each of us truly are.

With all the constant news regarding terrorism, al Qaeda, and now ISIS, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the 1% of “Muslims” who are killing, do not speak for the other 99%. Men and women who are just living life the best they can. They have the same hopes, fears, and yes, even enemies as we do.

I, as a Christian, do not want to be lumped into the same group as those who are fanatics proclaiming to be apart of my faith. I don’t want to be associated with the 1% of  “Christians” who attack people out of fear and hate. The KKK, Westbro Baptists, those who attack people who appear to be different than the “righteous,” do not speak for me, my faith, or in the name of my God.

Why do we insist on doing the same to Muslims?

When ISIS attacked European cities over the last couple of months, worldwide tears were shared. When an attack on a LGBT friendly nightclub in Orlando was found to have links to support for ISIS, tears and rainbows abounded. Hours of news reports flooded the tv.

We were united in condemning the actions of terrorists. Domestic and international.

I applaud the actions of compassion and unity. Show your support.

But, then I start hearing the troubling news of innocent people being attacked as they attempt to go to local mosques. Bomb threats on places of worship. Where children are. And I am ashamed of my 1%. The 1% Christians who spew vitrol out on social media hidden by their keyboards, the 1% of Americans who think hate makes us safer hiding behind their patriotic pride.

It saddens me more as I hear of the numerous terrorist attacks in the Middle East being linked to ISIS. Of the Muslims being slaughtered during their holiest of months, because they weren’t willing to partner with their 1%. 

But where is the outcry? Where are the tears and the show of unity? Where are the candlelight vigils? 

Suspiciously absent.

For God so loved the world” Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “everyone but them.” You cannot condemn the actions of a terrorist group but be quiet when they kill those who share the same faith system.

Turkey has had at least 7 attacks this year. I’ve only heard about this recent one in passing on the news. I certainly didn’t read about it on social media. Other Middle Eastern cities have been attacked by advancing ISIS soldiers as well. But, it’s just silence until it spills over into Europe or America again.

It’s not right. As a Christian, I believe that every single person on this earth is a child of God’s. Whether we call him our Father or not, we are still his. So I must grieve when I hear about more senseless deaths and terror.

The 1% does not control my actions. Fear does not make me hate. Instead, when the days get dark, I remember my Iranian friend who let me pray for him in Walmart.

I remember that love is always stronger than fear and hate.

We are all children of God. And I love you because you are family. And I will grieve with and for you. You are loved.

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Rape is Rape

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Enough is enough.
Society has failed the victims survivors of rape for way too long.
We have given leniency to those who commit this atrocious crime for so many centuries that it has become a part of our culture.
Just as the knee jerk reaction of our culture is to blame the victim of the rape for “allowing” the crime to be perpetrated against them to begin with.

This HAS to stop!

If an estimated 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States have been raped according to rainn.org, there is a serious problem. This is not accounting for the numerous men and women around the world who have also been raped. It also doesn’t include the estimated 80% of the 20.9 million men, women, and children trafficked around the world, who are specifically sold for sex (equalitynow.org)

First of all, in my opinion, we need to stop with the legal system’s language. Stop with the “sexual abuse,” “molestation,” degrees of “sexual assault.” It’s an attempt to prettily obscure the nastiness of the crime.

If person A forcefully uses person B in an attempt to find sexual release  (in any form) without person B’s expressed informed consent it is RAPE.

Child molestation needs to be called what it is- rape. I don’t care if there is any physical penetration or not. If you are using a child to find sexual release, it is rape.

If a woman’s or a man’s body is forced to to do any form of a sexual act (including oral, vaginal, or anal) as well as being forced to physically bring about release –it is rape. Even if the person is unconscious or too intoxicated to participate–it is rape.

Rape is a nasty four letter word we as a culture seem scared to use. If a person is willing to forcefully gain their sexual release, they are willing to rape. So let us not be afraid of calling them a rapist because it could irreversibly damage their lives.

They saw no harm in irreversibly damaging their chosen victim’s life, so why should we be squeamish in bringing them to justice?

Out of 1,000 cases of rape, only around 344 will be reported. And out of that 344, only 6 rapists will find themselves behind bars. Only 6 out of a 1,000.

And we wonder why so many rapes go unreported.

And if this Judge Persky who has let a young man rapist (Brock Turner) get off with serving only 6 months behind bars for raping an intoxicated unconscious woman behind a dumpster, does not realize he’s part of the problem, he needs to be held accountable for the next rape Turner perpetrates. Because he will.

Rapists are statistically proven to rape again. If they got away with it once, they are more likely to attempt it again. And now the Judge has given Turner cause to be released. And every single drunk college student has now been given a defense for their actions.

We already blame victims–women– for their rape. Our culture tells them that if they were in a certain part of the city, at a certain time, wearing certain clothes–well, of course they were going to get raped. They can’t be expected to actually be left alone and unmolested as they go about their day, right?

We are so twisted in our reasoning that we actually blame the victim rather than hold the criminal responsible. How has this happened?

The media and the Justice system have helped to heap blame upon the victims, and instead of rebelling against the status quo, we as a society agree with it.

Is it any wonder that so many rapes go unreported? Who would want to have their lives raked over the coals so all of society can blame you for your own rape?

Rape must carry a steeper penalty for the person who committed it. The victim will live with what happened to him/her for the rest of their lives. Why should a rapist have a lesser punishment?

Rapists tend to become more aggressive with every subsequent rape. Murder tends to follow. So, when they are released after serving the minimum, many rapists have been found to commit rape yet again or other crimes.

It should never be the victim’s fault for the crime committed against them. We tell children who have been forced into sexual contact that they are not to be blamed–because it is not their fault. What age does it become their fault? Because it sure seems to me that is what social media is telling rape victims. At least, if you are a woman. Because they should never drink, never dress a certain way, and never be out by themselves.

It doesn’t stop practicing Muslim women from being raped. Why do you think it would stop the all-American white man from raping a woman?

Rape is not about pleasure. It’s about control. It’s about feeling power over someone who is defenseless to stop you. Rapists gain pleasure from the power of the act, not the act itself. Rapists are bullies who use the most intimate act to exert power and control over their victims.

So. I put it in your court Society. When will you stop blaming the victim and call it like it is?

Forcefully using another person sexually through intimidation, torture, drugs, alcohol, or fear for the safety of others, for your pleasure is one thing and one thing only. It is rape.

When will you, Society, step up and defend the victim from the continual mental rape that you have been heaping on them?

When will you, Society, protect the women, children and yes, men, from rapists?

Stop back logging rape kits. Thousands and thousands of rape kits are sitting in storage because funding and man power aren’t available as well as no “viable” leads. Keep us safe. Catch those who cause harm.

Rape is not a lesser crime. Stop treating it like you think it is. Punish them to the full extent of the law and actually protect the public like you have been charged to do.

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For more information on statistics as well as to receive help if you or someone you know has been a victim of rape, please look at the website for Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network – rainn.org  or call 1-800-656-Hope

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.

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To be Remembered

“To be Remembered”

Today was flower day.
I took my client, who is just a couple of short months away from being 100, out to the two cemeteries where her family resides.

Like always, it was errand day, where we were out and about getting groceries and other needed items. I had a car full of groceries and cemetery day is usually a two or three hour process. I squelched my sigh as best as I could, trying not to think of the food that was rapidly thawing in the surprisingly muggy weather.

I took her to a local store where I could get the car close to where the flowers were kept. Peering through the chain link fence, she asked me to look at the pretty red Daisies that had caught her attention.

“They have to be in bloom. I don’t see any geraniums, do you? They last longer.” She looked anxiously through the fence.

As I parked the car, I assured her I’d take a good look around and make sure to choose the nicest ones.

She had mentioned only getting a flower for her husband’s grave so I double checked, “Just one? Or do you want to do your parents?”

“I want to do my sister’s. Then there is my son’s…”

“Want me to get 10 then? Like usual?” At her nod, I left the car with her laughter following me as I shouted, “Don’t let anyone steal you!”

I took time to look through all the flowers, making sure to pick the nicest, fullest, brightest plants.

As we went to the cemeteries, I was reminded that she’s nearing 100. 100 years of love and death. She pointed at homes along the roads we were on, family members who lived in those homes are now in the cemeteries we visited. 100 years of family and friends. A 100 years of joy and sorrow.

So as I placed the chosen flowers on her family’s graves, I took the time to clean the dead leaves and cut grass off of the stones. I pruned the flowers that we had put on the stones at Easter that were still blooming and made sure to collect any trash.

And I stood in for my client.

I cared for her family in her stead. As she stifled her tears of being the last of her family, I became her feet. I represented her love as I became her hands.

I could have rushed through putting the flowers out, but it was a moment to remind my client that she is known and she is loved.

We all want to be remembered.
We all want to know that we will be missed.
We all want to be known.
We want someone to care.
And ultimately, we want someone to miss us when we are gone.

In our care of our cemeteries, we are telling each other how we will remember our loved ones. And sadly, we don’t necessarily do it very well. Hundreds, if not thousands, of local cemeteries are disappearing as nature reclaims the land. Loved ones of ages past are disappearing from sight and memories.

So, I will be my client’s feet, as she expresses her love to her family. I will take the time to show respect to people I have never met. Because I want to be remembered as well.

I could have rushed through the day, but it was more important to care for my client and her heart. Groceries can wait.

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Walmart Bullies

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We point.
We snicker.
We groan at the poor choices.
We click a photo to show others.
Some of us might even post it for the whole Internet to get a chuckle over.

But, we don’t consider ourselves bullies.

Just a little harmless fun. No harm, no foul.
We can’t be bullies if we never even talk to the person. We’re not physically causing harm, and the odds of them seeing themselves on some website? No reason to worry.

Just sharing a chuckle. That’s all.

Did you know that there is a website dedicated to making fun of people in Walmart? I only know this because my Facebook page is bombarded by snapshots of innocent people living their lives. Average people plastered on screens by others who think it’s funny to pass on a little slice of humiliation wrapped in poor tasting humor.

I am the first to admit there have sadly been times where I have joined in on the snickering bully train.

But, then I remember, it could be me.

It’s not just Walmart that collects the jokes, though it seems to be a favorite stomping ground for the bullies. It is any person anywhere who is dressed differently, acting oddly, or has an unexpected feature that seems to be fodder for those who love to poke fun at others.

I think we ALL can be accused of jumping on the bully bandwagon at some point in our lives. We cave under the pressure of others’ expectations of humor, or are so uncomfortable by the innocent person’s look or attire that we have to share the experience with others.

We are weak.

We speak a good game against bullying, but we turn around and laugh at another person’s clothing or weight.

We embody the disease that is bullying when we do that.

How can we expect our children to rise above these pitiful actions when we as adults are even worse?

We live in a world that hides behind screens and usernames. It removes us from the pain we have inflected. It gives those of us who have been mercilessly bullied in “real life,” power to cause the same harm on those who might be considered popular. We remove our filters when we stare at the false example of life that is found on the computer screen.

Misplaced hate and fear spew across the keyboard with all the vitriol possible.

It does absolutely no good to the other person to be mocked. It does us no good to mock anyone. We may think that it doesn’t do any harm to us the mocker, but I think it stains our souls. It makes us less compassionate to another’s blight. It makes us less willing to help someone in need. It ultimately makes us less willing to acknowledge the other person’s humanity.

We make those who are being mocked into the “Other.” Someone who is not worthy of participating in our brand of humanity. Someone who is not worthy of common decency.

We participate in the act of attempting to crush their spirits. To make them less.

That is bullying.

So, I urge all of us, myself included: if you don’t like another person’s clothing, hair, or weight–don’t look!

It is truly that simple.

I know someone who feels like she has to say something about someone every time she sees them. Comments range from, “If you walked more you wouldn’t limping.” Or “Long dresses make you look old.” “That man needs to see a barber.”

It wears on my soul to hear her negativity. It’s constant. There is no edification in what she is saying. She sounds so bitter and hateful. She does not add beauty into the world when she talks like that.

There is an old childhood saying I grew up with, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It really needs to apply to our presence not only in real life but on the computer as well.

We should be helping put a stop to mental illnesses that are abounding. We should not be adding our mean thoughts to those whose brains are already being bullies. We should not push people into self harming themselves because our words do indeed have power.

Yes! Sticks and stone do hurt, but words wound so much deeper than the fleeting pain of bruises. Words create large open wounds in our minds and hearts that never truly close. Because we wonder, maybe what they are saying is true. Maybe I really am worthless. Maybe I really am a waste of space. Maybe I really am ugly.

Clothes are just fabric made out of fads that change with the days. Ultimately they have no bearing on your standing in life. We must look past the ripped jeans and tube tops. Clothes just cover a body that God created with love.

You have no idea why someone’s weight is the way it is. We all struggle with forms of eating disorders. Americans do not know what a proper serving is anymore. So we all either love food too much and over indulge (guilty) or despise it and the pleasure God has created for us in the ability to enjoy it. We judge people on eating meat or not eating meat rather than asking what makes you personally more healthy? Our dietary needs are all different, and we need to encourage each other to find health rather than our idea of the perfect weight.

We perpetrate negativity and harsh unattainable goals which cause people to starve or cut themselves or seek oblivion in drugs or death. We do this to each other. Our beloved friends and family members in their off handed comments about others, dig into our souls and cause us doubts.

We bully each other without even realizing it.

The next time you see someone that makes you want to snicker and point, instead see the humanity in their face. And give them the respect and decency that someone might deny you. If a person’s clothing or weight makes you uncomfortable, don’t look.

Be an encourager. The world has enough critics already.

You are better than someone who mocks others simply because you can. We are all better than that. Let’s remember to be good humans who add beauty to the world when we speak of others.

Be good. No matter where you might be.

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