Bold

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I become bolder as I grow older — about things that matter.

“You could have a greater following if you didn’t talk about the, like, God stuff, you know,” people have told me.

I know. I know people regularly follow then unfollow me. But I also know some people read what I write because honesty and the faith journey in real time matters to them as well.

As I grow older some things become less important. I let them go. Most couple’s squabbles are not about destinations; they are about the fastest, most economical, or most enjoyable methods of getting there. Does it really matter? I’m letting go of discussions of methods and looking more toward the drive to understand where and to whom I am being drawn.

I read, with some amusement, an impassioned plea from a young woman with a keen sense of fashion right and wrong. She begged older women with less-than-pretty feet not to wear sandals that exposed thickened cracked heals or obvious veins. Our feet offended her sense of aesthetic at the sidewalk café.

She also advised against the donning of bold colours that drew attention to crepe-skinned necks or sagging upper arms or aged-spotted hands.

There was a time when I would have surrendered to her sensitivities and clad myself in sombre tones and closed-toed sensible footwear. Then there was a time when I would have worn scarlet and tangerine and royal purple accessorized by jeweled flip-flops just to annoy her. Either way it doesn’t matter anymore. Both were reactions to someone who has not yet had the time to develop deeper values.

She may care. I don’t.

Am I mellowing or just realizing that the time left to me is more precious than ever? As the attributes that once gave me identity and place in a competitive society fade I realize how flimsy that identity was. And the place moved like shifting sand.

There were times when I walked boldly across a stage with my head held up and my tummy sucked in. I mainlined applause. I felt confident. For a while. But it was always a race to keep up to changing standards I never understood. “Do this and you will be good enough for us to love,” turned out to be a lie, because as soon as I did it another requirement popped up.

When I was a teenager I joked that our family motto was, “What will people think?” The joke was on me because the question voiced itself continually throughout my life as I tried to guess what was required to be accepted by people whose values, I finally realized, I did not admire.

A kind of freedom envelopes those who find their confidence in a firmer foundation. I have messed up too many times in my life to believe that I am always right or that this is the final resting place of most of my opinions. But this I know: the One who began to transform my life is still editing the poem, the masterpiece He already sees. That’s where my confidence lies. In the Master Creator.

Like the brilliant flowers in the garden, I can wear whatever bold or subtle colour God has created — and he thinks it’s lovely. I can be quiet. I can be loud. The only rule is the rule of love – for God, for others, and for myself. And it all originates with Him.

We have full confidence in Jesus Christ. Our confidence rises as the character of God becomes greater and more trustworthy to our spiritual comprehension. The One with whom we deal is the One who embodies faithfulness and truth — the One who cannot lie.

~A. W. Tozer

 

Please, Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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My heart is breaking. I see the rancour and the division and the excuses for symbolic acts of violence amongst my own friends on social media. Hatred damages the hearts of both the hater and the hated. We have thousands of years of recorded history to prove that.

It doesn’t matter which side of the political divide you stand on. When you start to see your neighbor as an enemy and dishonour them, or slander them, or dismiss them because of their political or philosophical or racial/ethnic alignments, you have already lost influence for good. Conversation over.

Jesus lived in times of uncivil unrest. He understood. He grew up in the middle of unjust circumstances worse than ours. And yet…

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

~ The Bible NIV

A cheesy old pop song has been stuck in my head for some time. “Love Will Keep Us Together.” I am learning to pay attention to thoughts and songs that repeat incessantly. Maybe there is a reason.

This line: “Look in my heart and let love keep us together.”

We can’t do it on our own. The best our own efforts can produce is a cruel kindness that offers little hope. Perhaps the real problem is not determining who is right and who is wrong. Perhaps there is a need for more goodness in the world. Instead of taking up verbal weapons look in Jesus’ heart and let his love fill your heart and overflow through you to your neighbor.

There is more.

 

 

Love in the Deep

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Choose love not in the shallows but in the deep.

~ Christina Rossetti

Falling in love, as wonderful as it feels, is mostly about the way someone makes us feel. Love is not limited to romance. An uplifting sense of approval prompts us to carry our heads higher when a person we admire offers praise – or better yet, asks our advice. Feeling loved allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of another and enjoy the view. Awakening to love returns us to the place of early childhood. Babies receive love but they don’t extend love very well. There is more.

My neighbour taught me a new word this week. Firgun. In contemporary Hebrew it means the opposite of Schadenfreude – that perfect word describing the guilty pleasure we experience when seeing someone we dislike humiliated. Schadenfreude may occur when the… ah… um… person who just sped past us on a dangerous curve is now parked on the side of the road in front of a vehicle with flashing lights. That shamefully satisfying feeling is Schadenfreude,  not firgun.

Firgun is simple unselfish pleasure that comes from seeing another person receive something especially good, even though we ourselves may have been overlooked for a similar honour or windfall. Firgun is rejoicing with those who rejoice. Firgun is jealousy-free genuine joy. Firgun is mature love.

Years ago, on a hot summer day I joined my sweet friend in a cool private swimming pool. We had it all to ourselves and happily wallowed in the shallow end to cool off. I didn’t know she couldn’t swim. She didn’t know the pool had a deep end.

She took a step over the line that marked the beginning of the plunging floor. When she couldn’t touch bottom she panicked and flailed about so dramatically I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I could still touch bottom so I reached out to grab her.

My kind, sweet, caring, gentle friend nearly drowned me.

She pulled me into the deep end with her and tried to push herself up with hands on my shoulder and head. That pushed me under. The problem was that she wouldn’t let go of my hair as she strove for air.

Finally I broke free, swam to the edge, got out of the pool, and, when I was on solid ground, extended the pole that hung on the fence.

We both lived, but she avoided me for a while. I knew she couldn’t help it. Desperation drove her, but the feeling of being held under the water until I feared blacking out stuck with me for a long time, too. She had not been in a position to be considerate of my needs and without anything to stand on I became just as vulnerable.

A verse in the Old King James translation of the Bible talks about provoking each other to excel in doing good. A more contemporary translation says this:

Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. (Hebrews 10:24 TPT)

Healthy competition inspires by demonstrating what is possible. I’ve seen too many people, including couples who have sworn to love each other and friends who have known each other for years, engaged in unhealthy competition that looks more like a desperate attempt to keep heads above water by pushing the other one under.

Sometimes we can depend on another person to carry us in a way that makes us turn them into an idol who will eventually disappoint. Sometimes our desperation turns them into someone we treat as expendable in the face of our overwhelming need. In desperate times we can cling with such ferocity to a human source of support that we nearly drown them. Sometimes we are the ones who need to disentangle and leave before we can help.

I’ve been thinking about why love is so hard. I wonder if reaching out to love other people when we don’t feel loved ourselves is like being pulled into the deep end against our will. Love has to be a choice or it is not love.

Love in the shallows (and I’m not just talking about couple love here) becomes love in the deep only when we no longer cling to another mere person for approval or for our sense of identity. Love in the deep is love that gives, because it has learned how to receive from the source of love and has something to give.

Mature lovers know that even in the deep they can be grounded in rest and on the firm foundation of  Jesus Christ’s love. They also refuse to let themselves become a god to anyone else and instead help them to connect to God themselves. They can stand firm and extend His love like I extended the pole to my struggling friend.

How do we know the difference between mature love and self-serving love? Firgun. Can I be genuinely happy for another person’s healing, or financial gain, or  recognition without triggering my own sense of lack? Does their success give me pleasure and release a flood of praise to the Giver of all good things? For close family and friends perhaps, but for most people, on my own,  no.

I can’t give what I have not received. But when I am in Christ and he is in me? Then I can remember that the love the Father has for the Son includes me. When I center my life in Him, and focus on who He is, His grace empowers me to do the creative good works he designed for me. He will show me how to become a mature lover of others without drowning in old pain. He makes me into a giver with firgun.

Known

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To realize we are not lost in a massive crowd, to realize we are thoroughly and intimately known by the most powerful Being in the universe and to know that he still loves us is the source of all joy.

The Psalmist wrote:

“Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.” (Psalm 139:1 TPT)

Falling in love is a risky undertaking. The truth is that the romantic idea of falling love is often more about seeing ourselves as attractive and lovable than developing an altruistic love for another person. Attention from someone we don’t respect fails to carry much authority, but when a person we admire tells us, through word or action, that we are worthy of attention our sense of value goes up in our own eyes.

In the process of falling in love we gradually expose more of our heart’s vulnerabilities as we search for acceptance. It means lowering defences and possibly giving another person all the ammunition they need to hurt us. Some people feel the risk is too great, especially if they have known betrayal before. Mutual vulnerability is a kind of insurance, but no guarantee against deceit or exploitation.

At breakfast this morning my little granddaughter and I talked about what makes a good story as we munched our crunchies. All the princess stories, she pointed out, go mostly sad-scary-happy or sometimes scary-sad-happy. Sometimes she wants to stop reading the story during the scary part, (we’re reading The Secret Garden together). Happy-sad-scary stories are really bad, but who remembers happy-happy-happy stories?

Many stories of true love start with a misunderstanding of the nature of the other person. There’s a scary part. But…Mr. Darcy is wonderful after all! It’s the stuff of novels — especially paperback romances. The brisk woman in the foreman’s hat proves witty, warm, and kindhearted! The lone guy on horseback hides a poetic soft side under a tough exterior! Sad-scary-happy!

What if our guardedness keeps us from learning to clear up lies we have been told about someone? What if we have been told lies about the character of God? What if we bail at the scary part?

We miss the opportunity to be known and to see ourselves through the eyes of the One who loves us perfectly. If we dare not risk posing the trust question to our Creator for fear of condemnation or rejection we miss the chance not only to know Him, but to know ourselves.

Falling in love with God is becoming open and vulnerable to the only person in the universe who can show us how to fall in love with ourselves – the way He sees us in the future as well as the present, with acceptance and the power of grace to become so much more than we are now.

My word for the photographic meditation exercise yesterday was “known.” I have learned that God is the initiator. He loved us first. He has always known us. There is nothing in our hearts that shocks him. He risked everything to show us his amazing love. He made the first move.

He says, “This is Me, naked and vulnerable on a cross out of love for you.”

Our part is to respond by taking the risk of saying, “Just as I am…this is me. Do you love me or am I just another stone among billions?”

He answers, “Yes. You. I love you. Just as you are. With an everlasting love.”

 

 

Silence Calls

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So much to do, but the snow falls softly and the silent forest calls.

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The Fruit of Silence

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

~ Mother Theresa

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~ Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks’ setting Of Mother Theresa’s poem

 

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The season of rest lingers.

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Receive.

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