Pepper Jelly, Patronymics, Pennsylvania, and Passionate Papa

Over the kitchen counter at the Christmas party at a friend’s house, now about100 miles from where I live, Doug asked me about the cream cheese spread I’d made. I told him the ingredient he wondered about was pepper jelly, something I’d first tasted in Pennsylvania Dutch country and enjoyed so much that I bought a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook to get the recipe. He said they’d lived in Pennsylvania, asked if I came from Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, and when I told him I did, he asked my maiden name. ‘Van Curen,” I replied, and his wife Janet’s eyes widened.

“That was my grandfather’s middle name!” she said, as amazed as I was.

Given what I knew about the history of the family name, and that part of the family had moved from New York, where the family started as Van Keulen (meaning “from Köln”) in the early 1600’s, on the ”Island of Man Hats”, moving to Pennsylvania before some ventured west to Ohio and Indiana, I replied in surprise, “Then I suspect we must be cousins, several times removed!”

There aren’t that many of us ”Van Curen,” ”Van Keuren,” or any other spelling of the name in this country, about 381 families in the 1990’s according to another distant cousin. What are the odds I’d run into a distant cousin in the Southwest nearly 400 years after our mutual ancestors set foot on American soil? The British, in charge of the census and taxation in the country in the early 1700’s, wanted to do away with the Dutch custom of ”patronymics,” naming a son with his father’s first name as the child’s surname. For example, a man whose name was “Mathijs Jansen ” would have a son whose last name was “Matthyssen.” The family went back to the name “Van Keulen/Van Ceulen” in 1715, changing the ”l” to “r”. Hard to keep track for taxation, so the British anchored the surname as Van Keuren and the spelling became Anglicized to Van Curen.

Three hundred and two years later, on the other side of the continent, Janet and I realize we’re related! And what was God showing me? That nothing is impossible for Him, that He is still here for me and with me, that His love is unfailing, that he is my Father, and that in Christ Jesus Janet and I are related TWO ways! The Bible, and Jesus himself, make our relationship with God, and to each other through Jesus, crystal clear:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 1 John 1: 12-13 NIV

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3: 25-29 NIV

But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12: 48-50 ESV

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14 NIV

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:9-17 NIV

So what? So even if you don’t have a single living blood relative, even one removed by several hundred years like Janet and I probably are, you have millions of brothers and sisters in the Family of God. And that tells me I should have kind regard for my sisters and brothers in Christ, and more than that, I know my “Papa” would love for me (yes, and you) to encourage people who don’t know the love and relationship Abba offers us through Jesus to come to recognize him and receive him as the ONE who makes that very real relationship with Almighty God very real and very possible.

The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. Psalm 145:18

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 3: 19-23 NIV

So what business of mine is it if people don’t hear about relationship with God through Jesus? Is that my concern? I’ve heard a lot of sisters and brothers in Christ say, “My faith is a very personal, private matter to me…” Well…. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable telling people about your Savior Jesus, or maybe you don’t want to risk ridicule and rejection, BUT I’m thinking If it concerns my Father, it oughta concern me! Here’s why I believe I do have a responsibility to “let my LIGHT shine” (and by “my light” I mean let Jesus shine through me with HIS light so the focus is on HIM, and be quick to say it’s HIM, not me, as the motivation to do good)

 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. 2 Peter 3: 8-12 NIV

Maybe my discovery with Janet came at Christmas time because God wants to remind me to show grace in the aisles of the crowded grocery store, thank clerks and other service people for their help, and wish them “Merry Christmas”. Maybe just as importantly, God wants to remind me (and yo9u by this post) that he IS my loving FATHER, my PAPA, who gave me the greatest gift I ever could receive when he sent Jesus into this world as a helpless infant, feeling and knowing what it is to be human, with the purpose to give his life for mine so that I can live forever as God’s chosen, delighted in child. THAT is something to joyfully celebrate! And hey bro, sis, let’s celebrate the daily chance to help this family grow!

 

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Connect the Dots

dscf0669Dots on the donut … dots in a dot-to-dot book, one of the few toys my three-year-old grandson had when his  family  was air-evacuated for his baby sister’s two-month-early arrival.There he and I were in the tiny apartment every day, not much but Grandma, books, the dot book and our imaginations to play with. A highly intelligent child,he could count to 100 by the time he was two, but faced with something he’d never tried before, he was hesitant to connect the dots in the book by himself. I decided to help him overcome his anxiety by starting,connecting the first two dots, then handing him the pencil to connect dot #2 to dot #3,  then I’d connect to  dot #4,  he’d draw to dot #5, and little by little,  he  overcame his hesitancy and soon was asking me to draw dot-to-dot pictures in my little notebook. I hope part of what he learned,  beyond connecting dots, was how much his Grandma loved and loves him just  for who he is, anxieties and insecurities and all. I see who he can be and the success he can achieve,  given little encouraging nudge.

Can I confess I’m not much different from my grandson when it comes  to connecting the dots and finding meaning and reason  in the jumbled craziness  life often brings? A  friend mine recently posted on a social media site that he believes each of us is still a small child inside looking to be loved. I agree totally. I know part of me is, despite all I’ve accomplished and learned to handle in my more-than-I-care-to-admit decades of living.

So what does this have to do with God Almighty? I know  why we call him Father! All through my life, and  more pointedly in the last two decades, I can see God connecting dots all over the place in my life. I have a strong hunch God is doing the same thing  for me that I was  doing for my grandson: showing me he loves and cares about ME, not my insecurities or anxieties or hang-ups ,and he sees potential in me.

Some dots  I’ve seen God connect in the  past:

Moving  me,via a radio show my husband heard, to a new church where I’d get  an unimaginable connection and chance four year’s between dots later to write books with the senior  pastor.

Moving us across the country, where God connected  me with Dana  and Loretta  (in their next-to-last Sunday at that church) who connected me  with Hiroko to help Hiroko, but via their obvious “you should be here” connection, God connected me to Julia, whose mother across the world would meet me ten years between the dots later at the airport to help me find/connect  with my son and  his family,  some 36 hours after the emergency evacuation.

Connecting me with Marilyn, who connected me with Donna, who allowed me to write leaders’ guides for her incredible ministry about five years between  dots.

Connecting me with “Ken,” who incredibly lived as a child with his mother  two blocks up the street from where the grandmother of Mark, Julia’s  husband, lived, and  Mark’s grandmother knew of “Ken’s”  family. Now we’re talking 60 years between the dots!

On the heels of “Ken’s” tragic death, connecting me with a woman during the memorial ride at the informal service I did on the street corner – I don’t even remember her name now – who connected me  with the chaplain in the county jail ministry who put copies of the devotional book  “Ken” encouraged me to publish into the county jail. No way, God! Were those broken hearts your intended audience/readers for this book all along?

Connecting me with “Dan,” who drove me to a meeting because of my connecting with “Ken.”Dan connected with the barber who cut his hair during my meeting,  who connected “Dan” with his church, where the  next week I connected with Donna, who asked  if my kids knew “Dr. John” half  a world away. A week later via a call  my son says yes,they know “Dr John” very well from their small group! Two weeks later I get a text from Donna’s husband who tells me “Dr John”will be speaking in a church a two-hour’s drive  from me, a church I know of from a connection 36 dots-worth of years earlier wjem O did youth ministry, and I drive up and get to meet and surprise “Dr John”and meet his daughter who is in the same grade at the same school with my grandson half  a world away, and his daughter who is in the same class with my granddaughter there. The next week at the church where I met Donna, God connects me with a young woman whose father happened to work  decades of dots ago  way up north with the husband of my best buddy “Patty,”whom I met fifteen dots  worth of years ago at my church in the middle of the state.

What in the  world am I to make of all this? I CERTAINLY don’t see a comprehensible picture emerging yet from all of this, and I have to make peace with the truth that I may not see the entire “picture” till I  sit with Abba God  in  Heaven looking at the dot-to-dot page of my  lately weird  and  wild life. What I CAN make of this is that God DOES love me, doesn’t despise my insecurities and anxieties,  somehow  amazingly sees potential in me to “draw”the picture with him as I hopefully let him lead me from dot-to-dot into his blessings, even when part of my heart still hurting and healing from some traumatic turns in my life. Abba Father, help me look into your kind, caring, loving, patient, all-seeing (omnipresent) and all-knowing  (omniscient) and I pray by faith all-powerful (omnipotent) eyes to trust my small not-omnipotent hand, heart, life and future into your hands. You hold one  huge pencil. I’m grateful your pencil has a huge eraser, and I make mistake in connecting dots, you’ll forgivingly, grace-filled-ly erase my goof and help me connect to the next, right dot in your plan for me.

That’s called love, and the little  girl in me desperately needs to know your love will never,never fail or forsake me. You keep your promises!

7You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance.
Selah.
8I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

9Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.

10Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. Psalm  32: 7-11 NASB

And in reflecting on Psalm 32,connecting the  dots of these verses: ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.’ –PSALM 32: 1, 2. This psalm, which has given healing to many a wounded conscience, comes from the depths of a conscience which itself has been wounded and healed. One must be very dull of hearing not to feel how it throbs with emotion, and is, in fact, a gush of rapture from a heart experiencing in its freshness the new joy …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

16″Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.” 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48: 16-17 NASB

And  dot-to-dot commentary: Matthew Henry Commentary
48:16-22 The Holy Spirit qualifies for service; and those may speak boldly, whom God and his Spirit send…Whom God redeems, he teaches; he teaches to profit by affliction, and then makes them partakers of his holiness. Also, by his grace he leads them in the way of duty; and by his providence he leads in the way of deliverance….Spiritual enjoyments are ever joined with holiness of life and regard to God’s will. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more painful, to think how happy they might have been. And here is assurance given of salvation out of captivity. Those whom God designs to bring home to himself, he will take care of, that they want not for their journey. This is applicable to the grace laid up for us in Jesus Christ, from whom all good flows to us, as the water to Israel out of the rock, for that Rock was Christ

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, Father, I can’e see thread  ahead of me, I’m not sure of the direction you want to take, BUT you p;promise to teach and instruct me in the way i should go and guide me with your eyes upon,so I  say out of my heart _________________________________________________________ Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and Father, I’m watching for your hand of  leading, in Jesus’ name,amen!

Of rocks and “rolls”…

poppin_fresh_pillsbury_doughboy copyright Pillsbury

Oh, drat, a rock in the toe of my Tevas!   Occupational hazard when you’re walking on a street in the foothills in the desert. But instantly a thought flashed into my consciousness, a thought of all the people of old who walked deliberately with a rock in their shoes where it would hurt the most to show God their penitence and piety, to do penance for their sins. I thought of the people I’ve read and heard about who crawled on their hands and knees to a shrine, arriving bloody to show God how sorry they were for things they’d done. And just as quickly I thought of the scornful taunts Jesus endured, the crown of thorns on his head, 39 lashes of the whip that Jesus took for me, the nails in his wrists and feet, the spear through his heart. Who in the world would I think I was to think anything I could do to cause myself pain could in ANY way add to or make more sufficient what Jesus did for me?

Before I throw any of those stones in my shoe at those people, though, Lord knows, and the Lord does know, how quick I am to self-flagellate with regrets, “if only’s,” all too conscious of the mistakes I’ve made even inadvertently. It’s a twisted form of pride masquerading as humility, and it does God absolutely no honor at all for the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He made for me through Jesus.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:1-10 NIV

https://youtu.be/XgjJ_CR9oEY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

 The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field; 

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103: 8-18 NIV

 

 

Jesus told us to go make disciples, not penance:

 

 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20 NIV

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10: 6-8, 42 NIV

THAT is my reverence, that is my response, that is my job description now. Soo …I sensibly, gratefully took off my shoe, shook out the pebble, and thought about the responses God does want from me for his freely given totally all-sufficient gift of forgiveness. Stones? I could sweep them from my neighbor’s sidewalk. I could buy some new tennis shoes for a child who has to walk barefoot to school. Crawl on my knees? I could gladly bend down and reach under my car to get the ball the neighbor kids accidentally rolled onto my driveway.

Give a cup of cold water? Here is where the rubber meets the road, the gratitude and freedom sets me truly free. I could take a jug of ice water down to the homeless people in the park, hand out cups of cold water, say, “In Jesus’ name I bring you this water,” as if I, the blessed, was stooping down to them, the oppressed, out of my own magnanimity, and think I’d fulfilled righteousness – but that would be just another disguised stone in my shoe. In truth and honestly, you know what I’ve learned in the last five months? That wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all … unless I sat down with those people, looked them in the eye, asked their names, understood their heartaches and frustrations and their own perhaps deeply held self-condemnation, listened to their stories, ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d brought with them as I listened, held their hands and prayed with the ones who wanted prayer.

Now, lest you think I am being “holier than thou” here, let me hasten to admit it took me over 50 years to come to this realization. Yes, I pick up math pretty quickly, but in some of the things of God, I’m a terribly slow learner. Fifty years ago I went with the other junior high and high school girls in our World Friendship Girls group, the junior version of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at our church to the Wesley Center downtown. We’d spent weeks blowing out dozens of eggs, dying the shells, filling them with confetti and gluing crepe paper frills on top to make cascarones for people at the center to give out as prizes in the game booths at their fund-raising fall fair. But did I ever strike up a conversation with any of the girls at the center? Yes we put on an overnight slumber party for the girls, but did I ever get the phone number of a girl so I could talk to her again or take her to the movies with me sometime?

It took me over 50 years to finally get it that God wanted me to sit down with Harlan and Betty in the park, learn who they are, treat them as equals, laugh with them, and pray for them as we ate together. I am a slow learner, but I hope, like “Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” or rather like “Little Poppy,” I’m still soft and pliable enough in God’s hands, even at my advanced age, for the Lord to poke me in the belly sometimes. When he does, I hope I can and will giggle, or at least smile, that God is still concerned about me and loves me enough to keep conforming me more to his heart, his compassion, his truth, his passions, what matters to his heart.

I guess I’m not “done” yet ….

https://youtu.be/RnpoD0hlqpQ “The Scandal of Grace”

 

Grace, what have you done?

Murdered for me on that cross

Accused in absence of wrong

My sin washed away in your blood

Too much to make sense of it all

I know that your love breaks my fall

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?

Your power is as dead as my sin

The cross has taught me to live

In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come

I know that your strength is enough

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

And it’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of your love

And my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

 

Any rocks you need to shake out of your shoe today?

Need a loving poke in your belly? God, our Father God, gladly, kindly will.

 

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Father God, loving Lord, I see now that I’ve held onto shame, guilt, regret over _______________________________ BUT you truly, absolutely, forever removed that from me when Jesus took it upon himself. Jesus, I won’t minimize what you did for me by trying to ”make up for it” by my own actions, so God, I will thankfully, gladly let you _________________________________________________ in me, through me, for me. yes, please poke me in the belly when I need to be more pliable and ____________________________. I know I’m not ”done” yet, so Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________. In Jesus’ name, make it so, amen!

 

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Tandem Blessing – No Kidding!

“You have to be kidding me…” I thought when Ken asked me to clip into the pedals on the back of the tandem bike he’d joyfully bought for the two of us. Never more than a casual biker until I met Ken, part of my marriage commitment to him was purposing to get stronger, so fears and anxiety set aside, I clipped in and rode 25 miles – for me challenging and heart-pounding after the first 16 – with him every Friday. “Stoker” is the word for the rear rider, but “blind truster” is more accurate, because where he went, I went; my feet had to go as fast as his, and if he fell down, I fell down too. He did agree to put straight handlebars and a softer seat on the back for me, simply glad I was willing to try to become a fuller part of his world and passion.

 

Eight months later, “You have to be kidding me….” flashed through my mind when the sheriff’s deputy standing in my driveway bluntly told me Ken had been killed just two hours earlier in a cycling accident while leading a group of cyclists visiting from out of state. My world, my new hopes, my life toppled over in the gravel as surely as if ken and I had run off the edge of the road on the tandem. Nothing in my life seemed stable when my heart was torn and bleeding.

 

But, and thank God he always has a “… but…”, four months later my friend Deb’s husband Rob stood in my garage looking over the tandem to buy, I thought, for tandem rides and races with a fellow cyclist. “You have to be kidding me …” I gasped in delight when Rob told me he’d just decided to volunteer for a veterans’ cause and actually wanted the tandem so he could take disabled veterans on bike rides with the group VeloVets, a nonprofit started by Guilianna, a young woman Ken had introduced several years earlier to the cycling club he belonged to.

 

Full circle, I thought. Ken was an Air Force veteran himself, and I couldn’t think of anything that would make him happier than knowing blind and disabled veterans would get the chance to fly down the road behind Rob, wind in their faces, hearts pumping, feeling whole and vital, valued and accepted.

 

“Rob, the bike is yours! Take it, oh my gosh, please take it and know Ken must be beaming in Heaven!”

 

God’s timing was impeccable. Sunday I’d texted Rob about coming to look at the bike, Monday he met Guilianna at his own cycling club meeting and decided to volunteer with VeloVets, Tuesday he drove to my house to check out the tandem, and Tuesday the miracle happened. Wednesday the miracle continued when a local TV reporter heard about the tandem’s donation, and I was able to honor Ken’s generous, giving, encouraging spirit and his deep Christian faith on the local news.

 

Tears of joy still flow when I think about the improbability of all of the elements of this true miracle coming together. I could barely see through tears to mount my bike a few weeks later when Rob and Dr. Les, a blind veteran, took off down the bike trail in the hot summer night with a group of avid riders. The smile Les wore was brighter than the evening sun.

 

Coincidental? Accidental? I can’t possibly believe so. Ken and I were part of something bigger than the two of us. We’d thought so from the early days of our relationship, and this glorious gift of new meaning and purpose poured into my heart with joy that eased the pain of my grief. Ken was still giving joy into my life, and I know he always will. I have no clue what other surprises and miracles of meaning God will reveal to me, but I’m clipped in with him now as I ride into each day, going where he goes, my feet pedaling to keep up with God’s passionate love and value-giving purposes, breathless again for a new reason. No kidding! img_1203

It Will Never Be “Okay”

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I sat in a room filled with deeply shattered people, and though their stories were different, their grief was the same: one loud cry of “Injustice!” Our facilitator brought up the topic of helpful and toxic people when you’re dealing with traumatic, tragic loss. Sadly, it’s the people in closest relationship  with you who can be the most toxic. They mean well, but what they have to say that sounds  encouraging and sympathetic to them rings very differently in the cavity of a needlessly emptied heart.

People look with sympathetic eyes and tell you, “It will be okay. Just move on.God has something better for you.” What those of us who’ve tragically lost someone we love  want to say – but generally are too “nice” to reply, is  the loud anguished cry I heard at the meeting last week through all the pain in the room. “NO! It  will NEVER be ‘okay’!”

Really? Have those of you offering your helpful advice ever had the dearest, most beloved,  cherished person or relationship ripped out of your life by the callous indifference, thoughtless carelessness, complete selfishness, or brutal anger or malice of another person? Would it be okay if a sniper’s bullet just took out the spouse, child, friend sitting next you in your secure home? How about your cherished dog or cat? If the blood of your child spilled across your floor, would it still be “okay” and would you simply wipe up the floor and “move on”?

No, what we  want to say in that moment –  and now I know it’s much the same whether  the loss comes from an unwanted and cruel divorce brutally ending  your marriage or through the homicide or manslaughter death of a loved one – is this: “STOP! STOP THE WORLD! Everyone,pay attention;something horrible just happened! This treasure has been taken,this life  cut short, this family shattered! Bow your head,cry out, weep with me, because this is INJUSTICE!” Frankly, the survivors feel like  the earth should stop turning, everyone in the world should drop their  “to do” lists filled with mundane, routine urgencies, and weep for at least a few minutes over the loss of somebody or someone precious and wonderful, someone whose life held potential and goodness and joy for  themselves and for others,whose absence now means  tragedy, loss, pain,and emptiness for those left behind. Stop,weep,and say, “YES,  it matters! YES, it hurts you terribly!” and allow for the very present and very real continuing sorrow. THAT is what is okay: to grieve,  to feel the hurt, to acknowledge the loss,to allow yourself to care and love  and feel the loss of love.

Trust me, survivors feel guilt and re-run  the tapes of  what could have happened to prevent the loss. Someone should have seen this coming, told me or  told someone who could intervene what he/she was saying, someone should have paid attention, stepped in,  done something, said something, intervened somehow to prevent or circumvent this tragedy.

Sadly everyone seems think it’s someone else’s job, it would be too hurtful to tell you the truth, somehow that person will turn around or get the help they need. After the fact, after it was years too late to change anything or help anything, people told me what “he” had told them or had done ten years earlier. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings  – I didn’t want to get involved – I didn’t want to upset you” was the common reasoning I heard for  the silence of my neighbors and my family and friends. Last  week we  all listened to each others’   unreported red flags  in  one horrible tragedy after another:  teachers who overlooked a student’s  sudden plummeting grades and changed behavior  but never looked into the reason, bartenders and bar patrons who watched someone drinking excessively and never asked who would be driving them home, bosses and people who looked the other  way when they should have spoken into an addicted life, no one taking seriously the mental illness or emotional dysfunction they saw in a person.

I vividly remember sitting decades ago in  a room with my elderly aunt, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s that her neighbors  thought was some form of mental illness. Due to “privacy”rules, she had to be the one to commit herself for observation. Really? The mental health system expects a mentally ill person to have the  sanity and presence of mind to see they need psychiatry?   Isn’t  that  like expecting a bank robber to suddenly realize,”Oops,  I shouldn’t be stealing other people’s money”? My father and I had to, gently and lovingly as we  could, tell her firmly that something was wrong with her. That confrontation was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, but after the fact, we realized she might have seriously hurt herself  or someone else if we hadn’t intervened,and more than that, she wouldn’t have received the diagnosis and care she genuinely needed. We did the right thing.

I  attempted the same intervention many years later  with another loved one, but sadly, that person needed to see the dysfunction, but because of  dysfunction, refused to see or admit it. That story had a tragic ending, a deeply hurtful injustice. God  himself spoke that to me,and though I’m glad God knows it, still that doesn’t diminish the pain. So weep with me,  hold me, rage with me at the injustice, tell me you’ll be here for me tomorrow, but be courageous enough to be here for me three months or  three years from now if that’s how long my  grief lasts.Walk with me. Take me on a picnic, BE  with me in real life if you truly want to help my healing, but  don’t ever judge me for feeling, for crying, or tell me  to cover my scars in your presence so I don’t upset  anyone. Don’t tell me I need to be the nice and thoughtful person mindful of the feelings of others  when someone has dealt me a malignantly ugly harmful, unkind blow. Rather, look into the ugliness of  genuine, tragic loss and marvel that I’m brave enough to  still be alive.

Angry? In my own  situation, when two psychologists and a  psychiatrist didn’t  see his disorder, despite me telling the truth of what  I’d live in, angry? When a pastor saw disorder in the man and simply labeled it ”demons” and gave no direction to help or counseling resources? In a lesser injustice,was I angry when teachers passed on my neighbor’s daughter, struggling pitifully in math, because they “thought” her Hispanic last name meant she had issues understanding English, yet she only spoke English and I saw in one ten-minute session with her that she had no idea of the number line in her head?  You bet I feel angry! You bet survivors  feel angry, but friends and society expect us to be the “nice”  people who “suck it up” and act like  we’re okay when we are anything BUT okay  with the injustice we’ve suffered.

WHY MUST  WE KEEP SILENT? WHY MUST WE HAVE NO VOICE? Does hurting someone else’s feelings matter more than the wrong of taking someone’s life? The wrong of destroying a family and shattering lives?

We know we  have to forgive. Forgiveness is a gift I give myself, to set my own heart and mind  free from, and see I’m not the one to bring, the justice I want and need to right the wrong, but don’t ever think  it comes cheaply or easily. Forgiveness  costs me,  big time, but it’s the price of my freedom from bitterness.  For me as a Christian, forgiveness is the example  Jesus gave, the command – not just the suggestion – to forgive seven times seven IF the one who wronged me repents and asks for my forgiveness.

“If your brother sins,  rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  Luke 17:3-4

And if the one who wronged me doesn’t repent? I’ve felt the sting of no remorse. The disciples replied to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” I still have to find a way to forgive, to give the anger and hurt over to Jesus, handing him the broken glass to turn into “sea glass” in the ocean of his love, for him to redeem somehow,  to bring beauty from ashes and  meaning from senseless tragedy.  I have to pay the costly price of giving up my right to true justice. For those going through an ugly, unwanted divorce, the only true justice would be true heart-felt reconciliation. For homicide survivors, the only real justice would be their loved one back alive and whole again.

“Just move on”? YOU try it after tragedy, and only then do you have the right to tell me and others  to. Till then, look me, or look your friend or family member,  square in the eye and  tell me/them you can’t imagine how much it hurts.Tell me/them  you’ll be there. Tell me/them  you won’t walk away even when I/they spurt some ugly tears.

No, I can’t “just move on.” Neither could any of the people in the room last week, and the counselors  recognized that hard truth. For us,the survivors, it would have been less painful if we had died; there would have been a welcome end to our grief and agony. No,we don’t need to be committed to an institution: we need to  be understood, heard, wept with, our feelings of loss validated by the people who care about us. We need “the system”  to work quickly  and justly. We will always carry the scars the wounds, and no, my friends, don’t tell me to put on a happy face as “makeup”to cover my scars so YOU don’t have to look at something “ugly.”  In truth, it isn’t “ugly” – it’s the beauty mark of genuine love.

When my father died after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s, we knew he was free from a terrible disease and, because he loved Jesus as Lord and Savior, Dad was with his Creator, God, King, Lord, Savior, and truest Friend. Same thing when my other passed away 14 years later. She was free from pain of arthritis and vascular dementia, home with Dad and her parents and siblings at that big reunion potluck, and enjoying the blessings and bliss of eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Closure. But truthfully there is no closure with sudden, tragic or traumatic death. There is no real closure with divorce, no “acceptance” except the hard reality that we will have to learn to live with the injustice and the pain and loss. Christians have the certain hope of God’s eventual redemptive justice, though it may well not be the kind of justice, the wrong-righting that we wanted to see. Still, we hold our hands up to receive our ongoing healing and blessings from a good, good Father. Till then, allow us to feel, walk with us, and help us  go forward into  the life we have yet to live, the purposes we can yet find, with our beautiful scars of love.

Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31: 7-8 RSV

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me,  spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:10-14 NIV

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49: 15-16 NIV

I remember singing the song “Lonesome Valley” at church camp. We changed the lyrics a bit to reflect a better truth than the song originally speaks, a truth that the verses above proclaim.

“Lonesome Valley”

You gotta walk that lonesome valley
And you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

Jesus walked this lonesome valley
And he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.

Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley
You don’t go there by yourself
For now there is One who walks beside you
You needn’t  walk it by yourself.

You must go and stand your trials
You needn’t stand it by yourself
For now there is One to stand beside you
You needn’t stand it by yourself.

 

Amen, Lord Jesus, walk beside me,  stand with me, carry me  when I can’t go another step, be my light on  the dark path  ahead of me, be  the voice of comfort in my days of pain, be redeeming love in my life, put my broken pieces back together and bring me out into a new, beautiful hope and victory that only YOU can bring.

 

I AmNot the Ocean

surfer-waveSurfing caught on like crazy when I was a teen, and in sand-locked Arizona, how we all looked forward to a summer trip to the California coast. Surfers still wait on beaches all over the world for the “perfect wave” to ride in to shore, proving their prowess over the waves. I remember singing this song when my two sons were in Cub Scouts:

Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.
Even though the most of them
Do not use suntan lotion.
When they hit the waves too hard
They always cause a motion.
Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.

Um didle iddle iddle um diddle lie,
Um didle iddle iddle um diddle lie,

Because I was afraid to surf
When I was just a lad,
My father took my board away
And told me I was bad.
But when I learned the word
That every surfer knows,
The biggest word you ever heard,
And this is how it goes…

Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.
Even though the most of them
Do not use suntan lotion.
When they hit the waves too hard
They always cause a motion.
Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.

But … what would a surfer be without the ocean?

sand-surfing

Woo-hoo! Shoot the, um, dune. Catch a dune  and you’re sitting on top of the … sand.

What possible spiritual meaning can this have?  To my horror, and very likely to all of our collective horror, I’ve watched our culture become more and more narcissistic, everything  drive by MY desires, MY happiness, MY  needs,  MY wants, MY opinion, MY point of view, MY definition of __________, MY success.

Take another look at the  ocean. For  that matter, take a look at  your big toe. Did you create that? Can you in any way cause your big toe to suddenly change shape, size, or by the mere exercise of your will, color your toenail? Did you create hydrogen and oxygen atoms? Did you create a  large spinning rock with molten iron core, cover it with a crust of  decomposed  rocks called soil, scoop out canyons and seabeds? When’s the last time you gave life to a dead ant, much less make an ant and give it life?

If you (and I) can’t create an atom of  anything out of nothing, create by mere though a single grain of sand, give life to a dead ant or make living ant to begin with, then why do you/I/we  feel so powerful when you/I/we ride a board on a wave? Why do you/I/we feel such a need to assert our own desires, “self-actualization,”  MY will MY way in MY time, and reaching for possessions and earthly “happiness” as TRUTH and RIGHTLY DESERVED RIGHT? Who do you/I/we think you/I/we  are/am?

Genesis 1: 1-5 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1: 13-14 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear [a child,] when I am [so] old?’ Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son”

1 Chronicles 29:11 – Thine, O LORD, [is] the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all [that is] in the heaven and in the earth [is thine]; thine [is] the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.

 

Deuteronomy 32:39
‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

Psalm 18:31
For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God,

Psalm 62:11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,

Isaiah 45: 4-6“For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other,…

Colossians 1:15-18 (speaking of Jesus)   He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.  He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead so that he himself may become first in all things.

Ephesians 1: 18-22 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Someone I cared about deeply said to me, “I know God hates _______, BUT I WANT _______” and to my abject horror, that sounded all too much like the words of someone else  who was handsome and gifted and honored by God until he wanted things his way:

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate:“Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness,who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” Isaiah 14: 12-17

I couldn’t do a thing to change that person’s heart or mind. I am NOT the ocean.  I can’t create one  molecule of water. Neither can I save anyone’s soul. What I can do, and what I’m called to do (and so are you if you call Jesus your Lord and Savior)  is  ride  the wave of God’s Presence and His Spirit in my life, speak  what He has spoken to me, share all the  good things God has done for me, and show His love, forgiveness, grace, truth, healing power, compassion, and relentlessly giving heart  to as many people as  I possibly can. That will no doubt irritate the heck out of the one who said, “I will…but I’d rather take  a  spill in the ocean of God’s grace and love than try to surf on the sand in  Hell by pressing, pushing, shoving, and demanding my own  will, way, and  honor.

1 Peter 5: 5-7 And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.…

So…Super God, I’m just a  surfer;YOU have made the ocean.
Even though we thump our chests and  make quite a commotion.
Help me ride your waves of love and  show your grace in motion,
Super God,  make me a super servant on your ocean!

 

A “..BUT…” to pray: Oh God, I’ve taken you for granted. I’ve looked and pushed for my own happiness apart from  the joy of simply being yours, I’ve sometimes used others by ________________________________ in order to exalt  or promote myself in ___________________________________. That is wrong, flat-out sin,and I repent of it.  Show me how and where I have offended your sovereignty and will, Father God:_____________________________________________________. Lord Jesus, help me to lift you high above all others in my life, your will above my own. Holy Spirit, open the eyes of my heart and the ears of my spirit to hear  your voice and see your hand in my life. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,(including the enemy of  my soul) for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.(Psalm 143:8-10)

Speak to me, Holy Spirit; I’m listening____________________________________

 

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No words today

IMG_1016One Christian to another, one writer to another, one human being to another who’s come face to face with the reality of the brokenness in people, may I sit down with you this morning and just reflect?

For a girl who grew up in a loving, Christ-centered home where we loved each other, treated each other with kindness and respect, got along, gave with hearts that knew it was just the right thing to do, and lived honest lives, the last seven years of my life have been a journey through the twisted maze of discovering first that the person I trusted with my life was not, or had somehow fallen from, who he appeared to be, and had morphed through un-dealt-with pain into a man without empathy and no relational conscience, completely consumed with self, then to go on meeting so many others with gaping wounds in their souls covered by a veneer of “I’m okay,”(which is at best a partial truth for every one of us) and now face to face with the horror that one person self-medicating wounds and fears and needs deep within can destroy the life and hope and future of another and those who love him, literally.

The world is so much more fallen than I ever realized, Dorothy carried up into a reality so twisted and unlike the world I grew up in and thought would continue to be real. I see how shallow the appearance of ”normal” is, selfishness so pervasive and destructive in our culture. I’m not in “Kansas” anymore, and this “Oz” isn’t beautifully filled with dancing Munchkins and the Emerald City. Yet I hope to find that brief, human joy of dancing down the yellow brick road with a scarecrow or tin man or cowardly lion, empty headed or empty hearted or fearful. We can matter to another person; our life can and was meant to mean something priceless.

Because this horror I’ve been plunged into is going to be a criminal case, I may end up with a financial settlement, but  I’ve never been about money, possessions, house, or a life where I could sit back and smell the roses and never invest my life in anything or anyone but myself and my pleasure. All I am wired and delighted to be about is people, relationships, loving, giving and caring, encouraging, building others up and becoming more of myself when I do. When the divorce I didn’t want was final, my sister said, ”Oh, now you can go where you want to go, do whatever you want do, decorate your house any way you like, eat what you want ….,” and my immediate inner thought was, “Why in heck would I want to do that? What is appealing in being all about myself?”

Barring a miracle, here I am alone again for a different, even crueler reason, thinking the same thing, and crying out to God to show me even the next six inches of light in this overwhelming darkness.

This may be a blog post I’m composing here, but my posts have always been conversations with others, whoever is out there reading and searching and praying. No man was meant to be an island,no person was meant or created to stand alone. All the psychobabble about being whole within yourself, self-actualizing, is as big a pile of recycled hay as the “you complete me” sigh in romantic movies. None of us is truly whole; that’s why we need Jesus.And none of us can complete another human being; only God can as we cling ferociously to his true unconditional love. But here we are, floating in the cold Atlantic after the sinking of the Titanic, and yes, we are meant to find each other, hold hands and recognize the humanity in each other, and if we are so blessed, to swim, or bob beside one someone else steadfastly in commitment that says no matter what, no matter how you fail me or what your quirks are or when I see your brokenness, and you will see the same in me, but because God does love us, we can be broken together and find beauty and some pure joy even in that truth in these cold waters. Like the old song from the 60’s goes, ”No man is an island. No man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s grief is my own.” That is who I am, all I am.

 

If you have someone to love, if someone loves you, you are wealthy, rich, blessed beyond words.

I’d found that freedom very briefly and beautifully in and with one other survivor of the sinking, laughing, praying, entering into each other’s world and beginning to carve out an Us, starting from a spirit to spirit connection and then having to figure out what most people, most couples do first, and it was precious. Now I’m back to ground zero, in my life jacket bobbing in the waves, fighting of hypothermia of the heart, and who knows if I will ever find any man brave enough to hold hands and swim with me toward the lifeboats again?

This did become a post, but it started as an email from me, a friend to trusted friend, one human being looking another – and a good one – in the eye in complete transparency, daring to be real and trusting him – and all of you now who read this – to look inside at the swirling emotions within me and not run for Pike’s Peak.

No Bible verses to boldly share in this post. All I know is, God is Love and God is  good, and he promised through Isaiah that he would bring me beauty for ashes,  a garment of praise for a  spirit of heaviness,  their of gladness for mourning.I do mourn, deeply, more painfully than I knew I could survive, because heard I found something priceless together, ever so briefly. Ken, yes, I loved you,and I was amazed that you loved the me inside  the wrapper. Here I am, and as you always said, “Adapt, improvise, overcome.”

 

Truly, truly I pray goodness into your day, and some true freedom to be all of who you are, and my only “…BUT….” to pray today is: My life is a total tragedy today, my world ripped apart, no sense to this loss, no meaning to this death, BUT God …. help me show the world the deeper meaning of Ken’s life, and what your love meant to him. Holy Spirit, help me to hear you. The  whole world needs to hear you today. Help us know how much we need you, give us the willingness and courage to be real in our need, fill us with all YOU are,  and give us the grace to reach out a hand to another needy person today. Father God, You might just be handing me a priceless treasure to cherish in the heart behind those eyes.