Marked

I thought it was morbidly weird- ashen crosses on foreheads. My thought process was something like: Must we? That is what makes the world think the Christian religion is a bit freaky; so many outwards signs, symbols and rituals. And this… it’s just so sad looking.

We all wear scars, marks if you will. Some are visible, some invisible.

Maybe it’s a scar from a surgery or the marks from birthing children. Perhaps our mark is an intentional one like a tattoo with meaning behind it. Or the scar could have a darker purpose, like an attempted suicide or cutting.

Whatever the case, these are reminders, either for good or bad.

Likewise, the ashen cross marks us, reminds us, prepares us. The symbol of the cross reminds us that we are in need of saving and Someone has already done that. It reminds us that we are still carrying that mark invisibly in our souls everyday because we belong to Another. It prepares us for one of the greatest events in human history- the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The 40 days of going without serve a somber purpose, but with the happiest of all endings- the reason we rejoice in our present salvation and have a future hope.

The cross is the beginning, but the empty grave is the end!

As we embark on the journey of Lent, it is with purpose and deliberation; a time of reflection and ardent pursuit of the greatest love ever given.

I am a soul forever marked.

Undaunted

 

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I was dizzy. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me back from the edge.

“Becky,” they called, “You cannot jump. Who knows what dangers are down there at the bottom? It isn’t safe.”

So I heeded their voices. I strove to fit inside their tidy boundaries for me. Don’t do this. Do this. And for the love of all that is sane and reasonable, do not take risks. People pleasing had always been an art of mine and so I crafted a careful life, safe from all the unknowns. I was afraid of heights anyways.

Somewhere in my late twenties, married, with 2 kids (and one on the way), I began to seek a precipice. For all the years of obedience had left me wondering: “Could there be more than this flat land existence? Is there a place where I can be me, not always bowing to the confines of someone else?” I longed for it, for freedom from the suffocating rules pressing against me. There had to be a way that I could step off of the ledge and not die.

The longing grew stronger, yet inside me there were always voices, warning me, cajoling me not to want it. In the next decade, I started to see the beauty of grace, the treasure of the cross, my salvation full and free, without regard to any rule following on my part. Those things chaffed against the neat list of expectations I had made for myself: the submissive wife, the godly mother, the dutiful daughter. Conversely, I knew the façade of safety was just that. All the flat land existence was eating me up inside. Gloomy clouds of depression suffocated me.

For the first time ever, I slowly taught myself to stop heeding the voices telling me to not seek the cliff. I began shedding those like layers of skin, each one more painful than before. The better I understood the simple message of the gospel, to believe and be free, to live for Jesus because He died for me, to embrace HIS expectations for my life knowing they come without strings attached, the closer I inched to the edge.

When the clouds of gloom were lifted, I saw that my feet were closer than ever to the rim of the canyon and I looked down into the vastness, its beauty captivating. I stopped reading the “how to” books. I stopped making my husband my god, instead putting purposeful and deliberate distance so that I could be me and he could be himself, all the while loving him deeper than ever.

There was one final rock I was about to stumble on; a rock of momentous proportions on which I would not just stumble, but fall entirely: parenting an adult child who chose a path of life I never could have imagined. Only then did I realize that the very thing I hated, all the man made parameters that had constantly kept ME away from the edge, I had built those very things around my kids to a lesser degree. Deconstructing them took time but as I did, the view became clearer and the canyon beckoned me to come.

Unshackled, I ambled to the edge. There was no fear. I was finally ready, confident,  my arms outstretched and breath bated out of sheer thrill of what was to come. I felt dizzy, light, unencumbered and yet, I felt wrapped in a security I could never contrive myself. This was the arms of my Savior that held me, close to His heart, warmly, gently, and safely. I was enveloped in His love and this assured me of a landing without harm.

I could feel the breeze blowing up from below and I began to totter. Before I could acquiesce to any shred of doubt, my feet left the edge. Air that I had never breathed before filled my lungs and I was in a freefall, sure this was not the last time I would fly.

Mud Pies

Contentment is one of those virtues that we often talk about and hardly truly attain. It’s generally the idea: “ok, I’ll just live with  fill in the blank .” This is more of a spirit of acquiescence than anything.

Contentment is often sought after in want. What if, we would not be content with mediocrity?  What if, we are not satisfied until we ask for more of God’s grace and goodness, instead of a lukewarm, paltry request? What if we are discontent with the status quo faith when we have the power of the true and living God of the universe accessible to us? Or perhaps we don’t know Him yet and we are living life seeking total fulfillment from all this world has to offer.

We often relegate ourselves to far less than is within our grasp.

CS Lewis says it best in his book, Weight of Glory:

 “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. “

We are content with making mud pies when we could go to the magnificent ocean and play in the infinite sands! We are content with being clothed in rags, instead of wearing the royal robes as child of the King.

A prayer I read this morning sums it up beautifully:

I go into a far country,

And come home a prodigal, saying “Father, forgive me”.

And yet, God is always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,

Every evening let me return in it.

Let me go out to a day’s work in it,

Be married in it,

Be wound in death in it,

Enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me to never lose sight of the:

Exceeding righteousness of salvation,

Exceeding glory of Christ,

Exceeding beauty of holiness,

Exceeding wonder of grace.

Let us not be far too easily pleased!

mud pies

I Don’t Want No Stinking Band Aid ®

I’ll never forget the Sunday. Passing through the church lobby, a book on a small table caught my eye. The title: “Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology”. I turned away disgusted. (In all fairness, I haven’t read the book. It might be helpful or truthful.) I was ready to go see a therapist myself after months of dealing with the reality that someone I loved was a substance abuser. It was an exorable grief, coursing through my veins on a daily basis.

This opened a can of stinking rotten worms in my head. Reminded me of a time when I too, thought I could give a hurting someone a bible verse band aid and make it “all better”.

A flood of incidences came to me, like the time I mentioned yoga as one of my fave forms of exercise in a bible study and getting “lovingly rebuked” that this was a no-no. (She said), “Do you know what Namaste’ means? You have to be careful because this is tied to eastern mysticism.” Made me want to downward dog right there!

Or the time that I mentioned a personal problem that one of my kids was having, suggesting that I might take them to see a psychiatrist. You should have seen the narrowed eyes on this sister! “You need to be wary of those worldly philosophies,” she admonished in a lowered tone. Translation: treat this as a spiritual problem and go seek some counseling at church.

Don’t get me started on the stuff people have told me about my struggle with depression. Let’s just say that posting 25 3×5 cards with Bible verses all over my house was not doing the trick.

Before you go all Bible thumping on me, you gotta understand something: I love the Bible. I think it is the very breathed out words of the living God, without error or unable to be added to or subtracted from. It is my most cherished book and the Psalms speak volumes about the plight of human emotion.

BUT, I also strongly hold to the fact that LOTS of other things can help us when we are in the doldrums: like the calming poses of yoga, the trained words and methods of a psychologist or therapist, recovery groups, self-hypnosis (yes, I’ve used this one with great success), rhythmic breathing patterns, friends with open minds and hearts, journal writing, heck, even a great cup of coffee or a relaxing glass of wine.

I will never again just offer the bible verse band aid. It’s no solution to the wound, only a temporary cover-up. Underneath the gash remains, festering, like the continual grief I was weighed down by that Sunday.

Instead, I will offer a listening ear then perhaps a truthful word, soft with empathy and flavored with the salve of hope of Jesus Christ. I will offer arms to hold or hug, eyes to see solutions beyond the obvious, and feet to walk along the path they are walking on until a brighter way comes into view.

My Heart Belongs To…

Identity.

As I watch my teenaged kids grapple and claw at this concept, I am reminded of my own struggle: ten steps behind the popular chick, never quite the 4.0 dork nerd, not even close to the jock girl, always wishing I could embody the dark, emo girl, but sadly, I was none of those.

Everywhere I searched, I was rejected: never quite “bad” enough or “good” enough or “pretty” enough or “weird” enough (although some would argue with that last one).

The quest is tangible yet elusive. It starts somewhere around the age of self-awareness and resides within us (although less so- hopefully) until we draw our last breath. We want to belong somewhere with people who understand us. In 80’s speak, we want homies.

Whether we do it intentionally or not, we seek out others who are like us and there we find it- identity. Once found, we smile a little more. It’s like an inner sigh of relief that, finally, we can be totally accepted, at home, at peace, ourselves.

But it doesn’t last long- ever. Life emerges beyond high school and lo and behold, we become collegiates or spouses or parents or party animals. One set of groups is left behind and whole new set of them appears. Funny enough, our identity morphs like the changing vibrant colors of a fall leaf- again and again and again.

With all this hullabaloo about Valentines Day and the focus on love, romance, sex, etc, I recognize the very human desire to “belong” to a significant other and in an earthly sense, that’s a good thing because belonging also carries with it commitment, loyalty, and an “I got your back” mentality. We don’t say, “BE MINE” for nothing.

Trust me, I’ve tried adhering my identity to lots of things and people- spouse, children, hobbies, groups, religiosity. None of it works, for long. My heart has been broken by everyone just a little- even myself. With each fracture, my identity crumbles and the search begins anew- to find that entity who will love and accept – NO MATTER WHAT.

I am certain of this: the ONE PERSON our heart can be given to in completeness, totality and surrender is Jesus. He will not abandon us: leave us when lose our coolness factor, ignore us when we become vulnerable, discard us when we are “used up”. He is the one safe place where our identity can be trusted unequivocally, irrevocably, eternally.

My life (identity) is hidden with God through Jesus Christ. No one, no change in circumstance or station in life can ever take that away. He is mine and I am His, much better than any Valentine.

absolutely resolute

I am absolutely resolute. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Never. Ever.

Instead, I pick a theme, song or phrase that sums up what I’d like my year to resonate with. Last year, it was this song:

 

 

This week, as I sat in my new home, in a new city, not knowing a soul outside my family, I felt a tiny bit overwhelmed by it all- awed, really.

Then it hit me- we are far too easily awed -by things or people which/who should not capture our attention or affection for more than a passing moment.

We are awed by: someone’s musical talent, acting skills, fashion choices, strength, expertise, genius, inventiveness, parental success, beauty, wealth or persuasive talk.

We are awed by: nature, books, movies, structures, vehicle designs, art forms, inventions, etc.

We are even awed by intangibles like: bravery, knowledge, dedication, courage, heroism, tenacity, fame, or even evil and monstrosity.

Honestly, none of these are inherently bad to find ourselves overcome with a strong sense of respect, mixed with fear or wonder. This is good expression of human emotion. Yet, in this world of instant and constant media, we are barraged more than centuries before us and find ourselves too easily awestruck, star struck, selfie struck, et al.

So this year, my desire is to be awed first and best by the God of the universe. He deserves, even commands, my reverential fear, respect and awe. All else pales in comparison.

Yes, I will feel overwhelmed as I stare at the face of a rocky cliff or soak in the SoCal sunset. I will be moved to emotion by a piece of artwork, movie or song. On Sunday, I watched the Golden Globe awards and was struck with the beauty of the celebrities in their couture gowns. But all of this is because I see the creative artistry of the Creator and profoundly appreciate that same creativity He put in the hearts of human kind.

I am astonished by God’s peace, kindness, love and mercy and I will look ahead with pleasant and earnest expectation for more.

Beware the Poison

Perfectionism is not only a trap, but a lie- a trap because it is a place you cannot get out of and a lie because it is unattainable. This self-made standard pervades and poisons our thinking, work and worth.

I know this first hand. I lived most of my adult life under the guise of perfectionism- expecting, particularly from myself, a certain standard, really a made up grading system. I got a score of perfect when: my house was 100% clean, my laundry all done, my children looked tidy and obedient, my marriage oozed over with love, my church people thought I had it all together.

But here’s the funny thing- I rarely, if ever scored that high. I worked and worked to attain “it”, but was left to feel inadequate, frustrated, and hollow. For whatever I appeared on the outside, I knew the real me- the me with flaws, the me with fears, the me with failures- and I was never 100% anything!

You see, this invisible yet powerful force causes us to suffer needlessly. The sway it has to make us feel worthwhile or like a failure is devastating.

So if you suffer from this (even in just a few areas of life): GET RID OF IT! Ditch the perfectionism and your life will suddenly feel free. Your chains will be loosed and you will begin to embrace yourself truly. If you have a spouse or kids, release them from this invisible grading system. They will never measure up anyways and it will only deprecate a healthy relationship.

There is NO SUCH THING AS PERFECTION (except God).

This is especially true in the realm of spiritual life: the more you realize you can’t attain to some arbitrary standard (usually set up by faulty man himself), the freer you are to embrace the God of perfection. Jesus is your perfection. He stands in your place. Don’t allow man made constraints to lay a burden on your back that you and I were never meant to bear.

Don’t Forget

So many people are profoundly affected by the death of an actor or actress. This week, we lost both- Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall- one by choice, the other by natural cause. We react. We recoil. Then, depending on perspective, we respond to the reaction. CrAzY!

I never cease to be amazed at both sides that get their shorts in knots over these things:

“Why do we care so much about an actor committing suicide when there is practical genocide happening in the Middle East?” “How could such a talented actor, who has inspired and entertained millions, just up and kill himself? There must be some cause- financial problems, a life threatening disease, an unhappy marriage, etc.”

We analyze and pontificate and postulate. We read articles, trying to figure it out, somehow hoping it weren’t true.

Two things are true:

  1. The world and its crises are not on the same playing field as the loss of a talented actor to which millions of people relate with- i.e.- they are not comparable issues.
  2. Somewhere in the midst of it all, loss of life gets sensationalized and “social media-ized” and then we’ve missed the whole point.

Death comes to all and it is never pretty.

I can’t eradicate Ebola. I can’t find homes for all the refugees. I can’t stop every person who is suicidal. I can’t ease the ever-present racial tensions.

But don’t forget these are people. Loss of a human life is always devastating – for any cause and in every situation. We have to recognize that. Robin Williams was a father, husband, brother, friend, uncle, son- and yes, he was a talented guy whose screen presence will be remembered. The countless images of sickly patients waiting to die on gurneys- they belong to a family somewhere. The images of waif like children sitting homeless on the dirt- that is someone’s hungry three year old. The images of a grieving African American mother- she lost her son to violence this week.

Life matters. What we say, do and think matters. Love matters. I might not be able to change the world, but I can make the small world I live in a better place. I can spread love, have joy, offer hope, give help, and promote peace. I can grieve with humanity at the loss of life and offer hope for eternity. I can remember that these are people and not simply news stories.

Contrast This

This week, I wore the cloak of invisibility. But here’s the weird thing: I didn’t even know I had it on. Allow me to explain.

I was at coffee with a friend and in walks a mutual friend and his teenaged son. They stop and greet my friend by name and proceed to chat for the next five minutes. I sat and stared. INCREDULOUSLY. At first I think they don’t recognize me (I’m sans makeup). Then I look right into the eyes of the man talking and he avoids my gaze, as does his son.

They leave our table without ever even breathing a word to me. I was invisible. Not even good enough to make eye contact with or be greeted by name… I must confess I thought of some bad names for them after they left.

Contrast the following day. I meet up with a friend who is taking my youngest to a theme park for the day. While we wait for the others to arrive, I jokingly say I wish we had time for an espresso. Out comes her peculator and beans, and she’s apologizing that she doesn’t have her “regular” beans imported from Italy. She bids me sit down and rest my leg (still recovering from a recent surgery). Within minutes, we are sipping from dainty mugs and chatting about life.

There at her table, I find comfort. I find love. I find hospitality.

Then I mull over each scenario. In true metacognitive fashion, I rack my brain for answers to the first situation: maybe they didn’t recognize me, maybe they were having a bad day, or maybe I offended them at some point and they just can’t stand the sight of me. WHAT?! Stop it, I say to myself. Or maybe they are just rude, judgmental jerks that think too highly of themselves. Yep, I’m gonna go with that one.

In contrast, I feel hospitality with this other person. She exudes it from the very core of her being, a definitive kindness and empathizing love. She signs her texts to me “xo”. But is this just a personality thing, a temperament difference, or even a gender thing? NO, NO and NO.

It’s a perspective thing. Exhibit A lives life in a conservative, narrow-minded, (and I’m just going to use strong oxymoron here)- a Christian bigot kind of way. Exhibit B lives life in a big-hearted, broad thinking, Jesus kind of way. She embodies the definition of hospitality: the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Having had these experiences back to back, I want to, more than ever, exhibit the grace of Jesus. May it ooze from my pores, flow freely from my mouth and display itself at my table. May it be given in generous unvarying amounts to everyone- known and unknown.

And God help me forgive exhibit A.

At 40

It’s no secret and I‘m not ashamed to say it- I turned 40 this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling it some days, mentally and physically. Every once in a while, I catch a look at my reflection and think, “Ay Carumba, I’m getting the gizzard neck!” Time for more Oil of Olay Night Firming Cream (as if that does anything for the inevitable) or sometimes I might just be an itty, bitty tad forgetful.

But I am not writing to play a sad song on my pity violin about the woes of aging. Instead, am celebrating 40! I mean isn’t it cool, the catch phrase we can now assuage ourselves with at the turn of each new decade: 40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 50 et al.? It makes no sense but it sure makes us feel better!

So, six months into this phase called “MIDDLE AGE”, I think I’ve learned a thing or two. While I know I have yet to arrive at some upper echelon of enlightenment, I do think that a few lights have come on (even if they are just night light bulb sized). So, at 40:

  • I wear what I want, what makes me feel comfortable, what I think looks good. High heels are hellish and I refuse to wear them. If someone thinks I dress “too young”, too bad. I still want a pair of Converse in every color and sometimes, I even wear my daughter’s clothes. It’s not like I am going around in a crop top for the entire world to see my lovely stretch marks that crept up my sides when I was pregnant.
  •  My friendships are deliberate and meaningful, deep and loyal. Life is short, so why waste time on some, whiny, over dramatic, manipulative woman that adds nothing to my life but another pain in the A? I love the fact that I have a variety of friends in all age groups, walks of life and religious persuasions. I’m done with overly zealous, backbiting gossips, quick to judge people.
  • Parenting is the most DIFFICULT job in the world. I went into it blindly and naively, depending on the opinions of others instead of God and my own good common sense. I was dead wrong about a lot of things, right about a few and still down on my face in prayer about most things. Every stage and phase brings a new set of challenges. This I am sure of- your parenting won’t look like mine and vice versa. If your kids turn out A-OK, PLEASE do not break your arm patting yourself on the back or smear it in my face. Likewise, if they turn out “different than expected”, don’t razor strap yourself with a burden of guilt. These are people with a will of their own, not a piece of Jell-O that I mold just how I want and they stay like that for life.
  • Marriage is a strange beast. I went into it with a textbook mentality and I am here to say- THROW THE TEXTBOOK TO THE WALL! (No, I do not literally think marriage books are not helpful.) My marriage has taken twists and turns that were wholly unexpected. Nothing could have prepared me or warned me of the issues we would have to duke out. Yet, my marriage is, this side of heaven, the pinnacle of delight in my life. At the risk of sounding cliché, I do consider my husband, my best friend and confidante. Yet, I speak my mind to him as he does to me and sometimes this does not bode well. Such is life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  •  I am unapologetic about my faith. It is the sum total of why I do what I do, how, when and where. I do not bow to the whims and fancies of man’s theological ideals. I do not ascribe to mere rules taught by other Christians. I think for myself with an abiding sense of awe for God’s word, holding to this as my highest authority; not because I am a weak-minded zealot but because I am convinced that if not for God being LORD of me, I would be dead or at very least in a shambley mess of a life (messier than the one I’m in).

At 40, there are a good many things I’ve learned, a good many things I hope to learn and a constant sense of keeping my fingers on my own pulse. I’m smarter than I was in my 20’s and more confidant than I was in my 30’s.

I’m not dead yet. In fact, I’m feeling rather invigorated, happy and ready to fight the next monster that comes around the corner called inevitable.