What God As A Baby Says About Burnt Dinner And Broken Toys

Jesus, I’ve been waiting to talk to you. Waiting until the topic was big enough to matter. Waiting to hear your opinion on an issue more significant than laundry.

But the other day, while I folded my clothes before bed, I realized something. You’re not simply a God of big, abstract, distant things. You’re a God of the Small and Near.

That’s what Christmas really means, isn’t it? Emmanuel. God with us.

I know the songs and the Bible verses. I grew up around these sacred hymns that somehow lost their richness because I feel like I’ve always known them.

I often relegate you to the invisible, to the Shoulds and Should-Nots. I’ve made you the God of the faraway and celestial things, and in doing so, I forgot to talk to you about how discouraging it is that there will always be dishes at least three times a day, although I know I should be thankful for them. Or the fact that the baby is still sick after two weeks, and I don’t know if I should take him to the doctor or not.

Once again, I was wrong about you. You aren’t a policing theologian with a microscope, identifying character inconsistencies and whispering behind my back about how I should resolve them. Sure, you have opinions about which songs to sing in the worship service, or how to invite people to our small group, but you also know the best way to cook a steak or how to cure my baby’s diaper rash.

And you’re a little sad, as I was, that one of my favorite coffee mugs shattered into pieces at my feet when the baby grabbed it off the kitchen table this morning. But we are both glad no one was hurt.

The pictures we see of you throughout the year are ones of the grown-up Jesus, the teacher and the minister, a kind man but one with many constraints on his schedule. So I try to be efficient because we are both busy, and I don’t need to bother you with the small things.

But Jesus, this is the time of year when we remember you were not always a famous face, a man in demand.

The Christmas story is one we all know because it’s our story. It’s you and us, babies, at our most vulnerable. It’s so extraordinary but we miss it because it’s so close, the story of pregnancy and labor and birth and babies. We know it so we gloss over it, eager for the good part.

But that is the good part. Because what you meant to say by becoming a small thing is you care about all the tiniest things in our lives. The things we think no one cares about.

You are God of the Small and Near.

You are the God of rushing around to stash toys away before guests arrive. You’re the God of dirty diapers and muddy floors. You are the God of cups of coffee that used to be warm but I couldn’t sit down long enough to enjoy it. You are the God of fresh, clean sheets and stubbed toes. You’re the God of the poetry I can’t shake from my mind or the lyrics from that song I remember for years.

You’re the God of sex and so many negative pregnancy tests and finally a positive. You’re the God of the baby who wants to eat all night and the fumbling about in the morning dark, wishing for a few more hours in bed.

You’re the God of missing ingredients in the dinner recipe and getting the dryer running again. You’re the God of the new toy the baby loves and the acrylic paint that almost made it onto the four year-old’s clothes. Almost.

I hate that I’ve missed you in so many places when I thought you were only the God of prayer meetings and quiet times and Sunday mornings. Because you are the God of before and after church stuff, the God of falling asleep with the Bible open and the God of checking my son into nursery after the service already started. You’re the God of the long afternoons after the Sunday meeting because someone just needed to be heard, and you’re the God of takeout on the way home because just the thought of cooking after all that wears me out.

We know you as the man who healed, the God over our bodies and sickness, or the broken man on the Cross, declaring you God over death. And in the garden with Mary, you’re the God of the resurrected life and All-Things-Made-New.

But this Christmas, in our hearts and our stories, you’re a baby, a tiny baby at the start of your life, and you can’t even hold your head up. You blink at bright lights. Your mother teaches you how to breastfeed. You snuggle in close to your bed made of straw and sleep until the cold or hunger wakes you.

This Christmas, you’re not an important man with crowds crushed around you. You’re not a celebrity face plastered onto some giant billboard. You’re just a tiny little baby, and anyone could pick you up. You’re at the mercy of humanity, for better or worse, and we can’t believe this is your story because it’s ours.

You’re not just God of heaven anymore. You’re God of my life, my moments, my story.  It feels like you get me, like I have a friend who knows the sting of betrayal or the weight of grief.

As the God of the Small and Near, you are intimately acquainted with not only my sorrows and successes, my pain and joy, but also my fantasies and boredom and the daily chores that keep this little life going. Every last detail in the margins, the things even I don’t care about, you’ve made your business. You know it, you see it, and you are in it.

Jesus, I’m sorry I’ve missed you in the little, in-between places that make up my life. But I don’t want to anymore. I want to notice your presence alongside me. I welcome you into my daily doings, the sacraments of work and play and sleep and food that make up all my days. I want you to be the God of all the minutes, not just a few of them. I don’t want to crowd you out by scheduling you in.

Please come in to all of it. There’s room for you, Emmanuel.

 

 

What I Told Our Four Year Old About Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, and I feel compelled to mourn. Confused, grieving and very lost early in the day, I’m sure Jesus’ disciples felt the same way, and much worse. I can only imagine they had no clue where to turn as they watched their leader, their friend spend the day dying.

But by three in the afternoon, Jesus had died. Little did they know the day was not a loss. Because you want to know what he was doing after he died? Plundering death. Leading a train of captives out of the underground toward heaven, in history’s grandest triumphal procession.

So tonight at dinner when we asked our son if he knew what today was – and he didn’t – we told him it’s the day Jesus died. But we know the end of the story so we fast-forwarded a little.

We said Jesus died, and he went to the place where all the people who had died were staying, and he brought them out in a giant parade, led them right up to heaven, probably singing and everything.

I asked John what song they were singing as they marched in their jubilant parade. He chanted, “God knows you. God knows you.” I love that. That’s what Jesus said he would say about the ones whose names are in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We have been purchased with a death for not just heaven but to be fully known and fully loved, not just in the future-someday, but now.

God knows you. In and out, up and down, the past, present and future. Maybe that sounds terrifying to most of us with a doozy of a shame complex. But because of today, because of Jesus’ death and his parade out of hell, we can all be not just known but loved too.

The Toxic Church And Why We Still Need Confession

Two weeks ago, my husband preached about confession and its healing qualities at church. Afterward, I was like, “Babe, that was heavy.”

It bothered me a little that I thought of confession in such a dark light. During morning prayer earlier this week, I asked God to talk to me about confession and what it was supposed to look like. Immediately the chorus of Irish songwriter Hozier’s song, Take Me to Church, started to play in my head.

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 The lyrics, raw yet nothing short of offensive, made most nice, church-going folk like me squirm a little in our pews. Yet it was his lyrics about confession that haunted me.

 I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

 That morning, finally, I understood his fear. Because it is all of ours. We fear confession because we think God and others are waiting to sharpen their knives and injure us further by cutting us out of relationship, slamming their door in our face or shaming us for our acts.

Hozier’s words reveal perhaps the truest glimpse of our culture’s fear of confession. And it’s not unwarranted. The church has made a business of shaming sin in order to get the behavior to stop. But shame only brings more wounds, more pain, more disconnection. When we use shame to stop sin, it’s like trying to heal a bullet wound by shooting the person.

This is why Jesus never condemned people when they brought their sin to him. The sin had already done the punishing.

How confession feels… [Click for credit]
It’s a tragedy. For millennia, Christ’s body, the church, has prevented its own healing by handling the pearls of people’s transparency and hope with disregard and brutality. When we respond to someone’s confession with more shame and condemnation, we only make the wound of the sin worse.

James’ letter to believers urges them to confess their sins “so you may be healed”. How did we get so far from the original intent of this beautiful ritual and instead come to treat each other as the sum total of our addictions, infidelities and impulses? No wonder confession and repentance feel so dirty to us.

This condemnation and the growing toxicity of a Body (the Church) that isn’t safe to confess and be healed is a symptom of a church who has forgotten the Gospel. That while we too were still sinners, Christ died for us. We forgot that we are being transformed into his likeness. But that doesn’t mean we have arrived. We have forgotten that “she who has been forgiven much loves much”.

But what should true confession be like, I wondered to God. Immediately, I saw in my mind a picture of a man approaching someone and opening up his coat to reveal a ghastly, dark wound. This was the sin. And I saw in that moment that the wound of sin must be treated with care and dignity. There was no room, no need for punishment. That had already been done.

When we apply the Gospel’s forgiveness to someone’s confession, true healing can begin.

What confession is: healing and relational restoration. Peter and Jesus, now friends again. [Click for credit]
I understand that there are many variables to consider here. Some people are not willing to confess and repent for their sins. Their wrongdoing is discovered, and they resist changing their hurtful or destructive behavior. These people need to be called out and given choices. Some sins need to be disciplined because of legal implications or the person needing to experience the effects of their choices. But these are not the situations I am talking about.

I am specifically referring to the act of accountability and mutual confession that so rarely exists in the church today. So in regards to those who are coming to us with the pain and awareness of their sin, presenting their repentant hearts with the hope of restoration, we must understand that the shame and disconnection of their sin have already been the greatest consequences, and we need to dole out nothing more. Except mercy and reconnection.

It may be appropriate to help the person consider how they will make amends, restore trust or pursue holistic healing in their situation. But again, shame is just not an essential ingredient to this process. A person who is committed to their own wholeness needs only a radical commitment to community and authenticity. From that heart posture, he will do whatever is needed to ensure wrongs are made right.

The Bible speaks of confession as if it’s liberating and healing, and although few of us have experienced it that way, God’s response to Adam and Eve in the Garden is our model. When he discovered them, newly aware of their nakedness, God explained the ripple in the universe from their actions. They were not protected from the consequences. But because the relationship was most important to God, he promptly clothed and restored them.

And that’s what we are to do. God is in the clothing and healing business, and we are his kids. Our only job as the hearers of sin is to clothe and heal.

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The One Reason Jesus Might Be Mad At You

The preacher at my childhood church used to yell during his sermons. I remember being scared of him. But it was a charismatic church in the 80s, and maybe that’s how God talked back then.

I’ve been nervous to hear from God most of my life, and perhaps my old pastor is to blame. I doubt it though. This irrational fear of God seems to be part of the human condition. We are afraid to talk to God because we don’t want to know what he has to say to us.

Even as Christians, the redeemed and saved ones, we’re a little unsure if Jesus’ blood really took, if our sins are really covered. And we are fairly certain God is mostly mad at us, or if we’re lucky, just annoyed.

I try to tell myself Jesus isn’t mad, that he didn’t get mad at people. But that’s a lie. Jesus was pretty angry sometimes. I mean, how many people do you know who have walked into church yelling and flipping over the welcome tables? He called people names, like “white-washed tombs”, which is like, Ouch, if you think about it.

[Click photo for credit]
But not everyone was on Jesus’ bad side. Jesus hung out in circles most Christians would avoid, “a friend of sinners”, they called him. And you didn’t see Jesus lecturing those people. So what did it take to get under the skin of the Son of God?

The people who incited fury in Jesus had a few things in common. They were control freaks, clutching their know-it-all status with a death grip, while keeping a safe distance from anyone with real need. They erected hurdles to prevent all the regular people from getting too close to the God they wanted to know.

We still call people who act like this Pharisees, or hypocrites, people with double standards that give themselves the benefit of the doubt while condemning everyone else. They were so well-versed in God’s law that they had no need for him. They could save themselves just fine, thank you very much.

Jesus had no time for these arrogant haters, and his response to the money changers and people who sold overpriced animals outside the temple fills me with a strange comfort. Jesus wants me on the inside, not the outside. Jesus saw how hard these people made it for the rest of us to access God. He was irate that people were putting a price on the presence of God and profiting from his mercy.

Meanwhile, Jesus held a special affection for the sinners. You know, like me and probably you, the people who kept making a mess of things. The ones who had no idea what they were doing wrong, but things just kept getting worse when they touched them. The ones who wouldn’t blink for a second when they said they needed saving. Bad.

The terrible irony is I don’t just qualify as a sinner. Although I’m a terrific mess, I’m mostly a Pharisee, breaking out my measuring stick to compare my version of ugly to someone else’s. But in God’s economy, we all miss the mark. And the dire need for saving applies to us all.

The story of the prodigal son tells us everything we need to know about who Jesus’ mercy will stick to. The first son, the prodigal, was selfish and irresponsible. But after he wrecked his life with bad choices, the story finds him heartbroken and repentant, welcomed back into the family by a Father with wide arms.

The other brother never trashed the house with his wild parties. He was responsible and respectful. Paid his bills on time. Probably wore argyle and didn’t misplace his homework. He was The Good Son.

If you had to throw a party for someone, which brother would you pick? The deserving one, right? Well, not Jesus. The Father in his story throws an extravagant party for the irresponsible jerk of a son who crawls up the driveway, smelling like trash, everything he owned gone.

We don’t celebrate someone like that. We want to applaud the responsible behavior because that’s what we all admire in ourselves. Jesus isn’t advocating bad behavior, to be sure, but he certainly can’t celebrate the thing we don’t see: the “good” brother’s angry, resentful heart. His exemplary behavior is a mask for his seething anger, disconnectedness and pride.

He is a Pharisee. Just like me.

Only one of those brothers knew how to receive love, and it was the one who knew he needed it. We get loved when we get saved, but we have to let ourselves be saved first. We have to trade in the belief that, if I just work hard enough, I can save myself, for the truth which is, I am desperate and broken and if someone doesn’t come get me, I am screwed. That’s the heart that can be saved. That’s the heart that can absorb love.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is looking for: a heart that doesn’t turn down love because it’s so busy earning it. God is searching for people who know they need love and saving, not the ones who believe they are already perfect.

So sure, Jesus might be mad at you. He might want to come into your kitchen and throw some things around. If you’ve told yourself you’re doing just fine, you don’t need God, Jesus might be mad at you. He might want to call you “Shiny on the outside but rotting on the inside” if you find yourself comparing your good to others and deciding you are better. He may have a glare for you if you look sideways at people who bring their mess to church. If you can’t remember why the Gospel is so great, or if you think the blood of Jesus is for all those bad people who really need it, then yes, Jesus might be mad at you.

But not if you’re the one who knows you need him. Not if your addictions enslave you, if you’ve tangled yourself in a mess you can’t fix. Jesus has kind eyes and an outstretched hand for those of us who are deep, deep in the muck.

If you can ask for help, he can give it. And if you can stomach the fact that he will love you anyway, even in the garbage heap you’ve made, then no, he’s not mad. He’s got nothing but love for you.

“My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him. And when He redeems us, we can’t even really appreciate or comprehend it, just like Dimitri will never comprehend or fully appreciate what is about to happen to him … but … he will live in the fruit of it. As his Daddy, I will never expect him to understand all of this or even to thank me. I just want to watch him live in the benefits of my love and experience the joys of being an heir in my family. This is how our heavenly “Papa” feels towards us. Today, settle your busy heart down and rest in the benefits of redemption. Enjoy the fruits of His goodness, and stop trying to “pay Him back”. You’ll never get close you goofy little kid.”

– Derek Loux

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You Can Come Out of Timeout Now

If you stop by my house at any given time, you might find my three year old in timeout. He’s there at least once a day. It’s the only place where he can have his little universe interrupted, calm down and realize he is not in charge.

Timeout is a strategic tool to change behavior and stop a bad cycle of the me-me-me-crazies. Just a few moments along the wall or in his room with his thoughts, and my son can usually figure out he would rather be calm and be with the rest of the family than prioritize his tantrum.

But like all effective discipline, it has an expiration. Often only a couple of minutes. After the separation works its magic, we restore him into the family with hugs and acceptance. Within seconds, we’ve usually forgotten about the whole thing.

[Click for photo credit]
[Click for photo credit]
It’s a pretty good system, and it works because timeout has three characteristics and boundaries:

1. My son doesn’t put himself in timeout. We offer the choice, to comply with what we ask or sit in timeout, and his behavior makes the selection.

2. Timeout starts and ends quickly. We don’t keep him in there for hours. The goal of the separation is restoration, not continued separation. But we have attitude and behavior requirements for participation in our family activities. When he can match those, timeout is over.

3. Restoration happens. He returns to participation in the family when he can be “fun” for the rest of the family to be around. When he chooses that attitude, we welcome him back.

Choice, separation, restoration. It’s simple enough, right? But when we mess up with God, we like to complicate it, don’t we? Many of us create our own religious disciplinary system to show God we adequately loathe our transgressions. Sadly, it’s the opposite of a healthy separation.

Maybe you recognize this self-punishment pattern:

1. I make a bad choice and put myself in timeout. I stop talking to God because I assume he’s mad at me so I don’t know how he feels or what sort of discipline he wants to administer. Instead, I’m left alone in the quiet, with my disappointment and shame, preparing a new variation of the Prodigal Returns speech. Depending on the offense, I might take myself out of a leadership role or a place of influence. Maybe I do a form of penance like reading a certain amount of Scripture or talking down to myself for a while.

2. I stay in timeout. Instead of remembering the boundaries and requirements for relationship that God outlined, my assumption he is mad keeps me cut off. I don’t want to hear that disappointment in God’s voice so I stay gone, hidden, locked up in condemnation. I forget that Jesus’ violent death was all God’s final judgment on sin, and his anger no longer applies to me. While I may have to suffer natural consequences from my behavior, separation from God is never the intent. And yet…

3. The separation in my timeout never leads to restoration. Or at least not as quickly as God wants. I go back into earner mode, trying to gain with my work the connection with God that already belongs to me. The whole time I’m missing the point.

This is the message of Christianity: God loved you so much, he hated the separation and disconnection from you. He knew you deserved punishment but his son agreed to take it instead, also out of love, so you could all be united.

Your separation is never meant to be permanent. God will always enforce the boundaries of behavior and our attitudes toward him and others, but separation will never be his choice. It will be ours, and he will always do whatever he can to bring us back.

God knows a secret most of us don’t: you can’t shame someone into restoration. It makes sense when you think about it. You can’t cut someone out using shame and expect to regain connection and relationship with them. Yet we do it all the time.

But God knows only mercy and compassion, in their many forms (which are sometimes a brief timeout for three year olds), are effective for restoration.

No one has ever effectively shamed someone into relationship with them, and God is not about to start. Shame blocks intimacy; they are mutually exclusive.

God isn’t insecure. He’s not on a power trip. Jesus came to abolish shame, to put it to death forever. He has no need to prove he’s right. God wants you back, wants to hurry up and get to the good part, the reconnection.

So what are you waiting for? Take yourself out of timeout. Accept forgiveness and love – stop trying to earn it. It’s already yours anyway.

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How To Make A Monster: On Preventing School Violence

In two short years, my son will be a member of the United States school system. After this past week, I’m terrified. Shouldn’t I be?

Last Wednesday, 16 year old high school sophomore, Alex Hribal, gripped two straight kitchen knives in his hands as he walked the halls of Franklin Regional High School in Pennsylvania, stabbing students and staff and leaving over 20 people injured.

But Alex’s act of aggression is no isolated incident, as we know. Stories of violence in our schools are becoming the norm, and I’m not okay with this. Not as a mom, not as a neighbor, not as a US citizen. I want do something. If there is something to be done.

Every time bloodshed makes its way into our schools, we ask the same question: what was the motivation? We look through Facebook profiles while police search computer files. We ask about social connections and mental health history. Was this student notoriously strange? Did he have friends or was he a loner?

What we really want to know is, how can we spot a monster? 

After an event like Wednesday’s, where the lines between psychopath and human are blurred, all we want to do is understand. We think maybe if we can categorize this person, we can comprehend their behavior, the triggers, the build-up. Then we can put them on the outside, confident their chilling behavior was wrought by a being less than human. Somehow we comfort ourselves with the thought that maybe we’re not dealing with a real person here.

But of course we’re dealing with a real person. However, it is often we who make the monsters.

It’s rare, if not impossible, for a person who is healthy, well-adjusted and connected to his family and peers to wake up one morning, grab two knives off the kitchen counter, and decide today’s the day everyone he knows is going to die.

We assume there was bullying at school, or maybe abuse at home. Or both. But those are not the only indicators. What prevents the majority of children, even those who have been bullied or abused, from acting out aggressively?

The making of a “monster” is a complicated process with so many variables, but the Bible resoundingly calls us to acts of kindness toward “our neighbor”, and we’re not given much instruction on who that isn’t. We are told we must take responsibility for the people around us. And we must own up to the fact that monsters do not usually make themselves.

But how are we, nice people from the ‘Burbs, culpable for the creation of a child turned murderer, capable of heinous crimes? Here’s the behavior I’ve seen in myself. Maybe you can relate.

When kids have annoying or irritating behaviors, or when they are “tough to deal with”, I often label them as such and write them off. I find myself more affirming of the kids who know how to play by the rules, while I manage the behavior of the “problem kids”. If a child is quiet, I don’t necessarily look for ways to draw them out. I don’t look for the outcast, the scared and the bullied. Not naturally. And if I see them, sometimes they just scare me. I feel like interacting in their lives might be out of my pay grade.

Perhaps this sounds familiar to you. It’s easy to do, especially when we don’t understand the long-term results of our behavior.

So if this pattern of ignoring the ignored contributes to keeping a child on the outside, even “making a monster”, what might prevention look like?

I wrestled with the horror of Wednesday’s event over the past several days, and as I did, a simple phrase came to me. It’s a verse from one of the apostle Peter’s letters to Christian believers: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”

As the words rolled through my mind, I heard them anew, this time as a simple prescription for redeeming our neighborhoods and schools.

Our love, whether small acts of kindness and grand acts of generosity and mercy, recovers and redeems hurt and pain in the lives of others. Our love covers over a multitude of abuses inflicted upon one of the least of these. Love brings the lost back home to family. As Christians, love is our prevention model.

When people act badly and we treat them badly as a result, the only impact can be shame, the experience of being not good enough, kicked out, no longer belonging. It’s from this place, the cold and bitter outside, that people do the terrible things. We have to be part of bringing them back in.

This is our job, getting the lost ones and bringing them back. [Click photo for credit]

Glennon Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior, recently wrote a powerful story about her son’s math teacher, who is making her own effort to bring children on the outside back in.

She describes how the teacher asks her students to write down the names of the children they want to sit with next week, and after school lets out Friday afternoons, she looks for patterns in the names, searching for who was popular last week but forgotten this week. With this tool, she identifies the bullied, the lonely and the lost.

Glennon asked the teacher how long she has been doing this. “Every week since the Columbine shootings,” she replied.

This teacher is an inspiring example of a simple yet persistent act of love that is saving lives by restoring human connection between students. Because at the core of our hurt and abuse toward each other is disconnection and shame.

We’ve wrongly come to believe that treating others with respect, smiling at strangers or offering to watch the children of a family who is “hard to deal with” are just random acts of kindness. We don’t really know why they matter so much.

These things matter because human connection is the root of morality. Our relationships with others empower us to live The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Science echoes this truth.

Three years ago, neuroeconomist Pal Zak gave a fascinating TED talk on his research on the human bonding hormone, oxytocin. After discovering the powerful effects of this hormone, he gave it the name “The Moral Molecule”. He discovered that people who feel bonded and connected to others are more likely to treat them better.

Here’s the formula: Kindness comes from empathy, and empathy comes from a bond. If I care about you, and you care about me, then I don’t want to hurt you. It’s that simple.

The experience of a bond even allows us to empathize with others who may be acting badly toward us. It promotes empathy in future relationships, allowing our minds to conceive how someone else might be feeling and understand their behavior.

When we love, when we show respect, when we give honor and dignity to someone who is often dismissed, when we recognize a gift in a child who is outcast, when we compliment someone who we know rarely receives kind words, we are building bonds. We are bringing lost sheep back in from the wilderness of shame into family, into love. Even if it doesn’t happen all at once.

With these acts of goodness, we cover over a multitude of sins by restoring human connection.

As I prepare to send my child to school in the next few years, I can anticipate he and I will run into children on the outside. They may bully others, they may get bullied or they may go unnoticed. But I want to notice them, and I want to teach him to do the same. I want to treat them with respect and see the good, however difficult it may be.

Let’s together look for ways to be our own version of the math teacher in our part of the world, using the powerful weapon of love to remove shame and restore relationships.

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What If Fred Is In Heaven?

I was 19 the first time I encountered the Westboro Baptist Church. I lived in Kansas, but somehow, I never knew about them until I drove past one of their neon protests one Sunday afternoon, only a few miles from my house.

I’d never seen people so proud of hate, displayed on placards, shouted at passing cars. Eyes full of sadness and anger.

That day, all I could think about was my friend, Mike. I’d only just met him a few weeks before. He had just come out to his family, and he’d been introducing me to all his friends in the LGBT community. I’d fallen in love with these new friends. And even though most of them didn’t know or like God, I desperately wanted them to know God still knew and liked them.

Yet here were these people, calling themselves Christians, effectively erasing the love I wanted my friend to know with only a few words of powerless rage.

Instantly, my heart filled up with its own anger. And then it broke. The tears burst forth, welling up so that I could no longer see to drive. I pulled my Honda over to the side of the road, weeping for my friend, bitter toward these “monsters”.

My heart calloused over quickly, unable to love the ones who could not love. More like them in my mirrored hate than I wanted to admit.

This is the sign I should’ve had. [Click photo for credit}

This last week Fred Phelps Sr’s son, Nate, who left the church over 30 years ago, informed Facebook his father had been excommunicated from the church and was near death. (The most frequently stated reason for his excommunication was that Fred Sr. advocated for a “kinder approach” in dealing with church members, and as he did this, his own church cast him aside.)

It seems a cruel irony: the man who regularly held a Top 5 slot for Most Hated Person in the US died alone in a hospice room, his own family barred from visiting him.

From what I saw on the road that day 13 years ago, and in the years that followed, Fred’s life never emanated love. His gospel seemed to be one of seething anger, not toward the whole world, but specifically toward the LGBT community.

If I compared Jesus and Fred, I don’t know if I would see a single similarity. But does that mean Jesus didn’t love Fred Phelps? Did Jesus die for someone as awful as him? Or was Fred the exception?

I know it’s easy to assume Fred didn’t make the leap. That his hatred kept him from accepting a salvation purchased only by love. Many people are even celebrating his death, wishing a hell into existence – if they don’t believe in one – just for him.

But today, my heart is broken again. This time it’s for Fred. 

He died alone. And who knows what spun in his heart and mind in those final hours. I wonder if he felt guilt. Regret. Remorse. I can’t imagine being in the last days of my life, knowing I spent it all to cause others pain, and agonizingly aware I cannot take a single word back. Can’t heal one broken heart.

I’ve felt guilt before. It’s a lot like death. And I wonder if guilt killed Fred. I wonder if, late in his life, as his years were heaping up on him and his health was failing, if he couldn’t even get behind own beliefs anymore? What if he subconsciously excommunicated himself?

I often struggle to receive forgiveness. I don’t deserve it, even though I want to earn it. And that’s something Fred and I have in common, that we don’t deserve to be forgiven.

But maybe he begged God for forgiveness anyway, wanted to finally take him up on the Gospel Jesus preached. Maybe Love showed up on Fred Phelps’ death bed, just like the moment the mocking thief on the cross turned to Jesus. Maybe Fred and the thief are in heaven now, overjoyed, because the ones “who have been forgiven much, love much”.

I know we want to think heaven is a nice place full of average, not-so-bads like me and you, people who rarely say the mean things out loud, whose worst offense is gossip or an extra-long lunch.

But heaven is an escaped convicts row. It’s a potluck of criminals and Mother Theresas. It’s downright offensive to think who is eating lunch together up there. 

But if that pisses us off, we are missing the point.

Jesus didn’t die neatly by lethal injection or food poisoning. He crashed into death the most obscene way. Just watching it in a movie makes my stomach turn. His violent and sobering death made possible the freedom of every man and woman, no matter how rotten, evil or scandalous.

Jesus didn’t endure extra beatings because of the world’s Hitler’s, Milosevic’s or Phelps’. His death was gruesome because that’s what sin is. All sin is death and decay. All sin rots us from the inside out, tears and shreds at our souls, leaves us lonely, outside relationship with God and humanity.

So today, I am sobered because that brutal and savage crucifixion was for me and Fred. I want to be up at that generous and sprawling banquet table some day, but I don’t write the guest list. Jesus, in his totally unfair distribution of love and forgiveness, offers it to anyone who will take it. Because he hates sin, and he hates hell more. It’s equal opportunity for me and Fred.

I don’t know if Fred received what Jesus offered, if he said “Yes” at the end, but I hope he did. I hope he made it to heaven’s church picnic the same as I hope I do. Because the truth is, I can’t earn my salvation any better than Fred can. I only hope I say “Yes” to grace every day til the end.

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{My inspirational eBook, My Birthright For Soup, is all about our human fight between fear and hope, and how to let hope win. You can get it FREE when you become a subscriber. Just click here, and I will send it over to you right away. If you’re already a subscriber, look for the download link in the very top or bottom of your email.}

 

What We Do Not Celebrate, We Often Scorn

Maybe you didn’t realize it, but someone else told you what to believe is beautiful. And you probably bought it.

We are told by those in power, whether in religion, economics, government, education or media, whether or not we are free to like and enjoy a type of person or thing, or not. Usually only what is mainstream is acceptable to celebrate, while everything else is shoved in the back bedroom, or made to “Sit down and shut up.”

There is currently a great emphasis in US culture on diversity, which in theory gives most of us permission to appreciate the quirky oddness in ourselves and everyone else. But differences and variations, especially when they cross into our worlds and force a response, will inevitably force a squirm from the lot of us.

My sister and uncle are developmentally disabled. My uncle lives on his own in an assisted living setting while my sister still lives at home. Our extended family holds a treasure trove of the bizarre and hilarious antics performed by each of them over the years.

20131201-145814.jpg [You might notice one person is not smiling in this picture, our wedding party photo, where you’re supposed to smile, even if you don’t feel like it. But the rules don’t apply to Holly. Photo credit: Sarah Tafoya Photography]

While it’s fun to tell the stories, it’s hard to appreciate the differences in real life. Especially when we are related to The Different Ones. I often find myself apologizing before I do anything else. Here’s why:

– My sister will unabashedly chide a smoker for smoking, complete with a fake cough.

– She offers hugs and kisses to practical strangers – once they’ve been introduced, she sees them as a friends.

– She shares her life details with others almost immediately as well, especially noting, “I have a boyfriend and a paying job”. Ever the networker, after you’ve expressed appropriate admiration at her achievements, she will run upstairs to retrieve a small Ziploc bag with business cards in them, offering you one.

– If she sees a boy and girl together, she often assumes, to everyone’s uneasiness, that they are dating. And she will ask them about it. If they say they are married, she’ll express joy and excitement by making subtle remarks about the man being “hot for” his wife, which isn’t sexual innuendo at all, but merely a statement that the boy or a girl is attractive for his or her partner.

– She’s going to the birthday party of a 100 year old relative of ours today. One of our family friends died this week at 95, and my sister is pretty upset about it. It’s possible she might mention at the party she’s glad my relative is still with us. (Doh.)

Most of the time, I can laugh, but when it comes to all the boundary crossing, the hugs and kisses for strangers, the assumptions that people are dating, I realize I’m always holding my breath, trying to measure everyone else’s discomfort and when I should jump in to smooth things over. It can all feel like a giant apology waiting to happen.

I want to celebrate different, but I don’t know many people who do it well. Fortunately, photographer Kelle Hampton (http://www.kellehampton.com/) provides a generous example. Kelle enjoys her daughter with Down Syndrome, working to capture the beauty of their family dynamic and the joy her daughter brings to her and their family.

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Most of us don’t celebrate different well, but we can learn how. I highly recommend you follow Kelle on Instagram (search for ETST) so you can see what I’m talking about.

And pay attention to where you are scorning the strange, unusual or different, rather than enjoying them, and ask God to show you what he thinks of these people, his beautiful creations.

Live big and brave with me. Subscribe to the blog for free updates and the first copies of my book, Dream or Die, at its release early next year. And stay connected on Facebook or Twitter.

The Power of Gentleness

Maybe you don’t know the power of gentleness, but God does.

And God is dealing with you gently.

It’s a start contrast between how we treat ourselves. We often handle ourselves with aggression and frustration, throwing ourselves around the room, even threatening ourselves if we can’t change, stop screwing up, get it right.

But Jesus dealt with sin and sinners gently when the person was repentant and wanted healing, restoration and relationship. Remember the calm way he addressed the woman caught right in the middle of the deed. The townspeople literally dragged her out of bed with some guy and dragged her into the town square to show her how they felt about sin. (Why the guy she was sleeping with didn’t deserve similar treatment in their minds, I have no idea.)

But Jesus never pointed fingers, never raised his voice.

Instead, he silenced the accusers and sent them away. Then he knelt down. “Neither do I condemn you.”

Jesus is still alive, and he is still this kind of man. He still treats his brothers and sisters this way.

Think about it: the only harshness you hear from him is when he is dealing with Pharisees who believe they are without sin. He had no tolerance for their faux righteousness and their obsession with power and control.

For those of us who need a kind God, we are in luck. That is exactly the kind of God he is. Romans 2 tells us “It is the kindness of God (not the anger of God) that leads us to repentance.”

So if you need help turning away from something that keeps tripping you up, stretch out your hands and receive his kindness, his gentleness.

He knows they are the only things that will really change you.

{Dream along with me. Get a free copy of Dream or Die at its release by subscribing here, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.}

Just Apply Compassion {A Guest Post}

{Today we hear from journalist and blogger Tiffany Roney on the topic of forgiveness and a little secret she learned to let go of pain and hurt. When she sent this post to me a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would powerfully work its way into my life with perfect timing. Tomorrow I will talk about the impact of this post and the surprising things I learned, as well as some exciting turnarounds in one of my most estranged relationships. This is great stuff so grab a cup of coffee with me and let’s listen.}

cage

There are songs about it. The Bible says to do it. In fact, it’s the basis of our faith, but what does it really mean, and how do we really do it?

I interned with a counseling program for about a year – a program that emphasizes forgiveness – but I recently realized I hadn’t really known how to truly forgive.

In a forgiveness struggle this year, my dad gave me a book about forgiveness that suggested giving up your rights to whatever was hurt or stolen. While this method can be very helpful for some people and has helped me in some ways, it didn’t do much for me in this struggle.

Other times I aimed to conquer strife, I followed the technique of saying aloud, “I forgive [name] for [action],” but I was generally just listing through offenses, feeling all the anger and self-pity all over again. When I was “done,” I once again suppressed the issue – only to find it return at a later time.

Friends and family would suggest “just letting it go,” but most of the attempts simply turned into suppression as well. What wasn’t I getting over anything?

On Saturday in California, I found the key: compassion!

How did I miss that?

I was searching on the computer in my aunt’s loft for forgiveness advice and came across this website. What I gleaned from the article: to look at the situation with compassion for the other person.

A couple of tactics I found helpful: think of what the person was going through in that moment, and remember the reality that sin is not abundant life. Thus, that person was not experiencing abundant life during that situation.

This method of looking at “what they were going through” is not equal to trying to “understand” it per se, which can lead to thinking you’re justifying their actions. In my experience, that only causes a person to be more tempted to justify their resentment. Justifying begets justifying. Rather, it’s about caring.

Result: awesome. I feel so free.

As a bonus – or a part of this freedom? – I find myself being more open-minded and creative. If you want a mind and heart at peace, go ahead. It’s available.

Find your freedom.

How do you forgive? What benefits of forgiveness have you received or found in your own life? Let us know in the comments below.
Tiff
Tiffany Roney enjoys beauty, writing, and cycling. She is better at starting projects than finishing them. Her day job and free-time “jobs” are pretty much the same: writing and photography. Tiffany believes stories are more powerful than facts, fiction can ring as true as reality, and mercy triumphs over judgment. Want to hear more from Tiffany? Check out her blog at: http://tiffanyroney.blogspot.com/.