3

Navy Yard Shooting – The Thoughts that Count

Forgiveness requires a crucifixion of self.

Washington DC Shooting Suspect

What we think determines how we feel.  Or does it?  Because if we’re so sure that our thoughts shape our feelings, wouldn’t it make sense for us to spend a deliberate amount of time trying to discipline our thought life?  Yet most of us continue to enjoy the luxury (or the curse) of letting our thoughts run wild until surprisingly we end up somewhere we never meant to go.  Once we arrive at the point of no return and we’re stuck on one thought that  keeps incessantly replaying in our minds, the accompanying feeling gradually builds until we either explode or implode.  Explode, means we think something for so long that it becomes a part of who we are and we start reacting to others according to what we’re thinking.  No one knows when the next explosion will occur and anything could spark it.  Everyone is certain there is something wrong with us, they’re just not sure how to deal with us accordingly because they don’t know what we’re REALLY thinking.  They’re only aware of external factors that might be affecting our mood.

Implode, means we self inflict the misery of certain thoughts for so long that we eventually spring a leak and a toxic feeling is released as a slow drip within (that actually also affects us physically).  However, when something triggers the thought or group of thoughts one too many times it results in breakage of the dam and everything just starts rushing out within.  But all of the toxic waste stays contained on the inside therefore causing us to collapse emotionally or mentally.  Others may be surprised when we’re no longer able to get out of bed because they were completely unaware that we’d been habitually struggling with certain thoughts.  We may feel weak physically and unable to muster the energy of interacting with others, because every social encounter requires us to momentarily ignore what we’re thinking and that requires unsustainable levels of energy.

I’ve been thinking (surprise – surprise) a lot lately about forgiveness and what it means because while I want to forgive others, I find it next to impossible to do so.  People like to say that forgiveness does NOT mean that you have to ignore the injustice or flippantly excuse someone’s bad behavior.  But I’m beginning to believe that forgiveness, at least a large element of forgiveness, is just that:  Disciplining your mind to transform the “thoughts” regarding someone’s injustice toward you.

So many of us do not know whether our thoughts or our feelings come first.  But specifically, in the case of forgiveness, let us explore how we might change the way we feel about someone by changing the way we think about what they’ve purportedly done wrong.  Because in my own life I’ve concluded that if forgiveness cannot also eliminate the negative feelings I have about someone, then what is the point?  When is forgiveness complete?  If Jesus forgives our sins but still feels sick to His stomach when He sees us, what good is that?  None of us wants to be loathed, even when we know we’re acting like dirty rotten scoundrels.  Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so is His forgiveness complete before or after we ask for it?  Do you expect others to ask for your forgiveness before you forgive them?  Did Jesus say, “I’ll die on the cross for your sins, if you’ll just admit that you sinned first.”  Doesn’t this one little contingency affect the psychology of how we live and interact with others who have presumably done us wrong?

In my own little world of having been mistreated (or so I think) by the same people habitually, I’ve come to the realization that the first step of forgiveness is action in regard to my thoughts.  I must first take the disciplined action of finding a new way to think about that person before I can stand to look at them again.  And when the process of forgiveness is complete, it may seem like an instant miracle to others, but on the inside, I know that forgiveness was a process, a journey toward the culmination of allowing myself to be crucified for the sins of someone else.  Only after forgiveness has culminated to the point of us being able to genuinely say “Father, please forgive them because they have no idea how they’ve hurt me,”  will we know that “It is finished.”  And oh what an awesome day that will be.

Imagine the peace, the finality of being able to commend your spirit to God in complete forgiveness of what someone’s done to you.  Imagine finally seeing someone the way that Jesus sees them, as helpless slaves to their will and emotion, never fully realizing the impact of their actions on others.

But what a painstaking journey it is, to fight the thoughts, the demons that spit on you and kick you while you’re down.  How humiliating it is to be stripped of our dignity by insult added to injury, by someone’s incessant need to see just how much they can make us suffer before they finally put us out of our misery.  And the only thing that can make this kind of pain bearable, is to keep walking toward the cross in surrender to a higher calling, a new resurrection where our wounds no longer bleed, where the evidence of our pain still exists but only as a testament to the fact that we’ve risen above what was meant to keep us down, down low in the grave, fighting the thoughts, fighting the desire to resist our cross and seek a greater revenge.

But it is our human tendency to run away from forgiveness by trying to figure out someone’s motive, by trying to predict if it will happen again, by possibly excusing their actions as insanity-something way beyond their control, or by retaliating-protecting ourselves by trying to cause them more pain than they’ve caused us.  Our mind runs crazy with trying to figure out how we can logically forgive.  One thought leads to another and if we’re not careful, we might find ourselves in the position of plotting revenge because no matter how much we “think” it through, it will just never make any sense to die on a cross for someone else’s sins.

In light of the multiple mass shootings that continue to occur, most recent in Washington, D.C. at the Navy Yard, albeit on the mind of the killer(s) was how they might avenge those who had in some way, personally or corporately, done them wrong.  And in these instances, do we think Jesus’ long ago plea still holds relevance? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “But how could they do that?” we say.  They knew EXACTLY what they were doing.  They are evil.  How could someone be so evil?  They need to pay for what they did.  And yet there is no exploration, no reflection on how evil is a cycle, a cycle of which we all take part.  And we fail to realize that the person who committed those crimes was saying the exact same thing, “They need to pay for what they did.”  Perhaps it was a long wrestle with their demons, one too many times that they had been wronged by someone else.  They tried to forgive, but they were shocked to discover that forgiveness means a painful death to self, not lashing out at others until reconciliation comes, but choosing to be crucified in the face of how others keep doing you wrong and will never see the light or feel sorry for their actions.

I feel a part of that pain, the pain of someone who believes they can’t keep walking toward their cross, the pain of someone who decides to abandon their cross because they believe seeing others bleed might be a quicker way to relief.  I relate to the need to ease their own pain, to struggle to escape their own death that seems inevitable at the hands of mercenaries who make a mockery of them by the laws they instate and the polices they create.  In ignorance, they lobby against our cause, not knowing how they force us into a corner where we instinctively feel the need to come un-caged.   I see the irony of how self preservation looks like self destruction to everyone else and I too defend myself and my family with illogical semi-automatic moves to protect and preserve the part of us inside that others fight to tear down.

So all the while, I pray to God that I continue to take the journey of forgiveness until I’m able to completely forgive those who do not deserve my forgiveness.  In this moment of seeing myself as the outraged gunman, who had imploded or exploded as a result of thinking the wrong thoughts for too long, I plead with God that He’d change my thinking before I do the unthinkable–even if what we think we’re capable of doesn’t seem so bad in comparison to killing a dozen people in cold blooded murder.

What was he thinking?

Are we willing to admit that we’re unwilling to be crucified by forgiveness and that we’d much rather place conditions on our feelings toward others?

Perhaps we would then see that self righteousness is the first obstacle on the journey toward true forgiveness.

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4

God, If You’re Real

God, if you’re real
Then where are you
When right now
Somewhere in this world
There’s a child
Hopeless and alone
Feeling a heap of shame
That they inherited
Passed down
To them
Because parents do
What their parents did
Replaying
Distorted images
Struggling humans
Just fighting for the breath
To stay alive 9 to 5
No time to process the hint of pain
That chips away at our soul little by little
To pass it down old and stale.
And when the heart is beating
Faster than I can comprehend
I ask myself again
Where were you when
We started feeling like
This might be the end
And gradually began
To numb our pain with substance
More real than your presence today.
Where are you when my friend
She who works hard
At being loved
Can’t sleep at night
Because the dark hovers
Just a little too loudly
Over her bed
The bed she did not make
For herself.
But that someone violently made for her.
Forging memories never meant to be made.
It’s hard to be a testament
Of your elusive love
When I feel so far beyond
Your reach
The reach of something grand.
We sing, take comfort in
Recitations of peace
That keep evading those of us
Who can’t see the good
In secret places
Of our buried past
That you’re supposed to resurrect
Memories of salvation
Redemption that makes it all white as snow
And not just bloody races against time
Moments of silence
Where our thoughts refuse to stop telling us
Who we really are.  And why they did what they did.
God, most certain you’re real.
Because we keep killing ourselves
Trying to find you
Reconcile our struggles
With the outcome
And what we’re living for
Is resolve
Healing that I don’t see
In the lives of those who say they’ve been saved.
Where are you if you’re real
I think I feel you at the shrillest point
Of awareness
That our hearts and minds
Are just as fragile as the body
With which we struggle to co-exist.
Your love, the idea that you exist-a fair judge who would never prey
On vulnerabilities of children who just hope to believe
That this time there really is no condition, on being accepted
Moments that I cry out to feel you near
In the moment of thick loneliness
Where we all keep it inside
Because we’re afraid of being known.
Something much smaller
Miniscule hope that pales in comparison
To the looming darkness of my fear
That grips each moment of interaction with others
It doesn’t rescue me all at once
It longs for a complete salvation
The one in finality where you don’t just stop my tears
for a moment so that I don’t pull the trigger
On a better future now.
But where all the sins of even those who’ve sinned against me
And the tears they cried over their own darkness
Will forever be wiped away.

9

Syria Conflict & Bible Prophecy

Sarin gas victim, Syria

Sarin gas victim, Syria (Photo credit: Ninian Reid)

O.k., first let me say that I am by no means a Bible scholar.  I just wish to shed light on a subject that has come to the the forefront as of recent, even making its way to national news outlets such as Fox News:  Whether the recent activity in Syria points to the impending fulfillment of Bible prophecy or not.  http://video.foxnews.com/v/2660399900001/biblical-prophecy-of-syrian-crisis/

Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I grew up with a healthy or unhealthy fear of the “end times.”  I used to feel afraid when I saw my dad watching the world news.  Some of the things I saw happening in other countries just seemed very scary.  And I knew that these events were analyzed in my immediate sphere of influence as a sign of the end times.  It also seemed that the election of certain presidents throughout my childhood hinted at the demise of “Christianity” and the final judge and rule of God.  But I’m not quite sure where I picked up that idea.  So no pointing fingers.

At a young age, I just wanted all of the scary stuff to go away.  I wanted to live in hope for my future and believe that I’d live a full and happy life regardless of what was happening around the world.

Somewhere in the span of my “finding a mate” years, my attention was never drawn to subjects such as Biblical prophecy and my mind was mainly focused on building a family and making money to support that family.

Fast forward to an irreversible adulthood and the awareness of my existence has shrunken to a meaningless speck of dust on the world map.  And it seems impossible to ignore all the signs of something happening- that surround me.  My point of reference keeps shifting though–like I’m getting jerked back and forth by one of those unfriendly roller coasters that may or may not be safe.

One day, I’m living on the surface, aware that I need to take my daughter to school, make sure a few shirts are ironed, cook dinner for my family, go to bed only to wake up and do it again.  On another day, I come across videos of children (who are my children’s ages) in Syria choking from some sort of chemical weapon attack.  And on yet another day, to my spirit’s regret, I waste my time watching one of the Hollywood movies that to me, makes light of some of the most gruesome acts of violence against humanity one could think to commit- all in the name of entertainment.

Amidst all of this, I read articles about the latest “trends” in worship and how it affects a Christian’s “experience” of God.  In-between I get stuck on some message boards of naysayers who are making self-assured fun of the Biblical nuts who keep getting their prophecy timelines wrong.  And then I sporadically think, well even if I’m nuts, perhaps it would be advantageous for me to at least call attention on Twitter and Facebook to the recent correlation between the latest happenings in Syria and the possible fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.

So then I Tweet.   And I wonder if the “Christians” who “follow” me on Twitter will re-tweet, so that they may be a conduit of some “warning” that ‘all may not be well in the world’ and in fact that ‘Jesus may be coming soon, so don’t worry so much about what to eat or drink or post on Twitter.’  That the next worship retreat may be a little less relevant in the scheme of global news.  But not one person has re-tweeted me yet.  And not one person on FB has shared my update or liked it, for that matter.

What is interesting, or at least to me, is that it isn’t the current events that led me to explore my Bible.  It was my Bible that led me to explore current events (I was reading some prophetic passages in the Old Testament and remembered something about Syria that had passed my mind in the form of a dream, so I Googled Syria and Bible prophecy).  The more I read my Bible, the more the culture in which I live seems extremely irrelevant and almost sinisterly laughable.  But don’t get me wrong, I do question my sanity and the way that I process Scripture.

I assume that the reason Bible passages seem in such stark contrast to how I’m currently gauging my life’s meaning, is because my reading of the Bible is biased toward the way I was raised–to believe that the Bible is actually true and not just a book from which to pick random passages to recite on Sunday morning.  Call me crazy, but what is the point of believing in God, if we do not at the same time, believe we are a part of the history or future of things prophesied in God’s Word?

I absolutely hate the fact that the Bible inconveniences us in such a way that it doesn’t exactly align with the fairy tales we tell our children.  But how can we go to church Sunday after Sunday (or stay at home Sunday after Sunday), purporting to be Christians, yet disassociating ourselves with the reality of the tragic events that are ACTUALLY happening across the world?  And by disassociating, I mean continuing to live the same lifestyle, the lifestyle that by all outward appearance gives witness to the fact that we do not actually believe God is an active agent in the world.  Our moments of silence will only take us so far.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sure what I believe.  I say I believe in Jesus because I think I believe that’s what will save me from hell.   I say I believe in God’s Word because it’s what gives testament to the other things which I also say I believe.   But my days are more concerned with my life from the angle of my lifetime on earth, NOT with my life from the perspective of eternity.  Half of my time is spent languishing the fact that I’m not more popular or that I’m not one of those “cool” people who easily attracts friends.  The other half of my time is spent regretting the inconvenience of knowing there are others who have less than me.

For those who say the Bible should be completely written off as a collection of fables, they only say that from the comfort and safety of their own couch.  I guarantee you that if they were a little closer to the happenings in the major parts of the world where war and famine reign, they would think a little bit harder about “choosing this day who’d they serve.”  They’d spend a little less time laughing at Hollywood’s sick disregard for humanity and a little bit more time fighting for life, fighting to find the Truth about life and death because death seems a wee bit more inevitable.

So how is Syria and Biblical prophecy related to us?  Why does it matter if we believe in God’s Word or not?  Are world events relevant to us and our children?  What is the safety, the assurance that you hold in your heart today?  From firsthand experience, having been exposed to International politics in some round about ways, I can tell you that America is a stack of cards.  I love the fact that I was born in America and that I’ve been safe up to this point–that I have freedom to write what I’m writing and that my children weren’t just gassed to death by our government.  But don’t be fooled, God is not mocked.  America is not our Savior and peace is only God’s to give.

I don’t understand why so many Americans and even Christians laugh off the talk about “impending doom.”  But yet they love to watch movies about aliens and disease that threaten to destroy humanity in a final showdown after which only TWO humans will survive thereafter to populate the earth again.  Do you see the irony in millions of dollars being spent to give moviegoers the high of watching criminal activities take place on a big screen, when the evil is ACTUALLY alive and well in our world, killing the lives of many?

Maybe the reason we’re so slow to believe, is because we’ve never been face to face with death.

Perhaps the reason Christianity is becoming more and more irrelevant is because it’s become the religion of marginality.

If in fact, we spent a few days up against famine and sword, our hearts and minds would turn to finding answers beyond our own reason and imagination.

Some will say it’s selfish for others to “focus” on impending doom, stealing the “quality” of life away from their children by turning into apocalyptic nuts.  And I used to feel the same, as a child who still felt or hoped that I had a lifetime to live.  But what about all the children who were just gassed?  Is it fair to them that we evaluate life only by our own sense of “national security?”

I could go on.

0

Focus on the Vision

Almost everything we enjoy, cannot be enjoyed in its entirety until we realize that what we enjoy will most always be accompanied by the mundane tasks that make our moments of pleasure possible and we in turn, set ourselves up to focus on the vision, not the next step.

Take music for instance.  One of the absolute most pleasurable moments of music for me is to direct a choir in its polished form on a song that contains the concentration of emotion that has built over weeks or months of polishing each intricate detail.

But the journey to that performance is laden with the mundane, the long and tedious stress of wondering whether it will ever come together, the laborious rehearsals where everything goes wrong–when the effort of choir members seems to be lackluster at best.

Why is it that we define our lives, our day-to-day existence by the journey and not the end result?  Why, when we awaken in the mornings, do we not first think of the end result, instead of the steps of drudgery we must take in order to get there?

It is really hard to let the vision of our “end result” shape our daily activities.  Too often, the complaints of others, the voice of our own insecurities, memories of our past failures and overwhelming prep work destroy our vision and we give up short of that brilliant performance.

I for one, habitually awaken to the remembrance of the next step I need to take, instead of an intentional reminder of the desired “end result.”

No matter what your life’s calling…if God has given you a vision of the “end result,” if He’s given you a glimpse of who you may one day become, intentionally create reminders of that vision and stay inspired by focusing on the end result.  Life can get awfully dark and dreary when the only thing we focus on is taking our next step.

Life is more than putting one foot in front of the other.

There is a vision, a finished product, a postcard finish line.

Instead of filling your calendar this month with reminders about what you need to do next to reach your goals, why don’t you fill your calendar with reminders about the vision of who you hope to become?

Here are a few reminders for me this week:

http://bcove.me/hc2yxxd4

http://fw.to/wOrd55B

5

Power that does Not Corrupt

Français : Rencontre paul biya et bayero fadil.

Français : Rencontre paul biya et bayero fadil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I start to speak out about anything, I feel afraid because I remember Jesus’ words “Let him without sin, cast the first stone.”  What can we do to make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering at the hands of those who “know not what they do?”  I really believe that sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing.  We’ve become immune to the circumstances of our little lives and we’re just fighting to become something out there in the distance, trying to arrive but our destination slowly keeps moving beyond us–until we’ve wasted decades stepping on others to see what might still exist above them.  The further we move away from who we were, the less likely we are to remember the origin of ourselves.  We are numb to the consequences of our actions.  We’re in too deep.

It’s easy to judge those in positions of power–firmly holding to our belief that if we were in their shoes, we’d make sure to give everything we have to the poor and create policies that give hope to the hopeless.  But I’m certain that managing  an empire comes at a great cost, a cost that no one can understand unless they themselves have held the responsibility of ruling over a nation.   How easy it would be to feel justified by our actions as a leader, little by little–one decision leading to another and before we know it our allegiance is to maintain peace at all costs–some version of peace that leaves the larger part of the population starving for freedom.

I’ve recently been on a quest to figure out what the experts say about why some nations are poor and others are rich.  I really thought that maybe someone else had already won the Nobel prize for finding the answer and maybe I was just slow at having gotten around to reading their conclusions.  But as it turns out, more and more “evidence” points to the fact that the success of a nation is determined by a force well beyond the surface of what can easily be explained.

Why are some nations powerful and others powerless?  My research seems to conclude that even renowned economists can’t put their finger on what makes some nations thrive.  But their educated guess is that it has a lot to do with the decisions those in power make.  And ultimately, those in power can choose to sacrifice their own well being for the greater good of all, or they can choose policies that will maintain good relations with the elite, ensuring a long lasting throne for themselves, while ignoring the true impact of their policies on the people.  (http://whynationsfail.com/)

Assuming that this world and all that is in it, belongs to God–both leaders who claim to be Christians and leaders who make no such claim, are ultimately responsible to one True God who orders the heavens–though they may not allow Him to order the service of their church or the cabinets of their nation.

It’s so easy to say that we think it’s wrong for Christian leaders or greedy politicians to get rich at the expense of their followers, yet our own personal finances may not be aligned in the way Jesus would advise them to be aligned.  Is there any surplus, any amount that we need to re-allocate toward improving the living standard of someone else, even if at the expense of what others think of us?

Just when God says, “What can you do, what difference can you make?” And I have no idea what difference I can make in a country that is not my own and in a world where I don’t belong, I remember that “power” can corrupt us all and even if God loaned me the power to make an impact, would it be for better or for worse?

As an interesting twist to my recent quest for “economic” truth, I discovered that Cameroon, a country I follow closely (because of family ties)–recently ordered several Pentecostal churches to be closed down because of claims that they are illegally misusing their power in some shape or form.  And I find it all rather ironic, because the President behind these actions is by all outward appearance a far cry from an advocate for “the people” and his “power” by measurement of his nation’s success, is at the very least, corrupt.

Paul Biya, President of Cameroon, you’ve been President for over thirty years and one of the best policies you can create, as of late, is to shut churches down because of THEIR mis-use of POWER?

Mr. Paul Biya, I know you’re human because I saw your children, just like mine, carrying the burden of being just that-children at school who needed to be taught like me and like you, who still have things to learn and always will.  I know that a whole nation questions your policies and has fear about what might happen to them after you, because sometimes we’re afraid of something new, even when the bad is so unbearably bad.  But it’s not too late to do something good for your nation, to truly, after all these years, become “The People’s Choice” as your campaigns love to tout.

What is it that stops you from giving up your power to a higher power that will enable you to take care of the poor?  Do you know about the power that does not corrupt?  A power that sets captives free and feeds the hungry with what doesn’t ever seem like enough?  I can’t say that I’d know what to do if I were you.  But I hope you find a way to make a difference in the lives of your people before you die.   Perhaps the churches that you just shut down, at least gave their members “hope” that healing would come, that a “fair” leader would emerge, even if that hope was delusional at best.  Do your policies create roads and infrastructure–promising a hope of future profitability?  Do your laws promote the health and well being of those less fortunate?  Will the difference that you purport to make ever amount to anything more than propaganda to promote your re-election as President?

I’m helplessly optimistic that there IS a power that does not corrupt.  It IS possible for a President through the power of God’s Spirit, to help a country rise to its full potential, painstakingly so–but with the hope that at least God honors those who care for the poor.

I’m also a believer that God can work above and beyond those of us who let our own power corrupt us.  For pastors who hold the precarious position of possibly leading congregants astray, there is a God who can reconstruct a system of accountability.  There is a God who can save a nation through His transforming power that fights corruption.

President, pastor, flawed human in our insatiable quest to become:  Will we choose the power that does not corrupt?  Will we seek forgiveness for covetousness and use our position whether lowly or esteemed to meet the needs of others?

7

One of the Least of These

English: Sunday School or Church Hall? This bu...

English: Sunday School or Church Hall? This building was in the field opposite to the former Methodist Chapel in Chapel Lane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It keeps coming to my attention that I have always had a problem associating with “the least of these,” though to many I am considered to be one of “the least of these.”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:40

I generally want to keep an arm’s length distance between them and me because I’m afraid that somehow their stupidity, disease, narrow-mindedness, extreme poverty or proclivity toward difficult life’s situations will somehow rub off on me and make my life of trying to “fit in” an even worse feat. And we all have at some point in time dissociated ourselves from those who in our minds are the least in comparison to our superior set of beliefs, our higher standard of living, our elite political affiliation or our seemingly safer side of the tracks.

Ironically, even though we’ve all been looked down upon by some other group or person who deems themselves superior to us and even though we know what it feels like to be ostracized from a group for not fitting in, even though we are very familiar with the sick pit of the stomach feeling for just not quite measuring up–we still hold others to our “higher” standard–silently judging them on the inside while parading a fake smile on the outside until they’re just out of ear’s distance and we are free to say what we really think about their inferiority compared to us.

Those we considered to be the “least of these” yesterday may not be the ones we deem “least of these” today.  Life experience tends to shape our opinions about who makes the cut as being acceptable in our sphere of influence at the moment.  We habitually lean toward surrounding ourselves by people who make us feel better about ourselves.  We will hang out with people who have a little less than us so that we can feel superior about having more but not be burdened by feeling the pressure of having to help them in a big way.  We can feel better about associating ourselves with those who have more than us, but most often those relationships can only be sustained if we anticipate there is something to gain.

I’ve been visiting new churches for a few weeks.  I’ve never attended a church without having been employed by the church.  Meaning, I’ve never had to choose a church based on any other decision but the fact that they were employing me as a musician.  I really feel a leaning to take my children to a church where everything will be spoon fed to them, where they will have exciting activities, be fully engaged with the latest technology and  exposed to at least the “higher” of arts–whatever that really means.

But today we visited a neighborhood church where none of the above was true and I felt like I was among “the least of these” in some part of my wretched heart. And I WAS one of “the least of these” because my children were not behaving and there was no formal childcare or children’s program to make me feel human and well put together, once my children were out of sight and out of mind.  In fact, there were only about ten people in attendance, mostly older people.  There was one little girl who was kind of floating around the sanctuary.  She invited my children to go back to the “play” room and watch T.V.  I told her that I wanted them to stay in the sanctuary (because apparently there was going to be no adult back there).

Then finally after Sunday School was over (I didn’t realize it was Sunday School at the time), two older women took the children back (one other child had arrived eventually) to the play room.  I stayed with my youngest (a little over a year old) and then when he finally would not keep quiet, I went to the back with my children and one of the ladies struck up a conversation with me.

She described her life as if she was telling a story where she understood that her character was THE “least of these” written into the details without her consent.  Having grown up with Colitis as a young girl she eventually had to get a colostomy.  The doctors told her she would never be able to have children because of that, but she ended up having two children anyway.  She gave God the credit.  She went on to say that because of all her physical ailments that she also has problems with her brain so she was never able to finish school.  She said that she was still praying for God to heal her, that her condition is much better, but that she still hopes for complete healing and that if God could heal blind eyes back then that surely he can heal her now.  She said that many people stop by the church, receive healing and then never come back.  Apparently her son was in a could-have-been deadly wreck recently but God spared his life.  She said that she gets up at 5am every morning to pray, that she prays for all those she knows who are in need.

Somehow I felt like God was saying, “I am here.”  “I am anywhere you are that feels small.”  “I know that you want to live a comfortable life, feel good about yourself as a person, rub shoulders with those who shine, but this is where I am.  If you really want to find me, you’ll find me among the “least of these.”  “You keep saying you want to find me but you already have and whatever you do for the least of these you will have done for me.”

But no God.  This does not feel good.  I do not feel superior here.  I feel strangely in and out of my element at the same time.  Why haven’t you healed this woman yet?  Why have you not changed my heart so that I don’t look down on people of her kind, people of my kind.  Her faith is so much stronger than mine.  I’m sure she’ll be praying for me tonight before she goes to bed.  I prayed for her too, already– that she won’t be so pitiful, so pitifully trusting in you.  Why do I want to run away from this, away from her?  Why do I want my children to have more and be more?  What is the more I’m trying to have them be?  And if we’re all trying to climb our ladders, who will be there ministering to those at the bottom who could never ever “fit in” where I’m more comfortable trying to fit in?  Why can’t you just make all this sickness, all this dumb brained poverty pant sag-gin’ sub culture just go away so that we can all feel good about where we’re going and where we hope to end up?  And God, where are you when I feel like the least and when she knows for sure she’s the least but is still willing to pray for others, encourage others and have hope that you’ll heal her completely?

Surely you’ll have mercy on us all because we are all “the least” among the counterparts of who we’re trying to become–sick of heart, downright mean people who always look down on others.  Most certainly you have compassion on those of us who are first now, compared to those who seem to be last but who are closer to your heart because they know suffering and can’t seem to catch a break.  Are these, this woman who feels like the last, who I judge as even further back in the line than I am, are these the ones who you say will be first when your Kingdom finally comes?  And am I really willing to completely let go of what others think just so I can be the last in order to earn first place?

And as we left the church, the other little girl told my girls that she hopes that they come back because she is usually all by herself–no other children.

And as I told the pastor about where I previously attended church, he invited me to come back and sing for them without any reserve about whether I would be “good enough” for their taste or not.

I was the least of THEM.

3

Prayer

Jesus in Pray

Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems for me, impossible to stop praying the same prayers over and over again like a broken record.

When before I’ve always felt my prayers to be authentic conversation with God (God, my life is quite miserable today. Please do something about it.), after which I felt better once I uttered the familiar pleas almost trance like–now I feel quite silly when I start to pray.

I’m not sure whether this is because I’m “growing in faith” or “diminishing in faith.”

But I’m beginning to notice embarrassing patterns in my prayer life that should my prayers be thrown up on a screen for everyone to see, I might emphatically claim they’re not mine at all.

You see, I pray for things to be a certain way but only if it’s God’s will of course, and then when nothing turns out at all as I’d hoped, I thank God for knowing what is best for me, and then I try to re-examine my desires so that they might finally align with what would please God more, of course.

But it’s all turning out to seem like a little mind game I’m playing with myself to be able to sustain hope in the face of disappointment. “Oh God, please help this to work, if it’s your will.” “Oh God, it didn’t work, so please help me to not get stuck in this moment of disillusionment, not my will but yours, Lord.” “But God, really, what is wrong with me? Why are my plans not your plans and why do my plans fail and how do I really know how to plan according to your will, and how can I possibly pray in accordance with your will, for who can know your thoughts when your thoughts are so much higher than mine.”

So after all these years of praying, I really don’t know how to pray. It doesn’t seem right to pray for this or to pray for that, especially when there are so many people who don’t have half of what I have.  I should be praying that those who have less than me will finally have more.   But how can I give more when it seems I’ve given all I can want to give and that giving may not make any difference in the lives of others, especially if it makes me worse around them than I was on the inside now seeping out? I want more, but it doesn’t ever seem right to try to get what I want or to pray that God will show me how to get it, because why do I want it? What will I do with it? God knows I already turn my eye blind to helping those who look like on the outside they should be able to help themselves, I walk right past, because if I’m miserable, so should they be too.

The only thing I’ve ever earnestly prayed through is for the protection of my family and for the successful adoption of my husband’s siblings. I really believed that helping orphans was in accordance with God’s will. Is that why He answered my prayers? But from the point of a successful adoption on, nothing I pray really seems like it merits a direct answer. Nothing related to personal gain ever feels right to pray. Why? Are there certain prayers that are just wasted breath? For those who have children who constantly plead for the same things over and over again, until you are annoyed witless, I’m sure you’ve wondered if that’s how you sound to God. Since He’s all powerful, can he just turn off his ears to the noisy pleas of his children for bigger homes, better jobs, nicer cars, more prestige and worldwide recognition?  I mean are we SERIOUSLY asking God for more than what He’s already given and what we fool ourselves into believing we’ve gotten for ourselves?

At times before, because I was certain I could not trust my own motives, I would pray for God to purify my motives.  But not now.  I’m afraid of that prayer.  I accidentally prayed it last night.  “God, please change my heart’s desires to align with yours.”  What?!?  So if I changed my mind today about the whole wanting to live like Christ thing, will He answer my prayer of yesterday, against my ever-changing will?

What if I pray for sanity but God knows that a good dose of insanity will then help me to reach out to those who I would have otherwise written off as “not having it all together.”

“Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”  Isaiah 66:2

Is God still there looking on some of us with favor?  Do our prayers emerge from a place of humility and contrition?  Do we tremble at the thoughts of praying for things that may not be in accordance with God’s will?

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  But I do NOT yet truly fear and much less tremble.

My daughter keeps asking me for a cat over and over and over again.  For her to have a cat would be against my will.  But she has also started praying to God for a cat.  Should I give  her a cat and pray that God will change my heart about having one?  Or should I keep ignoring her pleas and start praying that God will change the desires of her heart so that she will no longer carry the disappointment of not having one?

Your cat may be someone else’s burden.  And our prayers might be against God’s will.  Even so, come quickly, LORD JESUS!