Category Archives: Prayer

Today I Am Afraid

*** For those of you in the DSW Conference, no I do not know anything that you don’t. I am just experiencing some anxiety mixed with hope in light of the vote we are about to have this coming Thursday. If I have concerned you because of my personal fear, I am truly sorry.  It’s just a prayer that reflects my own anxious nature.  Blessings and peace…and perhaps prayers that we will all be less anxious. ***

Abba, Father…

I did what I thought was right.  I read their theological exams and I expected from them what I expect from any candidate for ministry: honesty and theological robustness. I expected them to write their exams like they were writing papers for seminary, in conversation with the Scriptures and with the theologians that they studied.  I interviewed them Lord, and I tried hard not to give them breaks that I wouldn’t have given to other candidates.  I did my best to be thorough, firm, and fair…and then I voted my conscience and I approved them.

I approved two LGBTQIA candidates for commissioning and admission to the clergy of the United Methodist Church.

I was proud that day and certain that my colleagues would join me in celebrating their entry into full time ministry. I was certain that our entire conference would celebrate our stand for justice and equality in ministry.

Today I am not so certain. In fact, today I am afraid.

I am filled with fear that my conservative colleagues will unite and stand against these two people. I fear that they will block their entry into full time ministry. I fear they will vote against them, but not because they aren’t fully prepared, and not because they aren’t theologically articulate, but solely because they are LGBTQIA.

That’s not the right reason, Lord.  You have given us ample evidence that You call the weak and foolish to show your strength and wisdom. Goodness knows you called ME and there isn’t much that is weaker or more foolish than I am.

My stomach hurts and I want to cry.

I want to believe that I serve a church that is just and wise. I want to believe that I serve in a conference that will stand for justice even when it means that we will be hated by other conferences within the larger Methodist church. I want to believe that you are leading the Desert Southwest, and eventually the entire Methodist Church, into new spaces of equality and tolerance that our church has never known before.

But I’m so afraid that I’m wrong in what I believe. I’m afraid that I’m about to watch these two poor souls be crushed when they are turned away and labeled unclean and unfit for ministry only because of the way they love.

All I can do, Father, is to put the whole thing into your hands and beg you to have your way with our conference. Let your Spirit move as the clergy votes over these two who have submitted themselves to your will and put themselves into your hands.  Protect them from any harm should my colleagues choose to reject them.  Never let these two children doubt for one moment that You have chosen them and nothing else matters.

You alone can stop the prejudice and fear that runs in the hearts of those who would reject the children you call just because of who and how they love.  Grant me the grace to forgive them for their fear, because you know that I am also consumed with fear. Grant me the grace to remember that they are only trying to do what is best for the church, just as I am trying to do what is best for the church.

Grant us…grace. Lots and lots of grace…because we are going to need it in abundance.

Father God, today I am afraid. But I am trusting that you are bigger than this entire issue, and that it matters even more to you than it does to me.

Thanks for listening. I needed to get this off my chest.  I might need you again later, because this fear doesn’t seem to go away and it keeps threatening to leak out of my eyes and run down my face.

Amen.

The Morning After the Mourning After

This morning I went to a yoga class.  I was exhausted and anxious and needed to let go of some stress. My daughter is getting married this evening and all that anxiety has built to a peak of anticipation.  I figured a little stretching and sweating would do my soul some good.

The instructor, Jeff Martens, is a great teacher. He speaks softly during class, reminding us of proper posture and breathing techniques.  He also speaks words of wisdom, meant to guide us into greater relaxation and greater submission to the spiritual process of yoga.

Today he reminded us that every posture is a prayer that we pray with our body and our soul. He reminded us that prayers are not requests; prayer is more than asking for things. The prayers we make with our body are affirmations of all that is already ours: health, peace, communion, joy…or conversely, they can be affirmations that we believe we exist in a state of struggle, discontent, and FEAR.

There has been a lot of fear this week.

I told you in my last post that the days after the election were particularly difficult for LGBTQ persons, minorities, and women.  Many were consumed with fear that they would lose their civil rights, their safety, their nation and their home.  This week wasn’t much different, and I had plenty of people who cried their way through their session, worried about the future and wondering what they should do next.

One of my clients yesterday was particularly upset, and nothing seemed to comfort her. We talked about the allies that are all around her; people who love her, people who are not willing let her be re-victimized or denied safety.  I reminded her that I will always be an ally.  And then I told her that my greatest hope is that there are many good people in powerful places, people who are not willing to silently stand by as millions are denied their civil rights and human dignity. I said that I believe those people will slowly reveal themselves as Trump’s plan unfolds; I believe that one by one they will stand up and say “Not in my America!” and they will be our allies as we fight against a rising tide of bigotry, sexism, and homophobia.

It won’t be as simple as the split between Democrats and Republicans. I told her that we will probably all be disgusted to discover bigots, misogynists, and homophobes among people we thought were our allies.  I’m betting we will also be stunned at the number of staunch Republicans who stand up for civil rights, equality, and justice.  Neither side has a monopoly on righteousness; in the long run, I believe that this will be a great blessing that will work to our advantage.

She smiled at me and said it was a lovely idea, but she wasn’t sure it was realistic.

I told her that I am counting on it.

I never thought it would happen so soon!

Today Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton made an announcement in response to President Elect Trump’s decision to begin deporting undocumented immigrants.  The mayor stated:

“Phoenix is an incredibly diverse and welcoming city where we endeavor every day to protect our community while treating residents with dignity and respect, no matter who you are, who you love or where you come from.

Our diversity is our greatest strength as a community, and our strongest selling point as an economy. It says much about who we are as a people that Phoenix is considered one of the safest and most welcoming cities in the United States for those seeking refuge from the violence of war-torn countries.

That will not change, regardless of who is president.

Residents and visitors can be assured we will professionally and steadfastly uphold the laws of our city. But that does not mean that Phoenix will fall victim to discourse that is openly antagonistic and hostile to members of our community.

The Phoenix Police Department will never turn into a mass deportation force, even if the new government in Washington, D.C., threatens to revoke federal dollars. This is something worth fighting for, and we will not be bullied into taking backward steps on civil rights.

I cried when I heard it on the news, and I cried when I read the article online, and I am still crying as I write this right now.  There are things worth fighting for: our deepest values and dearest morals, but most important is human lives.  These things are worth standing up for, no matter what the cost.

Today the Phoenix mayor (along with mayors in Boston, New York, and Chicago, as well as the police chief of Los Angeles) took a stand against bigotry, hatred, and fear.

This morning I heard that every posture is a prayer, an affirmation of what we have.

Today powerful people in a number of major cities struck a posture of resistance to injustice. They still have some stretching to do before their posture can be firm and true, and we need to join them. We are only beginning to understand just how deeply our privilege (white, straight, male, educated, etc.) has stepped on the necks of our brothers and sisters. As a nation, we need to change our posture to a prayer that affirms freedom for all, justice for all, and welcome to all who would live in peace.

Today I stand in a posture that breathes a prayer of willingness to stand for others, and gratitude for allies in the struggle.

And I am going to stay in posture for as long as I possibly can.

For more information, use the following links:

ktar.com/story/1362041/phoenix-mayor-greg-stanton-vows-city-police-will-stay-deportation-process/

www.azfamily.com/story/33729670/mayor-stanton-phx-pd-will-never-be-a-mass-deportation-force

For more information on yoga or on Jeff Martens http://www.innervisionyoga.com/

Finally, congratulations to Katie and Phil!  I could not be happier for the two of you, and wish you a long life of joy together.  Phil, Michelle, Dan, Jason, and Arianna…welcome to my family!!

The Mourning After

This has been a rough week.  My candidate lost, not that it really matters.  My life will go on, largely unchanged.  I still have a job. I still have a house. The fluctuations in the stock market affect the net worth of my retirement portfolio, but I’m only 52 and retirement is a long way away and so right now, those fluctuations exist only on paper.  In the end, November 8th came and went and absolutely nothing changed for me or my husband except the name of our president.

I got on Facebook the morning after the election and noticed that a lot of people have been posting about unity, and how both Republicans and Democrats need to set aside our differences and work towards unity.  Many of my Christian friends have posted on Facebook encouraging their friends to pray for unity and to pray that God grants wisdom and guidance to our nation’s leaders.

Gosh that sounds nice, doesn’t it?  Pray for unity! Pray that God guides our nation’s leaders!

I kind of expect Christians to be praying for unity and guidance on a regular basis. I’m kind of confused why anyone has to encourage Christians to do something that they should pretty much be doing every day.  Moments like this make me wonder if I need to go on Facebook and encourage Christians to brush their teeth and shower daily.

Apparently, Christians are struggling with the basics these days and need some encouragement.

The thing is that I’m not convinced that unity is what we need to be praying for.  Let me explain.

Do you remember when you were still a teenager and you used to wonder when you would meet the one?  I used to dream about the boy I would marry and how handsome he would be; I would dream about the house I would live in and the children that I would have with my handsome husband. I never wondered if the police would stop my wedding, or if the government would refuse to grant me the right to marry the one I loved the most.

Such is the thing we call straight privilege.  I never wondered if I’d be allowed to marry because I thought that everybody had the right to get married…and I forgot that everybody included a bunch of LGBTQ persons who did not actually gain that right until 2015.

Yeah…that’s right…LGBTQ persons did not gain the right to legal marriage in the United States until 2015.  I think I was almost 35 years old before it occurred to me that there were whole groups of people in the US who weren’t legally allowed to marry at all.

So…you can imagine how the election of a right-wing President and even more conservative Vice President impacted the LGBTQ community.

Shortly after I arrived at work on Wednesday morning, I got to listen to the despair of a young lesbian women who is engaged but hasn’t yet reached her wedding day.  I cannot imagine the pain she must have felt wondering if such a basic civil right—the right to marry—would be stripped from her come January 2017.  I cannot imagine how frightening it must be for my gay colleague in Nevada who got married last month just after adopting his son.  I can’t imagine the terror his newly adopted 11 year-old son must feel, considering that the poor boy was rejected by his biological family when he came out of the closet.  Now he gets to wonder if his new family will be destroyed by politicos who don’t even know his name simply because his fathers are gay.

If you didn’t wake up on Wednesday and feel any fear, you are probably white, straight, and male. Congratulations!  That’s quite the trifecta of birthrights!  You might not feel very privileged and God knows how hard you have worked to achieve the success that you currently know.  In fact, I’m pretty certain that you deserve all the money, success, and respect that is currently yours, and perhaps you might deserve more money, success, and respect than you are actually getting.  On the other hand, you have never had to fight for your right to marry your beloved. You have never been arrested for driving while white because it is always assumed that white people don’t have to steal to be driving a car that nice.  And you’ve never been afraid to have one drink too many for fear that the people around you will strip you naked and sexually violate you while calling you the whore.

Please, if you woke up on Wednesday and weren’t afraid, do more than pray for unity.

Go out and create some unity.

Do me a favor.  Look in the Gospels!  You will discover that Jesus did not sit in his prayer closet asking His Father for unity and governmental guidance for 33 years before crawling onto the cross and dying for your sins.  While Jesus’ ministry only lasted three years prior to His death, that man was busy!  He prayed plenty, but He spent much more time doing the right thing than He did praying about the right things.

Look, you and I both know that a Trump presidency is NOT the end of the world, no matter what you or I think of him.  A Trump presidency will not be the end of America as we know it, either.  On the other hand, the people who are terrified of what this election has done have good reasons to be fearful.

Maybe you should find out what those reasons are.

Speak to a Muslim, and find out what it is like to be blamed for the behaviors of other people whose choices you never supported.  Talk to a member of the LGBTQ community and find out what it is like to be denied basic human rights, and to fear that your recently granted human rights will be taken away again.  Speak to a woman who fears that women’s equal rights are about to disappear along with women’s safety from sexual harassment and assault.  Speak to a Hispanic person who fears widespread racism against citizens of the US who just happen to be of Hispanic descent. Speak to someone who benefited from the Dream Act, and find out what it’s like to be raised in the US but considered an illegal alien.  Find out what it is like to fear being sent “home” to a country that you’ve never even visited.

Go and find someone who is truly terrified; sit and listen to them without arguing with them about why they are wrong.  Just listen.  Try to understand that the campaign speeches that you may have found liberating felt like threats to the person you’re listening to. Imagine yourself in their shoes, having to fear your country’s government and what they might do to you only two months from now.

Listen closely to them no matter how you feel about what they say.

Having done all that, if you are still serious about the unity you are praying for, look them in the eyes and speak these words:

I promise to use whatever privilege is mine to protect your human rights and your human dignity.  I may not agree with how your live your life, or how you came to live in my country, or who you worship. None of that matters, because I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He gave His life to save the lives of every human being, and that includes you and me. If you mean that much to Jesus, then you mean that much to me.  I will not stand idly by while other people try to take away your rights and your safety.  Everyone deserves their human and civil rights. Everyone.

Letting other people have their rights will not take away your rights.

Giving other people respect will not deny you respect.

Working to achieve justice for everyone will create a just world for…EVERYONE and that includes you.

And praying…praying is nice, but when it comes to where the rubber hits the road, action is what it takes to create unity.

And just in case you’re still not sure if God is on board with this idea, remember Micah 6:8.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

You heard the Man.  Now do it.

True Love Waits

I spent the last two days at a conference called “Why Christian 2016”. The speakers at this conference answer the question as to why they are still Christian in a world that seems to be so filled with hate and sorrow, in a Christian climate that is so filled with division, in a Church that seems to judge everyone that they can’t fit into their tiny little description of what Christians should be.  Every speaker had a different answer and every answer was meaningful and valid.

As I sat listening to the speakers, I became determined that my next blog post would be my answer as to why I am still a Christian. I was certain that I knew exactly how I wanted to answer the question, but this evening when I sat down to write it felt like everything had changed.

The conference started on a high point and I was thrilled to be there with a friend.  The longer the conference went on, however, the more pain I felt. Each speaker seemed to stir up more and more of my past, touching the painful places until I was raw. By lunch on the second day of the conference I was aching, crying, and emotionally exhausted. My colleague in ministry left the conference early, emotionally overwhelmed from hearing so much about pain and loss when so much of her life and her ministry has been colored by pain and loss (her own and that of others.)   I felt alone and rejected after she left (silly, I know) and at the same time certain that I needed to stay and see the conference out to its end.

After the final worship was over, I headed back to my hotel, determined to have a quiet evening. I decided to catch up on my reading and order room service, since I had no one to accompany me out to dinner.  I got my email…I read for a while…I tried to watch TV to no avail…and then I found myself googling an old friend’s favorite Chicago restaurants.  She had grown up in Chicago and had recently been back to visit; she had raved about returning to favorite restaurants and I was determined to taste the heaven she had described in her Facebook posts.  A few minutes on Google and I discovered that Lou Malnati’s, famous for its deep dish (Chicago style) pizza was close enough to my hotel that I could walk there, so I headed out to snag my dinner.  So what if I was alone for the night? I took a book and I figured that I wasn’t enough company for myself I’d just strike up a conversation with a stranger.

The pizza was delicious and my book was more than enough to keep me occupied during dinner.  I had them box up my leftovers so that I could head back to my hotel.  In the dark I got confused and failed to turn on Walton Street.  When I realized that I had missed the turn, I simply headed east on the next street I could find, knowing I would have to backtrack a little to get to my hotel.  It was the best thing that happened to me all night, because if I hadn’t missed my turn, I wouldn’t have been on Delaware Street at all!

As I headed down Delaware Street I encountered the best dressed homeless woman I had ever seen.  She was obviously homeless, holding a cardboard sign and cup to gather donations.  As I passed her, I suddenly turned and asked if she would like my leftover pizza.  Her eyes lit up and she said “Yes!”  I pulled my book from the leftovers bag and handed everything else over to her.  I told her that I was glad to share with her since I was plenty full; I let her know there a half of pizza left and told her I hoped that would be enough to fill her up.

“My name is Patricia” she blurted out.

“Hello Patricia! My name is Tina!  If you don’t mind my asking, how did you end up homeless?”

I stood with her and listened to her story.  I sat down so she could eat her meal while she talked to me, but she told me that her knees wouldn’t allow her to sit easily, and if she sat she wouldn’t be able to stand again for quite a while.  I stood back up and she told me that her husband left her, taking pretty much everything she owned.  She told me that she ended up homeless when he left.  I told her that she seemed to have gotten a raw deal in the divorce.  She agreed.

After she told me her story, I told her that I was in town for a Christian conference.  She revealed that she had accepted Christ into her life at the age of eleven, but that she had struggled with her faith since then. “I’m a backslider” she confessed.  She said that confessing her sin was incredibly important to her, because she knew that she couldn’t be forgiven until she confessed.

I remembered a quote from one of the preachers earlier that day in the conference.  “Do you remember when we were young women?” I asked, “Remember how they used to say that ‘True love waits’??  I know they were talking about sex and all” I told her, “but one of the preachers today said that he realized that it means so much more than that.  Patricia, God doesn’t leave us when we backslide.  God stands right behind us, saying ‘I’m right here when you’re ready.’  True love really does wait…because God waits for us to return to Him, and He never leaves us, no matter how hard we work to leave Him.”

“That is such good news!”  Patricia was starting to cry.

“That sounds like good news to me, too.”  Then I asked if I could pray for her.

We spent a good 10 minutes together, holding hands and praying as people passed us by.  I prayed about her past and all the pain she had endured. I prayed that God would help her know that she is His precious little girl, and that nothing she can do will ever make Him leave her.  I prayed that God would help her find a safe place to sleep this night, and that God would help her find a safe place to stay so that she could have a bed and roof every single night.  I prayed that God would reveal her next steps to her.  And then I thanked God mightily that my circumstances, which I had thought were unfortunate, had led me to this encounter with Patricia. I thanked God for allowing us to meet, and for blessing me with some time with Patricia.

When I finished my prayer I realized that both Patricia and I were crying.  She hugged me and I hugged her back.  We talked for a few more minutes and I shared some of my cash with her so that she could take care of her personal needs.  We talked a little more and then we hugged again.

I know that you might think I got taken advantage of, that I gave away my money to someone who will only drink it or smoke it or shoot it into her veins.  I realize that you may feel I was foolish or put myself in harms way.  It doesn’t matter to me.

I met Jesus on the street tonight in the body of a beautiful black women who was hungry for human contact and love and prayer.  Before she let me go she looked me in the eyes and said “I love you!” and I smiled at her and said “I love you too!”    I really meant it, and I know that she did too.

I met Jesus on the street tonight.  I shared some of my time and my resources with Him and then I praised Him as I finished walking to the hotel, because I am blessed, so blessed to have been allowed to share that moment with Patricia.

Some people say that they are Christian because Jesus loved them first. I like that idea, but that’s not my reason.

Why am I a Christian?  Because Jesus will meet me in the strangest places, just to share dinner with me when I feel a little alone.  And if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!

Random Jesus

Today a friend and I were working in one of the classrooms at church.  After several hours of working together, she looked up and said “Wow…I really like random Jesus.”

What??!

Actually, she was referring to the décor in the room, which was traditional Sunday School décor: a poster advertising an event that happened over a week ago; a map of the world in Biblical times; lots of chairs stacked against the wall; a whiteboard; and the word “Jesus” spelled out in shiny cardboard letters above the window.

Random Jesus, indeed.

The funny thing is that my first thought when she said that was “I really like random Jesus too!”  And I mean that.

I was standing in the parking lot talking to a friend who is a colleague after a meeting this week.  As we walked towards our cars, I realized that she had a new vehicle and commented on that…only to have her burst into tears.  The only reason she has new vehicle is because her son was in a horrible car accident that totaled his car and took the life of his girlfriend Ashley.  After many months of healing and grieving, life had to return to normal and that meant her son needed a car to get to school and work, so my friend gave her son her car because he couldn’t afford a new one.  She and her husband bought a new vehicle…and every time she drives it she is reminded that Ashley is gone and her family will forever grieve her loss. Every time she sees her new car she is reminded that her son was badly injured and easily could have died, leaving my friend and her husband to grieve that loss for the rest of their lives.  We stood in the parking lot crying and admitting that tragedies like this take a long time to stop hurting, and then we prayed.  We blessed Ashley and her family. We blessed my friend’s son and his healing. And then we prayed God’s blessings upon my friend, her ministry, and her car.  I have never prayed blessings onto a car before, but it sure felt like the right thing to do at that moment.

I found myself praying again this morning, getting ready for a meeting.  I got a call from Joe who didn’t have good news to share. The cancer is back and it doesn’t make sense because things were going so well until now.  All I could do was listen to the bad news and then sit alone and pray that God would do the same miracle this time that God did for us when the cancer was first diagnosed. Not long ago, Joe told me that he has stopped praying for himself and has chosen to pray that God will answer the prayers of everyone who prays for him simply so that they will know that God hears them, loves them, and answers their prayers…and so this morning I prayed for everyone who was praying for Joe, asking God to strengthen their faith and show them that their prayers are effective.

Shortly after I took that call, I met with two people from my church, Beth and Troy, so that we could prepare the cardboard testimonies for this coming Sunday.  I thought it might be a good idea to have some folks help me get the signs all lettered and prepared…legible handwriting is a gift many of us do not possess…and then we could photograph the testimonies so they can be projected on the screens during worship.  As we worked we told the stories of how we became Methodist, how we all came to worship at our particular church, and how our faith histories formed us.  After Troy left to help his girlfriend welcome a brand new grandbaby, Beth and I continued discussing our own personal challenges, especially the challenges we have with our kids and our jobs.  We unloaded our hearts and our worries and all of our fears onto one another.  It’s always an anxious thing to talk about those places where things aren’t going smoothly, those places where you feel like you are falling short or should be doing better. We spent a lot of time looking at what we were working on instead of looking at each other because it was hard to say the words we had to say.  Still, it was really good to speak our peace and finally get things off of our chest knowing that we could trust each other; knowing that we were speaking with someone who would listen and not judge; knowing that we were with someone who wouldn’t minimize the struggle or the fear or the pain.  Friends like this are truly friends in Christ and they are priceless!

Random Jesus.  This is Random Jesus.  Those amazing moments when Jesus pops up unannounced and unexpected in the middle of things to make the mundane holy, to create sacred space in the middle of nowhere, to consecrate words and emotions and tears.

One friend sharing her grief.

One friend sharing bad news.

Three friends sharing the story of how they got here.

Two friends sharing their fears and their failures and all the places where they don’t feel like they stand on solid ground.

This is where Jesus shows up and sits with us and gives us ease and peace where formerly only fear and pain existed.  This is how Jesus begins the healing and promises us that we don’t have to do anything alone, and then proves that by providing people to be with us, hear us, sit with us, and walk our journeys with us.  Jesus—his life, his death, and his resurrection—are the promise that we will never have to walk this difficult journey alone, ever, because God likes to show up in flesh.

Blessing a car.

Finding the strength to move forward in the face of death.

Knowing that you are exactly where God wants you to be.

Realizing that we are not enough but we are more than enough through Christ who strengthens us.

Random Jesus.

I really, really like that guy!!

 

Healing the Blind

Mark 10:46-52  (NRSV)       The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[a] let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

My mom has dealt with chronic illness for as long as I can remember.  She has several things wrong with her spine as well as several autoimmune illnesses that cause pain and fatigue.  When you put it all together, what you get is a very tired woman in constant pain.  My mom has always handled all of this with more grace than I could ever have managed had I been in that much pain constantly. If she were able to speak through the computer she’d tell you that she loses that grace at times and just sits and cries, but the truth is that something like that is a rare occurrence.  Only recently, as age has added insult to injury, has my mom slowed down.  I mention all of this because my mom’s illness has impacted the way I view passages of scripture about healing; I can’t look at any scripture that discusses miraculous healing without thinking of my mom and the many, many times we’ve prayed for her to be healed of everything that causes her pain and limits her life.

Spoiler alert: no miraculous healing.  Sorry guys…this is not going to be a story of healing that defies human understanding.

As awful as it has been watching my mom suffer, I have to admit that I have benefitted a great deal from her suffering.  You see, even though my mom was in pain every day, she never failed to do everything that she could to make our home a most amazing place to be. She did the cooking and cleaning, she sewed our Halloween costumes, she baked homemade bread and canned delicious pickles and jams, and she baked tons of holiday treats, including killer birthday cakes and Christmas cookies that frequently cause me to be sadly disappointed at state of bakery/restaurant desserts.  I have this experience with soup and pasta sauces in restaurants as well. In so many ways, my mom ruined me for restaurant food—it never measures up to mom’s cooking.

Lest you are sitting there struggling with your own chronic illnesses thinking that my mom couldn’t have been in that much pain if she could do all these things, you are wrong. My mom had times when her pain was so great that she couldn’t do any of the things she loved to do for our family, and this is why our family was so grateful for all the things she was willing to do.  We understood that standing up for hours to chop and ice pack the veggies that she would later pickle caused her tons of back pain…and we understood that she chose to do it anyway because she refused to let her disease define who she would get to be as a mom and as a wife. Somedays all she could do was take her medicine and rest; somedays it was canning blueberry peach jam and baking four loaves of homemade bread before dad came home for dinner. As a kid, I came to understand that chronic illness ends up playing out as a tug-of-war between your will and your illness, and every day it’s a toss-up to see who wins.

Because of my mom, I learned compassion for the challenges that face the chronically ill. I’ve learned to respect for the ways that chronically ill people sometimes defy their illnesses by choosing activities and lifestyles that increase their pain and suffering just so that they can enjoy some quality of life.  I’ve learned not to discount the experiences of those people whose disability and/or suffering isn’t immediately visible (like chronic fatigue) and not to judge them when their disease overwhelms their ability to participate in life the way they want to. I’ve learned not to take it personal when a person with chronic illness cancels on me, saying that they are just too tired/unable to deal with another thing to do.  I’ve learned that most people who have chronic illnesses suffer in silence from our prejudice and ignorance of what it is to deal with chronic illness; I’ve also had to acknowledge that sometimes I am just as prejudiced and ignorant as everyone else when it comes to understanding an illness I don’t have and cannot imagine experiencing.

My mom opened my eyes to see what it’s like to live with chronic illness and chronic pain and because of that, I am a better counselor.  I am also really thankful that she was honest with me about her experiences when I was just a child, because it helped me be a better adult.

And that’s where Bartimaeus comes in.

Bartimaeus came to Jesus seeking healing for physical blindness, just like my family went to God seeking physical healing for my mom.  Bartimaeus got his healing; my mom didn’t.

Or did she?

My mom spent her entire life fighting to enjoy the simple pleasures in life: being able to sit long enough to take a drive in the country; being able to stand long enough to can the vegetables my father grew in the garden; being able to bend down to pick up her toddler son; being able to sit in bleachers to cheer at my first track meet.  How many people blow through those moments and fail to realize what a gift they are?  How many people will never understand what a blessing mobility is? How many people will never understand that every moment they are alive and aware is a blessing beyond words?  My mom praised God for moments like these, frequently out loud in front of our family, and after a while I learned to join her in thanking God for the simple pleasures of life.

Most of us will not come to understand these blessings until we are faced with a life-threatening illness, which if we are lucky, will not happen until we are well into our senior years.  We will live the majority of our lives blind—blind to the simple blessings of breathing and moving and doing whatever we will to do every single day.

Bartimaeus begged Jesus “Let me see again!”  My mother’s suffering blessed me because I began to see and understand the challenges of chronic illness when I was still a young girl and that sight is crucial for many of my clients whose chronic illnesses steal away their strength, vitality, and joy.  Because my mother suffered, I am not entirely blind to the blessings I have been granted that my mother had to fight dearly to hang onto.  While I may not have perfect sight by any means, I can see.

I guess this is a story of miraculous healing after all.

Chatter On

Psalm 104:1-4

1Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.

Many years ago I was taught that to properly pray, I should remember the acronym ACTS:

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Supplication
  • Thanks

In other words, all prayers should begin with an expression of love for God—our awareness of God’s greatness and our thankfulness for God’s being, ending with an expression of pure, unbridled love.  After letting God know just how much we love Him, then we must confess that we aren’t what we are supposed to be, that we have failed and fallen short of what He calls us to be.   After confessing our failures and sins, then we should ask God for forgiveness and for anything else we need (supplication).  Finally, we should thank God for all that we already have, for His graciousness in forgiving us, for his patience in listening to our prayers, and for all that God supplies.

As a child my prayers were very simple and honestly did not follow this format at all.  As I grew older and was more aware of my need for God, I did my best to pray this way—so that I could please God—and to be mindful that I failed God daily and how He continued to love me, to forgive me, and to listen to my prayers and answer them.  I feared that God was perpetually displeased with me because I struggled with the same stupid sins day after day.  I found myself groveling before God as if my inability to overcome my own personality was a fatal flaw that left God perpetually shaking His finger at me, shaking His head in frustration. This mental image of the finger-shaking God actually distanced me from God quite a bit.  I began to dread praying because I didn’t want to have to grovel and beg for forgiveness.  I didn’t want to have to confess to the same stupid sins done the same stupid way for the same stupid reason and admit that I just couldn’t get over myself one more time.  I found myself resenting God and alternately hating my inability to overcome such simple challenges as cookies and cursing.

That kind of faith persisted in me well into my 20’s, past marriage and until after the birth of my first daughter.  Having kids changes a lot of things in life, and for me it changed the way that I imagined God…and how I imagined God’s reaction to me when I prayed.  It took a while for the change to develop, but around the time that Alex was 18 months old I had an epiphany.  Alex was driving me absolutely crazy and I yelled at her, which caused her to burst into tears.  As a parent you are simultaneously in charge of discipline and comfort, so once she started crying I bent down to pick her up and was amazed that somewhere between the floor and my shoulder, my anger dissipated entirely.  By the time I had Alex cuddled into me with her head on my shoulder, all that mattered was that she understood that I still loved her even though she was being obnoxious.  Epiphany: how could I be more loving than God? How could I be more patient than God?  What made me think it was any different between me and my daughter than it was between me and God?  Suddenly it became possible for me to imagine a God who could be frustrated with my bad behavior and determined to comfort me and reassert His love for me at the same time.  In other words, no finger shaking God!!

This little change in my mind yielded huge changes in my relationship with God.  It greatly reduced my sense that my sin separated me from God in some crucial way.  It changed the way I understood God’s reaction to my sin.  And it changed my conception of holiness, because holiness didn’t include finger-shaking condemnation and disgust.  Let me tell you, it gets hard to be self-righteous when your God doesn’t do the self-righteous thing either.   What a relief.  Maybe we should share this realization with Donald Trump?  But I digress…

Like I said, having kids changes a lot of things in life.  Recently, I ran into this acronym again and thought  WTH??!

The first thought I had was how sick and twisted praying like this would be.  Remember, I understand God as my heavenly father, my loving parent…not the finger-shaking jerk that I thought He was when I was younger.  So when I’m praying, I’m talking to my dad…or my brother if I’m feeling the need for a Jesus boost.   I would never, ever, ever talk to my dad—earthly or heavenly—according to this twisted acronym and I would freak out if my kids talked to me like this.  Can you imagine?

“Mom, I love you so much!  You are the most amazing mom and you give me everything I need! I truly love and adore you.  You are my everything and I am nothing without you; I can do nothing without you.  I admit that I haven’t been the daughter you want me to be.  I fail you every day, not always sharing the whole truth when you ask me a question.  I don’t always keep my room clean and sometimes when I’m mad at you I call you bad words in my mind.  Sometimes I mouth the bad words.  When I’m with my friends I call you bad names out loud.  I’m so sorry for that.  Please help me not to call you bad names anymore.  Please help me to clean my room more often.  Please help me not to lie to you when you catch me playing on my phone instead of doing my homework.  And please help my friend Anna, because she’s going out with a real jerk and is lying to her mom about it.  Thank you for hearing my requests, and thank you for all that you do for me.  Thank you for forgiving me for being a jerk sometimes. I am so thankful for all the stuff you’ve given me, and the great furniture in my bedroom, and all my clothes and my iPod and iPhone and iPad and all my other iStuff.  Just…thank you! You are so amazing! Amen.”

Does that not creep you out?  I cannot imagine letting my kid talk to me like that.  The level of butt-kissing in that previous paragraph approaches critical mass! The word ‘sycophant’ comes to mind…along with a few other words that I’m only saying in my mind.  Okay actually I’m mouthing them but not saying them out loud.  I’ve gotten a little better in this regard since I was a kid.  Anyway, I just find this whole thing creepy and gross because I don’t ever want my kids to talk to me like that.  I feel like it would shut down our relationship since relationship is built on intimacy which is built on vulnerability and honesty…and those things do not thrive well in environments where communication is formal and must adhere to rigid guidelines.  Then there’s the fact that butt-kissing is absolutely fatal to relationship because it is based in the belief that you must inflate the other person’s ego or they won’t respond nicely to your request.  Do we really think that God’s ego that fragile?  Is God having self-esteem issues?  I’m thinking that God has this ego thing nailed and really doesn’t need us to tell Him how almighty He is.  After all, He raised His kid from the dead.  I’m pretty sure that somewhere in Heaven there is a plaque of macaroni art from Jesus that says “BEST DAD EVER.”

What I’ve learned about communication and love from my daughters is that it works best when there’s lots of informal moments of ‘chatting’ where a whole lot of unimportant details get shared…because somewhere in all those details is the important stuff.  My kids never sat down and gave me a boiled down synopsis of their lives with bullet-points to highlight the important stuff.  Nope…I found out about their lives, their needs and their loves from the moments spent washing dishes after dinner, or giving each other manicures, or grocery shopping…and that’s still how I find out about their lives now.  I won’t lie: occasionally they do come over and request a serious ‘sit down’ discussion with me and their dad.  They come over so that they can pour out their hearts and their tears while cuddling on the couch. But you don’t get to those precious moments without the million minutes that come before and after, filled with endless chatter and emotions that change so fast that I have to keep a scorecard.

What I’m trying to say is that prayer should look a lot more like what Paul prescribed:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18)  Then you have to add what Peter said in 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” And then there is the Psalmist who said “I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

By the way, taking time to praise God isn’t a bad thing.  Just don’t be weird and compulsive about it.  Occasionally my daughters will text me a sweet message telling me how much they love me, or how they miss me now that they don’t live at home.  Sometimes they’ll come up to me and hug me out of the blue and tell me how much they enjoy spending time with me.  I love those moments!  I’m betting that God loves those moments as well, so praise and adoration are encouraged, and they don’t have to be accompanied by confession, supplication, and thanksgiving.  As a matter of fact, I’m betting that God would occasionally just like to know that you love Him.

When you put it all together, there should be an unceasing river of chatter that should flow from us to God…moments of praise, thanks, and joy mixed in with moments of frustration, anger, and confusion.  Momentous requests and confessions mixed in with mundane details and even trivial crap. If God truly is a parent, then God is interested in the minutia of our lives.  If God is truly a loving parent, then God wants to hear about it all even though He already watched it all happen (apparently God had live-streaming down way before the rest of us did.)  God isn’t worried that you won’t praise Him or that you won’t approach Him correctly or that you’ll be less than perfectly respectful in your prayers.  Like most other parents, what worries God is the possibility that you won’t talk to Him at all…that you’ll cut Him out of your life and won’t tell Him anything. Relationship stops when communication stops…so after a while no prayer becomes no relationship.  So talk to the man for goodness sake!  And skip the formula…the formatted “it has to be this way”-ness of praying.  Just talk.  Please talk.  God is listening.

 

one does not simply talk to god