It’s been a month!? Goodness! Well, yes, it’s summer, and I’m trying to enjoy it and be productive with some goals at the same time. So here I am.
Yesterday was a very interesting experience for me. Early in the morning, I checked a Facebook notification for a friend and saw that she had posted this:
This rather encapsulates how I feel about my faith and the subject of the human sexuality spectrum. So I commented on the post: “Yep! That’s exactly it for me.” I didn’t think there would be much more to it than perhaps a comment like or two. But then another friend whom I have known for about ten or eleven years replied:
So I do have a follow-up question that is something that I’ve been dealing with lately. While there is no judgment, does that mean you still think that being gay is necessarily a “bad trait”? For example, you wouldn’t judge thieves, but you wouldn’t promote their behavior as positive and godly. Any thoughts?
I immediately knew in my soul that this was one of those situations that the Bible talks about where Christians need to be “prepared to give an answer”. I replied that, after I dropped my little girl off at daycare, I would sit down so I could answer her question thoughtfully and properly. And I did. I thought about it all through the drive to school and during my time at the gym afterward, drafting up responses and making notes of a Scripture that came to mind. Finally, I was able to sit down and arrange my thoughts into the following response:
Okay. Here I am. Honestly…your question is something that I have struggled with thinking through sometimes. However, after thought and reflection, I cannot bring myself to a “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality. I just can’t. I can’t tell someone that I love them or that God loves them but, in the same breath, call them wrong. I have done too much wrong in my own life to pass judgment. Do people do things that are wrong? Yes, we all do. But if I’m so busy judging or telling someone their faults or, as you put it, bad traits, there’s no room left to love them or for them to BELIEVE that I love them. I am not God. I don’t know His mind. I don’t know the minds of any other person on this planet. I am not called to judge. I am called to love. To love all of someone. Do I want to help people grow in life? Yes, I want to encourage, support, and help them in that growth, whatever that may mean for them. I will love and pray for them, no matter what.
What immediately springs to mind (and sticks there) for me is John 8:1-11 and I’ve quoted it below.
“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” ” (New Living Translation)
Jesus didn’t condemn this woman; He didn’t judge her. He said, “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t lay her sins, whatever they may have been, out before her. He doesn’t tell her what’s wrong with her or bad about her. No. He just told her that He didn’t condemn her, to go live her life and do what’s right. In the same way, I will not condemn someone. I will not lay what I, in my fallibility, think are their sins before them. I am called to love and I will love and love and love. I will do what I can to help those I come into contact with to live the best lives they can in the spaces they are in. I have been so deeply loved in my life, have met and known and loved so many amazing people from all walks of life, but I have also seen what damage and pain and separation condemnation and judgment can cause. Such things are not of God and I will not perpetuate such pain. The Church is called to love God and love others. This is most important and it is what I have built my life on and will continue to.
To be sure I answer your question, no, I do not think that being gay is a “bad trait”. Some of the greatest people of faith I’ve ever known are gay, and I will thank God for them from the rooftops and point those who need love and prayer and counsel to them all the time as people of God and some of the deepest, strongest, and most loving Christians I have ever known. Thank you for asking and making me think, love.
I am called to love and loving is what I will do.
Last weekend, I listened to speaker Bill Hybels talk about passion. One of the questions he asked was, “Where does your passion come from? A beautiful dream or a holy discontent?” I was more than a bit fascinated by the phrase “holy discontent”. Can discontentment be holy? Then Mr. Hybels explained. Sometimes our passion can come from a complete and utter discontentment with the way things are, along with an inability to leave things the way they are. We simply must do something about it, so our passion is born in and borne out through this discontentment.
I realized that I live in a state of holy discontent. That is where my passion wells from. I am utterly discontent with how much of a lack of love, mercy, and grace there is in how people treat each other in our world. I cannot let things stay that way. I see people hurting, pieces of hearts broken off, cracks gaping in souls. I cannot let things stay that way.
I cannot let those who are hurting remain in their pain alone without holding their hand and telling them that they are safe to feel as they feel.
I cannot let those with broken hearts suffer without knowing that they are loved, cared for, and considered worthy.
I will not let those with gaping souls go hungry without telling them that God calls them good, wonderful, and beloved. And so do I.
My passion for hearts, my soul for people, is born out of a holy discontent. I believe that God has allowed this particular seed of discontent in my soul with the aim of fueling me to fulfill the purpose for which I was created: to love big. God has filled me dissatisfaction in seeing the lack of love in the world, and He pushes my heart to offer it. Day after day, as much as I can: love, encouragement, mercy, and grace.
There are people who walk around each day, dear ones and strangers, with broken hearts, cracked souls, and empty eyes. People who think themselves failures, unlovable, alone, and bereft. People who are suffering, and I cannot stand it. The heart that God has given me yearns to see souls, people, dear ones, strangers, live loved.
I want to help others breathe a little more easily and deeply.
I want to respond with grace, gentleness, truth, and love.
I want people, you precious people whom God has made, to know that you matter, you are significant, you are beloved, and were created with a unique purpose in mind. Yes, each of you. You are here on purpose.
My passion is not one that is big (well, it is–to me. But not like attention-getting big, I mean.). It is not one that is loud, will make me famous, or maybe birth a movement. I do not lead workshops. I haven’t written books. And that’s okay. I do what I do. I post, I call, I listen, I write, I pray, I hold hands, and I give hugs (and mugs of coffee/tea/hot chocolate). These are small things, but please don’t underestimate the small things you can do. They can effect monumental change in a person’s life and soul. I am living proof.
What is your passion in this life? Where does it come from? Are you working towards a beautiful dream or are you striving to change the source of your discontent? And, yes, these things that you see wrong with the world: that is indeed a holy discontent. Perhaps you feel that your passion is not that big. Not big enough for people to pay attention, not big enough to make a difference. Please, hear me when I tell you this: it is! Your passion is big enough. The small things you do are big enough. The steps you take in your passion are big enough. Yes, they are! Keep dreaming, keep doing, keep stepping.
My passion is born of a holy discontent. A discontentment with a world lacking in goodness and love. I want to find it, highlight it, give it, infuse it. I want to change the world. I want to see love change the world. I want to be a love that changes the world. Let love be the overwhelming response to and result of my holy discontent.
2016 is almost over and what a year it’s been. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it now that I sit and think about it but I will try to put word to thought.
This year, my watchword was grace—to give grace as well as to recognize it when it is given me and to also give it to myself. I have spent this year trying to be mindful of opportunities to show grace, as well as to accept it when I receive it. I also worked to be mindful of opportunities to study and explore grace and its facets. This year, I spent my NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) in November centering my writings on grace. I explored what I knew, what I have experienced, though, and considered, and even found new levels of thought on what it means to give grace, experience it, choose it, and even to be graceless. It was, honestly, one of the best writing experiences of my life and it renewed a desire in me to write, and I am determined to write as often and as much as possible in the coming year.
This year, I went back to teaching full time. It was a quick decision after many, many applications, interviews, and then coming to terms with being home with Elizabeth for a final year. I got a call, interviewed, and made a decision all in two to three days. I had to sacrifice some things, such as seeing my baby off on her first day of daycare/preschool, but I knew that it was the right decision for my family. Has it been easy, such a quick and large life transition? No, not really, and it has taken me almost the entire semester to feel as though I have found my feet or that I belong in teaching again (still not entirely sure on the latter but for now, functional will do). I am still struggling a bit to find a life balance again—to find the correct levels in time for daughter, husband, my self-care, and my writing–but I have learned and am learning a great deal from the teachers and students I am working with now. At the same time, my girl is enjoying school and missing her friends now that we are at the tail end of Christmas vacation. She is doing wonderfully, growing quickly, learning so very much, and I am thankful beyond measure for that.
My husband has just completed a leadership development program, which I am buttons-bursting proud of him for sticking with. I know that it was a testing for him and I am ever so proud of his perseverance and determination to get everything out of it that he could. He works hard each and every day and gives all he can as a teacher and a pastor and I am constantly awed and inspired by him. This year, we celebrated ten years of marriage surrounded by friends and full of laughter and good food. It was the best method by which to celebrate (well, that and the new Star Trek film) and I am so glad that we were able to do so. I love you, darling, today and every day and even beyond that.
As 2016 ends, I have been thinking and praying about a watchword, a word of intention for the coming year. This year’s word was grace and the year before was intentioned by courage and kindness. So far, the word that has come to me is gentleness. What does it mean to be gentle? To act and react, listen, speak, and be with gentleness?
With all the fear, the worry, the anger, the darkness, what does it mean for me to be gentle? How can I be gentle with the hearts that are afraid and hurting? How can I be gentle with those who do not understand or don’t want to?
How can I be gentle with my dear ones? Gentle with their feelings, their thoughts, with honesty, in my reactions and discipline as we raise our daughter, with my loved ones’ precious hearts and souls?
How can I be gentle in my job, with my students and coworkers, with their humanity that may break out in difficult ways sometimes, much like my own?
How can I be gentle in my faith, in speaking love and kindness and giving grace to others? In following the example of the God I claim to believe in and the Jesus I claim to follow?
How can I show gentleness in my craft, in what I write and how I post on social media, the corners that I build in the world around me, both real and online? How can I be gentle and bold and courageous at the same time?
I want to hold what people give me, what they trust me with, gingerly and carefully. I want to be gentle with souls, with words, with trust, with hearts and feelings. I want to do this for others because I know how much I want it for me. I want people to be gentle with me, with my thoughts, feelings, words, hopes, dreams, heart, and soul. Just as I know how much I need grace and so I try to give it, so it goes with gentleness. I know how much I desire it; why should others not be the same? Why should I not try to give the reactions that I would want to receive?
Everyone is going through or has gone through something; everyone could use some gentleness in a world so rough and tumble. This year may be hard, this year may be scary, but I will not let that stop me. I will not let it harden me either. I will not let it take my softness away but, if anything, I will let it increase, let it seep into my touch, fill my words, prompt me to listen more than I speak. May this coming year find me holding others with gentleness and radical love, continuing to act in grace, having courage, and being kind.
Welcome, 2017. I call you blessed and look forward to what we have to learn together.
Thanksgiving is coming up quickly. November is the month during which we are encouraged to be grateful. Grateful for what we are able to give. What part does gratitude have in grace? Does gratitude, acknowledgment of all that we have and have been given, make us more apt to be gentle? More forgiving of the shortcomings of others?
I hope so. And I hope we give thanks for the opportunity.
This morning, I woke in tears from the throes of a heartbreaking dream. No tragedy, no death, just words that robbed my soul of joy and stabbed my heart like darts.
I dreamed that I was performing a song for big event. Friends, family, everyone was there to celebrate this event. It was a song I was used to and usually sang beautifully. For the event, though, the musical director/pianist added strings to the arrangement. I wasn’t aware this would be happening and it threw me off so I missed my cue for the first verse and the first chorus was rough, too. I caught up, though, and ended the song beautifully and triumphantly with two high school choir and trio friends joining me at the end of it, just as we used to be. Everyone loved it. The joy was palpable, the applause thunderous. Afterward, though, the musical director (who looked and sounded suspiciously like Benedict Wong) had nothing but harsh words and disappointment for me over my mistakes. Someone came up to tell me how lovely it all was and how people would remember it. He replied that all they’d remember were my lazy mistakes and launched into a tirade of all I had done wrong. I walked away down the platform steps while he ranted to this person, trying not to cry as I passed my friends. I physically felt my shoulders hunch, though, as I broke down, even though I didn’t stop walking. All the joy was gone; the triumph was gone. I had just failed miserably. I woke up crying. I was still crying fifteen minutes later when I posted about it on this blog’s Facebook page with a message near and dear to my heart.
In this experience, I am reminded starkly of the immense and vast power of words. Gone are the days of the lie “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Complete and utter drivel. We are studying, researching, and realizing more and more the last effect of those words spoken over, about, and to us, both negative and positive.
Words have stopped passions in their tracks. Careless words meant as jests, “constructive criticism”, or even “brutal honesty” have strangled gifts, talents, and joys before they ever had a chance to develop and shine. Art has gone unmade, music unsung or unplayed, challenges unmet, all because of words spoken to these souls that attached there and called them less than. Words have also reached into lonely hearts and sparked hope and life again. Words have spoken love to the friendless, gentle comfort to the grieving, and strength to our weakened parts. Words are Powerful! Words can be wielded for good or for ill. They can be weapons to destroy or bandages to bind and heal. They can be a stumbling block or a stepping stone. What makes the difference is grace.
Grace allows us to taste our words before we speak them. Grace encourages us to temper emotion in our listener’s heart and soul’s best interest. Even if what we have to say is hard or difficult to express, grace tempers the words with love and compassion and keeps us from being cruel. Grace allow us to speak from a place of help and care and can keep us from inadvertently treading on dreams.
In the book of Colossians, the Bible says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, season with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Chapter 4, verse 7, NIV)” In this chapter, the Apostle Paul is writing to the Colossian Church and encouraging them in the sharing of their faith. However, I think this verse stands well on its own and is massively relevant to the everyday, secular as well as spiritual.
Salt is a preservative, not just a seasoning. It keeps meat from corrupting and allows it to be stored up. If we season our words with grace, we keep them from–as best we can–corrupting and destroying the souls and hearts of those to whom we speak them. If we but take a moment to taste our words before we let them loose upon others and the world, who knows what good can come of it? What hurt we might avoid?
So today, dear friends. Let us use our words well, to give life and hope rather than destroy it. One of my life mottos comes from Jennifer Dukes Lee. She wrote, “Our words always fold into the souls of other human beings. And that is no small thing.” Let us leave a legacy of kind and graceful words. Let’s keep seasoning our conversation so that we may give answers that build up hearts instead of tearing them down.
Can you guess my favorite fall color? It’s not the rubies, golds, bronzes, or sunset oranges in the treetops. No. My favorite fall color lives much closer to earth. My favorite fall color inhabits the ditches along the highways and springs up in the fence rows hedging country roads. It bursts bright and refreshing among the fiery trees. My favorite fall color is purple, but specifically the purple of prairie ironweed.
In all the burnt and blazing warmth of autumn, ironweed touches the color palette with coolness. Something puzzles me, however. I don’t know why the ironweed blooms now, in the midst of fall, rather than in the glory of spring; but, even if I don’t know why it is, I know that it have a point. This conspicuous bloom makes me smile, the gleam of royal purple like a beacon of life in a world preparing to hibernate. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy fall with its cooler air and brilliant color show. But I always remember that the weather is wending its way towards the silent grey cold of winter. A flash of ironweed reminds me of what will come after winter, after the cold, the silence, and the hard freeze. Rebirth, Renewal. Glorious spring. Ironweed reminds us that light and color and renewal will come again on the other side of the oncoming winter. I want to be like that.
I want to be bright like ironweed.
I want to be a reminder of the life that waits beyond the hardship, the struggle, the trials, and aching heartbreak. I want to be a hand for someone to grasp when it feels like their world is smoldering around them. A safe place amidst the storm.
I want to be bright like ironweed.
To be bright like ironweed is to stand as an island in the river for those who are raked over and shattered on the rocks of life. To show them my own scarred back, often hidden from sight, and assure them that their pain is valid and real and understood.
To be bright like ironweed is to be an alcove in the storm for those who are tossed and thrown about by the waves and whipped by the icy wind. To show them my own windburned skin and assure them that the storm will end someday and endurance and healing are possible.
I remember those who have been ironweed in my own autumns, those who have been bright spots amidst what can be the wearying blaze of every day. I recall what they have done and given, standing stalwart in the midst of emotional tumult or climbing down to sit in the low dark with me. I recall their rejoicing with me in my triumphs, elation at my joy, and their love splashed over me in dry seasons. I want to learn from these people about that brightness. I want to learn from them about living my purpose, whatever that might be, to be whatever help I might be. I do not know why the ironweed blooms when it does but I know that it is a blessing to me. I may not know exactly what impact I might have on the people and world around me but I can do my best to make it a good one. I know what has been done for me and how important it is to my life and my soul. I should like to do the same for others, to gift them with the same support, hope, and love that has been showered on me and has bolstered my spirit.
I want to be bright like ironweed.
[Featured Photo Credit: http://agardenforall.com%5D