A True Friend

When my husband and I first left the church we attended for eight years, life was different.  We visited churches.  We tried to fit in somewhere between the walls of another church, any good church, but the man-made, required setting just didn't seem right to us and it still doesn't.  But on this journey in seeking truth, we have discovered that Christ's true believers, walking, talking in this life everywhere, is the church, not some building that is frequented by our mostly quiet presence and we now know that everything is spiritual and that the kingdom of God can be pursued on any level and that the fellowship of Christ's saints can happen anytime, any place or anywhere.  Our Christianity should never become compartmentalized. 

So in pursuing this journey, we have encountered true and free believers in Jesus Christ who don't fit the normal pattern of what we have experienced in meeting people who claim to be Christians.

A handful of people that just seem to "get it" when it comes to living this life in Christ. 

We prayed that God would put good, balanced, critically thinking, free-believing, conscientious, real and loving Christians into our life.  We had experienced graceless, unmerciful and brainless Christianity at it's finest and had ourselves pursued that type of "Christianity" in our own lives in the past, unfortunately.

We led a lonely existence for a while, but I continued to pray.  Then I began meeting these very out-of-the-box and very real Christians.  I was truly inspired by these new friends.

My friend Mike Adler was one of these kind of Christians.  Mike was as real as it gets.  What you saw is definitely what you got.  He was what he was on Sunday and then again on Monday.  Honesty was apparent every moment we were together.  My home is peppered with reminders of his generosity and kindness to our family.  And above all, he loved people...all kinds of people and he wasn't afraid of the differences that were prevalent in his friends or in the people who were in the world.  Mike's life centered on the gospel and he wasn't interested in straining at gnats or getting into meaningless arguments about things that just really didn't matter in comparison with Jesus Christ, His love, forgiveness, and grace.

Imperfections were admitted and weaknesses were laid bare for all to see with no false veneer or facade to cover over them.  Mike let you see him as he was on his good and bad days.  The beauty of a life that God was working with and you saw that process, that glorious process of the Spirit of Christ working His refinement in the heart of my friend and nothing was hidden. 

I had a final talk with Mike two weeks ago and I asked him what he would say to me if I never had a chance to see him again.  He uttered such kind words to me and I am forever grateful for our exchange of emotion and tears together.  One thing he told me was about a talk he had with his oldest son, Jon.  He told him how hard it was to be a son and that it should be easy, but it is very hard, to lay yourself down to the Father in obedience.

It is hard, yes, indeed, for all of us. 

Mike was a true friend and he will be sorely missed. 

Mumbling in the Brain

Thoughts swirl night and day in my head.  I have my doubts about what anything means anymore.

Wow, that's vague, profound and very loaded depending on what I am talking about.  I have so many questions about life.  When death in any form confronts and reminds you of life's physical frailty, the proverbial question list seems to extend as far as the eye can see or as long as a pen contains its ink.

Why am I here on the earth?  I used to give my answer quickly to myself when I thought of that question.

Not anymore.

I don't understand how things are supposed to be.  I do believe there is a God.  I believe the bible to be true in it's proper context.  I believe in God's Son Jesus Christ.  I believe in Christ's death for the redemption of my sin and everyone else's.  I believe God is love.  I believe that the people that claim they follow Jesus Christ should be full of love for all people everywhere, no matter how different or "wrong" they seem.  We don't have to agree with someone to love them.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  Did Jesus agree with Nicodemus when He came to speak with Him at night?  Did Jesus agree with the Samaritan women at the well, when He offered her living water?  Did Jesus agree with any of the people He healed in the New Testament?  I dare say that he didn't care about disagreements.  He loved, He reached out and He didn't let the differences or their sin stop Him from going the extra mile in His healing, His message or His care for them. 

That said, I don't get it.  I don't get what I am suppose to be doing totally right now.  I am a mom to five kids and a wife.  That's quite a job right there, but I feel like something is missing.  I am surrounded by people and yet I feel lonely.  I am firm on the basics of my belief in God and His Son, but yet I have so many questions about everything else.

I'm not interested in arguing with anybody.  I am just interested in living.  Death brings me to this place of understanding.  I am so totally done with sprinkling simplicity on everything.  Does that make any sense?  We live in a very complex world and yet, so many people live in ignorance or denial of that fact.  When someone loses a loved one, there are no easy answers or one way of dealing with loss and sorrow.

We are all so different.  I am so different.  Why do we all have to think the same way for us to be kind to each other and love one another?  The world is longing to see the kind of love Christ portrays to us in the New Testament.  I do believe it comes from God, this ability to see past sin, to see past the differences and reach out to people in love.  I want to be that person.

I don't have time for anything else. 

      

Jesus Suffers with Me

It was two Summers ago that my dad and also a very dear friend of mine were diagnosed with some aggressive and serious forms of cancer.  I remember having a myriad of thoughts and feelings about the prognosis of both my dad and my friend.  Of course, the concern I felt for my dad overwhelmed me and I began to call my dad immediately and pretty regularly to inquire as to how he was feeling and what was happening in his body.  Over time he began to grow increasingly agitated by my calls and, really, I don't blame him now, but I did blame him then.  He was feeling lousy and tired of me asking about how he was feeling when, in his mind, clearly, I should already know that he was the same this week as he had been for so many days and weeks.  I wish I knew that then and understood the source of his aggravation.  I began to pull away from him altogether as his animosity grew over the telephone.  I was resolute to just let him die and not talk to him again beforehand.  In all honesty, at the time, I was tired of being treated the way I had often been treated as a child, with cruelty, when all I was giving was love and kindness to him.

As the Summer and Fall wore on in 2009, something in me eventually broke down.  I decided I needed to fly out to see my dad one last time before he died, even though my feelings towards him where raw and full of hurt for so many reasons.  It was December now and I bought a plane ticket and later realized that the days I picked fell neatly in a space of time that my husband did not have to work.  Everything seem to fall in place for me to go and be with my dad in this final time, which we did not know he would leave us when I came.

We pulled up to my house, the house of my childhood that is no more a home to come home to.  I walked up the front steps that were tucked neatly in the middle of my split-level home.  I took a deep breath and then pursued the seemingly long, endless walk down the hallway to the back bedroom.  There he was, my dad, a mere shadow of his former robust and highly energetic self.  Frail, drooping eyes, labored breaths, cloud my mind even now as I remember him on that day and every bad thought and feeling toward my dad about the past vanished.  Seeing him in this condition overwhelmed me.  He acknowledged me and said hello in a very tired voice.  Squeaking out the very word seemed to take the strength of ten men to accomplish.  I was having a bit of a shock.  I didn't know how he would be.  My family did warn me, but nothing can really prepare you for this.

I was there with him for two and a half days.  The labored speech turned into total quiet, the sips of water turned into a refusal to drink one drop, the open eyes when you entered the room turned into an inability to acknowledge your presence in any way.  On one of the afternoons that I was there, he asked me to pray for him.  After I prayed an awkward silence fell.  I said something quickly to fill up the pause.  Something about not worrying and that he was alright with God.  He said he wasn't right with God and that he had been insincere and rotten.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  My dad had abused my mother and the five of us kids for years and years as an Independent Fundamental Baptist pastor and never did he ever confess or apologize for any of the things he had done to us.  Ever.  He was completely BROKEN for what it seemed to be the first time in his life, truly broken over the hurt and pain he had caused us.  And the memory of the nights and literally years of praying as a little girl on my knees for my dad with tears streaming down my face came flooding back to my memory.  Those prayers were not in vain.  Wow, those prayers were truly not in vain.  The many prayers, the "I'm tired of praying for him, he's a lost cause", to brokenness all over again to pray for him and yes, for myself to love him despite being lovely.   

And in return, like a child, my father asked me, "Do you think God can forgive me?"  In utter disbelief, I assured him that God can and will forgive him if he asked for it.

The next few minutes my dad prayed to God and asked him for forgiveness with tears streaming down his cheeks.  He was done praying and he looked up at me and asked, "Can I have a hug?"  I closed in and gave him the hug of my life as he whispered in my ear, "I love you."  The peace of God in that room was overwhelming.

It is an experience on this earth that will never be forgotten and I feel privileged to have been in the room with him when those words were spoken. 

The day after this life-altering event my mom needed to step out to run errands and I was home alone with dad.  I sat in a chair next to him.  I asked him, "Dad, do you want me to read the bible to you or sing you a song?"  He shook his head no.  "Dad, do you want me to leave you alone?"  He says, "No, no, stay."

I sat there in that chair in silence for a couple of hours and all I could do was cry.  The tears came and came and yet there were still more, many more.  Where could so much rain come from?  The depths of brokenness, the depths of gladness, the depths of questions and the depths of doubt.

I was wondering why God would take my father now, when he wanted to change and now had the real power to pursue this life of change.  Why?  And the questions came and I still have questions today as I visit my dear friend who is struggling with cancer and may lose his life very soon.  It doesn't look good, even though we pray for his healing.  Even though I prayed at the bed side of my father, begging God for him to be well, to get well, to be around a little longer for this new life he was beginning, this life of acknowledgment of sin and accepting God's grace and His forgiveness.

I beg God for my friend to be around a little longer for his four young children and his wife.  I don't have any answers, no pat ones for sure and the veneer of my life crumbles when I have to think about things like this.  I just don't understand.       

As I had those questions and still do now as I witness my friend's suffering, I am reminded of Jesus Christ's words as He hung on the cross in His own suffering, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  I am comforted to know that even Jesus, the perfect Son of God, asked His Father in heaven why had He been forsaken.  Even Jesus had questions about His suffering. 

I know that Jesus suffers with me through my questions and my doubts and my fears and He helps me find truth and comforts me through the rough waters of just not understanding why.  With Him there are no simplistic veneers or pat answers to gloss over our raw reality and I am so thankful for that. 

A New View


 





We live out in the country, right on the edge of all the farms just west of here. It’s quiet except for the occasional monster block party a tenth of a mile down the street. We enjoy our fenced in acre and, yeah, it’s really quiet and I like it and there aren’t very many kids in this vastly wooded, rural neighborhood. In fact, there is only one kid next door and you can hear him coming from a mile away, smashing that lovely quiet into bits.  We’ve spent many months, days, weeks and years laughing with this kid, playing games and eating dinners together, swimming, cleaning together and me relentlessly asking him, "Hey, could you be a little quieter?".  He was as much a part of our family as he could possibly be without actually living here.

When he was six his father died abruptly and his mother lived the wild life and lost custody of him to his grandparents. The mother was in and out, playing games with her own son’s heart. All the while, he hoped and dreamed to live with his mom again even though she lived a half-baked life. His two sisters both live with someone else and I am sure he wishes that they could all be together as some sort of family, but that just won’t be possible. He’ll live with his grandparents and they’ll live with their caregivers. He is being cared for and is loved, but is definitely allowed way to much privilege and he rules the roost in some ways. I see it as a dangerously loving overcorrection for all that he has suffered and that is easily done it seems, and done with such good intentions, but still yields the same spoiled fruit of lawlessness.  I hope against hope that this will not be the case for him.

He’s outwardly brimming with tough exterior, and secretly as mischievous as a fox.

He was at our house playing with my boys one day, one of the many. I told them they had to stay outside because I needed some quiet to pack for our upcoming Thanksgiving trip to visit family. It was fall and it was getting darker out sooner. They wanted inside because it was getting dark and they were bored. I refused and told them to stay outside. I locked them out in joking fun and it began to drizzle rain and they were banging on the door to get in. I said no and that it was just a sprinkle. I probably should have let them in. Well, of course, they got into trouble and I think I am somewhat to blame.

About fifteen minutes later I found them in my shed breaking CFL bulbs(by accident) and lighting matches(on purpose). I was became furious as I thought of all that could have caught on fire while they were in there. I asked who was lighting the matches and the neighbor said it was him. I was so blind with anger that I just told him to go home and not to come back until I let him know that it was okay. I never told his grandparents. I don’t think they would have done much about it even if I did tell them.

This was not the first time something like this had happened nor did I think it would be the last. Months went by and in that time frame I had some of my friends telling me that I should not allow him to come to my home again. Well-intentioned pat answers from friends that were concerned and because I asked. I pondered all their thoughts and I just didn’t feel right about banning him from our home and friendship forever. While my thoughts droned on, I would find him wandering around our home aimlessly for weeks, staring with a depressed, longing look into our yard where the kids were playing.

I felt terrible, but I realized that we needed some space. I needed to step back and regroup and he needed to learn a lesson. The time frame of him not coming over went on longer and longer and I never felt right about that, but I wasn‘t ready to "deal" with him again. I walked out into the yard and he would see me and instead of his usual “Hi, Miss Paul!”, I was ignored as he stared the ground down with hurt eyes.

At that point, I felt I had been shunning this kid in my mind for one good reason or another. And I felt I had many good reasons for thinking the way I did and I had forgotten all the good times we had with him or the general good he did do. I didn’t want my kids turning out like him, the bad him was all I could see. I didn’t want to deal with all that he brings when he comes over. I didn’t want my quiet, little life disturbed by this kid who seemed to have lost so much and was hurting deeply inside, all covered up by this tough facade. I was tired of reaching out to him. I was done with him.

Wow, I was done with him. Done with him? He had done enough to irritate me or cause me to give up on him, this kid who had been a part of our lives for five years. This kid we laughed and played with who really seemed to need us. Then as the layers of my own lies I tell myself peel back, I realize that if I really hold true to this “I am done with you.” view then I will need to be done with my own mischievous, sinful kids, done with my husband and done with myself.

This thought struck me like lightening one day as I stared out the window to find him lingering once again. I waved to him and again, the ignoring and then the pained stare to the ground. I couldn’t take this anymore, I needed to talk to him. Later that day I sent one of the boys to call him over to our house. He came reluctantly and I was waiting for him.

I gave him a big hug and with tears rolling down my cheek I told him that we were sad to have had to separate from him for so long and that he was allowed to come back over and play with the kids once again. He looked at me in disbelief and he seemed to learn his lesson well enough and I learned mine, too.

I had a change of heart and I saw something different now in this young, floundering, hurting boy.  Potential.  I hope against hope for myself and for him.  God gave me a new view.  The same view He has for me.

He waits.  He loves.  He never leaves.  He picks me up and dusts me off.  And no matter when or if I fail or fall, He never, ever gives up on me.  Ever. 



His Yoke is Easy and His Burden is Light

There are a lot of things in the Christian world today that make me cringe and shrivel.  I could provide you with a running list of what makes me get a knot in my stomache and maybe I should.  "Buy this book for $19.95 and all your problems understanding this life in Christ will be solved."  "If you'll just follow this pattern of training your kids or this way of disciplining your kids, well, I can guarantee that your child will listen to you and be well behaved wherever you go."  "Wow, have you heard that guy speak?!  He is so in tune with God!  I can't wait to buy all his books and cds!"  "This is the best church in town, you have to go visit it sometime!"  "Wow, did you hear what so and so did for God, it is the most amazing thing I have ever heard!"  "If you will sow a seed of money to our ministry, you will reap financial blessings yourself." 

Really, there is not a specific, targeted theme to what makes me cringe in the "Christian" world today, obviously.  There is a broad spectrum to what makes me want to run away and hide.  And how do I feel when I read all of that or hear all of that?  I feel sick, I feel pressure and an anxiety attack about to ensue.  Spiritual suffocation overwhelms my mind, body and soul and all I want to do is run away from people who talk like this.  Seriously, I mean no ill will.  I just can't be in the presence of people like this.  The one word that stands out to me in this paragraph is pressure.  It's not the more prevalent word here, but it is one that has described how I have felt for years in various Christian circles.  Pressure, pressured.

pres·sure definition
Pronunciation:  /ˈpresh-ər/
Function: n
1 :  the burden of mental or physical distress especially from grief, illness, or adversity

–verb (used with object)
10.
to force (someone) toward a particular end; influence
 
High expectations or the wrong expectation put upon me with force by others through words or non-verbal manipulation.  God is so not like that.  I am realizing this now.  He is not like this, He is not like this, He is not like this.  He is not like that.  I have to tell myself over and over again in my mind that is so filled with everybody's elevator music, a million different songs all playing at the same time.  Records are being back-masked to divulge a horrible, confusing sound.  Noise.  External noise.  And my cringe list is just a beginning glance at the external, "Christian" noise that we are forced, pressured to hear or witness or experience or see.
 
And we weed through all the mess and want to find the quiet voice of Christ in His true form.  His burden is light.  How can a burden be light?  His yoke is easy.  How can a yoke ever be easy?  When we think of burdens and yokes we think of something difficult or even impossible.  We envision a man with a heavy, unbearable load to carry or oxen pulling a ton with restraints, yokes around their neck.  There is nothing there in our minds that seems desirable.  These thoughts seem to be an oxymoron and at first glance they surely are, but we have to dig deeper.  His love for us constrains us to follow Him, not guarantees or focusing on what man can do or making a fortune offering His wisdom up to the world that He gave to us for free.   
 
His yoke, this constrainment, is easy because of our acknowledgment of His undying love for us.  He died for us and now lives for us and inside of us.  His burden is light, because His expecation of us is attainable and He never has us do anything we can't handle or bear.  His burden for us is to fill the world with His love by our example through His abilities and not our own.  There is no pressure, because you can't do this alone even if you tried.  He does this love thing through you and in you and around you.  The pressure is definitely off...forever.  Go in peace and know the He can even if you can't.