billboards.

i have to confess that i’ve become calloused to the word relevant anymore.

come as you are churches.

authentic churches.

billboards with a pair of jeans that reads, this is what our pastor wears to work.

such a trendy-pop-churchy-culture-thing anymore, even though i think others have caught on and it’s sort of going out of style now, like skinny jeans and i worked so hard to make my hair look like i just rolled out of bed hair. (oh, wait. nevermind.)

a relevant church.

blaaahh. 

because, even before your pastor wore jeans to church, weren’t we all called to a life of relevance? one of authenticity and meaning?

one of making others more important than ourselves?

is it our jeans that make us relevant?

really?

i love both relevant and authentic but they’ve lost their meaning on me.

if relevant means ‘all things to all people’ (and i don’t know if it does), then shouldn’t we fit in among the sinners? the poor, the hungry, the needy, the broken and down-and-out? not in a ‘do as they do’ sorta way, but as a way that offers hope? and light? and sugar and some salt?

isn’t that what true relevance is today?

there are many women, my friends among them, who have gathered together this weekend for the relevant conference (which i’m not not  attending for the name, by the way – i’m not that bad, i promise).

jesus, be. among them, within them, in and through them. just be. just be you so that they can be just them. amen.

and god have grace for the sinner and the cynic like me.

every friday, you can count on me participating with other bloggers for five-minute friday over at the gypsy mama’s house. we would love for you to join us there. the only rules: just write – unedited, unfiltered for five minutes. if you don’t have a blog of your own but would like to participate just the same, please feel free to utilize a comment space of mine. (there’s plenty to go around.) :)

today’s prompt: relevant.

a lifetime of friends.

i have had the good fortune of having some really wonderful friends in my life – nearest and dearest, closest and far away…friends from college, from high school, from this point in my life…ones who are my best, ones who we don’t talk all the time (mostly because i hate the phone) but the kind we can pick right back up from where we left off and keep going, because that’s what friends do.

friends who you can call when your dad dies just to ‘please come’ and

you don’t know why.

other friends who reach out, show up, listen…who just want to be…with you…

friends who will laugh and cry and make you laugh til you cry (or cry til you laugh).

friends who have a name for you that you only share with them.

best friends, near and far…some less best but just right…some who come and go, in and out and that’s okay, too…

from childhood to now…there aren’t words enough to sum up life shared in the duration

of a lasting friendship.

i used to wish for a ‘group’ of friends, the kind that grows up together and stays friends forever. but my global group of friends is one i wouldn’t trade, not for one thing in this world.

{Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. -philippians 1:3, nlt}

pebbles in my pocket.

i don’t know what made me think of this, but last night while i was brushing my teeth i remembered a conversation i had with my great-uncle vernon a few years ago. two, actually. it was almost exactly two years ago that this conversation happened. (the picture you see here was taken a few months earlier at another retreat.)

at the time, vernon & i were traveling back to north carolina together from speaking with my dad and aunt at a retreat in florida. we had stopped to eat lunch with my friend jean-marie at an airport chili’s. he treated. (which is neither here nor there.)

‘uncle vernon,’ i said. ‘how can i love my dad better? i don’t want to be angry at him anymore. i don’t want to punish him anymore.’

‘get off the judgment seat,’ he offered.

um…OUCH.

whatever he said after that, i don’t really remember. but it was what happened next that softened the blow. we were in the security line when i said sheepishly, ‘thanks for your gentle rebuke, uncle vernon.’

he has a cute smile-giggle where his face lights up and i knew all was all right.

‘oh, child. that wasn’t a rebuke. don’t you know i know what that’s like?’

and i don’t remember verbatim what he said after that, except that he reminded me of his experience when both of his precious daughters, my sweet cousins, came out of the closet and how he wrestled with that and i knew, yes, that he did know.

i didn’t know that my dad would die not six months later (although i sort of did know it in my spirit but that’s another story for another time) but i did know that our relationship had been strained long enough (again, another story – wow, there’s much i haven’t told you) and i didn’t want to spend whatever time i had left with him angry at and/or punishing him. it was time for restoration & healing to take place. it was time for reconciliation.

i talk more about what that was like in the first post i wrote to you about his passing. (in linking to it, i realize it is also my first-ever actual real post as a blogger.) i guess, in a way, this post here is a prequel to that.

but what i want to address with you today is what my uncle vernon said to me: get off the judgment seat.

the most obvious illustration in the bible (it’s the first one that comes to my mind, in any case) about this is the one when jesus is teaching and the pharisees bring in the woman caught in adultery. their intention is to trap jesus, but he only says to them, ‘okay, that’s fine, pharisees. you can stone her. in fact, who among you hasn’t sinned? you can even be the first to cast a stone.’ (is sarcastic jesus anyone else’s favorite?) he goes back to drawing on the ground and the bible says that they all start to walk away, one by one. it cracks me up that the first to walk away is the eldest. he knows he’s guilty.

we accuse and we judge and we unabashedly punish by withholding love and acceptance of each other instead of realizing that, at any moment, she could be me. as a matter-of-fact, if we’re being honest, she really is me. i’m the woman caught in adultery. i mean, not literally. but, if you think about it, aren’t any of us guilty of substituting truth and freedom with something temporary? something of lasting value we exchange for short-term pleasure? we’re filling a need -a need of the deepest kind- with something that just feels good in the moment, something we know is forbidden or not good for us?

by not loving my dad well, i was casting stones. i had forgotten -and still do, to be honest- that i was as guilty as my dad -of…anything.

but, more importantly? i also have not been refused by grace.

and neither have you. and we won’t be. and that is far more important than any stones we have in our pockets.

see, i’m convinced that jesus is far more concerned of our knowledge of his grace and forgiveness than we are aware of just what exactly it is we have done.

hear me, now – i am not suggesting that freedom in christ liberates us into a life of debauchery and craziness. but i would submit to you that the years i spent drinking, for example, are just a drop in the ocean that is the grace of jesus. don’t believe me? read galatians and romans. in fact, we’ll cover them here soon. i love the message of god’s grace.

i am also not suggesting we let one another wallow in the mud like pigs. that is, we are responsible to hard love one another. that is, not to ignore or enable but to believe and see one another not as we are but as jesus intends for us to be and to speak that kind of life over each other.

meanwhile, i just want you to know that whether you are the woman caught in the act of adultery (debauchery, gluttony, addiction, etc) or the pharisee (the one trying to punish the woman who doesn’t truly have a stone to throw, we just think that we do) or -well, none of us is the jesus-figure (we’re just not, sorry)- that there is grace for you. that jesus forgives. we don’t have to sit on the judgment seat of each other because he’s already there. and he says, ‘don’t you know i love you? i’m not going to condemn you, child, and you don’t have to live in the darkness of others’ judgment of you. just stop what you’re doing because it’s not what you really need’.

the next we hear of jesus, he is teaching again. and he says to the pharisees, ‘i am the world’s light. no one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. i provide plenty of light to live in.’ (john 8 )

as long as we are living and walking in that light, we don’t have to stumble around in any sin that is a snare to our soul. nor do we have to live within anyone’s judgment. his light is all we need, and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say about it. our job as brothers and sisters is to love – not to ignorebut to love.

so, let’s be children of light, shall we? let’s not throw stones at one another.

and, most importantly, let’s swim around in the ocean of grace together.

when you’ve been slimed.

have you ever been slimed?

like, in your spirit…slimed?

i was slimed recently.

and it wasn’t pretty.

i knew it was more than a ‘personality conflict’ but i didn’t realize how affected my spirit was from getting caught up in it until some of my closest friends breathed life back into my flailing spirit.

i remember one of my sisters saying once that she felt sorry for the devil when she was little.

aw. poor, little devil. doesn’t have any friends. nobody likes him, everybody hates him…boody-hoody-woody…

POOR LITTLE DEVIL MY ASS.

he is cunning. and conniving. and manipulative. and he will use scripture to derail you. don’t you remember when he did that to jesus after his forty-day fast? he knows Truth. he knows the word of god. and he will twist it around and use it against you.

he will use ‘religion’ to {try to} derail your RELATIONSHIP with the one who created you and loves you more than his own life.

…who loves you and gave you life.

he will do whatever he must do in order to unnerve those who love jesus.

because he knows how powerful you are in the kingdom of god. he knows the stock from which you come.

{remember, he came from the same stock.}

and he is threatened by you, sweet and powerful and strong and good child of god, created in the image of the life-giver.

for those of you who may not realize your spirit has been slimed, let me remind you that there is an enemy of your soul.

and he hates you.

he.

HATES.

you.

BUT.

there is good news.

17 No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me,” Says the LORD. -Isaiah 54:17 (nkjv), emphasis mine (go here to be encouraged by the whole passage.)

 15 He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’” -2 Chronicles 20:1-29 (niv), emphasis mine (read the whole passage here.)

{you know what happened next, don’t you? they all fell on their faces in worship of god.}

{and then there was peace in the land. says god laid it out on every side.}

does life still happen? you know it does.

and if we’re caught unaware, we get pulled assunder because of our daily battles that are not ours to fight. but we do not have to live in fear because we serve and love a great big god who is powerful and might and so much bigger than we can comprehend and HE IS AT WAR ON OUR BEHALF.

and he has won.

THE BATTLE IS WON.

 28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. -John 19:28-30 (niv) (read the whole account of what he did for us that day here.)

your battle?

WON.

* * * * * * * * * *

are there any among you who doesn’t know up from down and you’re not sure why?

might i suggest that you could be under spiritual attack and not even realize it?

can i pray for you?

we don’t even need to know the specifics. in fact, i have found that, most times when i am under spiritual attack, i can’t really put a finger on my funk.

and will the rest of you commit to praying for those who raise their hands here? please?

we need not fight against each other, but for each other. on behalf of one another.

you are not alone. we are family.

brothers and sisters, thank you for standing.

* * * * * * * * * *

if you are visiting for the first time today, anyone else will vouch that this is not the normal language of beauty for ashes.

(so come back tomorrow or peruse previous posts if i scared you. :) i try to keep it light here. except when it’s heavy.)

we are a grace place.

and we will remain a grace place.

always. only.

the end.

the elephant in the room.

because i’ve apparently been IN THE MOOD FOR DISCLAIMERS lately, i need to let you know that i did not mean AT ALL to make the comparison between the sacrifical lamb who was not only ‘not guilty’ but innocent, who died for me and for you, and the guy who may or may not have killed someone who may or may not experience the ultimate punishment for his crime. i’m certainly not trying to make a martyr of a would-be guilty man. (or any man, for that matter. or woman.)

also, while i wish the death penalty wasn’t an option, the fact of the matter is, in the case of first degree murder in the state of north carolina, the death penalty is an option. in fact, it’s one of only two options. i hope the prosecution is unable to prove that he is guilty of first degree murder. i hope, i hope. but i also believe that, if he is found guilty, it will be because he stood a fair trial. unfortunately, whatever his fate is the consequence any of us must face if found in his position in the state of north carolina. it is unfortunate, i wish it weren’t the way that it is. do i support the death penalty? i don’t know. but i support our legal system and believe in justice. i also believe in mercy and forgiveness. and i believe in taking responsibility for our actions. whatever happens in the end of this trial, i know god will use for his glory because that’s what he does. i also know that, in the end, justice belongs to him regardless of any decision made in a courthouse. i believe god can change a man’s heart and redeem him even if, in the end and according to state law, he still has to pay the ultimate consequence for his actions.

if he’s found guilty.

and i hope that he’s not.

now then.

something else happened in me while reading tim’s book in the courthouse last week.

something i…just wasn’t expecting.

it was like the lord used jury duty -a time when i had to sit still and be quiet and watch the drama unfold in front of me for hours at a time- as an opportunity to show me some areas of my heart and mind that aren’t edifying -to him, to me or anyone.

and i hope you’ll listen without judgment – i already judge myself for this. it isn’t something i’m proud of.

i might also submit, respectfully, that god might tenderly show you similar areas of your own heart that need consideration.

when i was in kindergarten, i told a classmate she couldn’t come to my birthday party because she was black.

‘i’m not black, i’m BROWN,’ she said, as we were climbing the jungle gym.

{so you know, this was not a rule set into place by my parents or anyone. yet, somehow, this was my perceived truth set into place by…culture?…i guess? i don’t know.}

fast-forward 25 years when i’m sitting in tim’s kitchen, telling him it bothered me that i felt proud that my freshman roommate was black.

and that one of my best friends from college, who was my roommate when we graduated, is also black.

i didn’t understand why that would make me feel proud.

why would it make me feel…anything at all?

do you get what i’m saying?

growing up, i had a rainbow array of friends, both inside and outside of the classroom. all colors, creeds, ethnicities, orientations, religions, caste, class. i am someone who needs / CRAVES diversity and variety in her life.

the staff at our conference center is like my family. many of them are black. sadly, when i left aqueduct and then when my dad died, i haven’t had it in me to see them. i just…it’s still just…too hard. BUT I NEED TO GET OVER IT BECAUSE THEY ARE MY FAMILY. (note to self.)

in chapel hill, i nannied and housesat for a prominent, successful, well-respected black family whom i adored.

and so…that i would ever feel proud…to be honest with you, i don’t think it’s as much prejudice as it is proud that those barriers are being crossed…but it bothers me that i would…even notice that at all. does that make sense?

another cousin of mine, his best friend since childhood is a successful black lawyer. why would i feel any more proud of him than i would my white friend from college who is also a successful lawyer in the same area? because he beat the odds? he’s not a statistic? IT BOTHERS ME THAT IT BOTHERS ME.

when tim & i had this conversation, blood done sign my name had just come out. at the time, it was required reading that summer for incoming unc-ch freshman and so he told me what he told them at their convocation. i will never forget his words, ‘lean into it.’

my natural tendency is -well, it used to be- to run from things that make me uncomfortable. i prefer to avoid conflict, thank you very much. oh, that elephant in the room? isn’t he lovely? would you like some more sweet tea? {as i’ve gotten older and more ornery, i’ve really stopped caring so much about conflict and hurting feelings if it means we can put all our cards out on the table AND GET FREE.}

but tim’s point was that, when we lean into our differences, we respectfully open up the dialogue between ourselves and our brothers and sisters. only when that dialogue occurs can any walls come down. only when we talk about it, and confess our heart-sins to one another, can change occur between us. by running from these things which make us squirm, the issue only becomes distorted and/or blown out of proportion.

honestly, i don’t even remember being taught to regard race as paternalistic. do you? (some of you might, actually, depending on when & where you grew up.) yet, somehow…somewhere…those lines were drawn. it’s worse in the south, to be certain. is it still like this elsewhere in the world? (i’m really asking – you tell me.)

i live in a place where *BLACK people* is still whispered and ‘i’m not a racist, but…’ (‘uh…but WHAT.’) and racial slurs and jokes are tossed around and IT DISGUSTS ME. but is it enough just not to laugh along? if i’m not standing up against it, then am i a participant?

AND AREN’T WE DONE WITH THIS BY NOW?

i know it would be easy to think we’re not the culprit. but we are. you and me, both – all of us. black, white, all. it’s very subtle anymore, isn’t it? so subtle we probably wouldn’t notice. but i have noticed. and i don’t like it.

it BOTHERS ME that most of the homeless people in the town i live are black. and IT BOTHERS ME that almost everyone in my church is white. IT BOTHERS ME that hispanic people in my community are regarded -or, rather, disregarded- as sub-human in the united states. (don’t even get me started on that one. there is so much you and i don’t know and one day soon i will have my sister, an expert in this field, tell us what we don’t know.) and IT BOTHERS ME that 98% of the successful business executives and lawyers and doctors i know are the same shade of paste that i am.

i don’t judge anyone for it. i don’t blame anyone for it. (who can i blame? aren’t we all responsible?) i just don’t understand why it is that way. and, honestly, i’m not sure understanding ‘why’ is so important anymore.

jesus was not black. or white. or american. he didn’t have a white picket fence around his two-story house in the suburbs. he didn’t draw a 6-figure income. even a modern-day jesus, a carpenter, would likely live by meager means.

before last week, i would have said, ‘of course i’m not racist’. which is mostly true. mostly. but i saw my prejudices, if not by race then by class or caste. AND IT BOTHERED ME. i do not like that there is any amount of historical residue on me from a past which i was not a part. but i refuse to carry that type of past into my future.

brothers and sisters, i confess to you that i have been arrogant and proud. i have realized about myself that it puffs me up to call you ‘friend’. AND THIS BOTHERS ME. and i am so sorry. i am sorry that i have looked at you with anything less than honor due you, that i have thought in any way that i was somehow better than you.

my friend, you have not invited me into your home, either.

and this is not the way it is supposed to be.

we are responsible for each other.

i want to know your children. i want to come into your home. i want to make dinner for you. can we get pedicures together? we need each other.

i don’t know why we’re different colors, but we are. and i celebrate that about you. i wish i were a more interesting color than glue. i have always wished to be a big black gospel singer.adore your beautiful hue. but i also see past it. and i want to know your heart. i want to know who you are.

please challenge me and ask hard questions and get into my life. i need our friendship to make me better.

your blood and my blood and jesus’ blood is all red.

sometimes i cry in your presence. i also cry when the holy spirit is near. and with each tear that falls from my eye, a scale falls from my heart.

friend, i commit to you that i will believe the best in you and not consider you a statistic, or that you beat them. i will honor you with pride, but i will not be proud.

can you lean into this with me? please?

there are so many prejudices that are subtle and small and gross. this was mostly about color and race because of my recent experience, but consider the people we quietly judge.

friends, will you be courageous enough to confess confront your own prejudices and commit to change with me?

because, even if it makes us uncomfortable, it is true:

only in leaning into it can we really affect change.

i want to point you also to leigh and kim’s posts about this. the dialogue has been started.

your turn.

jury duty.

i was called in to jury duty last week.

i was in college the last time, the only other time, i was called to jury duty.  my name was called but i was dismissed on account of it being a drunk driving charge and i had some strong opinions on the matter. (mind you, this was before the launch of my own wild days but in the middle of my parents divorce, so it was just bad timing all the way around.)

prior to sitting down in the courthouse on monday morning, i had no idea the case i would be facing.

i had no idea it was a capital case.

evidently, i was the only one who hadn’t paid attention to the local news in the last week (although i thought that i had) else i would have known that ‘this case’ was coming up.

it was the case of a man accused of a drive-by shooting where two bystanders were killed outside a nightclub downtown. the incident happened 2 years ago. the man accused has pleaded not guilty.

for four days, i sat there anxiously waiting for my name to be called and listened as each person gave their litany of reasons (some valid) of why they weren’t suited for jury. some were adamate protestors of the death penalty. ‘in all circumstances?’ ‘yes, your honor. always.’ others had already decided his guilt or innocence. in either case, these are the ones who were immediately dismissed. one girl went to high school with the guy and, though she said she hadn’t know him, she didn’t think she could decide his fate even though she ultimately believed in the death penalty. she was also excused.

on day one, i didn’t know my answers for some of the questions they were asking. to be honest with you, the death penalty is just not something i have thought much about. as names were called and each person interviewed, i learned i wasn’t the only one.

ironically, the book i grabbed on the way out the door on monday was written by my cousin, blood done sign my name. i knew kim & leigh had decided to read it together, and i was invited to join them, but really i didn’t know any better when i threw it in my purse that morning. i started it probably two years ago and it was an unfinished book on my bucket list that i wanted to finish.

but it was a strange dichotomy, to say the least, of a murder case in front of me while finishing this book about a racial killing (and subsequent acquittal) in 1970. i will write more about its impact later this week.

i don’t know how important it is to tell you that the man being tried is black. the two young men who were killed are white. this was not a racially-motivated murder; actually, the two boys killed were bystanders. the judge, the district attorneys and the defense attorneys are all white. in the end, most of the jurors selected are women (one hispanic, one pacific islander, two black, all others white). to be honest, i can’t remember exactly how many men were chosen. i believe there were two who are actually seated, one black & the other white. all three of the alternates are men, one black and the other two white).

every person selected was asked the exact same set of questions, beginning with the judge, followed by the prosecuting attorneys and closing with the defense lawyers. in the end, this means that every officer of the court agreed that the jury member selected was suitable for a fair trial. even the defendant weighed in when his team deliberated, so he had a say in whether or not that person was right for the job.

one of the questions asked of potential jur-ORS (that’s how the judge kept saying it :)) was whether or not they had heard anything about the case? and have you formed an opinion about the matter? and are you able to set aside any judgments or opinions and focus solely on the evidence and testimony of the witnesses as proof of his guilt or innocence?

i knew nothing of the case. not one thing. don’t even remember the incident. therefore, i had not formed an opinion on the matter and, yes, i would have been able to focus solely on the evidence given and witness testimony. i knew no one seated to the right or the left of the judge. i didn’t recognize any names on the list of potential witnesses. i only nominally know the judge because i learned a few years ago when i attended a wedding party at his house that he and his wife had been to aqueduct several times over the years. but if i hadn’t been at that party, i never would have known that. he would recognize me by name, but that’s the extent of our association. i have one uncle who is a north carolina superior court judge. in either case, my judgment would not have been clouded or influenced by these affiliations.

evidently, there are two parts to a capital trial. one is to prove guilt which, in the state of north carolina, the burden of proof rests solely on the prosecution. the second part of the trial, once guilt has been established, is to determine punishment and the jury only makes a recommendation but the judge ultimately decides on his fate. and in the state of north carolina, the only two punishments that are (legally) suitable for a charge of first degree murder are either the death penalty or life enprisonment.

because my purpose in being there, and that of everyone else in the room, was only for the duration of the jury selection process, i never heard a testimony. i never saw evidence. as a matter-of-fact, i was legally bound not to watch the news or do any research on my own into the case. i learned nothing about it until i was dismissed. frankly, i was too afraid of the judge.

but here is what i did learn. here is what happened in me while i was there:

as far as i know, the accused is innocent until/unless proven guilty. i know when i learn from the news (or my sister’s neighbor across the street, who actually did get selected) once the trial is over whether he is guilty or innocent that it will be because he had a fair trial. 

but there in that room, i realize about myself how quickly i am to judge a situation at first glance, or about things i know not much about. i determine guilt or innocence or fault without having all the information i would need in order to base such a decision.

i learned that you really can’t believe everything you hear in the news -or anywhere- unless it comes from the source and can be confirmed.

i learned that a lot of people can’t get beyond themselves to realize the importance of the position in which they are being placed to listen without judgment in order to determine a person’s fate. and i get it. who wants to live with that burden? it is a tough position to find one’s self and i might have made up a reason just for being afraid before i had time to process everything.

i also understand that it’s a civic duty and responsibility we have to serve one another in this way. jury duty is important, if not inconvenient.

believe me, i am not unsympathetic to the families who lost their sons who were too young to die, especially so tragically. someone killed those boys and my heart breaks for those families who sat there stone-faced, all.

i realize i may be naive.

and i am an advocate for both justice and mercy.

but if i am only going on my experience of those four days, for all the knowledge i was given and the {very limited} education of the law i received during those four days, then if this man is not guilty just as he claims to be, then i couldn’t get past the fact that this man isn’t just the ‘defendant’, he has a name. and that was his mother sitting behind him and those were his sisters. and he has children who go to school and have friends and they have homework and birthdays.

and they have a father who loves them who stands trial now for a crime he may or may not have committed and he may or may not be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

which reminds me of someone else i know.

during another time when my name was not called.

{He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. -Micah 6:8 (niv)}

the {ugly} truth.

my stomach is in knots.

the anxiety this post has produced could only mean i am either responding to the holy spirit or i am just. plain. stupid.

i am no one’s hero and please do not call me brave.

i am just like you at the end of the day.

het and i started an encouragement campaign of sorts. we laughed at the game of out-encouraging one another. dominic agreed it was a good idea.

but then the game went too far.

and het called me the queen of encouragement.

and i laughed.

and then the nag began.

and i thought, ‘surely, i am a fraud.’

because, of all things over which i could reign queen (ie, queen of quirkiness, queen of ice cream, queen of the most random and absurd), i am least of all the queen of encouragement.

and i need to expose myself.

because

if you were to ask

my mom or my sisters

or my brother-in-law or my stepdad

{or could have asked my dad}

and those who are as close as family to me

or folks i work with every day

i don’t think they would agree.

because, the truth is:

sometimes i am cranky and mean and moody and not easy to get along with.

i don’t think anyone who is close to me would say i’m one of the sweetest persons they know.

:: my eyes burn now ::

i am prideful.

i am stubborn as hell.

i do not like to be corrected. (not really.)

i am incredibly protective, some might say selfish, with my time and space.

i have to have alone-time in order to gear up for people-time.

it’s not that i discourage, but i don’t encourage in real life as much i probably do in my virtual one.

i say things i don’t mean at times i shouldn’t say them and often wish i could suck back in my words as soon as i hear them escape from my mouth because i just wasn’t thinking -or maybe i was- and i hold you to expectations i don’t keep for myself, and certainly don’t meet.

i get jealous and act accordingly.

i fear rejection and will push people away or hold on to them too tightly so i won’t be hurt.

and i talk about living fearlessly but i mock myself because i have so little to show for it in my own life.

not much at all.

at all.

:: please, dear god, don’t let these truths of mine be told or known or even let them be true at all ::

i am learning to press through and just love even when and especially because i don’t like or excuse myself when i just can’t but it is pretty obvious when i don’t like someone and i hate that about myself, that i think i can get away with showing anyone in whatever small way that i do not like them.

i have shown my ass to the pharmacist and i cuss at bad drivers and i hate waiting in line or waiting for anything at all and i act self-righteous and i am impatient and i pretend i don’t see you so i don’t have to hold open the door.

i am every bit the opposite of who i say that i am or would like to be but i am still all of those things, too.

i act so important, more important than you, and forget to say, ‘excuse me’ or ‘i’m sorry’ or ‘you were here first’.

i have made you look bad to make me look good because i have a self-inflated ego.

an ego-maniac with a self-esteem problem.

:: and now my throat catches ::

i am working on being true to my word when i say i will do because i do not always do what i say i will do.

because i am lazy.

and irresponsible.

and careless.

sometimes.

i am easily annoyed and intolerant and i think ugly thoughts even if i don’t say them out loud but i may as well because whatever i’m thinking is shown on my face.

i don’t have all the answers. or any answers, for that matter. and, really, i make up answers because the more i know, the more i realize just how much i don’t know. but i have been known to be a know-it-all. {and who really likes a know-it-all?}

i can manipulate and know buttons to push and i have and i do.

i do not like to apologize for or own my bad behavior. do i? yes, usually. definitely not always.

and i shift blame and make excuses and i project my own stuff onto you.

my anger gets the better of me sometimes. not always, but it has and it does even still.

within me is the tyson temper that goes from 0-60 in 2 seconds if provoked; usually by injustice of some kind, but not always. not usually.

sometimes i just act like a bitch.

and i wish that i didn’t.

:: still nauseous ::

lash out and eggshells and explode are terms i have heard said of me.

always? no. sometimes? yes.

am i proud of these things that are very true of me? absolutely not. and so i work toward change. i learn new behaviors for my old ones.

for some of these, it has taken and continues to take a while.

but i have to -i want to, i need to- defraud any assumption that i am anything more or anything less than who you might conclude that i am based on the persona i set up for myself here.

because this is the rest of me.

the parts you don’t see.

{and when laid bare, truth is exposed.}

stupid & mean.

i read a friend’s status update yesterday on facebook. a woman she had just met, with whom she has a mutual friend in common, said to her, ‘you’re not as fake as i had heard you were.’ my friend graciously said, ‘nice to meet you’ and went on with her children.

um…what?

who has the nerve to say that OUT LOUD?

i personally have a defect with the filter betwixt my brain and my mouth.

and my memory is selective anymore.

however.

i don’t think i’ve ever said anything that stupid and mean to someone’s face, much less in front of their children.

okay, probably i have. if i’m really being honest. i really just don’t remember anymore.

{but if i have ever been that stupid to or in front of you, please know how profoundly sorry i am.}

my response to her:

i am so sorry. how hurtful.

wonder what jesus has to say about that.

because here is what i’ve learned. and this has absolutely nothing to do with my friend who is nothing but genuine, if not transparent. her example, however, made me think on this.

it is very easy for me to hear the loving things people say about me. i even know how to manipulate kindness from strangers. {i bet if you’re really being honest, you probably do, too.} it is easy to gather love and goodness that folks pour out and onto us, isn’t it?

but what about when you hear the negative things folks say about you? or even the ‘constructive’ but difficult-to-hear things? what then?

my natural instinct is to become defensive or to justify.

my learned behavior is to listen. to say ‘thank you’. and then maybe listen some more.

even to the tough things.

because maybe? just maybe there is some truth to what is being said.

perhaps not.

but perhaps so.

granted, there are some mean people in this world. there are people who spew venom onto others because they think the world is out to get them. {‘how sad for them,’ i think.} these are not the folks i’m talking about.

i’m talking about otherwise well-meaning people who haphazardly say ‘stupid’ things like, ‘you’re not as fake as i had heard.’ um…OUCH.

yes, christ defines us. yes, our identity is found and hidden only in the one who created us.

but.

if it had been me. {and thank you, lord, it wasn’t because i would have been in a PUDDLE.}

and i had to take this to the cross

and ask him for the truth on this matter…

i would expect for him to smother me in love because that’s what jesus does.

but, if there were any truth at all to the hard words i had just heard about myself, i would sheepishly but forcibly take my wounded pride to him and ask him to clarify that for me as well.

because that’s also what he does.

and i have been through too much with jesus to be arrogant enough to think i can’t afford to hear him say things that are hard but necessary for me to hear.

{and you have, too.}

i want to be willing to hear the hard {not mean} things. i want to have people in my life who i know love me enough to say those hard things. the ones who hold up the mirror to myself and instead of walking away and leaving the mirror in my own hands to stare at myself alone, they wrap their arm around me & look with me in that mirror & say, ‘and let me tell you what else i see…’

because, let’s face it: it’s easy to surround ourselves with people who adore us. but how many folks do we invite and welcome into our lives who say the hard things because they love us?

but, a word of caution, if i mayeven folks who love us say things from dark places sometimes. they casually throw out words that hurt and are not true. or they want to make you responsible for their own pain they hold onto like sand with a tight fist. sometimes we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time with people in whose love we are secure.

which is why, as it is with everything, we have to take it to the cross.

the loving words, the kind words, the harsh words and the hard words.

because that’s the only place we are met with kindness where truth humbles us and call us his own.

you are his. you belong to him. and you were bought with a price.

and you were worth every drop of his blood shed.

{and so are those of us who say stupid and mean things sometimes.}

have you ever heard something said about yourself that jesus had to shine truth upon?

have you ever said something you wished you could take back?


do you have friends in your life you trust enough to say the hard things?

digging holes.

do you remember the parable of the talents? the master gave each of his three servants different sized bags of ‘talents’ and when he returned, two of the three had been resourceful and had invested their talents and the talents reproduced themselves. the servants multiplied their talents because they were wise with those they had been issued.

and the master was pleased, calling them ‘good and faithful’.

and then there was guy #3. the guy who buried his talents because he was, basically, afraid to use them. he couldn’t afford to trust the master and so he didn’t use his talents at all.

and the master called him wicked, lazy,  and worthless.

(and then threw him in what sounds like dungeon from which he is not going to return.)

p.s. my friend dar prays that god will give her the talents others have buried.

huh.

the end.

* * * * * * * * * *

our deepest fear.

our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

it is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
we ask ourselves, who am i to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

actually, who are you not to be?
you are a child of god.

your playing small does not serve the world.
there is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
we are all meant to shine, as children do.

we were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
it is not just in some; it is in everyone.

and, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
as we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

-marianne williamson in A Return to Love, emphasis mine

* * * * * * * * * *

do whatever you have to do in order to get free so you can be used most effectively.

use your own voice. don’t be covetous. work with what you have. be faithful with the little.

give up your excuses. do whatever it is you have to do in order to do the thing(s) you have. to. do.

trust the master. invest your talents. quit playing small. let your light shine.

no {more} excuses.

let’s face it: sometimes the things we are most passionate about are not what’s going to pay the bills. we have to be responsible members of society and, those of us who have more mouths than just our very own to feed probably need to serve more than cheerios for dinner.

i would have loved to have been a star on broadway. in college, i was encouraged in this direction. later, i moved to new york to pursue that dream. in between college and the time i actually went, i believed it was a selfish desire i had to just lay down (of course, i was also in the crazy church at that time, which probably had something do with it). and do you know what i learned through that experience? a year before i left, when i started making plans to go, that is when the lord made very REAL to me the message of psalm 37:4: 

Take delight in the LORD,
   and he will give you the desires of your heart.  

in a moment, i had a different understanding of this verse and it changed my life. not only does he give us our heart’s desires, but he gives us -he places in our hearts- these desires. he places in our hearts his desires for us and makes them our own. this is perhaps why i’m so passionate about doing the thing that makes your sky blue. because these things which give you life are the very things that the lord himself has placed in you to do.

jesus didn’t come to die so we would have a half-assed life.

(there. i said it.)

as soon as this message became clear in my spirit, i heard, ‘mary kathryn, who do you think gave you the desire to go to new york in the first place!? GO!’ {does anyone else hear Sarcastic Jesus?} the next summer, i did what i felt in my heart god wanted me to do. i believe he blesses us when we do things that require us to trust him more in order to build our faith. also? god is sovereign and, at the very least, if i was completely wrong i knew he would bring me back home or send me elsewhere. he wasn’t going to leave me there alone or punish me for being wrong because i made that move trusting him and believing i was following him, which i believe still.

we have to reign in our passions and measure them to the life we are called to live. {oo. i don’t like the way that sounds. do you?} are some people meant to be superstars and also christians? of course. (did you know, for example, that natasha bedingfield is a big-time believer? so is elisabeth hasselbeck. and daryl strawberry.) but, as much as i myself want to be a big, black gospel singer, it’s just probably not going to happen.

okay, it’s not going to happen.

at all.

ever.

like, there’s a negative chance of -1,000,000%.

i can accept this.

i…can…

forget it.

the fact-of-the-matter is, and i’m sorry to burst your bubble, most of us are just normies.

do i think god would have blessed me had i stayed in new york? absolutely. but he had other plans for my life in which that wasn’t the best option for me in the long-term. i met with some wonderful friends who are phenomenal stage actors in raleigh who said to me, ‘mary  kathryn, if you want to live in new york and have that experience, then of course do that. but if you want to act? then there are more opportunities in this area where you would actually get to be on stage.’ i could have gone back to new york but as it turns out, my short-lived experience had very little to do with actually performing on the great white way and everything to do with the stretch of my wingspan. learning to trust the lord more was the greater gift i was given through that experience.

and now i have the option of auditioning for local community theatre if i really want to get back into it. or take pottery classes, even if it means my pieces will {never} end up in a gallery. or play rec softball because i’ll never be jenny whats-her-name (also a believer).

my point is: are these kind of dreams valid? of course they are. but is it likely i’ll ever become known for any of these passions? probably not. and so, i do what i need to do to fulfill these things in me, even if it’s just on a small, local level.

on a deeper level -perhaps the deepest level- the kind of dreams and desires and passions we have been discussing require more than a quick fix to satisfy, don’t they? the things that make us almost cry for want of them…

the nagging in the soul that says we must write, even if no one reads. the aching in our hearts to sing…all the time. the tingle a surgeon’s healing hands must feel upon picking up his tools. the empowerment a carpentar can only get from handling his hammer.

or the anxious surge of energy i’ve only ever felt backstage before my first cue before every performance.

or the voice in the back of my head that says there’s a book in me to write.

meanwhile, we’re stuck in a concrete box with no windows. or behind a counter covered in fingerprints. or driving a rickety bus. or picking up other people’s trash. it doesn’t seem fair or right, does it? god, if you’ve given us the aching, burning desires, why wouldn’t you make it possible for us to do these things?

my ‘trade’ (or plain ol’ job experience) is administration, so i work in an office to pay my bills. as a creative, i travel part-time as a make-up artist fulfilling my need to create and blessing women who don’t know they’re beautiful. but my passion is communicating the love & grace of jesus that others would become free. at this time in my life, god has seen fit to align me with someone i can serve administratively while i also learn how to become a more effective speaker. i’m doing what i have to do -rather, all that i can do- in order to proactively pursue my calling while still doing the thing i have to do to be a responsible and contributing member of society.

friends, even paul was a tentmaker. he did what he had to do to get by and even viewed it as a ministry. (who among us can say -truly- we treat our job as a ministry? convicting, no?) performing his trade enabled him to do the thing that drove him, which was to preach the gospel. it sucks but, the truth is, times are tough for everyone right now. few of us are afforded the luxury of not having to work. {ugh, what i wouldn’t do to get paid to be me.} don’t you know that’s by design?

but please don’t be discouraged. and definitely don’t let that stop you.

woh. this has suddenly hit me like a TON OF BRICKS.

oh, the weight of this…

y’all. even jesus was a carpentar by trade. even JESUS had to perform a trade - as an entry point into people’s lives, as a means to live. and it was a ministry, too.

but the thing that drove him…

the thing in which he was most passionate…

was doing the WILL OF THE FATHER

for

us.

we have no excuses, do we?

if his passion carries him to the cross…then shouldn’t our passions also? didn’t he already die for those, too?

the passions & desires he placed in us that were his for us before they became our own?

the will of the father for…us?

if he was so willing to die for the thing he loved the most, shouldn’t we at least chase after that thing in us with no less motivation?

not because we have to.

because we get to.

{my granddad used to say, ‘we don’t have to do anything for the kingdom! we get to!’}

seriously, this is just. now. coming to me.

{please, please let the weight of this sit on you, too.}

is there anything in your life, any passion you’ve been given, worth dying for?

friends, we have no excuses.

do the thing you have to do in order to do the thing you have. to. do.

schedule certain hours every night to write. audition for community theatre. enroll in night classes at your local community college so you can qualify for grad school. if you’re called to speak or teach, contact your women’s pastor, or someone else you admire, and learn from her. read books on leadership or business management.

DO WHATEVER IT IS YOU HAVE TO DO IN ORDER TO DO THE THING YOU HAVE. TO. DO.

i have a feeling…you know, just sort of a hunch, if you will…that he will make it worth it.

as i was doing final edits to this post, you should know that ginny owens was singing ‘all i want to do’ on pandora.

you don’t know who she is? see for yourself.

no more excuses. it’s time.

 

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