Words and Grace

I didn’t know I would be at this place when I completed my literary quotes series, but I think God planned it that way. Through my choice of which quote to use and through my experiences God showed me that I would have words to say about this very important quote.

First, let me share this quote by Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. “Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. Now, I want to make it clear I’m not comparing myself to Wiesel. He survived the Holocaust, one of the worst atrocities in world history, and he had the courage to write about it, to put words on paper so that we would, hopefully, never repeat the experience again. Now, the jury is out on us repeating the experience of persecuting people for the color of their skin, for their gender, for their religious beliefs, or for where they were born. In fact, let me go ahead and say these are still things that happen today however much we might not want them to or however much we might think we’ve “grown”.

But, Wiesel’s words inspired me, and they preserved history. And preserved a piece of his soul, I would think. He couldn’t prevent what happened to him and his family, but he could write it down for future generations to remember. This is how I believe his words could attain the quality of deeds. They help us learn about the dark parts of a man’s soul.

A man’s soul has light parts too, and this is where I believe it’s important for us to look at how God wants us to see words. There are many examples in Scripture, but I just want to focus on two of them today. Proverbs 18:21 says this, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” I remember reading somewhere that the tongue is the smallest organ in the body, but one which has the potential to cause the most damage. I agree with that and understand why God chose to tell us to be careful with our tongues. The other example is similar but is in the New Testament. From Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This means we’re supposed to build each other up with our words not tear each other down. Are we successful at this? Sometimes, yes, but, more often than not, no. It is something that is a work in progress.

Now, I started off talking about the written word and then switched to the spoken word. The question I want to ask now is about the application of Scripture to the written word. Is it the same as the tongue? Do we need to watch what we write as well as what we speak? I believe so. I believe God wants us to watch all of our words–both spoken and written–with the extra caveat that written words are more likely to be remembered as I’ve already discussed.

Usually, in these posts, I’ve written about how the quote relates to my life, but I’ve waited until now to do it for this one. There’s a reason for that. Sometimes, I lock up on the words I speak. I have a hard time thinking of what I want to say during the moment, and those moments usually turn out to be disasters. I’m sure that’s happened to a lot of us. 🙂 What that means for me though is that I communicate better using the written word. When I have the time to think about what I want to say, it generally comes out better and is more understandable.

Words and grace–I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded at giving grace with my spoken words and my written words. I haven’t made the effort to understand where a person might be coming from who is uttering hurtful words to me, and I’ve let my spoken words leave my tongue and my written words appear on paper faster than they should. As I end this series on writing quotes, I want to apologize to anyone who I’ve ever offended with my words–either spoken or written and pledge to make a renewed effort to be the writer and speaker God wants me to be.

Praying God’s blessings on you all!

 

My Highest Aspirations

It’s the third week in my writing quote series, and I am particularly fond of the quote I’m using this week. It’s by Louisa May Alcott who authored one of my favorite books as a young person, Little Women. She wrote novels, short stories, and poems in the nineteenth century when times weren’t the best for women. She had aspirations though, and that is why I like this quote. “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

Aspirations–we all have them. From the highly unlikely to come true like winning the lottery to the mundane like having enough to spend at the grocery store and everything in-between, we all have aspirations. If we are Christians, we should also have the aspiration to be led by God in everything we say and do and to share the love of Jesus with everyone we know.

I don’t know a whole lot about Alcott except that she wrote some excellent books, but she had dreams like all of us do. Aspirations. She knew she might not reach all of them, but that didn’t prevent her from having them, and it didn’t prevent her from trying to reach them either.

Those are beliefs I’m trying to pull into myself as I’m living this new life of mine as an empty-nester trying to break into freelance writing. My biggest dream, my biggest aspiration is to have a published book. To have other people read my words and be encouraged by them, to be entertained by my stories. I believe this is a path God is taking me on.

But, I’ve realized this path is probably not going to look like what I think it needs to look like, and that’s where the quote comes in. I believe God gives us aspirations and hopes and dreams for our lives. He wants us to depend on Him totally as we walk towards the future with Him at our side. Sometimes our job will be to help others reach their aspirations while at other times, we will reach the aspirations He has called us to.  This is when we need to give Him the credit since we can’t reach those aspirations on our own. We don’t do this well though because we like to think we maintain control in our lives by proclaiming our independence from others. I struggle with this daily because I want to be the one who claims the credit. But, God wants the credit. He wants those who don’t know Him to see Him in us as we experience the joys and sorrows of this life which includes the successes and the failures of our aspirations.

So, that’s why I love the quote. It lets me see the aspirations God is giving me, but, at the same time, tells me how God wants them to look and not how I want them to look. If we are Christ’s disciple, should we expect anything else?

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

Language

I’ve decided on a different focus for this month, one that I hope will better help me understand this desire I have to put words together into sentences which flow into paragraphs which tell a story. I’ve used quotes about writing before and used paragraphs to explain what each one meant to me. This month I want to take a writing quote each week and dissect it down to its bones. Explain its meaning not only to me but what I think it could mean to all of us. And, so, this week I am talking about language, the thing that allows us to write, and the thing that allows us to talk.

Before I go any further, let me share the quote. It’s from Joyce Carol Oates, and it’s the one that inspired me to put this series together. “The use of language is all we have to pit against death and silence.” I look at this quote and wonder what I would do if I was suddenly silenced. If I could no longer speak, if I could no longer write, no longer communicate at all. Or even if I was limited in what I could speak or write. Those ‘amens’ I said yesterday morning at church, the words I sang, they would no longer be possible. How would I express myself to the people I love? How would I praise my Lord and Savior? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. And, if I couldn’t communicate, if we couldn’t communicate, there would only be silence as the quote says. Because communicating is so important to us as a species, I believe death would follow shortly thereafter as the quote also says.

There have even been books written about the limitations of language. The most recent of these was the novel Vox written by debut author Christina Dalcher in which women and girls are only allowed to speak 100 words a day. I haven’t read it so I’m not qualified to review it, but the concept is terrifying. How my faith could turn into something so restrictive is almost beyond words and something, I believe, God would not want to happen.

Because God created all of us with the ability to speak and the ability to write, and I don’t believe He meant for any restrictions to be put on it like the modern-day church has attempted to do. We are all; men and women, black and white; capable of using language for God’s glory. We are also capable of messing up in our use of language. Messing up through our sin and messing up because we’re not with Jesus yet.  But, that doesn’t mean we quit using language. It means that we need to make sure our language and our deeds match up so we can be the people Jesus wants us to be. It means apologizing when we mess up and doing our best not to repeat what we’ve done. It especially means respecting the gift of language God has given us and using it the way He wants us to. So, if I’ve ever not used God’s gift of language wisely, I want to apologize to those who read this blog and to those who know me in real life. The way we combine our language and our deeds can be the way God uses to bring someone to the Kingdom, and that, as Christians, should be our staunchest desire.

May we all recognize the beauty of language in our lives, and may we use it for His purpose.

God bless you all today!

Thoughts and Meanderings

I have a number of titles for this post swirling around in my head, but since I can’t zero in on one, I thought I’d start writing and see where the words took me. It’s Monday, the day after what we consider to be the Christian Sabbath, and I find myself still processing what was said yesterday and regaining the energy I expended from being around so many people. It’s almost like the Sabbath is happening for me today instead of yesterday. At least, that’s when calmness and quiet invade my soul, and I feel like I’m truly able to rest which is what the word sabbath actually means.

Why is that though? Why do I feel like I truly don’t rest on Sundays when that is the day we’re supposed to rest? By the way, before I start, let me say I’m in utter admiration of all the people who work in our churches on Sundays. Those who preach sermons, those who take care of our children, even all who volunteer to make our times of worshipping our Lord and Savior the best they can be. I hope and pray that these people find times of rest and relaxation through what they do on Sundays or at other times during the week.

But this post is about why I, at times, feel like the Sabbath Day is not a day of rest for me. First, it’s the whole matter of getting up, going to church, and seeing other people. It takes a lot of energy for me to “perform” and “pretend”. We’re not ourselves when we’re at church much as we might want to be. Think about it and be honest. Do you tuck away your burdens and your heartaches when you go to church? Most of us do because of fears of judgment and rejection. Even when there is a time for taking prayer requests, people will usually only mention people who are sick or in the hospital about to have surgery. It can be exhausting to navigate through all of it.

So, that’s one reason I feel like Sunday is not a day of Sabbath rest for me. Another is the length of time it takes for me to process what was said–during Sunday School and during worship time. Every speaker usually has something worthwhile to say, but I need to listen carefully and internalize it before it becomes a part of me which can take awhile. Even, this afternoon, more than twenty-four hours later, I’m still processing what Jesus said in Luke 11:13 about how our Father wants to give us even more than we give our own children–an apt illustration of how God is our Father.

Finally, Sunday has the potential of not being a true Sabbath for me because of my confusion over my faith and the conversations I have with Jesus in my head and what “living in community” really means. It’s a challenge. Everyone is more comfortable in their own friend group and is not willing to reach out to the people who are different. I try, and then I watch, and it seems like nothing has changed. The church looks just like the world, and it’s discouraging. And, when I’m discouraged, I get tired. It’s a vicious cycle.

I don’t have any solutions to this yet. I’m sure I’ll be working through it until the day I die. But, I do feel more rested today, and I have more of an understanding. Maybe I can use the Sabbath rest I get today to try again next Sunday. Thanks for listening to my thoughts and meanderings. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

God bless you all!

 

 

Holding Space for Grief

I’ve been reading the book Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, and it has validated a lot of my own ideas about my faith and how I view Jesus, the one I call my Lord and Savior. I was inspired to start it (pun not intended) when I heard of her unexpected death last month at the age of 37. I haven’t finished it yet, but I wanted to speak to one of the topics today as I have a lot of experience with it.

So, holding space for grief. Over the past few years, I’ve learned about lament and about how many of the Psalms in Scripture are psalms of lament. In them, God is cursed, wrestled with, complained to, and doubted. It was almost a relief for me to see the words in black and white and see that they matched the thoughts that were in my head. Evans provided a few examples I want to mention.

From Psalm 139:19-22:

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Or from Psalm 109:9-12:

“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.”

Not quite the words people usually share from Scripture. Right?

But, I find I must quote them if only to bring to light a major problem in the American church and some hypocrisy in my own life. There is a lack of lament in the American church. There is no “holding space” for those in grief. The nearest we come to it is individual counseling with church staff members or with trusted friends. We all suffer from the heaviest of burdens, but we refuse to lament with each other. We just pretend that everything is okay. Evans had this to say which says it better than I could. “That American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, will infect and sap of substance any faith community that has lost its capacity for “holding space” for those in grief.” (pg. 110, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans) No one is willing to sit with people in their pain without judging or offering solutions. They don’t want to share their pain either because they are afraid of being judged. This is a conundrum I’m not sure how to navigate, but I see it as a problem we, in the church, need to talk about. The comment I quoted also reflects how we choose our leaders. Because there is a veneer over their appearance in which none of their burdens are seen, we choose them thinking they are effective leaders. But then, we don’t allow them to lament or lament to them, and the cycle starts all over again

These words have resulted in another conundrum in my own life, one which I’m not proud of. There are many times I don’t feel seen in my faith community or in my life. There was even one time I was told to “go away” by someone in my faith community. As you can imagine, that comment made me feel like garbage. But, it brought me to a conclusion. I want to be important, to be an influence too. I want to be noticed and to have friends. Isn’t that what being a faith community is all about? Isn’t that the definition of community? I believe we should recognize ALL of those in our faith communities whether they are leaders or not.  But, it also made me ashamed. It made me think my wanting to be an influence was not coming from the purest of motives, that I was letting Satan influence me.

But, Jesus clarified my thoughts and reminded me of something. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to be an influence for Him. He reminded me I probably wouldn’t have done the reading I’ve done if I’d been more of a “person of influence” or “leader” in my faith community. My heart wouldn’t have been open to the changes it has undergone, and I wouldn’t have been willing to explore the concept of lament or to challenge the status quo either. He wanted me to be open to His voice.

Let me leave you with another quote by Evans to consider. “Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don’t resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don’t we?” (pg. 111, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans)

God bless you all today!

The Tension of Striving

I’ve been thinking about this lately. Striving, striving, and striving again with my writing. Getting rejected and being knocked down by said rejection. Thinking I had nothing to contribute because I was so different. Getting back up and trying again. Wondering if I was where God wanted me.

These are all things that have created this tension within me and, I’m pretty sure, within all of us who are creatives. This brings me to a question. How can I create from a settled place? Does there always have to be tension, or can I actually feel settled as I create? This place would say I’m going to keep trying no matter what, but it would also say the writing, just the writing, is what matters in the grand scheme of things. Not the achievements that could come, not the goals that could be reached, just the writing.

For me, I have figured out I need three things to feel settled as I write so I can strive from the best place. The first of these is my writing life itself. Octavia E. Butler had this to say about writing. “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking its good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. So, persistence is important in staying settled. I also like this quote by Anne Frank. “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” Writing also helps my courage. That’s another reason to keep doing it. Finally, one of my favorite quotes by Virginia Woolf leads into my second thing. “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” This is truth for me, so much truth.

This also leads to the second thing I need to be settled with in order to write from my best place. My life. That’s it, plain and simple. I might not ever have any family or friends that read my writing or encourage me with it. I might always be considered too strange to contribute to anything or anyone else. There might not be people who want to be my friends because they don’t like who I am and wish I would be different. But, I can’t be different. I can only be the way God made me, and that needs to be enough.  Enough for the settling and enough for the striving.

Finally, I need to be settled with my faith in order to be at the place where I can strive with my writing. I’ve spent a long time denying who I am–not in the blogosphere, but in the real world. I want to be accepted in my community (Who doesn’t?) so I pretend to like things I really don’t and don’t talk about things I do like. It’s a conundrum. We try to fit in when we’re not made to fit in. We’re made to stand apart and reflect the love of our God who made us. As it says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus died on the cross for all of us, and for me, when I’m settled in this truth, I can strive and I can write with my truest self.

Praying for all of us to have success in the tension of striving!

Overcoming

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about being at a stalemate (http://thrivingingrace.com/stalemate/) and not thinking I had the talent or will to move forward. It seemed to me that the approach I had taken with my writing was too general, and no one would ever read what I had written, not strangers and not even people I knew. It was a frustrating place to be in since writing was the only place I felt like I could clearly communicate. My spoken words were not easily understood, and I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. I wasn’t sure where to go from this hard place.

For several reasons, I still feel like I don’t fit into real-world groups or situations, but I figured out I had been more specific with my writing than I had thought. I’m still asking myself how I got to this point, how my confidence was renewed. It was simple really, and something I would heartily recommend to anyone who has the funds for it. I went through what turned out to be a life/ writing coaching session. Let me outline how it came about. One day, I was scrolling through Facebook, and I saw a post in one of my writing groups. It was from someone who was doing research on creativity. She was asking that people complete a questionnaire and participate in a phone call with her. It sounded pretty simple so I decided to give it a whirl. I completed the questionnaire and then emailed her to set up a time to talk. It took us a bit to find a good time but then we decided to do our call this past Saturday.

I got up Saturday morning excited, but a little nervous. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. She put me at ease immediately. We were both moms. In fact, one of her children was the same age as one of mine. We talked about the different parts of the world we lived in–She lives in Spain, and I live in the southeastern United States. Finally, we started talking about writing. I shared my desire to help people with my words. I shared how writing had helped me with some dark moments from my past. And I shared how I had developed my writing routine over the past few years and especially over this past year as my younger son started his post-high school career. She had me do an imagination exercise of where I would like to be in three years. The conversation was fun. We laughed, and I felt like we made a real connection.

Then, she asked the question that brought me out of my stalemate. She asked why my answers to the questionnaire had been so different from the conversation we had been having. I had to think for a second. I explained about the stalemate I had been in and how I was feeling lost about my prospects of going any further with my writing. Then, a word came to mind. It reminded me of the words about having a theme I had read from author K. M. Weiland. I knew what the theme to all my writing was now. Everything I had written so far had been about overcoming. I write about other people overcoming things I wish I could overcome. I write about gaining and losing courage and then gaining it again. I write about my faith and my writing and the challenges I face as an introvert. I write about my God who overcomes and my Jesus who overcame His death on the cross to become my Lord and Savior.

So, my writing is more specific than I thought. It has a theme and a purpose, and I can see a way forward now. I am so grateful for this conversation with someone who gets me as a writer and as a person of faith. She also reminded me Jesus shared stories during his ministry. I had always wondered how life coaching worked and now, I know. My wish for all of you who are creatives is to have that friend, that person in your life who can have that conversation with you.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Permission to Feel

I dreaded the days leading up to this Mother’s Day. It’s always been a hard day for me because of my relationship with my own mother, but I made it more difficult last year by thinking my permission to feel my own feelings had been yanked from me. It was not really yanked; it was just how I felt.

God gave us feelings when He made us. Feelings that we, in the church, have classified as good feelings and bad feelings. When we come together to worship, it’s okay to have the good feelings. The bad feelings, not so much. Or maybe I should say that people are uncomfortable with bad feelings. I know I have been in the past.

But, as I’ve gotten older and experienced more of life, I’ve realized some things about myself. First of all, I feel deeply perhaps more deeply than other people, and it’s gotten me into trouble more times than I can count over the years. Second, I suffer from a mental illness that makes these deep feelings even more prominent. It tells me that my feelings are wrong even when they’re not, and I have to jump through hoops to figure out how to reconcile my feelings with my faith. Finally, I battle with realizing my worth to my Lord and Savior and to the people around me. I have a hard time knowing what feelings are true and what feelings are not as I seek to live my life as His disciple.

So, this past year has been a tough one for me as I’ve sought to figure out how I was supposed to feel in the different situations that came up in my life and what would be God-honoring as I negotiated my way through it all. When things went well and when I had what I considered to be good feelings, I didn’t struggle, and those were the good times. But, as we all know, the good times never last and are always interspersed with bad feelings. Those were tough times for me especially when I felt I didn’t have God’s permission to have the feelings I had. I felt alone and ashamed and felt like I had nothing to offer to God, to others, or to myself.

During those times though, I was also studying, praying, writing, and talking through my feelings. It was like a yo-yo. Sometimes, I felt God’s presence through all I was doing, and the times would be good. And then, there were the other times when there was silence. I felt like I never knew what was okay and what wasn’t since I couldn’t sense God’s presence and felt like I had to model what I was seeing in other Christians.

I know that was a mistake now which brings my story of this past year up to yesterday morning. I’ve studied and written about Scriptures where the writers were honest with God about their feelings. Scriptures such as Job 3:25-26. “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Or Psalm 109:6-9. “Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him be found guilty and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership, May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” For some reason though, I had it in my mind that those “bad feelings” were only okay for writers of Scripture and not for me.

But, yesterday…yesterday, it came together for me in a way it hasn’t before. From verses used in Sunday School to verses used during the sermon to a phrase used that has become the title to today’s post, God showed me I had done something to myself He had not ordained. It’s okay to feel whatever I need to feel whether it’s a good feeling or a bad feeling. I had His permission. There was even a present for me, a deep thinker, in the verses used, Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Yay! A deep thinker in Scripture. Someone like me. It was a moment I will always treasure.

God made me just the way I am for a reason, and I’m gonna live into it as much as I possibly can. I won’t be ashamed of my feelings anymore. Thank you, Jesus, for helping me forgive myself and for giving me permission to feel. May we all feel that from you today!

God bless you all!

What I’ve Learned from Lent and Easter

Lent and Easter are both over, and we’re at the beginning of a normal week. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over the past forty days. It might not be what the church expected me to learn, but I know I have heard words from Jesus.

It’s because I have a burden. A burden for the person who comes to church alone for whatever reason. In our churches, we have a default setting. A setting where every adult is part of a married couple. And if people are different from that setting, there is pressure to conform. It’s not done purposefully, I know. But it’s done often enough that people who are alone can often feel like they’re the third wheel. It can happen with the college student who doesn’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it can happen with the person who is widowed or divorced. It can happen with the person whose spouse doesn’t come to church or with the person whose spouse serves somewhere else. I think the last one is the hardest. You know your spouse is doing what Jesus has called them to do, but it is hard to see everyone sitting in couples. I won’t deny it.

People are generally oblivious as well. They ask if you’re going to celebrate a holiday with family not thinking there might not be any family to celebrate with. In fact, there is only one person I’ve ever known who has the gift of including a single person in their family gathering without making them feel weird. My college mom. From the first time I met her and her family, I knew I was always welcome. I remember fondly all the Sundays and holidays I spent at their homes when I was in college and across the country from my own family. They truly showed Jesus’ love to me.

But I digress. I was talking about Lent and Easter. Over the past forty days, I’ve spent a lot of time alone with Jesus–in prayer as I’ve worked through my Lent book. He’s brought me to the end of myself as I’ve asked questions that have been on my mind and heart. Especially this question. Why is the “church as a community” always talked about when all anyone ever wants to do is spend time with their own families, their own tribes. It’s frustrating to see things like “community” be given lip service when there are so many people in this world who are alone and hurting, people who are different from us, people we might not typically see.

Jesus reminded me that He saw them, and He still sees them today. He told me He sees all who are alone, even me when I don’t fit into church culture. It’s funny to talk like that when we’re told all the time not to try to fit into the world, but we also ask people to fit into a mold at church instead of loving and appreciating their differences. We’re all imperfect so loving other people is going to be done imperfectly until we go to be with Him. I know I’m imperfect, and I bet you all know you’re imperfect too. It’s overwhelming to think of all the mistakes I make as I try to be Jesus’ disciple in this world and make a difference, but not ever feeling accepted anywhere because I am so different.

But, maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m not supposed to be accepted anywhere, not even at church. Maybe I’m supposed to love without any expectation of being loved back except, of course, by Jesus. And then, my eyes were opened, to all of the times Jesus was there for me yesterday even when I felt like I had failed. He was there when two children asked for me to play with them. He was there as I counseled my own son who had been feeling like a third wheel in the middle of “couple-land.” I was able to give him good counsel because of all the times I have felt like a third wheel even though I am part of a couple. Jesus was even there when I got in line behind a family taking communion together. Boy, that hurt, and I cried.  I won’t gloss over it. There’s nothing like feeling alone in the middle of a group of people. But, of course, I couldn’t admit it to said group of people. I was able to admit it to Jesus later on though, and that’s when He reminded me He was there, even through the tears.

So, that’s what I learned during this Lent and Easter season. I learned that Jesus is always there for me even when other people are clueless or selfish. I learned that “community love” will always be broken and imperfect at least until we are with Jesus. And I learned that Jesus wants me to pay attention to the burdens He puts on my heart even when I’ve been told no by a “church person.” Because God always provides a way even when it seems impossible.

Father God, help me to put into practice the things I have learned. Help us all to pay attention to who we meet so we can share your love. Help us not to be clueless and selfish and help us to reflect your love in a world that desperately needs it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

God bless you all!

Holy Curses

Another week has passed so it’s time for another post in my Lenten series from the book 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. I wasn’t sure I’d do the post at first. In fact, I had to read the entry several times to understand what the author was talking about. I’m still not sure I completely understand, but I had to put my wrestling into words, to write down the questions I’ve been considering about my faith.

So, the phrase this week is “holy curses.” The author connects this phrase with the  Scripture where Jesus curses the fig tree for not having any fruit on it and says for it never to have fruit again. Then, He and the disciples walk by it again later, and Peter remembers what Jesus had said. The fig tree had withered because Jesus had cursed it. The author calls it Jesus’ only “destructive miracle.”

But, wait a minute. I thought cursing was a bad thing. And sure enough, the four other times in Scripture where this Greek word was used talk about how we’re to love our enemies and not curse them, about the cursed who won’t be in heaven, and about the taming of the tongue which can be used to curse others. I especially liked the reference from James 3:9-10 because I’ve been in a class studying this book of the Bible. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

By this example, I’m pretty sure God is telling us not to curse. He wants us to live together in community with His love at the center of our hearts and beings. So, what does the example of the withered fig tree mean? The author uses two verses from John 15 which talk about bearing fruit. Verses 5-6 say, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me  you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

I quote these verses and say all this to come closer to what I think the author means and to come closer to the questions I’ve been asking myself. As part of our faith, Jesus wants us to bear fruit. The things we do for our faith are not necessary to come to faith. They are what is supposed to come afterwards. I agree with and understand all of that.

I guess my question is what exactly is that supposed to look like. Does that mean we take every class or go to every activity that the church offers? Do we bear fruit in our families, in our jobs, and with our friends? Do we take the risk of letting the guards on our hearts down so we can wrestle with the things Jesus taught us? Do we deny self in our pursuit to bear fruit? I believe the answers to these questions come in pieces and are all related to the denial of self. One person’s fruit is not the same as another’s. So many people I know are doing so many different things for God, it’s almost impossible to count them all. Among my friends, I know someone who is living a life dedicated to her family and to the children in her classroom. She doesn’t make it to church all of the time, but I know she would be there for me if I ever needed her. I have another friend who runs a ministry to the least of these. Some of the people she ministers to are not welcome in churches, but I believe she is bearing the fruit Jesus wants to see. And, finally, I have a friend who has opened her home to me more times than I can count. When I was in college, she let my car stay parked at her home for more than six months while I was recovering from mononucleosis on the other side of the country. I believe all of these examples are examples of the fruit Jesus wants to see in our lives.

And that makes me wonder. Do I bear the fruit Jesus wants to see? If I were to be honest, there would be many times I would have to say no. Times when I’ve used my tongue unwisely. Times when I haven’t loved like I should. Times when I’ve not denied self. Times when I’ve been hypocritical. I look at these words and feel deeply inadequate to this task Jesus has called me to of sharing His love. Have I borne the fruit Jesus wants me to bear? Have I shown His Name is the only Name that matters? I won’t know the answers to these questions until I am with my Lord and Savior, but I hope that by considering them now, I would consider my words and behavior each and every time I consider the question what would Jesus do. And I hope, that by writing these questions down, you would consider them too.

God bless you all!