What If I let Jesus Give Me A Pedicure?

For a good portion of my married life, we were blessed with an annual vacation on the company dime. We stayed at high-end resorts where the drinks always had enough fruit for a salad, the pool floats cost more to rent than I spent on groceries each week and women wore a different swimsuit each day. We were way out of our league, we skipped the meals that weren’t included in the event, we hovered on the edges of parties with cash bars. Struggling to buy a dress for the big banquet evening, I certainly didn’t do any prep to get my winter body resort ready. Even as the years of financial struggle eased into ones where we didn’t hide our old luggage, I never felt comfortable with the sudden thrust into baring my arms, my legs and for the love of God, not my feet.

To my better manicured friends, this is not a judgement but a confession. I have had maybe 3 pedicures in my 56 years. I wish I could assure you all that I have attended to those calluses, have painted a pretty pink enamel on my toes, that I have sloughed and buffed my feet on my own, saving money but still taking care of business.  The truth is that I just don’t. I am rough on my feet. I go barefoot around my yard all summer. I walk on gravel and in the mud, I mostly pretend no one can see my beat up feet, that they aren’t a reflection of my self-care, that they are merely tools that get me from the front porch to the back. They often hurt, I always sit with them raised, I take medication to ensure I can put weight on them, still I spend no time caring for them cosmetically.

Having read about Jesus washing the disciples feet more times than I can count, having listened to sermons that described the humility of Christ, I never considered just how vulnerable those folks felt as Jesus grabbed the pitcher of water and a towel and began to  scrub. One year when money was a bit more accessible, I went for a pedicure before the conference, engaging in much self-talk to prepare myself for the experience. I remedied myself that I wouldn’t know the person doing the washing and trimming, that I would likely never see them again so their judgement wouldn’t really matter. Even if they shared stories at the end of their shifts about the worst feet they ever saw, the people bent over the basins couldn’t really impact me. We wouldn’t be lunching together later, we didn’t go to the same church, they wouldn’t be at my grandson’s school events. There was comfort in distancing myself from the person who provided the service.

The vulnerability I felt as my feet soaked was excruciating. I was sure they were judging me, that all the words flying around in a language I didn’t know were mocking me and my battle weary toes. They scrubbed with a vengeance, they clucked and tut-tutted at my cuticles. We both knew that the paint they applied couldn’t hide the state of my feet and I really should stick to tennis shoes and skip the scrappy sandals. No, I don’t go for pedicures, I have given up on a luxury that is outside my socio-economic status and my courage. My feet are a mess and probably a great indicator of my soul. But I can’t get it out of my head that Jesus washed the feet of those gathered around him, those men who had been walking with him on the journey to the cross.  Surely those feet too were calloused and dusty and in need of a good pair of clippers. Can you imagine the smell? I wonder if Jesus regretted his decision after the first whiff. Last night when my Plum slayed his legs across my lap, I recalled the funk of adolescent boy and realized that no amount of love for him would keep my arms from scooting those toes further from my face.

I get the point of Jesus’s actions. What I hadn’t considered is just how vulnerable the disciples felt. The first guy surely protested, the second and third may have been filled with anxiety, regretting  that they hadn’t done a prewash. As Jesus moved down the line, the urge to sneak away and find a pumice stone surely heightened. I imagine they ached show Jesus their best selves, to prove that they weren’t uncouth and unclean. What information about the disciples was Jesus gaining from the state of their heels? The last pedicure I had, a surprise bonus at the resort with several other wives, was the second one that week. I entered into the spa with a sense of peace, why I had visited the local salon at home only days before! Surely the technician would marvel at my smooth skin and coo at the pretty nails. Ah, this is the life, I thought, as I confidently sat in the chair and offered my feet as a pretend rich lady, sipping on cold wine in a real glass. All was good until she took one look and advised me that I needed to pay more attention to my feet. She explained a bit haughtily that my feet were a mess and I should get pedicures on a regular basis. Shamed, I gulped my wine and wondered if running out right then or sitting in my shame was worse. I was unworthy of the surroundings, I was marked as not belonging.

When Jesus bent over the feet of His disciples, it was without judgement, from the One who rightly could judge. It was with gentleness that he lifted each foot, it was with acceptance that He wiped away the dirt of the journey.  We know His love for us extends even to our most shameful places.  We hear often about the grace He offers even our rugged, battle-scarred souls. His willingness to serve us is preached and written about daily. The real question is whether we are brave enough to stay right there, looking into His eyes as He offers cool water and a warm towel.  I don’t know that I will ever enter another spa but today I am considering baring my feet, exposing my very foundation, risking condemnation, in the hope that Jesus will see through my pretenses and shame. What if I find adoration and an intimate invitation into vulnerability and honesty? What I let Jesus wash my feet and my heart today? What if I sit down and patiently accept my turn and stop worrying about being good enough?


Wandering Through Exodus

Friends, I have to come clean about following the bible reading plan I have selected.  Some days the readings are powerful, they bring clarity and strike me in exactly the place I need. Other days, I want to skim. Do I really need to study the lineage? Is it critical that I read again all about the dimensions of the tabernacle? Cubits and the number of curtains, the specifics of the lampstand, the need for acacia wood? C’mon, we all know these passages are not really for us, let’s get to the “don’t worry” parts, I want the “follow me” nuggets. The readings assigned the last few days made my eyes water and my mind wander. With great sighs of martyrdom, I crossed off each reading when “completed” and hurriedly moved on to the new testament. Yet today, when I slowed down and really looked, sure there must be some point I was missing, some truth amidst all the repletion of how to build that tabernacle, it hit me. I stopped groaning so loudly that I was able to hear God speaking to me.

I can admit that I have always wondered about a God who wanted an ornate space in which to dwell, a fancy site to come down from on high to chat with Moses.  Wouldn’t those gold earrings be better given to the poor? A bit showy and wasteful, hard to reconcile with the teachings of Jesus, in my mind. (Yes, I am that person questioning the expensive oil poured out to wash feet.) Then today it hit. God asked the people to offer all the materials to make the tabernacle. The items needed to build it already were in the possession of the people, they merely needed to offer them up to God, share them for the good of all the people. I am sure you already got this, you might be filled with the desire to say, “Duh, Lisa” and I am good with that. I encourage you to say so when next we meet.

Exodus 35.21 says: “Then everyone came whose heart was stirred and everyone whose spirit was willing and they brought the Lord’s offering for the work of the tabernacle” Verse 29 says: “The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to the Lord”   This text is in line with the new testament section I am reading, Matthew 6.19, remember that part about storing up our treasures?  God didn’t want a fancy dwelling for His sake, but for ours, that it might be built with our sacrifice. Lightbulb moment! God knew what each person was storing up, the bits of treasure they hide form their fellow travelers. I get it, they were wandering around in the desert, they relied on the manna and quail that appeared, those gold earrings and fine tapestries were 401(k)s for former slaves. They gave up stability even if it was cruel in order to journey into daily reminders of just how little control they had, how small they were and how big God is.

We too are asked to give our most prized possessions to build His kingdom, we are invited to offer up the treasure we amass, whether it is is our gold earrings or our pride, our money or our artistic gifts, we must give those to the One who gave them to us in the first place. God is in the details of our wealth, our security, our big tv and our artfully arranged book shelves. God wants us to offer up every last bit of what we have in order to build His kingdom. Those gifts are not to make Him bigger, but to make us smaller, to make room for more of Him in us. The people gave according to their abundance and it was more than enough to build the tabernacle. More than enough.  God said share your wealth and I will reside among you. I am embarrassed to say that in countless readings of the later chapters in Exodus, I didn’t get it until now.

Lent has begun, the season of sacrifice. We are asked to wander with Jesus and discover that less is more, that clearing out the clutter of too much chocolate or Netflix or pride creates more room for God. I am searching my soul for those bits I have stored up, for anger and hurts I wear like fine jewelry, for the self-doubt that I allowed others to nurture into robes of splendor. I am doing some soul searching and finding out-dated ideas and too-small dreams that I have held on to in order to justify timid steps into becoming a kingdom builder. I have also found too many bags of chocolate chips hidden in the pantry, but I digress. Or maybe not. Because God is into the details, is in the details.  Skimming over the boring parts of a reading plan or of my day means I just might miss the message. Also, the book of numbers is next… Lord help me.

Re-reading an Old Book, Becoming a New One

It occurred to me that January was the perfect time to begin not an exercise program or a new diet or a resolution to get my home organized again, but to read through the bible again. Last year I joined a reading challenge, something that wasn’t a stretch for me but more a plan to keep track of what I read and I easily met the goal of 52 books. The new year offers many opportunities to set goals to better ourselves but it had been several years since I made the commitment to read the bible each day, something that is probably a given for my fellow Christians. Somewhat sheepishly I will admit that scripture hasn’t been on my “must read” list for several years. I was content to listen each week in church, giving one hour out of 168 to absorb the Word of God and then going about my business. This year though, I have dedicated the first 15 minutes of each day to this practice, following a reading plan I first used in 1996 that ensures I will have covered the bible by year’s end. What I am discovering won’t surprise anyone, least of all those who habitually begin their day with a devotional, who start each year reading the bible again.  The old stories are bringing fresh understanding of our world today, of the ways God wants me to move forward, and clarity to relationships and opportunities. That 15 minutes each day is shaping the other 23 hours and 45 minutes.

With all of my social work and psychology training, I know that children re-experience trauma as they develop, that each new developmental phase into adulthood has them adjusting and making sense of their own stories, to fit into higher levels of thinking and greater understanding of emotions. As a child of God, I need to re-experience the stories shared in the bible anew, my lens has changed, shaped by loss and my steps toward regaining hope. I can truthfully tell you that I figured I knew the books of Genesis and Exodus well enough that a bit of skimming wouldn’t hurt. Instead I have found richness in the lives of some folks that just didn’t seem remarkable in previous readings. The Psalms have always been a source of comfort but now I am underlining different sections, ones that didn’t speak to me directly in the past. The Gospel of Luke has me thinking more about the disciples than ever before. Yes, I am re-experiencing the stories of old friends and finding many new ones, but more than that I am thinking about what the next edition of the bible would say about my life and choices.

What if this is just the first edition, what if the second installment of the story of God’s people is being written even as we speak? Would my life be worthy of mention? Would my story be a cautionary tale or an example of what happens when grace is offered? Will readers 2000 years from now read of my mistakes and think snuggly that they would have of course recognized Jesus as He stood before them, unlike me who misses signs all the time? Will those reading the next edition question why I don’t get that God is speaking to me, that the bush is on fire, that the road is being paved and yet I move forward so fearfully? I whisper “here I am” rather than shout it out? I wonder if my story will be a highlight, an example of caring for the poor and the oppressed. Maybe it will be a tale of one who was given much and yet little return was seen for the Kingdom of God. I am beginning to think a diet plan would have been easier.

Friends, what would the next edition of the bible, the story we are writing with our lives this very day, say about your walk? Give yourself grace if it isn’t the story you want recorded and then start living into your redemption chapter. Maybe you have it all figured out and are pleased with the words on these new pages, yet I encourage you to go  even more boldly into sharing your riches. We each have a story that is being written with every choice we make, will you join me in making today the one worthy of the highlights?


When We Seek to Cover Our Tracks

Luke 22 The Message (MSG)

The Passover Meal

22 1-2 The Feast of Unleavened Bread, also called Passover, drew near. The high priests and religion scholars were looking for a way to do away with Jesus but, fearful of the people, they were also looking for a way to cover their tracks.

3-6 That’s when Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot. He was one of the Twelve. Leaving the others, he conferred with the high priests and the Temple guards about how he might betray Jesus to them. They couldn’t believe their good luck and agreed to pay him well. He gave them his word and started looking for a way to betray Jesus, but out of sight of the crowd.


Friends, this has been a heavy week.  The news of the death of Kobe, followed by the realization that his young daughter was lost as well, then more clarification of other children and moms and another dad, the pilot, all tapped into my own grief at the loss of my son and threatened to send me spiraling back to bed, devoid of hope. Next came Holocaust Remembrance day and with it the awareness that 6 million people were lost to us forever, that families were devastated and destroyed and our world will forever be gutted. The weight of loss, the anger at those who chose not to speak up for the marginalized, where could I possibly find hope again? When death comes to those who have achieved greatness and those whose names aren’t know outside of their families alike, the capriciousness of it all leaves me with little reason to believe that one person can really impact the greater good. With our very democracy threatened, seriously, what is the point? Unable to make sense of my grief and despair, I wanted to lay down. Instead, I went to Temple.   As a Jesus follower, seeking out the voice of our local Rabbi may cause many to wonder if  I have lost my way or my mind. It is possible that I have it all wrong, that I should stick with my traditions and not stray from the path that has led me back into hope. Yet I heard the invitation from God to go worship with people who know loss also, who understand how to find hope in the darkest of days, who keep showing up to do the work God has put before them. I want to temple and rediscovered hope.

The scripture readings this week in the book of Luke illustrate again and again that we live in a fallen world, that our basic humanity causes us to put pride over humility, the times we seek our own comfort over the needs of others, how we let our weariness win over doing the next right thing. The chief priests and scribes wanted Jesus gone but didnt’want anyone to know they were pulling the strings behind the scenes. Under the cover of secrecy they conspired to do evil and lured in Judas, a character we often mock as a sellout who could be bought so easily, cheaply. We have people in power today who are also conspiring behind the scenes, who want to alter the course of our country, who want to divide families and cage children and lock up people of color and defund our schools and and and. It is just too much, that people with money and influence can control the rest of us. But the plan always requires a Judas, someone to carry out evil, someone on the inside, someone to take the blame, someone who can be persuaded against all they know to be true. I have to wonder if I am that person? Is the currency used to buy my soul dispair? Can I allow my heart to harden to the needs of those around me, allow it to be starved of hope, crushed by fear and desperation?  I want to be one of the 11 disciples, not Judas, but how tempting it is to close down, shut out, give up, retreat. Such actions are as cheaply purchased as the small bits of silver handed over to the one who would betray God.

I can’t promise to always make the choice to stand up to evil, yet for one more day I said no to hate and hopelessness and I went to temple. I heard a beautiful message about deep hope, a coming together to help carry the load that recognizes the trauma of today and offers support to deal with today.  Not based on some utopian idea that tomorrow will be better, that young people will not die from tragic accidents or from addictions, that people in power will vote for the greater good, that black mothers can let go of fear every time their children walk out the door.  A deeper hope, that we will come together today and do the next right thing, that we will speak up for those who have no voice, that we will refuse to be filled with hate and we won’t sell our brothers and sisters out for shiny pieces of glory or social status.

I want to temple and was reminded that our God gives us a new chance to embrace his children with every sunrise. Together we can restore our deep hope, we can agree to share our heartaches and our celebrations and show up even when we are too tired.  Today I am praying for you all, that you might find the strength to reject the evil being offered. Won’t you pray for me as well? Let us chose today as the one where we seek not to cover our tracks but instead to pave the way so all can travel smoothly.

Who Am I in the Story?

When I read scripture, when I read a blog post, when I listen to a friend vent, I now ask myself, “Who am I in the story?” My pastor taught me to listen deeper, to wonder more about what role I would take, to question whether I really would be the hero or am I the one questioning God or remaining silent when an ally is needed.  Are all the people around me being difficult or is it me? As in introspective person by nature, this practice has shifted my role into personal accountability and away from helplessness, dramatically increasing my understanding of our interconnectedness.

Musing this week on the story of Jesus and the disciples on the boat when the wind kicks up, a storm hits, and the frightened followers wake Jesus to share the bad news. Can you imagine the terror of the roaring wind, the waves crashing into the boat, the water covering their ankles? Yet Jesus is sleeping. While they worry and fret, while they shout out their fear, Jesus sleeps. Oh how I wish I could be the one in the story that calms everyone, reminds them they are in the company of God, encourages them to marvel at the sky filled with lightening. Of course if I were there on that boat, I could calmly trust that God is aware of the high sea and that His love for me provides all the safety I need.

The truth is I would be leading the disciples in worrying. I would be enlisting others to grab cups to scoop out the water. I would forget to pray until I had taken charge of securing all losses items, and closing all the windows. I would try to wake God up, giving Him my report on the situation and outlining the “10-point plan to fix this mess,” graciously sharing my vast knowledge. Oh if only just one time I could let go of trying to wake Jesus to the storms in my life. He asks the disciples who they think controls the wind and the water, why they can’t trust Him when He is right there with them. I am sure He grows weary asking me the same question. How many times must I witness Him commanding the water to storm crashing about me before I know it wants my intervention that did it, it was always His plan?

My worry list has grown much longer than my gratitude account and life feels stormy.  Today I am striving to be the disciple that reminds others that God has this. If God can silence the storm he can surely quiet mean people and protect addicts and restore relationships. He isn’t worried. He isn’t staying up all night, wringing his hands and admitting maybe this problem is just too big. He has yet to concede, saying, “I better call Lisa so we can get this situation back under control.”  His call is always to trust him not to lead him.  That is the person I want to be in the story.

Getting Home

Slowly sipping coffee, snuggled in my favorite chair, wrapped in a blanket in the early morning silence, I am welcoming this quiet day where the calendar app is mostly empty. An incredibly busy week has passed, one that included far more events and meetings and gatherings than I usually schedule in a month.  The whirlwind has given way to time for reflecting, for processing and cleaning up details (and my home), and for gratitude.  I know fully that this hectic time is a signal to all that I am back and inviting relationships with others rather than being consumed by my own grief. I celebrate the ministries that God has led me into even as my coffee cools and my thoughts return again and again to the possibility of a nap later today.  The challenge for me is always knowing just where I am meant to be, where I should go and to not dwell on those places that I am being kept out of. Given that I am directionally challenged, finding my way is often those most difficult part of my journey.

When my sweet friend invited me to see Little Women with her a couple of weeks ago, a friend-date to an actual theater in the evening, I knew this would stretch me.  I try to never drive after dark.  Yep, with a birthday coming this week I am admitting to having old eyes that cannot do night driving. I really wanted to go and Chef was working and I didn’t think to suggest we ride together, so when it was time to leave my home and make the 10 minute trek, I made a bad choice.  Rather than drive the route I do almost daily, I picked that time to switch it up.  I have searched my mind for the reasoning behind this and I come up empty.  What I know is that when I can’t see well I begin to rely on false cues.  I was almost late to the movie and caused my friend worry that I wasn’t meeting her.  That should have been enough for me to recognize my limitations.  When it was time to drive home, I thought I was making a wise decision to follow her, she lives 2 minutes from my house.  Satisfied with my brilliance, empowered by my problem-solving, I followed the car ahead of me as it skirted campus, navigated the round-abouts and led us in the direction of home, all the way up until it didn’t.  Friends, I was following the wrong car.  Even as it began to dawn on me that I was going the wrong way, I followed. I panicked, searched for a place to pullover to get back to what I have trusted before (mapquest is my most used app) and heard my husband’s voice in my head. Thoughts of the coming shame led to more wrong turns, I became more focused on my embarrassment than on actually getting home.  This road looks familiar, wait is there where we usually turn? Is it safe to pull over and recalibrate?

Friends, I made it home but the 10 minute drive lasted closer to 40.  It was harrowing.  And so very unnecessary.  I forgot to use the tools that have worked, I relied on my own understanding in the worst circumstances.  I created drama and frustration and it all could have ended badly.  Reading Luke 9.23-26 took on new meaning as I considered what it means to be lost and found.

Luke 9:23-27 The Message (MSG)

23-27 Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels. This isn’t, you realize, pie in the sky by and by. Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God.”

We have since laughed about the fact that I got lost 10 minutes from home but the truth is that I lose my car in the grocery parking lot, I often take the longest route to get somewhere.  I struggle to find my way so often exactly because I don’t keep my eyes on Jesus, I rely on my own understanding and impulsive ideas. “Anyone who intends to come to Me has to let Me lead.” Friends, I am convicted. I can fill up my schedule or stay hunkered down at home but I have to let Jesus lead me or I will forever get lost. Poor vision is a reminder that I cannot see without His light leading me. And I always need to ask for help, even 10 minutes from home.

I am praying today that we all rely on Him more than our own senses, that we remember we are not in the drivers seat, and that it is critical we stay on the path He lays out for us.  Following the wrong one will never get us home.

Choosing the Right Tree

We are all probably quite familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, maybe even too familiar.  Is it right the Eve gets all the blame? Should Adam have thrown her under the bus for his own choices? Why even have a tree that is off limits?  Doesn’t our humanity filled with curiosity, a trait we nurture in our children, mean we are destined to nibble where we are told not to? Yet today as I read the story anew, I wondered what tree I am eating from.

In the story, there are 2 trees, one that brings life and one that bears fruit not meant for me.  It struck me that those same trees are present every day in my life.  Do I reach out for the lush fruit that God has grown especially for me, fruits that come from following Him? Does the juice of His word run down my chin, spilling onto all that I touch? I am reminded of the fragrance of a sweet, sun-ripened peach in the summertime, a smell so alluring I can’t wait for that first bite.  Inhaling a peach, eating it so quickly I am covered in juice and lick my fingers so as to not miss a drop, I wonder why I don’t realize the greater joy of breathing in God’s Word? Maybe I am eating from the wrong tree.

Eve had all she needed, she had it all and wasn’t satisfied.  I think my name is Eve. I want what isn’t available to me right now, what has been called off limits in this moment.  Yet to many in the world, I have it all.  Certainly housing security, food in the pantry, more clothes than I can wear in a month, relationships I treasure, and opportunities to serve God.  Why am I unsatisfied, looking over at the tree that bears wealth and status to others? I grab fruit from trees that bear fear and judgement, that encourage incite division and blind me to those in need.  The juices from these fruits stain my hands, grow bitter on my tongue and multiply my resentment and pain.

My prayer today is that we all see the trees of hope and joy that God has offered to us, that we dine on His Word and offer these fruits to our loved ones and the stranger we meet.  When you catch me heading to the wrong tree, friends, please remind me of my love of a good peach and steer me back to the right garden.


Little Girl, Arise

Luke 8:49-56 New King James Version (NKJV)

49 While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying to him, “Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the [a]Teacher.”

50 But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.” 51 When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go [b]in except [c]Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl. 52 Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.” 53 And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.

54 But He [d]put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Little girl, arise.” 55 Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat. 56 And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.



I have stepped away from writing and publishing for almost a year, losing my voice and my focus as I have gone about the work of breathing. Grief is completely different in the second year, less visible, less pronounced. In fact the second year brought me out of the haze, the comfortable shock that dulled my senses and allowed me a cushion. The second year was evidence that I was surviving and most days I asked why. Searching for the point, for the joy, for anything other than the ever-present ache, I threw myself back into ministry. Scheduling daily meetings and events, saying yes to newly expanded roles at church, I plodded. Most days I looked like I was healed, like I was getting on with life. Yet what was happening inside felt more like a slow death, like a giving up of life, like I was sleep walking until the day I could be called home.

As we enter the third year of life without our son, I am waking. Having spent months evaluating relationships and the purpose of everything, including why we have this many mugs and really, why do we decorate for holidays, as well as what I am actually doing with each day that I inexplicably keep getting, I have discovered that the old has to go. Like new wine that must go into a new wineskin, I cannot keep what used to work. I am not that person anymore. But what am I now? Who am I now? Always the bigger question, why am I now? With all of this on a constant loop like background music, some days I hear it consciously as I consider the foolishness of the wreath on my front door or the oddity of owning an ice cream maker. Other days I notice an unsettledness, an awkward feeling like I am wearing someone’s clothes, realizing I don’t fit in them and they aren’t me. The very act of noticing signals to me that I am rousing, 

So it is that when reading Luke chapter 8 yesterday, I saw the young girl who was dead to all but Jesus. Remembering that girls had little value in that society (has anything changed?), I saw this young woman anew. By most of our culture’s standards, I too have little value. No income or social standing, I don’t bring much to the table. Yet Jesus heard that she wasn’t living, that she had been counted out and he wondered at why they would think such a thing. He knew she had more, she was more. He invited only those most trusted in to see her, he gathered loved ones to be at the ready for her revival. It was a small circle, an intimate one. Jesus could have brought her to life in front of the crowds, a display of his power. Yet he chose to speak truth to her, to call her back up, knowing when she roused and became whole again, her eyes should open first to see those she could trust with her new heart.

The gentleness of Jesus’s words, “Little girl, arise” have broken me, woken me. The endearing way he reminds her she is a child of God, and with one word, speaks power into her life, how can I keep sleep walking through my days? After she accepts his invitation, he tells those gathered to feed her. Wow. As someone who thrives on feeding others, who breathes in the power to nourish the souls of those at my table, I get it. If I am going to arise, I need to be fed straight away. Closing my circle, making sure that those who are with me in resurrection are trusted, listening for the gentle words of Jesus as he speaks to my soul, I believe I can wake up and begin to live again.

I am entering the third year of grief. I know I will never heal back into who I was the day before I forgot how to breathe. I have grieved the loss of that woman, the one who thought all the hardest days had already passed, that trusted the best days were ahead.  I know now that every day is hard and my fragile heart could be broken all over again at a moment’s notice. A new me is waking though, in the company of Jesus who said to me, “Little girl, arise.”  If you find yourself counted as dead or worthless, know that Jesus hasn’t given up hope. May you find yourself rising as well, into the life Jesus has for you. Let’s nourish each other, let’s provide sustenance for our steps back into living.  I’ll see you at the table. 

Can We Afford to Share Grace?

My friends and I often joke that we are grateful that social media didn’t exist during our teen years, that we are ever grateful no one had a camera at the ready during our college exploits. We laugh and nod and not so secretly know we are telling a deep truth. Whew, we got by with some stuff, didn’t we? We worry for those who are coming of age in a society that documents and publishes everything. Now that we are older, wiser, calmed down and less prone to public drunkenness, we breathe many sighs of relief. And still we speak judgement on those who are now getting their comeuppance, on those who have some power or notoriety and have their sins or folly or one poor judgement exposed for all the world to see. Where is the grace, when does that enter into the discussion, how do we decide to offer that life-changing gift to others? How does one cross the bridge from exposed sinner to forgiven saint?

Grace, redemption, restoration. These concepts often feel so far away, meant for others, out of my reach. Other times I glow with the knowledge that I am included in the forgiven club, that I truly get a fresh start. What is the difference between a forgiven day and a shaming one? Mostly I find that when I let outsiders define me, people who don’t know me and want to dig up salacious history or repeat gossip, who need to feel righteous…those are shaming days when the reminder that I am made new again in Jesus gets lost in the noise. Then begins the slow crawl back to grace, shutting out the whispers and innuendos, listening more intentionally to the nudge of the Holy Spirit that says I am more than my past, yesterday is over. Choosing to focus on the thread that pulls me closer to God is ever challenging but maybe more so in the greater culture of #metoo and the publicizing of old yearbook pictures and long forgotten emails. I am left with the question of who deserves forgiveness, who gets a second chance?

Accountability. I think it all rests in accountability. Confession of sins plays a critical role in the forgiveness equation, at least for me. What hides in darkness is scary, powerful, soul-crushing and only loses steam and the ability to hurt when it is brought into the Light. For many years, I hid, I avoided relationships and feared exposure of my past. Meeting each overture of friendship with dread, distrust, desperation, I stayed home, stayed quiet, stayed alone. Anyone who continued to push, asked for lunch dates or invited me into their club, ministry, children’s play group mom gatherings brought anxiety and a long discussion with Chef. Dare I risk connecting with her? What if she finds out? How long before they find out that I carry a monster label and they back away, judge, begin whispering? No, better to be safe and not invest in a friendship, not pour any effort into building a program or sharing my gifts only to have the inevitable phone call that says thank you but no, the email that says my help is no longer needed, the summons into the manger’s office telling me it is over. This is shame, this is the darkness. I built a castle, a fortress for one, that kept the outside away and while it was a new prison, I was at least in control of who crossed the moat.

Two significant events began to open my eyes to living into grace instead of shame. I can’t remember which came first, but together they offered me a hand across the bridge and both involved accountability and Light. A trusted neighbor who knew my story began to spread gossip and judgement about me to others on the street. Why he would do that is still many years later a question I cannot answer. Yet his behavior gave me the opportunity to face a shame, to question and confront an accuser. I faced him and stepped into the light. I felt my shame melt away, the weight of secrecy and worry lifted by using my own voice to say, “You know me, I am more than my past and a label and I have given you the story before I accepted your friendship.” I sought accountability for both of us, only one walked away with the Light that night, a glow that dims sometimes but has never been fully extinguished. I lost a friendship but gained myself.

A conversation with a trusted pastor, a man who spoke many truths to me, was the other awakening I needed, the encouragement to leave the safety of my prison. When I shared with him that a now highly trusted friend had invited me to lunch, began pursuing a friendship with me, and she had small children and I wanted to spare her the high cost of a relationship with me, that I had finally succumbed to her advances by sitting on the patio in the bright sunlight for a lunch I couldn’t eat and listed out for her all the reasons she shouldn’t be friends with me, he didn’t congratulate me on my honesty or thank me for keeping the reputation of others intact, he didn’t high five me for choosing to quarantine myself lest others catch the virus of my sinful reputation. No, he was appalled that I would begin every conversation that way, that I wouldn’t trust others to forgive and that I had such little faith in their genuine delight in getting to know me. What? WHAT?!! No, he said, stop it. Just stop it. Who else begins a relationship with a recounting of their past, he asked me. “Lisa, accept the grace that is being offered to you.” He guided me across the bridge into a relationship with the One who had already forgiven me, who wanted to rejoice in my redemption. Life changed after that talk with my pastor.

So what can these experiences teach me about the current climate of outing old emails and yearbook pictures and stupid teenage choices? My constant companion of old, anxiety of being exposed, tries to squash me to this day. I avoid the spotlight but hear the Holy Spirit reminding me there is no glory in rejecting the gifts I have been given. For the record, I am not saying that there are no consequences for wearing blackface or pretending to grab a woman’s breast. But can one event tell our entire story? Is that one photo a true indication of our character? No, I think that grace accepted for our own secrets requires us to offer it to others, to make space for apologies and seek out evidence of atonement as well. Owning my history and poor choices and devastating decisions, I am free to cross the bridge into grace. The price of that grace though is the demand that I look back not into my own past but to those who desire assistance to get to the crossing.

My advice to those who have covered their painful pasts, who fear the exposure that a Google search could bring, I say own it. No, don’t begin every conversation with your sin list but yes, say it happened and express the remorse that precedes grace. The truth is we have all done hurtful things, we all were young and dumb and self-centered. Many of us ruminate on choices made during school years, on the mistakes we made parenting or the ways we have taken our spouses for granted. Getting stuck in shame robs us though of the healing that comes with accountability and claiming our status as a child of God. Then live each day as if we have another chance to get it right, make each choice better than the last one, look to the vulnerable people and hear their pain and then do what we can to stop the cycle of shame.

I was heartbroken when another favorite actor was exposed as a sexual predator, when a politician I admired was found to have no respect for women, when a beloved celebrity appeared in disgusting pictures that we know today are offensive and perpetuate injustice. With each new headline, I wonder why, why didn’t this person get out in front of it and tell us all that they made choices yesterday that they have spent many todays atoning for? The new ministry at church that is healing my heart is bringing us into relationship with those in the community that have been incarcerated. As we strive to convince them that they are more than their last bad decision, they are greater than the Department of Corrections number that follows their name, that they are deserving of a second and third and fourth chance, I recognize that this is a hard sell when we are taking down others with our phones locked in video mode. We revel in righteousness every time a person of the opposing political party makes the news for a 40 year old decision. Instead, let us ask if this person would make the same choice today? Has this public figure or now-public figure behaved consistently to display a contrite heart?

I get lost in the space between seeking accountability for victims of injustice and offering grace to other sinners like me. I can’t find any easy path forward beyond continuing to cross the bridge into forgiveness and handing our grace like candy. We all want to be heard and validated in our pain, to believe our experiences are unique. The truth is that we all hurt others and are hurt. Some of us stop there, get stuck there and hoard forgiveness as if it is ours to dole out. Today I am grateful for a pastor who told me otherwise, for friends who have persisted in relationship with me, for a new 24 hours to get it right. You have your own new day, will you join me in seeking the best in others and allowing the worst to pass without our amplification? Join me as I cross again into grace, where the Light is warm and bright and available to all.

Forgiving Debts

As the time approached for Arrow to return home from prison, to begin his life again, we rearranged bedrooms, we got rid of all the alcohol we had massed, we installed a landline again for his ankle monitoring system. We discussed rules and boundaries and set a plan to get him back to independence. We filled our days with hopes and tasks and considered each step carefully, knowing full well that his success and our sanity depended on creating a safe place, one that included support as well as accountability. I am reminded of all the hours spent on the phone with him as the days grew closer to his freedom, each of us considering that while prison had been horrific, the real work lay ahead. Even with all the intentionality that process held, we made mistakes, we blew it and we all lost. I take comfort in knowing not that while we were not perfect, we didn’t prevent his relapse, we did give our best efforts, we did the best we could at the time. My regrets often feel like a debt I can never touch, a steady reminder of how I fell short.

Every day I see the scribbled card that hangs on the refrigerator, the one where we recorded his debt. Like a talisman, it has hung there for years now, showing not only the money we offered him that he insisted he would pay back, the money he hoped always to pay back as a show that he had become a responsible man and not a child getting an allowance, not a dependent kid. We paid to have a tooth implanted to replace the one lost in a prison fight, we paid to have his driver’s license reinstated, we paid for a gym membership. The truth is that I would have willingly gifted all of this to him but understood my need to rescue him could be the very thing that undermined his success. My boy went to prison, I struggled to see the man who had returned. He grew confident each time he offered up $20 and marked it on the card, understanding that the thousands we had spent while he was locked up were certainly forever out of his reach but he could stop the slide further. Of course not everything made the list, the cost of new clothes and shoes and a winter coat and meals out and the pantry stocked with food we wouldn’t normally purchase, these were considered the cost of parenting.

The card remains on the fridge, a reminder of debt that has been abandoned. Mostly I view it with great sadness, not that we won’t recoup the funds, (we spent equally on Stella but that is a very different blog post) but rather the reminder that we will never have a chance to see him to restoration, to redemption, not on this side of the heavens. No , I look at this list of money owed and know that maybe, just maybe, if he had stuck to the plan, we would be celebrating him rather than mourning him. Maybe if we had written everything down, he would have recognized how much we had to offer and he would have felt humility and respect rather than noting the loopholes and means to manipulate. But I think this card reminds me of more, brings sadness t my own shortcomings rather than just Arrow’s. More than what this card says about us and our failed attempts to keep him sober, I see that I also carry a list of debts and know that I will never pay them off.

Pastor Pat once told me and probably many others in the congregation, (was it a sermon, the words echoed so loudly with me that it is hard to remember he surely was speaking to us all) that God has my picture on his fridge. A simple deep message, that I am honored and cherished by my creator. He didn’t say that God has a list of my transgressions, not a quid pro quo of my blessings and what I need to do to get us even. My picture. I can never repay my debts, I daily even scoff at my blessings as I want more and different ones. I forget that God has already provided, that He sent His son to pay for it all. What if I chose to face daily not the list that outlines how my son fell short but the one that I carry with me, the tattered card full of scribbles that describe how I fell short? Would I notice the ways I did work on the debt, the ways I have held myself accountable and sought to be better or only the ways I didn’t? Indeed, it is a choice, to look at a life and see the losses or to celebrate the gains. Does God celebrate each time I offer up $20 to pay for the groceries of the person in front of me who is silently, embarrassedly putting items aside because the total is too high, the wallet is too empty? Does God rejoice when I notice the least of His, when I recognize another broken soul? Do these count as my offerings, accepted with the same sense of delight as I pocketed that $20 from Arrow? I think He does, I think I have missed the point of being indebted all this time.

My birthday is approaching, days away now. It has almost never been a happy day for me, not something I wanted to share. Vivid memories of childhood horrors when I experienced the conflicting messages that I was to be simultaneously feted and molested have created deep ruts where I find myself stuck, year after year. I hate surprise parties, recalling the year my father took me away from home while friends gathered, away to pick up my birthday cake and to a country road where he violated my body and my soul and then returned me to the party, shell shocked and unable to find sanctuary. No, my birthday has never been cause for celebration for me, one met with trepidation and hyper vigilance. Yet something strange happened this year, as January brought a relief from the intense grief of the holidays and I began to breathe. I felt God nudging me to accept the present of my birthday, to accept life and see that those who have celebrated with me through the years were not just showing up for cake. While my picture may not be on any of their fridges, I hold a place in the hearts of many and that is good. The danger has passed and I am being invited into life. Ever mindful that I not seem proud or boastful, I wondered, what if? What if I looked not at how I fall short but rather on the ways I thrive and survive and say that is enough, just for one day, that is worthy, I am worthy?

Before you wonder why you weren’t invited to my own celebration of me, know that my plan didn’t come to be. While I am not this year throwing a party for me, cooking food I want to share with you and opening the door of this closed off home to your laughter and your friendship, maybe one year soon. I am getting closer to acknowledging my debt to God and also the ways in which He rejoices at my birth. I am removing the card that lists my son’s debts and instead am remembering all the ways he lived. My gift to me this year is to intentionally begin living, growing into me. I hope you will forgive my debts and yours as well, that you will destroy the accounting of wrongs and embrace the fresh start we have been given. I think that counts as another payment to our creator who keeps cleaning up our messes and offering a fresh start.