Cleaning Out Soul Space

When I had nothing, my very survival depended on my relationship with Jesus. In prison, surrounded by strangers who neither cared about my brokenness or my sanity, separated from my babies in the most cruel of all punishments, I could only breathe and walk and put food into my body because I trusted God with my life and the lives of those I loved. It became simple, minimalistic, when all my possessions fit into a tiny foot locker and my material wealth consisted of Little Debbie snacks and Ramen noodles. Powerless in every aspect of my life, clothing, visits, schedules, I could only control whether to believe or not. I relied with the full force of my body and soul on Paul’s words to the Philippians,”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. Not just those words, though, I read the bible completely over and over, I underlined and made notes, I consumed it. God’s Word saved me, when I could not save me. I promised myself I would not let go of that dependence when freedom came again, when the gates opened. Twenty-five years later, I realize I have broken my promise.

These days and weeks and now years of estrangement from my daughter have become a new prison, gates invisible, guards non-existent but a prison no less. I am locked away from her again, the excruciating pain of old resurrected as I watch the clock and long for a visit. The intervening years of memories accrued are meaningless as she evaluates my worth and determines my sentence, will I ever be granted release? Yet, more than adding a home and furnishing and clothing and trips to schools and a prom and even around the world, I have added material goods and a self-reliance that separate me from my promise, from my utter dependence on He who gives my breath, gives me life, gives me hope and the grace of forgiveness that is so absent with my daughter. How could I have added so much and left what was crucial behind?

I sat on the steps in the jail pod after realizing I would have no visits with my children until transferred to the larger prison, a promise from my lawyer, the reality of my situation fully settling on my soul. I wanted to die, I begged to die, I would have died had the means been available. Instead I had to pray that my Creator take me. A desperate prayer to end unspeakable horror, a pain that I knew I could not bear, that would drive me to insanity. Jesus met me there on those steps and lifted me up, brought the “Footsteps” poem to me with a promise to carry me through what was ahead. A year later when my sentence modification was denied, another promise my lawyer had given but couldn’t keep, I gave up again. I laid on the prison bunk and refused to move for meals or activities, risking further punishments. I no longer cared. An angel in the guise of a correctional officer visited and spoke words I no longer remember but pulled me out of my depression and gave me the strength to keep going. I do remember she spoke gently of Jesus and light and a world outside of my current existence. She told me to get up and I did.

When my pain overwhelmed me, Jesus  brought relief. When I couldn’t breathe, wouldn’t breathe, Jesus brought me air. When I had nothing, Jesus was enough. Now, I have more. A husband, a home, pets, cars, fully stocked pantry and I no longer call on Jesus with desperation. Maybe I never did really but I made room for Him. Now I allow a corner, a smidge, a bit but rely too heavily on myself, on my own ability to affect change and the stir the universe to my liking. Having lost it all and found Jesus, must I really find myself there again to discover what is truly at the heart of my existence? Noticing my own prison gates again, I see that only God can bring me through this estrangement, only God can rebuild the bridges I want to erect today. Scripture floods my mind this morning as I find comfort in words of hope and past longing, as I remember that I have survived events I will never share and I will survive this as well.

I grow impatient, I teeter on bitterness, anger erupts. I am too fully me and not enough Jesus. Today I am opening the gates of my soul once again to the One who saved me, time and again, saved me for more than a life of hurt and struggle and time behind bars. Just as we celebrated my release with joy and thanksgiving long ago, one day we will again. Until then, I am cleaning out my soul space, removing extra furnishings of self-dependence and importance. Truly, today I remember He is the air I breathe. Freedom has come.

 

My Cats are Preaching the Gospel

Even as I reached for paper towel to pick up the carcass, I knew I should first take a picture. The need to document this death and share with others my horror was great yet the need to remove it all was greater. My phone stayed in my pocket, the crime scene clean up began. First I had to remove the very large robin, I didn’t realize they are so big but holding one up close, in my hands, I was alarmed at the size. The balcony off of my bedroom where I sneak away for a few moments of secluded time, the place my beasts cannot access and my Plum forgets often to look and Chef rarely goes, has one of those cat doors for our two felines who only come home in summer to eat and hide from a storm. And apparently to bring the trophy in from a battle.

I have read that cats bring their kills to owners as a present and also to alert them that the food is not as plentiful as the cat would wish. Knowing I keep food available at all times, I am assuming these dead things keep appearing as gifts to me, ghastly horrible tokens of my furry pet’s affections. As I mop up blood and pull feathers from the cracks of the wood flooring, it does no good to wish they didn’t love me this much or in this way. We are loved how we are loved. Even more than that, I know I have given such terrible gifts to those I love.  Never having delivered a dead rodent or bird or frog, still I know my love is not always translated well, the message I am sending is often not the one received. Many times, I have made a mess of things, leaving the feathers of hope and the blood of trust for someone else to clean up as I sauntered away, sure that love is secure, only to find later that they grabbed their own roll of paper towel and began removing my love from their lives. How can we learn to see the gift given and not the chore it entails? How can we see the joy in the offering and not respond with horror at the sacrifice at our feet? We are loved how we are loved.

The robin made it to the trash bins without the larger beasts intervening, the floor was scrubbed of all the evidence and no feathers could be found. Still, the image of the gift lasts. A bird died for me yesterday, gave up its life so that I might have joy and feel loved. I think I know another story like that. As gruesome as it sounds, I might just have little disciple cats who are teaching me the Gospel again and again, reminding me that there is One who already died for me and has forgiven me. The trick to saving all the birds around my yard may just be for me to deeply accept that message, to understand the full bounty of grace awaiting me. I may never be forgiven by everyone but I am forgiven by the One. I will never be loved by everyone but I am loved by the One. Accepting the hope that comes with each new day may just be life saving for the critters in my yard.

As disgruntled and disgusted as I am by the death and clean up of the bird, I know it was a gift meant for me. I wonder who else offers their best for me and I miss it, the package not quite to my liking. Plum used to pick the flowers I had planted to adorn our yard and in sweaty dirty toddler hands, offer them up to me as a token of his love. So proudly he lifted his gift of bent and broken stems, petals missing, death now imminent for the life I had created. I was in love. I saw beyond the gift into his heart. That one is easy but what about the cranky older man at church who offers a bit of advice on keeping a child quiet during a service? The woman who always washes the dishes after an event but rarely interacts with anyone? What of the congregant who talks too much, forgets to listen, the one you often begin to back away from as you see her approaching? The quiet child who doesn’t pick flowers or act up in church, but reads silently in the corner and begs to be invisible, what is this child offering to us? How do we find the gifts and the love being offered in the midst of the blood and ick and feathers and smelliness and complexity of receiving more than we want or ever asked for? That is where the love really is, in the mess. In the offering of our truest dirtiest selves, when we give what we have, whether it be our skill at capturing a bird or speaking truths or drying the plates.

Friends, I am on the look out for love today. I am on a mission to see the ugly terrible gifts that others are trying to give me, reminders that not everything comes wrapped in bows or shiny paper. Love is hard to see, true sacrifice looks like taking time to hear beyond the words, into the message. The fact is our Savior died, an excruciating horrible death and I am still learning to accept that gift. Like any new skill, it takes practice, repetition, conscious effort. Before I can fully accept His love and grace, I must first begin to accept that very same offering of those around me. I wonder if you have room in your heart today for the terrible gifts that I bring as well? Our loves and graces just might save  the world. Please God let me learn this before my disciple cats feel the need for another sermon.

July 4th Deals

Blessings Faith and Responsibility

Carrying the remains of the popcorn, two drinks, the blanket we rightly thought was necessary given air conditioning that is always a bit too high when wearing shorts, and holding my Plum’s hand as we crossed the street away from the movie theater and the matinee we watched during a rainy morning, I distractedly dug into my purse for the car keys. Years ago my daughter attached a lanyard so that wherever I reached within the dark confines of the big bags I prefer I would be sure to snag a bit of the keys. But this time, digging, searching, reaching, I was coming up empty. That sick feeling of knowing I had locked the keys in the car was just beginning as we reached it, I hadn’t even looked inside the windows where I usually (yes, I have done this often) find the keys on the seat mocking me. Instead, I found my keys waiting on the ground, right next to the car. In the parking lot of the movie theater. Where many people pass. My car with my laptop sitting on the front seat. Is there a more inviting scene for a thief? Yet two hours after I dropped them, my car and laptop and keys waited safely for our return. Plum stated quite matter of factly as he climbed into his car seat, “Well Gran, you worship God so He protects You.”

The excuses of stowing the blanket, arranging the drinks, securing the bucket of popcorn gave me time to consider my answer. The easy one is yes, yes aren’t we blessed. Maybe even a reminder that angels watch out for fools like me. Still I know that had I come back and the car had been gone through my own negligence, my God would not have failed to protect me. Is Plum too young to begin understanding that the God we are teaching him to trust and love doesn’t prevent bad things from happening? He believes in Santa Claus and we are awaiting the first visit from the Tooth Fairy even as we read about the magical exploits of another little boy and his friends. His pure and innocent and immediate trust, his FAITH, felt too sacred to destroy in that moment and yet gave me pause. How do we teach free will and personal responsibility that intersects with knowing a God from whom all good things come? My quick answer was yes we are blessed and gran wasn’t careful and also grandpa is going to kill me. All quite true but not enough. Something was calling me to dig deeper.

His friend arrived on my porch without him, announcing she was his slave and needed to retrieve something for him, take some toy back to the play site down the street. I wanted to race upstairs and grab one of my t-shirts from the Women’s March and throw it over her head, pull it onto her body before sending her on her way but instead just sent her back with the admonishment that she is no slave for any man. I may have frightened her with my ardor, she clearly preferred her master to the one who was freeing her. Later as they played together at our house, the slave play began again as my sweet kind wonderful little grandson ordered her to come here, go there, get this and she complied. Child’s play maybe but as damaging in my mind as if he were hitting her, as if she were calling him stupid or breaking his toys. I again said no slave play but I couldn’t figure out how to put it in terms that 6 and 7 year olds would care about, would understand.

What I am sure of is that we are entering the years where concepts matter, where teaching the “whys” is now our job. All of the easy stuff is done, he can walk and talk and cut his own food. More and more he is interacting with others who will help shape his future, the days of establishing his foundation are running out. Getting it right the first time because often the second time only comes up years later or so subtly with a tween or teenager that we miss the real opportunity. Right now things are still clear, the questions he asks are to me, the play still happens in front of me, he still listens for my answers and expects his friends to as well. This is the time for impact, even as I thought we were entering a freer time, I realize now our job went from physical demands to the truly tougher mental game.

During bath, when he is trapped and most receptive, I talked to him about boys and power and the almost first female president and the slaves in the bible. I reminded him of all the women in his life who love and nurture him and work twice as hard to have any real power. We talked about blessings and protection and our job to be blessings to others and how bad things happen because we aren’t careful, like when we get so distracted racing in to the movie on time that we drop our keys. Is God still God on a bad day? Is God still God to the slaves or only the free?

My charming little blue-eyed boy at first tried to hedge and say they took turns being slaves but then admitted he had never been anything but the master. He knows this little girl will do anything he asks and he is learning about his charisma. His father has that strong streak as well and hasn’t always used it for the Kingdom. I think I just thought he would, I don’t remember telling him outright how he could hurt women if he didn’t.  Our God of second chances who does send angels to guard car keys left on the pavement also gives us an opportunity to get it right sometimes. Plum and I are learning about faith and personal responsibility together. Only time will tell how right we get it, but God will still be God and with each sunrise we get another chance to get it right.

As he drifted off to sleep, he asked me why girls only have boy’s last names. Why can’t boys take girl’s names too. Yes, my sweet, I said, that is an excellent question. Let’s talk about that tomorrow. With that his breathing became regular and I knew I had laid another brick in his foundation. God is still God and sends the angels to protect and guide us as we take responsibility for our choices. I will be calling on those angels when  I have to admit to Chef that I almost allowed the car to be stolen.

 

Becoming a Tree

Leaves have emerged onto the branches of the giant old tree in my back yard, I must have slept while it happened. Barren all winter waiting for spring, then brilliant red buds lined the wood as it reached across my yard and into the sky. Every year I plan to watch for the moment those promises turn to leaves, to see evidence of hope long buried sprouting into shade for giggling children on the trampoline. I miss out each year, it happens without me. The tree doesn’t need a witness to change, it needs no applause or  pictures to capture the stunning developments. The tree does as God asks, through every season, without complaint, shedding losing growing deep in the soil where no one can see and reaching high into the heavens. The tree allows nails to pierce it’s trunk as planks are applied for little feet to climb, it allows tiny growth to be pulled and plucked by a little boy who grabs hold and explores. The tree is steady in purpose, providing comfort and shelter and the joy of seasons to all who venture near. I can hear God asking me to be this tree.

How does one truly accept all that has come before, all the seasons and the plucking and the piercing? Forgiveness. Ugly horrible painful deep real forgiving of the people who have hurt me because otherwise I remain like a weed, sprouting up each summer in danger of being trampled, being poisoned, carrying my own prickly edges of protection that hurt bare feet and hearts that come too close. Without forgiveness I cannot accept that I am where I am supposed to be, I am who I am supposed to be. What if just one life event were different? What if I were not a childhood sexual abuse survivor? Would my heart really seek out the quiet children others miss? Would I understand the acting out teen who is yearning to tell a secret and deathly afraid to do so? Would I join in the slut shaming movement instead of wondering how this young woman learned to use her body to gain love? Becoming like the tree is to gain that perspective on my life, to forgive all that has come before and embrace the very soil that feeds my roots.

I have abhorred my father for longer now than he was alive, longer than I was with him. My hate has always been justified in the horrific things he did and allowed others to do. But what if I were to see him as damaged also? What if I go back a generation further? He was a child once, he was 6 years old once just as my cherished Plum is now. He was worthy of love and hopes and dreams, did anyone tell him that? What broke in him that he emerged as a hurting adult? That inner little boy must have been devastated at how his life evolved, how he was hurting his own children. That image breaks me, I can relate to that sorrow. I found a connection to my father. I found a way in to forgiveness.  My tree is growing roots.

I have avoided any mention of my exhusband, a chapter of my life best forgotten. Yet my children came from that union, gifts that bear the sweetest fruit and the most painful thorns. Much hasn’t been resolved from that rushed marriage and the even speedier dissolution, so many points where events could have turned right instead of left with only a different choice from him. Still, I know where he came from, I know who he is. Thirty-five years is a long time to be disappointed in someone for not being more, not being stronger. The truth is, it was never about him, it was always about me. He wasn’t enough for me, I chose wrong. I can forgive him for not being the right person because it was the wrong union, like a tiger and a frog marrying, never a chance for success, someone was always going to be destroyed. All fallout from that marriage is ash or glitter, burning bridges or sparkling promises of the future. He still influences the children, yet I am grateful that he gave them to me in the first place. I can offer forgiveness to him for not being strong enough to help me, then or ever, it wasn’t really his calling. I forgive myself for seeking refuge in the union, I know what I was escaping from, I was only looking back, not where I was headed. I brought devastation to us all. My tree is growing stronger.

The events surrounding my journey into prison are so rife with spots of intervention, my God I wanted someone to rescue me. The double life was exhausting, I have never possessed the ability to hide my feelings well, how could everyone miss what was happening? Furthermore, how could I not trust ANYONE? Surrounded by professionals who could have saved me, healed me, believed me, I chose the path of secrets and pain and the ugliest spiral into darkness. I have no need to forgive those who missed my tear-stained face or my anxiety or my bloody panties in the trash can, I am long beyond holding anyone else accountable. It was all me. Can I forgive myself for not screaming? Can I forgive myself for not going to the next person and the next until someone heard me? Deeper still, can I forgive him? He was once a child, like my father, that someone wanted more for. The sickness with which I sought out abusers so I could be the perfect victim is appalling, fuels my marching and protesting and shouted chants. I have to be heard now, I won’t be silent. Is this not what God wanted me to learn? I do not need rescuing, I am my own savior, I am strong enough. Without this experience I would be on a markedly different path, I would certainly not be married to Chef, not be involved in my church, in the deep meaningful relationships with women who have molded me. I would not care about prisoners who are locked away and forgotten, I would not understand to serve a replica prison meal before the showing of the documentary “13th” at church. My soul without these deep broken places would not feel and notice the aches of others, I cannot believe I would care as deeply. I am those lepers, I am those on lists who check boxes and struggle to ever be employed or respected. Can I accept that my brokenness brought me to an alternate wholeness? Only through real forgiveness for what happened on a dirty mattress in a filthy apartment when God cried out with me. Forgiving that moment brings buds of hope, as surely as Jesus shed blood on the cross to give us all new life. Those seconds as I watched the ceiling My God was still with me, waiting for me to realize I was more, I was meant for joy and comfort and purpose. Such a patient God, through the long seasons as I am stripped bare and forget that summer comes and I am His and my body is not for this. He has long forgiven my horrific choice to accept so little from life, to forget to reach up and out. Peaceful gratitude swells within as I offer up my branches now to the God who has shown me I never have to allow anyone to cut into my soul again. Forgiving myself, my rapist and the God I thought did not protect me, my tree grows strong and sturdy.

The ugliest times in my life are the very parts that move me into action, into growth. Those branches that look dead in winter sprout new buds and then leaves, providing shade and comfort for the weary and the rowdy. I rarely can see when I move from bud to full leafy coverage, God moves swiftly. A call, an ask, I am fully vested into areas of ministry before I realize that I have grown and pushed myself deeper into soil and out further into the sky. I am the tree that stays steady through the seasons, planted exactly where I am meant to be. The pains of my past are piercing and purposeful, certainly God did not orchestrate the horrors but will use what I give him to bring beauty and glory to His world. All He asks is that I stay planted right where I am, that I trust that I can bear the seasons, that I watch for the buds to emerge.  Children will giggle around me, birds will nest about me. Life happens in trees, all of life.

I don’t need pictures or applause to document my changing and growth, I don’t need anyone to notice that I have moved into a new season. Trees don’t long to be planted elsewhere, they don’t yearn for the leaves shed last autumn or the one before. God is asking me to be this tree, to be right here, right now, and know that He is with me. My heart wants to be obedient to this ever present God. Still, those leaves that have fallen away… a certain wistfulness and ache remains. Clearly my work as a solid tree of faith is just beginning. This season of renewal in Him brings peace in releasing the weight of the past, a peace in embracing this moment, as I wait for the birds to nest.

Waiting

I stumbled across an Easter activity on Pinterest that I was sure would make the season more about Jesus and less about the bunny for Plum. You have probably seen it, the one where you dip a marshmallow in water, roll it in cinnamon sugar and then wrap it in a crescent roll and bake it for about 7-8 minutes. The concept is all about the disbelief the disciples had, the lack of trust that Jesus would really be who He said He was. They prepared His body for burial anyway, not understanding He would not stay in the grave. So the marshmallow (Jesus) disappears when we open the robes after some time in the tomb. (I got a bit twitchy about the oven being the tomb but that is my adult awareness, I didn’t share that with my Plum.) He was with me for the entire process of preparation and was all about exploring the rolls, looking for Jesus after they came out of the oven. The waiting, though, which I thought we would do, chairs pulled up to the oven window, watching the slow process of dough puffing and browning, nope. He was out. He couldn’t stay with it for that long. I will admit my timing was off, he was involved in other things, but still, I wanted to tell him if he didn’t sit with me and watch he didn’t get to eat any Jesus rolls after! That didn’t sound right to my own ears, felt just a bit creepy, so he was allowed to play Lego while I cleaned up our mess and kept watch. Next year we will try again and I will enforce the waiting part, that is what living in Saturday, after Good Friday and before the dawn of the Glory of Easter Sunday is, the waiting, slow agonizing empty waiting.

We have a Keurig, it sits in the closet. We decided the expense and the waste were not acceptable to us, we went back to a regular old pot and grinder to make our morning coffee. While I can sit in comfort knowing I am helping the environment with this little step, I must admit I hate the coffee maker every single morning and secretly dream of pulling the faster more efficient machine out, EVERY SINGLE MORNING. In fact Chef just admitted maybe we should use it just for my first cup, while I wait for the pot to brew. Because I don’t wait for the entire pot to fill, as soon as enough liquid has filled the bottom of the carafe, the pot is pulled, my cup is filled and the mess begins. Our machine still sends drips without the pot to catch it, I know the mess is coming, it is acceptable to me each morning as I struggle to wake. I just can’t wait. Or more accurately, I won’t. So towels are at the ready, the mess is wiped as I sip and I always get the strongest of the brew, when Chef reaches for the pot it is mostly black water. There, you are privy to my ugly coffee routine, an inability to wait and share and not be messy. And I am the one who wants to give Plum lessons in the importance of waiting? Do as I say, not as I do, right? IF only it were just a first thing in the morning issue for me, if I were a paragon of patience and trust the rest of the day, I might have more credibility. The truth is, I think I would have been right there with those disciples, lost angry seeking a new direction without my leader. I spend too much time there now and I already know what happens when the rock is rolled away from the tomb, when the crescent roll is broken open. I really should trust more, the waiting should come easier for those of us who know the truth. But Saturdays abound in my life, like early mornings without a Keurig.

Not to take anything away from Good Friday, but this is the harder day for me. I can mourn with the best of them, but waiting is just about the worst thing my Jesus can ask me to do. I don’t want to have down time to think, to feel, to acknowledge my pain and mortality and my sins. Instead I bustle around, wipe the countertops, make a casserole and scroll through Twitter to find others who agree with me about the sins of our leader. More comfortable looking outward while I clean up my coffee splatters, I scour Pinterest for ways to bring more Jesus into Plum’s life.  Move along, push through, avoid avoid avoid. Yet my Saturdays come in the evening, when Plum is in bed or at Mama’s and I am alone without any more energy to bustle and the house is wiped and maybe my wine glass is filled. I’ve been stuck in a very long Saturday of waiting for others to wake up from counting my sins and accepting the glory of a Jesus who has given us all more grace than we can put in our Easter baskets, too much grace like the plastic grass we buy to fill up baskets of candies and little trinkets for kids to find when they wake Easter morning. Grace that always hangs over and despite our best efforts is cleaned up for days afterward, found stuck to our shoes, peeking out of purses and clinging onto our best dresses, a strand between the couch cushions. That grace like the staticy plastic grass sticks to us and to everything it touches, transferred from my hands to the Beast’s fur as I reach down to pet their horrible selves, is transferred to my car on the way to church Sunday morning and left on one of the chairs, maybe the one where the lady who never smiles at me sits or the man who knows me from before will rest. Will they pull the strand away and know they are given the chance to forgive? It really only comes when we sit alone on this Saturday, our basket empty, wishing we had grass and grace and forgiveness and a second chance to say the right thing and not say all the wrong things and the opportunity to read a book to the most ill behaved child in Sunday school. Grace is really only ours when we give it away, like the disappearing marshmallow that still tastes so sweet in the rolls. Waiting for our grace and our baskets to be filled means we have to just be alone, empty, watching the rolls get brown while everyone else goes about their lives and we are aching. We are called to sit wondering how we could have missed the chance to say, “No no, I know how this ends, stick with me, He is who He says HE is, we can trust Him with our everything.” Because tomorrow we will sing glory glory but on Monday will we? On Monday will we worry and fret and stew over whether our children will ever speak to us again, if the job is going to end, if the president is going to lead us into another war, and we forget that we are called to trust in Him. We forget on Monday that we must forgive the car who parks ridiculously and the person who doesn’t take their cart back at the store and the person who always always replies to all instead of just the original sender on an email to 50 people. We forget because we rush through our Saturday and we throw away that grass that annoys us. We don’t notice our grace chances when the sugar high is over.

Tomorrow we will discover that the tomb is empty, that the promises are fulfilled. The crescent roll lesson is not lost on me, I am committing to waiting today. Waiting for this long Saturday of aching searching emptiness to show me the ways I can offer more grace not just tomorrow when everyone looks their best, but on Monday and Tuesday and the days that follow, when we all have a bit of sugar low and grass stuck to our shoes. Maybe, just maybe, my children will find their own awareness of all they ways they have been forgiven. That is between them and their own marshmallow experiment. Just as I couldn’t force my Plum to sit with me, I can’t make them wake up to grace. I can pray a stray bit of plastic grass finds them, all the way from me.

My friends, I pray you embrace this lonely day of waiting, that we might truly feel the glory of the empty tomb. I pray your day is not just filled with egg boiling and ham prepping, but real soul searching. It is a hard day, by design. Still, we know that tomorrow will bring song and fancy clothes. Sit with me in our Saturday, friends as we watch the dough rise.

TGIF

Thank God it is Friday, a familiar refrain, one so common even a chain restaurant selected it as the name to draw folks in. Depending on our age, the dawning of the sun on Friday morning might be greater or lesser cause for rejoicing but we all know still that Friday is THE day. School-aged children know the weekend is here, no more waking and dressing and rushing to eat and brush teeth as mom pushes us on to the next thing, the next, hurry hurry out the door. When I was in college we started celebrating Friday on Thursday night, such was the magnitude of the day. (Wonder I even graduated, that might be a different post.) As we enter our working years, family years, the day takes on a different meaning. The weekend holds a chore list that never gets done but still, we rejoice that we have more time with family as we cross of to-do’s and move a bit slower getting up in the morning and go to soccer practice and gymnastics and the grocery store. For retiree’s the days somewhat run together, I know, yet attaching meaning to Friday happens as the group gathers for cards and all the meetings are held at church throughout the week, maybe Friday is left lonely. Still, clearly representing a celebration, a time to rejoice that the hard stuff of the work week is behind and the weekend is ahead, it resonates among those who just need to relax and let go. The phrase means catching up on sleep, lingering over coffee, dining out with friends, attending to chores, ultimately the time is now ours, no longer slaves to the work week. TGIF! Whew, we made it through another week of school lunches and backpacks on the right kid and carpools and deadlines. We can slow down, after work on Friday.

TGIF means we still have to go to school, work, carpool, those last meetings for the day. It isn’t quite the weekend. We can look ahead, we can see it, we know it is coming but we still have to get through one more day. Maybe Fridays are more palatable this way, even though some drag out minute by minute as we wait for the bell to ring, the time clock to hit 4 or 5 or the last guest to leave so we can. We can’t start our celebration until we get through Friday. Actually, it makes me wonder why the saying isn’t Thank God it is Saturday. Full on rejoicing, no waiting. No anticipating.  But we are impatient people, we struggle to be where we are, never quite settling in. We look past this moment to what is ahead. Thus we celebrate the day that means the ending of the week even though that doesn’t end until the end the day.  Getting a little ahead of ourselves, I think. Much like my desire to rush through the crucifixion of Jesus to get to the resurrection.

I have struggled to explain to non-Christian friends just why we call this day Good Friday.  A bit of research says maybe it comes from a belief that this was the fulfillment of the Good News, the Gospel. Or maybe a shortening of God’s Friday, as we like to butcher language when we make it our own. Still, as a child, Good Friday meant just another day out of school, a break to get ready for the Easter bunny. As an adult, I have come to know that this date on the calendar is the real Black Friday, a day of deep sorrow. I know that this day is nothing to rejoice about, that I am so absolutely sinful that Jesus had to die a horrific death, to be shamed and humiliated and pierced and mocked, that each wound might absorb my sins in order for me to ever get accepted into grace. He was left hanging on the cross we wear on necklaces. He bleed out his humanity and became one with God fully again, all for me. What is good about that? Oh yes, it is amazing that He did that for me but that I would need it to be so? That I wouldn’t recognize Him in my midst? Well, I can say I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have helped fashion the crown of thorns, but can I be sure? Honestly, I can’t say I wouldn’t have been part of the crowd cheering as He walked by with His cross, is my sinful nature any different now?

Jesus died for me so long ago, before I came into being because HE knew I would judge and scorn and walk by those who need what I have and forget to visit those in prison and I would say hurtful things and become too righteous to offer grace to those who hurt me. He carried that cross and agreed to die on it because He was surrounded by disciples who no longer believed in Him even though He spent 3 years teaching them and He knew that even though I had a lifetime learning about I him, I would still be a sinner. How could He even bear the weight of the cross as He carried all of my sins too? Good Friday, I think not. This day I will sit with myself and consider the ways that I have squandered His sacrifice. I will sit in my solitude knowing He truly knew me before I knew Him. Nothing really to celebrate there, He didn’t call from the cross that He was doing this for all but Lisa who just wasn’t going to need such a horrific death in His name because she was going to have it all together.

No, this Friday truly is horrible, still I thank God for it. I thank God for the opportunity to slow down and consider how I can do better, be better that such a horrific sacrifice is worthy. I heard a friend say the other day something about wondering if our kids ever truly understand and appreciate all that we do for them. The answer is usually no, not until they themselves have children and sit through sleepless nights and struggle until the next paycheck and find themselves no longer so cool as their kids keep secrets and grow tall enough to look them in the eye. Do we ever fully understand what Jesus gave up for us? The very nature of our humanity seems to mean we have a cap on our empathy, a limited ability to walk in any shoes but our own. Today is the day we can choose to go barefoot and walk with Jesus as He carried that cross and wore that crown of thorns and was pierced and given vinegar to drink. He was carrying me that day, in the hopes that one day I just might get it and carry someone else.

So I am left with TGIF, today, Good Friday. I do thank God for this day, not for the weekend ahead and Easter dinner and colored eggs. I can’t get ahead of myself. Today I have to sit with Jesus on the cross, it’s the least I can do, He is hanging there for me. He calls me into that space with Him, that I might know that while He knows my sins, He also considers me worthy of what He is experiencing. What He is feeling, the pain, the shame, the agony. I am worth it all. Like a hero rushing into a burning building to save a child, that life is now weighty, must be lived with purpose. Regardless of what the world may say, Jesus has whispered from the cross to me, “Lisa, you are worthy. Now go tell others the same. And feed them.” Maybe the restaurant name makes sense after all.

May you be filled with some sorrow for Jesus and our humanity today, that we might not celebrate too soon without knowing fully the loss and what the cost was. May you hear the whisper of Jesus as HE tells you are worthy of his death, as He asks you to love yourself and your neighbor. Let’s make this a really Good Friday.

 

Kiwi Love

I remember the first time I tasted a kiwi, the slightly tart incredibly sweet fruit surprised me. I was a bit standoffish about this fruit, it was green, it had black seeds, it was different. I was a real standard issue fruit girl. Apples, oranges, bananas, berries.  Offered a kiwi at a breakfast gathering, it would have been too impolite to turn my nose up, I was pushed out of my produce prejudice into a wildly wonderful experience. I relished this new taste, I couldn’t wait to share it. When I searched for the fruit at the grocery though, all I could find was a rough dirty brown colored egg-shaped offering. This was no longer appealing. Great effort was required to remember just how delightful the inside was, the exterior was not luring me. Still, I gave the store kiwi a chance and we have been in love ever since, over 30 years now. That tough skin protects what is precious, I get it now. That shell keeps the uninitiated, the fearful, away. More for those of us who are daring, who are willing to go deeper. The lesson of the kiwi could have saved me many years of shame and hiding, I am a very slow learner.

I listened last night to a presentation at church from an elderly woman who has been doing prison ministry for many many years. She sees a need and figures out that she can meet it and then brings some friends along. She makes new friends and brings them. She does ministry at prison because as she said, “Jesus told us 6 places go in His name, go to the prisons.” She spoke with passion barely contained, told her story in a meandering way because her stories are so plentiful. She raves about her ladies, the opportunities to touch lives that have been forgotten. She brought along one of those lives, a woman who had served 16 years inside and now is living freely, productively, assuredly. This woman told her story as well, not that we had any right to hear it. Still she shared it and she also told how critical it was for people who don’t have to tell you that you are worth something to do so. She explained how forgotten people can drink up those words and begin to believe them if they hear them often enough. How that can change the outcome upon release. She was brought as evidence. I was sitting in the audience as evidence, not many knew it. She was brave, I felt like a coward. I applauded her peeling off the hard shell right away, getting to that fruit immediately, showing the world how worthy she is without waiting to be discovered.

How much time has been lost, what could I have achieved if I had peeled off my hard coating, hiding behind what I thought was protection of a new life? I see now that each time I was terminated from a position because of that box you have to check, that secret agreement you make with the employer, that was an opportunity to remove the whole coating and just bear the fruit of my story, of my soul. Instead, I cowered, I wailed, I cried out to God, how could this happen again? I didn’t see He wanted me to be free of the shame that only secrets can bring, He wanted it all out in the open so I could live fully. Fear stops us from trying new food, fear stops us from being who we are. So I was given many chances by God and ugly people who did mean things not know God was going to turn their stuff to good, each time a bit of the outer covering was nicked off. A scrape here, a scratch there. See the shining soul within? That’s me. Finally brave enough, desperate enough, exhausted from hiding, I just ripped it all off and discovered that I am worthy still. Slow learner here.

Here’s the thing though, not all of us go to prison and have horrible histories and try to conceal who we are. Some of us just have not so great histories and try to hide. Others have not great todays and put up fences or wear masks. Regardless of our stories, we all do it. We are caught in the lie that no one will love us if we tell the truth, if we uncover what is really going on, how much we are hurting and what we, gasp! have done. IT IS A LIE. It is a complete fabrication that shields us from being picked up in the produce aisle, unwanted fruit with our tough exterior, and cherished for our sweet souls.

We are doing it to ourselves. We ignore the opportunities when we get that first scrape of hardship to share our hurting. We add more makeup and carry on. When everything is going to hell at home or work or with our children, we put on a new outfit and present the world with a tough exterior that hides the true story. We cover and cover and cover until the layers themselves become so heavy we can’t find our souls ourselves. The weight of our secrets toughening our resolve, we forget that all those run-ins with tragedy are meant to be shedding times. Is it any wonder that the tough exterior is called a hide? God wants our souls laid bare, our secrets out so we are no longer covered in  new shoes and fresh eyeliner, the us He created unmasked and vulnerable so love can seep through. And then really go out. Because just like that first taste of kiwi, I couldn’t keep it for myself. I shared that delicious fruit with my family, at every gathering. I offered it to all who would dine at my table. “You have to try this, it is amazing.” Amazing indeed, to be real, open, me.

As we enter the hardest days of the Christian calendar, the days we really would like to rush through to get to the promise fulfilled, I know my Jesus was unmasked. He was laid bare at the cross. He was naked and vulnerable. This is how He went to His Father. I see now that He wants no less from me, from you. Broken, peeled, bared for all to see that they might come to Him also, encouraged by our truths, giving grace to each other, shining Light on the One who knows our secrets and has already forgiven.  Will you dare sacrifice your mask at the cross? I would so love to know you, really know you. Together we could shine more Light. Together we could taste the sweetness of authentic lives. I wasted too many years covered in shame. Don’t waste a minute more. Your soul deserves to be seen and shared. Trust God to handle the rest.

By the way, have you ever tasted a kiwi? Please join me in the produce aisle. I know it’s ugly, trust me. Together we are going to find a real treasure inside.

 

1 Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.
2 We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.
3 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention.
4 All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.
5 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.
6 It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
7 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. 2 Corinthians 4:1-7