Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a dear friend, to a loving sister in Christ, and yet there are times when we must do just that. Like so many of you, I was shocked by the news that our sister and friend Susan Irene Fox passed away earlier this week; what does one say at such a time?

Susan’s writings here on WordPress were a blessing to all of us, both on her blog and on Church Set Free, and when you read those posts of hers it’s almost impossible to miss the love that fills each and every line. I recall when a group of us came together via Skype to discuss the establishment of the site, back in 2015. Susan was part of that group and more than anything else, she wanted it to be a place where anyone could go and experience the love of Christ without judgment or condemnation from any of us who participated. She wanted it to be a place where anyone could ask a question or post a comment without feeling out of place or inadequate; she wanted it to become a place where any Christian as well as any seeker could feel safe and secure.

In the months that followed, a bunch of us got together regularly on Skype to discuss not only the site, but life in general, and while I never met Susan face-to-face, I felt as though I got to know her. I’ll never forget her smile and her sense of humor, and her ability to treat everyone as an equal as a loved brother or sister.

It seems to me that Susan in so many ways personified what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Many who read this may have known her longer than I did; many may have known her better than I. Yet I will be eternally grateful for the time I had for her to touch my life. In the final analysis, I know only one thing: Heaven is a much richer place today because Susan Irene Fox has come to stay for all eternity, and one day we will all be reunited there in the loving arms of Lord.

To Susan, I miss You

Susan, I miss you dearly. I will miss your words, your encouragement your grace, but most of all I will miss your unwavering acceptance of me for who I am, no more no less. Rest in peace my sweet sister, heaven has indeed become real for me today.

God is in your typewriter

Death is an untimely beast. I am taken aback by its ugliness and unwillingness to give us a warning. As much as my hope lies in the promise of eternity, I am still reminded of my humanness, my inability to process grief, and my connection to people I’ve never met.

I joined this blogging community several years ago. I was led by the Holy Spirit to follow my writing dreams through the profession of my faith on a world-wide stage. My thoughts at the time were that it would simply be a writing platform, until I started reading more about this blogging concept and the community that was created.

So much of what I read talked about blogging not as some platform for writing itself, but rather for a chance to engage, to meet people and to join the conversation. I learned quickly that my idea of blogging had turned into…

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Does God hate the F word?

“We sat with “It’s Time” for a year or year-and-a-half. Sometimes you just have to let a song sit for awhile. “

-Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons

The full interview can be found here

I find that music can sometimes be so fabricated you can’t touch it. Tracks playing, other people penning the music. Lyrics can be catchy, but still and lifeless, produced in a backroom by someone who doesn’t know the artist or the story that they are trying to sing.

It took several switches today on the radio dial to find a song with some sort of message or purpose. Normally I would usually hum along to whatever Christian music was playing at the time since I had my kids in the car, but today was different. Today I needed more than manufactured fluff.

I got agitated with every rhythm and turned back and forth between the Coffee House channel and Classic Vinyl, but nothing seemed to give way. Usually Paul Simon may do it for me, but not today. No; I needed something much deeper than that…

And so a song came on that I hadn’t heard in awhile, Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time”, whose lyrics began to remind me of a more complicated time in my life. And although I wanted to turn it off, I couldn’t. Even with the polished track, you could feel and understand the songs depth and overreaching power to remind us that we are who God created us to be.

I wondered if the song wasn’t quite so manufactured, if it was in its most raw and pure form, if it would affect me differently. I quickly found the acoustic version to test out my theory, which quickly proved true. Unadulterated and unfiltered, unmanufactured, imperfect, pure voice and rhythm, I couldn’t help but think that this was such a metaphor for the lives we live.  If we could live our lives acoustically, real, no cloudiness, extras, filters, in our purest most honest form, wouldn’t the music sound so much sweeter?

I realized how afraid I was of living like that. Of continuing to expose who I am and how God is changing me. Exposing my faults, talking about my troubles and complexities. I realized just how hard it was to be a raw and honest human.

When you read or listen to the words of those people who you know are being completely honest, it reminds you how hard it was for them and that we are not alone. The song, the writing sounds different, almost uneven and uncomfortable. There are trembling voices, unsteady words, awkwardness and how could you’s. The reality is what makes us uncomfortable, or as Dan Reynolds puts it, “When a song is most honest and most raw that’s when you know you’re doing something right.”

And I want my song to be like that. I want to be like that. Completely transparent and open, not holding anything back, “Packing my bags and giving the Academy a rain check.”

I am terrified. Terrified to just be who I am, terrified I’m not good enough, terrified that maybe I’ll be a terrible failure at Christianity, for the road is oftentimes fraught with rockiness and heartache. I remembered yesterday when I asked God, no, no rather I screamed out loud, “Where the F are you??????”

But I cannot be anything else than who I am. I can’t be a boxed in Christian. I am not a saint. I am just trying to be me.

A Tale of Two Birth Announcements

Look over Luke 1:5-25; 57-66.

cappella_tornabuoni2c_102c_annuncio_dell27angelo_a_zaccaria
Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490, fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence) Public Domain

We all know the story, don’t we? Zacharias (an “official” “ordained-type” priest) goes in his proper time to offer incense within the Temple. The Angel Gabriel appears to him there, announcing the upcoming birth of John the Baptist, along with his role as forerunner and preparer of the way of the Lord.

Zacharias responds, objecting, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” [v. 18] Gabriel then identifies himself by name, and declares that Zacharias will be mute until his words were fulfilled.

Time passes and so things come about. Zacharias regains his voice finally upon naming his son “John” at his circumcision, in response to community objections because this is not family name of their line.

We all know the story.

Now, please look over Luke 1:26-56.

pinturicchio2c_cappella_baglioni_02
The Annunciation by Pinturicchio (1501, fresco in the Cappella Baglioni, Collegiata di Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello) Public Domain

We all know this story, too, don’t we? We see this played out in Christmas pageants almost annually, no? The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, declares her favored, calms her confusion, and announces that she will conceive the Son of the Most High and name Him Jesus.

Mary seems to respond much as did Zacharias, pointing out a physical incongruity as she says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” [v. 34]

But far from punishing her, as it could seem Gabriel did to Zacharias, the angel answers graciously with not only the answer to her question (that the power of the Most High would overshadow her), but he gives her an additional sign declaring that Elizabeth (her kinswoman) is six months along expecting the birth of John. Their exchange ends with “’nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” [vv. 37-38]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, like, am I the only one who ever wondered, “what’s the difference here?”

Zacharias clearly ticked Gabriel off, while Mary didn’t. It’s one thing to point to the “rank order” difference between them. There’s certainly a difference of “graciousness” between them. Lots of flavorful differences, but I always sensed there was more here than that.

And… why should we care? What difference does, or should, it make to us… to you and me… here and now… why these two encounters went the way they did?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I think the answer to both questions is the same one… “Faith”.

The difference between the two encounters is “Faith”. And the reason we should care, is also “Faith”.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It never dawned on me, until very recently, that Zacharias… even faced as he was with the terrifying countenance of an Angel of God Almighty… doubted the truth of his words. Even INSIDE the Temple, standing next to the Altar of Incense as he offered up incense to God!

Seriously?

All of Gabriel’s words spoke to FUTURE events, not present events. Zacharias was going to have to go from that place, be with his wife in the proper time, conceive John, and watch nature take its course for the next nine months.

But that wasn’t good enough for Zacharias.  He says, “how will I know this for certain?” (We know italicized words are inserted by editors.) So he wants to know, right here, right now, why he should believe Gabriel. Waiting apparently isn’t good enough. (We know for certain that the issue is doubt, because Gabriel tells us that.) Zacharias is rendered mute until all was fulfilled “because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” [v. 20]

Zacharias needed to know these things were true before he was willing to do his part. Clearly, his part in this miracle would be of crucial importance. It was he and Elizabeth who needed to conceive this child. But before he would go to that trouble, before he would dare go communicate this to Elizabeth, before he would risk Elizabeth’s heartbreak, disappointment, or disgrace… he had to have a sign. He had to KNOW this was true, before he could obey.

Gabriel gives him an unmistakable sign of his authority and power, using his words alone to stop all words for Zacharias until the truth was borne out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So what is different about Mary? She, too, asks a “how” question.

The difference is that her question is one of “means”, not “verification”. She was perplexed at the appearance of Gabriel, not terrified. Gabriel declares the upcoming conception, birth, and kingship of Jesus, and Mary does not express doubt at the announcement. Rather, she asks how this is to come about, what is she to do? She knows she is virgin. Is that to change for this miracle? How should she obey the will of God?

Gabriel responds to the “how” of the question… that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” [v. 34-35] (By the way, that word “overshadow” only appears 5 times in the New Testament. Once here; then three times referring to the Cloud around Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in the time of the Transfiguration that came upon (and terrified) Peter, James and John, from which came the Voice saying “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”[Luke 9:34-35]; and third when Peter’s shadow heals the sick [Acts 5:15].)

Unsolicited, Gabriel offers Mary the sign of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary yields unconditionally to God’s will and embraces Gabriel’s words, the hurries off to aid Elizabeth in her first pregnancy. Isn’t it interesting that Elizabeth had only “come out”, publicly acknowledging her pregnancy in the month before Mary’s arrival? No way was Elizabeth going to endure the risk of disappointment had she miscarried, or been merely deluded into thinking she was pregnant. She would not face either the jibes or the condescending looks of other village women as her face began to round and her figure became more full. She was an elder of her town, disgraced by the curse of barrenness perhaps, but nonetheless righteous and dignified of demeanor. She would not be mocked.

But by the time Mary arrives, Elizabeth KNOWS. She knows for sure that she carries life within her. The baby has quickened, and for the first time she has the glorious sensation of life moving inside her as he responds to her motions or sounds around them. No words describe the joy of hugging new life with your very self, as a woman can in this time.

Mary comes, calls out in greeting, and the Holy Spirit already filling John [v. 15] now fills Elizabeth as well, and her joyful encounter with Mary as they attend to one another’s needs for the next three months (Elizabeth’s third trimester, Mary’s first), offers blessing to them both. Even as I type those words, I can only pause and wonder in awe at what those months must have been like. What would evenings have been like in such a home? Zacharias silent (no choice there), Elizabeth growing ever more excited even as getting around gets more difficult and stilted, and Mary finding her appetite less predictable, perhaps napping now and again, and sensing the changes in her body as the Christ waxes in form…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What does all this mean to us, Gentle Reader?

Well, God does the impossible all the time. For those who are ready and seek Him, miracles are all around.

When they come, sometimes they are hard to believe in. That’s just the truth. But! When one is willing to yield to them, God grants. When one is willing if and only if there is a sign attesting to the truth… well, God accommodates and a sign will be given. We see this over and over again throughout the Scriptures (Gideon, etc.) However, as we see from this text, while faith that may be, it is a flawed sort of faith. (I, for one, have engaged in such flawed faith countless times, so no judgment here!)

But there’s another kind of faith. There’s a faith that takes a truth on the authority of the speaker, and simply says “Yes!” before it asks “How?”

There, I think is both the difference between the two Gabriel missions, and the significance to us today.

Zacharias wanted proof before he would act. Mary was willing to act before any proof was offered.

Both were engaged in astonishing blessing and miracle. Zacharias just had to go about it with a bit more inconvenience. That and, frankly, their lingering doubts certainly would have robbed him and Elizabeth of months of joy and consolation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Holy Spirit, the overshadowing Power of the Lord Most High, certainly wins out in every miracle. Let us simply say “Yes!” first, ask “How?” afterwards, and watch events unfold!

Grace to you, Gentle Reader!

Be Happy, God will understand

I recently listened to an interview I found by happenstance of an old acquaintance.  I had always admired her brilliance and tenacity, her quiet way and her commitment to her religion. I don’t think it is important for purposes of this story to tell you what religion she is, it is enough to know that she was devout and humble all at the same time. 

I don’t know what made me think of her, but I was curious to see what she was up to. Last I had seen, she had the perfect career and perfect life, still devout and lovely. But this interview was different. It was many years later and life was not so perfect. Her religion had not changed , but her life had. So she was quick to meld her words to fit her life’s circumstances. My God would understand this, and He would understand that. I have to make myself happy and I cannot worry about what other people think. I was perplexed. Her God had remained the same, her devotion the same, but her life had not. So she fit her God into her life’s circumstances to ascribe to a “Be Happy God will understand” theory which completely blew my mind.

These thoughts were not unlike so many I have heard and areas which Paul has recently explored on Just Me Being Curious where he discusses openly the hypocritical Christian and their unconscious quest to use the bible as a weapon. Paul goes into an in-depth discussion of whether the bible is fiction and other deep-rooted and tough questions, but the message is deeper than that. While my old acquaintance sings a song of “Be Happy God will understand” the song that Paul’s talking about is more along the lines of “The only way to believe is the way I do.” Both schools of thought though steeped in religion are cloaked in secularism. Twisting our way into what “we” believe is right or wrong based on our own selfish notions. What bothered me about the interview was not the fact that she was still devout to her God. What bothered me was that she had made God devout to her.

This is a continued thought in our culture, in our world, where we make God just ours. The bible or Quran or Torah can have only that person’s interpretations, and there is no other room. It is this way or that, no room for exploration or understanding. It is the reason that modern-day religion is more secular than it is anything else.

I look to those who have criticized Mother Teresa’s care for the dying. She a Catholic, speaking to them and praying with them in their own religion, their familiar God. Restoring their dignity in the last breath with a comfort each individual will understand. She has played a great role for me in understanding the human person and Jesus, and the dynamic that exists between the two.

You see if we were really Christians, people would know. We wouldn’t make God live in a bible, or on an altar, or in a Sunday sermon, we would let Him live in us. It’s not a matter of conversion, it is a matter of being. I don’t seek to convert anyone other than myself to be the love that Jesus is or was. I don’t subscribe to the “Be happy God will understand theory” because taken in context that is a selfish way to be. The only way for me to live is ensuring that I am doing my best to invest my happiness in you. More like, “Be happy, invest that happiness, because I acknowledge Lord that it comes from you.”

When we get outside of ourselves and realize that God is much bigger than a t-shirt or a slogan, the real work begins. Because if we’ve discovered that life is not about our own self-satisfaction but rather attending to the needs of someone who will never be able to repay us, following Jesus gets real.

If you ask me if I’m a hypocrite I’ll tell you yes, that I am working on it. If you ask me if I’ll convert you, I’ll tell you I’m too busy working on myself. If you want me to show you God, I’ll try my best. But it will probably involve a cup of coffee, admitting who and what I am and asking for your forgiveness.

Let go

This is what is meant by following Christ. In this way, disregarding earthly gains, Matthew attached himself to the band of followers of One who had no riches. For the Lord himself, who outwardly called Matthew by a word, inwardly bestowed upon him the gift of an invisible impulse so that he was able to follow-

excerpt from a quote by Bede the Venerable (673-735 AD), Anglo-Saxon monk

This was my Lenten meditation for today:

In a given situation, act as if everything will work out. Allow this to influence what you say to others and what you say to yourself.

This was both terrifying to me and freeing at the same time. This idea of freedom is what we strive for, but in the context of the contemplative life is a much different idea. This freedom exists from materialism and worry, from earthly wants for heavenly gains. This freedom exists in believing in the notion that God works all things for the good of those who love him. It exists in the freedom the trees experience, swaying to and fro, in the birds of the air who do not worry and in the hearts of men who long to be there.

Our words influence our steps. God moves our hearts but we are afraid. We then tell people that we are afraid. Then they are afraid. This is not freedom.

This type of spiritual freedom is jumping off a cliff type stuff, diving into a deep body of water, embarking on a mission to a place you’ve never been, selling every possession you’ve ever owned for something more…

It’s dropping the net when He tells you, following when He tells you, not looking back when He tells you. It’s a forward movement, an awareness of adventure, a trust, a not being afraid.

It’s living not on the surface but below it, it’s individualized, it calls you to be different, it tugs at you and will not let go…

God does not give us time to plan, He’s had eternity to do that for us.

When it’s time it’s time.

This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Exodus 12:11

Our lives are not our own, but we hold onto them with an undying and unrelenting grasp. Instead of holding onto Jesus for dear life, we are holding onto our own thoughts and ideals. We hold onto friends and houses, churches… we hold onto where we are and fight the forward movement. We don’t want to leave but we’re afraid to go. We’re not necessarily wrestling with God, we’re just telling Him not to move us…

But the spiritual life is forward movement, it’s a letting go of self, it’s a giving away and a taking on of a new life, it’s losing our tight grasp on things and grasping onto the cloak of the one who saves us from ourselves…

So ask yourself, what is it that you are holding onto, what is that you just can’t let go of? Release it, take your clenched hands and open them. Then turn around and clench onto Him.

Act as if everything will work out, because it will…