Fasting from Apathy (It’s about You. Not Those Who Work the System.)

It’s dangerously easy to fear myself into apathy. Recently, I participated in a conversation where we wondered if it was a good use of our time and resources to be helping those who may be “working the system”.  The goal of such a conversation can be noble enough: wanting the greatest chance for positive, life changing, impact. But in trying to rationalize the best ways to help those who are under the yoke of poverty and hunger we can rationalize away any pure acts of being the hands of Jesus. This can lead to apathy or even worse:  to playing God rather than obeying God.

Fasting is one of the Christian practices of the Lenten season. I am going through Ann Voskamp’s “40 Day Lent Devotional Journey”. The passage for Day 6 was Isaiah 58:6-10. I urge you to read it. It describes a true act of fasting is “to break every yoke”. It is to undo the straps of poverty: “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house”.

I think it’s rather telling that if we fast from apathy in order to break the yokes on the poor, we get a lot of “THEN’s:

“THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up speedily…THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and he will say, ‘Here I am.’…If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, THEN shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

I think the THEN’s reveal the poverty of spirit we are living in when we are not helping those who live in physical poverty.

That warning about pointing the finger had the power to point a finger right into my chest. If someone is “working the system” they have a hole in their soul that is deeper than the hole in their pocket. Who am I to define which kind of poverty is deserving of mercy? Who am I to decide that one yoke is heavier than another and therefore more or less worthy of my willingness to participate in breaking it?  And, when was it that I was given the power to read the hearts of men and women, and name their motivation?

Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives.  We are all poor, brokenhearted, captives with no room to point fingers.  As one who has been comforted and provided for, bestowed a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair – I get to offer this same wealth to those held captive by the yokes of poverty and brokenness.

And, THEN, as if Jesus hadn’t provide us with enough good things, we all receive those “THEN’s” listed in Isaiah 58:8-10.  Let’s not waste time fretting over being taken by those who supposedly are working the system.  That’s just gloomy musings.  It also may be a sign that you’re oblivious of the yokes that oppress you; yokes that are heavier than physical hunger.  Pour out yourself for the hungry and your gloom will be as the noonday.

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Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

The Christian communities and denominations that I’ve been a part of have not put an emphasis on observing Lent in preparation for celebrating Easter.  Lent traditionally includes fasting, abstinence and penitence.  That sounds sacrificial but it may be that I have cheated myself by not participating in this custom.

One of the characteristics I admire in Mary, the mother of Jesus, is her staying power.  She was there at the cross enduring a pain only a mother could feel as she stayed and was witness to the torture and death of her child.   Another characteristic I admire is her trust in God at all costs; as displayed in her response when she found out she would be the mother of Jesus.  Certainly, the circumstances of her son’s life were not as she would have written them.  Her faith had staying power.

Staying with Jesus takes leaving your own agenda and taking up the cross.  Observing Lent can be a conscious choice to stay with Jesus and share in the cross.

I think we cheat ourselves and take Jesus lightly by making the time leading up to the celebration of Easter just another season of the year.  Easter is at risk of being recognized as just one special day rather than the joy filled answer to every day that led up to it and every day that has and will follow it.

I have the habit of looking at my calendar a lot.  I track time and I try to form it to my agenda.  My calendar is about planning, not believing; devising, not acknowledging; wondering, not hoping; going, not staying.

How would I be staying if I choose to observe Lent?  I’d be staying in the practice of repentance.  Staying in the reasons for the crucifixion of Jesus.  Staying in a place of remembrance; a place called promised hope.  Staying with what Jesus has done for me so I don’t get pulled to what my circumstances may do to me.

Our circumstances can pull us into striving or worrying or fear or anger or bitterness or any number of emotions and practices that suck the life out of us (and those around us).  Staying with Jesus opens our eyes to the hope we’ve been called to and the victory that has already been won on our behalf.  Staying gives us time to take in the abundance that’s been given to us and to cultivate gratitude.  Staying gives us opportunity to love Jesus more and makes us available to love others more.  And since love is why we were created and what we are called to, staying with Jesus in the practice of Lenten devotion, can give love staying power.

Forget the parked car analogy…”God can’t use a parked car” yah dee dah…  Lent may be the time to pull over, give the keys back to God and stay awhile.

 

More Snow! More Life!

It snowed last night and as I sit at Misha’s, a comfy coffee house in Old Town Alexandria, it has begun to snow again.  I’m so happy about the snow.  I played the tourist on my walk here by pulling out my phone to take photos.  That may be a tiny sign that I’m still new to the area.

I am approaching one year here (in 10 days to be exact).  I’ve passed a few road signs over this past year that prove I’ve been on this journey long enough to be changed.  I’m no longer cognizant of the details of the bedroom I wake up in each morning.  I don’t spend anytime thinking about what I need to get to furnish our condo.   I’ve got a routine for bringing shopping bags up from the garage and taking trash bags down to it.  When I walk to the grocery store I’m adept at knowing how much I can carry home.  I rarely get lost anymore.  I walk through familiar neighborhoods daily.   I don’t have to think about metro etiquette.  I can sight a tourist on the metro:  they’re making the same mistakes I made – they look confused by the metro maps; they don’t stand on the right on escalators to allow others to walk up the left side; they hold the rest of us up at the exit stalls.

Did you catch that?  I put myself in the group called “us”.

It was a no brainer that I’d have different opportunities here than I had in California.  High on the list is that I’m living 15 minutes from the capital of our country.  Our capital is gorgeous.  I’m interested in American history.  I enjoy museums.  I’m surrounded by sites that interest me.  I chose Alexandria to live in because it’s not comparable to a California suburb.  It’s highly walkable.  The architecture is entirely different.  It’s historic.  It is built along the Potomac river.  It’s a city with greater economic disparities than my old California suburb, more obvious needs, which make for greater opportunities to serve others.  I have not been surprised that life here is different.

Of course, there are still things that surprise me.  It’s actually more common place to meet a friend for coffee or lunch or a walk.  Somehow the busy city life is more conducive to friends getting together.  Maybe it’s because you have to fight for new friendships.  Maybe it’s because there are more transplants here.  Maybe it is because fewer women have family living nearby.

I’m also surprised by the many reminders of California that accost my eyes.  Yes, I know, accost is a rather dramatic word. I never realized that countless commercials are filmed at the beaches, in the hills, on the mountains, and across the deserts of California.  And for crying out loud (literally), did “La La Land” have to come out my first year away from California?  I know it showed California at its finest.  The smog, ugly inner city buildings, lack of trees and water, and crazy-mad congestion weren’t featured.  Even the scenes with traffic were glorified.  But California with its beauty, sun, sun and more sun, has been the setting of my story for all but this one year of my life.  Seeing it on small and large screens hits all kinds of nerves.  Oy!

Misha’s plays jazz in the background.  Right now my typing is accompanied by good ole Satchmo.  But the jazz isn’t taking me back to La La Land.  I’m right here in Virginia.  And it’s right that I’m here in Virginia.  Jesus keeps confirming that.  Even as I realize hopping on a plane to visit my parents isn’t as easily achieved as I desire.  Even when I miss family and California friends.  Even when I still sound like a foreigner.  (Did you know you’re not supposed to put the word “the” in front of a highway number?  For example, don’t say, “You take the 95 to get to Richmond”)?

On the day I moved here the Holy Spirit impressed on me that everything of worth has a cost and yet nothing is lost.  I’m so thankful for those words from Him.

The past year has brought about much gain.  God has shown me areas I’ve needed to grow in, repent from, and/or leave behind.  He’s also shown me purposes I needed to step into.  They were exposed by this move.  God has been giving me the more that he promises all of us.  The more only comes with my permission.  The more only comes when I keep letting go of control.  The more only comes when I ask God for eyes to see what He’s up to in my life and the lives of those I love.  The more only comes when I choose to get to know Him more and when I respond by loving Him more.

It has stopped snowing.  This newbie wants more snow.  More than snow, more than DC, more than Virginia, more than California, I want Jesus.  I want to recognize more fully what He has done for me and experience more fully the freedom He’s given me.  I want to thank Him more consistently by the way I live and the thoughts I think.

I want more.  I’m confident that I’m gonna get it, because with Jesus there are no dead ends.  There is always more around the corner.

A Bunch of Lovable Hypocrites

I’ve marched in 2 protest marches within 7 days.  If you’d ask me to sum up why I marched, I’d say to proclaim the worth and dignity of women.  Both marches gave me hope.  The Women’s March on Washington renewed my hope that people (masses of people, huddled together like sardines!) are offended by morally corrupt, disrespectful attitudes and bullying.  The March for Life renewed my hope that large numbers of people are not numb to the irony and tragedy of sacrificing the right to life for any other right.  Both marches renewed my hope that there are great numbers of people who believe our personal choices do affect our society.

One little girl that I met on the subway, as I made my way to the Women’s March, had made a sign that summed it all up, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”.

A lot of people who are against the Women’s March on Washington have argued that those of us who are offended by Trump’s moral short comings are hypocritically offensive ourselves.  I’ll admit there were some sketchy signs at the march.  And, Lord knows I didn’t agree with the politics of every person in that march.  However, I’ve never seen people squished together for such an extended time show such patience and consideration to one another. The predominant mood of the march was one of joy and love.  The joy radiated out of a belief that people of good will can make a difference.  The love radiated out of a conviction that all people are of enormous worth and deserving of respect.  This was not applied to the unborn, so after accepting there is no perfect forum of expression for me, I chose to also march in the March for Life.

My experience at the March for Life was similar to the march six days earlier.  There was camaraderie, respectfulness, joy and love. There were great signs.  There were a few not so great signs. There were people I politically aligned with.  There were people I do not politically align with.  There were vast numbers of people younger than me (in their teens and in their 20’s).  There was more singing than chanting.  No one chose to be vulgar.

There are a lot of people who would argue that the ProLifers at this march and in general, do not spend enough time considering the needs of the women who have unwanted pregnancies.  They believe that “so-called” ProLifers are only pro unborn and don’t care about life outside of the womb. What about the woman’s financial and emotional welfare?  What about the massive disruption to her life?  There are also a lot of people who are offended by ProLifers because of reasons that only apply to about 1% of all abortions.

It’s tempting to list my answers to the nay sayers of both marches.  But if I’ve learned anything over the past year, it is that very few of us are open to truly hearing arguments against our tenaciously held convictions.

What I am interested in exploring is the notion that hypocrisy is an immovable roadblock to the dream destination of unity among American citizens.  We all look through lenses, (life experiences, faith communities, personalities, families, town/city/state environments), that inform how we define truth.  Even if we do have an immense amount in common we still have huge differences on what is right for our country.  For instance, as a believer in Christ I have marked political disagreements with fellow Christ followers.

One thing all followers of Jesus believe is that we all fall short of the glory of God.  In other words, none of us are perfect.  We believe all of us make mistakes and none of us knows everything.  So, why do we think everyone at these marches had to be our definition of perfect in every way?  Why can’t we look at one another’s opinions having some measure of validity?  Why are we so prone to throw the hypocrite accusation at those with whom we disagree and therefore throw the baby out with the bath water?  What’s with our all or nothing self righteousness?

These marches have led to me making choices.  I’m choosing to say no to my anger, my judgmental attitudes, my hopelessness, my fear.  I’m choosing to accept the obvious:  we’re all a bunch of hypocrites.  And I’m choosing to acknowledge that the mass majority of us are good intentioned, lovable, hypocrites.  I’m choosing love.  This isn’t a once and for all choice.  It’s a choice I have to make with every newscast I watch, with every social media post I read, and with every thought I entertain.

In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  He’s not telling us we shouldn’t have an opinion or hold a conviction.  Heck, he gave Christians the authority “to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy”.  We’re meant to fight for truth.  But we better be clear about who the enemy is.  It is not the lovable or not-so-lovable hypocrites around us.  Nor the hypocrite that is us.

I will concede that some relationship are just not good for us.  When we’re trying to get a handle on not judging them but the relationship remains toxic because they can’t or won’t stop judging us, it might be time to kindly part ways.  We just can’t demand unity.

We can keep on marching!  Keep on marching for the cause of love!

Getting the Right Answer Takes Asking the Right Question

I’ve been asking the wrong question.  I wonder how often I miss out on getting clear direction from God because I’m wallowing in negativity and my whining is forming the wrong question?  Over the past week I’ve made myself all mopey because I wanted the Women’s March on Washington to be a protest against misogyny and disrespect toward other marginalized groups of people.  I discovered the agenda was wider than that and I fumed.  I fumed and I wrote an essay for my blog.  After fuming I began asking God if I should still go march.

Over the last 24 hours I’ve been turned off by my whining.  And, not so humbly, I’ve been fearing I’ve been turning others off with my whining.  This morning in the midst of repeating the question to Jesus, “Should I walk in this march?”, I stopped short and practically shouted, “Am I asking the wrong question?!”  His answer to me was, “Yes, you’re asking the wrong question.”

So then the question became, “What should I be asking?”.  I quickly realized the question I needed to be asking.  “What am I going to do with my disappointment?”  My disappointment is not just over the agenda of the organizers of this march.  My disappointment is over what has led up to me wanting to have a march I could participate in.  My disappointment is really plural:  disappointments.

President Obama said something in his last press conference that really convicted me.  I believe God used it to nudge me into realizing I’ve been asking the wrong question.  When the president was asked how his daughters reacted to the election results he said, in part, “my daughters are not mopers”.  I don’t know that in general I’d define myself as a chronic moper.  But yikes, moping is a common temptation for me.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit I’m able to fight it for the most part, but the temptation visits me frequently in hopes of taking me down. And I succumbed to it over the last couple of days.

I struggle with my memory.  After the primary election God showed me in many ways, including the preaching of my pastor, conversations with friends and through blogs I read, that my response to my disappointment needed to be love.  Love in action.  Protest has its place but protest isn’t going to strengthen my heart for life here on earth. Love will.  I forgot to let this comfort me in my disappointment over The Women’s March on Washington.

Over the last few months of 2016 I purposed to do my part to expand love.  1 Peter 4:8  “Above, all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins”.  I choose to remember that now.  Yes, rightly, a heart still grieves that the world is not what it was meant to be.  A heart still grieves bullying, injustice, and unkindness.  And we are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

The answer for the question God gave me today, “What am I going to do with my disappointment?”, is the same for the question “What am I going to do with my grief?”  It’s the ultimate balm.  It’s what Jesus said is the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  And the second greatest he said is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

That’s not an ethereal answer.  It is substantial.  It can soothe my soul and move me into action.  I’ve got opportunities to love by helping feed the hungry on Wednesdays at my church, reaching out to friends going through tough circumstances, writing notes to a friend who is terminally ill, praying without ceasing, showing interest in the checker at the grocery store, sharing a joke with the parking attendant who spends his days in the bowels of a parking garage, etc., etc.!

Lord, help me to remember to ask, “What should I be asking?”  That is one powerfully healing and life giving question!

A Message for the Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington: How ‘Bout Respect for ALL Women?

When I first got wind of the Women’s March on Washington I thought it might be a positive, healthy outlet for me.  I’ve been disgusted by the language used as our president-elect campaigned for what ironically has been called the bully pulpit.  I’ve been heart broken by the sexual violence suffered by some of the women I love.  I’ve been outraged by the inequities within our criminal justice system.  I’ve felt fear for marginalized groups of people in our society.

My initial impression of the march was that women and men were coming together to protest disrespect shown toward women and others who feel marginalized. I can say YES to that!

I wanted to believe that all the sad divisiveness of the past year had risen up a movement to bring women of different backgrounds, political beliefs and faiths together, with common goals of respect, peace, dignity and a desire to build bridges.

My daughter and some of her friends plan to march and I was thrilled that they have this forum to display their power as women and voice their right to respect.  “Why not me?”, I thought, “I need an outlet too and I want to show solidarity”.  However, as a 58 year old woman I’m sorely aware that for decades, major women’s groups have a track record of speaking on behalf of all women with the arrogant assumption that all women have the exact same beliefs.

The Women’s March on Washington is billed as a march for all women no matter who you voted for, no matter your color, no matter your religion…no matter.

So I got on the website for the Women’s March and read the organizers “Unity Principles” and realized, sadly, this is not a march for ALL women. There is one “matter”.  I am a Pro Life woman and there is no room in these “unity principles” for respecting my right to my values.  My Civil Rights (as written in these principles), including “freedom to worship without fear…freedom of speech…protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability” have a proviso:  rights and respect don’t apply to women like me – women who don’t want their government involved in “affordable abortion”.

I’m wondering how this jives with the Catholic immigrant women, the Muslim women and the black Christian women this march purports to be standing up for?

No wonder our public discourse has become so angry, rude and contemptuous.  The very citizens who organize a march that ostensibly has a mission and vision to “stand together…recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country,” isn’t really open to the diversity of women’s beliefs.

The mission to “stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us” falls flat to me when “all”  is not “all”.

Can’t we listen to President Obama this once? “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued. They quarreled. Eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

I long for women to accept that we are not all alike in every value and opinion but we do need to have “a basic sense of solidarity”.  We are all in this together.  We will rise or fall as one.

I did not want to march for policies or politics.  I wanted to march for human dignity and solidarity.   But with the agenda set out by these organizers, if I still march I’ll be marching with a sign that says:

RESPECT FOR ALL WOMAN

INCLUDING

PRO-LIFERS

Sorry, I mean, Thank You

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions because I tend to set myself up for failure.  I’ve skipped the whole notion for a number of years.  I have, on a number of years, asked God for a word for my year.*  That was more profitable.  But I haven’t been consistent with that practice either.  On December 30th, a FaceBook friend (that’s you, Karen S.) posted a suggestion of setting the goal to say thank you more often than saying sorry.

At first reading, those of us who are inclined to hold high regard for the willingness to apologize, might find this goal less than noble.  But both the explanation given in Karen’s post, and the outcome for me as I’ve acted on that suggestion, have proven to be positive.  The post in part says, “it’s not only shifted the way I think and feel about myself but also improved my relationships with others who now get to receive my gratitude instead of my negativity”.

I’m realizing that the words “I’m sorry” can become as rote as “how are you?”.  Just a sloppy habit.  Sometimes we say “I’m sorry” for something out of our control, e.g. being late due to traffic caused by an accident.  It’s refreshing to say, “thank you for patiently waiting for me”.  That acknowledges your friend’s positive attitude and lifts some of the frustration of being stuck in traffic!

Yesterday I had a dentist appointment to have a cavity filled.  I have a smaller than average mouth.  No broad smile for me!  But I do have squinty eyes that let you know my heart is smiling broadly.  Anyway, when the dentist and her assistant finished working in the confines of my mouth I said, “thanks for not complaining about the size of my mouth”.  Normally I would have said, “sorry about my small mouth”!  My thanks brought about some chuckles and an acknowledgment that it was a challenge to work on my molar, but she could see I was struggling also.  The exchange felt positive!

Now, you may think I making a wisdom tooth out of a molar, (I know, you’re rolling your eyes).  But think about the cumulative effect of saying a lot more specific thank you’s this year and fewer meaningless sorry’s.  We’ll be forging a year of gratitude instead of fostering needless negativity.

By all means, we need to stay aware of any time we may offend and make amends (in part) with a sincere apology!  Let’s just do away with needless groveling, shame and negativity; let’s become aware of how those around us give us a multitude of reasons to be thankful!

We can dole out the good feeling of a pat on the back and we’ll have a better attitude about common mishaps.

Wish I was the originator of the expression, “turn that frown upside down”.  It would make a good, syrupy ending to this essay.  Sorry for the corny tone of this essay.  I mean, thanks for reading my thoughts, corny humor and all!

*http://www.ransomedheart.com/podcast/discover-gods-theme-you-2015

Pompous Know-it-all or Woman of my Convictions?

Over the past year we’ve been challenged to look a lot at the character of the various candidates for the presidency.   More and more as we near election day I’ve been forced to look at my own character.  When I contemplate how I am reacting and how I will react to the choices we have in this election, I’m learning a bit more about myself.  And I’m not impressed.

The passion and temperament that have been rising up in me can only be described as judgmental, in the really ugly connotation of the word.  A common sentence in my thought life, and one spoken to those close to me has been, “How can anyone (you) possibly justify voting for …”.  The Holy Spirit has prodded me in the last month to step back and try to understand different points of view.  Some who I disagree with have taken me to task by asking, “Why do you get so upset with this candidate and you don’t get equally upset with the other candidate?”.  Point taken.

What I’ve discovered is that really thoughtful, sincere, people of good will, disagree with me. They too are desperately seeking to do the right thing and stand for what God stands for.  They are voting their conscience.  And when I’ve haughtily thought my conscience is right and theirs is wrong I’ve usurped God’s rightful place on the throne.

The proverbial thin line has been crossed.  Am I a passionate woman with godly convictions or am I a foolish and stubborn Miss Know-it-all?  I believe I speak truth when I say both of our presidential candidates have characteristics that are less than ideal for leading our country.  (By the way, I’m really proud at how mildly I expressed that last sentence).  The reality is that one of them will be the next president and friends and family members are voting for one or the other because they believe the other or the one will be more detrimental to our welfare.  And granted, some don’t even consider one the lesser of two evils…they like their choice.

I’ve spent a good amount of time since the primary believing that I can’t with good conscience imagine myself standing before my God and telling him I voted for either one.  My conscience screams that the hoped for ends does not justify the means!!!     I have friends who believe not voting for either one is irresponsible.  I get it.

Romans 13:1 tells us that every person should be in subjection to the governing authorities because there is no authority except God, and those which exist are established by God.  Purposes are being carried out in the heavenlies that we’re not privy to!  It’s clear in the Bible that God often gives a nation what they want and or deserve.  Unfortunately that’s not always a good, wise and kind leader.  But it’s also clear that Jesus always makes good for those who love him.  One translation:  he’ll clean up my character and redirect my loyalty to Him and service to others, in the midst of the country of my birth going to hell in a hand basket.  Go ahead, smile…just a little levity to break the tension.

So when presented with a ballot unlike any other ballot in my life time, do I play only the “God’s sovereign card” or do I also play the “I’m salt & light by voting card”?  Do I fix my eyes on being the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting world?  Yes.  But can I also choose not to exercise the right to vote for the president, knowing so many have died for that right and so many long to have that right?  Yikes.  And…I’m in a swing state.

All the contemplation throughout this past year still leads me to areas of gray.  The answers to the above questions are just not simple.  (Is my conscience being directed by the Holy Spirit or my own bias?  Oy).  A little over 24 hours until election day and I know I’m voting.  I don’t know that I’m voting for president.

What I do know is I can not judge how others vote.  That’s progress!  I’ll still have an opinion on their vote born of my strongly held convictions.  That’s honest!  But my opinion will not be a judgement on their good hearts.  That’s a relief!

Confession and repentance are really good for the soul.  And they’re not bad for relationships either.

A Fan of Friendship

There has been a lot of talk of division lately.  Last night’s NLDS game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals has me thinking about unity.  Sports of all kinds have a way of bringing people together.  Not only do we root for our chosen team, we share in the experience as if we are part of the accomplishments of the athletes we yell for and/or scream at.

I’ve lived in the DC area for 8 months now.  I’ve been a Dodgers fan since I can remember because I grew up in a household of Dodgers fans.  Actually I grew up in an extended family full of Dodgers fans.  I swear I heard my Aunt Gorie from Heaven whooping it up last night.  I certainly saw her joy filled face in my mind’s eye.  By the 7th inning I was making frequent phone calls to my parents in California and one of my cousins and I were texting to each other through multiple tense moments.

I also was thinking of my new friends here in Virginia.  I knew my moments of disappointment were simultaneously their moments of elation, and visa versa.  When I thought about the real possibility of a Dodgers loss I actually thought about the joy it would bring them.  I did not however, let that sway my loyalty and desire.  No need to get too magnanimous!  However, since we did get the win, I won’t be bringing it up at church on Sunday.  (It’s not like they’re SF Giant fans).

Before the game last night a small group of people from our church gathered around our table for dinner.  (I had to record the first hour of the game and they didn’t seem too impressed with my sacrifice).  Anyway, as is our custom, we were discussing last Sunday’s sermon.  Our pastor is doing a series on being the person your dog thinks you are (love it!) and this sermon was entitled, “Beloved Friend”.  One of the attributes of a beloved friendship is serving together – being on mission for Jesus together.  Our dinner party discussed how when we pursue a cause with a friend, (e.g., serving those who have less than us materially or serving those who are seemingly invisible to others), our friendships develop a tie that binds.  Friendships share life in a deeper way when they serve others together.

To build unity in friendships we can learn from the experience of being a sports fan.  Know the stats of your friends.  Celebrate their gifts and understand their weaknesses.  Be loyal.  You can enjoy many people but it takes commitment to just a few to be a true fan.  It’s the difference between a casual friendship and a beloved friend.  I admire the Nats but “my team” is the Dodgers.  Be committed to sharing your journey with Jesus, with one another.  It’s a lot more fun when you’re wearing the same team shirt with others.  It’s called home field advantage.

The Bad Company Loneliness Keeps

I’m playing “Name that Feeling” again. It has been over 6 months since I moved from California to Virginia. When I realize that it’s already been half of a year it’s surprising. I’ve been gone quite a chunk of time! I’ve been here long enough to call this home. Gulp. The novelty of this experience and this area has not worn off, but the truth that I’m here to stay has sunk in. And the loneliness that comes with leaving your people and investing in new people has sunk in too.

But loneliness, ironically, is not a feeling that stands in solitude. That’s why I’m playing “Name that feeling”. Imposters have been trying to keep my loneliness company.

I’m realizing now that I have to be careful with what names I allow to associate with my loneliness. Disappointment is definitely not a good companion. I have been disappointed. Disappointed with the effort it takes to stay in touch with far away friends. I’ve gotta tell you, the spirit named Disappointment has childish and selfish expectations. I need to own my loneliness rather than blame it on others. Disappointment becomes a poor excuse for wallowing in loneliness.

Another sidekick I’ve been tempted to allow to hang out with my loneliness is Unloved. Gratefully, I can quickly dismiss that fellow as a lie because the truest thing about the people that I shared life with in California is that they have loved me well. Their love deserves the dignity of being trusted. I sure do not want my friends expecting me to prove my love for them after years of loving them. But Satan likes to keep Unloved in his arsenal and poke me with it every now and then.

I knew when I moved here that I would have to face the reality of being dispensable. I knew that life would move on for my California friends and the feelings that would come from moving would be mine to experience alone.

And yet another crony that whispers in my ear is Insignificant. Insignificant likes to tie itself to the rather humbling Dispensable. As much as I fooled myself into believing that I was comfortable with dispensable being a reality of the human condition, my pride has still been hurt by it.  Because, I’ve been wrongly interpreting dispensable as a verdict on whether I’ve had impact in the lives of others. The wonderful truth is that having a positive impact for Christ is present perfect. Our past has present consequences. Praise God!  But geographical distance does limit us in sharing our lives. Generally, we just can’t have the same consistent impact in far away friends’ lives; nor they in ours. There are exceptional relationships; but they take exceptional and intentional effort.

There’s another dangerous champion of Loneliness. It may seem like the definition of loneliness but it is not. This deceptive fellow is named Alone. Ah, I’ve reached the crux of the matter. Loneliness naturally comes and goes and challenges us to rise up with courage and fix our eyes on Jesus. The truth is we may feel lonely but we are never alone. Like all painful feelings, loneliness can only be redeemed by the One who is Truth.  Jesus will never abandon me. For in him I live and move and have my being. I am not alone. And neither are you.

Look at the gang of thugs I’ve just busted! When we’re lonely we can be attacked by imposters named Disappointment, Unloved, Insignificant, and Alone! The only way to fight these liars is with truth.  I disappoint, but that doesn’t make me a disappointment.  Friends disappoint me but that’s not the truest thing about them. I am not unloved. You are not unloved. I am not insignificant. You are not insignificant. We know all of this is true because our creator was not content to leave us alone!  We know this to be true because of the loving lengths Jesus went to rescue us.  We know it is true because of the One Jesus chose to leave to always be with us: our comforter and guide, The Holy Spirit.

If we make these truths buddies of our thought life, and choose to not associate with what is false, we’ll have the strength to do whatever it takes to triumph in seasons of loneliness.*

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:37-39

*I’ve been lifted out of loneliness when I talk it out with Jesus, worship, choose gratitude, step out into the passions He’s given me, choose to love and serve others.  (Taking unneeded naps and eating ice cream in excess haven’t proven as helpful).