A Little Context For Me

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Love In An Imperfect World

In a perfect world, we would all love each other with a fullness and grace that would make sacrifice and compassion as natural as breathing. In perfect world, anger would be defused with understanding, bitterness erased with tenderness, and the scars we inflict upon each other would fade into nothingness so that we would never again be reminded of those moments when we failed to love or be loved completely.

But we do not live in a perfect world, and we ourselves are not perfect. Love costs us greatly, grace is never cheap or free when you are the one extending it, and forgiveness never comes with forgetfulness.

We live in a world where people fail us, where we fail others, and usually it the ones we hold most dear that hurt us the most and who we fail most often. In those times love demonstrates its strength by turning to embrace the hurt and the hurting so that relationship can be preserved and healing, as imperfect as we now know it to be in this realm, can commence.

But what of those moments when healing is denied, when forgiveness is not offered and mercy is withheld?  How then do we love?

Does compassion become weakness? Grace permission for abuse?

For so long we have been told that love is without bounds and limits. It is to be given freely and only its unwavering expression of approval and acceptance is it determined to be authentic. All else is but a fraud, a manipulation, and self-serving artifice designed to bind another to you through the shackles of control and demands of proof for their worthiness of such affection. So we give, and we give without thought to self or survival. We pour out so that another might know that they are worthy of our gift and sacrifice, and we pray that we will be found worthy in turn.

The stories told us that if we loved enough, if we held on tight enough, and worked hard enough we would indeed be found worthy and rewarded with the strength of love that we have bestowed upon another. But this is not truth. It never has been.

Love is the most easily rejected gift we have to offer another.

Perfect love was the first gift offered to humanity. Love not merely expressed in the feeble tools of words and deed, but love personified, walking with Adam and Eve there in the garden, guiding and teaching them with his tangible presence. Their experience of love was beyond any that you and I will know this side of the grave, and they still betrayed it for the hope of something better. Greed and pride deafened their ears, blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts to the truth – love wants to give all, but only to those willing to reject everything else for the chance to experience this great gift.

Millennia would pass before love once again walked the earth, and this time the gift of his presence was rewarded with a gruesome death upon the cross for demands of fidelity are the one thing the human heart cannot abide. Sacrificing control of our lives and destiny is not something easily accomplished by the human heart, and yet, that was what he required of us so we demanded his blood for daring to be so bold. Unable to appreciate the great gift before us, we rebel. We fight and scream at the cruelty of perceived oppression, and declare that this cannot be love for the love we wish leaves us unchanged and unburdened by expectations.

We have never embraced love without struggle or objection.

This is true not just of God’s love for us, but even the love of another human being. We will lash out at any who feel they have the right by merit of their love for us to dictate the terms of our lives. We will deny that what they offer is love, and call it evil so that we can justify our rejection of this gift.

And what of those times when we are the ones who love? When our great gift of self is rejected? What are we to do then? As in all things, we should look to the example of our Lord and Savior, we continue to love, but we enact limits. We set boundaries, not upon our love but upon the expressions of love that we offer. We do not permit ourselves to be used up and abused by those who would use our emotion as a means to demand all and give nothing in return. We recognize that what we have offered is of great value to ourselves and our Creator, and it is not a gift to be scorned.

Therein lies the conflict. For if we as human beings cannot give love without expectations of honor nor can we receive without submission, how then are we to love?

The answer is a revelation of why we need the love of God before any other love. For without his guidance, the continual experience of his love for us forever renewing our minds and conforming us to his image, we will lack the wisdom and knowledge of where boundaries should be set and how they should be enacted – first in our lives and then in the lives of others. We learn to love by being loved. We learn how to love by experiencing how he loves us, and we are taught to accept love when we receive the gift of his love to us. Without his love illuminating our hearts and minds we stumble and fall into abuse and selfishness, we are lured into believing that our happiness relies on something beyond what has been given, and we flinch from the burden of expectation.

As we experience the love of God we learn to discern love from lust, true sacrifice from manipulation, respect from flattery, and conviction from unfounded guilt. We will never get it right, not completely, but that is why we need the one we love to love our Father as well. For in our humanness, we will need the grace and mercy that can only be inspired in the hearts of one who knows the source of true love intimately. And sometimes, as you fight through the learning together, you get a piece of it right and in those moments you learn the beauty of what it is to truly love another and to be loved in return with all the glory and beauty that is a gift from the God of love alone and can never be conjured from the mere depths of our humanity.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Cost of Dreaming Big

There is an inherent risk in dreaming big, something no one ever talks about but is unavoidable and devastating, and that is the inevitable reality of disappointment. Now, I am old pro at dreaming big. I have constructed masterpieces whimsy in my mind that would shame Da Vinci. I have woven together grand and glorious schemes out of nothing more than a whisper of hope that make the Sistine Chapel look like a mere coloring book.

And it more than conjecture or what if’s. I can see myself there in the moment. I can feel the texture of the clothing I shall wear as it all comes to fruition. I can smell the air that crackles with the energy of realized potential, and if I am still enough, I can feel the weight of all the toils and heartaches endured to reach that moment roll off my back.

It is the fuel that keeps me going. It is why I do what I do and why I fight so hard to keep moving forward when everything around me tries to hold me back. I need to dream, like I need to breathe and even more than I need the nourishment of food for my dreams are far richer. In my mind it is not a question of if, but rather of when. For me, it has already happened and I am only waiting for that moment when you shall be able to enjoy the dream with me in this reality.

And then there are days like today.

Days when I realize I don’t have a play left. Facts, reality, the truth, whatever you wish to call it, are greater than my dreams and I have to admit that, at least for the moment, I have been defeated.
Days like this aren’t frequent. They are a strange and unfamiliar land, one that I have managed to dodge more times than any human has a right to – a fact I am grateful for, but it does not make it any less painful to be here. Maybe it is my lack of experience with this place that causes me to freeze, to set back and watch the sky fall bit by crumbling bit with nothing more than remorseful resignation.

Days like this make me doubt, not my faith, but my ability to trust God. And yes, there is a difference. For I have all the faith in the world that God is greater than my mind can comprehend. Questioning his power, his holiness, and his sovereignty never crosses my mind. I have faith that when I pray on your behalf that he will move mountains to care for you, to provide for you, and to demonstrate his love for you. Faith is not an issue. Faith is as real to me as gravity, an undeniable and powerful force not be ignored.

But trust? That is another matter.

Trust means that I am willing to believe no matter what the evidence or circumstance says that everything that is will be for my good. That is a harder thing to believe, particularly when the circumstances hurt. And they do hurt when you watch your dream evaporate.

This is where most Christian blog writers would give you some great spiritual insight. Sorry, but today, I have none. It just hurts. And my sadistic little brain keeps running through all the ways that life is unfair, making a tally of all the things that I have sacrificed and balancing against all that I think I have gained. I am involuntarily running down the list of people who have gained so much more and done so much less, and I am trying not to drown in self-pity or get puffed up with sanctimonious outrage that life isn’t fair – that God isn’t fair.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know all the right Christian answers and I can quote all the appropriate verses for you. And I have lots of people in my life who are willing to quote them back at me, but you know what? When it hurts this bad, all of that is nothing more than salt in a bloody wound, and while I know that everyone means well, it feels like I am being told that my emotions in all this do not matter, like my disappointment and pain should just be swept under the rug and ignored.

I know my dream was unrealistic and that there were too many obstacles standing in the way to ever think that it might be done in this life. I get it, but do you think for one second I would be feeling this way if I did not have faith enough to dream in the first place? If I did not think for one second that my God was strong enough and great enough to accomplish all that I believed could happen? Of course, I did or I would not be facing disappointed now. The question was never faith. It’s not the question now.

The question is can I trust him? My mind started out screaming yes – decreeing it if we want to use the right church vernacular, but after the past few years that scream has become a whisper lost in the storm. For no matter how much I know what the right answer is, my heart is bleeding with the wounds that faith has dealt me, that daring to trust has cost me.

So I turn the pages, find the Psalm that reminds me that I am not alone. There was another who felt this way, another who dared to ask that dreadful question that only the truly brave can ask, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Because sometimes, you don't need answers, you just need to know that you are not alone. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Feedlefusters - And Other Not So Whimsical Problems With Me

Ever since I could remember I have wanted a feedlefuster, and not just any feedlefuster. I have invested hours planning each and every detail of the perfect feedlefuster for me. I have tweaked the design in my head to better fit into each passing phase of my life, downgrading the original wants and desires to something more manageable as I have aged, but clinging to those elements that I knew I must have to make having my own feedlefuster worthwhile and enjoyable. So no longer did I want the seventy six ortasnogs or the 37 ribberblasts. I had determined all I really needed to be happy with my feedlefuster were 2 ortasnogs and 3 ribberblasts, but no matter what I had to have the bellazous. I, mean, who could possible enjoy a feedlefuster without a bellazous?

So when Ty said that it was time that we should finally get a feedlefuster, I was thrilled! I began polishing up my feedlefuster design and prepared to go shopping. I sat him down and explained to him in no uncertain terms that this was the feedlefuster that we were looking for, and that this is why we needed those oh so important features. That is when Ty looked at me and said, “It’s all well and good to dream big, but you can’t always get what you want.” He then proceeded to show me an array of feedlefusters that did not have a single ortasnog and only one ribberblast. And get this not a single bellazous to be seen! There wasn’t even a place to add a bellazous – ANYWHERE!

To say that I was appalled is the understatement of the century. I was devastated. What was this man who said he loved me thinking by suggesting such a thing? Didn’t he realize that I had to have a bellazous with my feedlefuster? I had been promised a feedlefuster with bellazous. We had discussed this and agreed that we both wanted one and now he was acting like we had agreed to get a pet unicorn or some other crazy thing that simply did not exist. He was acting as if all those conversations were a joke that I had been in on, or was that target of?

So I stopped. I stopped looking a feedlefusters. I stopped thinking about them, stopped discussing them, and most definitely refused to be a part of his shopping for one. It just hurt too much to think about settling for something I didn’t want when this was so important to me. Not that he noticed. He just kept showing me ads for the feedlefusters he liked, and I kept dying inside a little with each and every one he showed me and resenting him a little more each time for dashing my hopes and dreams of the perfect feedlefuster.

Until last night, when he asked me to look at the latest feedlefuster he had found. Oh crackers, it was awful! I just sat there all numb looking at its blue berrymauts and the 9 bifflewits – have I mentioned I hate bifflewits? It even had a rubber top on its goobersmet. Who puts rubber tops on goobersmets anymore? And I realized, this was what I was going to end up with. There was no avoiding it, and I just needed to accept that fact that I was never going to get a bellazous or a single ortasnog. It is just not happening, and I needed to make peace with it.

Lying in bed, I couldn’t even pray, not about the feedlefuster. If I even tried I was certain I was going to break into a thousand little pieces that could not be put back together, and I didn’t want to have to clean up that mess. So I hid. Deep in my mind, in my favorite place, I began turning over the words of Genesis 1:1, letting them roll through me until they were all that mattered. I asked God about how he occupied himself before creation, what was it like to be there in eternity before he filled the universe with life apart from himself, and a thousand other mysteries he has yet to reveal to humanity.

But God wasn’t having any of my over spiritualized cowardice. (Grrr!)

“Why aren’t you praying about the feedlefuster?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” I responded.

“Are you saying that what I have to say about it doesn’t matter?” he pushed. “Are you saying that you are perfectly okay with believing that I can speak the universe into existence, but you don’t think I can take care of this?”

I protested. “He is asking me to…

He cut me off, “What if I am asking you to be okay with it?”

This is where I got smacked in the face with one of the things I have been teaching for a while now. Ty is my husband, he’s the head of my household, and I believe that the Scripture is pretty clear that I am supposed to submit to him. (Double grrr!) Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t have a voice in our marriage. It doesn’t mean that Ty automatically gets his way in everything, and it doesn’t mean that I am door mat. It simply means that every team has to have a leader, and I agreed to let him be mine. There are times when I put my foot down, and I put it down hard. But I reserve those times for things that I believe are morally or ethically wrong, and let’s face it, it’s hard to argue the morality of a feedlefuster. It’s a tool, and nothing else.

Am I happy that my wants in this matter are being ignored? Not by a long shot, and I don’t think I have to be happy about it. But I can’t afford to be bitter, and that is where I was heading in all my angst. I signed on for this. It doesn’t make Ty right or his opinion on this superior to mine, and I am free to disagree all I want to. I just need to do it in a way that doesn’t lead to resentment on my part, and do you know who is responsible for that? Me.

And here is the worst part, my bitterness and resentment wasn’t all directed at Ty. He’s an imperfect man, and I knew that going into this marriage. I also knew that I was entering into a sacred covenant wherein we both have obligations, and I did so believing that God has reason and purpose for this design. When I buck it like I have been, I am saying there is flaw in the design. I am saying that God cannot be trusted, and I am declaring that my wants are more important that God’s decrees.

I am also saying that I am willing to sacrifice the truth of what I believe and my marriage for a silly feedlefuster. That I love the feedlefuster I have always wanted more than I love Ty or my God, and if I were to be brutally honest with myself that feedlefuster has become a bit of an idol in my life. Not that there is anything wrong with having a feedlefuster, most of my friends do and they love it, they are using it for ministry, and it a huge blessing in their life. I just can’t let it be more important to me than obedience or love.

So if you see me with a rubber topped feedlefuster, don’t expect me to do a jig over it. I am probably never going to be ecstatic over it, but I can make peace with it. In the end it is not really about what I have anyways, it is about my heart and my attitude and what I do with what I have been given. So I will choose to walk in faith, trusting in God’s decree and design, and rejoicing in him even when I don’t get what I want because I am wise enough to know maturity stinks sometimes and the right thing isn’t always easy. And if a thing, anything, even a feedlefuster, makes me miserable, I have lost sight of how great my God my truly is and that just won’t fly.

*If you are wondering what in the world is a feedlefuster, you are not alone. I chose not to identify this object of contention, because it really doesn’t matter what the precise nature of thing is. We all have a feedlefuster in our lives, that thing we think we can’t be happy without, and for each one of us it is different. So instead of wondering what my feedlefuster is, just insert your own into the story, and ask yourself the question God put to me – What if he is the one asking you to modify your wants? Can you trust him with that or is that particular idol getting in your way?

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/130467353@N06/16417954196">Paris, Museum of Inventions</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">(license)</a>

"Why Did You Deceive Me?" Or Leah's Romance

"What have you done to me? I was in service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?" Genesis 29:25b

I have never been able to read those words without wondering if Leah could hear them. Was she listening on the other side of the tent curtain waiting to hear her fate? Did Jacob drag her by the arm and shove her in Laban's face as demanded to know the answers? Could she even breathe as her hopes of love and romance were cast aside in favor of her sister's beauty? Did the entire camp see Jacob's anger at having been saddled with her? Did she notice that her name was never spoken by her husband or her father? Only Rachel's?

If you don't know the story, here's a quick overview. Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Leah was the oldest. We don't know much about her only that she had "weak eyes" and that was not Jacob's choice for a bride. But Rachel, now she was something special. Jacob fell for her and he fell hard, so hard that he was willing to work seven years for Laban just for the right to have her as his bride. When the seven years had been fulfilled, Jacob demanded that Laban uphold his end of the bargain, but on the wedding night, Laban snuck Leah into Jacob's tent instead of Rachel. The next morning Jacob discovered what had been done and was furious, but Laban just used Jacob's despair as way to weasel seven more years of work out of Jacob in exchange for the bride he truly desired.

The new terms were quickly struck, and Leah was granted a full week with her new husband before he was wed to Rachel. I cannot even imagine what that week must have been like for her. Instead of the proud new groom delighting in his new wife, she got to spend it with an man who was anticipating a life with another woman. (And I think I have bad days.)

But that week was just the beginning. For as the Bible specifically records, Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. (Genesis 29:30).

We see Leah's misery in the names of her children, children that Bible says were given to her because God saw that she was unloved. Reuben means "The Lord has seen my affliction" or "Now my husband will love me", Simeon means "This is because the Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me this one also", Levi means "This time my husband will become attached to me for I have borne him three sons", and Judah means "This time I will praise the Lord." The hope in those words is heart breaking when you know that it will never be. Jacob will always love Rachel, and there is nothing that Leah can do to win his heart. Nothing she ever does will be good enough or amazing enough to be loved in the way that all women wish to be adored, and you can see the cycle of hope and shattered dreams breaking her until she becomes a footnote in her own story.

To this day, the romance of Jacob and Rachel is celebrated. Jacob's devotion and patience in his service for Rachel is lauded and Laban's trickery is condemned, but who remembers Leah as more than an obstacle to true love?

Some of the Rabbis attempted to restore some of Leah's honor, devising a tale in which she is heroine of faith. In their story Leah is frightened that she may end up married to Jacob's coarser older brother Esau, and she prays that she might be saved from such a fate. Her prayers are so powerful that she is given Jacob as a husband, instead. Later, out of concern for her sister she is said to have prayed that she not be allowed to give birth to another son lest her sister be displaced, and so the baby she was carrying became daughter, Dinah. It is a sweet tale, but stands at odds with the Biblical text.

For once, Leah's son Reuben found mandrakes, a plant believed to aid in conception. Rachel who was still barren at the time, begged her sister for them. Leah's response drips with bitterness, "Was it not enough for you to take away my husband, that you would also take my son's mandrakes?" (Genesis 30:15). Rachel uses the one ploy she has to get her way, she barters a night in their husband's bed in exchange for the mandrakes.

She informs Jacob of this with little love or hope of receiving any in return, "You are to sleep with me, for I have hired you with my son's mandrakes." (Genesis 30:16). Listen to her words, "I have hired you." Gone is the starry eyed girl, and her place is a woman who has made bitter peace with her situation. Children are her consolation, and that is all that Jacob can provide. The names of her next two sons are Issachar and Zebulun, "My reward" and "My gift".

It is hard to study Leah's story. It is not one of victory or triumph. It is about a woman who is stuck in the most untenable of positions anyone could imagine. God does not give her the love she desires, he does not change her circumstance, or intervene in some miraculous way. He leaves there as she struggles to cope with the harsh realities of her life.  

But just because it is a hard story, it does not mean that is should be avoided nor should Leah be forgotten for she has much to teach us. She began her journey full of optimism and hope. She had dreams of being loved, and she prayed that God would grant her a request so simple that many of us believe it a fundamental human right. For what kind of God would deny us love? Surely, it is the just reward for any of us who believe in him, who serve him, who do as we have been commanded, and honor those who declared we should honor? Would it not be anything short of cruelty to deny us the one thing that human heart demands to experience happiness? Leah teaches us that our suppositions about God are not always true, and she reminds that his intents often exceed our happiness and fulfillment. Sometimes God's plans include our suffering and the sacrifice of our dreams.

Oh, it hurts. I know how much it hurts as time and time again he has asked that I watch as others receive the very things that I have asked him to grant me. I have witnessed blessing poured out on those who do not honor him as I do, and good gifts given to some who have never sacrificed on his behalf. And in that moment, I am confronted with a choice. Do I indulge my petty nature or do I try to see the grander purposes that God may have in mind for me? For my children? For this world? For eternity? Can I play a part or will I be consigned to the sidelines, a footnote in my own story, because I allowed my sense of entitlement to steal what joy I have been given?

See, Leah was not totally forgotten. Each time she was given a son, the Bible declares it because God heard her, he remembered her, and heeded her. He knew what she was suffering and he gave her good gifts in the midst of her pain, even if he did not obliterate the cause of that pain. Leah finally got it. It took her years, maybe even decades, but she finally understood that she had a choice to be keep hoping for what she was never destined to have and live in the agony of disappointed hope or to rejoice over what she had been given. She declares as much in the names she gave to her children.

And I wonder what matters more to her now, that even her memory is clouded by the name of her sister or that her children would become the kings and priests of the nation, that her sons would be the father's of a people through which God would bless the whole world, and that the salvation of all humanity can be traced back to time when she was nothing more than a pawn? As a mother, I can only imagine that she would celebrate the triumphs of her children even at the expense of her own dreams and the fleeting happiness she thought needed. Leah's romance was not with Jacob, it was with a God who destined her to participate in a legacy greater than the love of any one man could have ever been.