My struggling faith, Edward Mote’s Solid Rock and freefalling into the Grand Canyon.

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The Grand Canyon.

First time we met, I was in my mid-twenties. All my friends ran laughing and screaming to her jagged edge.

I stared into the face of her glory.

  • 227 miles long.
  • 18 miles across.
  • One mile deep.

Then, I backed away.

Not the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Once I made it to the van, I huddled inside and prayed that my friends would not fall over the side.

Thirty minutes later, they clamored into the van. I didn’t mind the jostling and teasing. Considering the awesome proportions of the canyon, it was a miracle they survived.

When I returned to School that fall, a conversation reinforced my fears.. An administrator told me about a friend’s trip to the Grand Canyon. How it ended in tragedy. The friend stood too close to the edge. A gust of wind caught her off-balance.

She went over the side.

Not going to happen to me, I vowed. I was never going back. And, I never did.

A few nights ago, I saw a Television special that unnerved me. It was about a glass bridge that engineers built over the Grand Canyon.

Of course, this was no Winnie The Pooh stick bridge.

The horseshoe shaped marvel that curved 70 feet out from the west rim was made of

  • 1 million pounds of steel,
  • 64,000 pounds of glass

It was strong enough to hold the weight of 71 fully loaded 747 airplanes.

I watched footage of people attempting to walk the bridge.

  • Forget the colossal amount of glass and steel.
  • Forget it’s unique deign.

The 2.5 inches of crystal clear glass under their feet freaked them out.

Women, men and kids clutched the railing to keep from plunging to their death.

Mind you, there was no danger of cracking glass or snapping steel.

The bridge just did not feel safe.

Although it was just a show, I clenched my fists like I was holding onto the side of the bridge.

I’ve had enough practice.

Feeling like I’m about to free fall into disaster.

How many time have I heard Proverbs 3:5 quoted?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding.”

I figure that leaning on my own understanding is my solid ground. Trusting in the Lord without knowing what is going on feels like tumbling over the edge of the Grand Canyon.

There is a big chance I will not survive.

In 1834, a cabinetmaker named Edward Mote turned his theology into song.

“On Christ the Solid rock I stand,” he wrote, “All other ground is sinking sand.”

Not the kind of solid ground I was counting on.

Christ was a glass bridge.

  • Strong
  • Unmovable

But, often invisible. Hard to trust when I was overwhelmed by circumstances. 

Maybe Edward felt the same sensation. This spiraling down into nothingness.

“When all around my soul gives way,” Edward wrote, “He then is all my hope and stay.”

What have you felt give way?

Finances? Relationships? Your health?

Are you like me? Clutching the railing with my eyes closed? Or, do you let go? Step out in Faith?

I’d love to know.

Grey’s Anatomy, imaginary diners and how I found faith to survive what I could not control

 

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This is how my fantasy begins.

I’m sitting at a Formica table in a small diner. Just as I take a bite of French Toast, a man walks by and collapses on the floor.

“Is there a doctor in the place?” a waitress calls out.

No one responds.

This guy is going to bite the bullet, I think to myself. He is going to kick the bucket. Buy the farm.

Suddenly, I realize my years of watching ER reruns and Grey’s anatomy episodes were not in vain.

I push back my plate and stand up.

“Probe his chest,” I yell to the waitress as I run over and kneel beside man, “Does he feel bloated?”

She nods.

“It’s a tension pneumothorax,” I snap, “Get me a sharp paring knife and a bottle of Vodka.”

There is no time to waste. Air is escaping out of the lungs into man’s chest. I use the paring knife to make a small hole between two ribs. Then, I insert the pourer from the Vodka bottle into the opening so that the air can escape.

The man takes a deep breath and opens his eyes.

In my fantasy, I’m a hero.

In real life, not so much.

Last year, one of my kids had to catch an overseas flight. I knew the trip would be a challenge. Without a doubt, there were going to be tough times ahead.

My husband and I drove him to the airport. After he disappeared into the terminal, I sat in the van and sobbed.

For the next few weeks, a restless feeling churned in the pit of my stomach. It finally eased when

  1. I stopped fixating on the situation and gave my son space. Not an easy task since every atom in my body yearned to grab the situation and manipulate it to somehow make everything come out the way I thought it should be.
  2. I prayed. Deep fears and doubts poured out of my heart like water over the rim of a plugged up toilet. God did not flinch at the overflow.
  3. I chose to believe.  After all the sermons I had heard through the years, all the theological debates and discussions I had participated in, it was time to live out the truth in my life.

Trusting is not easy. Faith is no picnic. It takes courage and transparency to hang on.

Even the disciples, who hung out with Jesus every day, went through hard times. The more popular Jesus became, the more people came out to see him. Crowds got restless. Men, women and children pushed and shoved to get close to the latest teaching sensation.

One time, it seemed that the situation was about to get out of control. The disciples figured that Jesus would finally say, “Enough is enough. Settle down or the show’s over.”

Instead, he turned to his disciples and talked to them as if nobody else was around.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?” he said, “Yet not one of them is forgotten by God”.

In the middle of chaos, the disciples needed to understand this truth as well as many others. In just a short time Jesus, would be taken from them. Nothing that they could do would change the situation.

The disciples had to back off of foolish heroics. There was no choice but to pray and believe that God cared. God had not forgotten them.

Have you seen God’s faithfulness in your life?

Maybe you are in a situation over which you have no control. Maybe you feel that God has forgotten you.

Tell me about it.

And remember, you are not alone.

Cruel children, The Shadow and Candy Cigarettes

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In second grade I considered myself an unselfish person.

A noble soul.

How could I not be with four younger siblings following me around everywhere? Thanks to being a preacher’s kid, I also had an entire congregation breathing down my neck.

Not an easy life, but I felt I could handle it as long as I had my cartoons and candy cigarettes.

(Note to reader –resist the urge to sidetrack just because I confessed a sugar vice. Back in the sixties, anything edible was was part of the Sunday Morning Trinity-eats, greets and saving seats. )

Everything changed when my parents decided to work at youth camp.

Guess how many church members begged to take their entire brood home for seven days?

Not one.

So, Dad and Mom farmed us out like a box of barnyard kittens. I stayed at a white frame house in the country.The only child in the house was a boy my age.

True to my calling as a preacher’s kid, I didn’t check out the toys or the swing set in the back yard. I represented Jesus to these people. A very short and scrawny Jesus but that didn’t stop me. The work of the ministry had begun.

That week, determined to

  • play church with the neighborhood children.
  • hold baptismal services in wading pools.
  • tell stories of the rapture: crashes on the freeway, planes falling from the sky.
  • draw pictures of Adam and Eve with lots of leaves and bushes.

Everything unraveled when I fell in love.

The eight year old boy who lived in the white framed house became the object of my affection.  Every time I looked into his eyes, my stomach quivered.

I forgot all about ambitions to be Jesus in this tiny corner of the world. Instead, I giggled and told as many knock-knock jokes as I could remember.

Nothing happened.

No pledges of undying affection. No declarations of love.

So, I took drastic measures.

“I can make the neighbor kid jump into a pit,” I bragged, hoping to appear cool. This neighborhood kid happened to be bigger than both of us but he had the mental capability of a five year old.

Perfect target for my dastardly scheme.

“We’ll dig three holes,“ I said to my one true love,  “Two shallow and one deep.”

And, so, we did.

After covering all three holes with cardboard, we invited the neighbor boy over to play.

“It’s fun, “I said, “jumping into holes at the same time.”

We lined up and jumped. The neighborhood boy’s hole was so deep he fell down.

I laughed.

The neighborhood boy looked confused. He started to cry. Then, he ran home.

A few days later, a large yellow school bus pulled into the drive. Mom and dad climbed out.

“Pack up your things,” Dad said, “We’re going home.”

I burst into tears. Not out of guilt or shame. Not because I needed to right a wrong. I cried because I knew that my romance was over. The kid was only eight, after all.

Looking back on my selfish acts, I can’t help but be reminded of  a radio show launched in the 1930’s.

“Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows”,  was the opening line.

The Shadow was an invincible crime fighter who could defy gravity, unravel any code, and achieve invisibility by “clouding men’s minds”. He became one of the most famous pulp heroes of the 20th century.

His inference to the darkness of our inner selves was right on track.

Jeremiah also comes to mind, prophet from centuries past. He was a weepy kind of guy. And, for good reason. God had instructed Jeremiah to reveal the hidden sins of people’s hearts.

“The heart is deceitful above all things,” Jeremiah surmised after one revelation too many, “beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

I certainly didn’t fathom the depth of cruelty that pooled in my heart when I was a little girl. But, it was there.

It still is.

Brackish with selfishness.

Dank with greed.

Just a glimpse of what lies beneath keeps me humble, keeps me clinging to the promise of forgiveness.

I can’t let go. I need it every day.

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An examination of Culottes, ultraconservatism and God’s love

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Disturbing.

What I learned in church when I was young.

The Holy Spirit had a dress code. The fruits of the spirit, such as goodness and grace wove their way through fabric and had their own design.

I remember wearing long skirts. I remember that the boys kept their hair short, like military recruits. But, somehow, I had forgotten all about the culottes.

Culottes billow out like skirts but have legs like pants.

I now realize that there is nothing sacred or secular about wearing such apparel. People wear just about any combination of styles these days.

But, when I was young it was a totally different story. A woman who wore pants was wanton. Her only recourse was to wear a skirt or dress. It was impractical apparel to wear for sports and hikes.

Hence, the culottes.

They were fashioned to appease the wrath of an angry God.

The wearing of them actually made me feel holy. Set apart. I felt much more sanctified than girls who wore pants.

I dared to compare myself to people I hardly knew. It was, and still is, very unwise.

But fixating on outward appearance is a tendency of all human beings. What we say. What we do. What we wear.

Thankfully, God sees the heart.

The disturbing part?

Actually, its not the culottes, although some are hideous to behold.

What troubles me is how easily I qualify my redemption, as if I have done something to deserve it or could do something to destroy it. I am ashamed at my audacity to think I could diminish the power of God’s love.

Waiting to Exhale–the art of living an ordinary life

 

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Waiting to exhale.

That’s me.

I’ve lived in Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana and British Columbia.

I’ve touched the Wailing Wall, walked through Piccadilly Circus and climbed Mayan ruins in Guatemala jungles.

I’ve gotten engaged twice, married once, and gave birth to four kids.

All the time I held my breath, waiting for that special moment when every detail of my life would fit together like an intricate puzzle.

I held out for one of those picture-perfect holiday Christmas dinners.

  • Fluffy mashed potatoes.
  • Crispy browned turkey.
  • Savory pumpkin pies.
  • Impeccable communication.
  • Total understanding.
  • Absolute lack of drama.

I’m still waiting.

I envisioned my kids to rushing to do their homework right after school . I imagined them singing praise songs while solving math problems and memorizing science facts.

(Quick observation – Deprivation of oxygen does funny things to the brain.)

I promised myself that when I finally lost weight, got my degree and organized my house I could relax. My life would begin.

I don’t know how long I’ve been holding my breath. Days. Months. Years.

I have gotten so consumed with the future I haven’t really noticed the value of a normal day.

  • A sticky kiss from a little kid
  • The pungent scent of new cut grass
  • An upbeat song on the radio
  • The music of a stalled engine that finally starts
  • The beauty of a good night’s sleep
  • The brilliance of butterflies, regular garbage pickup and fresh water from the tap.

I’m red-faced. My lungs ache from waiting to breathe. I’m tired of demanding unrealistic expectations be fulfilled.

It’s time to exhale. Lay in the grass. Count the stars. Trace my name in the sand.

Life is not a marathon with set paths and predictable patterns.

It’s countless, precious moments strung together to make a day.

Each one is worth being lived.

Clean sheets, the afterlife and John Lennon

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It’s weird.

Thinking about heaven.

Gates of pearl and blinding streets of gold. Massive lions hanging out with fuzzy little lambs.

The concept is so far beyond my comprehension, I sometimes wonder if it even exists.

That’s when John Lennon’s song Imagine comes to mind. He’s right, you know. It is easy if you try. It’s easy to imagine that heaven isn’t real.

But, Heaven is basically all I have.

It’s my

  • retirement
  • spiritual significance
  • only explanation for the suffering and the unbearable disappointments on earth.

When I was a little kid I sang a hymn about a “land beyond the river, that we call the sweet forever”.  I belted out with the best of them that I was going to “fly away to a land where joys shall never end”.

But, I had no tangible proof that  this place existed.

  • No postcards from anyone who lives there.
  • No travel agent sending me brochures with photo spreads advertising the top attractions.

All I had to hold on to were a couple of Bible verses and a sermon that my Dad preached after he recovered from his second heart attack.

“I was terrified of dying,” Dad confessed, “terrified of finding out that this heaven I preached about was not real.”

While he was in the emergency room, his heart stopped. Suddenly, he found himself looking down from the ceiling as doctors worked on his chest.

Darkness pulled him away from the room. He drifted in nothingness until he saw a light. Soft and warm, it pulled him in to a world of such color and vitality it almost took his breath away.

It’s ttrue, he thought. The story of Christmas. The celebration of Easter.

The cries. The prayers. They had not just dissipated into empty space.

Dad walked toward the light. It was pure and fresh as bed sheets hung out to dry on a summer’s day. Without a doubt, the author of his salvation, the redeemer of his soul was just a few strides away.

Dad stopped. He took a deep breath and willed himself to turn around, to walk away from the light.

His family wasn’t ready. He had to go back.

“I’ve got a heart rate,” cried an intern. Dad opened his eyes.

“We thought we’d lost you,” said the doctor as he checked his vital signs. “You’re a lucky man.”

He was more than lucky. Dad saw what most people on earth will never see: the shape of his faith, the face of his hope, and the promise of his heavenly home.

Dad only lived a few more years. Some of his days were meaningful with connection, others not so pleasant. Medication messed with his ability to cope. He became short tempered. In the last few months, he withdrew from the rest of the family. At the time, I resented the mood swings, the brooding silence.

Now, I realize that he was holding onto this life by sheer willpower. During work, while driving to the heart specialist, Dad focused on one reality.  He was going home.

I still have doubts about Heaven.

Perhaps my doubts stem from a lack of intimacy with eternity. Maybe, it’s because I am so enamored with the here and now.

In the introductory pages of his book “Things Unseen” Mark Buchanan wrote, “Heaven is to be our fixation…our deep secret, like being in love, where just the thought of it carries us through menial chores or imparts to us courage in the face of danger. We fix on it and it fixes us.”

I think I’ve got some repair work to do on my inner compass, adjustments to make concerning my focus.

The next time I hear some old timers sing, “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through,” I’ll pay attention to the words instead of rolling my eyes. This world was never meant to be my little permanent little hidey hole or eternal retirement condo.

Heaven’s my home.

Pork and Beans,Chicken Little and Riding the Tide of Emotions

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I’m an emotional person.

It’s how I interpret my world.

But, emotions are not truth.

Expressions of compassion, frustration, joy and sorrow. But, they  are not truth.

Truth is invincible. Unmovable. Straightforward precepts that bind the world together without making a sound.

I actually prefer long, slow melodies that cuts to the heart. Dramatic movie that inspire me to live my dreams.

But, sometimes, I ride so high on emotion I lose my sense of reasoning, my bearings of what is right and what is wrong.

That’s why I have to guard my heart. Keep my compass working so that no matter where the tide of emotions carry me, I can always make my home.

When I was nineteen I rode the tide of emotion so far out to sea, I thought that I could never paddle back to shore.

It happened on a rainy afternoon.

In a car. On my way to a party.

“I’ve got a great idea for our wedding,” I told to my fiance as I snuggled closer to him and watched the rain drops slide down the windshield.

“I want out,” he responded.

“Out of what?” I squealed with the deep insight of a nineteen year old, “The car? While you’re driving? That’s dangerous.”

“I’m talking about you and me,” He said, “I don’t want to marry you.”

Out of nowhere, the Chicken Little’s admonition came to mind.

She was right, I thought as I fought to understand what had just happened. The sky could fall when you least expected it. It just crashed through the roof of the car and smashed my girlhood dreams.

I cried. For months.

I walked around in a daze. I stopped eating. Stopped studying for classes. I lost my job.

Lonely. Unlovable. Terrified that God had forgotten me.

That was how I felt.

But, that was not the truth.

Six months later, I walked into my sister’s apartment. She heated up a can of pork and beans and offered me a bite.

The flavor of the sauce exploded in my mouth. I ate more that night than I had in days.  For the first time, I noticed the rich colors of dish towels in the kitchen. I heard the music swelling from my sister’s stereo.

I was back.

While I had been gone, truth had not changed.

Sure, I was not engaged. I was not doing well in school. I was broke. But, I was not alone.

Facebook love

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Spoiler alert.

This posting may not rock your spiritual socks.

But, who cares?

I have to get something it out of my system.

It bugs me when a married couple puts their names together to form one Facebook  page.

I can’t stand Facebook love.

Don’t tell me it’s biblical, that the “two shall become one flesh”. It’s more like one body with two heads.

But, go ahead. Call yourself  WalterAnne. SuziBob. BillyJeanKing.

I’ll never do it, never mash five measly little letters into my husbands and say “Hey, here we are.”

Mind you, on most social outings I let my husband take the lead. He usually chats up everyone while I just stand and take it all in.

Not this time.

I will not be holding his hand while he runs onto our Facebook page like a kid heading for the pool on the first day of summer.

He can hit the water. Cannonball style. Alone.

Me? I’ll slip secret agent style into that wild online party. Everybody posting at the top of their lungs. Pictures. Songs. Video clips. Cute comments. Really sad songs.

No way will I stay very long. One visit to Facebook keeps me up all night wondering, “what have I done? How could I have written that? Will I ever be able to show my cyber face again?”

I hope you understand.

It’s too much to put together. My husband’s easy stride through the columns of relationship. Me stumbling over complicated comments, likes and shares.

The ultimate result, the one that brings our marriage down, will be the first time we merge two status updates into one.

I’m in the bathroom. Making pancakes for breakfast.

I rest my case.

No combined Facebook for me.

Sorry, honey. This is one time I will have to go it alone.

Black pearls and diamonds. Poverty and homelessness.

 

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Opulence.

I just love the sound of that word.

Black pearls and diamonds. Limousines and summer homes.

Plenty.

That’s more my style.

It’s lots of  leftovers and clean sheets. A tank of gas and a car to put it in. Warm coats and several pairs of gloves.

Opulence. Plenty.

All things are relative as long as you have enough.

But, if you hit bottom, it’s really hard to climb back up. Maybe it’s the inability to get a job because you have no fixed address. Or, maybe you have no fixed address because you can’t find a job. A disability check covers the rent but not the food. The kids are hungry because it’s spring break. That means no free lunches for at least ten days.

My 78 year old Mom works intake for the social services division of her church.

“Cold pizzas donated by Little Caesars are the only way some people on disability checks survive,” she says.

Sure, there are scammers and lazy bones who try to beat the system, able bodied adults not interested in contributing to the economy. Some panhandlers who hold up cardboard signs of woe at traffic lights make more money than I ever will in one day.

Before you lift your TV remote in a gesture of reproach, remember this.

Not all those who are “down and out” have chosen to live that way. Some struggle to take the medication that allows them to function. Others are single moms who’ve lost their jobs and can’t get back on their feet. Sometimes it’s a culmination of medical bills that push an otherwise  financially well-situated person over the brink.

Then, there is the matter of lost souls who sleep on the street.

My advice?

Think twice before you shake your head in disgust.

Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”.

The Son of God was homeless, too.

Needy little critters, boring little towns and true ministry

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At seventeen, I had the spiritual depth of a fruit fly.

Life was all about me.

  • How I felt.
  • What I looked like.
  • What I wanted.

With this resume, you’d think I’d been a shoo-in for most self-absorbed adolescent on the planet.

Not a chance.

I was a preacher’s kid. Selfishness had to scoot her big behind over to make room for Dad’s ministry. The number of church people who volunteered to help him on a regular basis was almost non-existent. So, my siblings and I worked alongside my mom: fixing meals for the elderly, vacuuming the sanctuary on Saturdays and teaching Sunday school to little kids.

I admit that teaching Sunday school had its benefits.

“So,” I said as I cracked open the lesson book each Sunday, “Anyone want to share something special?”

Before you misinterpret my inquiry as a gesture of compassion, understand that our town had

  • no movie theatre.
  • No bowling alley.
  • No swimming pool.

We snatched up our entertainment anywhere we found it. Listening to little kids “give up” family secrets was a  sanctified version of Saturday night Live.

“I want to be a car when I grow up,” one kid blurted out. Good one. Wish I had my tape recorder.

“My mama said a bad word,” another kid shared eagerly.

“A bad word,” I replied, hoping to discover the exact one without asking outright, “How many letters?”

“Teacher,” the youngest student interrupted me as he scooted closer to my chair, “I asked my sister to pray with me last night so I could be saved. She told me to leave her alone.”

In the world of evangelical Christianity, saved was everything. Deliverance from eternal damnation. Freedom from the bondage of sin. Awakening to a relationship with God.

I forgot all about my ecclesial game of trivial pursuit.

“Why didn’t you help him,” I asked his sister who sat beside him.

She answered with all the regal bearing of a scripture memory queen.

“I was trying to read my Bible,” she said, “He was bothering me.”

Yeah, little kids can be a nuisance.

But, what about  immature teenagers, emotionally needy church members and socially inept people who never seem to get it right?

The effort it takes to deal with such people can be a drain on any ministry.  Its tempting just to ignore their phone calls or pretend we can’t see them when they try to wave us down.

Personally, I do not know how my dad put up with me. An immature teenager. A shortsighted, self-centered Sunday school teacher. It couldn’t have been easy. Or convenient, considering the overwhelming challenges of his ministry.

But, he did.

Maybe, that’s why I’m still here. Still believing.