Love beckons. How will you respond?

Dear Elle,

God has chosen you, now you must choose God.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13,14

Jesus taught that few people will take the hard road, the one entered through the narrow gate. The easy road is much more accessible and practically everyone will choose that path. And why not? Why climb four flights of stairs to your apartment when an elevator is available? Why walk to work when you can take your car? You’d only choose the more labor intensive options because you recognize the benefit they would provide – a healthier body, saving of money, less of a carbon footprint.

Choosing to follow Jesus through the narrow gate on the hard road will lead you to life, that’s quite a benefit!

Have you seen that commercial with Jimmy Fallon and a baby? The one where he asks “Who wouldn’t want an extra $50?” He is dumbfounded when the baby doesn’t want it because the obvious answer to the question is everyone wants an extra $50.

Who wouldn’t want life? It seems an easy choice: life or destruction?  But destruction wears a mask. She pretties herself up in guises such as pleasure, or a career advancement, or ease. “Who wouldn’t want a job promotion?” “Why not have that 2nd martini?” “I’m tired, I deserve to veg-out in front of the TV.” It’s a wide and inviting gate, and has been said, it is a slippery slope.

The narrow gate that leads to life requires a commitment to the journey. Anyone who has tried to lose weight, kick an addition, or save money knows how easy it is to start on the path to life. An intense emotion awakes the desire within us for a change. But when the emotion fades it is difficult to remain committed to the goal. This is where it gets hard.

There will be times you’ll want to turn back, the road seems too steep; some moments you’ll want to sit down, it seems as if there is no end in sight; you’ll get exhausted, confused; you’ll question why you even entered this narrow gate. What will keep you motivated to continue to put one foot in front of the other?

The writer of the book of Hebrews tell us the answer.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Elle, keep your attention focused on the joy that is set before you, remind yourself of why you’ve chosen this road: Love has beckoned and you’ve said yes. You wouldn’t have become the great pianist you are unless you endured hours of practice. I would have never finished a marathon if I quit training because it made me tired or sore. Fix your eyes on the prize, life in God’s kingdom, and let this energize and sustain you on the narrow way.

With you on the journey,

Debby

Your Amazing Life (again)

Dear Elle,

The Lord plans to live an amazing life through you, a life that accomplishes and realizes feats of faith and wonder that will astonish even yourself. “We must work the works of him who sent me.” (John 9:4). “We” – a partnership, you and Jesus together. You are invited, in fact, you are necessary to the plan of God. Since Jesus was physically present to creation for only a brief moment in history, the Trinity needs you to bring the spirit and presence of Jesus to creation now, during your brief moment of history.

In Luke 9 Jesus called twelve of his closest friends together and gave them power and authority over demons and disease. He then sent them out into the world to practice what they had witnessed him doing and now had the power and authority to do themselves…proclaiming the Kingdom of God and healing those who needed a cure.

The Trinity has a plan. It is to send Jesus’ closest friends out into the world with the good news. The nature of your intimate relationship with and trust in Jesus makes you one of his closest friends. And the nature of God’s intimate knowledge and trust of you makes you one of the ones with whom Jesus shares his power and authority.

This amazing life of yours begins with Jesus’ call of you and his desire to share his life with you. “He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him.” (Mark 3:13) Jesus called the ones he wanted. His life and his voice filled the air with an invitation to come to him and live. He desired for all to heed his call and come to him.

This invitation has not ceased. Yet, not everyone who hears his voice comes to him; but you, Elle, you came. Your heart, longing for significance, recognized the call of love in Jesus’ invitation. You are one he wants. He chose you, you responded. He initiates, you follow. There is such a mutuality in this choosing. Both sides of this interaction are significant. You’ve climbed the mountain of obedience and now sit with Jesus, awaiting his voice.

With you in the Journey,

Debby

Osteoporosis of the soul

Dear Elle,

There is a man in my neighborhood who is so bent with osteoporosis that he walks with his head permanently fixed at a right angle to his body, his face continually downcast. I’m sure this was not always his posture; his curved spine has robbed him of the ability he once had to lift his head and look straight ahead. Age, illness and poor habits conspired to bend him into this permanent disfigurement and disability.

As it is with his body, so it is with your soul. God’s love created you to stand upright with your countenance looking ever upward and forward. But sins done by you and done to you have bent you into a shape that you were never intended to experience. You may look at your life and see a sin-bent figure of bad habits, poor attitudes, and out of balance emotional reactions, but God sees through the bent-ness to the flawless and perfect child he chose as his own. He has not forgotten who you are!

You are a dusty and grime coated painting found in the family attic and discovered to be priceless when examined by the experts on “Antiques Roadshow!” You are a bedraggled and threadbare stuffed bear, whose true value is recognized only by the child who cherishes it! You are a ticket on the 50 yard line of the Superbowl, prized by only a true fan who would tolerate the subzero weather for the love of the game! You are God’s beloved and battered child!

It’s not that God isn’t aware of the ways sin has bent you, God’s love is not blind. It’s just that his vision of you knows the whys and the causes of your bent-ness and remembers who you were created to be. You were created to be loved perfectly. And even though your parents loved you the best they could, they fell short of perfection. Each of these violations of love harmed you, bent you. Some violations were minor and relatively reparable by forgiveness and good intentions. Some were tragic and caused extended harm and a disfigurement of some fashion, forcing a compromised physical or emotional posture.

These violations of love set you up to live defensively, either trusting no one or excessively trusting everyone. Such an out of balance, self-oriented lifestyle can only lead you to choices that in turn cause you to violate love. The sin done to you caused you to sin against others. That’s our reality.

Praise God though, that is not the end of the story. Remember, God knows the pain of having to walk bent over (imagine how his back ached while carrying that heavy cross.) We’ll talk more about this in my next letter.

With you in the journey,

Debby

What do you, Mother Teresa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have in common?

Dear Elle,

What do you suppose you have in common with soon-to-be-saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp because of his underground work against Hitler on behalf of the Jews? Not much, you may say, but I bet you do!

Both of these well-known and well-read saints doubted their personal experience of spiritual transformation. Their outward lives and activities suggested they were very deeply connected to the God of love. They lived and died for the cause of Christ and the people Christ loves. And yet they spoke of either feeling distant from God or doubtful about the efficacy of the power of the Spirit in their lives. They led examined lives and therefore knew the dark side of their souls. This darkness cast a shadow over their personal experience with Jesus, causing doubts, questions, defeat and despair. Does this sound familiar to you?

You know yourself so well, you can name many ways you fall short of God’s good will. You know how you resist the Spirit’s urges because of your own selfish agenda; how you outwardly smile, but inwardly curse; how you evaluate the quality of your spiritual life and criticize yourself for the lack of discipline in your spiritual practices; how you long for intimacy with Jesus and instead experience distance and absence. These types of awarenesses can cause a divide between your heart and God’s love and presence when you set yourself up as judge and jury condemning yourself for the fact that they exist.

But they don’t have to. Instead, of beating yourself up over them and focusing on your shortfalls, thank God for bringing these to your awareness. It is God’s love, not God’s anger that has brought these things to your attention. God loves you so much, he wants nothing to come between your heart and his. When Martin Luther would abuse himself over the guilt of his sins, his spiritual director, Johannes Staupitz, would tell him, “Martin, quit looking at your sin and start looking at Jesus.” God alone is judge and he does not condemn you.

This is how we shall know that we are children of the truth and can reassure ourselves in the sight of God, even if our own conscience makes us feel guilty. For God is great than our conscience and knows everything. And if, dear friends of mine, our conscience no longer accuses us, we may have the utmost confidence in God’s presence.            1 John 3:19-21 Phillips translation

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed one month after he wrote the following poem.

Who am I?  They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I?  They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I?  They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I?  This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I?  They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.

I wanted to be Japanese when I grew up

Dear Elle,

Every child is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My response would usually cause a smile and then an attempt to correct my faulty thinking by the curious adult who posed the question. “I want to be Japanese.” It didn’t matter that I was a blond-haired, green-eyed four year old, I had been told that America was the land of opportunity, a person could be anything they wanted to be; and I wanted to be Japanese!

If you want to know who you are and who God created you to be, pay attention to your childhood dreams and the worlds you invented and inhabited in your childlike imagination. They hold the secret of the you you long to be. God named you, formed you and consecrated you before you were even conceived. You have been imagined by God and created to live in the exact time and place, country and family in which you find yourself. You and your life are not an accident that is correctable by God’s grace. You and your life are potentially exactly what God had in mind.

You were born to carry a particular piece of God’s heart into the world and as an uninhibited child you lived this mission out in your play and your imagination. I wanted to be Japanese… My mom even made me a Japanese outfit that I would wear as I served tea and bowed to the roses in our garden. In my little girl mind Japanese ladies were so pretty, quiet, demure, and serving.  This ambition of mine was left behind as I matured. Family and school taught me that success was measured in the amount of attention I was paid by others, so I would do whatever it took to gain the notice of those in power. I wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest, so I became the loudest and most talkative. Goodbye quiet and demure, hello “motormouth” (as I was dubbed by my high school teachers).

Losing touch with the Japanese lady inside me caused me to lose touch with the me God had created me to be. I know this because of the misery I experienced in relationships and the disdain I had for myself. Pay attention to your current life situation. If you are more often unhappy or unsettled than peaceful and at rest, perhaps you’ve lost connection with the embedded God-image that is yours alone to express.

When God first thought of you, he assigned you a particular temperament, a unique set of talents and gifts, a distinctive personality and energy level, and a range of emotional reactions. You are unrepeatable and important to God’s plan for bringing out the “God colors” of the world in which you live.

With you in the journey,

Debby

We are all God’s pugs! What?

We are all God's pugs!

Dear Elle,

When you doubt your value, remember who created you.

God, the creative genius, who made the majesty of the redwoods, the intricate beauty of a  hummingbird, the unseen wonder of a molecule, made you. And because you are God’s creation, it is okay to appreciate your own value. You are esteemed, not because you are talented, beautiful and smart. You had nothing to do with these qualities about yourself. God is the one who endowed you with them. In humility, you can “think rightly about yourself”, as St. Paul encourages. (Romans 12:3)

Most of the world agrees that Monet is a great artist. His works hang in the most prestigious museums and places of honor around the world. In 1998 one of his paintings sold for 33 million dollars! His body of work is recognized as sheer genius. And because of his abilities and his reputation, even sketches that he would have considered trash are worth a lot of money. Not necessarily because they are masterpieces, but because he is a master artist.

So it is with God. Everything God’s creative hand has formed is priceless and beyond value. You, my dog, the ocean, even the mosquito has beauty and value in the eyes of their maker. Elle, you are made by God and God calls you good. (Genesis 1:31)

When you focus on and denigrate attributes that do not come up to your standard of perfection, you are casting blame on the one who created you. Blame leads to distance in a relationship. You cannot remain in a healthy intimacy with someone you think has done something fundamentally harmful to you. Peace must be made.

As you know, my dog Molly is a pug. She is short, rather wide, has a smashed in face and not everyone would think she’s a very attractive animal. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because she doesn’t belong to anyone else. She’s belongs to me and I love everything about her, I think she’s adorable.

In effect, we are all God’s pugs! All that counts is God’s making and choosing us. No one else’s opinion, not even our own counts for anything. We belong to God.

With you in the journey,

Debby

Lies are useful…

Lies are sometimes preferred over the truth.

Dear Elle,

In my last few letters, we’ve been talking about the death dealing lies that keep us from the life God created us to experience. These lies have been cast as truth by our culture and our family upbringing. It will be your ministry to uproot these insidious and life-threatening lies. In Jesus-talk this is what he called “Casting out demons!” This is difficult work and only the Spirit can provide the power to accomplish the task. Love must be the tool you use to dig out the false and plant the real.

One reason this is not an easy assignment is because lies are sometimes preferred over truth. Lies maintain the status quo. Lies provide a guaranteed pleasure. Lies deny pain. Who wants to rock the boat? or relinquish the high? or feel the loss? On some level we know that to let go of the lies would ultimately be a good thing. But even though we know that hanging on to these thoughts and habits moves us toward death, we let them linger; they are so comforting, familiar, and momentarily enjoyable.

Think about your own life. A message that informed your self knowledge as you were growing up was that you were too much – too verbal, too curvy, too active, too emotional. “God loves quiet, submissive and demure girls. Boys aren’t attracted to girls who talk too much and have strong opinions.” Lies! Yet believed as true since they were lovingly communicated to you by the parents you trusted. The falsehood that became your governing truth was that you must not be you in order to be accepted and loved.

This lie determined how you felt about yourself, how you related to others, how you experienced God. You became comfortable hating yourself. Hating yourself gave you energy and explained why life wasn’t good. You deserved bad grades because you couldn’t sit still in class. You were attracted to “bad boys” because you were a “bad girl.”  You needed to change so God would be pleased with you.

To trust the Biblical truth that God created you according to his plan for you, complete with your temperament, your inquisitive mind and your exotic looks would cause you to go against your family’s standards and values. For the sake of peace and to fit in with the ones you loved, it was better to live according to the lie.

You get the picture, lies often are preferred over truth.

Elle, your job is to enter relationships armed with truth and with love. Through you, Love’s persistent presence will weed out the lies that choke the garden’s life. Through you, Love’s unremitting whispers of truth will eventually drown out the voice of the demons. Jesus needs you to proclaim the good news – the kingdom of heaven is near. It brings life and truth. We can begin to take God at God’s word. We are the beloved children of God and with us God is well pleased.

With you on the journey,

Debby