This is My Crowd

This is My Crowd
Picture by: Photography by Vicky Campos

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The True Point of Beginning

The True Point of Beginning as used in reference to real property is defined as "a surveyor's mark at the beginning location for the wide-scale surveying of land".  In my estimation, it is the finite point by which all other points are defined by reference. 
God has been speaking to me a lot about identity as of late.  In prayer a couple weekends back, I felt an overwhelming sadness for people who simply do not know who they actually are (that includes me), who they were created to be.  I sense the extent of my spirituality may be revealed more clearly in this post, than in posts past, but bear with me.  The sadness I felt was not my own.  I do not have the capacity to see or comprehend who people think they are, let alone who they ought to be.  It was something much larger and more true than what I am able to conjure.  As a parent, I would compare it to watching your child struggle in life, when you know their potential.  You want to jump in and plead with your child so they would see it clearly, see who they are, see all that they are capable of, and then, possibly, punch anyone in the face that says otherwise.  Maybe you are not as prone to violence as I am, maybe you are; I can only hope I am not alone.
Earlier this week, I was feeling nostalgic and decided to find teachings on YouTube by individuals whom I had grown up listening to at a retreat my family was connected with.  On an aside, I feel incredibly blessed that I was able to sit under such incredible teachings in my youth.  Just brain melting type stuff really; in a good way, of course.  One such teaching by one of my absolute favorites, Fr. Jim Nisbet (Google him, he will not disappoint), discussed this idea that we actually move backward in time, as compared to God.  Stay with me, I promise that this is really good and not too terribly confusing. 
Picture the final version of you at the end of your life.  The version that has been through the trials and the joys; the miracles and the disappointments; the love and the loss.  The version that stands before the Almighty and hears the words "Well done, my good and faithful [servant/son/daughter/whatever least offends you]."  That version. 
Now, picture with me a golden line (you can pick any color, but I like the glowyness of gold) that starts at the final you and races back through time as your life; and creating that line is the fingertip of God.  As God traces out the path of your life, being outside of time and all, He is able to take THE path whose end result is the version of you standing in front of Him and it is then that He calls you into time, via your mothers womb.  So as not to confuse the matter with ideas of predestination and free will, the larger scope of this idea is that this path is based upon the choices we have and will make and that God in His infinite wisdom put us in the chronological time and geological location that will best lead us to Him.  See Acts 17:26-27 (ESV) wherein it says:
"And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him."
Now, I don't know the theology behind this specific idea, and for the purposes of both this blog and Fr. Nisbet's teaching, it matters not.  The fact remains that God is outside of time, and who He says you are is based upon experience, not hope.  Did you get that?  Regardless of whatever your past says, or your parents say, or your teachers say, or your enemies say, or even your friends for that matter; the fact remains that God's present reality of who you are is there at the point where you stand before Him at the end of this life.  
I would submit to you therefore that the True Point of Beginning, the finite point by which all other points in this life find their meaning, is found at the end of your life, when God can scoop you up into His arms and place you into eternity with Him. 
While we race along this golden thread we call life, we have the opportunity to embrace who God created us to be, to find our true purpose, if only we would open our ear and heart to hear Him.  So long as we move on a path that does not match up with the True Point of Beginning version of ourselves, He provides opportunities to course correct; and as we struggle to remain someone that we simply are not created to be, He patiently waits, loving us, yet wanting to jump in and plead with us so that we would see it clearly, see who we are, see all that we are capable of, and then, possibly, punch anyone in the face that says otherwise.
Ok, maybe not that last part.  But I can hope.              

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ducks and Gifts | Seems Like Easter to Me

There are some people that are easy going.  They can float through life, going right over, through and under the waves of life, shaking it off every single time.  They are ducks.

Then there are others, who cannot shake it off.  They neither float, nor dive, nor shake very easily.  In fact, instead of salt water dripping from the tips of their hair, it comes pouring out of their eyes.

My middle son is just such a person.  As much as he tries, he cannot float, he cannot stay dry, he is not a duck.  

So this past Easter Sunday, in the mad dash to get every exhausted body up and showered and dressed and out the door (Thank the Good Lord our Church provides breakfast!), there were harsh words spoken and feelings hurt.  I admit that I myself was a culprit.  I could not see the logic in not wearing his brothers outgrown undershirt from Christmas and insisted on no argument.  He could not fathom wearing his brother's anything.  Agree to disagree. 

If it were either of my other boys, they would have begrudgingly conceded and forgotten about the whole thing in 5 minutes.  Not my middle son, it had now set the ground work for the remainder of the day.  As a result of his unrelenting poor attitude he was grounded from video games for two week.  TWO WEEKS, oh, the horror!!  (Please note that none of the boys are permitted to play video games during the week, so we are talking about 6 days including Easter and the remaining day of Spring Break, but I digress.)

Fast forward to after church, after he won an awesome skateboard, after he ate a breakfast burrito he loved, after an Easter egg hunt he thoroughly enjoyed, we come home and immediately he was reminded of being grounded from video games.  Did I mention the horror.  Oh, yes, the horror had sunk in.  He lay on his bed weeping. 

Weeping because life was unfair, his brothers got to play video games.

Weeping because no one really loved him.

Weeping because no one even cared.

Weeping because no one understood.

Weeping because God never talked to him.

Weeping.  Weeping.  Weeping.

Since it was Easter and we had a schedule to keep, I went into his room to talk it out with him.  I realized fairly quickly that he really just wanted to marinate in his own tears.  Part of me wanted to yell "Fine!" and stomp out of the room because I just couldn't waste anymore time on this issue anymore.  But part of me was pushed back to him because I understand.

I understand what it is to be lost in my own head; every horrible thought about myself and those around me bouncing around my skull, echoing.  Life's not fair.  No one loves me.  No one cares.  No one understands.  God never talks to me.  When my prayers sound like that God doesn't just yell "Fine!" and stomp off (spiritually speaking, of course.)  I'm sure I'm incredibly frustrating to be around in those moments.  I mean, I get sick of my own self.

So I waited and reassured him that he is loved.  That he is an important part of our family.  That God put us all together for a reason.  That he is a gift directly from God to me and Dad.  That he is a reminder of how much God loves us, to me. 

He lifted his head from his tear soaked pillow and said something I will never forget "I'm a gift to you and Dad?"  He looked shocked.  I immediately felt grateful to be having that conversation and guilty for never having had it before. 

"Of course you are gift!"

I then explained that each person is a gift, even if their parents don't appreciate it.  That was when it occurred to me.  I was a gift.

That is a bizarre thought to have.  It is easy to tell your son he is a gift.  The truth of that statement runs deeply throughout my being, but to take that truth and apply it to myself was difficult.  I wanted to reject it, but I couldn't.  It was either true that we were all carefully crafted gifts from the Most High, or none of us were.  It's an all or nothing deal.

As I still try to digest this, I encourage you today to consider that you are a gift; a carefully crafted gift from the Most High who loves you deeply.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand
when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139:13-18 (NIV)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Flip Side of Forgiveness

Forgiveness.  It's a pretty big topic in the Bible; one of the top 3.  I don't actually know that it's in the top 3, it just sounded right to me.  Other than Love and maybe Holiness, I'm not sure what other topics can top it.  One might argue that Love, Forgiveness and Holiness are intertwined.  I might be inclined to agree.  But, today's topic is Forgiveness.

Here's what Jesus had to say about it in Matthew 6:

"If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive you." (NLT)

All I can say is OUCH!!  My forgiveness from God is dependent upon my forgiveness of others.  But, that's confusing because in 1 John 1:9 it says: "But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (NLT)  That seems more like it right?  I mean, this doesn't say anything about forgiving others.  

Until today, I hadn't given much consideration to these 2 verses and what their coexistence might mean.  I just figured that God simply refused to forgive people that were unforgiving.  Seemed fair to me.  Eye for an eye and all.  But, 1 John 1:9 does give me pause.

Let's go to Luke 7.  In this chapter, much like all the other chapters in the Gospels, Jesus says some mind-blowing stuff, the religious leaders are ticked, people are healed (brought back from the dead in this case), people love Him, people hate Him, more mind-blowing stuff and then chapter 8 starts.

Verse 30 reads: "But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God's plan for them, for they had refused John's baptism."  You could read this and think that's a bit over the top, I mean, the hows and whys and whos of baptism are argued to this very day.  But I would submit to you that when Jesus said John's Baptism, He was referring to the process of repentance and, ultimately, God's forgiveness.  John, who was known for his diet and fashion even before it was cool, spent a lot of time challenging people to "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." (Matthew 3:2).  If people chose to repent, he would baptize them in the Jordan River and sins would be forgiven.

So, let's assume that the issue with the Pharisees was that they outright rejected the idea that they were sinful and needed forgiving.  They rejected the idea of repentance, John's Baptism.  

Later in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus has His feet anointed with tears and expensive perfume by a "certain immoral woman".  The religious leaders were, once again, ticked. "Don't they know who is touching Him?" They asked.

Jesus' response?  In addition to some other scathing reviews of their hospitality, Jesus says "I tell you, her sins - and they are many- have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.  But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love."  Theologically, this is a weird statement to make.  Didn't Jesus know that sin is sin?  That all sin is equal and our righteousness like filthy rags?  You'd think He would know that.  

But, then I thought about how the religious leaders had rejected repentance.  How, in that moment, they had only been forgiven of what they set to sacrifice at the temple.  They stood in the presence of One that had the power to forgive all, yet they chose self-righteousness.  

What does this have to do with God's refusal to forgive unforgiving people, you may ask.  This is what hit me today.  Now, please note that I am no scholar.  I have no formal training, so a better learned individual may be able to pick apart my submission fairly quickly, and yet.  

And yet, I really believe that God cannot forgive us in our unforgiveness because, perhaps, in our unforgiveness we are not truly repentant.  Unforgiveness may be the best indicator of an unrepentant heart.  

Look at King David, he was declared to be a man after God's own heart.  Yet he was a man whose life was rife with sin.  I mean he covered 40% of the Big Ten in one fell swoop.

But he was repentant.

"Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.  Wash me clean from my guilt.  Purify me from my sin.  For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.  You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just." (Psalm 521-4 NLT)

In an utterly honest moment like that, it would be impossible not to be overwhelmed with love for your God and mercy for those around you.  David had both a repentant and forgiving heart and it showed in his dealings with Saul and Absalom.  

God's position on the matter of forgiveness is pretty strong, but perhaps not because He would choose not to forgive, but rather that we would choose not to repent.  True repentance produces overwhelming love, mercy and forgiveness.  

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT)

God's Heart is found on a cross.  The picture of absolute forgiveness fully dependent on absolute repentance.  Let's be people after His heart.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sweep the Leg

I've been going through some stuff lately.  Though lately seems to be a relative term, since lately may actually be my entire adult life and much of my adolescence.  I can only assume that many people, I'm betting all, have been going through some stuff, so don't think for a moment I believe I'm special.  Life is stuff. (Oh, my gosh, I so want to make a Princess Bride reference here...)

That being said, I feel like I've been going through some particular issues lately, so much that I've had to call in the big guns, a Pastor.  We've met a hand full of times and between discussing life with her and living life, I've become aware of a pretty prevalent issue, like in the last week or so.  I don't want to take this to a hyper-spiritual place, so I won't go into detail, but in discovering this issue, she reassured me by reminding me that the "enemy only attacks when your headed in the right direction."  I've heard this before.  I've spoken it to others.  It's part of the standard rules of engagement.  I KNOW this.  But, somehow, I'd forgotten it as of late; feeling downtrodden and exhausted and, to be honest, a bit detoured.  Only just realizing that it was an attack at all.  I am thankful for ready wisdom.  

So, today was pretty tough, emotionally and spiritually for me.  God's been uncovering undressed wounds, that were all but forgotten.  Today was pretty intense, which is weird since it was pretty much a normal day.  

After I was able to get some perspective on my day, AKA "hanging out with my husband and kids", I began to stir that knowledge up in me, "I'm headed in the right direction!"  Then I felt like there was something else God added to my handbook.  Yes, the attacks confirm our route, but the tactic also shows us our weaknesses and wounds.  

As a child of the 80's my best illustration is from The Karate Kid.

You see, the enemy is many things, but he is not very sportsmanlike.  He does not play fair.  He finds a wound or a weakness and heads straight to it.  In fact, it may be a wound you are not even aware is buried deep inside of you.  Like me, you may find yourself under attack in a wounded area and be utterly baffled; wondering what the heck is happening.  But here's the good news, we serve a God that came to heal us, to be our strength in weakness.  He already has a plan to use the enemy's attacks to better position us for what He's doing.  We just have to recognize what's happening.  

So, here are my 3 official points:

1. The enemy only attacks when there are spoils.  He will do his very best to keep you from God's great plan and purpose in your life.  Under attack?  Great!  That's like the enemy declaring that your getting closer. 

2. The enemy is not creative (on so many levels), so he'll go after an injury or weakness.  Instead of cowering to avoid further pain, get up and ask God to show you the true issue and then allow Him to treat you.  Once you've strengthened that area, it won't be so much fun to attack.

3. Know that even in this, God is flipping the script and using this for your good and His glory.  He's allowing the enemy to clue you in on an issue that you've desperately needed addressed.  God has declared that you win!  So, whatever you do, don't throw in the towel.  

"9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Pit of Despair

Like many people in the world over, I am a fan of The Princess Bride.  In fact, if those three words don't immediately conjure up images of Cary Elwes clinging to the back of Andre the Giant for dear life, or ROUSs, or iocane powder, then, honestly, I don't think we can be friends.  Not the bosom sort anyway.

Ha ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha... [thunk]

Ok, moving on.

If you are familiar with the movie, then you are aware of the Pit of Despair [Don't even think.  achem.  Don't even think about trying to escape.]  If you are not familiar with the movie, just imagine an underground dungeon run by a six fingered psychopath and his albino minion with a pretty nasty cold sore.  The particulars are not important, though.  In fact, as much as I love The Princess Bride, the movie doesn't matter either.  It's the pit of despair that is the topic of today.  That place where we can find ourselves in the dark, feeling hopeless and alone.

Now typically, there are two types of pits.  First, is the pit that you dig yourself and swan-dive into on occasion by your actions and lifestyle.  Sometimes we don't even bother to dig a new one, we simply uncover an old one and fall right in.  This is not the type of pit I'm hoping to discuss today.  The type of pit that I'm referring to is the the type, where you are legitimately headed down the right path, the path that God set in front of you, and out of nowhere [BAM!] you fall into a pit you did not see coming.  It feels as though the world opened up and swallowed you whole.  So, now, you're alone.  In the dark.  Any light you may perceive seems to be tricks and voices of encouragement seem like mockery.  God is nowhere to be found and you wonder if He's abandoned you altogether.


When we meet up with Joseph in Genesis 37:18, he finds himself in a pit, possibly left for dead, even though he was exactly where he was supposed to be.  In fact, he finds himself in the incredibly sad position of discovering that the people he trusted the most, his brothers, wanted him dead.  There's a long back story here that explains how Joseph found himself in this place, but in short he was given big dreams by God and a beautiful coat by his Dad; for which his brothers despised him and were prepared to murder him.      

Well, most of his brothers.  After the plan was devised to kill him and throw him into a pit, Reuben, one of his older brothers, suggested that they simply leave him for dead as he intended to return and save him.  Ultimately, Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt, thrown in prison for attempted rape, then promoted to the second highest command in all of Egypt, which ultimately was the method by which God was able to preserve the nation of Israel.  The End.

Just kidding, rewind back to the pit.  Yesterday as I was praying for a person very near and dear to my heart who finds herself in a incredibly difficult and solitary place, I heard God speak to me:

"Sometimes the pit we perceive we're in is actually designed to protect us, preserve us and get us to where God intends us to be." 

After "hearing" that, I immediately cracked open my Bible and turned to Genesis to read more about Joseph, the guy that immediately came to mind.  I'd heard the story when I was small, read it a few times as an adult, but the pit never seemed to be a positive element to the story.  It was a pit for goodness sake, how could it be good?

Then again, how can a person be faithfully going down the right path, and still find themselves in a pit?  How can God send us down a path KNOWING there is a pit ready to swallow us up?  It's really kind of confusing, until you read the story again.

"... Let's just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness.  Then he'll die without our laying a hand on him.' Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father."

When read this way, the pit was likely Joseph's salvation.  God can use the least likely experiences in our lives to protect us, to preserve us and to get us to where He intends us to be.  It can be incredibly difficult to know that you've done all in your power and still find yourself in a pit, but can I encourage you to simply adjust your perception?  That pit you perceive to be all around you?  Could that pit be your salvation? Could it possibly be that God is removing you from a situation that is destructive or the He is keeping you from relationships that will stunt your growth and ultimately keep you from your true calling and purpose?  

If you know that you are walking right with God and yet you feel as though you've been flung into a pit, I pray that you sense the closeness of God as He protects you and that the darkness you perceive around you is merely His covering.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord: 
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; 
He is my God, and I trust Him,
For He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with His feathers:
He will shelter you with His wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:1-4 (NLT)  


Friday, December 20, 2013

That's Not Me Anymore

The nice thing about having an unknown blog is that hardly anyone reads what I write.  The bad thing is that usually the people that do read what I write are my friends and family.  As a fairly private person, it's a bit unusual for me to put my business out there, but I suppose things are a bit unusual lately.  Bear with me friends.

On Wednesday night I had the privilege of taking my kids to practice for the Children's Christmas Program at our church.  It was nice being able to get a sneak preview of cute kids singing and also be able to strike fear into the hearts of my boys as they lined up, walked in, sang, stood up, sat down and did their thing.  Yep, I'm the mom that stands in the back doing the "I got my eyes on you" motion as I point to my eyes and then to them.  Honestly, I believe that even if I had not been there, my kids would have been well behaved, perhaps even better.

Liam, my middle son, signed up to write about his favorite Christmas memory and share it during the program.  When his moment came, he moved to his marker, listened to a sweet 6th grade girl share her moving story, held the microphone to his mouth and said "I can't do this."  He then set the microphone down and walked off stage as one of the teachers followed him out of the room.  I didn't run to him.  I let his teacher provide the counsel and encouragement that a Mom just can't provide, especially a Mom that seems to be watching your every move.  When she brought him to me, he was red eyed and still visibly upset.  Probably embarrassed.  We sat at the back of the sanctuary and he told me all the reasons he could not do it.  "Hers was so good."  "I'm scared." "I'm only in 4th grade." "Mine is so different from hers."

We dissected all of those concerns and discussed that his story was special too and needed to be shared.  Then I reminded him of two moments in his life.  The first was may be 3 years ago when he insisted on getting on the platform at our previous church to pray into a microphone in front of hundreds of people.  I was more scare than he was and he did awesome.  The second was about 2 years ago when he was baptized in front of a couple hundred people and he boldly proclaimed his faith, again into a microphone.  I told him that those moments reflect the boldness and courage inside of him and that THAT is who he is.  Then he said something kind of timely.

"That's not who I am anymore."

How often have I said these same words to God?  I am currently in kind of a funky place.  A place where dreams have been shelved and nearly forgotten.  A place where the person who I was seems so distant and almost a little mythical.  There is a certain boldness, courage and, dare I say it, passion that seems to have waned. 

And I say "That's not who I am anymore."

So, on Wednesday night, as I sat in the pew at the back of the sanctuary, I told my son that, of course, THAT is still him.  That God had created THAT in him.  That, no matter what, THAT will always be him.

As we wrap up this final week of Advent and contemplate Immanuel, God with us, take a moment to pull a dream or two off the shelf.  If Christ came so that we might have life and life more abundant, then would it not seem appropriate to reacquaint ourselves with the "us" we were created to be? 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Waiting Room

"The radiation waiting room is a special place. A sea of broken people; adults of all ages, children, brain cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer. We exchange knowing glances, we learn each others names, we smile. There is solidarity here and I find myself thankful that I can never un-know that such suffering, such valor, exists. It makes me a better person. It keeps insignificance in it's place." - FB post by a Christian father of a young cancer patient.

Image courtesy of Ambro / 
Should this not also be a picture of the Church; vulnerable and broken and honest with one another.  I am not attempting to degrade those that have been tormented by cancer or its treatments.  Let me show you what I mean:
"The Church is a special place.  A sea of broken people; adults of all ages, children, liars, cheaters, thieves, the lonely, the brokenhearted.  We exchange knowing glances, we learn each others names, we smile.  There is a solidarity here and I find myself thankful that I can never un-know that such suffering, such valor, exists.  It makes me a better person.  It keeps insignificance in its place." 

But this is not what I can say about the Church.  Though it is true that She is a sea of broken people of every age and knowing glances are exchanged, but those glances usually come in the form of judgement.  We do learn each others names, but only because we must out of some unwritten church-going law.  Yes, there are smiles, but they do not often come from a deep place of vulnerability, but rather from the shallows of our facades. 
Of course there are places where people are permitted to reveal their brokenness, but they are not the rule.  Most certainly the Church is not perceived as such by the non-church-going sect.  In fact, if radiation treatment waiting rooms were like our churches, can you imagine what you would find there?  Thickly painted, clownish faces and uncomfortable clothes stuffed with padding; some would have no people at all.   
Yet this is what we do every weekend, we paint on our smiles and wear our best clothes; tell our kids to straighten up while we tell everyone that we're fine, wonderful, in fact.  We are the sick that sit across from the doctor and say, "I feel great!" all the while we are desperate for help and healing and wholeness.
I pray that you find a place that allows brokenness and I pray that you find the strength to allow Jesus to identify it, name it and treat it.
When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” Mark 2:17