i’m not a marlin

Posted: September 6th, 2016 | Filed under: God | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Most of my writing, lately, is in the form of bad penmanship in a little notebook by my bed. I’ve been busy raising my daughters for the past few years. All of the things I’m learning and the areas where my time goes aren’t directly “grace is for sinners” related. My kids were small when I started this blog. Now they’re bigger than I am.

As I grow as a writer, I’ll try different approaches and allow myself to go where it takes me. One of those places is a multigenerational word blog, Long Live The Thing. “…we’re mostly about real, raw, honest, and encouraging words…

“There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body.” 1 Cor 12:12 (NIRV)

My first post on that blog is up today. It will be a good writing outlet for my other passions. In the mean time, I’m working on another book. It will be my childhood framed as fiction.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s blog at Long Live The Thing. It’s called, “I’m not a Marlin”.

“I’ve been having bad dreams lately. It happens when my anxiety kicks in. It’s such a dichotomy within because I’m a breeze-loving free spirit, but stress wakes residual symptoms of PTSD. I talk myself through most things and reason that as long as my family is with me, nothing else can really break me. But, my kids are growing up and venturing further away, making it impossible to use them as my barometer for safety. I’m thinking that using my family isn’t the best tool for treating my stress anyway. I need something else. Something immovable.

I have four daughters: 20, 16, 13, and 10. Having one become an adult has been a huge wakeup call for me. People always say this, and it’s true, they grow up fast. I secretly cried for almost the whole year my oldest turned 18. I had put so much of my identity into being a mom that them actually growing into self-sufficient adults never seemed real to me. But we were on the cusp, and I wondered if I did my job right. Did I teach her anything? Would she survive without me? This thought process reveals more about me than my daughter.”

Click here to read the rest.

I'm not a marlin


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lost and found

Posted: August 31st, 2016 | Filed under: God | No Comments »

Today’s the last day blogging through Soul Bare. I’ve never blogged through a book before, and I discovered two benefits: I finished the book and I got back into the practice of blogging. Soul Bare was
idea and she spent a couple of years putting it together and trying to get it published. She says that now that the book is finally out in the world, she believes it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.

Because the intent of the book was for the writers to share something personal, you end up getting a sense of the author. It’s like having a long visit with a group of 31 people where you got to spend time with each one. There are a few standouts for me. Some stand out because of their writing, and others stand out because of their story.
Cara’s chapter was a perfect way to end the book. Her writing is great, but it’s her story and perspective that stand out to me. She has been through a lot and that always give people this dimension that makes them more beautiful. I was sitting in my living room reading Cara’s chapter last night when I called out to my husband, “Hey, listen to this…” and began to read:

“I was fourteen when I met Jesus at a Christian summer camp. It was the year I’d started secretly cutting myself with a rusty X-Acto knife after sneaking shots of vodka from the jug in our cupboard. It was the year I’d kept myself distracted enough to numb the boredom of my after-school janitor job by carefully plotting the details of my suicide while I vacuumed junior high classrooms” (page 193).

Becoming a Christian didn’t magically make all of Cara’s issues go away. She says, “Some of us have wounds that survived the baptismal waters” (page 194). She recognizes the hole on the Christian bookstore shelves where discussions beyond the shiny religious veneer should be. People in the faith community think that if you have enough faith, then your life will fall into a neat pattern. That’s why I became a Christian at 19, I wanted all of my life prior to disappear so I could start over. But, that’s not how it works.

“But, I have never found redemption to work with the simple math that has always seemed suggestive of the Christian life, the formula written on my notebook during one high school retreat by a well-meaning youth pastor: You + Jesus = Enough” (page 194-195).

If you deny the pain, you deny God in the pain.

cara sexton


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the cup

Posted: August 30th, 2016 | Filed under: God | No Comments »

Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote the 30th chapter of Soul Bare. She titled it, “The Cup”.

I remember when I first started to blog. It was a blogspot blog called “Where Is My Slingshot?” in reference to feeling like David without his slingshot. I think it was around 2007 or 2008, I stumbled on a public letter Jennifer wrote. I can’t remember who it was to, but it was beautiful and I commented to tell her so. I’ve kept a finger on her whereabouts since then, so it’s fun to be co-authors of the same book.

Jennifer’s chapter is an homage to her friendship with a woman named “Michelle”. From what I understand, Michelle was there at an important time in Jennifer’s faith journey. The “cup” Jennifer references is the communion cup that Michelle holds in the front of their church.

“I probably ought to be praying or reciting a creed or adjusting the volume, but I can’t help it: I am watching her, how she cradles one golden chalice in her hands before the Lord’s Supper begins” (page 187).

Michelle befriended Jennifer when she was new at her church. They bonded through being committed to both the friendship and to mutual openness. It’s a quality in adult friendships that Jennifer saw as “a rare gift” and believes is how a person can be “soul bare”.

Every church is different when it comes to how communion is observed. At Jennifer’s church, they take chunks off of loaves of bread and dip it into a cup of wine and eat it. At her church, Michelle holds the cup of wine and greets people as they come up to her. From what I understand, every time Jennifer takes communion, she’s moved to tears by the cup in her friend’s hand…

“I linger long in that one spot, put my right hand on her left hand, and then at last, I dip into the cup. She says the words to me: ‘The blood of Christ given for YOU, Jennifer.’ And I taste grace once again. It tastes like the slow burn of wine and the salt from my own tears, let loose by a cup in the hands of a friend” (page 192). 

Cheers to friends.

Jennifer Dukes Lee

 

Cara Sexton, the woman behind the Soul Bare idea, wrote the final chapter. She titled it, “Lost and Found”. I’ll write my thoughts about her chapter next.

 


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look at me, daddy

Posted: August 29th, 2016 | Filed under: God | Tags: , | No Comments »

Dan King wrote the 29th chapter of Soul Bare. He titled it, “Look At Me, Daddy”.

The message in Dan’s chapter is a soft introduction to the idea that maybe God isn’t asking you to perform for His attention. Dan admits to being a performer. He decided that he would be more active in his faith when he was in his twenties and started doing things he thought God was interested in.

“…I decided to get serious about this God and church thing. Once I did, I was fully committed to the mission of the church. I was one of those guys who refused to be out-served. …Serving was important to me because I thought it was important to God” (page 183).

When people use this kind of language, “this God thing”, “the church thing”, “this faith thing”, it immediately reminds me of religious salesmen. I picture middle-aged white guys, trying to dress like college students, standing in a sea of dark skinned faces in some third world country. Americans feel like rockstars when they go to these places. The people are in such need that they treat the average American like royalty. You get to feel like a god, bringing new stuff to them. I think that might be the problem… feeling like a god. Doing so much. You get the accolades, the gratitude, and the photos. It’s all about “I”.

“…I’ve served in the youth group, led small group studies, led the twentysomethings’ ministry, taught in vacation Bible school, served on the board of directors, taught in the school of ministry and organized major (and minor) out reach events. And that’s just for starters” (page 183).

He continues to name the education he’s received, the “half a dozen ministry opportunities that [he’s] involved with at any given time”, and the missions trips he leads every year. He says that this long list doesn’t adequately illuminate all that he’s done.

“I’ve had friends over and over say to me, ‘Dude, I don’t know how you do it all!’ And others would totally validate me by saying things like, ‘You’re an inspiration,’ and, ‘You’re living the Christian life like all of us should be living it!’ (page 184).

He was undoubtedly offering up his religious resume for his readers. I kept waiting for Dan to write about a soul baring realization that he was making his religious practice all about him, that he had set himself up for failure by putting himself on the Throne of Servitude. But, his realization was a lot more of a soft introduction to a thought process.

“And as I learned that our relationship with God the Father is influenced by our relationship with our earthly father I found myself asking, Why do I work so hard when it comes to my relationship with God? (page 185).

He didn’t have a solid father figure in his life, so he’s still searching for that love. The resume posting, accolade collecting, gratitude seeking, religious photo-op grabbing is all an attempt to earn something that cannot be earned. He wants his earthly father and his heavenly Father to take notice. He wants a strong hand to muss his Opie hair as they walk off into the Mayberry sunset. I know how he feels.

“It sucks feeling like you’re invisible” (page 186).

What I wish people in this position would say is that by believing that their actions can get them closer to the heart of God, they’re also saying that their actions have the power to remove them from the heart of God, which isn’t true. Flipping it around reveals its nature. The truth is the same forward and backward. I wish people in this position would talk about Jesus instead of themselves. Jesus is the only way to the Father’s heart. You can’t get there through yourself no matter how much you give away.

Dan writes about the pull between knowing his “salvation isn’t based on [his] works”, but he can’t graft that knowledge with the belief that God doesn’t want him just “sitting around and worshipping our Savior”. And this is where the hair stands up on the back of my neck. Dan doesn’t even mention Jesus. This reader notices the vague mention of a “Savior” preceded by “our”, not “my”.

Jesus is the way to God’s heart. That’s it. It would be so much better to get to know that basic truth more intimately, and spend your free time worshipping from that place than it would be to spend yourself trying to win the Heart that Jesus already won.

Dan King

Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote the 30th chapter of Soul Bare. She titled it, “The Cup”. I’ll write my thoughts about her chapter next.


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breathing fresh air

Posted: August 28th, 2016 | Filed under: God | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Mandy Steward wrote the 28th chapter of Soul Bare. She titled it, “Breathing Fresh Air”.

Mandy’s chapter was about discovering what yoga can do for your mind and spirit. I understand what she is saying and it’s fun to read her perspective. Yoga is the practice of relaxing into the tension of being stretched. It’s about finding the edge of yourself and growing that territory further out by facing the fear of falling off. The mental strength you gain has an undeniable positive effect on the rest of your life.

She parallels the practice on the yoga mat and out in her life:

“As I follow what I believe to be the promptings of the Spirit of God inside of me, I find myself exploring all sorts of new territory. What I am learning on my mat in yoga is transferring to how I enter into these new mysteries of my faith. I bend a little in my mind, as far as I feel comfortable, and then I breathe and see if I feel as though I can safely release the muscles to allow myself to go even deeper or if I am at my proverbial edge, needing to back off” (page 180).

In a conversation I had a couple weeks ago, my friend and I discussed the different paths people take to find the truth. They’ll get a glimpse of the truth and make a religion out of it. When I studied religions in college, I noticed that each had an element of the truth in it. It’s just that many of them haven’t found it through the Source of Truth, and so it’s tangled by tumors of false belief or spiritual blindness.

There is a such thing as spiritual enlightenment, of living selflessly, loving others, and finding your connection to the rest of creation. These things are worthwhile spiritual practices, but they have nothing to do with the flesh. Meaning, they have nothing to do with Jesus. Any religion can accomplish amazing acts of humanitarian work and meditation practice can strengthen the thinking part of our lives. Food can be our God-designed medicine, positive thinking can alter our chemistry, and healing breaths can change our neurological activity. In all of that amazing and fascinating truth, none of it mentions Jesus.

There is a connection between tradition and freedom from tradition. It’s all part of the whole. I’ve been exploring this territory for a few years now. Mandy’s writing gave me the sense that she knows she’s talking to people who may not have discovered much about God outside of the safety of their religious institutions. I wish we had more Bible-based conversations about the bigger picture. I think people would find the healing, freedom, and peace they crave if they recognized that God created everything and He is an active part of every aspect of life. We’ve scooted away from Him in every area except the Sunday Morning sanctuary.

Mandy cited this scripture and I love it…

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.Ecclesiastes 11:5 KJV

mandy stewart

Dan King wrote the 29th chapter of Soul Bare. He titled it, “Look At Me, Daddy”. I’ll write my thoughts about his chapter next.


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