You will never earn dignity from me or any other person for that matter

Human dignity it is not a privilege, nor is it a benefit. It is not something that one can earn. And yet, with few exceptions, throughout history when dignity is given, it is entirely conditional, .

Dignity is not earned by being wanted, living in a particular country, being of a certain ethnic background, belonging to a particular social class, being of a specific weight, having a desirable appearance, behaving in a moral way, behaving in a way that celebrates no moral value at all, being attracted to the opposite or same gender. Dignity cannot, nor will it ever, be earned.

As I reflect on history I am reminded of periods where human dignity has been stripped. In places where women are to be owned, where class systems make individuals untouchable- below even animals, where one’s heritage as a certain religious or ethnic group has marked them as pigs and they were sent to slaughter, where people come from different family lines and therefore neighbor killed neighbor, where explorers took land that was not theirs and relegated natives to impossible land, where imaginary lines were drawn to keep others out and to let only certain others in. Where words maliciously undermine the humanity of others and biased opinions held with no grace seek to destroy others.

This world has seen the pillaging of its people because of made up cast systems  and requirements for human dignity to be given and shown. There is not one country responsible for any of this. In fact, we, you and I, whomever we happen to be, each give and take dignity from others daily. We put those we disagree with down to raise that which we agree with up. We yell at and smear the character of people by ripping things out of context and using their, even kindnesses, against them as if malicious. We judge people who behave in ways with which we do not agree, and we speak of  “them and they” in tones of judgement and less than narratives.

Every single person, every single nation has played a role in the stripping of human dignity of another. 

I am a lover of Jesus. I desire to follow after Him. To learn from His way. To live as He did. Jesus, spoke the truth, he called the religious elite to the hypocrisy of their behavior and he also loved them, welcoming conversation and friendship when it was sought out. Jesus touched the untouchables, he gave women roles and invited them to lead, he chose the ordinary to be a part of the extraordinary, he welcomed children, and would restore not only individual’s bodies to health, but also would restore his or her dignity as well.

Jesus knows that on earth we seek to earn our dignity through work, ownership, appearance, citizenship, class, race, orientation, gender, and the opinions of every person around us. It is exhausting and it is impossible. 

Jesus invites us to stop our striving. He invites us to believe Him and what He has to say about us. He invites us into HIS family. “To those who receive and those who believe in His name, He gives the right to be called Children of God. Children not born of natural decent or human decision or of a husband’s will, but born of God.” And, as a member of His family we have the honor of inviting others to know that they too are born of God. WE get to declare that no, you can’t earn your dignity, but there is one who gives it to you, all you do is receive it.

I love Jesus. I love him for who he is. I love him for how he lived. I love him for his power over all that seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. I love him for his generosity in lovingkindness. I love him for his invitation to belong to his family. I love Jesus. I love him for his humility, obedience, and grace. I love Jesus. I love Jesus for he is the way, he is truth and he will always lead to life. I love Jesus. I love how he always welcomed the stranger, the alien, the widow, the unclean, the undesirable, the religious. I love Jesus.

I am so thankful that his way never ceased giving dignity to every human. I am so thankful that his only condition was for us to receive his love and believe him to be true. And that, in so many ways. isn’t a condition as much as it is truly the only way love can be experienced. For love can only be experienced when it is received and one only receives what they believe. 

As the United States argues viciously, carelessly, harmfully, in the media and on-line – as political parties rip one another apart, as broken systems evidence themselves and hate is thrown around like food in a cafeteria food fight – even by those claiming that love wins, I am grateful that it isn’t a president, a news anchor, a loud and argumentative friend on Facebook, a spokesperson for various religious systems or even my own self, that has the final say on whether or not I or any other person has rightfully earned his or her dignity. For true dignity is given by Jesus alone and can never be stripped away by any person. 

So let us not stop loving each other.
Let us be loud in lovingkindness.
Let us sing the songs of goodness, truth and beauty.
Let us silence our loud argumentative voices and instead quiet ourselves to listen.
Let us seek first the Kingdom of Jesus, look to Him, learn from Him and seek to live like Him in the world.
Oh my friends, it is time to lay our weapons down and to look to Jesus. May he remind you of who you are and may you then, out of that truth, remind the person next to you, not with words alone but with every action and intention of your heart… may the ripple effect be one of love, generosity, kindness, and hope.
And may dignity be restored.

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Sometimes the hard stuff simply needs to be shared as we heal.

“Cari the only guaranteed cure for what you are going through is a complete hysterectomy.” My gut felt it before my emotions. For some women in their 40s, a hysterectomy might not feel as big of a blow, but for me, it was huge. I would be loosing an organ that I’d never been able to use. I have no children, and there is, albeit small, still a glimmer of hope that I might carry a child one day.

I can’t live with my symptoms every day, but it also feels equally impossible to think of completely removing my uterus all together. The situation has brought up questions about belief and God and hope. I have had such little belief that God would heal me, in fact, there is nearly no hope of that to be found with in me. So, instead of being responsible with my emotion, I instead decided to feel it, to speak it and to let others in.

In the feeling, speaking and letting others in, I have discovered a whole new world of belonging, acceptance, truth, and hope. In my faith tradition, people often speak of hope and immediately turn difficulty into a lesson instead of walking through the difficulty and feeling it, speaking it, lamenting it, and allowing others to be in it with you too. In the past two months of my life, I have felt belonging that can not be conjured up or forced, it has come with the vulnerability of not believing, not having an answer, not having hope, and letting others know about it.

What still feels impossible, difficult, and sad … is creating intimacy in friendships and an honesty with Jesus that I didn’t know was missing. It has been this grief, which continues to come in waves rather than a steady stream, that has led me to belonging and hope.

I haven’t arrived at hope. I mostly, simply, feel it on occasion. I can’t put words to it, nor do I feel it would be right to do so at this time, but somewhere there is belief that hope is building.

As I have experienced this very personal grief, which came following an Autumn and Winter full of the loss of loved ones, I cannot help but speak of grief today.

Grief is not an experience meant only for those who have lost loved ones, it is the great equalizer of the human experience and for every single one of us it is unique in its experience. Grief is palpable today. Shootings, suicides, hatred, disaster, war, dehumanization, racism, discord, loss, unmet expectations, and dreams that crumble into a pile of pieces on the floor of the heart lead to a grief that mingles, swells, and over-takes life and at times its suffocating presence feels more than one can bare.

As another very public suicide took place this week, and devastating news for dear friends, along with several conversations with friends about hope deferred and need for resurrection, this week I have tasted grief as it lapped like a wave kissing the shore.

Resurrection is the hope. It is the word that says, Grief and Death do not have the final say!” But for most, dare I say all of us, resurrection is not imaginable. Resurrection is the fairytale, the idea that victory beyond death is possible, seems foolish. Mary and Martha knew these feelings when they lost their brother Lazarus. They wept. Their friend Jesus, who was known for healing disease stayed away and only showed up after Lazarus had already passed. When he arrived, both Mary and Martha grieved and asked “where were you? If you had been here then my brother wouldn’t be dead!” Jesus felt their grief and wept with them.

Jesus also held the end of the story. He knew it. He knew what was about to come. Their imaginations could not think beyond death, so what was about to happen, was beyond their scope of understanding. After Jesus met Mary and Martha and friends in their grief he asked the stone that covered the grave to be removed. People scoffed and questioned, Jesus called Lazarus out. And, you know what happened? Lazarus came. He was no longer dead. Death didn’t have the final word.

Jesus is in the habit of resurrecting things, self included. And we, we are invited to believe that this habit continues today.

I don’t know where you need resurrection. I can’t tell you exactly how to hope for it. I am not even certain that I fully believe it is possible for me… just yet. But, I do believe that Jesus wants resurrection for each of us and death… whatever death we are experiencing will not have the final word.

Right now:
I am learning to speak my unbelief and ask for belief.
I am not isolating in my situation but inviting others who believe to believe for me and with me.
I am not spiritualizing the process and loss but allowing myself to not have answers.
I am not forcing false hope, but asking others to have hope for what I cannot.
I notice a growing desire for the ability to imagine resurrection is possible rather than shaming myself for not having imagination for it.
I am speaking what I want without condition rather than being responsible with my wants.
I am submitting to the love and faithfulness of others and saying yes to things that I may or may not understand.
I am curious and paying attention to what is going on each day rather than making decisions about what is happening and what God is doing through the grief.

Each of these things is a part of what breeds connection with Jesus, Joy, Love, Hope and Belonging.

In your grief, or in the grief of a loved one, may resurrection found in Jesus, hem you in.

 

Healing and freedom

I wonder if our idea of healing might be short sighted? Do we think only of the arm being healed of its broken bone, or the cancer removed from the body, or the headache to disappear? I wonder if there is a story to our suffering that goes far beyond the story of our bodies? Do our bodies carry the suffering of our live’s story? Does my suffering speak about things beyond the physical?

I read the story of the bleeding woman this morning. It is told in the three synoptic gospels, so I read all three. This woman had been suffering from bleeding for 12 years and had heard of Jesus. Her body cried out for healing, and though she was in a place of shame, hidden from society and an outcast, she heard about Jesus and had faith that compelled her out of hiding to go into a crowd and touch him. She didn’t want to be seen, for she wasn’t supposed to be out in public. It appears she didn’t want to inconvenience Jesus, for she only wanted to touch his robe, not even his person. She wanted to be freed from her bleeding and had faith to believe that in Jesus she could be.

She simply wanted her bleeding to stop.

But, something caught my attention in the reading this morning. In the Mark account, something much greater took place. Look at this, “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”

Her bleeding had stopped and she was freed from her suffering.

Jesus turns around and speaks, “who touched me?”

A seemingly silly question when he was in a large crowd with people pressed against him. But, again, Jesus knew why he was asking the question. He looked around, the whole crowd that was with him, were probably wondering too. Imagine the scene. The bleeding woman touches him, power leaves him, she is free and healed and is sneaking away, he stops, the crowd then stops, he is looking around, the crowd puzzled looking around, the woman feels caught, visible and guilty announces her self, she then- in front of the crowd speaks her shame – tells her whole story, he gives her a new name, “Daughter”, announces her faith, sends her freedom from suffering and in peace.

I imagine the crowd didn’t quite know what to do with the whole situation. A banned woman was out in public, did people see her and wonder if they became unclean by accidentally touching her? Did they judge her immediately when they saw her? Did their opinion of her change as she was declared a daughter and free?

I wonder what the experience was like for the disciples? Did they see how Jesus brought her out of darkness and set her in light? Did they pick up on the fact that she was suffering and he had freed her completely? Did they listen to her whole story and judge her, then judge Jesus because he was touched by her? Did they have compassion on her situation? Did they take anything from the situation, or were they shocked by it all? Could John see what Jesus was doing? Did he remember Jesus’ words, “turn around and believe?” Did he see them in action in the woman?

And, the woman, she had been suffering for years. She was hidden from people. She was a cast away, sent outside of the city to a special place for people just like her. She was separated from her family, did they miss her? Were they ashamed of her? Could they visit her? She was invisible and though she longed to be visible, she snuck to Jesus, barely touched his robe, not his body (thus making him unclean), and snuck away. Did she still have shame as she was sneaking away? Was Jesus asking who touched him an invitation to visibility for the woman? Did he ask her to speak, because he wanted all to know that she was clean? Did her posture change?

Jesus healed her bleeding issues, but he also freed her from her suffering. Something in her body held the story of personal suffering that went deep below the surface of her health problem. There was suffering that was far worse than the bleeding. Jesus met her there and brought freedom and peace. He healed her of her shame and her unacceptability, just as he healed her body of its physical issues.

Jesus is complete in all he does. He touches the leper, eats with tax collectors, allows friends to die and he heals, restores reputations, and brings people back from the dead. He is about resurrection, complete life healing that restores much more than breath, bad behavior and disease. He invites individuals and all those watching to turn around, believe he is doing a new thing, and the old has died (yes death is involved) and the new has come.

Where are you begging Jesus for healing? Where is your shame? Where do you hide and what causes you to do so? Do these places seem hopeless? Are you willing to walk into the heart of your shame and pain to believe that healing is on the other side? Are you willing to be seen in your shame to then be seen in your freedom?

To be honest, I am not always willing. In fact, sometimes my shame seems so deeply imbedded that healing seems like an impossibility and a waste of effort in faith. A futile, and empty hope…

This is simply the truth. It’s not pretty, but it is true. And I wonder if it is the seed of belief? Is hopelessness actually the seed of hope? Is unbelief the seed of belief? Is suffering the seed of healing? Are they all invitations to turn away from the suffering and look to Jesus? Are they the prompting for something more beautiful than I could ask or imagine?

I have more questions than answers at this point. But I wonder. I look at the story of the bleeding woman and I can not help but see myself. I hold pain and suffering and they have stayed hidden in secret shame filled places. Could my body actually invite me to freedom from all of my suffering? Could yours?

I think today I will come out of hiding, turn to Jesus and tell him the whole truth.

Ribbons and Bows

When I was young we had a record called “The Music Machine.” it was one of my very favorites. On the record was a song titled The String Song. And today, that song has been playing through my mind. String Song (excuse the cheesiness and bad recording).

Life is full of the, unwanted, I can’t bare it much longer, why aren’t you listening to me GOD! moments. These moments are often not allowed within the tidy nature of self-preservation, church going, polite, good little boy and girl, always have faith, hold on to hope and believe in the impossible world of Christianity. And, these moments are crucial to our faith. These moments are the lament and the lament has been silenced in most modern day expressions of faith. The lament, which plays a vital role in the lives of David, Jeremiah, Amos, and dare I say Jesus… has been set aside.

BUT, the lament is necessary for our good.

This world is full of heart break, personal, societal, familial. And our heart break can quickly turn our hearts against, or numb, or silence our souls. Lament takes the honest content of our hearts and throws it at God as if He were a loved one, who we just can’t help but push against out of our deep anger, pain and grief. Lament is an act of love, it is an act of hope and it will rescue us.

I remember a movie called The Stepford Wives, I could never bring myself to watch it. The thought of someone being soulless, and lifeless and robotic is disturbing and is so dehumanizing. When we, when I, do not allow myself … ourselves… to lament we simply close the door on deep pain, grief or anger and allow it to grow in the closet and we callous over it with niceties and pleasant sayings that keep all things tied up with a bow. Those rooms calcify over time and hearts and souls become numb, lifeless and soulless… much like the wives in the movie.

I am convinced that our lament is one of the most gracious and brave and faithfilled actions we can enter into. And, I believe that it is in lament, that we stop performing, shoving aside, tidying up and washing over the ache in our hearts and welcome it, thrusting it against God and cursing at him until, like a baby who cries herself to sleep, we go limp in the arms of the one who loves us. It is in our limp state that the callouses soften, our hearts open, and our perfect little church going, believing, beautiful selves fall into the loving arms of Love Himself and life is planted.

Today, where ever you find your grief or loss or pain or suffering. Where you have unanswered prayers, impossible decisions, wounds and anger. Where the world and it’s darkness is too much to bare… stop holding yourself together and let it all out… say aloud all that you feel. Lament, with loud crashes, broken dishes, and an honest mouth. Speak what is true until your tears soften the hardened places of holding yourself together and you fall into the loving embrace of God, who is love and full of loving kindness.

Lord I believe
Help my unbelief

Metaphors and the morning sun

IMG_7643-1Today I began my day with a walk. I had music blaring and started a quick 3mile jaunt. The air was crisp. The sun shone brightly as it played hide and seek, tucking itself behind trees and buildings and then peering out again like a two year old who hasn’t fine tuned the art of hide-and-go-seek, jumping out to say, “here I am” before the seeker has the opportunity to find her. When I’d walk through the places where the shadows were cast for longer periods of time, snow covered the ground. I smiled as I walked.

Soon, I asked Jesus if He had anything to say, I was ready to listen. I kept my ear phones in but turned off the music. There was no word, there was more of a rustling. Like a last minute announcement of a house guest, I really quick like tried to tidy up and silence all the parts of my mind. I stuffed things where ever they found themselves, whether or not it was their home and metaphorically stood still. “I am ready Lord,” again I waited.

Silence.

I then filled the space. I discussed a dream I had last night about being chased by a man who wanted to kill me. I told Him that I wanted to know what was chasing me in my waking life or what was I avoiding? I waited… maybe a blocks worth of walking and then jumped to the next topic. Like moles in the wack-a-mole game, subjects, faces of people, past hurts, present joys, ideas and more popped in and out of their stuffed places.

Frustrated for my lack of ability to be still I decided to change my tactics. Instead of silencing my mind, I would submit it. Every idea, every person, every dream… as it arose, I would simply say, “I submit this to you Lord Jesus.” The rhythm of my walk changed and the noise in my mind settled from a chattery discourse to a fluid movement.

My eyes were again drawn to the light and then drawn to what looked like glitter poured out over an entire golf course. I looked a few times to see if I was seeing correctly. The green, which at this time of year is actually golden brown, shimmered. Pinks, purples, blues, turquoise and bright shimmering light sparkled across the expanse. What was it? I had never seen, or perhaps more accurately had never paid any mind to the glitter covering the ground in the early morning. It wasn’t the familiar soft glow of the morning dew, it was different. It was as if the dew had come, frozen and was in the process of thawing in the light. It was stunning.

I watched the light as it danced with color across the entirety of the golf course and I smiled.

My walk continued along a busy street. I could see the faces of people driving by. They were a stark contrast to the glimmering light of the morning dew thawing in the sun. People yawn, scowled, looked as if they hadn’t quite woken up, some were yelling, most slouched and many looked as if they were dreading the day ahead. I began to pray over those driving by. My eye caught a flower bed to my left, yellow, green, purple and orange brilliantly showed off their color. Their color was a welcome sight and again turned to the people driving by.

The flowers and the dew shared a beauty and radiance that was captivating. They were full of beauty and caused me to think of their Creator. I thought also of the fact that there was seemingly no effort in their existence. They were exactly what they were, without fight, and by their color and movement they seemed to enjoy it. I thought of the difference between the people driving by and the flowers and dew and wondered what caused one to seem effortless and vibrantly alive and the other, seemingly tired of their labor and lifeless in many ways.

I came to a conclusion along the way. The flowers and dew receive the sun, they do not fight or compare, and they do not seek to earn the approval of any person, for they would shimmer and shine and show off their color, even if no human being noticed. Humans however, we labor, compare, and turn away from the gifts of love and identity being offered to us by Creator God. We often do not receive the son. Instead we seek to earn the approval of others, of God, and end up exhausted from our efforts… tired of trying… and in many ways disappointed with the results. Like me at the beginning of my walk, trying to order every part of my mind to ready it for the Lord, only to realize the invitation was for me to take each thought and give it to Him that I might have room to receive more of Him.

When I arrived home, I was full of life, my posture was taller and my smiler permanently fixed to my face and I could not had told you why. It is only as I have reflected on the 7,000 step journey, that I realized I was being taught through what I saw. And it was then, I realized the Lord has spoken to me… and I had listened with my eyes.

As you read this what hits you? Is there a question or idea that surfaces? Do you receive the love and identity given to you by Creator God through Jesus?

Daily Prayers

Dear Lord,
Holy is your name. Beautiful is your name. Good is your name. True is your name.
All that I am and all that I have is yours.

I receive Your love for me.
I receive Your tenderness and compassion.
I receive Your grace and Your mercy.
I believe in You and receive all that You have offered me.
I seek you this morning because I love you.
May you, as you hear my prayer, grant me the gift of your felt presence and fill me.

Today I ask that you, God of vision, give me your eyes.
May I see the world and all who inhabit it with loving kindness, goodness, truth and beauty.
May my longings for the world and others, come from a heart that has been rooted deeply in my own belovedness as yours.
May the words of my mouth be filled with wisdom, knowledge, grace, kindness, and truth.
May that actions of my hands be gentle, strong, and tender.
May the spirit within me be full of compassion, generosity, and hope.
Father, I ask that You, grant me these things this day, for Your name’s sake.

I pray too that You, dear Father would renew in me the joy of my salvation. You have rescued me from darkness and You have placed me in the Kingdom of Your Son, a Kingdom of Light and Life!
I confess that I often believe that I remain in the dark.
I confess that too often I am run by the Kingdom of this world, with its selfish ambition.
I confess to you that all too often I am quick to judge.
I confess that I am filled with pride, believing I know what is best and right, always.
I confess that I often desire my own way far more than I desire Yours.

I receive Your grace and step into this day in Your Love that has washed me and Your kindness that has turned me around.
May you be praised.
Amen

 

The reason for my hope

I have found myself tearing up a lot the past couple of days. I am not sad, nor am I particularly emotional. I have found peace in my tears. They have been a sort of expression of my heart. Much like a smile evidences the emotion of happiness. These tears have been the evidence of a heart that has been softened by  Jesus.

I am wanting to praise God for who He is and what he has done for me. I listen to music, watch the beauty of the sunset, look at the mountains, the people around me, think of the opportunities for me to know the great Healer, think of the people I have met all over the globe who remind me that Jesus is at work everywhere… and… I get teary.

Life is extraordinarily hard. It is filled with pain that would seemingly cause the Titanic to sink and injustice that would rile up the most fierce outcry!

Life is also filled with the most glorious joy. The kind of joy that evokes laughter, causes leaves to dance and waves to splash against the shore. Joy that is experienced with new life, the realization that the impossible just became possible and the fact that beauty is a gift for all to see, without condition or effort.

Unfathomably hard and Joy

The two coexist. Always.

The world is in a remarkably sad place. Hatred seems louder than love. Injustice seems to prevail. People seem to be so fearful that it leads to selfishness and what is holy is seen as evil and what is evil is seen as holy. It is a confusing world. A world where people often do not know who or what to believe. I can find myself being pulled by well sounding arguments and the temptations to choose sides.

And, one thing remains.

In all of these things. One thing is true. Jesus.

Jesus came into the world because the world, apart from him, like ours today, is in great need. Jesus came not to make religious soldiers who cause every person to be well behaved, monochromatic, polite, children. Jesus came compelled by a love that was so loud and so great and so extreme that it caused him to leap from personal comfort and catapulted him into a world so full of pain that he ultimately absorbed the pain that filled the world and thrust him to a cross. The cross has been a symbol for so many that evokes feelings of shame, but for me, especially lately, the cross has been made the most beautiful sign of love, a place where love took a person out of comfort, took a person who had every right in the world and could also control the whole world to look just like him if he wanted, but instead, he chose to enter into the world, taste the pain for himself and then that pain took him to a cross where he experienced death.

He did not shame those who put him there, but he loved them. He spoke to his Father about them and he loved them, even as he died.

(tears)

It is a story of sacrifice.
A story of love.
A story of putting others before his very own self.
A story of crazy, inexplainable, passionate care for the world.
A story we need so desperately today.

Jesus, who’s very life is defined by love, is the picture of what love does. Love lays down itself for the other, always. And that love, was not based on the behavior of any person… but because of love for the person.

So yes, our world is in a funky spot and there are people all around me suffering. People who don’t believe how incredibly valuable and loved they are. People who have given up hope. People who have stopped believing. People who are isolated and afraid. People who are so desperately in want of a change that they push agendas with the hope that maybe, just maybe, when this one law passes, or people are or are not allowed to do this or that.. that maybe, just maybe, then, peace would come.

The story isn’t working though. The story of working ourselves into peace. The story of achieving our way into self value. The story of freedom in a country bringing ultimate freedom to the heart of a person. The story of lovers experienced filling a person with love and connection that is perfect. These stories are not working.

We need to be reminded… honestly I needed to be reminded, of the story that does all of this. The story of Jesus who is peace, who is freedom, who is love, who does not take away our experience of pain, but walks with us through it giving us peace and freedom and love as we are in him.

So today, my friends, when you take a look at the world, you will see pain, you will see destruction and confusion and religious law and hopelessness…. AND at the very same time, you are invited to Jesus. And Jesus, who is perfect love, will bring hope, peace, freedom and joy into your life. He is with you. He is for you. He loves you. He wants you in his family. He wants to connect you with your Father, just by receiving him. You and I have way through this unfathomably hard life, a way of joy… in the way of Jesus.

Be encouraged.
You are loved.
You are valuable.
Your story does not define you.
You do not walk alone.
There is hope.
There is peace.
There is joy.
Soak it in. Breathe it in like air after a long swim under the water. Let his truth fill you to the fullest measure and may his way bring you life abundant and full… even now.