Love never fails…

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In a world where we are filled with stories of utter chaos, lives trampled, promises broken, hearts wounded and lives traumatized permanently, it seems a bitterly insensitive cliche to even utter those words, “love never fails”.

Yet, if we cannot say them in the depths of our sadness, or remember them amongst the turbulence we have suffered, what good are they? If they offer no comfort or light in the overwhelming darkness of our greatest fears realized, did we ever really believe them in the first place? John 13:35 says: “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another”. There’s a great song for this verse I learned way back when and,if you’re not already singing it, I encourage you to find the song online and see how fast it gets stuck in your head!

How shallow does love sit within us? Is it merely a surface word to be tossed about lightly and solely for approval from the majority, to whom we have no personal connection? Or is it alive and nestled deep within our soul, secure in the depths of our being, reinforced by the constant feeding and nourishing of people we choose to both give love to and receive love from?

Can love heal all wounds? Is there a mental list of unforgivable acts others could enact which we would then consider ourselves justifiable in withholding love from an individual or group of people? In the midst of our messiness, can we seek to abide by a higher standard and live to forgive?

Where does betrayal fall in all of this? Is it the messiest of all? Perhaps it is the easiest sin against us in which to judge and pronounce punishment in the form of holding back what should be given freely to all, regardless of their actions? Is it one place behind the line, does it cross the line of mercy and patience?

Love is patient, love is kind. Oftentimes, people are not. Passions run high and love seeps out. Records of wrong are kept and seethed over time and time again. Disappointment rules the day and apathy begins to overtake the soft, soothing waves of love. All is not lost.

We can hold ourselves to a higher standard. We were given a command to love! Love can be bold! Agape love is unconditional! Brotherly love can be lost, romantic love can be fleeting but His love? It is all consuming and all encompassing. We were not advised it would be simple for us to love, or told it would come easy. We were not suggested to love out of obligation or just when it feels right. Usually a command isn’t needed for that which comes naturally.

The Ancient of Days knew we would find challenge in love, both for ourselves and for others. The Creator knew in our broken humanity, we would find it much less painful to hate than forgive. He knew covering a wound with apathy would feel better to us than allowing an exposed wound to heal over time. There is a whole chapter in His word we refer to as “the love chapter” to remind us of the qualities of love because we will in our flesh, forget these things yet choose to remember the hurt!

When I was a child, another one of my absolute favorite songs at church both for the words and the rhythmic beat, (it was the only song I learned in church that used a tambourine and drums!) was, and please feel free to sing along, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”. It really says it all so much better than I have done here. These are the lyrics as I learned them:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

All praise to the Father, from whom all good things come,

And all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son.

And all praise to the Spirit, Who makes us one.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

How does music connect you?

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This picture is both blurry and off center. I could fix it but, it’s how I was feeling being outside of the moment. It is of a glorious Christmas concert at my church and the music, though muted through the thick sanctuary door separating us, was inviting me in and instead I returned to my office just across the way to finish some work. I did leave my office door open so I could at least hear a sample of the beauty being created. Not many people have the pleasure of being serenaded at work by a 20 piece live orchestra and a full choir!

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about connecting with people, intentionally or subconsciously. We connect all throughout our lives, for better or for worse, as the outcome may be. I’ve written many additional posts but a lot of them are still in the draft stage as the story is not always just my story to be told and so my finger hovers above “publish”, never landing and the blog is stagnant. Tonight however, is different. This is my story, or at least a small piece of it.

My connection through music goes way back and is woven like a tapestry through my life. My mom played her guitar and we sang Christmas songs when I was 3 or 4 years old, living in Orange County. As a small child of 6 or 7 in Africa, I would alter the words of songs I loved and sing the new versions to my older brother, who listened and enjoyed them, or at least pretended to… Queen was one of my favorite bands to do this with and I wish I could remember what I did with Bohemian Rhapsody but perhaps it’s better left in the beauty of my memory. Yet another reason I’m glad I grew up before the full bloom of the smartphone age!

I was in cherub choir in church during elementary school, youth choir in junior and high school, played clarinet for 5 years, played guitar for my youth group, went to a fair number of live shows, classical, and…not. Now I perform in musicals at my church and it’s all been such an important soundtrack to who I am. It’s given me strength when I needed it, comfort when I was at a loss, words to express any emotion I may have been feeling. A sense of community when I was too introverted to participate in any other way.

There is no substitute for live music. It’s not enough to just pop in a cd or shuffle the playlist. Music should be felt and observed in person as it is flowing out of the ones creating it as often as possible! Best case scenario of course is to create it yourself, so sing along to the cd! My faith has grown because of the repetition of songs created using the scriptures! I had no idea how many verses I had memorized through song until I attended a bible college and heard so many familiar lines!

Let’s be clear about one thing, I don’t hold a candle to the professional musicians I had the pleasure of hearing! I know just enough about what they go through to be in awe of their dedication and have a deep appreciation of the commitment to perfect their craft. Today, I was able to attend the concert! Enveloped in the music, in person, up front, close enough to see the Snoopy tie on the pianist! When I heard the clear dissonance in a group of singers rejoicing a cappella, when I saw the passion on the faces of the violinist as he closed his eyes and played, when I observed the body language of the pianist as he so passionately expressed each measure on the keys, I felt a connection.

There was a unity between audience and performer, my children felt it as well. Why do stores pump out old classic songs at Christmas time? The connection of nostalgia, past memories mixing with the present is a powerful emotion. I don’t have a favorite song, it depends on my mood. Am I feeling hyper or melancholy or contemplative? Am I looking for fast beats to work out to or sappy ballads to reminisce with? There’s a song for that! What’s your song? I don’t mean some quiz on Facebook telling you what they think based on your favorite color and how many times you eat your favorite foods. What moves you? How do you use music in your life? If you don’t, (perish the thought) I hope this inspires you to find a soundtrack for your life. Have a warm and happy Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Lord in song.

Progressive faith or how to count down your blessings.

If you asked me 2 months ago if I was a runner, I would have laughed and said, most emphatically: “No!  Unless I’m being chased.”.  I dislocated my knee and had two (unrelated) surgeries, all in one year, I’m a little out of shape. Yet now, I’m running a mile and a half twice a week with my children at their school’s running club.  Okay, my participation is more a run-walk-jog-walk-run but, every week I’m running more and walking less. 

If you asked me 12 months ago if I was a writer, I would have been too protective of my written thoughts to reply with anything affirmative. Now, I have a blog, I’m part of a writer’s group and I’ve done the scariest thing ever for me!  I shared my written creation with others!  For critique, no less!  Not just a book I’m working on, but my heart’s most inner thoughts, my poetry!  This is coming from a former high school student who once wrote a fantastic story (so she was told), and took an F because I would not, could not, stand up in front of the class to give an oral presentation.

5 years ago, I was not a public speaker, now I speak to church groups, and young people in the ministry groups I help lead and with young women outside of the groups through mentoring I do with them. 

10 years ago, I was not yet a mother, now my life is so full with two gregarious clones of my DNA!

30 years ago, I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive what was happening to me at the hands of someone I should have been able to trust. Now that pain gives me empathy and a sad, sincere credibility to others looking for help in their own private hells.

This looks like a scattered countdown of the past but, it’s so much more.  I can see now where the impossible became possible and where I took a chance and let God work.  I am not arrogant enough to suggest He was just on the sidelines and I was doing it on my own.  People were praying for me all along without knowing specifics.

Rather, I am grateful for Him continuously weaving his river of life throughout my history unbeknownst to me, while He awaited my free will to choose to change my heart to trust Him. I know I was under His protection when things could have been so much worse, although that was hard to believe at the time.

It’s scary and humbling to think there are people being affected by what I say or write. It is incomprehensible to me how my life experiences are being used to effectively impact people today. It is hugely reassuring to stand vulnerable to my God and ask for and receive His grace, time and time again.

You matter! I’m sorry for the pain you’ve been witness to and my heart breaks for the suffering you have been subjected to, whether in the past, present, or both. I can’t take that away. I can’t tell you it will ever completely go away. Here’s what I can tell you.

People out there have walked a similar path and are waiting and willing to share your pain and show you love and build a relationship with you, pray with and for you. If you invest yourself in those relationships, you will get better and stronger. As long as Christ is a priority and a major part of your recovery, you will put distance between you and the pain. There will be a time when you too, can count down your blessings.

If it’s too painful to talk about, write about it. Drop me a comment and let me know what you’ve been able to count down in your life.

A flower quickly fading…

Casting Crowns is a band with really thought provoking songs, I really enjoy meditating on their lyrics.  They have a song especially poignant to me right now.  It’s called “Who am I?”  And it goes a little something, or exactly like, this:

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours

I am Yours
Whom shall I fear
Whom shall I fear
‘Cause I am Yours
I am Yours

Today I visited my friend in the hospital who is the flower in this song. She is truly fading, all too quickly. She is beautiful and as frail and fragile as the softest petals of the delicate iris and yet, as strong as the sunflowers which sustain the rain and keep reaching their heads to the sun. She knows she is God’s child and yet she feels completely alone. She has been surrounded by friends who honestly love her and care for her, and who have shown her love both physically with acts of random kindness, meals and cleaning and financial aid and spiritually with prayer and fellowship. And she remains detached. Thankful for the help but, always distant. Gracious to a fault but, always self deprecating. There have been many other ways she has been reached out to and because of her own challenges, she remains locked in a prison of her own making, unable to escape. She has experienced moments of clarity and reprieve from her dungeon of despair and deep disappointment, but never escape. There is a storm of merciless pain raging inside her and try as I might, I can’t break through to truly dissipate it. It’s been almost ten years of showing her how much she is truly loved and I have been through many emotions myself. Why won’t she accept the help? How can it possibly be better to stay with her known state of constant anxiety than to settle in the arms of peace and solitude? Why can’t she see the end result of this journey she is on and understand how much bigger it is than just her? What about her kids? Is she aware to any degree of being selfish by being so self absorbed by her own pain, she can’t see what’s happening to her children? She’s so overwhelmed but she doesn’t have to be, she can rise above all of this! She can, she will, she has to! And, as it turns out, she cannot see, she cannot rise, she cannot muster the will to see beyond the present day, perhaps even beyond the present hour. All I can do is pray.

I don’t mean that haphazardly or to dismiss the power of prayer. I know I am joining in with dozens of other voices in constant appeal, winding their way together, weaving a beautiful protective shroud of peace and God’s will in her life to be made clear. What do I pray for, what is left to hope for? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That is from Hebrews, chapter 11. How do you comfort a tortured soul? How do you reassure a soul she is loved when she stopped believing it a long time ago? How do you prove to someone they are a treasure when they can’t see past the trash heaped in their own life? How do you prove to someone they are worthy of love when long ago they chose to listen to the negative talk others subjected them to and adopted it as their own self image? I know when I pray, it has the power to synthesize all of these thoughts and lift them to a caring God who loves her more than I ever could! I don’t know why this is happening but, I know it will be used to God’s glory. I don’t say that lightly either. I am deeply saddened by my friend’s condition and I wept silent tears as I walked into her room and saw her small form drowned in the sanitary white bedsheets of her hospital bed. I was worried as I gently clasped her sweet cold hand and felt the slightest twitch, as she had neither the strength nor control to squeeze back. Pain squeezed my heart in a vice as I waited a minute or longer between asking her questions or making a comment because it took that long for her to form fragments of words, sentences were impossible. As I left, I saw the tears on her face after I leaned over to give her a kiss on her forehead, it was as if I was saying goodbye for longer than just today.

I was there 10 minutes and she was physically and mentally exhausted just in that short time, because it took such an effort to perform tasks we take for granted, like speaking. I left wondering if it would not be kinder for her to slip into a peaceful eternal sleep where she would feel no more pain and her children could mourn a much beloved mother rather than struggle to hold on to a life she sees so point in living? And I immediately felt remorse and a strange pang of guilt for wanting anything less than life for my dear, sweeter than anything fragile friend. She told the nurse I was her best friend ever. She said I looked like an angel hovering over her bed. Will those be the last words I hear from her? I don’t feel like a best friend, I feel like I’ve failed her. I have spent years racking my brain, wondering why I could never find a way to break through, knowing there must be some way I have missed that would have worked.

There is a saying which states if we knew how powerful our thoughts were, we would never think a negative thought again. It is so very true! Yet, our very nature leads us to second guess ourselves, to believe the worst people (who do not know us as well as we know ourselves) say about us and to us! Even worse, heaven help those who pay us a compliment! Too many of us automatically question the motive behind the compliment. Was there sarcasm, did they smirk or smile? Are they setting me up? They couldn’t possibly be sincere. What happened to simply saying: “Thank you.” and smiling graciously? If you relate to this post on either side, I hope you have a friend to talk to who prays for you and listens to you and loves you unconditionally. I have very few people I get to deeply share my life with, and that’s enough for me, hence the introvert part of this blog. If you don’t have someone, I encourage you to find someone you can trust, and if it’s more comfortable to vent to a stranger, feel free to share with me.

Complacency, the dream killer…

I just posted about my dislocated knee and my woe is me demeanor being rocked by someone else’s need for prayer in the midst of tragedy.  Sometimes, I need a little more filler, apparently of what others are going through before I go back to my little world and I was drawn to the story of Zach Sobiech, who passed away last month from cancer, and who left a rich legacy of love and songs of his inner emotions to help his family have multiple connections to him forever.  If you watch his video, “My last days”, the producer comes out and says he wasn’t inspired to do something for Zach because he was dying but, because of how he was living!  In the beginning of the piece, Zach himself says you don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.  What a fantastic view of life!

His songs talk about hope and farewells and acceptance and, his friends and family describe him in a common theme: happy.  Nobody would blame him if he sank into a deep depression, or refused to communicate with anyone ever again.  He chooses to nourish himself and others by living with a purpose and a spark of compassion and love to give others peace and closure.  WOW!  He thanked his brother for giving him knowledge. He thanked his sister for keeping him strong, in his faith.

Who do you inspire?  Maybe it’s your kids or your spouse.  Are you intentional about what memories you are leaving behind?  Do the good memories outweigh those that lack luster because you lost it or were barely coping with whatever was going on that month or day or year?  Who are you missing out on giving words of comfort or love or real emotion to because you assume they will be there forever, even as unrealistic as you know that statement is as soon as you think it in your head.

Vulnerable, honest and, present. Or: “Utopia, possible dream or unattainable myth?”

Wow, at least two of those words aren’t very scary at all for me but, put them all together and expect to be all three verbs as a habit, consistently?  You’re kidding, right?  What if we all were all three things, all the time?  What a novel concept you say?  It would solve a lot of issues before they even started though, wouldn’t it?  Walk with me down the yellow brick road to Utopia, yes I am aware I do mix metaphors all the time.  

In this simpler but no less genuine world, you would get exactly the information you wanted without having to worry about hidden meanings, double entendres and having to psychoanalyze the motivation of whomever is speaking.  Imagine a world where everything is exactly as it is seen, no one has a hidden agenda, barter still exists and nobody feels the need to take advantage of anyone else.  Greed becomes a thing of the past since money means nothing, as it is demoted to simply the worth of the paper it is printed upon.  

Harmony becomes the ultimate goal, not to climb higher and faster than the one who has the same skills and sense of urgency as you do.  Ultimately, were it not for the insane level of competition, you could accomplish even more with that person who shares your interests and skills than you do on your own!  Are you scoffing yet?  Thinking I don’t understand competition or the goals it achieves?  All I have to say is years of experience in both retail and hotel management more than qualify me to comment.  Stay with me…

Communication breakdown becomes complete as people put down their phones and tablets, laptops and “i”anythings.  Accessibility becomes a choice and ceases to be a “have to”.  Eye contact increases, and true connection becomes the norm.  Phones become dumber since the steep decline of the previous demand for apps, people become smarter as they start remembering numbers in their heads and consult physical maps, which they then actually learn to fold back the right way again!  Meetings for success of the inhabitants of this planet as a whole are conducted with no surveillance or security because nobody is in danger.  Meetings are scheduled in person to connect and build relationship to further a peace and contentment for all, not wealth and false temporary happiness for a few. This does not mean there are no arguments or professional disagreements, perhaps even volatile at times, which seems to get the creative juices going for some people.  It simply means the end result is the peaceful resolution of respecting others contributions.

I do not wish for a dumbing down of where we are now, simply a raised awareness of how stunted our emotional growth has become because of our tether to technology and medicines and “sophistication”.  I am also not oblivious to the fact I am writing this on an electronic posting which reaches across the world.  I don’t wish for an end to our sophistication, just a reawakening to the simplicity it was meant to facilitate, for a revival of the human connection.  The cerebral wandering I post here is an attempt at making that human connection through the written word.  Even the written word is an art form which seems to be dwindling to extinction through purposeful abbreviations and absentminded misspellings all in the name of saving time and being more efficient.  I am not a monosyllabic person!  What part of this appeals to you?  Do you have faith any of this can happen? Can you make even a small part of this real in your world?  How can you be vulnerable, honest and present this week? Pardon me while I proofread this whole post at least twice.Image

Stir crazy, with a humbling dose of perspective.

Have you ever been accused of going stir crazy?  It’s usually because you’re doing something, actively physically freaking out or demonstrating a lack of control over some issue, right?  I am currently going stir crazy in my mind!  Friday, my knee decided to “spontaneously dislocate and relocate” itself, while I was standing still! Can you believe that is even possible? My husband was sure I was being melodramatic.  I’m not a melodramatic person,and once he saw the marshmallow developing where my kneecap used to be visible, he realized I was in trouble.  Now, I’m as spontaneous as they come but, I had no idea the rest of my body felt that free of restriction as well!  So, I’m now 4 days into my convalescence and next week is a hiking field trip with my son!  That should be interesting, don’t you think?  Do you ever get those times when you become so narcissistic and just don’t quite keep everything in the right perspective, even while thinking you are?

Yesterday, that perspective came to a head.  About a year ago, I became reacquainted with a wonderful woman through Facebook, whom I had known in my youth group in high school and college.  I also knew her sister and we have great memories of our various antics.  I was stunned to read yesterday morning on my friend’s page, that she was asking for prayer for her sister’s family because she was in OK, right in the path of the tornado and they hadn’t heard from her yet because she was at school with her son!  All of a sudden, nothing else took precedent over my fervent prayer that God would see fit to grant mercy to that family and bring them home safe together.  About an hour or two later, she checked in on Facebook and I’m sure all of us who read that beautiful short paragraph breathed a silent prayer of gratitude as we sighed with relief.  They are whole when so many families are not.  They will still deal with the devastation that took out most of their neighborhood and the long term recovery process along with all the post traumatic stress that goes along with all of this tragedy,

I start physical therapy on Friday for my knee.  I’m going to do all I can to be able to participate in my son’s field trip because that’s a priority for me.  However, if I don’t for some reason beyond my control, I know I tried my best and it is not as important as having my family together, all in one piece.

One reporter was interviewing a lady who survived the tornado and as the survivor described her harrowing ordeal and the steps she had taken, the reporter said, and I quote:”It’s almost like a miracle that you escaped from your house with no injuries.  What were you doing?”  The survivor went on to explain standing with pillows surrounding her and how she prayed!  “What did you say?” she was asked by the reporter.  The survivor replied:”I just prayed, God help me, and I believe He did.  He took care of us, just like he always has.”  This is a woman who’s whole house and neighborhood was leveled and yet, she knows it wasn’t almost a miracle.  It was the providence of a loving God who heard and answered her prayer.

I know many will automatically think of the lives lost, where was God then?  I don’t know how to address that question without personally having a conversation with the person asking such a valid question.  I cannot answer that to anyone’s satisfaction, myself included, so I will not even speculate.  I cannot even pretend to know the motives or reason for what happens in this fallen world of ours.  I know God is ever present and His mercy is endless.  I will remain in prayer, knowing I am gathered with so many other believers, (you included, perhaps), in supporting the hundreds of families dealing with the aftermath of one of the worst disasters in recent history.