Thoughts

I’m Tired of Dressing Up

Group therapy session

My husband and I were talking the other day about how churches should be more like AA meetings. To us, AA meetings are a place where broken people can go to find acceptance and support and friends and encouragement in their healing process. Where your past, or your present, aren’t held against you. It is a place where you already know that you are broken and you know that everyone you meet with are broken too. But the brokenness isn’t something to be hidden and ashamed of, but something to be celebrated because you are finally free in your brokenness. People don’t scowl at you when you enter for not measuring up to their standards. They don’t pre-judge you before they know you and they don’t judge you when they do get to know you because when they begin to form a relationship with you it is as fellow broken humans who need each other and can fight this together.

Perhaps we are glorifying the AA meeting which is very possible because we only know family members and friends who have gone to these meetings. But from the outside, standing at the doors of an AA meeting, at times, sounds more appealing to me than standing at the doors of a church.

I know several churches who say that they are a place for broken people. Who say that “Churches are a hospital for the sick not a hotel for saints” but in practice people don’t always live that out. Whether it is in the church’s spoken words or actions or attitudes, most of the time people visiting or even attending a church feel like brokenness is not accepted. Going into a church building, I think most people feel they need to hide their brokenness. Even if they don’t know exactly what is broken about them, there is a feeling that when you show up someone will see that brokenness and point it out.

Once inside, often there is not a feeling of acceptance, only a sense of possible acceptance if you can make yourself good enough and live up to all the standards and rules and do all that is needed to be done- confess, get baptized, become a member, go to every church meeting, don’t miss one day the doors are open, volunteer, teach, wear the right clothes, say the right things- basically “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” and don’t show any sign of humanness “because you are a new creation.”

Please know that the verses I am quoting are not supposed to be condemning or make one feel inadequate. I am only using them to show how Scripture can be twisted to make someone feel less than.

I have found that inside a church acceptance is conditional and love is conditional. Making the true God into a false god. Worshipped every Sunday as a conditional god who only accepts you when you are good enough, when you have jumped through all of the hoopes, when you have corrected yourself and made yourself righteous and holy and perfect all before you come to Him. Because if His children, who are examples of Him, treat us this way then it must be the same with God. There is no God to meet you in your brokenness here. If the church doesn’t go to this low level then there is the level where the unspoken word is “just do the best you can and cover up the brokenness so no one can see and then you’ll be accepted.”

And if ever a shard of glass from your brokenness falls out of your secure pocket on to the floor, scowls greet you. Once in awhile there are kind helping hands that stoop down and pick up your pieces and share the super glue they use with you. But most of the time, we all are just superglued broken glass trying to hide our cracks in dresses and suites and pretty words and judging others when we see through their stained-glass.

We have a problem here. A church is supposed to be the most welcoming and loving place ever. But more people find acceptance and genuine friendliness in a bar or an AA meeting than they do in a church. Judgments rain like praise songs in a church.“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10) It should not be, but it is. And I’m part of the problem too. There are several times when I wish I could have bit my words before they came out of my mouth. Whether I think someone deserved it or not, is that who I really want to be? If I want others to be loving and accepting, then I should be what I want. I still forget we’re not the super infallible Christian we all dress up to be.

I wish I could always speak kindly and always see the best in people even when they don’t show me their best. I don’t want to be someone who makes this problem worse. Someone who makes God out to be a conditional loving God. That is the worst place to be in. I used to be there. Always striving for perfection, or dressing myself up in the perfection everyone seemed to require of me. Giving the right answers, buying the best super-glue. I met all the standards they demanded-confession, being baptized, showing up every time the doors were open, teaching, volunteering- and soon I believed that meeting all of those standards is what made me a Christian. It was almost like if I even messed up on one of those “requirements” then I was a step further on a downward spiral to hell. I trusted in my own actions to save me. And it was exhausting. When you live like this everything becomes an obligation and not a joy. Everything is dependent upon you instead of Jesus.

If you believe that you are Christian because you show up every time the church doors are open and because you meet all the standards and requirements, that is the same as an addict believing they are sober because they show up to every AA meeting. Sobriety can’t happen if an addict keeps drinking. Christianity can’t happen if we keep hiding. There has to be a heart change. And our hearts can’t change if we keep locking them up because they aren’t perfect enough yet. We need to stop  judging and conditioning God’s acceptance. Nothing will change if we keep dressing up our brokenness. Let’s stop the scowls and stop the judgments and actually start treating others the way we want to be treated. Whether they deserve it or not. Who is it you want to be?

It’s going to be hard but let’s be broken together. Otherwise if we keep biting and devouring one another, we will be destroyed by each other. God didn’t condition His love for us, so let’s stop conditioning our love upon others.

Thoughts

Judgmental, Hypocritical Christian: The Three that Should Never Be, but Are

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Sometimes, I’m afraid to say I am a Christian. There is so much negative connotation that comes with that word. Sort of like saying, “I am a Muslim.” Suddenly everyone thinks you’re going to blow someone up and all you think about is infidels and genocide. But just like every Muslim does not walk around shouting “Off with their head!” so every Christian is not a judgmental hypocrite. I know that sounds like a lie or a plea for “my people.”  But in truth it’s just a plea for me.

I grew up in the church. I grew up as a preacher’s kid and a missionary kid in a the household of the most judgmental and legalistic person I know. And I grew up knowing that Christians should not judge or be hypocrites. But that there were rules and you had to follow all of those rules. If someone else did not follow the rules then you were allowed to judge them and condemn them and prophecy all the bad things that would happen to them. You were to look down on them. So that just maybe their shame would make them want to be right again. He taught me to make it look like you were enjoying yourself so much that the “sinner” would be jealous and turn from their wicked ways and come back to the “family.” I can see now what a twisted, wicked teaching this was. Even though as a child I felt something off about this and in my heart it felt so horrid and wrong, I had to survive. Or I would be the outcast. And at 10 years old in the middle of an African savannah where was I to go? So I believed the lies and ignored the aching questions in my heart. I told myself, he is a preacher. He is a missionary. He knows God’s word. He knows what’s right. He was placed by God over me to lead me and guide me. So if I don’t do what he says then I am not doing what God says. And he told me feelings don’t matter just obedience. So I obeyed and ignored my heart. And no matter what question I had in my heart – “But what about forgiveness and love and grace?” – there was always a hammer of twisted scripture to bash my hope to pieces.

You only get love when you’ve earned it. Once you have believed in me, once you have confessed all your wickedness, once you have baptized yourself, once you have made yourself perfect. You only get love when you do everything right to remain in my love. Messing up is not remaining in my love. Jesus already died once for you don’t make a mistake and waste his death. Don’t push Him to save you each time you mess up because He will get tired of it. He already died for you once don’t make him do it again. Forgiveness is only for those who live rightly and don’t do it again. Mercy and grace are only for the pure and perfect ones who have proven themselves and who deserve it.

But who don’t ever need it.

All I wanted to do was love people. But “You can’t just come over here and love on people!” You have to show them their wickedness, you have to make them do what is right. They are the world. They are the sinners. And until they repent they cannot be your friends. They are a danger and a threat to your Christian life. They will steal your soul so you must steal theirs first for Jesus.

But I wanted to know people and be kind to people not so I could introduce them to Jesus but just because they were people too and they looked like they desired love like I did.

To my little, deceived eyes Jesus was a trickster. He was kind to people and loving at first to get them to like him and want to be a part of his “family” but once you were apart of it there were loads of rules and all he did was point out how miserable you were and how you never measured up and how you failed and were ungrateful and didn’t deserve anything he gave you.

But this isn’t the real Jesus. This was just a man who had been deceived and lied to himself for so long he couldn’t see God’s truth anymore so that he became a deceiver and a liar. He was just a man. He was not God. And he definitely did not speak for God.

I’m beginning to believe that satan uses Scripture to deceive us. When we read God’s word, God is right there. But so is satan. And he’s twisting everything his way. I think it is easier for us to believe satan’s lies than God’s truth because satan appeals to our rational thinking and God’s truths are anything but rational.

You are loved. You are accepted. You have unending grace and mercy. I love to die for you. I love you. Even in all your sin. You don’t have to earn anything. I’ve already taken care of that. Just live with me. Just let me love you. I have so much love for you. I have so much goodness for you. I do want to see you smile and be happy and truly enjoying all I have created. It all was created for you anyway. I want you to feel. I created your feelings. You can be sad, you can be angry, you can feel hate. But most of all I want you to feel love and be loved. Love covers over a multitude of sins. Love builds up. Love sets you free from all that dark baggage that keeps you locked up. It’s hard to see the real Jesus when you’ve seen a false one for so long. It’s hard to believe the truth you’ve always hoped for.

Once I finally got out from under the corrupted teachings, I began to realize how free I was. How saved and loved I was. I had always known it, but I never knew it within my heart. Before, I couldn’t understand why anyone in the world would ever want to come to Jesus if you had to be perfect and live up to expectations and standards and if you failed you were one step closer to hell. I couldn’t see why anyone would want to live to earn someone’s favor but never receive it. To have your failings rubbed in your face. To feel like God’s love was always out of reach. And I could never climb the ladder. It was like once you thought you’d reached the top another 100 steps were added. I knew God loved me and saved me but everything was conditional. He loved me when I had done enough to please him enough to love me. He loved me when I got all of the right answers, when I was humble, when I was thoughtful, when I was kind, when I obeyed, when I knew what he wanted me to do without him even telling me, when he was in a good mood- which was hardly ever because he was never satisfied and was extremely unpredictable. God didn’t love me for me unless me was good enough. Which I never felt I was.

But now, now that I am free from that twisted authority over me, I have found freedom in not being good enough. Because I already am good enough. Even in my weakness, even in my mistakes, even in my sinful heart. The heart that struggles to forgive the mean words said against me, to forgive the deceived father who deceives, to forgive the best friend who betrayed me, to forgive the scowling glances that look down on me. It is hard. But now I know God has grace for me and He doesn’t look down on me for not being strong enough. He smiles at me and says “It’s okay, that’s what I am here for. I’m the strong one for you. I’m the grace-giver, the heart restorer. I have covered you in beauty. You never have to try to be enough because you already are enough. I am pleased with you. You don’t have to do something right to get a smile from me. Just be my child We’ll do this life together. And don’t forget, you have an advantage because I’ve already overcome it.”

With all this love and acceptance why wouldn’t anyone want to come to Jesus? Now I can finally understand why so many other people I’ve read about are so beautifully in love with a God who has no catch.

So, yes, I am a Christian. And maybe I’m a hypocritical judgmental Christian because I still make mistakes and I am not perfect. I still tend to judge people before I know them. That guy with the snakebites and black clothes who walked into my class striking fear in my heart. He must be an angry man who listens to screamo because they are angry too. But who had the kindest smile and the warmest heart. Who talked to me every day. Who listened to Of Monsters and Men with me. Who encouraged and believed in me and became one of my best friends. Or the girl with the tattoos and the sad face. Who wore gray clothes and never smiled or talked. But who drove and sang “Should’ve Bought Her Flowers” with me as loud as we could. Who gave me the most belly aching fits of laughter of my life. Who gave me a place to be myself and still be loved.
Or the tan guy with dirty, baggy clothes who smelled like smoke and softball fields. Who was rumored about – he always has a girl on his arm, his brother is a druggy so you know he does something too, he didn’t grow up in the church so he’ll never be good enough. But who has the softest heart. Who forgives the spiteful words said against him. Who is kind to those who aren’t kind to him. Who accepts my brokenness. Who loves me in my imperfections and still believes I’m perfect to him. Who thanks God with me every day for bringing our broken lives together. Who showed me how to love and forgive and be loved and forgiven.

I know why people don’t want to come to Jesus. It’s because of people like me who fail and get in the way of how much love God actually has to give. People who say they are Christians but don’t love like they should or forgive like they should or accept like they should. People who aren’t perfect. People who are just humans too.

Remember, I grew up in the church I’ve seen how evil people can be. But I’ve also seen how wonderful they can be. So when I say I am a Christian, please remember that doesn’t mean I am perfect, It doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes, and it doesn’t mean I’m not human. I am doing my best just like you. But sometimes I get weary of trying to be good in a world so bad. Sometimes darkness clouds my sight and I can’t see clearly. But please give me a second chance because I know a God of endless second chances and I am trying to be more like Him. Please forgive me for when I fail and hurt you. I know I am expected to be better. But living up to expectations is exhausting. So please bare with me as I try to get through this life as a Christian imperfect human. I’m not making excuses. I’m just saying Christian does not equal perfection. And as you try to remember that, I’ll try to remember it too. Let’s do this life together.

Thoughts

We Forget We’re Just Sand

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We’re all breaking. Like a sand castle that keeps crumbling. We want to be strong and steadfast. We don’t want people to see the difficulty we’re having at holding our castle together. When one more clod cracks off and thuds on the grains it’s made of, we scramble to pick it back up and weld it back on with wet, sore fingers. We know it won’t hold for long just like the tide won’t always stay low. But at least no one saw. We check, looking into the faces of those passing by. The brown-haired tan girl with the blue, postage-stamp small bikini didn’t notice. And the chiseled guy watching her definitely didn’t see. When all the kids run by we hold our breath hoping their bare feet won’t stampede it lose. Thankfully, they don’t. We let out a breath but still don’t breathe easily. We never do. It’s like we’re training for when the waves come in. And we slowly suffocate.

Then there’s those random mean people who like to take advantage of the vulnerable, and come up and knock off pieces of our castles. We crumble a little more. We start to believe more people are nasty like this so we build our castles even more fortified. Now, when people walk by they awe over our strength and handiwork. And we start to believe them pretending we aren’t made of sand. But we are. And we’re disintegrating even faster as we sink into the water sloshing in.

Suddenly we find ourselves wishing we could crush our own castles and just be, instead of surviving. But what will people think when they see our castle flat and destroyed? Obviously, we aren’t as strong as they thought. But we’re tired and weary. We’re exhausted from maintaining the standard height. We just want to rest on the heated sand, watching the salty sea come in, and feel the warm sunset in our grains. So we let go and just be what we are made of. People will look down at us ashamed that they once praised our glory. But it’s okay. It’s good to be broken again. And hopefully one day they’ll realize their made of sand too.

Thoughts

I Am

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It might sound arrogant to say I knew all the answers, but I did. And I knew how to behave, which probably sounds even more arrogant. I knew that when the little brat kid who lived across from me punched me in the stomach until I couldn’t breathe, let alone stand, I had to be gracious and take the blame for it when his dad confronted me. I knew that when one of the boys stole my favorite pocket knife my dad gave me I had to forgive them. I knew I shouldn’t want more clothes that I liked because there were kids running around who only had the holey, dirty shirt they were wearing. I knew I had to serve everyone and think of others better than myself because they needed God’s love more than I did. And above all I knew I “was the only example. It doesn’t matter what other kids do. You have to be the one to do what is right. Be the exception. Be the good girl others can look up to.” And I was perfect. At all of it.

It all started around when I was seven years old. I decided I wanted to get baptized. I had made that decision when I was four but was told I had to wait because I was too young. When my dad asked me why I wanted to get baptized I said, “Because I don’t want to go to hell.” I wanted to be saved and safe in Jesus. But that answer wasn’t the right one. My dad told me what I should have said and told me to pray and think about it some more. So I did. I realized where my answer was wrong and said the right thing. I didn’t know it but that day I learned it didn’t matter how I felt or what I thought. How I felt was not important when it came to the right answer and doing the right thing. And having the right answer seemed to be what saved me. One of my dad’s favorite sayings was, “Put your emotions aside and do what is right.” So I got baptized on February 13. It was a Friday.

From that day on I learned all the right answers. I was the listening ear for anyone who had a problem; the one they came to for advice. I was the strong one; the one they came to for strength. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I want to be there for people. I love to help in any way I can. But being the answer for everyone else meant I couldn’t be broken. Everyone knows an idol is made of stone and is strong, never toppling. And if it becomes cracked then it is false and what it represents is false. And I was supposed to represent God. That meant I couldn’t mess up. I couldn’t be human. I couldn’t be in need. I could not be sad or wonder where God was. Or be angry at God. Remember, feelings don’t matter. Right answers are everything.

But after so long, it all becomes exhausting; even though a good Christian shouldn’t be exhausted. It’s like trying to hold a sand castle together when the tide breaks off a little at a time. My serving, strong hands were growing weak and dirty. I saw other people truly experiencing God and His love, and it was all because they were broken. Like the drug addict who gets clean and gets saved or the woman who’s had too many men to count but finally falls in love with the Son of Man or the teenager who made a “mistake” and chose to keep him or the drunk who beat his family then throws out the bottles and bats and grabs a Bible. I’ve seen others experience God and His love, but those things never seemed to happen to me. I watched the people at churches praise God with their hands half-raised in the air and tears slipping down their cheeks in adoration of a God I didn’t know. Those same tears would drop with joy from smiling, radiant faces as those same people spoke of God’s unconditional love for them and how He had reached into their lives with underserved grace and mercy. Then, I wanted to be “bad” so that just maybe I could experience His grace too. But I wasn’t allowed to be “bad.” Even though I ached so bad to just let it all crumble.

I don’t think my breaking point happened at a specific time. In fact, I think I’m still in the breaking. It’s still easier for me to believe God loves, with intense passion, you, the addict, the whore, the illegitimate, and the drunk than it is for me to believe He loves me. But I think I began to break when I started to let myself admit the truth. I don’t like raising my hands to invisible arms. And I won’t sing praises for others to hear. I don’t pray like other people full of immaculate, fancy words or pray in a gibberish language that the “Spiritual” call groans of the Spirit. But my spirit groans too, it just never sounds like that. I’ve never heard God speak to me. And the only prayer I can muster up is “Help me.” I’m not strong all the time. In fact, I think I’m probably more on the weak side. I do cry. I’m not unbreakable. I want to be broken.

I have always heard people say that He comes into the midst of us at church. And while He may be there I think He’s probably too busy mending up other people than to unstitch me. But when I am alone, just me, in the world His fingerprints created that’s when I start to connect to Him. In the moldable sand He used to shape my body. In the green grass that pricks my bare feet. In the wind that blows across my face and through my fingers and into my clothes. In the smell of silky roses breathing liquid flavor into my lungs. Maybe He can’t be heard in a choir but in the mourning dove crying for the ones she loves to come home. And in the crickets playing their violin legs to ease the sun’s goodbye to another day. I can see Him in the pink and purple sunset slipping into a hammock of dark blue. And in the starry milky galaxies like a billion glittering eyes watching silently. Maybe His Spirit is in the groans of old, creaking trees and not in the made up words of the righteous.

Like I said, I’m still in the breaking. But it’s beautiful to be here. Because this is where I meet Him. I didn’t meet Him in a church with stain glassed windows and man-made walls to keep Him in. I met Him when I became human instead of perfect. When I shattered. When I began to break. I’ve realized when something breaks there’s room for Him to trickle in. All of my right answers and perfection were just whitewashed walls keeping me from Him. I’m learning it’s human to be in need. It’s human to not be strong. It’s human to be angry and sad and not understand. It’s human to feel because sometimes our feelings are more honest than the words we speak. It’s human to be broken. And I am human.

Thoughts

Josh’s Tree

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It was dirty. But sometimes not as dirty as I wanted it to be. The soft sand dug under my fingernails as my hands disturbed it’s restful silence. It amazed me how one little hole started by my fingers could turn into a hole huge enough for my whole body. This was mine. I built it myself. And I would defend my house with the little cannon balls of sand I had made.

That was the whole purpose for us missionary kids. We each dug our own hole – our own house- and then we would all make sand balls to pelt at each other. We defended our hole homes like nations fight wars. While our parents were off ministering to everyone else’s needs, fighting satan, planting seeds in dirty souls and baptizing the green leaves that would sprout, we could always be found here, competing on who became the dirtiest. Dirty souls, dirty bodies, maybe they would want to water our thirst too.

Maybe the reason we fought so hard for our territories was not just because our own hands had made it, but because this was our home. We knew the cement houses we lived in weren’t ours. They were the church’s in our passport country’s land. They were God’s. And God gives and takes away. We learned we would never stay in one place for long. So we made our own place and fought in the mud to keep it.

This was where I belonged. I was too white to blend in with the village kids; the dirt still didn’t hide me very well. I already attracted too much attention. And I am a girl. So it wasn’t always good attention. But here, under Josh’s tree with the open, blue sky encircling above, I was safe.

We called it Josh’s tree because he had a wooden platform set up in it’s branches. There were also pieces of wooden blocks nailed to the side of the tree to use as a ladder for climbing up. On each side of the tree there were orange rope swings with knots going all the way up. Sometimes we would climb up the tree this way, putting the knots between our big toe and the one next to it.

Even though we called it Josh’s tree, there was an unspoken pact that the tree was for all of us. This looming Mafura tree was each of ours. It’s green leaves that tickered in the wind provided shade for us from the burning African sun. It’s red and black oval fruit, which tasted more like soap, gave us imaginary food to store in our holes. Josh’s tree was our playmate, our friend, our refuge. Life was real beyond our dirt walls. But here, under Josh’s tree, buried in the dirt, we were alive.

Thoughts

Blood Transfusion

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  — Romans 8:15-16 

So I was talking with my sister the other night. She was feeling very down on herself for a mistake she had made. She had gotten a little too angry. I knew how she felt because I had been right where she was a few days earlier. We both get down on ourselves very hard when we mess up and then we get this terrifying fear that we are just like our father. It is a fear that paralyzes us and we see no way out. We start to believe we are turning into him. It is almost like there is this dormant part of him in us and the more we mess up we think it awakens a part of that sleeping monster and once he is awake we will be everything we hate. Even though we already struggle with hating ourselves. And if we already struggle with hating ourselves when the monster is asleep how much more lost and hate-filled will we be when he is fully awake.

So we strive not to mess up and not to make mistakes. But that is very exhausting. And when we fail with exhaustion we get even more fearful. We try telling ourselves and each other that we are not our father. We are our own person and can make our own choices. We make who we are. That sounds really good, but deep inside there is this lurking red darkness that reminds us, “You have his blood in your veins. No matter how far you run from the man, he will still be with you because he is inside of you. You cannot escape him. He’s in your DNA.” It leaves us with a feeling that it is inevitable that we will be him. One day. No matter how hard we try.

So as my sister told me her fears that I knew too well, I wasn’t sure how to answer her without feeling like a hypocrite for not believing for myself the words I believed for her and knew she needed to hear. But God took over my mouth that night and He watered my thoughts with His words. Words that as I spoke them to my sister He was speaking them to my soul. I prayed the same was happening to her.

As I listened to the words coming out of my mouth I heard,” You are not your father. Even though his blood runs through your veins, even though part of him is in you, even though it feels inevitable that you will be him and cannot escape him, there is a stronger blood in your veins. Blood that is more powerful than any human’s blood. Your Heavenly Father’s blood runs through your whole body and is more powerful than any man’s. He is good and His good will swallow up all the evil you are afraid is in you. He makes you good. Even though you feel and believe you are not good. He makes you righteous and He will create in you all that is good and no blood from your father can overcome Him. Your Heavenly Father’s blood is so many more times stronger and closer than your father’s. It is His blood that rules your veins and fills you.”

I don’t know if those words helped my sister as much as they helped me. Sometimes it still feels like my blood chains me to my father. Sometimes that fear still creeps in threatening to take over and awaken the monster sleeping within. But with my Heavenly Father’s words filling my thoughts and His blood pumping through my veins, there is no dormant monster waiting to erupt by my many mistakes and fears. The red darkness is turned into red light. Clean, pure and good. And the darkness cannot overcome it.