Suits

It’s a name of a TV show that I’ve never watched. However, the title of the show came to mind recently because of something I did last weekend. Something that I’m a bit embarrassed about on one hand, a bit proud of on another hand, and intrigued about on yet another hand. (How many hands does one get in an allegory like this? Who knows?)
I have been mulling this subject over off and on for over a week because I just wasn’t sure which direction to take it. To tell you the truth, I’m still not sure where this is going but here is what happened.

Hanging in one of the ends of my closet was a suit I wore in the Work (ministry); one I would preach in and/or wear to meetings, funerals etc. It has been 16 years since I left the work, and I probably wore this suit for a couple of years more after leaving.

I have been on a house purging project for a few weeks now where every weekend I give away or toss at least one bag, box, or sack of something out of the house. I knew this suit was hanging back there and when I reached for it, instead of one, I discovered 4 worker suits! I had no idea there were that many still “hanging around“! They have been hibernating back there in their plastic dry cleaning bags for at least the 13 years that I have lived in this house!

I had to question… “why on earth had I held on to them all this time?”

This isn’t going to turn into some deep psychological issue but I do think there is a message here for me. I’m not going to write at length about the need to ‘let go’ of things, feelings, etc either because many really good books have been written on that subject and I could never improve on them. However, there are some spiritual parallels that have come to mind that perhaps “fit“.

Here is the thought process I went through to answer the “why” of my question.

I held on to them because of sentimental value largely. Most of them were purchased for me by a dear aunt & uncle and they were expensive. My aunt never wanted me to be a dowdy sister worker!

Because they were expensive, I didn’t want to just throw them away and it was even hard to give them to charity. I didn’t know what to do with them, to tell you the truth.

I pulled them all out and tried a couple of the jackets on; even though I knew none of them would fit any more. The skirts were ridiculously long, the jackets felt heavy. I never have occasion to wear a suit anymore and if I did, I would get a new one. These were outdated. The skirts that had elastic in them…the elastic had become brittle and crunchy.

I let the memories of wearing them flood back in, was thankful I had had such nice clothes to wear in that time of my life, put them back in their bags and took them to charity.

They were the last tangible things left from those years in the ministry. They no longer fit me, fit my lifestyle, or fit where I now am spiritually. The hesitancy to let go of them reminded me of what Jesus said about trying to put new wine into old wineskins. You just can’t do it.

Richard Rohr says in his book, “Falling Upward”:

“if we do not get some new wine skins, the wine and the wine skin will both be lost. The second half of life can hold some new wine because by then there should be some strong wine skins, some tested ways of holding our lives together. But that normally means that the container itself has to stretch, die in its present form, or even replace itself with something better. This is the big rub, as they say, but also the very source of our midlife excitement and discovery.”

So was getting rid of the suits symbolic of examining what no longer fits in my thinking or my routine? Was it about simply creating an empty space to rest in and breathe in? It has felt so good every time I have gotten rid of something out of the house. To just have a bit more clean, empty space in which to live without feeling cluttered or cramped.

Perhaps God is moving me in a direction spiritually also to make room for something new and different. It is so tempting to stay where it feels comfortable and predictable even when it might not be working anymore, or bringing me any joy anymore. But I don’t want to live like that.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of something but I don’t know what it is yet. But with God involved, it will be exciting and never boring. That I know. Tradition and even church can become boring if they stay on the surface of life and never get past the doing, the achieving, the climbing, the comparing, the judging, the “we’re better than you” mentality (which I did both in and out of the meetings), and I never get to God Himself. To let Him lead, teach, move, change, and direct. To live in the weightier matters of life.

Rohr also says:

“In the beginning (of life), you tend to think that God really cares about your exact posture, the exact day of the week for public prayer, the authorship and wordings of your prayers, and other such things.  Once your life has become a constant communion, you know that all the techniques, formulas, sacraments, and practices were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing – life itself – which can actually become a constant intentional prayer. Your conscious and loving existence gives glory to God.”  

Totally letting go of my agenda and being open to ask God to reveal to me areas in my thinking that are causing me to be stuck is scary but also intriguing.  All I need is a little faith and a lot of trust!

A work in progress

Good Morning Readers!

I am feeling guilty for not posting anything for a while again, so today, even though I don’t have, what I call an official post ready to go, I at least want to check in.

First, I AM working on a post….have been for several days now.  I was reminded this morning of something I used to practice back when I was preparing for a meeting and that was, don’t be guilty of just wanting to find something to say.  Whenever I did that, it was a flat message that impressed no one, not to mention fed and/or inspired anyone.  Ugh.  There was nothing worse than delivering those kind of messages except having to listen to those kind of messages!  Instead, I wanted a message that first of all truly inspired and excited me because then I knew it had potential of possibly doing that for others.

This blog post I am working on now has developed into something with more layers than I anticipated.  It’s really got me to thinking.  Plus, I started reading a new book this week that is challenging my thinking on a whole new level.  I have scratched sentences and even paragraphs from the post I’m working on and then had to just sit with what I’ve written for long stretches of time before writing anything additional.

I have said before, and I will say it again, I constantly demand more of myself so that I do not just live on the surface of life but go deeper, and my writing must reflect that also.  A life-changing verse for me years ago was, and still remains to be, Romans 11:33

” O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”

There is no end to Him so I have no excuse but to keep changing, evolving and growing.  To constantly challenge the status quo.  To want more of Him.  I have become aware that I have been stuck spiritually and so I needed this jolt.  Thank you, Sherlene for recommending “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr.  I am going to be pondering that book for a good long while.  I am also just starting another new book, “Leaving the Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor.  It is about her journey of leaving the priesthood after serving there for many years.

Sherlene asked me recently what gets me excited and my response in part was, “A new book!”  The other part of my answer was WRITING!

So, I will keep reading and keep writing  and we will journey together!

 

A little encouragement for a Monday

I read this on a blog this morning and thought she answered the question so good that I had to cut and paste.  From Hannah Brencher.  She was answering questions from her readers. This is one of them.

How do you remind yourself that God is always with you, even on the hardest and darkest days?

I hurl myself into the word of God. On the days when I don’t feel God, and I assume he has packed a suitcase and left for Rio, I go and hunt him down. I look for him. I ask for him. I knock at his door. I make him answer. 

The place to find God when you think he is in hiding? The bible. He’s always there. He’s always hanging out. He’s always got something for you. Whether it’s a Psalm or a lament or a parable, he sees you. He doesn’t go anywhere. He doesn’t get tired of you. He probably thinks it’s amusing that we are so good at assuming he’s exhausted by us. He isn’t. He’s no stranger to heartbreak. He knows the dark because he made the dark– he allowed it into the world. And you know what? Some of the most beautiful things are made in the dark. That’s you, babe. You’re the stuff of the dark and light having a battle. You’re the victory song after the light wins. 

So, let’s soak on that one today.  It might just be what someone needs to read.  Especially on a Monday.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now….

Devotional for this post

From inside the meeting fellowship and outside of it.
From a workers viewpoint to that of just an ordinary person.
From a servant to a saint.

Am I any kind of authority? Not really. I’ve just had a very few experiences along the way compared to most. Have I had regrets? Yes, quite a few. Do those regrets come back to haunt me from time to time? Yes, they do. And, that is what this post is all about.

Re-writing my story.

I read an article recently by Heidi Priebe titled “26 Ways to Take Your Life Back When You’re Broken” and one of those ways was to re-write your story. She said:

“The past is nothing more than a story we repeat for ourselves and allowing ourselves to understand this is an incredibly liberating notion.”

She talked about journaling out experiences:

“until you’re able to come to a new understanding of why things happened the way they did. Learn to pinpoint the experiences for growth within the destruction of your past and then move forward with those experiences close to your heart.”

I don’t believe anyone gets through life without some regrets; decisions they made that they wish they hadn’t made. And, not just in our youth either. Those regrets can keep us awake at night, eat us alive, wear us down, rob us of our joy, and cause us to get stuck in the present because we haven’t deal with our past.

Of course, that is the essence of the Gospel; to forgive, to redeem, to set us free. We know this in our heads and hearts but sometimes there are unfinished chapters that come back to haunt us. Not because God hasn’t forgiven them but because we need to re-name them.

So, in this light, I thought first of all of the times in the Scripture when God renamed someone. He was helping them rewriting their story. Like Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Cephas to Peter. Revelation 2:17 speaks about a time when those who are saved will get a new name in heaven and that will be the ultimate life story do-over! Our names are going to be very carefully chosen by God Himself and each name will loaded with meaning. What I find also interesting in that verse is that it says that no one will know our new name except each individual person. I wonder why? Someday we’ll know. We can only speculate now on that one.

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

But my main point here is this; God is going to re-write our story. We will be known as we are known. Truly known. (Is a good thing!? I think it will be because He is going to finish the story; not us.) The Bible calls it redemption. Turning ashes into joy. Bringing to life what once was dead.

What about my story? I’ve already re-written some of those chapters from bad to good and it has really helped. Like my parents’ divorce when I was very young. God used this experience over and over again when I was in the Work (ministry) when working with children of divorce. Or my relationships with men (beginning with my father) that did not go well. My father forsook our family when I was 5; Jesus assured me He would never forsake me.  I’ve dated men who could not commit, love me unconditionally, or choose me over others.  Jesus is 100% committed to me, loves me unconditionally, and chose me! 

A quote from The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen & Mark Hyman says

“God promises that he will fit everything – even your setbacks, relapses, and failures – into his plan and purpose for your life. God loves to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones and crucifixions into resurrections.”

A big one for me that needed re-writing was all my years in the ministry; nearly 22 of them. I have ranted and raved at others and at God for those years, calling them wasted at times, feeling they are the reason I am alone now and have so little materially compared to my peers; both relationally and financially.

This kind of thinking got me nowhere. I still don’t know for sure if it was God calling me into that ministry back in 1974 or if it was pressure from the group (the fellowship), or my own messed up thinking of wanting approval of others and to be the best in that group that I could be. I was so determined at the time to do something different in my life than other members of my family had done. Maybe it was a little of everything.

What I do know now is that being in the ministry those years saved me from some very likely heartache. I would not have known how to choose wisely in marriage at that age so the likelihood of ending up divorced (like all the women in my family) and being a single mother were in my favor. I will say this; ALL the women in my family who raised their children alone did an amazing job. They were powerful, strong women who raised some great kids who are now amazing adults.

Being in the ministry put me in the Word on a daily basis at a level I seriously doubt I would have attained otherwise and I will be forever grateful for that. I met hundreds of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise and got to see much of the US and Canada. I had strong friendships and experienced a comadarie with the workers that I miss to this day.

Finally, had I not been in the ministry so long, I may never have begun to long for so much more of God than I was experiencing in that church. To see what was missing and what was so wrong. I wouldn’t have started asking, seeking and knocking and I wouldn’t have discovered the Gospel of Grace and freedom and deliverance of the stronghold that church had on me.

It has taken me years to re-write those chapters of my life. The years of loneliness after leaving the meetings lead me into a deeper, sweeter relationship with God than I had ever known before. Without so many others to lean on, I leaned into Him hard and found He could handle it. Yes, I don’t have much materially or financially but I have what I need; just not always what I want.

God has been faithful every day, every year. He has not failed or forgotten me no matter how weak my faith at times, how small my love, how foolish my choices. He keeps refining my spirit and my character and teaching me more and more of His love and grace.

So, my readers, what chapters in your life do you need to re-write for the sake of your peace and your liberty and your growth?

A Couple of Prayers for the New Year

Here are some prayers from one of my favorite books, “Yours Is the Day, Lord….Yours is the Night” by Jeanie & David Gushee

O sweet Jesus Lord, Thou art the present portion of Thy people. Favor us with such a sense this year of Thy preciousness, that from its first to its last days we may be glad and rejoice in Thee! Let January open with joy in the Lord and December close with gladness in Jesus.

Amen

(Charles Spurgeon 1834-1892)

Grant, O Lord, that as the years change, I may find rest in Your eternal changelessness.  May I meet this new year bravely, secure in the faith that, while we come and go, and life changes around us, You are always the same, guiding us with Your wisdom, and protecting us with Your love.

Amen

(William Temple 1881-1944)

Lord Christ, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose years never fail; may I so pass through the coming year with a faithful heart, that in all things I may please You and reflect Your glory; for You are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Amen

(Mozarabic Sacramentary 7th c.)

It is well and good, Lord, if all things change, provided we are rooted in You.  If I go everywhere with You, my God, everywhere things will happen for Your sake; that is what I desire.

Amen

(John of the Cross 1542-1591)

The Treasures of Darkness

All throughout last summer the Lord opened up verse after verse to me about Light, the Day, walking in the light, the glory of the day etc. It was amazing and I will come back to those verses for years. A few days ago, He surprised me by bringing to remembrance Isaiah 45:3.

I will give you treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Let me back up a bit. I don’t like the nights; I don’t remember if I ever have. They are worse for me now than they ever have because I sleep so poorly and they seem to drag on forever. But more than not liking nights, I don’t like darkness. The only place I want to be when it is dark is inside where I feel safe. We recently passed the shortest day of the year and I am SO glad because after that, the days slowly begin to get longer again. Right now, where I live, we have 15 hours of darkness every day. I used to work with a gal who loves the nights; she takes walks in her neighborhood in the evenings and spends an hour every night outside just gazing at the night sky. I do like to go out on my balcony at nights for a few minutes and gaze at the night heavens. It is beautiful and I often pray out there.

But treasures in the darkness? What does that mean? I wrote in my journal on November 29th of this year after reading that verse again, “Father, this winter, beginning now please, I pray You, show me the treasures of darkness in my life, in my world, my reality. Show me the riches stored in those SECRET PLACES of your heart. Your Word and even in my heart, my experiences and my current life I know there are corners in my heart I haven’t brought to the Light.”

Right now the sun is shining gloriously outside in the bitter cold but in a few short hours it will be dark again. I have this vision of me walking through the darkness in my own soul and heart with God (it’s simply too terrifying otherwise) and making it a writing challenge. Writing about confronting my issues with food, with God, with going deep, with being truly quiet, with not writing like I used to. About money, retirement, housing. About church. All of it. SO THAT I can find those riches stored in secret places that only God can reveal. All I’m currently seeing is the darkness. I’m not seeing the possible treasures in the darkness or the Lord who has summoned me (even now) by name. But I need to. I want to, I can’t wait to, and then by the time spring comes, I will be experiencing a Resurrection within like NEVER BEFORE!!

Praise You Father for giving me this Gift this morning. This HOPE. This PROMISE. This EXPECTATION. This DREAM. I needed it so much.

A Very Merry Christmas!

My dear readers,

I am sitting here at work listening to Christmas music and it is so beautiful and I am, once again, just overcome with emotion at how much I love this season….how much I love Christmas.  I know I’ve said it before, but one of the greatest joys for me in leaving the meetings was having the freedom to celebrate Christmas finally….both spiritually and physically.

In my family, we always celebrated Christmas with a tree, presents, cookies and decorations UNTIL the mid 1960’s when the edict came up the West Coast of the US that it was WRONG to celebrate Christmas.  It was ok until then!  Honest!  We kept making cookies and exchanging presents at our house but no more trees or pretty decorations.  It was awful.

So for the next 4 decades I wasn’t allowed to participate in Christmas.  I hated it and resented it.  The worst was being on Special Meeting rounds when I was in the Work over the holidays and of course, the friends would have been terrified to mention Christmas with us workers around.  I know most of the friends would have been so GLAD when we finally left so they could maybe at least have a holiday dinner.  Again, it was awful.

I remember after the holidays were over and we went back to our fields, in one area I was in, they were ranchers and farmers and I would see old dried up Christmas trees out by their burn barrels and I would smile to myself and say “Good for them!”  They had to wait until we were out of the area and then they could celebrate with their families.

It bothered me to no end (especially my last few years in the Work) because here we were, supposedly such a ‘religious’ group, and yet we ignored and BANNED the two most famous Christian holidays; Christmas and Easter.  It was SO wrong in my opinion and yes, I prayed and prayed about it.

Therefore, when I finally broke away from the meetings, I never miss a Christmas Eve service or an Easter service at a church somewhere.  I cry and laugh during the singing of the Christmas carols.  I love celebrating the birth of Christ corporately with other believers.  It feels so right.

I’m also not ashamed to say I put up my tree and other decorations in my condo the day after Thanksgiving.  I can’t wait!  It’s the only time all year that my house looks different.  It’s so dark outside and the lights inside and the candles are so cozy and welcoming.  And yes, I put up lights outside to bring joy to others passing by.

I absolutely love this season and probably more so than some because I was denied the joy of celebrating it for the majority of my life.  But no more!!  I just might leave my decorations up till February!  Who knows!

So, again, a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!