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Hope (On Grown-Up Optimism)

I am the kind of person that is often frustrated that there is no jazz-hands emoji.   That is to say I’m an optimist.

The glass isn’t half-full.  It’s all the way full if you think about it, because no one ever fills it to the rim anyway, that would be silly.  And if it’s 3/4 of the way full we should just round up!  Cheers!

Between my natural disposition and my training in PR, I am THE QUEEN of silver linings.  This is not an entirely positive trait.

I had to learn how to sit with hurt – to just let things suck when they sucked.  I learned that when I was sad or mad or hurting, I didn’t need a positive spin, I needed to let it be.  This taught me that when other people are sad or mad or hurting, they don’t need silver linings.   They need someone to sit down beside them and say, “Yeah, this sucks.  It’s the worst.  I’ll sit here with you, if you want.   And if you want to be alone, I’ll just fold the laundry on my way out the door.”  I am growing in this.

I am still an optimist, but I am no longer a rainbows-and-unicorns optimist; I ‘ve seen enough of life to know that things are not always good.

When I was in high school my optimism looked like **jazz hands**.   Today, it looks like hope.

I believe unswervingly that there is always hope.
I believe that everything is redeemable.  Everything.

The thing is, redemption almost never looks the way I think it will.

Isn’t that always the way?   They looked for a king and got a baby.  They looked for a conqueror and got a servant.  They looked for a throne and got a cross.  Redemption never looks like you think it will.  It’s hard to see coming.

My life looks nothing like I imagined, in a lot of good ways, but also in some hard ways.  I have no idea how things are going to turn out.  I’ve given up guessing, because I’m not yet thirty and I have three kids and three books and I’ve moved 8 times so just WHATEVER.  But I am not discouraged by the fact that I have no idea what’s going on, or by the fact that a whole lot of things look pretty darn UNREDEEMED.   I am steadfast in hope because of this glorious mystery:

Christ in me, the hope of glory.

I have Christ in me.  I can’t not live a redemption story.  I could no sooner stop hoping than stop breathing.   I can’t stop thinking that everything is going to turn out great, because I actually believe it.  

I actually believe in crazy-grace and Jesus the death-conqueror.  I actually believe that I could not extinguish the love, the providence, or the delivering, sustaining arms of God if I tried.   I am His, and He won’t stop redeeming my life.  (Oh my word, is this what it is to trust?)

Christ in me, the hope of glory.  That phrase is tattooed on the front lobe of my brain these days, on the inside of my eyelids.  That is where my hope lies.  That’s the source of the spring of my relentless, grown-up optimism.

 

So maybe you are in the middle of surviving, and are running a little short on hope and optimism.
Maybe you thought redemption would look like healing, but you’re finding it looks more like purpose.
Maybe you thought it would look like saving that relationship, but you’re finding it looks more like beauty from ashes.
Maybe you thought it would look like a good job, just in the nick of time, but you’re finding it looks more like a tribe of people to carry you through.
Maybe you thought redemption would look like a baby, but you’re finding it looks more like the birth of compassion, a calling.

I don’t know what it’s going to look like like, but I know that it’s gonna be good.  I know that some days will suck like leeches, but it’s going to be okay.  I have Christ in me, his breath in my lungs, and he makes everything glorious.

Hope has become an accidental theme of my life.  I chose Hope as the middle name for my daughter, not knowing the prophecy on my own tongue.  She is Madeline the hope-giver, and she is glorious. 

I am a grown-up optimist.  I cannot have it any other way.

“As for me, I will always have hope, for He who promised is faithful.”  (Psalm 71: 4 and Hebrews 10:23)
Kate

#SurvivorSeries

Surviving Jealousy

I am friends with the most amazing people.  I don’t mean they are amazing.  I mean they are THE MOST amazing.  I don’t know how that happened, probably because it takes a certain caliber of person to put up with me.

In keeping company with these amazing souls, I have learned a thing or two about jealousy.

For example,

I know that when a naturally thin and unfairly beautiful friend plans a visit, I can drop 15 pounds in two months.   I’ve done that.

I know that when a childless friend plans a surprise visit, I can clean, reorganize, and RE-PINTEREST my home in 48 hours.  I’ve done that.

I know how it feels to want to quit everything.  I have wanted to quit writing.  Quit blogging.  Quit shopping, quit cooking, quit eating, quit cleaning, quit marriage, quit parenting, and go live in a hut on the beach.  Because if you’re going to feel like an embarrassment in EVERY SINGLE WAY A PERSON CAN FEEL LIKE AN EMBARRASSMENT, you might as well feel small in front of an ocean instead of in front of other people.

I know about that.

And I know about feeling guilty for resenting GOOD, AMAZING, WONDERFUL people just because your heart can’t handle their wonderfulness.  I know how it feels to resent yourself for being so resentful.

Jealousy and insecurity go hand-in-hand.  It’s very chicken-or-the-egg.  Am I jealous because I’m insecure?  Or am I insecure because I’m so jealous?  The answer is, “Yes.”

They feed off of each other in a downward spiral, like a whirlpool, taking your confidence, joy, peace, friendships, and focus with them as they go.  Like an airplane stealing tree limbs on the way down.

Jealousy is not something you can just live with.  You can’t allow it to occupy a little room in your heart, like it’s paying rent, and try to get on with your life while it’s sitting there on the sofa bed you made up for it.  Jealously will burn the place down.  Jealousy starts a slow burn that will eventually leave your whole heart in dead, white ashes.

A few years ago I decided to quit jealousy.

And that’s what I did.  I quit, cold turkey.

And you know what?  It really wasn’t that hard.

Here are the four things I do when I battle with jealousy and survive:

1. Connect.

The absolute fastest way to kill jealousy in its tracks is to look another person in the eye.  It breaks the trance.  Sit across the table from somebody, and listen to them talk.  People don’t get to edit in real-time conversations, so when you talk to someone you normally interact with online, you’ll be amazed at how … NORMAL they sound.  If you are jealous of a real life friend, go to her house more than once.  You will notice that her baseboards aren’t always clean, and this will free you.  She might even have ants.  I will never forget the day that I walked into the house of a childless person and saw an ant.  AN ANT!  It was one of the most validating, freeing experiences of my entire life.  It was like that ant said to me, “I do not condemn you, human.  Be free.”   When you look somebody in the eyes, you remember that real life doesn’t come with Instagram filters.  You might even see traces of hurt, struggle, fear.  You might see some of the weight that they carry.  You might notice that even the slenderest of people have thigh-meat, and that thigh-meat might set you free.

2. Celebrate.

Take their success before their success takes you.  This is public relations 101; he who breaks the story, writes the story.  He who makes the announcement, owns the announcement.   When someone has a success, celebrate it like it’s yours.  The more you practice their joy, the more you’ll feel  their joy.  Become a good celebrator.  You’ll be surprised by how much you mean it.

3. Remember.

Remember that your life is yours to live.  Remember all the treasures with which YOU have been entrusted.  Remember that that THING, or that TRAIT, or that LIFE that you’re so jealous of is not yours to live.

Amena Brown (who is a treasure and my favorite) said it this way in her poem How to Fly.

“You never carry dreams given to you by someone else.
You figure out which things you gotta check and protect,
And which dreams you hold close you to.
You let go of everything that was sold to you as true.
Too much hurt affects your wingspan.

You see flyin’ ain’t about provin’ to someone who is struggling to be somebody
That you ‘gone be somebody too.  
Flying is about taking what you got, being who you are,
And doing what you do.

Know yourself, and dare to like yourself.  This is audacious gratitude and it will change everything.   Four years ago  I realized I was carrying dreams given to me by someone else.  I looked around, full of gratitude, and the most amazing thing happened: It dawned on me, like someone walking into a room and turning on the light, I like me.  I think I’m smart.  Maybe not book-smart, or street-smart, but some kind.  I think I’m funny, funny enough that I’m not bored by my own thoughts, so that’s good.  I think that I’m cute.  I’m no physical specimen to behold or anything, but I think I’m cute and I’m okay with cute.  Mostly, I’M ME.  I am this whole collection of thoughts and experiences and values and beliefs and quirks and proclivities, and I LIKE ME.  I put down all the dreams given to me by someone else, and I gave up trying to prove things to people who weren’t even watching.  Gratitude turns your eyes up to The Giver, and you can’t behold The Giver of All Good Things and still be looking around feeling jealous about stuff.

4. Love.

When you love someone, jealousy gets edged out.  The love presses it out, occupying the space it used to hold, filling all the gaps.  When you love someone, you see their hurt and your heart grieves with them.  When you love someone, you see their joy and your heart leaps with them.  When you love someone, you want their best, their happiness.  You actually DESIRE their growth and maturation – you are on the edge of your seat, breathless to see what their lives could hold.  And you want to be on the sidelines, cheering them on, holding them up, because, LOVE.    Love causes us to lose sight of insecurity, competition, lust, idolatry, and entitlement because it causes us to lose sight of ourselves.

Kick jealousy out.  Stop taking his rent.  Quit him.

Connect, celebrate, remember, love – and breathe the free air.

 

 

 

 

Modesty is Not A Feminine Virtue

This week we’re talking about modesty over on my FB page, because it’s a topic I discuss in the first chapter of my books.

The books explore a very specific slice of modesty (the way we dress) for one reason:  that was the first point on my list of “Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls.”   In the book I talk about things like:

-Expressing yourself with fashion, and dressing intentionally.
-Rejecting the idea that the sexualized parts of women’s bodies should ever be the source of frustration or shame.
-The superpower that is femininity.
-Rejecting the notion that women are responsible for the thoughts and behaviors of men, and rejecting that “modesty” is somehow a tool to protect ourselves from degradation.
-The difference between attention and respect.

I suspect that this chapter might find itself a little bit controversial, but I stand by what’s in there, and I think it’s important.

That said –

It would be a serious oversight, not to mention offensive, to end the conversation there.  Because modesty is not a “feminine virtue.”   And for crying out loud, it’s not about clothing.  The catchphrases coined by the uber-conservatives hoping not to be viewed as misogynistic are way off, too.   “It’s not about hiding,” they say, “it’s about revealing dignity.”

Except, no.  It’s not.  We have to stop insisting that modesty is about “revealing dignity” and “having self-worth,” as if people who feel comfortable in clothing we wouldn’t personally wear simply don’t value themselves enough.   Real modesty isn’t about “revealing dignity” because it isn’t about revealing anything.

Here is what modesty is:

Modesty is humility applied.
It’s humility in a tank top, wisdom in jeans.
It’s a healthy dose of it’s-not-about-me as you go throughout your day.
Real modesty is meekness, which is a human virtue that begins on the inside, and, as we mature, is unstoppably, unavoidably reflected in every area of our lives.

Modesty is about killing that thing inside of us that wants to steal glory, revel in attention, and to see ourselves hoisted onto a pedestal.  The pedestal of “hottest” or “wealthiest” or “most hipster” or “most fit” or “most chic” or “most anything.”

Modesty is about stepping out of the way so that The Thing You’re Living For gets to stand in the spotlight.

Dressing provocatively is certainly one way of drawing attention to yourself, which is how the word “modesty” initially got attached to the idea of COVERING EVERYTHING UP.  But that’s not what it means.  That is one possible implication.

It is possible, and frankly a lot more common, for a PERSON (not just a woman) to have all their assests covered, and still be shouting “NOTICE ME!  NOTICE ME!” with their clothes and their lives.

Notice my bank account.
Notice my trophy spouse.
Notice my business success.
Notice how cute I am.
Notice how cultured I am.
Notice how MORAL, and RIGHTEOUS I am.

There’s nothing wrong with being noticed, but it works better when we notice each other instead of noticing ourselves.  There’s less competition, more connection.  There’s less looking in the mirror, and more looking up and out and forward.  There’s more appreciation of the beauty and gifts and skills around us – because when we aren’t preoccupied with our own hooting and hollering, we can finally, finally see it.

Real modesty happens when we side-step out of the spotlight, making space for the things that we’re passionate about to shine.  The stuff that’s bigger than us.  The stuff that matters more.

For me, that’s the gospel of Jesus.

Here is the question I’m asking myself this week:

What would it look like if I made one small, practical change to live more modestly?  To stop trying to draw attention to myself for whatever reason?

I’m a little tender about it, because it’s forcing me to examine all the places I try to be the center of the story.  It’s so ugly, glory-hogging.  But it’s tender because it matters.  Humility, modesty, selflessness – these are holy, sacred things.   They matter, and I’ve decided that pursuing them is worth the discomfort it costs.  I’ve got to look my own ugly in the face.

Will you join me in considering?

How might it look to live more modestly on social media?
How might it look to speak more modestly?
To spend money more modestly?  Not just necessarily less, just different.
How might it look to “church” more modestly?   Oh, snap.
And, yes, to dress more modestly.  Not frumpily, not puritanically, not to hide, or to shame, or to protect boys.  But to draw less undue, self-indulgent, and, often, not-the-healthiest attention to ourselves.

Comment and share with the hashtag #realmodesty.

 

Forcing My Own Hand

I am really great at doing the right thing when the right thing is my only available option.

Example:  

I am awesome at not buying brownie mix.  I can’t remember the last time I purchased the stuff.

I am less awesome at not eating brownies.  I CAN remember the last time I ate brownies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – it was the last time I bought brownie mix.

In sum, I am THE BOMB at not eating brownies…as long as there are no brownies around.

The times that I’ve been the most disciplined and put together in my life were not thanks to me – they were thanks to a total lack of options.

I don’t think of myself as a very disciplined person.  Homework was never really my jam.  Neither was balancing my checkbook.  I could take it or leave it, and by that, I obviously mean that I left it.  Disciplined people are the kind of people who can see brownies and think, “I am only going to eat one of those.”  Disciplined people can mind-over-matter stuff.  They can, say, just GET UP when the alarm goes off.  They can stick to the plan.  ANY PLAN.

I am the pits at that breed of self-discipline.  What I am is a pretty decent self-scheduler.

I am learning to organize my life in such a way that makes the right things easier and the wrong things tougher.

(Actually, I believe it’s nearly impossible to make a wrong thing “tough.”  Our natural bent towards selfishness and pride, coupled with rationalization and THE INTERNET mean wrong things are only ever just a few side-steps away.  Perhaps a more accurate statement would be:  I am learning to organize my life in such a way that makes the right things more convenient, so I have less excuses not to do them.) 

I learned this about myself my junior year of college.

I had one weird, terrible hour between classes, with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  (This was before the time of the iPhone – I call it the Scholastic Period.  Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Scholastic.  During the Scholastic period, I did not have cat videos, Twitter, or Pinterest at my fingertips.  Dark days, indeed.)

One day, I thought, “Hey, all those things I wish I had mental space to pray about?  Maybe I’ll go do that for a minute.”

And I did.
And I did it the next day, and the next day, and the next day.

For ten years I’d been trying to bully myself into spending time in prayer and meditation.

I tried guilt (which sounds a lot like, “He died for me, I’ll live for Him!” or “He gave everything, I can at least give 15 minutes in the morning!”)

I tried mountain-top camp experiences.

I tried coffee.

I tried Bible study books.

Nothing ever stuck for long.  I understood the value, I wanted to be the kind of person to JUST GET UP.  Or JUST DIG IN.   But it wasn’t working for me, and not for lack of trying.

The same could be said for my (lack of) exercise routine.  It’s not that I didn’t see the value.  It’s not that I didn’t WANT IT.  It’s just that whatever thing is inside of self-starters and internally-motivated go-getters – I do not have that thing.

I tried running.

I tried videos at home.

I tried 5 am bootcamp with friends.

No dice.

But in 2005, that one wonky hour became sacred time in my day.  I read my Bible EVERY. DANG. DAY.  I prayed for my friends, for myself, for my future, for the world.   That hour changed my life.  The next semester I intentionally scheduled an empty hour into my day.  Turns out, I CAN have a consistent quiet time – as long as I have literally nothing better to do.

This year I GOT A CLUE from my sacred hour, and applied it to my exercise routine.  I sat down and brainstormed how I could possibly make it work with 2 young boys at home all day, and not a dime to spare on a gym membership or childcare.

I’ve Instagrammed about our morning walks, and lest anyone think for a second that I have my !@#$ together, allow me to illuminate:

Maybe the mom exercising at the park at 8:30 in the morning is not actually put together. Maybe she was forced by the inconsiderate thugs running the public school system to be out the door with three kids by 8:00 am.  Maybe she rolled out of bed and fed them granola bars in the car.  Maybe she can only leave the house once a day without having a nuclear meltdown, and THIS IS IT.  Maybe the only way she could ever reliably get her unmotivated butt outdoors with her kids is just to do it ON THE WAY HOME. At the park ACROSS THE STREET.  Load them up, walk a few miles, go home, commence day of surviving in the house.  In other words, maybe she’s me.

What I’ve learned about myself is that my best shot at not going completely off the rails is to intentionally structure my life so that the right things are easier and the wrong things are harder.

It’s like pushing a chair in front of the stairs to keep babies away from the edge: if they really have a mind to get down there, they will – but it might just slow ‘em down long enough for you to save the day.

I’m not great at self-discipline, but I’m learning to save my own days.  I’m getting better about self-scheduling; that’s where it starts for me.

I can’t tackle things when they’re big; I get panicky and I tap out.  But I can manage them when they’re small, when they’re on the way home and everyone is already wearing pants.

Maybe this has been the real secret to self-discipline all along.

Maybe not.  But either way, it’s working for me.  I don’t buy brownie mix.  I walk in the morning.  I read and pray in the carpool line.

Still trying to find a good slot in the day for laundry-folding.  If I find it I’ll let you know.  Not looking good.

How do you pursue self-discipline?  Do incentives and motivations work for you?  Or are you more of a self-scheduler?  

Honesty

Illustration by Lisa Congdon
I think that honesty is the door through which lies every good thing.

Health, help, connection, intimacy.

Honesty is the door through which lies every real thing.

If you want something true, you’re going to have to walk through that door.  The door of telling the whole truth.

It’s terrible that honesty is also the hardest, scariest, most painful thing.  I hate it.  I did not sign up for this.  I hate that honesty leaves me exposed and raw and gritting my teeth, bracing for the fallout.  I hate how it opens me up to judgment and ridicule and hurt.

But I love how it opens me up to mercy.  And connection.  And sleeping at night.

We tend to believe honesty will isolate us – that if we tell the real, honest truth everyone will jump ship, lest they be marred by association with our dirty selves.  But that’s the fear talking.  Honesty never isolates as much as lies do.

It’s the lies that build the wall.  It’s the omissions that lay the bricks.  It’s the giving up’s and the rationalizations and the self-preservation that walls us into solitary confinement.  It’s the hiding and the masks that chain us there, in the dank loneliness.  We are like Poe’s poor Fortunato, thinking we’ve found a cask of fine amontillado, but instead we’ve found our tombs.

I hate this, but I believe it.

If you want to be healthy, tell the whole truth.
If you want help, tell the whole truth.
If you want camaraderie, tell the whole truth.
If you want intimacy, tell the whole truth.

Anything less might work okay, but it isn’t real.  If you have to hide things to be loved, YOU aren’t loved, your image is loved.  If YOU want love – to be seen and known and loved for WHO YOU ARE – you’re going to have to tell the truth.  You’re going to have to let someone see you.

Donald Miller said it this way, “Telling the truth is the slow, mundane, difficult route to a meaningful life.  Anything less is cheating.”

I’m trying to tell more truth to the tribe of people that I do life with.  To have the courage to start conversations that matter.  To, as Teddy Roosevelt said, tell the truth, even if my voice shakes.  To be vulnerable, which, as Jon Acuff noted, gives other people the beautiful gift of going second.

I want to be full of grace – yes – but also full of TRUTH.  What a sloppy, messy collision – grace and truth.

Jesus was full of grace and truth.  And of every other good, real thing that I need.  He’s what I’m after.  And the real, applied, lived-out Christ-life lies through the door of humble, radical honesty.  Just like every other good thing.

Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.

Because He Lives (& Yoga Bird)

In light of Easter, I wanted to share with you a meditation I wrote for Yoga Bird last month.

The significance of the resurrection is so infinite – we can talk about the love of Jesus, the cost of sin, Jesus in our place, God’s power over death, the ultimate apologetic on which hinges the entirety of the Christian faith…

…but for me, this is where the rubber meets the road.  The resurrection doesn’t just matter because it was miraculous.  It matters because Jesus is alive.  A dead god can’t help you any more than a box of rocks can.   But a living God – a living God sees and loves and sustains.  Easter is the biggest deal because a living God is the biggest deal.

“The days are uncertain, to be sure.  When I think too long on Hollywood, or the beauty industry, or sex-trafficking, or congress, it is difficult to feel much of anything but despair.  I can’t imagine anything more daunting than being asked to raise a girl in our culture – until I think of raising boys.   And vice versa.

Then I realize that I believe Christ to be big enough for anybody, anywhere, no matter their plight or their hurt or their sin – but not big enough for me.

Not big enough for my parenting deficiency, not big enough for my immaturity, for my short-sightedness, for my brokenness and pride.

Of course he can redeem a life shattered by abuse.
Of course He can sustain through unimaginable loss.
Of course He can bring joy and peace to a life entrenched in the daily ache of poverty.
Of course He can lift the drug addict out of the pit, He can lift the alcoholic out of the mire, and set their feet on solid rock.

But me?  And my kids?  And my depressingly average, messed up life?  I don’t know if He is big enough for that.

This is, of course, insanity.  It is illogical and untrue, but I believe it – my worries betray me.  My despair tattles.

“In what way am I damaging my children?”  I wonder.  “What will they say about me in therapy?  Will they turn out okay, in these uncertain days?  Will I?”

There is a song – a hymn – that I sang in a little Baptist church in Alabama.  I sing it now, too.  On almost every single one of these uncertain days:

“How sweet to hold a newborn baby
To feel the pride and joy he gives
But sweeter still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.

Because He lives I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,
Life is worth the living just because He lives.”

Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”   The days are uncertain, but God -  God is certain.  He is the most certain thing there ever was.  He is the Rock of Ages.  Immutable and unchanging and certain.

And He is for me.

He is alive, full of power and grace.  His arm is not too short to save.  He is for me, and this child can face uncertain days because He lives.  Some days “this child” is my child, and some days it’s me.  But here’s what I know – we can face uncertain days.  Oh, what blessed power and hope!  We can face uncertain days!

We can face uncertain days because He lives.”

(You can listen to the meditation here.  My words have been put to original music, and every meditation includes a time of silence and reflection.)

//

Besides blog and books, I have a few other projects going, one of which is writing meditations like this one for Yoga Bird.  Yoga Bird is a wellness website that offers on-demand yoga classes with Christian meditation.  I first subscribed a few months ago and poked around the site for over an hour – there is a huge library of poses, beginner and advanced classes, quick office breaks, a blog, and a library full of meditations (which are nice for a quiet time too, if you want to switch things up).

If you want to go exploring, here is a coupon for 10 free days!

Other cool thing:  They beautiful heart behind Yoga Bird is my very dear aunt.  You will love her.

And for the curious, this welcome video explains what they’re about:

We can face uncertain days because He lives.  Happy Easter.
Kate

 

It Is Finished

It’s been a few a years since I said anything about Good Friday.  It’s been a few years since I’ve even said anything ON Good Friday.   I usually can’t because every thing I ever thought to say sounded vain or trite or both.  There’s nothing anybody can say that could add to the miracle of what happened on this day, and I always fear to cheapen it.  Or to make it about me or what I think.  Or to act as though I have some deep understanding, or that I am some very-enlightened, always-humble, spiritual soul.  Because I’m not.

Good Friday takes my breath away every year because that’s what happens when you get the wind knocked out of you.  When you fall flat on your face and start feeling less “humbled” and more “humiliated.”  It takes your breath away.

This year I’m thinking a lot about what Jesus said on the cross.  He said, “It is finished.”

It:  The work of love. The work of salvation.  The sacrifice.  The ransoming of billions and billions of souls.  The thing that Jesus came to earth to do:  save us.

I’m listening to this song by Matt Papa this year.  I hope you will too.

YouTube Preview Image

“The earth shook and trembled
The sun bowed it’s head
The veil of the temple was opened for men
As Jesus went down in the cold of the grave,
Defeated the darkness when He overcame
The keys of the kingdom were placed into hands
Of children and priests and of fishers of men
Throughout generations his voice will be heard
Creation resounds the victorious words!

‘It is finished’
It is done
To the world salvation comes
Hallelujah
We’re alive!
Hell was silenced when you cried..
It is finished.”

(The official music video contains scenes from The Passion of the Christ.  If you think you might find this troubling or too difficult to watch, maybe just listen.)

 

Beware Cheap Grace

The thing about debtors is, they owe you.

Debtors aren’t debtors because of misunderstandings.  (Or oversights, inconsideration, or failed communications.)   Debtors are the people to whom you could say, “You abused me.  You took advantage of me.  You injured me.  You were wrong.  You owe me.”

Debtors didn’t offend us;  debtors owe us.

If, when you consider where you should extend forgiveness, you think first of workplace foibles – of excusing tardiness, dismissing gossip, and generally tolerating annoyingness – then your struggle isn’t unforgiveness.  Your struggle is being too easily offended.

If it’s lack of common courtesy (or sense) that burns you up, you don’t need to forgive as much as you need to get over it.

I am wary of extending cheap grace and calling it forgiveness.  I’m afraid that, when challenged by the doctrine of forgiveness, we choose to forgive foolishness, because it’s too hard to forgive debts.

Cheap grace is:

“She took my baby name even though she knew I wanted to use it, but I forgive her.”

“He clocks out early every day and I have to clean up alone, but I forgive him.”

“She didn’t text me back, but I forgive her.”

Of course these offenses should be resolved, lest bitterness take root and brotherly love erode over time.  But if these are the sorts of things you pride yourself in forgiving?  Well, that forgiveness didn’t cost you much.  Your personal preference if anything.  It’s cheap grace.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could politely tolerate annoyances or learn to let go of frustrations.  Frustrations don’t require the shedding of blood to be set right.  Nobody ever had to die to make up for being kind of a jerk.

But the debt we owed to the God who requires justice?  That debt had to be paid in blood.  For generations God’s people slayed a million lambs on a million alters, sin offerings, blood in their place.  They did it right up until Jesus put an end to it.  He was the spotless animal, the sacrifice – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  When Jesus died in your place, He didn’t do it because he was frustrated with you.  He did it because you owed a debt you could not pay and live.

He demonstrated radical, scandalous, unthinkable, could-only-be-divine grace.  And it cost Him.

The gospel is not a story of cheap grace.

So as I live out the gospel, I dare not cheapen it.

“But where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.”  The bigger the offense, the bigger the forgiveness.  That’s how it works in God’s economy.

To forgive our debtors will cost us.  If it doesn’t cost us, they weren’t debtors.  Real grace is anything but cheap.

//

I had this post half-written, waiting in my drafts, when I saw this article from the New York Times called “Portraits of Reconciliation.”  I saw the first image and my heart broke and leapt at the same time.  I knew, “It’s time.

The piece is a collection of portraits of victims of the Rwandan genocide with their perpetrators.  The perpetrators that killed their husbands and fathers and children.  The perpetrators that burned their houses down.  The perpetrators THEY FORGAVE.

This is not cheap grace.  This is huge, agonizing, torturous loss, and huge, lavish, unimaginable mercy.  It was difficult for me to read, because my insides ache to think what this kind of forgiveness costs.  But it challenged me.  It forced me to consider my own ugliness – that I am first a sinner, and only then sinned against.  It reminded me that people can do hard things – and God can do impossible things.  It reminded me not to settle for cheap grace.  I hope it reminds you, too.

Dominique Ndahimana
Perpetrator (left)

Cansilde Munganyinka
Survivor

NDAHIMANA: “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”

MUNGANYINKA: “After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”

You can read the whole New York Times Article, and see more photos, here.  I recommend it.

 

Wherein Henry Ford is a Smart Guy


Intentions are good.  More than good, they’re great.  They indicate consideration and thoughtfulness and all the good your heart longs to do, and would, if you had unlimited time…and money…and energy.

But intentions always beg the question – “Now what?”

This morning I was all caffeinated and feeling sunshine-y and optimistic and generous.  I thought about all the people I could pop in and say hello to (via text or email or something, because, 2014).  I thought about encouraging my friends, making lemonade for the roofing crew, buying extra classroom supplies for Madeline’s teachers, baking with the kids for our neighbors.  I was driving along, feeling very pleased with myself for being so virtuous and kind, when Bob Goff popped into my head.

“Love does, Kate.”

Sure, love thinks, love plans, love intends – but then love does.

There are too many days that I allow myself to feel like a good person because I know what a good person would do.  I think, “You know, it would be really nice to invite that refugee family over to dinner.  That would be a loving thing to do.”  And I pat myself on the back for it!  Is that not the most insane thing you’ve ever heard?   I think, “A good person would do this.”  And then I don’t do it.  And I STILL FEEL PLEASED WITH MYSELF.

But I don’t think I’m alone.  I think intentions are deceitful and our hearts are prideful – and I think that’s a recipe for apathy and selfish inaction.

So as I drove home this morning, I resolved to DO something.  To do at least one loving thing.   Because I want to be a loving person, and love does.

Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”  And when I die, whenever that may be, I want to leave a legacy of love.  The fragrance of Christ, following me wherever I go.

“In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life.”  2 Corinthians 2:14-16, The Message

 

But God

God is surprising.

Which is strange, since He’s also the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I think the reason that God is so surprising to me is because a creature as flighty and unfaithful as myself cannot comprehend that kind of constancy.

At my very best – my most gracious, magnanimous, disciplined, and most faithful, I still find the persisting goodness of God INCOMPREHENSIBLE.  How could anything be so unyielding?  Everything bends under the right conditions: granite, titanium, diamonds.

But not God.

This is why, no matter how many times I hear it, the gospel still makes my heart beat fast.  My breath still catches in my chest.  I still cry all the time.

Because, really?  Still?

It’s too sweet.  Too much love, too much mercy – it’s too good to be true – except it’s not.

And peppered throughout scripture are two little words that that point to this astonishing constancy of God – to His, as Sally Loyd-Jones writes, never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.

These two words make me lean forward in my seat –into the story.  They make me whisper, “Oh! This is the good part.”


They are the surprise I know is coming.  Like the flips inside your belly when you free-fall on a roller coaster:  you know it, you’ve felt it, you see it coming.  But then IT IS, and it thrills you again, anew, every time.

“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” Nehemiah 9:17

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:7-8]

 These words are carried through scripture, from start to finish, on the river of God’s mercy.  They speak to both his immovability and to his great compassion.  How improbable that those two qualities would coexist.  But they do.  But God.  He is immovably compassionate.

“But God” means who He is and how He is is completely independent of who we are or how we are.  Oh, you are a traitor?  Adulterer?  Murderer?  Zealot?  Racist?  Christian-killer?  BUT GOD.

God is the independent variable.  You can change, tweak, and alter everything else – but not God.  He is out of your league, literally.  You can do or be whatever, fill-in-the-blank, but God.

“But God” means He can give grace lavishly because He gives it on His own terms.  He loves us because He is loving, not because we are loveable.  He loves us in spite of ourselves.  I love the despite-ness of God.

Oh, we are rotten?  But God.
Oh, we were dead in our sins?  But God.
Oh, we are unfaithful?  But God.
Oh, we deserve death?  But God.

“But God’s” punctuate my own life, marks of His hand, evidence of his care.  My whole existence is a series of “This happened to me, but God.  This is what I feared, but God.  This is where I hurt, but God.  This is what I did, but God.”  I can’t imagine two more hope-filled words.  They are full of promise.  Because, no matter what horror or chaos or evil you are surviving, “BUT GOD.”

God is supreme and above and immovable.  He is gracious and merciful and lavishly loving.  Nothing is impossible for Him; nothing is too hard.  He makes streams in the desert; He makes ways where there are no ways.

 ”All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  [Ephesians 2:3-5]

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” [Genesis 50:20]

“Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.”  [Acts 10:28]

“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”  [Luke 18:15-16]

“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” [Psalm 73:26]

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  [Matthew 19:26]

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  [Romans 6:23]

It should not surprise me, but it does.
Every time.
BUT GOD.