Authentic

Today I am crying. I’m crying for every one of us who went all in to get it right and still got it wrong. For the ones who loved as much as we could, to the very limit of ourselves, but didn’t have such love reflected back. The abused. The neglected. The overlooked. The scorned. The beloved of God who think it’s something we are, some secret shameful part of ourselves that will simply never be worthy, never be enough to merit the affirmation we so desperately want, the love we so deeply need.

I cry because I know this story. It is my own. I cry because I have heard this story told back to me, through the tears of so many others, dear friends who have braved the vulnerability to entrust me with their stories of heartache and fear, not truly believing there might ever be an end to the pain, but unwilling to carry their burden alone any longer.

We have been failed by so many. We have failed so many others. Yet we continue to reach out, to try again, because deep inside our damaged hearts, we know love is more valuable than we can even understand. Love is worth the risk of being hurt again, still, always.

The systems of this world have not been set up to meet our needs or protect our souls. We are told to get over it. To suck it up. To move on and get back to work. Put in your time. Nobody cares about your feelings. Stop being such a snowflake.

We try to put up walls to protect ourselves. We plaster over deep wells of pain, because we don’t have the space we need, the safety, the security to acknowledge all the ways in which we’ve been hurt. We carve masks to hide our faces. Happy, we call one. Competent may be another. Useful has always been a favorite of mine. Or amusing. We pretend to be the people we think will be more acceptable, less needy. We try our best to be self-sufficient and stand on our own two (broken) feet.

God does not help those who help themselves.

You can read the Bible from cover to cover and never find a verse about helping yourself. On the other hand, over and over again, we read that there is strength in weakness, we are given what we do not have, and when we are weary, we may find rest.

For the last six years, I have chosen a single word, a theme to consider as I walk, dance, and sometimes crawl to the rhythm of the calendar. This year, the word I ponder is “authentic.” Who am I simply being myself? Who is God calling me to show to the world, this person I already am and am still becoming?

I have thrown many words at myself. Some have been lovely, but most suggest or explicitly say I am lacking, less than, unworthy. This is not true. Even as I have trouble believing it of myself, I know the truth is I am beloved. I am honored. I am cherished.

But more than that, as I allow myself to open my heart, even to break into the cracks I’ve long tried to shore up and cover in pretty paper, I can experience this love for me, yes me, in direct communion with God and with those people who see me, who know me, who look at the broken pieces of my life and tell me with their words and their actions that I am worth the time and attention to love.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:12


I can’t solve the world’s problems. I can’t solve systemic injustice. I don’t have the power to ameliorate the hate, greed, fear, and helplessness that plague our nations and divide our communities. I have one ability; I can love.

I can allow myself to take in and stretch out my hands to give to others. I can see and know. I can love and honor and cherish. This is the power we all have, the strength we are given in our weakness. We all have the choice. How will you wield this power you hold?

Outside the Box

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in my journal, “How safe is it to be really me?” Rereading that line this morning, I was reminded of the description in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan is not safe, but good. That got me thinking, what if truly being myself is similar? What if choosing the vulnerable embrace of who I really am is not safe at all, but good? In fact, what if it’s more than good, what if it’s extraordinary?

These thoughts have been chasing one another’s tails around my brain for a while now.

For many years, I believed my highest calling was to be good. That was what life was all about: following the rules and doing the right thing and making sure God was pleased with me. It’s only been lately I’ve recognized, God is pleased with me—pleased with me, not whatever I might or might not accomplish.

When I ponder the heavens
The works of your fingers
The moon and the stars
All that you have ordained
I find myself asking
In light of these wonders
Who am I that you should love me?

Psalm 8:3-4 (paraphrase)

I ask God lots of questions. I don’t often get very many answers. Periodically, I hear what seems to be a direct word from God’s lips to my ears. Lately, the answer to many of my questions has been, “Just be yourself.” And also, “Love.”

God loves me just as I am. (Not thinner. Not cleverer. Not with slightly bigger breasts or slightly smaller nose.) Just me. Just the way I really am. Impetuous. Verbose. Awkward. Eager. Angry. Obsessive. Bewildered. Broken. Whole.

Loving me, with all of my faults on display in stark relief, God asks me to love myself. To stop trying only to love the imaginary person I believe I ought become, and embrace the beloved human I already am. I am not perfect, so the bumper sticker reads, just forgiven. Yet, I am more than forgiven, I am loved, right here, right now in the middle of all the messes I make, before I’ve cleaned up or become a better person or even stopped making the mess. Yes, this one, the mud pie I’m in the middle of mixing up right now.

Why is this so hard? I’ve asked myself that a lot. Asked God, too. And I think I’ve settled on an answer. Maybe there are more, but at least for me, this seems to be the big one.

Fear.

I am afraid to be me. I am afraid people won’t like me. I am afraid to lose the relationships I depend on to feel like I’m a good and decent person, I’m worthwhile, I am valued. I’m afraid if I let all my crazy out of its cage, people whose opinions I care about will be shocked. They will be outraged. They will want nothing more to do with me.

The little girl who lives inside, the one who fears nothing so much as being left all alone and not being loved, she has learned how to hide pretty well. She has spent decades transcribing unwritten rules. She thinks she knows how she is supposed to behave in order to receive the approval she covets. Yet she is exhausted. For decades she has tried to follow the rules, to do the right thing. Each time. Every time. Always. And, she has discovered, she can’t.

I simply can’t always do what I think is the right thing to do.

But, love. Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10). Love is the right thing to do. Love is not only the best way to treat others, but the best way to behave toward myself.

The voice inside my head, the one that talks to me about who I am and how I should be, is really mean. I suspect that is true for many people. Imagine if I spoke to a friend the way I talk to myself, “That was stupid. What did you do that for? Now you look like an idiot. It’s one thing to be a fool inside your head, but why’d you have to go ahead and open your mouth so everybody could see it? This is why nobody wants to love you. This is why people don’t want to hang out with you. You’ve got nothing to offer. You’re not pretty, you’re not accomplished, and you can’t even keep stupid comments to yourself. Haven’t you learned better by now? You are like an infant! I don’t even want to hang out with you.”

What a jerk, right? What a bully! Yes. And what a scared child who has learned the way to be accepted is to stay inside the box, to make no waves, and to do her best to squelch any waywardness before it can become obvious to anybody else.

Only, that’s not me. I am so bad at that. I hate it! And I hate that I’m so bad at it, so I double down on myself, explaining, not so patiently, that if I would just hold the reins tighter, I’d have better control, I’d be a better person, I’d honor God more with my life by doing it all right this time.

But what if that is the big lie? What if it’s not about how I look or what I do or whatever stupid comments have come out of my mouth or even the self-hatred I’ve allowed to flourish inside my heart? What if it is about total shameless honesty? What if it is about radical self-acceptance? What if it is about complete authenticity? What if I am meant to bring all of me to the table? Even the ugly parts? Even the stunted parts? Even the parts I’ve been ashamed to let speak because I’m afraid of what they might say to embarrass me?

I began a thing right before Christmas. I didn’t really have a good sense of what exactly to call it, so I named it “Bob.” Bob was something I started with somebody else, a relationship of sorts, but not in any traditional sense of the word.

I grew up with this idea that there were certain ways we were meant to meet God, certain ways we could interact with God, certain relationships honoring to God. And everything outside those very narrow parameters was unholy. According to those standards, Bob is wrong. The topics we discussed, the intimacy of sharing thoughts and ideas, those were the very antithesis of the advice I’d always been given to be holy or to “guard my heart.” Yet, some advice is terrible.

Because I have gotten closer to the reality of God since the advent of Bob than I have in a long time. Not the theoretical God, not stuff about God, but the actual Spirit of Truth in Love. The Presence. At one point in our interaction, I referred to Bob as a sacred space. That wasn’t a joke. There was something uniquely holy that began to develop. And it has been absolutely amazing.

Photo by Ned Horton from FreeImages

Trying to live my life within the designated lines of where I thought God was to be found has so often left me feeling profoundly lacking. Hungry. Thirsty. Tired. Scared. Barely hanging on to what I thought I knew, who I believed I was supposed to be. Missing out on the abundant life and suspecting that was, somehow, my own fault. And the solution to that, the prescription I’d always understood to be the cure for my disease was more of what I was already struggling to do: more prayer, more Bible study, more going to church, more righteous behavior. Less me.

Being part of Bob has convinced me, at perhaps a deeper level than I’ve understood before, the right answer is not less me; it’s more. More honesty. More interaction. More reality. More acceptance. More relationship. More love. If Christianity—if life—is about loving God with all of me and loving others as I love myself, that has to start with knowing me and loving me. (I wrote a whole post about this idea, if you would like to read more.)

This little corner of the internet, has long been my own small sacred space where I set the boundaries, I decide the rules, I can simply be. So, here I am. This is me. And you may love me or leave me. Be curious. Be critical. Take offense or take a chance. As much as I’ve always wished everyone might like me, I find I care much less than I once did for the praise of those who cannot or do not wish to know me.

Be who you are. Be authentic. Be loved. Love yourself, in all your glorious flaws. Be extravagant. Be content. Let’s quit just talking about how we love people and get down to really loving, showing the truth of our love in how we treat everyone, including ourselves. Be yourself. And love.

Anxiety

To exist in this space
And hear the echo
Of heartbeat after beat after beat
Apprehension holds fast
While the tempo increases

What is happening now?
What will come next?
Unrest settles down
Like a damp clammy blanket
Gooseflesh prickles my skin

It may be dark or light
My eyes are closed
I see nothing but endless black
Layered with the sound
Of war drums growing louder

A hidden enemy advances
I’m gripped by a strong arm
Terror dances in the void
As I fear I may not escape
I won’t make it through another battle

In desperation I train my mind’s eye
On a single point of light
Unseen in the darkness of my thoughts
I focus on breathing
A counterpoint rhythm solely I conduct

Draw in and release
Fully and deeply
A deliberate rallentando
Gradually slowing my breath
Before I begin to sense change

The rustling of leaves in the distance
Signals an active retreat
Allowing to relax the muscles
I’d unconsciously held rigid
Heart no longer pounding in my chest

I tell myself I did it and I survived
And with each repetition
My uncertain voice grows stronger
For I know I can do it again and again
Until the victory is mine

Photo by laura00 from FreeImages

Should Christians Argue?

I’m generally not a big proponent of shoulds. Part of the agency we have as humans is to choose. for better or worse, what we do. Some choices are more beneficial than others, yet often to a degree that is difficult to judge with great accuracy in advance. It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to look down our noses on others’ actions, insisting they “should” have done this or that. Yet, how many of us, given the same options in the same complex situations, might have made the very same choices we now see as foolish?

Semantics aside, the answer my question is yes. Yes, Christians should argue.

Well, okay. There is a not-so-small caveat. In our disagreements, we need to fight for one another, not against each other.

In my faith tradition growing up, agreement was held up as a great virtue. The ultimate measure of one’s Christian virtue, it seemed, was to agree completely with each other. Wholehearted support of the church’s belief statement was what determined one’s standing within or beyond the border of the Kingdom. And, to a degree, I don’t have a big problem with this line-in-the-sand idea. If we don’t agree on anything, how can we claim the same name for our faith? Still, my current view of what tenets of belief are necessary to Christianity is so much smaller than the list I once thought was required, it’s very nearly nonexistent.

Let me address the question I would have, were I reading this for the first time. I’d want to know just what the author thinks is required. I’d want to see if we agree. Here’s the thing. I’m not totally sure what exactly makes the cut. Something about Jesus and grace and God coming to be with us. Truthfully, I’m not much for checklists of beliefs. In my understanding, it’s more about attitude and behavior than mental assent. Now, psychologists and the Bible tell us that our words and our actions come from our core beliefs, but (here’s the kicker) we can’t always accurately state those beliefs! I can say I believe God is Love, because I know that’s what I’m supposed to say, that’s the good and right Sunday School answer. Yet if I’m acting like God is primarily concerned with keeping an eye on us to mete out punishment for misbehavior, I’m not so sure Love is what I really believe in.

Good, faithful Christians disagree with one another. Far from being the clear and easily understandable guidebook for living I was raised to believe it was, the Bible is confusing, outrageous, and even contradictory. Many Christians suggest the Bible is “inerrant in all it affirms.” Yet, even then, who has the ultimate authority to determine what exactly the Bible affirms? Who created this list? Can we set up a Zoom call? Because I have some questions. If our main purpose as Christians were to be living in complete agreement with one another about everything that’s important to Christian living, the biblical record offers a terrible model to follow. The disciples didn’t agree on everything. The patriarchs didn’t always agree. And pretty much everybody in between had significant moments where they just didn’t agree.

Getting back to my caveat, what does it mean to fight “for” each other? I first came across this concept in premarital sessions, from a book called Fighting for Your Marriage. The basic premise is that in relationship we will have disagreements. That’s a given. The point isn’t to try to avoid all these conflicts, but to handle them in a way that is respectful and loving. Dealing with conflict in such a manner actually enhances the bonds of intimacy in marital relationships.

And the same is true of all our relationships. Handling conflicts with respect and love for one another, keeping the focus on what is truly important—the whole of the relationship, rather than individual areas of disagreement, which are mostly minor by comparison—builds us up together in communion, and more broadly, as we practice this way of arguing in love across our interconnected relationships, in community.

Now, I would like to clarify that there really are disagreements and beliefs worth breaking off relationship. I don’t have a specific list of these either, and I suspect they vary, both by individual and by relationship (I would put up with much more disagreements with, say, my brother than an acquaintance with whom I exchange small talk periodically). But there are relationships that are toxic. No matter how much I may try to love someone, if they refuse to be loving and respectful in return, the relationship breaks down. But for the most part, we do have the maturity to conduct ourselves in civil disagreement.

I’d like to offer an example of loving amid conflict. I’m not trying to blow my own horn, here; I get it wrong just as often as anybody. Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry is not my primary M.O. (I tend more toward “listen with half and ear while formulating a witty cutting response.” I’m pretty sure sarcasm is not a spiritual gift.) Rather, I know how easy it is to get tangled up in my own arguments and find myself looking, but not seeing what’s right in front of me.

Back in the old cartoons I watched as a child, a frequent visual gag was employed when one character was hungry. The first character would look at another character, but instead of seeing their friend or rival, they’d see a hot dog or a chicken or some other food item. It’s like that. When I get caught up in an argument, when I’m not coming from a place of being loved and loving in response, I am operating out of the lack, out of the hunger, rather than in deep gratitude for the love and the grace I have received. Instead of seeing my friend, my family, my loved one (or even someone I have trouble loving, but I know is beloved of God, as we all are), I see an enemy. I see someone I must fight against.

A few days ago, I had a discussion going on my Facebook page. A friend had commented, disagreeing with the points I’d made in a post. I responded to him. He replied to me. It was mostly respectful. We weren’t necessarily trying to rile one another up, we simply had some major disagreements about politics. A couple of days later, he responded to another post of mine, where I’d offered additional political commentary. While I cannot judge his intention, I wasn’t feeling very respected as I read his words. It was late in the evening and I was ready for bed, so I didn’t get back to him until the next day. As I began my response, I found myself praying that I would write from a place of love. I didn’t want to simply outshout my friend, but to assure him that love was a higher priority for me than arguing over politics. Here is part of what I said.

There is much darkness and much light in the world all the time. As a nation we are mourning the loss of 285,000 individuals since March, just from COVID-19. This is on top of all those who have died from other causes. Hundreds of thousands of people are out of work, unable to pay their bills or even purchase food for their families. There is much darkness. Yet my faith is not in the leaders of our nation, the opinions of right-wing or left-wing pundits, or the strength of our military. My hope is in the Light of the world, the God of love who does not stand apart from human suffering nor deny human frailty, but in compassion, literally has come to be with us.

While I have strong political opinions and support various candidates and policies, I do not worship at the altar of our government. I worship the God who came to the humble town of Bethlehem, who was laid in a feed trough because the guest room was full, whose glory was recognized by shepherds and kings. I worship the Lord who honored women and children; who brought healing to those broken in mind, body, and spirit; who spoke to the outcasts and called them blessed. I worship the God who offered to die a terrible death to show us all just how powerful and how costly is grace.

You don’t have to agree with my politics, but in choosing to worship Jesus as Lord, I call you my brother. Our opinions need not be the same, but our love for one another must be such that all those who see it might recognize the power, the strength, the devotion of the God who loves us both to death and beyond.

Photo by Jean Scheijen from FreeImages

If you would like to continue discussing the differences in our views on the current administration or other political topics, I would be happy to do so. Yet, if we cannot shine the light of love in the midst of our disagreements, perhaps it is best to lay them aside for now, rather than continue to try to convince one another that one of us is fully right and the other is completely wrong. May you know peace and hope in this season of Advent, honoring the birth of the One for whom we wait.

Yes, Christians can and perhaps even “should” fight. We should test our mettle with one another to build up, rather than tear down. We should challenge each other to be our best, most authentic selves rather than discouraging, disparaging, denouncing. And when we can’t, when we find ourselves more emotionally invested in winning the argument than in caring for each other, we should step back and reevaluate our position, and our priorities. And then, we might argue again, when our goal is to fight, in love, for one another.

A Light in the Darkness

We have entered the season of darkness and light. Around the world, we celebrate with candles this time of year: Advent, Diwali, Hannukah, Kwanzaa. For those of us north of the Equator, the darkness is quite literal; our days are shorter and nights are longer as we approach the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. For many right now, darkness is metaphorical. The outlook is bleak. Their candles burn so low, the puddle of light doesn’t seem bright enough to make out the next step.

For hundreds of millions this year, darkness has come in the death of loved ones. Many of these deaths, tragically, were preventable. Not all, certainly, not even most, but so many vulnerable individuals among us have been served poorly, even negligently, by neighbors and relatives and local, state, and federal leaders—and sometimes even themselves—all we who are called to take better care of us.

It has been almost a year and a half since I watched Adam struggle for his own final breaths. I am incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to be in the room, standing right beside him, as he gasped one final time. My heart aches for those who have been denied that opportunity, for their own safety, in the darkness of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just over two years ago, right in the midst of what I took to calling “this crazy carnival ride” of life in cancerous tumor treatment and functional brain therapies, I was thinking about death. We’d had a couple of long, intense months to get used to the idea that Adam was very likely nearing the end of his journey on the earth. I was terrified. I had no idea how I might walk forward without him. At the same time, one part of my mind held on to strangely detached thoughts. These ideas were emotional, but I had no space to actually experience them. The feelings came later, in the down time, in the quiet moments when the carnival closed for the day and everything I had been unconsciously holding at bay came rushing toward me like ghosts finally free for a night of haunting.

Photo by Istvan Benedek from FreeImages

One of those philosophical meditations, the thinking of thoughts about feelings, came too early in the morning. My family slept, but I found myself awake, needing to sort and label and categorize and organize everything swirling around inside. As I have learned is often the case, my reflections tumbled over one another to arrange themselves into lines of poetry.

In those months, Adam and I didn’t talk much about death. We’d spent a few hours writing out wills and setting forth some practical plans, but we didn’t share very many discussions about the emotions of very likely racing ever nearer toward the cliff’s edge at the end of his life. We seemed to have tacitly agreed it was time to focus all our attention and energy on healing rather than allowing free reign to our fears that healing would not come as we desired. Because our conversations centered on other topics, after I wrote this poem that early October morning, I tucked it in a file and never read it to Adam. I suppose I had imagined it might be something I’d share with him later or read as part of his memorial service one day, but I never did.

I offer this today to the mourners, the bereaved, the grieving, those who face empty spaces where the ones we love are not. As we who remain wend our way through this current season, may these few words shine a candle’s flame of light here against the dark.

Death Cannot Stop True Love

When you die
Your light is not extinguished
But passes along
To each of us whose lives
You’ve touched and held and brightened
The flame of your passion
Does not flicker out
But burns on
Among we who have been inspired

I Could Be Wrong

Confidence and arrogance are not the same thing. Sometimes they look the same from the outside. It can be hard to tell one from the other, at least sometimes, at least for me. I want to be confident in who I am, confident that I am loved, confident in the hope that I will never be left alone. Yet when I say things without prefacing my statements with “I think” or “I believe” or “in my opinion,” I am afraid I sound arrogant. Prideful.

Pride was indisputably a bad thing growing up. I didn’t recognize at the time the word pride actually has multiple meanings and they aren’t all the same kind of pride I was taught goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Haughty arrogance isn’t the same as a sense of pride in being who I am, feeling confident in me. It’s not the same as being proud of something I didn’t think I could do, but I tried hard and managed it anyway (or tried hard and failed, but know I did my best). It’s different from the pride I feel watching my children learning and growing and discovering themselves for who they are, rather than simply taking in everything the world around us tells them to be.

When I was a kid, watching church leaders do their thing, I understood confidence to be unwavering belief in what was right. Being confident in Christ meant we never doubted what we knew was true. But in my experience, it didn’t really work that way.

Confidence is not always claiming to be right. It’s not putting forth my opinions as though those are the only possible ideas that could matter. It’s not taking my favored interpretation of what a particular passage of scripture means and stating that must be, without a doubt, what it really, truly is saying. No, that’s not confidence; it’s arrogance.

As I continue to watch and listen and read and interact with more people outside the narrow subculture in which I was raised, I’m beginning to recognize a difference I hadn’t really noticed before. There is a distinguishing feature of confidence that arrogance simply doesn’t have: humility.

Someone who exhibits healthy confidence is humble. A truly confident person knows that they don’t know it all. They recognize they have been wrong before and will be wrong again and may well be wrong about what they are saying right at the moment they are saying it, but their understanding and study and belief has brought them to this place at this point in time and they want to share what that has meant to them, because they hope it may be meaningful to others as well.

Most of the time, I am bad at humility. Being humble feels like weakness and vulnerability to me. Not the good kind of vulnerability, opening my heart to know and be known, but like a chink in my armor that leaves me open to attack. Of course, those are both the same kind of vulnerability. It’s just a matter of whether I am placing my trust in the protective gear I’ve put on or in the dangerous God who whispers, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Photo by Asier Barrio from FreeImages

And recognizing that, all over again, leaves me wanting to cry. I so want to be safe. I want to cling to my armor, because I’ve fought hard just to get it on. I’ve put all this effort into bearing its weight. It will protect me. It must protect me, or I’m wasting my life carrying it around with me everywhere. Rather than being a necessary defense, it is merely a burden.

Sitting here with this pile of armor I’ve accumulated—the righteous indignation, the blame, the sense of superiority in my own understanding of the obvious lies others have clearly mistaken for truth—I find myself left with a question I’m not sure I want to answer: Am I trusting in the strength of redemptive love or am I trying to shield myself from the pain, the fear, and the damage?

Too often, it’s the latter rather than the former. I expend so much energy trying to avoid being hurt. I want to find peace. I want things to be nice. But instead, I end up missing the reality of the choice we have.

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

William Goldman, The Princess Bride

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Jesus of Nazareth, John 16:33b (NIV)

Life is hard. Life hurts. Despite the modern Western culture of creature comforts, there is no getting around the fact that life involves a substantial amount of pain. We don’t get to choose whether or not to face pain. The choice we do have is how we will deal with it. We can accept that pain is instructive. If we allow ourselves to feel the crushing weight of being hurt, to learn from it, we have the ability to grow and move beyond that experience of pain.

Otherwise, we can try to avoid pain whenever possible. If we strap on heavy armor and carry around a tall shield, maybe we can ward off some of the weapons and manage not to be hurt by the world, at least some of the time. Yet, at what cost? How much does it hurt to be dragging our defenses with us everywhere we go? How much pain will we experience by virtue of the sore muscles, the chafing, the heat exhaustion of spending every minute of every day desperately trying to shield ourselves from being hurt? And as we fight to protect ourselves, how much will we be inflicting pain on other people?

I wish I had a good solution, a way not to get hurt at all. I wish I could say I’ve found another route that detours around the pain and if you’d just follow me, you, too, can skirt the damage and the trauma. As far as I can tell, that isn’t an option we have been given. All I have to offer are words like together, unity, community, intimacy, love, relationship.

We will get hurt. When we do, the best advice I have is to hold on tight, not to the protective gear we have accumulated, but to each other. Because building those bonds of love with one another brings us into the presence of God. And that’s not just my idea; Jesus said it first.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

The world, the nation, the Church is starkly divided right now. We have aligned ourselves for combat, armor secured, shields up, swords drawn. Yet, the battle we are so anxious to fight against our friends, neighbors, relatives . . . are we confident that is what will lead to the peace we really seek? Or are we just being arrogant?

Truth and Love and Jared Byas

Dear Jared,

Your marketing plan worked. I signed up for your email list before your book was released, so I could get the first chapter. Having been listening to you on The Bible for Normal People the past couple of years, I already knew you had a lot of interesting things to say, but I wasn’t sure what direction you might be headed with a title like Love Matters More, and if that was a subject I wanted to invest my time and energy into right away. Frankly, I didn’t even make it through the whole chapter about elephants and umwelt before I pre-ordered the book. This was definitely something I needed to read now.

I’m not a huge fan of writing book reviews. They generally feel a little bit too much like book reports I was assigned in junior high, along with the list of questions whose answers would determine my grade. Instead of a traditional review, I thought I’d tell you the story of how reading your book is actually changing my life.

You might have been aware that this summer-into-fall we were caught in a particularly polarizing election here in the US. As do many Americans, I have friends and family members on either side of the political aisle. As campaign rhetoric increased, I was finding it harder and harder to keep my annoyance and frustration at the opposing presidential candidate from splashing out like acid in a precariously placed container, burning those of us who had been close.

About a week before your book came in the mail, I’d written a somewhat strongly worded letter to some relatives regarding their views on the current president, and how I thought those ideas were naïve, misguided, and just plain wrong. A couple of weeks later, I got a response full of opinions about how I was the one not seeing and understanding properly, but since we were so deeply divided on these issues, could we please simply not discuss them any further before arguing over politics came to the point of ruining our relationship?

That wasn’t something I wanted to hear. I wanted to keep arguing, because I was clearly right. If they just considered my points logically, they would see they’d been misled by their chosen candidate and the best thing for the country would be for them to vote with me. My problem was, in between the time I’d sent my missive and the time I received theirs, I had read Love Matters More.

I’d loved it so much I was posting quotes on my social media accounts along the way. You have no reason to follow me, but if you did, you’d know posting multiple quotes by somebody else—especially from a single book—is not something I’ve done very frequently, or maybe ever. The idea that arguing about whose opinion is most true to the gospel can actually impede the truth telling that is unconditional love for one another hit me hard, but in the best way. “Of course love matters more,” I’d thought, “that’s what the way of life is all about.”

Yet, here I was, spoiling for a fight about politics and which political party would do more damage to our country over the next four years. So, I started writing another letter. An apology this time. I won’t regale you with the whole thing (I understand I can get kinda wordy), but here are the most important paragraphs.

Despite my faith in the King above all kings, presidents, senators, and judges, I have my own fears. I have my own good intentions to spread truth and justice that fail miserably when they come from a place of adversarial opposition rather than deep love for everyone who believes differently than I do.

I want you to agree with me, just as surely as you want me to agree with you. But standing on either side of what divides us to argue why my understanding of the issues is better than yours (or yours is better than mine) is not remotely a loving way to approach disagreement. I started that, and now I need to apologize. In my mind, I was attempting to “speak the truth in love,” thinking it obvious if you understood the truth as I did you would agree with me. Not a humble approach at all, and not something I did well. I’m sorry.

This past week I’ve been reading a book called Love Matters More by Jared Byas.  It is excellent and, in my case, very convicting.  I was placing my political opinions over love for you, and that’s not cool. Even if we never agree on who would make the best leader for our nation, we must first, foremost, and always approach one another in love. Presidents come and go, political agendas turn this way or that, but we will forever be family.

I’ll be honest, I was raised in a family of strong opinions and a faith tradition heavy on the espousing of truth. A former pastor of mine preached a whole sermon series about being a Christian without being a jerk. The fact that such topics are even relevant is a sad commentary on what we Christians have too often emphasized in the Bible. I did not read Love Matters More and suddenly find the bright shining light of Truth had instantly changed my heart. I still struggle mightily in how to talk to people with whom I have fundamental disagreements about what is true, especially members of my own family, even the very same relatives to whom I wrote that apology. 

I’m rereading your book right now, at a much slower pace than I did the first time through. And I’m continuing to try to figure out what it means to love somebody when they are obviously wrong about something so important. I’ve been sending up a lot of prayers asking for help to see Jesus in the faces of friends and family who believe I am the one who is wrong. And I am trying to remember the humbling idea that not only might I not be as right about everything as I think I am, but in the unloving way I argue my case, I may be obscuring the very truth I am trying to present.

So, thanks, Jared, (I’d like to say, with a bit of sarcasm) thanks a BUNCH for making me have to rethink the way I’m behaving, yet again, and check myself from trying to be just another so-called Christian dropping “truth bombs” and exploding something other than love in the lives of the people with whom I do life.

But, seriously, thanks. Thanks a bunch. Even though loving in this way is hard and something I’m afraid I will always do poorly, I can deeply sense how much speaking the truth by our love really does matter more.

Sincerely,
Amy Hutchisson

Reflections on Forty-five

If you saw the title of this post and immediately thought I was referring to a particular American president, you would be mistaken. I’m not especially interested in that 45 today.

Forty-five today is me. It’s my birthday. My second birthday as a widow. My first birthday in the second half of my forties. Another candle on the cake (actually, I didn’t buy any birthday candles, and I’m not sure I want to bother baking a cake).

I wasn’t sure what to expect from today. Three years ago on this day, Adam tagged me a beautiful Facebook post he’d written to celebrate my turning 42.

Happy Birthday, Amy Hutchisson! Through all of life’s ups and downs, challenges and difficulties, you never stop growing, learning, improving, loving. You are one of the most impressive women I know! And I am privileged to be your husband and to walk through it all with you! As ordinary as Tuesday may be, I hope your birthday is as special as you are. -R-

Two years ago we were in the middle of the fifth week of daily radiation treatments at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. At the end of the day, Adam and I took ourselves out for a dinner date at Twigs Tavern and Grille, where we ate a selection of meats cooked right at the table on a hot rock and shared a delicious slice of carrot cake from their full gluten-free menu. (No, this is not a sponsored post, I just loved eating there and highly recommend it to anyone in the area.)

Last year I broke down in tears. I wrote out these painful words on November 7, 2019.

Some days, Adam is just gone. I feel no particular emotion, he’s simply not here. I miss him as an intellectual response. I wish he were still with us, enjoying the kids and cooking together and sharing goofy private jokes. But he’s not, and that simply is, so I go on and experience my day.

Today hasn’t been some days. Today the missing has been a physical sensation, like a hollow ache in my chest, a pressure against my skull, a burn in the pit of my stomach. The colors of my world are less vivid than usual. The sounds are more muted. Like the echo of the ocean heard by holding a shell up to my ear, a subtle throbbing underlies everything I see, hear, and do today. I am in pain.

What I most miss right now is Adam’s embrace. On days that were just harder or longer or more distressing than usual, he would open his arms to me, letting me press my face into his broad chest, and not even complain when I got his shirt all wet and snotty as I sobbed.

I’m wearing one of his shirts right now. I wish I weren’t. I wish Adam were wearing it. I wish we were sitting here talking about our days, dreaming about our lives. I wish I were still Adam’s wife instead of his widow. I wish we could continue to walk through it all together.

Tonight, I don’t just know in some vague rational sense that my heart is fractured, but the broken edges keep puncturing through my skin, tearing bloody holes in my clothes.

For so many reasons, this has been a very long year. Several months back, I started piecing together bits of ideas, seeds of plans for how I might celebrate 45 years. Then pandemic struck. This week we are, once again, surpassing our highest daily cases nationwide. In my county, one in every twenty-five people has been infected. I personally know about a dozen people who are currently ill. Now is definitely not the time to invite all my friends over.

Instead, today, I have a walk planned with my kids. Because it’s beautiful outside, I’ll probably go stick my feet in the sand at the beach. I may even dip my toes in the water. And maybe we’ll come home and make a cake. Or maybe not. Whatever the rest of the day holds, I’m choosing to walk forward with a contented smile on my face and this song in my heart.

Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World

Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey, Pops, what you mean ‘What a wonderful world’? How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? They ain’t so wonderful either.”

Well, how about listening to old Pops for a minute? Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we are doin’ to it.

And all I’m saying is, “See what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.”

“Love, baby, love. That’s the secret. Yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be a gasser.” That’s what ol’ Pops keeps saying.

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
“I love you”

I hear babies crying
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Oh, yeah!

Who Is My Neighbor?

My neighbor is the couple next door with the 4-foot Trump/Pence sign on their lawn.

My neighbor is the family with “Vote for RBG” scrawled across the driveway in sidewalk chalk.

My neighbor is the guy across the street who hangs his American flag upside down every morning.

My neighbor is the Black police officer who feels like he’s being asked to choose between his brothers and his brothers in blue.

My neighbor is the midwife down the block who refuses to provide abortion services as part of her practice.

My neighbor is the woman next door who had an abortion for reasons I don’t entirely understand.

My neighbor is the Dreamer who wonders whether the candidate who wins this presidential election will let him stay in the country.

My neighbor is the one who drives the red pickup truck with a BUILD THE WALL sticker on either side of the bumper.

My neighbor is the woman who brought her kids to the capitol to protest a proposed “bathroom bill” in public schools.

My neighbor is the man who hung up a pride flag in his window to support his trans son.

My neighbor is the grandfather on Medicare who posts memes decrying socialized medicine.

My neighbor is the single mom who wonders whether she’ll still be able to get insurance for her daughter now that she suffers complications from COVID-19.

My neighbor is the dad who drove over 100 miles with his kids to attend a political rally.

My neighbor is the mom driving the minivan full of kids everyday who says we need to stop following politics and just follow Jesus.

My neighbors and I don’t all agree about everything. We have different ideas about what it takes to make America great. Yet in the midst of all the similarities and differences, the disagreement and the consensus, I am directed to love each one of them.

This has been a really challenging season to love my (political) enemies. Those issues we find ourselves divided by have been more personal, the arguments more daunting than they used to be. Yet, even in this time and place, I am called to treat every neighbor in such a way that they can see Love in me. I have not often done this well.

I was reminded this morning Samaritans were the bad guys, at least in the eyes of the first-century Jews. “The Good Samaritan” heading we put on the parable (found in Luke 10:25-37) today would be something of an oxymoron to them. Picture a Trump campaign ad telling the the story of “The Good Democrat.” That’s something like what Jesus’s followers would have heard.

We aren’t meant to love people because we agree with them. It’s not a measure of how likeable they are. I love because in all my own disagreeability, in all my unpleasantness, in all the ways I am difficult to love, I am loved beyond measure. And when I myself experience Love, I am able to humbly recognize how much more I can love my neighbors, even when I don’t always feel up to the challenge.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or next week or on January 20th, but whatever comes next in your life or mine, let us focus our energy toward a common goal to love one another in and through our differences.

Hope

Currents sharpen the atmosphere
Spark beyond the spectrum of visible light
Excitement
Joy
Desire
Scent the air
Like petrichor from incoming storms

I am not frightened as the wind picks up
Thunderheads and lightning bolts inspire awe
Wild
Reckless
Alive
A tautly drawn bowstring of anticipation
Releases in exhilaration and revival

Birth is an act of unconstrained power
Lifebearing requires surrender to forces
Greater
Richer
Stronger
Than limits set against insecurity
Checking my ability to grow in unashamed grace

Becoming divinely human
In this renaissance of being myself
Honest
Vulnerable
Pure
Wholly who I am
Yet beyond who I’d believed I could be

Creation explodes past the sterile
Tick marks in boxes beside empty action points
Lavish
Awkward
Beautiful
Living in wonderful imperfection
Eagerly open to heart-pounding possibility