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September 2016

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Receive

I must begin this post with a disclaimer, due to some worry my last post caused. Writing is a fundamental part of me and a key player in my spiritual life, it is how I process my emotions, and how I dig into and ponder what it is that God is telling me. Some of my writing in the last year has been less bubbly, less happy, at times it has been dark, deep, raw and brutally honest–but both are reflections of my life of faith. Sometimes the life of faith is easier than other times, sometimes the life of faith is dark and stormy but both are beautiful and both are real. My writing has been reflecting a difficult period in my life of faith, the words have flowed directly from my heart onto these virtual pages and they have been brutally honest. Recently, I have laid some of my darkest thoughts and feelings out and for those who love and care for me, they have caused worry. Thank you for all of you who have walked side by side with me in this difficult period, thank you for those who have loved and prayed for me from afar, thank you for those who have reached out I truly appreciate it and needed it. But I also want you to know that I am good; know that the words I write bring me closer into the warm embrace of my God, and they allow me an opportunity to process my emotions, and they open up a door for healing.

With that being said I will now briefly talk about what occurred after I wrote my last post, this is deeply personal and I will most likely not go into too much detail.

I had a friend ask me recently, “When you think of God what does he look like?” This is a question I have pondered and thought about before, but in that moment I looked at this friend and I said that when I thought of God I envisioned Jesus. Since December 2014 that is who I have envisioned when I thought of God. If you take a wander far back into the archives of this blog you will find a post from December 17, 2014 entitled ‘Mary and Jesus.’ This post reflects a groundbreaking moment in my life of faith, it is the moment that I finally came to terms with who my savior is and what my savior did for not only me, but for the world. For nearly two years I have connected with God through the Son, my savior and dearest friend. This was the image I needed during that time, an understanding of my Savior, my closest confidant and friend. For the first time in my life I knew God as Jesus, who is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp. I fell into the arms of my Savior through befriending his mother, Mary. Both of these beautiful people and my relationship to them are incredibly significant to me and to my life of faith. Mary provided me with the opportunity to connect to the human side of Jesus, and just as she did not fully understand Jesus there are times that I am just as baffled. For nearly two years I have clung to that faith breakthrough and clung to the loving relationship I share with Jesus. But a little over a week ago, that image was not replaced, but enriched with yet another image of God.

Just as December 2014 is marked with an incredible faith breakthrough, September 2016 is marked with yet another faith breakthrough. The image that God has placed in my heart and mind is truly one of the most beautiful, necessary, powerful, and comforting images of God I have ever encountered. As I rested on that image today, I found myself with tears rolling down my face and a peaceful love filling my soul.

My last post discussed being ashamed to make my way “home,” but my sisters and brothers, I can tell you that as soon as I hit publish I arrived home. As I wrote those words I felt myself moving towards the road that leads home, I felt my feet steadily walk up the road. As soon as I turned that corner I saw her, I saw God sitting on the front steps of the house anxiously looking for me. As soon as she caught glimpse of my weary form God jumped up and ran towards me crying out, “My baby is home!” Before I even knew what had happened I was wrapped into an engulfing embrace and ushered into the house of joy, as Henri Nouwen calls it. Friends, I can honestly say, as I laid my head to rest that night I felt the childlike comfort of having a momma or daddy tuck you into bed, kiss your forehead and whisper “sweet dreams”.

This image is so incredibly personal to me and I have not gone into too much detail. All I can say is that I am at home right now. After my last post I spoke on the phone to a dear friend and she looked at me, an ocean separating us but FaceTime allowing us to see each other, and she said “You don’t think about a hug–you just receive it.” So that is what I am doing, I am receiving God’s hug and letting myself rest in the incredible embrace that only my God can provide.

“The Father’s love does not force itself on the beloved. Although he wants to heal us of all our inner darkness, we are still free to make our own choice to stay in the darkness or to step into the light of God’s love. God is there. God’s light is there. God’s forgiveness is there. What is so clear is that God is always there, always ready to give and forgive, absolutely independent of our response. God’s love does not depend on our repentance or our inner or outer changes. Whether I am the younger son or the elder son, God’s only desire i s to bring me home.” (Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 78).

May the God of peace, love, grace, and joy be with you all. Peace, Blessings, Love, and Joy–Margaret

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The Prodigal Son

First let me begin by saying that writing is very hard for me right now. I haven’t posted in two months and that is due to the fact that I have felt uninspired, weary, and scared. These words I am writing are going to be pulled from somewhere deep within me and it is going to take a lot of effort on my part. Despite this effort, I know I need to write, this inability to write has made me feel cut off from a center feature of my being and I am going crazy not being able to access it. So here is a post, with words which have been painfully pulled from a stormy mind and confused heart.

I am currently reading, on the recommendation of a dear friend, Henri Nouwen’s, Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen, inspired by Rembrandt’s painting which depicts the famous scene in which a son who was once lost is found and embraced by his loving and grace filled father, reflects on the painting and his own interpretation of the scripture (Luke 15:11-32). The Prodigal Son is one of the most well known of Jesus’ parables. My grandmother mentioned it to me the other day, saying that the sermon she had heard at church centered around the parable and then last night as I went back to the email where my dear friend suggested this book, I decided that I would give it a try. [Here I would suggest going to read The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Luke 15:11-32]

As I read the description of the book key words like home, compassion, and God’s place of dwelling stuck out to me and infused a tiny spark of hope into my heart. My brain has been bogged down, my soul is weary, and my heart incredibly guarded; in a nutshell I am absolutely lost. Never in my life have I not had a plan, there has always been some type of organization, some list that would guide me to the next step to take but for once there is no list and there is no map. I feel utterly lost and I feel like God is silent. I have become a bit better at remembering that God is present and reminding myself to look for God’s faithfulness. Yet, I am still lost wandering through the dark with no sense of direction. I feel a deep sense of homesickness for my God and for the easy communication we always had.

Currently I am in the first part of the book, the part where Nouwen analyzes and relates to the younger son; the son who essentially wished his father dead by asking for his share of the inheritance, who up and left to squander his money, and denied his heritage.

Luke 15:13-20

“A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout the country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feel the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said ‘How many on my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ So he set off and went to his father.”

The son realizes that he needs his father and also recognizes the wrong that he has done. He decides to go back, accepting that he does not deserve a free hand, that he is no longer worthy to be called his father’s son. But he goes back, hoping for a bit of compassion.

Luke 15: 21-24:

“But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.”

I wonder what the son was thinking and what he felt as he walked up the familiar path to his childhood home. Was he practicing his speech in his head, was he shaking, nervous, was his stomach in knots as he grew closer and closer to his home, closer to his father? Does he think that he will receive compassion? Or does he mentally prepare for the possibility that his father will reject him? I guess I have never thought about the possibility that when I approach my Heavenly Father, with my tail between my legs, knots in my stomach, wearing my shame that my Heavenly Father would even consider rejecting me. Although I probably deserve to be rejected, I know deep down I won’t.

Just like the father in the story, I know that my Heavenly Father will be waiting on the front porch steps, anxiously looking up the street for a glimpse of my weary walk of shame. I know as soon as my Heavenly Father glimpses my frame that he will come running, to welcome me home with open arms, an open heart, and a grace filled soul. I also know that when I choose to leave again, God continues to stretch his arms out to me, continues to leave the light on, and continues to leave the key hidden under the mat. I know that no matter how far I stray, how lost I may be, home is always waiting for me.

At the present I can’t talk about the older son in the story or the position of the father (I am in part one of the book right now!). Right now I can only relate to the son who was once lost but is now found. Right now I am lost. I am walking unfamiliar roads in search of home. I am opening doors hoping to open the door that reveals the room which is illuminated by warmth, light, and love. Do I know that God is present with me, guiding my feet home, yes. Yet, I am still lost and trying to navigate the rocky roads of doubt. If I am being brutally honest, I am ashamed of myself; I am ashamed of the curses I have yelled, my own human fragility, my lack of faith, my lack of trust, and my ability to so easily turn my back on God. My shame is blocking my way, I know I don’t deserve God’s grace, so I am scared to go home and fall on my knees and ask for forgiveness.

I guess that places me at the feeding the pigs point in the story, the point where I have not yet decided to go home and beg for mercy. My fear and shame are preventing me from connecting with God. I am homesick for the easy relationship I used to have with God. But  I have wandered for too long and am working on building up the courage to go home, fall on my knees and beg for forgiveness, and to accept God’s grace. Henri Nouwen keeps using the phrase, “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” (Luke 3:22 or Matthew 3:17). It has become a sort of mantra throughout this section of the book and I am working to let this mantra swirl around my fearful heart, settle on it like a cloak and smother the fear away. “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.”

This week I have spoken to a dear friend, a friend who has seen me in a lot of pain and who has loved me at my worst. As I cried on the phone to her about my feelings of homesickness for God, my fear of losing my faith, and being lost she said something that struck a cord. She stated, “You have a God.” And these four words reminded me that I am not alone, I never have been, and I never will be. I have a God. One who consistently reaches out to me, anxiously waits on the front porch for me to walk up the street, and runs to meet me when I turn the corner.

“It is the place where I will receive all I desire, all that I ever hoped for, all that I will ever need, but it is also the place where I have to let go of all I most want to hold on to. It is the place that confronts me with the fact that truly accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place beyond earning, deserving, and rewarding. It is the place of surrender and complete trust.” (Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 13.)

Sisters and brothers, I pray that wherever you are that you know God is with you and that God is also waiting at home for you. May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Peace, Joy, Love, and Blessings–Margaret