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March 2017

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Let’s Be Real

In the last year I have discovered the beauty of being honest with God. Honest about everything I think and feel in my heart. I can assure you, my honest to God thoughts are not always nice, pretty or flowery. Most of the time these thoughts and feelings are blunt, brutal, harsh, selfish and ungrateful. For a long time my writing was brutal and quite dark–it was a reflection of the state of my heart as it processed and reacted to things I was experiencing and feeling. I remember writing a post about how I was angry with God. A year ago I was undergoing an incredible homesickness and personal crisis. I was feeling the strong stirrings of calling, yes, that may seem beautiful, but to the planner that I am–it was God asking me to open my hands so God could take out the plans I had crafted for myself. Pft! I didn’t want God to take away my plans and my vision I had crafted for my life. So I balled my hands into tight little fists and did a lot of stress crying on the floor in my room. (I am super thankful to the beautiful and patient friends [one very lovely lady in particular] who dealt with the drama that is Margaret acting like a toddler).

My writing during that time reflected my heart.  The heart of a woman who was in the dark, who was scared, angry, bitter and resentful. I felt like God had asked me to go back to Scotland, to only abandon me (which isn’t actually what happened–key here; this is what I FELT, God was there I was just closed off to God’s loving and faithful presence) and when God did seemingly show up it was to only take away the thing I really wanted. I was truly lost in the dark and could not sense any clear direction. My writing reflected it and I received some criticism from some of my readers, wanting me to return to my lighter more hopeful self. But the thing was I couldn’t write happy-go-lucky posts because my heart wasn’t in a place to do so. I had to write what I was feeling, because the reality of being a follower of Christ is that it is NOT happy-go-lucky all the time.

My relationship with God is something I am grateful for with every single breath I take of every single day I am blessed with. Relationships are not always easy–especially our relationships with God. I distinctly remember laying on the floor of my bedroom in my apartment in Scotland and telling God to “Bugger off” (I used a much nastier word than “bugger”). Not my finest moment but it is one I tell people about because guess what, it strengthened my relationship with God. God is tough enough to handle me saying “Bugger off” and faithful enough to not actually bugger off. During those dark times I had a vision of God and myself. In this vision I saw myself sitting in a chair enclosed in a box of glass I had created to keep God away, the glass box was in a room where Jesus sat in the corner diagonally across from me. I remember telling the chaplain about this image, he asked “Does Jesus try to come to you?” I thought about it and when I returned to that room again I saw the anguish on God’s face, the anguish I was causing. Jesus was always there, desiring nothing more than to comfort me–the spoiled, bitter, selfish, pain in the butt child that I am. This is the first time I have thought of that room with the glass case in almost a year; that vision brings tears to my eyes. Tears of regret, sadness but also tears of thankfulness.

You see, my faith is not always strong. My heart is not always open, I am a spoiled, temperamental, selfish child of God and yet God shows up. I was hurting God with my actions–I was pushing God away and still all God wanted to do was take me in God’s own arms–comfort, love and bring me back to life. How truly incredible; God wants to love me back to life over and over. How utterly thankful I am for that. I learned during that time it was better to be real with God–to lay it all out, no matter how ugly, nasty and hateful my feelings may be. Honesty is key to healthy relationships, especially a relationship with God.

I am currently re-reading the book that led me to admit that I was feeling a call to ministry. It is a book that was given to me by the wonderful and grace-filled chaplain of the University of St. Andrews, Donald. The book led me to recognize my sense of call a year ago and is now guiding me, again, through the terrifying feelings of discernment. It offers me hope and reassurance about my hesitations and the fears I have with my call. I recently read a section of the book, Hearing the Call: Stories of Young Vocation, that discussed why it is best for us to be honest and open with God-even though God already knows how we feel and think. I think the passage quoted below gets to the heart of what I am discussing:

“Why talk to God about things, when he knows everything already? Barry’s answer is both simple and profound: we don’t just suddenly ‘create’ intimacy. Intimacy comes by sharing ourselves, our whole selves with one another. So talking to God about what matters to us builds the intimate relationship with God for which God yearns.” (Jonathan Lawson and Gordon Mursell, Hearing the Call Stories of Young Vocation, pp. 65-66).

I just think this is gorgeous, God yearns to be in intimate relationship with us. This, my friends, is why I share my heart–all the good and all the nasty, with God. I want God to know everything because that is how our relationship deepens. Sure God knows everything already but I wonder if maybe, just maybe, God relishes the time when we come to God and bare our hearts no matter how ugly our thoughts and feelings may be. I have another beautiful vision about this, I now envision God and I sitting at a table drinking steaming cups of tea. I am usually holding God’s hand and I watch as God’s face lights up when I share my heart. I see God’s face fill with joy when I gush about something that is bringing me joy and I watch God throw God’s head back in joyful laughter when I try to talk myself and God out of things I don’t want to do. It is this image that I have now come to, I am no longer in the glass box. Instead I sit and share the things that lay on my heart, even the things that I know may hurt God. And even though they may hurt God, I ultimately know that God will continue to hold my hand across that table, will love me through these feelings and in the process of sharing my heart my relationship with God will be strengthened.

We are making our way to the cross in a world that is so full of darkness and fear. The pathway isn’t always clear, it isn’t always straight and it almost never is easy but I cling to the hope I have in Christ. I cling to the hope that if God can love me when I am really blunt, harsh, selfish and hurtful that God still loves this incredibly broken world and is present here amongst us–working to love us right back to life. When our journey comes to the cross and we reach the cross where our loving Savior laid down his life–I hope that I am one of the women at the foot of the cross, being present in that moment–trusting that morning will come and we will one day see a world of peace, love and joy.

As we make our way to the cross, as we follow the paths that God is laying before us I pray that we all are brutally honest to God–trusting that when we bare our hearts to our Lord we are deepening our relationship with God, so that we might have the strength to continue on our paths.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, my beautiful brothers and sisters. May you bare your hearts and souls to the One who knows all and still loves us with an everlasting love.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and All My Love,

Margaret

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Saved

Many of my readers and my dear friends know that in the last year I have been grappling with a strong sense of call. A call to ministry that does not surprise me, yet scares the living daylights out of me. I wish I could write here that I eloquently praised God for this call, but to say that I did would only be a big, fat, ugly lie. I am a bit ashamed to admit that when I began feeling this strong sense of call a year ago I reacted like a terrible toddler. I did not cry out in praise, no, I cried out in grief. I mourned the loss of my big plans and ambitions. Rather than open my heart and hands with joy I curled my hands into tight little fists and tried to make my heart as small and hidden as possible. When I finally faced the reality of what God was calling me to, and released my hands and just a bit of my heart I resigned myself to accepting my fate. I felt as if my life was over, and if we are getting technical–my old life was coming to an end but only to be redeemed by God’s love with the offering of a beautiful new life, living into God’s plans for me. I uttered an “Okay” through gritted teeth and a whole mess of tears.

Since that utterance, nearly a year ago, I have been on a journey. A journey which has taken me to all sorts of new and beautiful places, introduced me to God, this world and so many of God’s beautiful children. This journey has led me places that I never thought I would go; spiritually, physically and emotionally. I have faced some of my biggest fears, been overwhelmed by the pure joy of freely given love, been betrayed and hurt by people I care so deeply for, tasted and seen the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. This last year has been one of great struggle, grief, fear, beauty, courage, love and joy. This last year has been one of discovery, adventure and learning to believe. This year will forever be marked as special in my life. It is the year that I have recognized how God saves me over and over again.

I was in a really dark place when I uttered “Okay.” I was severely disenchanted with the church; I had seen the hurts the church had inflicted on people I loved, I had witnessed the hypocrisy of the church, I had experienced the pain that comes when the church plays for power rather than love. I had lost hope in the church. Until, I wandered into an Episcopal church tucked into the corner of St. Andrews on a Friday morning in June. I still remember walking up to that front door and before opening it looking up to heaven and offering up a silent prayer of “Please let these people be welcoming.” When I opened the door I was met face to face with Christ. Her name is Sybil, she was petite, white haired and wore purple eyeshadow. She looked at me, welcomed me in, handed me a service outline and when I told her I was Presbyterian she simply stated “Oh that doesn’t matter” and welcomed me to the table. I saw Christ in Sybil and I was invited to share bread and wine. Sybil and the congregation of that Episcopal church saved me and restored my hope in the church.

I mentioned above that this is the year I have begun to recognize how God saves me. I know God has saved me throughout my life, constantly reaching into the mess I make for myself and pulling me out to place me back on the right path. I think Nadia Bolz-Weber describes it best: “God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over” (Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 174). This year I have begun to pay attention to when I have dug a nice little grave for myself and when God has reached in and picked me up out of that grave. If I think about my life I can pinpoint so many of these moments, thanks be to God! To believe in a God that will not stop reaching in and yanking me out of the grave I dig for myself, even when I tell God to buzz off (I have actually said this in with much nastier words) is incredible.

To worship a God who continually runs after me, welcomes me home with a big embrace and loves me despite all the nasty things I do is a wonderful gift. This season of Lent is challenging me and my faith in a number of different ways. God is asking me to trust when all I want to do is rely on myself (we all know how that works out for me). God is asking me to lay down my life and let God fully in when all I want is to let God have only a little bit of my heart. Giving my life to God is an everyday practice. Giving God everything that I have is so difficult but it is what we are all called to do. I guess I, like everyone else, have an incredibly difficult time believing that someone could love me as much and as well as God does. So as we make our way to the cross this season, I am trying to bare my heart and soul to God and myself, to open up my closed hands and heart, to trust in God’s love and promises and to believe that when God calls God will provide and go with me.

Wherever you are on your own journey, I hope that you recognize where God is reaching into your mess and pulling you out. I pray that you recognize Christ in the people who are in your life and see how God is working through them to help you. I pray you all meet, get to know and love your own Sybil and I pray that you are a Sybil to someone. As we make our way to the cross let’s be honest, let’s be courageous, let’s give all we have, and let’s love with all of our hearts our wonderful God and our neighbors.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and All My Love,

Margaret

*The woman in the picture is Sybil. She is truly a gem!

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Tears

Crying is deemed a weakness in our society. Those who cry are stereotyped as incapable of handling their emotions and overly sensitive. Just last night I was speaking to a friend who claimed that he will not and does not cry. This baffles me because I am a cryer. If you have followed me this is quite obvious, the phrase, “I am a cryer” constantly makes an appearance. What can I say? I cry a lot.

I always tell people that my tears are a sign of me processing my emotions; whether they be happy, sad, angry, hurt, joyful, overwhelmed, or stressed–tears are how I express my emotions and process them. Tonight, as I sat in the Ash Wednesday service at my church and was reminded who I am and whose I am–I felt the hot tears fill my eyes and roll down my cheeks. As the tears made pathways down my cheeks I realized that with every tear that fell my heart was emptied. As the tears fell freely my heart became more and more empty of all the stuff that separates me from God. As my heart became empty I felt God’s loving presence begin to fill me up (which clearly only made me cry even more).

I just recently read The Shack (I am super excited that the movie is coming out this weekend!) and in this book there is a scene where the Holy Spirit, known as Sarayu in the book, comes to the main character Mack and collects the tears he cries. In Psalm 56:8 I see where this image must have come from:

“You have kept count of my tossing; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?”

Every tear I cry, God collects. What a beautiful thought.

We are now in the season of Lent. In the sermon on Sunday, I listened as the pastor said, Lent is a time for honesty and tonight I was reminded it is also a season to be brought home. I have strayed, again, far from home. I have let my fears, my desire for control, my pride, my ego and my negativity lead me further away from home and further away from God.

During Lent we often choose to give up something that distracts us from our relationship with God. Or, in recent years, I have learned you can choose to put something on; to put on a practice that will serve to bring you closer to God. This year I think that I am going to give up focusing on the negative by practicing gratefulness. I also want to make time to spend with God (what I call Jesus or quiet time). As we make our way to the cross I want to draw closer to the One who looks at me, knows me by name and calls me Neshume-le (which means Beloved Little Soul). And I truly hope that you want to do the same. You are God’s beloved child with whom God is well pleased (Matthew 3:17 and Henri Nouwen’s Paraphrase which can be located in many of his books but especially in The Return of the Prodigal Son).

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

And may you remember: In Life and in Death We Belong to God.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and All My Love,

Margaret