Day 24

On a recent flight to my nephew’s wedding, I overheard a mother say to her rowdy, seat-kicking, son, “I brought you into this world, and I sure as heck can take you out of it!”

That’s one of those lines that, depending on my mood, I find offensive or kind of funny.  In this case, it was amusing, and the mother found no judgment from me.  It was my seat the kid was kicking like a punching bag.  I myself was fantasizing about reclining my seat with aggression, hoping to dislodge his apple juice and send it hurtling onto him or his previously unattentive mother.  But seriously, does being a parent come with certain inalienable rights and/or responsibilities?

You are the one who created my innermost parts;

   you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.

I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.

   Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.

My bones weren’t hidden from you

   when I was being put together in a secret place,

   when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.

Your eyes saw my embryo,

   and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,

   before any one of them had yet happened. Psalm 139:13-16 CEB

As a parent, I am sometimes tempted to think that somehow all those years of packing lunches, stretch marks, sitting on either blistering hot or freezing cold bleachers at sporting events, show choir performances, field trips, driving lessons…and more…ought to garner me the privilege of speaking into the lives of my children.  And I have certainly done that.  But perhaps a more helpful, mature way of seeing my life is when I consider my heavenly Father’s creator role in my life.   He is ever-present but not co-dependent.  He is interested in a relationship with me, but he doesn’t demand that I be interested in a relationship with him.  My children have often extended me the courtesy of listening to me share my parental perspective (on those very rare occasions when I might have a small opinion about one thing or another).  I appreciate that.  And it makes me want to be that kind of child, too.

Take some time today and sit and listen.  Just get really quiet.  Hear your breath, feel the beat of your heart.  Think about how God had all this weaving and putting together  all worked out and somehow, miraculously, you are the product of that creative work.  Take a moment to just say, “Hey, thanks.  Thanks for making me!”

Day 23

Yesterday I told a story about a man who mistreated me as a result of our television show.  But he was an exception to the experiences I normally had with our viewers.  Once I was speaking at a drug court event, and a young person told me that his grandma watched our show every week, and then he said, “And because my grandma heard about addiction the way you spoke of it, she stopped judging my character and started encouraging my recovery.”  What a blessing to hear that!  Another time my family was leaving a restaurant and a guy ran up and  asked if he could snap a picture with me (this was before “selfie” was a common term).  Then he explained to my husband how he was going to show it to his mother, and how she was going to be so mad that she skipped church and Sunday lunch out with him – because she just LOVED our show.  Oftentimes people would stop me at the gym or the mall, and tell me about their friend/relative, etc., who had an addiction problem.  They might ask for advice, but mostly they just wanted me to listen to their story.  I would be heading home from the gym and stop to put gas in the car and end up having a 30 minute conversation. People felt free to tell me I looked less “fat” in person, or “younger”, or even “not as old” or how much they did NOT like my outfit.  All this conversing changed how I felt about being out in public. I learned that when people stared at me in public, they might actually be looking AT me.  Previously, if I noticed a stranger looking at me, I figured they thought I was someone they knew from high school, or maybe I had toilet paper trailing behind me stuck to my shoe.  Whatever.  I gave it little thought.  But this attention left me more self-conscious about going to the gym, for instance, where I might end up spending 90 minutes rather than 60 in order to hear a story.  Or maybe I’d give a second thought to what I wore — seeing as how people were so free to critique my attire.  It was all very weird and uncomfortable.  I also realized that prior to this experience, I could stand in line at the store trying to buy salmon and skittles and pay absolutely no attention to the people around me who I didn’t know. But in this new weird tv world, strangers acted all sorts of ways – but never like who they were to me – a stranger.  They “saw” me in ways that were different than how I experienced them.  I couldn’t “see” them; I didn’t “know” them; they had never been in my living room via a television screen.

You surround me—front and back.  You put your hand on me. That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it.  Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there.  If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!  If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—          even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight!  If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me; the light will become night around me,” even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!  Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you! Psalm 139:5-12 CEB

I’ve learned to be more aware of my environment from my time on television; I believe the psalms are inviting me to become more aware of God’s presence in my life too.  Can we take a few minutes today to remind ourselves that God is with us?

Day 22

Our ministry used to have a television show.  It was on a local channel, and even with the ratings system, it was always difficult to tell how many people actually tuned it.  I was constantly startled when people would recognize me in a public setting and reference the show.

One day I was at the grocery store, and a stranger approached me, shared his theological distaste for women pastors…and spit on me.  Don’t miss the point – this man was a Christian; he knew I was a Christian; he still chose to spit on me.

I don’t believe that I will ever be able to understand his reasoning or his justification for taking such an aggressive stance against me.  I have tried to talk myself into the belief that this wasn’t personal.  He wasn’t spitting on someone he knew.  He didn’t know that I not only preach, but I also drive carpools.  I doubt it occurred to him that I am not “just” a woman, I am also someone’s precious daughter, wife and mother.  But it was personal to me.  I felt violated.  And misunderstood.  And judged.

What do we make of such things?

Lord, you have examined me.

   You know me.

You know when I sit down and when I stand up.

   Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.

You study my traveling and resting.

   You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.

There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,

   that you don’t already know completely.

Psalm 139:1-4

Although that gentleman (scratch that – man, he was no gentleman) cannot see me, God does.  Experts in the psalms taught me that these verbs are very “active”, as in – God is curiously, actively, attentively studying me – like a father studies his child.

I wonder.  Have you ever been spit on?  Assaulted?  Abused?  Treated as if you don’t count by someone?  Do you ever ruminate over past slights, offenses, or hurts?  Of course we all do at some point!  But what if…for today, we took a few minutes to remember that holy God sees us (in a good way).  He isn’t making a list to determine our holiness rating – he is watching us with tenderness.

Given the judgment of one mere mortal versus the care and concern of holy God – I would choose some old guy spitting on me any day of the week, so long as I retain the knowledge that God is with me.

How about you?  Do you maybe need some “re-orientation” of priorities?  Have you focused on the opinions of mere mortals over conscious contact with a God who loves you?

Day 21

Walter Brueggemann has written about the psalms, and he talks about the ways we can approach a study of them that I find helpful.  In addition to the labels we give them – psalms of lament, praise, etc., we can also consider the psalms in another way, too.

Brueggemann talks about the concept of: orientation, disorientation and new orientation.  According to him, the psalms can bear the weight of all of that shifting and sorting out of life.

Me personally, I am grateful for times of disorientation.  I don’t wish for them, I dread them and usually try to avoid them at all costs.  But when I look back over the decades of my life, it’s in the disorientation that I find transformative moments.

What do I mean by disorientation?

For me, it happens when I have a particular belief about God or my faith or whatever, and I act on that belief, and the outcome is not as I expect it.

I have this friend who is schizophrenic, and her mom thinks the girl is demon possessed.  She sneaks in her room at night and sprinkles holy water on her.  She berates the gal at times, telling her that she is giving the devil a foothold and must rebuke him.  Medication and medical appointments are not a priority, so mom is not interested in providing support and encouragement for this woman’s treatment for schizophrenia.  This mother has an orientation, a certain way of seeing, that is resolute (and completely unhelpful to a daughter she says she loves but mostly treats like she doesn’t much like).

It’s embarrassing to think of how many things I have been resolute about in my youth, only to find myself a lot LESS clear in my fifties.  Do you think there are some things in your life that would benefit from some much-needed disorientation?

Can you find a few minutes to sit and breathe?  Just sit.  Tell God you are sitting in remembrance of who he is, and who you are not.  Thank him for being with you.  Thank him for being a just ruler.

Lord, you have examined me.

You know me.

You know when I sit down and when I stand up.

Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. Psalm 139:1-2

Day 20

I’ve been engaging with the Psalms lately, and have appreciated reading some of the scholarly writings about them. One of the underlying foundational principles that bind together all the psalms is this believe that God rules justly over all.  The various writers of the psalms are not starting out with an assumption that they may, or may not, fall into the hands of a God whose character is questionable.  These poets BELIEVED.  And this point must be remembered because these writers say some pretty interesting things along the way!

One theologian says that the number one most common kind of psalm is a ‘lament’ psalm.  Psalm 139, is one of those kinds of psalms.

Lord, you have examined me.

You know me.

You know when I sit down and when I stand up.

Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. Psalm 139:1-2

I come from a family system that is, shall we say, suspicious in nature.  My mother, just the other day, explained to me about how the medical system was out to get her.  She was wondering if the medicine they prescribed was intended to keep her sick so that she’d have to keep coming back to the doctor.  “What a racket!” she explained to me in no uncertain terms.  Her recommendation for me?  Never, ever get in the habit of going to the doctor.  They’ll just make you sick.

With that familial perspective in mind, perhaps you can imagine that when I first started reading the psalms, I was a little freaked out by this God who has examined me, knows me, and knows my every move.  It’s enough to send a gal looking for hidden cameras!

When discovered that the psalmists all presume that God is compassionate, caring, just, and ruler over all – this changes the tone of the poem for me.

We are not alone.

Whether I find myself walking down a hospital corridor or sitting with a wife who is oh-so-sad about her husband’s drinking problem or facing a family crisis, I am reminded of this:  the Lord is with us, all of us.  The sick, the sad, and all the in-betweens – we are known by a God who can be trusted with our vulnerable states.

Today, take a few minutes to sit with that knowledge.  Maybe you will discover, like my mom, that you feel a little paranoid about being so well known.  That’s okay.  Just notice it and consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you need a new orientation.  Maybe there is a perspective shift that needs to happen within you…

Day 19

No matter what I believe about God, it is awfully difficult to keep the faith when I’m lonely.  It seems to me that it takes a village to hold onto faith during times of grief and loss and unanswered prayers.  A few years ago, I had a friend whose mom died.  My friend was the quintessential daughter – loving, caring, and ever present.  Both mom and daughter showed up for each other in amazing ways.  I remember the years my girlfriend was holding down a fulltime, stressful job while raising two toddlers.  Her mom would come over and do her laundry.  She babysat the grandchildren.  She fixed her daughter casseroles (this was back in the day when we still felt ok eating casseroles) to take home and warm up for supper. These women loved well.

It was no surprise that this daughter was at her mother’s side when Mama breathed her last breath.  She sat and held her hand, wept, and then began making calls and doing what people do when a parent passes.  One necessary “to do” of the day was to stop by the mall on the way home from the hospital.  One of her children needed a white shirt for a band concert.  There would be no exemption from fulfilling this responsibility.  My friend simply took her broken heart and walked it into Macy’s to buy that shirt.  This kind of responsibility and care was one of the many things she learned from her own mother and this, of all days, was not the day she was going to go against the principles of ever-present mothering she had learned.

Within the hour, she called me, “Teresa, would you pleeaasssse pick up your phone?  Mama just passed, and I have had the weirdest experience right in the middle of Macy’s!”

Who can NOT respond to this kind of voice message?

I called her back, and here’s a synopsis of what she said.  She walked into the store and was immediately overcome with the banality of it all.  Women were trying on dresses and buying baubles – ON THE DAY OF HER MOTHER’S DEATH, NO ONE ELSE WAS PAYING ATTENTION!  Of course, my friend was not crazy.  But she felt it, a little.  She understood intellectually that no one else knew her mother had died.  After all, wasn’t she herself standing knee-deep in men’s dress shirts, trying to find the right size for her very tall, skinny adolescent?

“In all my life, I’ve never felt so alone,” she cried into the phone.

I get it.  That’s lonely.  For the next few days, I’m going to encourage us to pick up a bible and find a Psalm that suits our emotional temperature.  I’ll pick a few selected verses and try to give you something to think about that I hope and pray will be helpful just in case you, too, are feeling lonely or disoriented.

For today, take a few moments and sit in quiet.  Thank God that he is present, and he knows you – even if you feel very unknown by others.

Day 18

Yesterday Scott talked about his perspective on the following scripture:  26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28, CEB

I love these passages even as I struggle to make sense of them.

I love that “in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”  Don’t you love that?

Scott has talked about his sensitivity to his own sinful ways; I’ve shared how I prefer defensiveness and blame-shifting as a first response to my sinful ways.  But if that’s all we focus on, what more are we about than self-focused naval  gazing?

How about this instead…”in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”

Would it be helpful, today, to assume that all of us, when in a weakened state are likely to grow forgetful of God, fallback to old patterns of self-protection, maybe even look for a scapegoat?  Let’s just assume that’s a big yes.

But after we make all those assumptions, what about this response?  We acknowledge that “in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”

My friend this week was feeling weak and lamenting her state of affairs.  Then she saw an amazing double rainbow.  It led her home.  Is this just a fantastic coincidence, or a God thing?  …”in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”  My friend knows weakness and she has God’s word as a guiding light.  All I can report is that she was filled with gratitude and the strength to carry on.

Is there any weakness you need to acknowledge, lament, and then eagerly anticipate God’s response to?


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