Monday, March 16, 2015

The Iris

Forgiveness is the fragrance
of an iris
Upon the heel
that crushed it.
Mark Twain

It’s hard to tell the truth when you’re lying.  Great words for a country and western song.  Not such great words to say when you are trying to explain the incongruencies of your life.  Dreams and pretense create no backbone;  it’s the tough stories, trials, and mishaps of life that do that for us.  I have learned the most important lessons I’ve needed to learn in my life through hard choices, hard knocks, and hard questions.  

Real life requires a kind of consciousness that I have sometimes lacked because of an inherent self-consciousness.  I have asked God over and over to explain this to me; to help me understand who I am.  He has shown me too clearly what I am all about by summarizing the scope and sequence of my life with one word---unbelief. 

I have gone to church with my palms open, ready to receive.  It took me a long time to realize that I must go with my palms open, ready to give. Belief requires something of us;  trusting in the maker and creator of not only the universe, but our universe.  I have struggled with belief.  It confounds me to decode and decipher His will when my own is so strong.  He lives in me.  I have no unbelief about that.  But my obedience, my surrender, my trust are all put to the test pretty continuously.  

Unbelief has haunted my walk as a Christian woman. Is there grace in every moment?  Absolutely.  But grace requires appropriation; and I have missed the opportunity time and time again.  The vernacular of the community of faith gets so tangled up for a new believer:  appropriation, baptism, consecration, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, grace….an alphabet soup of beliefs that must be digested quickly if we’re to grow as He intended.

I am a storyteller at heart, so I will try to make this a true tale.  In the telling, I hope that you will find some hint of wisdom, some whisper of jurisprudence, so that you may learn from my mistakes.  It is where the rubber meets the road, that place between understanding that God is who He says He is, and not the God we have created Him to be.  

My road’s had twists and turns; dead ends, divergencies, and exit strategies that I’ve ignored.  I’ve driven myself off a cliff and lived to tell about it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

And so it goes:

Once upon a time

Sunday, March 15, 2015

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn

Hemingway wagered: Write a novel in six words.  He shared his own response on a cocktail napkin: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.  Six words that can bring you to tears. Powerful stuff.  

I can't write a novel in six words, nor a memoir.  For a couple of years I've been recording a nonfiction piece I call Broken Heart: Fixing Your Heart in Christ's Home. But I haven't been able to finish it, because I've been working on other people's work and projects that are a little more pressing. It was born out of struggle, an internal wrestling match that I could not settle.  Full of essential questions each believer asks.  

      What if He really loves me?

      What does that mean, and how does that belief inform or transform my life?

As a new believer, I didn't understand why I needed to hide God's word in my heart.  

I didn't understand what to expect from my new pastor, or what he might expect from me.  

I didn't understand that I was meant to be a part of a church family, and that the community called "church" could be as complicated as my intimate circle of loved ones.  

I didn't understand that a church could wound, and a church could heal. 

I didn't understand that I could be trained, prepared, and equipped under the cross.  

New believers cannot and should not be ignorant for long.  Beneath the stepping stones of this spiritual journey, we must begin to understand the bedrock divinity of who we are as Christians, and who we are meant to be. 

Precious little conversion growth is happening in Western populations today. Experts estimate as little as 1-3%. We can traipse to Africa, send missionaries to Belize, reach the lost in Haiti, and these are all powerfully important.  But there are unbelievers in our midst, and I'm writing for them. And for me.

There is a huge demographic of believers who will not trust the church.  They make a conscious choice to stay away.  I believe this occurs because we may not understand our rights, but also our responsibilities as believers. 

While we understand that love wins,  it's an oversimplification to think that love is all there is, or that nothing is required of us.  God will welcome us with arms wide open, but can we live in such away that we are more deeply concerned about His opinion of us, than what the world thinks?  His expectations override our own.  

Some estimates tell us that 84% of Americans are not attending a conventional church, and 80% of the churches in North America have reached a plateau or are declining.  Churches experiencing rapid growth are, for the most part, growing due to "switchers", folks who get tired, turned off, or transplanted, and must find a new place to call home. Many churches focus on what the church must provide the switcher, the unchurched, the undiscipled.  

I want to speak my "give me Jesus truth" in a "gimme gimme world."  To receive Him is to love Him, and I believe I owe Him something in return.  

As I've marketed Broken Heart, I have been told over and over, "You've got to have a wider platform."  I don't have a platform per se, wide or otherwise.  I write, and I share what I write, and if it speaks to someone, I am happy.  The six words I'd offer Hemingway would be: I write because I can't not. I've decided to share Broken Heart.  In pieces and parcels. Over time. If it speaks to you, and I pray that it does, I am happy.  If not, I can't not do it anyway.  

I'll share two or three pieces a prayer is that God will bless you richly along the way, but more than that, you will learn to richly bless Him with the sacred and sacramental love you offer, in everything you do. 

After all, He loved us first.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

No End in Sight

From the quiet enclave of my small office in College Station, the wizened yet tender-hearted staff sergeant sat beside me and shared his story, of what it was to endure a catastrophic IED explosion in an area once known as Babylon. 

He whispered words of instinct and survival,  despite partial and full thickness burns over most of his body, the loss of his ears, nose, and several digits, the vertebral fractures, the black lungs, the renal failure. 

In my heart, I could hear what he wanted to say that lay dormant between the place where reality is suspended and trauma threatens to suffocate memory or erupt in sorrow too deep, too wide. 

Yet I had the ears to listen and the heart to hear him, because I know something about sacrifice, having spent three-quarters of my life in a military household where service was benchmark and bedrock.

The term “PTSD” gets lobbed about quite frequently in communities across America reeling from devastating loss over the last dozen years, and I know something about that syndrome, that loss. 

While my father would never have used the acronym, he lived with combat every single day.  Having traded the wheat fields of North Dakota at age eighteen for the foxholes of Korea, he spoke rarely about his life underground.

With his vibrant sense of humor, he’d freely share the stories of shit-on-a-shingle served in a mess cup or his naivete as a teenager in battle, but the dark side of that war did not emerge in daylight. 

Loosened up with a few shots of bourbon and branch, he’d attempt to go there, but his inner censor would shut down most stories and he’d look upon a journey none but him could describe, unable to utter the horrific truths of what he saw, what he did, where a piece of him died. 

Try to call him a hero and he’d quickly defer to his older brother, Alan, who spent ruthless months interred by the Japanese at the end of the death march to Bataan.  That’s the hero, he’d say, and move the topic along, far away from the personal and precious details of his own sacrifice.

He would not use PTSD to describe the disconnect that came over him when he tried to recall the hidden battlefields of Laos or Cambodia as he donned his Green Beret and disappeared.  My brothers and I had vague clues of trauma when he tried to share—from airborne night drops onto the Ho Chi Minh Trail, to napalm and Montagnards, to bouncing betty’s and punji traps, and casualties too numerous to bear. 

It was the bombed and boiling river filled with thousands of NVA that woke him again and again from a dead sleep.

How deeply I loved my father, and love him still, but how badly I wish that he had understood the importance of treatment for trauma.  He kept it all inside. 

Today’s soldiers must not hold it in; this generation must be encouraged and supported as they speak aloud what seems impossible to say. 

The healing dialogue, the bridge of words across the deep crevasse between what we are able to process and what we cannot fathom, must be established. 

When I probed deeper into the psyche of my soldier friend, I understood that it was the telling, the retelling, the retelling, and the retelling, that was allowing him to decompress and come to terms with pink mist, the oily residue of blood and bone, the empty boot.  

Men, women, boys, girls, their families, caretakers, and support teams must learn how to listen, and how to hear the words that are so tough to utter, the stories that are so tainted by unspeakable tragedy.  

Unlike cancer, PTSD cannot be excised or radiated, but untreated it does metastasize.  The soldier who sits beside us in church on Sunday morning may take his life on Sunday night. 

We must reach out to him; we must listen to her. There is nothing unmanly or cowardly about speaking the truth.   Each of our veterans has a voice that deserves to be heard.