1/25/16 Morning Musing: Scandalized

This morning, I woke up 30 minutes before my alarm went off so I decided to throw on some clothes and go for a good walk before waking up the kiddos. When I left the house, it was still very dark outside…which made it an excellent time to get lost in my thoughts. I was walking through an area that was thick with trees, thinking about what self-defense strategies to employ if someone were to jump out from this direction or how to watch their shadows if they tried to come up from behind me all stealthy-like (and yes…I’m sure that gives some sort of psychological insight into my personal damage…but I digress…) when I saw some headlights shining through the trees. I kept walking along my path (still looking around everywhere so as to not be like a spot-lighted deer) when I saw the headlights were unmoving and at a park. As I got a little closer, I saw someone sitting in a minivan with the engine running…and then I smelled it…a lit cigar. That, of course, made me start mentally engineering patterns like I tend to do:

So, what I know is that there is a person parked in a minivan, in the dark, at a park, in a neighborhood at 5:45 am on a Monday morning. Their headlights are on so they aren’t worried about being seen here. They are smoking a cigar…which takes a while…so they aren’t in a hurry. I continued to think about it as I walked down to the middle school, around the baseball field, and then began circling back. The smoker in the minivan was still there when I was back to the same part of the path and, as I often do, I began to feel what they were feeling: Escape. Maybe a hidden little guilty pleasure? Possibly some defiance…but within carefully-crafted limits. So, here is my conclusion: I think that this person is a parent who feels a lot of expectations are placed on them by someone that they live with. They love the person and don’t want to disappoint them but, at the same time, they want to feel independent and strong. So, they do something that their spouse (I’m guessing) wouldn’t approve of but it’s not something that they feel is necessarily a bad thing (which is why they were away from their home but not necessarily hiding from people in general.) My guess is that they told their spouse that they had to be somewhere (probably work) early this morning and came here to unwind on their own and get a little space. This person is probably feeling a little bit of a thrill from the secret escape and will return to do this regularly until the thrill doesn’t show up anymore…then, this thrill will have to be replaced with something bigger in order to feel that same sense of…getting away with something.

Ok, so you have probably figured out by now that I am some kind of lunatic…I see a person in a van and concoct an entire back-story to what is going on in this person’s life. (It’s what I do…I love studying people and their behavior…I find myself asking why someone would do what they are doing and then I determine how I would feel if I was in their shoes (assuming that I determine the correct shoes to try on)…it’s like a puzzle that I can’t put down. But whether or not I am right about this person isn’t really my point. (It was just a little mental exercise to start my day.) My main reason for writing this is to get to the cause of why a person…any person…would feel the need to hide things from those that they love most. (Didn’t see that coming did you?) And the conclusion that I come to is something that I think we all need to work on: Scandal. (Now, give me a second before you roll your eyes and move on to something else.) The only reason that I can think of for hiding something from someone you love is for the purpose of avoiding disappointing them…”protecting them” you might say…but when we protect someone from the truth, I think we are back to avoiding disappointing them…which means that there is some element of shame involved. So, that makes me think about hiding and shame in general and why we do it. We hide and feel shame because we don’t want someone to know what is true about us because the way that they see us…the way that they look at us…could forever change: “If he/she really knew what I think/do/feel/am/believe, he/she would be scandalized.” 

Now, I am going to flip things around on you. Instead of approaching this from the point of view of why we should not feel shame and how God would be saddened for those he loves to be weighed down unnecessarily by shame, I want to approach this from the perspective of the person who loves the shamed individual…the one who would be scandalized. (See the last sentence of the paragraph above.) I think that we need to do a better job of not being scandalized. That probably sounds weird to you but hear me out: I have talked to a lot of hurting people over the years and, the best I can tell, being scandalized only causes harm. What do I mean by that? Well, being shocked or aghast at what you discover someone has done only distances you from that person. It does not close the gap…it only emphasizes the distance between you…which isolates the person experiencing the shame. (We are really bad about this in Christian circles. Think along the lines of specific areas of sin/struggle that are made out to be worse than other areas. If you still don’t know what I mean, fill in the blank and you will know what scandalzes you: “I sin…I mess up…but at least I am not _________________. I may have my faults but I don’t do ________________.” If you can easily fill in those blanks, then you have an area in life that shocks or scandalizes you…and that means that there are hurting people who need Jesus and they certainly won’t come to see him through you. Now hear me when I say that I am NOT excusing sin…I think sin deeply saddens God…but I think our responses to it tend to run in the wrong direction…we respond with feelings of shock, anger, and judgement when we what we should feel is empathy (because we know what it feels like to be broken and hurting and lonely.) We distance ourselves from them and their guilt so that we can feel ok about ourselves and feel clean…but distance is not what Jesus came here to do (The Good Shepherd brings his sheep together…he doesn’t let them exist at a comfortable distance from each other…because that distance leads to the death of his sheep that he loves.) 

Why the heck am I talking about headlights, cigars, scandal, and sheep? Because I think we can do this better. I think we are all hurting in some way…which means that the ones we love most are also hurting in some way…and we can love them better by not being scandalized by their stuff. Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, we all need to feel loved and accepted…we need to know we can be forgiven and that not all is lost…that we can be redeemed…and thank goodness Jesus is in the business of redeeming and restoring.  
So how are you doing with this? Is shame causing you to hide from the ones that love you? Do you know that hiding leads to more hiding which leads to being unknown? What have you kept hidden that needs to be brought to light? Do you have someone you love who is struggling with some hidden damage? (I’ll help you out on that one…the answer is YES!) How can you become a safe person for them? How can you become someone who will lovingly point them to the one who would redeem and restore them? How can you be less scandalized by your people’s stuff and, instead, close the distance?

My prayer today is that we would not hide from those that we love and that we would become people who others don’t feel the need to hide from. I am praying that we would erect fewer walls in our relationships, focus on our similarities, and employ empathy in order to close some of the distance between us. And I am praying that we would love people into the presence of God…because if we already know God…really know him…then someone loved us into his presence. Much love friends,

1/21/16 Morning Musing: Stepping into Uncomfortable Obedience

Warning: Not sure if this one was to be published or not…I was just working through some things by writing it down. If this one doesn’t make sense to you, then it probably wasn’t intended for you. But hopefully, this will be helpful to someone.

I’ve been in the middle of a lot of change in recent weeks and, like many people, I am finding that I am not super-comfortable with all the shifting that has resulted. During the holidays, I gave notice to resign from my position at our church. I had asked for more responsibility…asked to be able to grow something and was hitting nothing but walls where that was concerned. In thinking it through, I realized that I had built this program up…had poured into it…and the program had reached maintenance mode…but I am a builder, not a maintainer…so where would I go now?

At the same time, I began to feel a tug to visit other churches which is bizarre because this church has been my home for 14 years. My most dramatic spiritual growth has been a result of being in this church which has pulled me into close proximity to others who are dramatically growing…bumping up against each other and helping each other to see more clearly where obedience to God resides. But lately, I’ve experienced less and less of a pull in this place…instead of being encouraged to utilize my giftedness and passions, I have felt that I am being told to fit into a pre-formed mold and to shorten my reach…which feels artificial…contrived…contrary to what I am hearing spoken to my soul.

During our first visitation of a new church, we ran into a lot of people that we knew. There was one person in particular who came up to me and said “Hey! You don’t fit here. What are you doing here?” Now, before I go on, this was not said with animosity or anything. She was just confused as to why she was seeing me in a different location than usual. But, even knowing that, it was like a sucker punch to the gut and before I knew it, tears were stinging my eyes and the words were out of my mouth: “Yeah, well, I am not sure I fit anywhere anymore.” Yikes…I’m hurting more than I realized: The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart. Luke 6:45b
Meanwhile, our small group decided to disband…and while I know that everything isn’t about me, it sure felt an awful lot like rejection…like we had been the stop-gap for these other families while they looked for their real friends. (Trying to explain it to the kids was really difficult: No, they aren’t moving…No, they aren’t too busy…they just want to do this with other people.)

And that leads me to where I am right now: I have been sitting on this for weeks…unable to write…creatively and emotionally constipated for lack of better phrasing…until now where I may be riding the swinging pendulum and saying too much. So, this is the time that I feel you asking what the point is of all this self-pitying rambling. Well, there are several I guess: First, I don’t think that being obedient to your calling is easy. I am a builder in a world that naturally and constantly moves from order to chaos…which means that there will always be more work for me to do and that what I am called to do will always be like trying to walk up a river instead of floating down it. Second, there are other people, like me, who are also trying to walk up the river…and they are going to falter…and choke on the water…and they will come up sputtering and gasping for air just like me…and we should be helping each other so that fewer people find themselves swept away by the current. I guess my last point is that none of our decisions are made in a vacuum…they always affect other people even when we try to justify things in our own minds as to how it only affects ourselves.

So, how are you doing with this? Are you in a period of change? How are you responding to the natural discomfort of that change? Are you trying to escape the discomfort or are you leaning into it? What are you called to do? Are you actually answering the call or are you too busy? Are there people in your life that are in a tumultuous period of change that you could encourage simply by seeing them? Are you deluding yourself into thinking that your decisions only affect you? How could you change your perspective and approach so that your decisions are more outwardly focused?

My prayer today is that we would all take an honest look at ourselves and see if we are answering the call that God has placed on our lives. I am praying that we would take steps toward obedience despite the discomfort that accompanies change. Finally, I am praying that we would look around ourselves and find the ones that need encouragement in the midst of their change…that we would see them…really see and speak words of hope to their hurts and discouragement. Much love friends,

1/1/16 Morning Musing – Health, Grit, and Being a Part of So Much More

A few years ago, I remember writing down around 40 New Year’s Resolutions that were each going to lead to having a better life and being a better person. This list consisted of everything from spending an hour in quiet time with God every day…to creating an entirely new exercise regimen…to drinking half my weight in water every day…to spending an hour of undistracted face time with each of my household daily. If I remember correctly, I spent most of January 1 coming up with this amazing list and consequently planning to begin on January 2…of course I woke up with a cold on January 2 and the wheels all flew off my plan.  

Because of this (and many other years of epic-sized failures,) I’m not hugely into resolutions as it seems they are usually too big of a change to maintain and peter out before February…or so insignificant that they are reached quickly and I become bored with them and push them aside. So this year, I think I will try doing a progressive resolution (I have a friend who has done this with Lent: He starts with one thing that he gives up or takes on for the first week and then adds something to it each subsequent week through Lent so that it does not become easy over time and allows him to quit turning to prayer.) So, with the inspiration of my friend in mind, I am planning to do something similar with my personal New Year’s Resolutions this year: I have several goals that I would like to make part of my new year…some for a healthier body…some for a healthier mind…and some for a healthier spirit…and I am planning to do baby-steps into developing these into habits. (If I find that I have failed one day/week/month…no worries. Now is always a good time to start new.) Once one goal has become a habit, I can add to it another goal. In order to make this successful, I feel that I need to have a mission or theme…the goals need to be linked…not just random pie-in-the-sky ideas…so, my personal theme for 2016 is going to be health.

But I don’t exist as a just one person in isolation…my decisions don’t happen in a vacuum…so before I can implement my personal goals or theme, I need to make sure that they are in alignment with Team Massey’s goal or theme. So, I talked with the family a couple of days ago and asked them to join me in having a year’s resolution or theme for 2016. What we came up with was “Grit.” Team Massey is going to find ways to dig in and press on when things get tough this year. (But this is only after making sure that the thing we are doing is what we are called to do…not digging in where our own selfishness or sin is concerned.) An example is when the kids are doing school work that is difficult: Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, they will pay attention to their physical needs (take a break, go for a walk, eat a snack, or go back to the basics if necessary) and then try again and again until they have fully accomplished what was asked of them.  

The thing is, Team Massey doesn’t exist in isolation either. We ultimately belong to God’s family so our theme must be in alignment with God’s word. What I like about grit is that it doesn’t mean to just finish something…you know what I mean…just finishing something with no regard to quality. It means finishing well and honorably: 

“Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.” ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:22-25‬ ‭MSG‬‬

So, I told you about it all in the reverse order of how I came up with it…but that is because I think that most of us think about resolutions as something that only affects ourselves. We think of changes we want to implement for “number one.” But, I don’t think that we make any decisions that only affect ourselves…it’s all a part of a bigger picture…a bigger community. That said, before you come up with resolutions this year, what community are you a part of? What changes would you like to see in the world? (For example, it really bothers me that many people don’t seem to hold themselves responsible in how they behave…it is always someone else’s fault…so I looked in scripture about what God thinks about it and went from there.). How can your family unit, and you as an individual, begin to enact the change that you want to see in our world? (Remember, that family unit isn’t just the people that you are related to…it’s the people that you have chosen to be your people…Consider making resolutions this year as a group first and then as an individual…being a part of a bigger family…a bigger mission…a bigger vision. Much love friends,