The Great Commission

“Go and make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:18  These are the words of Jesus.  The red ones.  The important ones.  Scripture refers to these words as “The Great Commission.”  So often the great commission is read and interpreted as an opportunity to pack our bags and head to third world countries to introduce people to Jesus.  “Go,” it says.  “Make,” it says.  Both verbs illicit visions of long distance travel and tribal encounters, where well-to-do white people save the world.

What if “Go” and “Make” are actually daily instructions for followers of Christ?  What if the words have nothing to do with traveling and preaching and more to do with living and being? “Go,” Jesus said.  What if I haven’t been called to pack a bag, but I’ve been asked to pack a lunch, provide a ride, visit a shut-in, or go to the hospital?  What if “Go” means attending a wedding for someone with an alternative lifestyle, not because I’m comfortable, but because loving someone equates with showing up for them and showing up requires going?  What if “Go” means sitting in an AA meeting not because I need to be there but because somebody I love wouldn’t be there if I weren’t sitting next to them?  What if?

“Go,” Jesus said.  Go to work.  Go to the ballgame.  Go to the neighbors.  Go to the party.  Go to the girls’ weekend.  Go to church.  Go to the funeral.  Go to the court hearing.  Go to the emergency room.  Go to their living room.  “Go.”  Go when they are hurting.  Go when they are celebrating.  Go when others go.  Go when nobody else goes.  Go when there is something to do.  Go when there is nothing to do.  “Go,” Jesus instructs.  To Go usually means I must leave somewhere or something behind.  In the context of this scripture, maybe “Go” means leaving my own opinions, my own perspectives, my own agenda, and my own life long enough to acknowledge, see, and honor those of another person.  Perhaps “Go” requires no bag be packed, but maybe some baggage be left behind.  “Go,” Jesus said.

He also says, “Make.”  To make anything requires a process.  Steps.  It has to start somewhere, this process of disciple making.  Perhaps the easiest place to start is where the people already are.  But that begs the question that magnifies the gap between where we humans are and where the disciple title is in relation to that.  How do we “make” a disciple out of a drug addict?  How do we “make” a disciple out of a murderer, an adulterer, an annoying neighbor, a gossipy mom, or a porn addicted dad?  How do we “make” a disciple out of that fellow mom who annoys the heck out of us?  How do we “make” a disciple out of a wealthy man who has met all of his own needs except for the one he doesn’t even believe he has?  How do we “make” a disciple out of our child’s friend who is selfish, mean, and hateful?  I would like to submit to you that perhaps we just start “making” and, in the making, disciples are the result.

“Making” other people’s hurts and dreams matter to me might be a significant step.  “Making” a difference for others more than I’m making a living for myself might be a start.  “Making” room at my table, in my home, or in my car to meet a need or so that someone doesn’t feel alone.  Maybe we are just supposed to start making!  Make a meal.  Make a gift.  Make a friend where there are no strings attached, no judgement, and no requirements.  Make time to listen intently to another human heart.  Make allowances for the fact that we were all created differently yet still each in His image.  Make eye contact with a stranger or with a loved one as you remind them that they are special to you.  Make a plan of how to serve people in your life well.  Make a phone call.  Make amends with those you’ve wounded.  Make memories that matter with your kids.  Make people feel honored, seen, and heard with every opportunity you have, every day you have them.  “Make,” Jesus said.

Perhaps we have complicated this call to disciple making.  Maybe it’s not difficult at all.  He gave us two words.  Both of which are completely attainable on a daily basis for most of us.  “Go.” “Make.” Disciples are a result of the going and the making.  Stop worrying about how you will bring up the name Jesus.  Stop trying to make it look like church.  Stop figuring out how you can call it ministry.  Just “Go!”  Just “Make!”  Today!  Then repeat tomorrow.

Meeting Our Heroes

Mom with 9 of her biological children and the 4 she has recently adopted as her own!

 

Last month my 90 year old mother was rescued from a fire in her home by 4 teenage boys.  An open letter of thanks I wrote to those boys went viral and they became national news.  Today my family hosted their families for Father’s Day and for the first time I got to address them in person.  Here is what I said:

Wyatt, Dylan, Seth, Nick, and your families – we want to thank you for accepting our invitation today.  This is not an easy crowd to walk into but we all wanted so much to meet all of you.  In the midst of a national media frenzy, because I wrote a thank you note, you all have become widely sought after, known, and well loved.  We wanted to be clear, that to us, you are more than just a news story.  We are aware that the events of Saturday May 18th did not make you the young men that stand before us today.  That Saturday night merely revealed what was already there.  That was the date that we, the Ritchie family, became the beneficiaries of the character, strength, and bravery that already existed in each of you.  You have been shaped and molded by your own life’s challenges, setbacks, milestones, victories, and defeats.  For us, your character and choices culminated on that day into a heroic rescue of our beloved mother.  Her life of faith and dedication was not to be ended on that day because our God had other plans.  Instead she encountered four young men who had practiced courage, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, and bravery so many times before that day that it was second nature on that day for you to display it for her benefit.  So, our hope is that you know deep down inside yourselves that the hype and the attention surrounding your choices on May 18th should never overshadow the many ways that you have chosen to be brave, courageous, kind, and compassionate in your lives when nobody was looking.  For those are the times that have made you the young men we are deeply indebted to and eternally grateful for.

Since we are celebrating you on Father’s Day I’d like to take a minute to honor each of your fathers who sacrificed their day to be with us as well.  I’d also like to tell you about my dad.  Our father was a man of few words but of deep honesty and integrity.  His work ethic was something he passed down to us by teaching us that we work when it’s easy and we work when it’s hard.  He was not a well known man, a famous man, or a man who craved attention or praise.  But at his funeral, because he was an honorable man the entire congregation, every single person in attendance, stood and applauded the life he lived.  A standing ovation at his funeral.  Because of that, our family has adopted the motto “live so the’ll clap.”  We use it to remind ourselves and each other that an applause worthy life is about everyday faithfulness, honesty, kindness, integrity, and bravery.  I think my father would agree that this is the kind of life you all are choosing.  So thank you for living in such a way that allows us, the Ritchie family, to applaud you.

 

I couldn’t help myself.  I hugged them all like I owed them my life!

                              Heroes.  Angels.  Friends!

 

Dylan, Nick, Seth, Wyatt and their dads!

 

I’m NOT A Mama Bear

I’m NOT a mama bear.  I am a mom.  I love my daughter with everything in me.  I do not desire for my child to experience heartache, hurt, or discomfort and I parent her to be wise to avoid such things.  But I know that the world she lives in will be hurtful to her.  It’s part of her opportunity to learn and grow.  When other moms describe this lash out protection that comes at the expense of anybody that challenges their kids’ self-esteem or comfort, I simply don’t get it.  I not only don’t get on board with this perspective, I find it to be the opposite of how I desire to respond.  I’ve only told one person that I felt this way, because I assumed it was wrong.  Wrong, because in a culture that promotes elevating my child’s value above everyone else’s, it equated with a lack of love.  I must not love my kid as much as all the mama bears.  So I kept it to myself.

I’ve realized, however, that to orchestrate situations, encounters, and relationships in our children’s lives that are only pleasant and positive and comfortable is to stunt the growth of their character.  It is to lead our children to expect that all other people are to behave perfectly in their presence.  It is to model a lack of patience, compassion, and self-control that I believe perpetuates the very problem being addressed.  If we rescue our kids from these situations, it leaves no room for them to learn the character qualities that are most needed for healthy adult relationships.  If I speak poorly about the the burned-out teacher or the referee who makes a bad call, I’m teaching her nothing about empathy or grace.  When a peer is mean, insensitive, or hurtful to my kid, I don’t want to rescue her from knowing how to love others when it’s difficult.  I want her to learn how to do just that.  I don’t want to jerk my child away from the pain of hurtful people who are actually just hurting people that she can learn how to love in ways that might make a difference.  If she never experiences these relationships and hurts as a child in childlike circumstances because I’m constantly removing her from them, then she simply never learns how to love well as an adult.  I believe my role is to help her learn how to do that, not rescue her from the discomfort of it.

So when another mom verbally elevates her child in the presence of mine and therefore makes mine feel small, I don’t want to get angry at that parent.  Instead, I want to teach my daughter about where true security and strength come from.  I want my kid to see that sharing her resume of accomplishments is not necessary to be loved by others.  I have no desire to jump into the boxing ring with another woman to prove to my daughter that love looks like winning on her behalf.  I want her to be clear that love looks like inclusion, especially in discord or disagreement, on behalf of all.  I want her to know that I will protect her, but I will do so while teaching her that to interact with a hurtful person by adding hurt is not protecting anybody.  I want her to know that she matters as much as anybody, but not more so.  Even those who attempt to discount her value, because I want her to know that their words and deeds say more about them than they will ever say about her.  I want her to know that often it is those who are hurtful that need to know the grace of unconditional, non-competitive love in a world that tends to fight for every scrap of value we can find.  And I want her to know that she can be a person who helps them find it, not one that takes it away so that she can feel better about herself.

If I can teach my daughter how to obtain and maintain peace, strength, esteem, confidence, and love no matter the actions or words of other people, I have empowered her far beyond rescuing her from an uncomfortable or hurtful encounter with another human heart.  I am giving her the opportunity to get her esteem, value, and confidence from something much more secure than the actions of others.  I am teaching her under my protection and guidance how to stand up for herself, problem solve, and strengthen her character by considering how to best love others no matter how they are behaving, talking, living, or treating her.  I’m setting out the expectation that she take responsibility for her own behavior and not blame others for it, but I’m also leading her to the belief that she doesn’t have to be triggered by the behavior of others.  As I understand it, that’s my role as her mom because that is what prepares her to be a healthier adult in a hurting world.  I don’t want to rescue her from the opportunity to learn how to extend grace, cultivate love, exercise patience, live in her own strength, and love people well; I just don’t.

An Open Letter Of Thanks

Two weeks ago, my 90-year-old mother, Catherine Ritchie, was preparing herself for bed at around 9pm.  After brushing her teeth and hair, she turned around to find her bed completely engulfed in flames.  She made an attempt to extinguish the flames herself by throwing blankets and pillows on the fire.  The smoke and heat were so overwhelming that she immediately got disoriented, gave up fighting the fire, and decided to flee.  She pushed the emergency call button she wears on her necklace, called 911, and attempted to get out of her now engulfed bedroom.  She walked into the closet several times thinking it was the door that leads to the hallway.  It wasn’t.  She couldn’t find her way out.  She was stuck.  Smoke everywhere.

Across the street, 4 boys saw the smoke and reflection of flames.  Not an adult in sight.  4 kids who took immediate action to save an elderly woman who they couldn’t guarantee was home and who 3 of them had never even met.  One started breaking the glass on the front door.  One called 911.  One went to the back door and began kicking it in.  One went to the neighbors for an ax and help.  Within minutes, a door was kicked in by a 14-year-old child who found my mother in the hallway outside of her bedroom and picked her up in his arms.  Kids who are told about all the things they aren’t old enough to do saved the life of the most precious and beloved woman we know.  Courageous young men.  Young men who risked their own lives, their own safety, perhaps their good standing with their parents who might have chosen for them to do otherwise, and they carried my mother out of her burning home into the street, where firetrucks and ambulances would soon arrive.

Dylan Wick – 16 years old, Nick Byrd – 14 years old, Seth Byrd – 16 years old, and Wyatt Hall – 17 years old, thank you!  Thank you for your selfless acts of heroism and courage.  Thank you for not allowing this to be the tragic end to our mother’s amazing life.  Thank you for staying with her, hugging her, and helping her feel less alone until we could get to her.  Thank you for being the kind of young men who thought about another person above yourselves.  Thank you for staying safe yourselves as well.  Thank you to your parents who obviously raised you in such a way that lead to you making life saving and heroic decisions on behalf of someone else.  Thank you for more than we know how to thank you for!  We will forever be indebted to the time you bought for us and the example you set for us.  God Bless each of you for being such a blessing to us.

Sincerely,

Michael Ritchie, Karen Ritchie Sontag, Pat Ritchie, Jimmy Ritchie, Kelly Ritchie, John Ritchie, Tim Ritchie, Tom Ritchie, Missy Ritchie Nicholas, Ryan Ritchie, and 42 very grateful grandchildren.

I Tried To Be An Extrovert

 

As the ninth of ten children, I watched my older siblings leave home every two years for college and return with more friends, memories, stories, and life than they seemed to have left home with.  It was as though college, or leaving home, was this collection of essential relational building blocks and memory making that seemed to lead to greater things.  I saw them collect identities, friendships, lessons, and futures with smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their hearts.  Unknowingly, I took notes in my mind about what success in life and relationships looked like according to what I saw in them.  Granted, I was a child. But to me, it looked like fun and laughter, it was so incredibly appealing.  It looked like energy and parties and presence in abundance.  It looked like everything a person could ever want to collect and I found myself wanting what they seemed to have.

So upon graduation from high school, I set aside the identity I had always felt safe in.  I stopped hiding behind a soccer ball and a camera; I was determined to become a person people called when they wanted to have fun.  I literally set out to be the life of the party.  Late nights, loud interactions, drinking, and constant efforts to love and be loved became the stuff inside my schedule.  It was a not so masterful performance fueled by insecurities and a desire to belong.  A performance I could maintain for a handful of hours before returning home and crying myself to sleep in exhaustion, emptiness, and loneliness.  I would spend countless hours and nights surrounded by people who I genuinely loved and enjoyed but who I did not necessarily feel connected with or to.  I’ve learned that in those years my real self was being ignored, was unknown, dishonored, and without a platform to even exist because I was feverishly attempting to live a life that was completely incongruent with who I was created to be.  I was diligently providing a space for the self I thought I was supposed to be, the self I had seen others be, the self I thought would lead to connection, happiness, success, relationships, and eventually God.  Ironically, I learned that being close to the creator was almost impossible when you actively deny what He has created inside of you.  Which is why my love for Him, for others, and for myself was so trivial, shallow, and manufactured at that time in my life.

When I began to both realize and embrace that I was not created to be the extrovert I was trying so hard to be, God’s truth began to take root in me for who He uniquely did create me to be.  I began to see more of Him when I learned how to embrace His creation inside of me.  I am a person who loves solitude, deep connection with a few people, faith, and the introverted activities of writing, art, and photography.  Allowing myself to consider that these traits were not wrong, bad, or lesser than was a somewhat long and painful process of honoring God and facing my own pride and judgments regarding what were desirable qualities in human beings.  I had to let go of the need to be loved by others so that I could understand I was already loved by the God who made me.

The truth is, I am really not that comfortable in settings traditionally known as “fun.”  I can carry my own because I was born into a crowd, but it is not my preferred venue of living.  I’m not the life of any party that I know of, unless you meet another introvert who considers deep emotionally connecting conversation a place where streamers can be hung and confetti can be thrown.  I am, however, comfortable in people’s pain.  I can sit in the muck and mire of grief, confusion, hurt, anger, depression, doubt, and hopelessness and God comes alive in me in those places like He never could have with my extroverted false self.  I limited Him.  I denied who He was in me by trying to be somebody I am not.  He, when I live authentically, allows truth to be felt and heard when lies are being believed.  He increases hope with His presence when I am willing to just be present with others in their pain.  He reveals Himself to me when I take the time for solitude and silence.  Our creator continues to create anew when we surrender to His original and intended design.  When we deny how He created us and others, we make it impossible for new and beautiful things in us, around us, and through us to be made or remade.

Loving our God is to love all that He created.  Embracing and loving ourselves is to embrace the one who made us.  Embracing others is our opportunity to love Him more fully, as well as to extend His immense affections to another human soul.  Our ability to do this, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is in direct proportion to how much I allow my God to wrap His arms around me and convince me that all He created within me is absolutely lovable.  If I am able to do this, then I have what I need to turn and wrap my arms around someone else so that He can convince them as well.

 

The Holy Ground Of Friendship

I was, at most, a casual bystander when I began to witness one of the most beautiful displays of friendship I have ever seen.  Greeta and Jami had been friends since childhood and now both were pregnant with boys, due on the same day.  Conversations assured the strengthening of their own bond as they planned to raise their sons together, as friends.  I had not known either of them long and did not know either of them well; I was merely a witness of what was about to unfold.  I met Greeta after she found out that she would, in fact, not be allowed to raise her son because of the terminal prognosis her doctors gave.  He would only live for hours, if he lived at all.  Her resolve was quick and ran amazingly deep; she would love him for as long as she was given.  It turns out that was only 8 hours after his birth.  Jami's pregnancy, on the other hand, would result in the birth of a beautiful and healthy baby boy.  A drastic difference in the plans the two had been discussing, a shattering of all those fantastic fantasies of fun.  A complete and total disruption of the idealic scenario they had created and longed for.  Instead of walking the same path for years as they raised their children together, it seemed that a crossroads was forcing them to go different directions.  Jami was getting well-organized for all of the normal things that come with bringing home a new baby, something that Greeta might certainly be envious of or understandably resentful about.  Conversely, Greeta was bulldozed over with loss and was preparing for a long road of grief, something that Jami had no familiarity with and likely would want to avoid, as many might counsel her to do.     
 
In my experience, this is where most friendships fall apart.  Not because of a lack of love; these two loved each other deeply.  Many relationships end when there is still significant affection left to be given and shared. Relationships like this unfortunately end because we are not skilled at being in someone else's reality when it is different from our own.  They end because we don't access grace and we are not intentional when things are difficult.  The majority of us prefer swimming in the warm waters of comfortable emotions and similar circumstance in order to keep our friendships intact.  The difference between what Greeta and Jami had planned and what had in reality occurred seemed too drastic to put into words.  Impossible, it would seem, to move through it together while remaining present in each others lives.  It's often easier to allow these kind of differences to create distance and let the relationship fade into a memory with nobody to blame other than life's tragic turns.  It wouldn't have been the first relationship lost at the crossroads of "I don't know what to say," and "I don't know what to do."  Nobody would have blamed either of them, I'm sure.  And yet, what I witnessed between these two friends has forever changed my heart and life regarding love in the differences.  They figured it out so beautifully that I needed to try and put words to it.  
 
Imagine a new mom stepping out of her elation and euphoria after childbirth just enough to go sit with her friend in massive and overwhelming grief because she just lost what you got to bring home.  Jami chose to be present with Greeta in a way that honored her grief.  She could have stayed home in the joy of her new nursery, holding her baby and relishing the gift of health knowing we are not promised such.  Instead, she showed up for her friend in ways that nobody else could have.  She showed up with a knowing of how things were supposed to have been, because she was living the reality of how things were supposed to have been.  Without knowing what to do or what to say, Jami beautifully bridged the gap between gratitude and grief simply but profoundly by just being there.  Present.  With her friend.  Later, she was brave enough through streams of tears to ask Greeta to be the primary care-giver for her son when it was time for her to return to work.  An uncertain, delicate, and potentially damaging conversation that she was willing to have in order to invite her friend to share in the blessing of life.  Most people avoid these difficult emotional conversations, especially when outcomes are uncertain, yet Jami took a risk and said the words.  A verbal willingness to wade through the muck and the mire of pain, discomfort, and uncertainty in order to find the solid ground of friendship instead of allowing it to get lost in the unspoken and the assumed. 
 
Imagine with me if you will a grieving mom who has just experienced the birth and death of her own son and yet cradles, asks for, and loves her friend's baby within days of her own loss.  Greeta likely didn't have a lot of words, a lot of energy, or a lot of gratitude but she was present with Jami in her joy, genuinely grateful for what her friend was experiencing though it was the very thing that was so tragically taken from her.  While I imagine resentment and bitterness were vying for a place in her thoughts, she was able to welcome into her home, her life, and her heart a healthy baby boy that was not her own.  She embraced the reality that Jami was given what she was denied with such genuine love that it created a pathway between their hearts.  She allowed herself to sit in the beauty and joy of new life with her friend when death and grief were still her companions.  Present.  With her friend.  She somehow managed to keep resentment and bitterness away so that she too could bridge the gap and allow their friendship to grow and to continue.  She not only became the primary care-giver when Jami returned to work, but she loved that baby in ways that only she was able.  She loved that baby through her grief, despite her grief, and because of her grief. A love so rooted in grace that it formed an amazing bond between these two families.  
 
I was not a witness to the details, the conversations, or the silences during the years this journey has taken.  I did not see the tears or hear the words, but I have been just close enough to understand that between these two freinds exists holy ground. A space between them where there is honor for both realities, protection of both hearts, and each holds the other in the highest emotional regard in a space of absolute affection. Holy and sacred, yet tangible. There is an intentionality of love between them that is compelling.  There is a respect and an inclusion that is beautiful.  There is a holy grace that allows both women to exist so beautifully and so fully that neither had to give up what they were experiencing to maintain the friendship they both desired.  Holy ground.  Holy, because they created something beautiful from that which is so often destructive.  Holy, because they chose presence in the midst of pain.  Holy, because they saw past themselves just enough to embrace and honor one another.  Holy, because moving between them is a love that can only be seen as the hand and the heart of God.  And I have been honored to be a witness to it.  
 

Hey Christians – If It’s Easy, It’s Not Love!

 

 

There is a love that reaches into the mire of my life and the messiness of my heart, and it rescues me.  It is a love that comes from a savior who is the basis of a redemptive story that has left me forever changed.  A savior that did not allow my pain, my sin, my mistakes, or my pride to keep me from His love.  He stepped into those things with me, and took them on himself so that I could experience His presence.  His is a love that was willing to get messy to rescue me.  Not just once, but daily.  A love that doesn't require me to change in order to receive it, but invites me to change because I am blessed enough to already have it. 

I have also been given that kind of love by a few people who have been willing to step into the arena of my ugliness, my sin, my struggles, and my brokenness and love me in spite of those things that make me rather unlovable.  If we are Christ followers, those are the marching orders we have been given.  Love.  No qualifiers. No measuring sticks of who deserves it and who doesn't.  No inquiry about whether or not I feel like it or agree.  Love.   No limit.  No end.  No excuses.  Love, like Jesus did.  That's our directive.  (1 John 3:11, John 13:34, Leviticus 19:18, 1 Peter 4:8, Romans 13:8, 1 John 3:18, 1 John 4: 12-13, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Ephesians 4:2-3, 1 Peter 3:8-9.) 

I have been disappointed through the years to see what happens to this love when fellow followers of Jesus disappoint us.  When people who we believe know better, should do better, we are quick to limit our love, our grace, and our acceptance.  When those preaching from the pulpit aren't living it on the pavement, we frequently do the opposite of what we have been asked to do.  Yet, what we've been asked to do is the very thing that will set us apart.  "They will know us, by our love." John 13:35  Too often, what I have seen us do is leave our own wounded on the side of the road in the name of self-righteous religion.  We do not extend love well to our fellow pew sitter when we believe they have disrespected the pew they sit in.  Judgment jumps in where justice and mercy are supposed to reside.  Gossip quickly replaces grace as if grace was never an acquaintance of ours to begin with.  We wrap ourselves in the guessing of someone else's pain, sin, crime, and difficulty by asking other stunned believers "What in the world happened?"  Pettiness leaves no room for actual prayer and we get side tracked by the mess in the arena instead of rescuing the warrior who needs to be reminded that they are loved, in spite of the mess that surrounds them.      

"What in the world happened?",  is a great question, a natural question, and even a healing question when it is asked from the right heart to the right person.  If you loved them, spoke to them, did life with them before you received the news about their falling, their failing, their mistake, their crime, their loss, etc… then you have an opportunity to be Jesus directly to them.  When you have the rapport to step into the arena of someone else's tragedy and approach them with an open heart and say "What in the world happened?", while you embrace them with love, you are an agent of Jesus'.  That's what He did for you.  You just facilitated a process necessary for that person to return to the redemptive arms of a grace filled savior.  You just provided them an opportunity to shed light on their own shame so they don't have to drown in it's darkness.  You just did what we have been called to do!  If you did not have this kind of rapport in the person's life before the tragedy, then now is not the time to obtain it and "what in the world happened?" is not your question to ask them.  Keep in mind that asking others "what in the world happened?" will only be helpful if you do so with a prayerful heart and a grace-filled intention to help.    

Have you reached out to the one who was in your Bible study who just got a DUI conviction?  You know that person in your church community who was in treatement for depression and tried to take their own life, have you asked them what it's like to have those kind of thoughts?  Have you sent any type of support to your friend whose mug shot was on the evening news?  Have you prayed for or spoken to the pastor who had an affair?  Or for the woman in the church he had it with?  Have you lovingly encouraged the youth worker who is neglecting his own family?  Have you had a heart to heart with the put together mom who works childcare at church and allegedly embezzled money from her employer?  Have you considered ways you can be supportive to any and all of the children who might be caught in the crossfire of these situations?  Have you put your arms around your friend who just can't tell their spouse that they cheated?  Or are you, like many of us, lost in the audacity of the information, the details, and the scandel and unable to remember that you too have needed redemption from audacities as well?

Never once when I return to the loving arms of my Jesus after poorly representing Him have I felt that He is condoning my selfish, sinfilled choices by loving me.  I am clear that He is possibly repulsed and certainly saddened when I miss the mark.  Not once when I have had a Christ follower crawl into the mire with me did I believe they were okay with what I had done/said/been.  When we extend that same love and grace to our fellow believers, they know we are not condoning what they have done.  Chances are good they know exactly how most of us feel; we've gotten good at that message.  What they might not know is that we are willing to take our marching orders from a Holy God seriously and step into the arena and love them as we have been loved.  

 

  "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13:35

New Years Goals? Just Say “No!”

new-years-resolutionsIt is goal setting season! The New Year comes with clean slates, fresh starts, and a desire to change things that no other single global event does. I'm a fan! Always have been. I've learned that one of the biggest secrets to saying "Yes" to a goal is learning how to say a wholehearted "No!" We cannot say a successful "Yes" to our goals while also saying "Yes" to the distractions that keep us from them.  A "No" must exist in our hearts and on our lips if a "Yes" will ever be realized in our lives!  And these "No's" are not easy ones, which is why most New Years goals have long since been forgotten by February.  
 
Want to say "Yes" to getting out of debt?  Then you better be well versed in frequently and consistently saying "No" to yourself, your spouse, your friends, and your kids.  And those "No's" will be said to some things that you really want or even think you need. But if you are serious about the "Yes's", then the "No's" have to be equally as determined.  
 
Have you been trying to gain more margin in your schedule so you are less hurried, less stressed, and less stretched in 100 different directions?  Are you wanting to say a wholehearted "Yes" to things like peace, rest, extra time, breathing deeper, not being rushed, or having time to yourself? Then be ready to fire an arsenal of "No's" at some good things you would also like to be doing and experiencing.  Be ready to forgo that fun thing, that last minute thing, that don't have time but want to make time thing.  And be ready to say "No" to some well meaning people who are certainly going to "need" you to do some things for them, for the church, for the school, or for the family. Difficult "No's" lead to very rewarding and achieved "Yes's!"  
 
Working to lose weight, stop smoking, eat healthier, or stop drinking so you can say "Yes" to better health?  I recommend a hearty ability to say "No" in several different languages and very early in the timeline to achieve these goals. Not going to the restaurant at all makes it easier to say "No" to the temptations that exist on the menu, as well as the portions delivered. Not purchasing the next pack of cigarettes makes it impossible to smoke them. Common sense? Perhaps! But frequent and early "No's" make for really good exercising of the "No" muscle, so achieving those "Yes" results is that much more likely.  
 
Are you wanting to prioritize a relationship or two? Maybe spend more time with family or friends? Or strengthen your marriage? There will be any number of things that will compete with your time and rob you of these better more fulfilling relationships. Learning to recognize those distractions and say "No" to them is the key to deeper and better relationships. Some of those distractions will even be important events, occasions, or people. Saying "No" to important things so you can experience more important things is the gift that exists on the other side of a well said, "No."
 
I encourage you to say "Yes" to a few goals this year, but choose those goals wisely by asking yourself,"What am I willing and ready to say a wholehearted 'No' to?"       

Let Me Be Real

Nativity Scene

We see you on tables and on lawns in the cold,
     in colors of red, blue, green and gold. 
Mary's babe in swaddling cape, 
     quiet wonder on her face. 
Mary, you look so serene, 
     far to pretty, much to clean.  
We might think we know you well,
     but if we listened what stories would you tell?  
Of the dirt, the dust, the fear and shame,
     the questions and every burning labor pain.
How many friends did you lose from your life? 
     oh, the grief when he no longer wanted you as his wife!  
 
As we turn to walk away,
     if we listen we can hear you say…
"I am real.  Don't turn me into a story, a legend or a myth.  
     Let me be real and I'll show you how to love like this. 
To love in spite of being afraid,
     to love not considering the price you must pay.  
To love when it might not be what you feel.  
     If you dare —- Let me be real!"
 
Looking back at that manger, shepherds bending to the ground,
     no royal entrance to be found.  
Joseph, you look so strong, so brave and true. 
     but do we really know what it was like to be you?
How many sleepless nights found you desperate and afraid?  
     How you must have grieved the plans that you had made. 
How many questions did your mind, your heart ask?
     How many times did you doubt you were up for this task?
 
As we turn to walk away,
     If we listen we can hear you say….
"I am real.  Don't turn me into a legend, story or a myth. 
     Let me be real and I'll show you how to love like this.
To love in a way that doesn't have to understand. 
     To love in a way that helps another person stand.  
To love even in spite of potential shame.  
     To love when you might rather find someone to blame."
 
And the manger draws our attention again,
    Where lays that baby filled with our sin.  
Oh Jesus, so tiny, we cannot fathom the road you will walk.  
     The king of kings flogged, spit upon and mocked.  
Grace to give and yet denied.  
     Came for love but crucified.  
Laying in a cradle filled with straw.
     Born to die.  For one.  For all.  
 
As we turn to walk away,
     If we listen we can hear you say…
"I am real.  Don't turn me into a story, a legend, or a myth.  
     Let me be real and I'll show you how to love like this.  
 To love like you are unaware that life comes with so much pain, 
     To love not for self but for another's gain.  
To love in a way that makes a difference for mankind.  
     To feed and clothe the poor and give sight to the blind."
 
If you see us as a myth or seasonal decor, 
     our lives are meaningless and our love is no more.  
But if you believe and allow us to be real, 
     our Creator still lives and our love can still heal.  
So live unaware December comes with such hurry and hustle, 
     celebrate Christmas without headache and bustle.  
Because a baby came not in art, story or play.  
     But as a savior for every minute, in every hour, every day.  
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Choice I Am Certain Of In This Election

election-2016

These candidates will be on the Presidential ballot for the United States 2016 election.
Hillary Clinton (D) 
Donald Trump (R)
Gary Johnson (L) 
Jill Stein (G) – on the ballot in 40+ states
 
Presidential candidates who have made more than 15 percent of general election ballots:
Darrell Lane Castle (Constitution Party)
Rocky De La Fuenta (Reform Party)
Evan McMullin (Independent)
Gloria Estel La Riva (Party for Socialism and Liberation) 
 

I've voted for every party there is to vote for, depending on the reason I'm going to the poll. I've been a registered Independent for more than two decades; mostly because I recognized long ago that the two primary parties in our country compete against each other more than they work for the American people. I have never considered voting solely to win. I vote to speak. My vote is my voice. Contrary to what others are saying in this election, win or lose – my voice matters. Your voice matters. My vote in this election however, won't be able to say everything I'd like to say. 

If competition is encouraged for healthy commerce in our country, it should also be encouraged for a healthy democracy. If multiple choices make our industries sharper, more innovative, more attentive, and more responsible, then so it should be with our government. The two party system, which seems more committed to their platforms than to their people, could use a good healthy threat of competition so that we change the way we are doing things. With several of our last administrations, the Commander in Chief has been, for all practical purposes, ineffective because it appears to me that our Congress and/or our Senate are busy fighting political agendas, lobby agendas, or for their own job security, NOT for the American people. They do one of two things – they fight for what they want or they fight against what the other side wants. They show little willingness to work as "our team" and seem to give exactly ZERO consideration to how any of it will affect the people who put them in office, pay their salaries, and are most effected by their decisions.  

Have you been told this election NOT to vote your conscience? Well for some of us, that's like asking us not to breathe. I want my vote to say that my conscience matters. That although there is no ideal candidate, there is reason to follow your own moral compass, ethical beliefs, and general code of human conduct and decency when you cast your name in support of somebody else. Obviously we do not have a line item veto on any person we befriend, marry, or vote for.  But like many of you, I want more choices. I want better choices than what seems to be in front of us this election. I've heard one too many times, "I don't like him but at least he's not her." or "I can't stand him so I guess I'll vote for her." You've heard it too, I'm sure. Lesser of two evils, blah, blah, blah, … 

I want out of the tornado of insults this two party political environment has created.  I want to see our leaders discuss issues in a manner worthy of adult conversation and debate protocol instead of political rhetoric and mudslinging like junior high kids on the playground or scorned lovers in divorce court. Wouldn't it be nice if we allowed Independent candidates, Green party candidates, Reform party candidates, Constitution party candidates, and Libertarian candidates to participate in the debates, if for no other reason than to concentrate on the issues, the state of our country and the plans that different people and platforms have to move forward? Big money, bad media, and elite politics have decided that bickering about audio tapes and e-mails is a better way to run our country and it's election than allowing actual people with actual ideas to enter into the discussions and get enough air time for us to actually get to know anybody else.  And so we've only allowed two people on the playground to bully each other and lie to the bitter end, just to see who can bully and lie best. Meanwhile, my country is at stake!

This is NOT the best we can do America. I want to hear from everybody. I don't care about big money, political elite opinions or what is best for just me. I care about ALL of us. I want more options. I don't always get what I want so I must come to terms with the reality that these are the options we have. As a therapist, I speak frequently to people about choices. When you don't like any of your choices it makes you feel as though you have no choice. Yet I have been taught and continue to re-teach that we ALWAYS have a choice. ALWAYS. So I will choose in November even if it is a half-hearted choice at best. I will mark my ballot while simultaneously wondering if it is the right choice. Then I will choose to trust. Not our government, our President, our systems or even my fellow voters. I will trust in a God who continues to love, provide, protect, and grow me when I'm not even certain of my own choices.  And it is the choice to trust Him that brings me great certainty.