Two in the Shadows

The summer is waning. The light is different now on sunny days here in Southeastern Wisconsin Wisconsin. It has the feel of September, even if it’s still August.  The air has been cool and crisp. Absolutely lovely.

After dinner,, Tom and I  have gotten in the pattern this summer of taking walks. Our youngest, Emily, rides ahead on her scooter or bike, and we talk a bit while we stroll the neighborhood. The walks aren’t always long.   We have a short route and a longer route we take when so inclined.

I see us in our lengthening shadows, the two of us. I like holding Tom’s hand.  It’s a feeling of being safe and loved.  I tell Tom what’s going on in my world, and he tells me what’s on his mind. I save up small tidbits from the day to tell him about when he gets home. Nothing usually big, but something I know he’ll appreciate.  We don’t usually talk about anything political. Things are so vile in our country that it pollutes our time together to even discuss it.

Our home has a small porch.   We’ve made good use of it since moving here. It’s big enough for a couple of chairs, and we sit and watch the world go by after our walks.  The scene is peaceful. We don’t always need to chat. Companionable silence is a beautiful thing where we can hear the wind chimes in the Magnolia tree and watch the birds.

Soon the leaves will be turning colors, and the air will have a nip in it. I will miss our times on the porch. We recently replaced our love seat at home with a new one. It is exceedingly comfortable. When evenings “draw in” as they used to say, we will sit there for our chats with a log on the fire. The weather changes, but the need to reconnect  at the end of the day does not.

I can’t stand TV or even DVD movies. Tom and I have never been able to connect over that. My hearing troubles long ago shut down that kind of thing, even with good hearing aids.  Articulation gets lost. One thing this does is give us time to just talk and be together without the intrusion of media.  No distraction.

I know that marriage counselors have various strategies for couples  who have relationship troubles.   Many lose that feeling of connectedness with the various pressures exerted on families today, and they don’t even realize it is happening. Tom and I have raised (almost) six children together, and have been through many a difficult season in our lives Some years, it  has felt like it was raining crises. But one thing I highly recommend is just sitting and talking. Listening and being listened to in kindness.  Our loved ones all face battles, external and internal. Every one of us does. A lot of therapists would be put out of business if couples could learn the value of talking and listening, without judgment or impatience. It has a healing effect like  no other.

The country and world increasingly look like a violent insane asylum. Whatever comes, I know that those evening walks with Tom will always be embedded in my heart. Feeling his warm hand holding mine, seeing our shadows together, watching our little girl, her legs growing longer all the time, riding ahead on her scooter.

These times can’t be recovered. We pass this way, we spend each day only once. Every hour is precious.  Every walk.

 

 

 

 

 

Come Back, Please

Following up on last week’s post, Shepherds False and True, I want to focus on one aspect of that piece. I want to talk about love that pursues.

In my previous post, I referenced the passage of Scripture that describes the man with one hundred sheep, the one who left the 99 to go after the one that was missing. This story ended in rejoicing that after a search, the sheep had been found. The man loved the sheep enough to go after it. He pursued it.

For many of us, the thought of being pursued in love, and I’m not talking about some sick control thing, by any church when there is a problem is beyond comprehension. These institutions are so used to having traffic go both ways on a regular basis that one more family out the door means nothing.

If a family is struggling with something at the church, it is far easier, a relief even, for these leaders to just wave good-bye  than to actually face the issues at hand. Doing so might reveal deep problems, sin, real issues at the church, and “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Love that pursues.  Think of what these words below would mean when you are having to walk away in a seemingly unsolvable situation:

“Wait, would you come back? We value you. We love you and your family. You are important to us. Can we talk this over one more time? Please don’t leave yet.”

Think how healing these words, spoken in sincerity, would be! Think how beautiful to know that your presence, your family’s presence, matters. That all is not lost.

Imagine this scenario. A church has serious issues going on. Gossip is rampant, families are leaving in droves. Hearts are broken everywhere, as the environment deteriorates and families see no other choice but to drive away.

What if the pastor(s), rather than circling the wagons, meeting with lawyers, holding stern congregational meetings with threats about gossip and slander, stopped everything planned.

What if every meeting, every Bible class, every Sunday School class, every youth group event, every small group get-together, every single thing on the schedule came to a halt? And for as long as it took, they held prayer meetings inside the church sanctuary. Sackcloth and ashes time. A call to reconciliation and confession of pride and everything else. Pastors on their faces rather than lecturing against gossip. Imagine a congregation following the leadership’s model of humility and love.

What if apologies were sent out to pursue wronged and departed members, letters of contrition, letters of love and requested reconciliation to those families forced to leave by arrogance, pride and cold hearts at the top on down?

No slick “revivals”, no professional seminars, no programmatic anything. Just seeking the Jesus so often talked about, and yet so rarely present.

Would this change things? Yes, it would change everything if cold, unfeeling hearts were replaced by the Holy Spirit with new ones, tender and easily broken.  It would change things very quickly if callous indifference were replaced with love, the love that pursues and doesn’t give up.

Maybe this has happened in our time, somewhere in America. I have never heard of it if it has. I do know of countless Christians who have been forced to leave churches they once loved, churches where they hoped to raise their families. This is the terrible reality many know. Meanwhile, the church show must go on.

On a related note, there is general concern expressed in many places about the departure of Millennials from churches. I’ve read countless articles from various Christian news sources about how this demographic is walking away from evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

I’ve also read all the suggested fixes for this, ranging from the usual “cool church” makeovers of formerly staid and conservative congregations to denying cardinal doctrine.  It’s all a howling joke, people. It won’t work.

Some young people will leave church, because the message of the Gospel is offensive and they prefer the world. But who is to answer for the many others  who have walked away, because they have never, ever seen any reality of Jesus in the professing Christians in the churches where they were raised, and theyhave ceased to believe Jesus even exists? Who will give an account for the church politics (I could tell so many stories about that one), the obsession with image over reality, the false fronts, the play acting, the egos, the fraud and the total absence of power in the lives of the “believers” they knew from earliest childhood? Absence of power? What power? The power of forgiveness and reconciliation from Jesus Christ as seen in relationships! The power that can cause a hard heart to grow soft — a miracle only God can achieve. The power that causes change, not just empty talk.

This is what young people need to see. It’s what all of us need to see, more than ever in these times when the “love of many has grown cold.” It’s what we need to show in our own lives.

We may have nobody who pursues us in love, especially from any institution calling itself church. But we must be the church and pursue others in love when there are problems. Pride shuts the door and locks it on those with whom there is a problem. Churches like this are citadels of pride. We can all be citadels of pride. But where pride reigns, it ruins. It ruins people, and it ruins churches as a result.

“Please don’t go. You and your family matter to us. Come back, won’t you? Let’s talk this out. We love you.”

Those beautiful words, so rarely spoken in sincerity.  What wonders they could accomplish.

Shepherds False and True

A shepherd tended a flock of sheep on the hills  At night, they were herded into a sturdy sheep pen made of field stone. The pen was solid and protected them all from predators. The shepherd made perfunctory checks on the sheep each night and went through the motions of his job each day. No one could fault him  for not carrying out the basic tasks that he went through like clockwork. Every day, the same routines without fail. That was the job he got paid for.

At dawn one morning, an injured sheep showed up at the door of the pen, waking him with pitiful bleating. It was not his. He had no way to know where the sheep had come from. It was limping and blood was coming out of a wound.

The shepherd was annoyed.  He didn’t have time to deal with it. The animal looked like it was dying anyway and probably would wander off shortly into the trees. What was the point? The shepherd left the sheep lying against the stone wall and herded the rest of the flock briskly out of the pen to the water and grass on the hillsides. He realized he was already behind schedule.

Hours later when he got back to the pen with the sheep for the night, the injured sheep was still there, barely. The animal weakly lifted its head.  Its eyes implored the shepherd to help.

In disgust, the shepherd turned away.  He’d have to get rid of that mess soon or the carcass would draw wolves and vultures, not to mention flies.

Some of the other sheep looked curiously at the sick one as they filed into their safe, clean pen for the night. A couple stopped with sheeply concern, but the shepherd impatiently flicked them with his rod to get moving.

The shepherd was tired and decided to leave the bloody sheep to die outside the wall of the pen. He would deal with it in the morning. He completely forgot about the animal and dozed off immediately.

In the morning, the injured sheep was gone. Surprised, the shepherd looked around. He hadn’t thought the sheep could move enough to get away.  There was a trail of blood behind that led to a grove of trees down the road. What relief. He hadn’t had to deal with the mess. The sun was rising in the eastern sky. It looked like a beautiful day ahead.

He was leaning against a leafy tree while his flock was grazing later that day when he spotted a dark cloud in the sky some distance away. It moved a bit closer, and he could see they were vultures. One by one they dropped down into a grove of trees. Probably the dead sheep, he thought. Good riddance. He looked with complacent eyes on the sheep from his fold, grazing on the hills. Time for a little nap, he thought, as the gentle breeze caressed his face.


Over the years of working in Christian radio, the various types of churches in America became evident. For many years, the seeker, church-growth, Peter Drucker-influenced model changed the landscape. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, years ago, developed associations that smaller churches could join to help them imitate the supposedly successful Willow Creek and Saddleback models. Seminars by satellite are still beamed all over the country, as bright-eyed young pastors dream about church greatness and big crowds. That’s one type of American church.

I also addressed the dying mainline churches, churches that long ago abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints and replaced it with a form of baptized anthropology. They exchanged the truth for a lie. The stench of embalming fluid fills these places.  That’s another kind of church.

But there is yet another type of church that I didn’t address much on the program. I should have. These churches have highly biblical doctrinal statements, maintain their commitment to orthodoxy and root out even the slightest growth of false teaching. They are known for not compromising. They outwardly have  a look of health. Their parking lots are full on Sunday with committed parishioners. But there is a problem, and that problem flows from shepherds on down.

If I had to characterize the issue with this kind of problem church, I could do so easily.  No love. The shepherds of these churches can be seen above in the small illustration. They are utterly committed to their churches in the sense that no church service, program, no church sponsored event will be neglected or done in a half-baked fashion. The sheep are herded in, and herded out, like clockwork. The floors are polished. These pastors and churches are not given to change, ridiculous fads or innovation. They are always on time.

But there is a problem. Shepherds in these churches can be so committed to the sustaining of a schedule, to programs, to upcoming this and upcoming that, they can miss the trail of blood in their foyers where “sheep”, deeply wounded and desperately asking for help, have come in and gone out, without it.

Complacent eyes take on a type of blindness. It’s not that they can’t see anything. It’s that they cannot see those who matter most.  These “shepherds” cannot see the hemorrhaging sheep in front of them, asking for help, as their responsibility before God who is the owner of the flock.

They see programs, conferences, schedules, administrative things, opportunities, but the desperation in the face of a hurting person who does not fit the plan? No. That disrupts order. That requires something beyond what they are willing to give.  They have places to go and things to do.

Contrast this with the picture of the caring shepherd that our LORD gives in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

I have heard from so many through the years whose experiences are not primarily in circus churches with three rings and a trapeze in their ceilings, or mainline spiritual mortuaries. They are limping away, terribly wounded, from the third type of church—the ones that value doctrinal correctness and will not tolerate compromise, but they lack the one needful thing – the thing that is supposed to set them apart in the eyes of the world, the thing that heals and gives life to those who need extra care, because they have suffered terrible injuries. What’s missing is real love.

Shepherds in these places not only won’t leave the fold and  to locate a wandering “sheep”, they can’t be bothered with the bleeding “sheep”  right in front of them. The bleeding and wounded bring nothing but work. Their care is tedious. These sheep don’t nicely fit into a program, an activity, an orderly slot. So the shepherd looks away, progressively blind and deaf to the terrible need in front of him. Not only does he not care for them, he will not so much as call on an assistant to do so.

These shepherds may not even notice the dark cloud of vultures off in the distance, descending on the spiritual carcasses of  the sheep that slowly walked away.  They are busy with an itinerary their secretaries just ran off on the printer. Another opportunity awaits. There is no time for the wounded. No time.

My heart goes out to every single one who has come to what they thought was help, only to be ignored, neglected and passed by. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures show that this model of “shepherd” is false in every respect.

Jesus Christ is the GOOD Shepherd. Again and again, we see the compassion and care of our Savior who heard the call of the blind, the beggar, the oppressed, the sick and the cripple. He touched the “untouchables” and healed them. The touch of love.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cried the man by the side of the road. Unwashed, alone and in darkness, Jesus was his only hope. People told him to shut up, but he only cried louder, hoping against all hope that Jesus would hear.

What did the Good Shepherd do when he heard this man? Listen to the urging of his handlers to move on, as he had a scheduled appointment for teaching in Galilee? Did He head to an august council of great theologians and scholars to discuss fine points of the Law?

Here is what happened.

“When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 18)

The Lord heard the cry first, and then he responded. That cry was heard and acted upon. This is the example of a true shepherd.

I am sorry if any reading this have been injured by false shepherds. False shepherds are far more than those teaching erroneous doctrine or self-help, feel good messages. Any shepherd who does not have compassion that acts in the face of pain and injury is false.

All we can do, and we all need reminding of this in these brutal times of coldness and callous disregard in churches, is look to the Good Shepherd above by faith—the One who never fails, who hears our cries in mercy, and who tends to our wounds in love.

The Good Shepherd shows his love to us by sending other concerned “sheep” in our direction, people, those who encourage and who walk with us on the rough terrain on the winding path to the Celestial City.  We can urge each other on and help untangle things when some get caught in the brambles and minister to those who are sick.

May the Good Shepherd tend to your heart today if you are hurting. The LORD Jesus Christ is His name. Call on Him, the One who always hears.

 

 

We Are Their World

I was very young when I first became a mother. Little Charlie in all his vulnerability wrapped his little fingers around my heart, and I have never looked back to what life would have been without him or any of my six children.

There are so many happy joyful memories of being a mother. So many times of laughter and fun. But the true bonds of mother and child are developed in the difficult times, the worrisome times, when you are awake in the night feeling a feverish little body, and that grip of fear on your heart reminds you of how dear that child is to you.

My second son had severe asthma from six months onward. He was hospitalized over 30 times between six months and age 6, both in ER visits and usually for 2 to 3 day stays. He was allergic to almost everything environmentally, which made it especially difficult to get his wheezing under control. Every cold he had resulted in bronchospasms that would mean him having to be treated with IV steroids and various other drugs that were the latest in treatment to open his airways. He spent days on end on 7 North and 7 South, the asthma wards at that time. We knew all the nurses, and we watched the seasons change there.

There are so many memories of holding him hooked up to the various monitors, worrying and praying for him, trying to keep his time there positive and happy.  He still remembers me bringing the red and white striped bags from the gift shop with a small surprise for him each time. It was a tradition for us. He remembers the bins of toys I’d bring in from the play room and getting to watch children’s TV, something he usually didn’t get to do at home.

Sam is a husband and father of three children himself now. Nearly 30 years old. But he told me that he has no negative memories from those hospitalizations, despite the papoose boards used to restrain him for IV’s, the endless breathing treatments, and horrible tasting medicines and misery. To me, that said so much about children and mothering. He remembers the love and care, and me nearby, always nearby trying to sleep on the small couch, because I couldn’t leave him alone at night in case he felt scared and needed me.

I had to leave the hospital once for several hours to go home and take care of some things. I was gone longer than intended, and getting off the elevator that evening, I saw a nurse pulling Sammy in a small wagon down the hall. His look was one of utter dejection. He was slumped in the wagon, looking sad. As the wagon approached the nurses station, he looked up to see me. I’ll never forget the look of sheer joy in his eyes. His arms flew up for me to hug him. Mom was back. His world was OK again.

I remember that all these years later, because it showed me how important moms are to their children. We are their world. Our choices and decisions have a direct impact on their well-being and happiness. It’s a sobering thing.

So many mothers struggle, and I understand that with all my heart. I was a single parent at the time with a world of burdens on my shoulders.  Those mothers who have no support and help or who are dealing with counter-parents rather than co-parents carry unbelievable loads.  Those who continue to love their children, day in and day out, and who try to give their children the best they can in spite of circumstances are true heroes. I think of these moms on Mother’s Day.

My adult son told me something recently that I’ll always carry with me. He said, “I always remember the feeling of being safe with you, Mom.” Isn’t that what we strive for? That , come what may, in this broken and often bleak world, our children have a safe refuge with us. No matter the housing, the financial situation, or any other negative in their lives, they are safe with Mom–a mother who believes them, protects them, cherishes them to the best of her ability.  Creating that safe zone is the work of all mothers. If our children remember that, we have done our jobs well.

What Haters Lose

I’ve been targeted  by a man for 31 years in May. He’s a relative with too much time on his hands and very little to do but follow my life, read this blog and send attack emails in hopes of causing injury and angry reaction. It used to be hurtful and confusing. It is now a source of humor and pity, simultaneously.

When we have real love, we have no need to hurt other people for sport. The sight of blood in the injury of someone else causes horror and concern, not pleasure, if you are a loving and normal person. That is one big “if.”

The goal of this kind of sad person is always pain. But they won’t say so. They will wrap their true goal in regal robes of religious pomposity or faux concern. These people have a barge full of personal garbage in their own lives, and worst of all, they think nobody knows it. But that doesn’t stop them from going full on pharisee about the lives of others. It’s chuckle worthy if you can see the humor in it. If not, shed a tear for them.

The beauty of the passage of time, lots of it, is that it brings things into focus in a way that makes you wonder why you didn’t see things as they were years before. Pathological antagonists are sad people. They are worthy of pity and prayer.

I think how different lives like this would be if they had lived in love. The very thing hate-filled people supposedly crave could be theirs–a lifetime of it. Because respect sown into the lives of others grows respect. Love and understanding grow love and understanding. You give and find out that what little you gave comes back to you in far greater amounts. It’s how God designed it.

Belittling someone’s pain, adding to it, mocking, judging, attacking, piling on in someone’s life at difficult moments, dear stalker, if you only saw yourself as God and others see you. If you only knew what you have thrown away on the altar of pride and malice. You could have had it all, untold riches of generational love and respect. True wealth.

When you are dead. When your lifeless form lies silent and cold at the funeral home awaiting burial or cremation, what do you want people to say about you? That you were one kick-rear business person? That you had a great house and pool or the best vacations money could buy? That you were a great communicator or blogger or athlete or leader who fought moral evil or (fill in the blank)?

This is what I want others to think about me when I’m gone. I want them to know that I loved people. That I grieved when things weren’t right with them. Maybe too much so. That people were important to me, even if I was not important to them. That I have a heart that was easily pricked and convicted. That I shut nobody out permanently. That I was always open to sincere reconciliation, even if nobody was interested in sincerely reconciling.  That I may have had differences, but that I didn’t hate anybody.

I have been married to a man for 22 years in June. His hallmark is humility and kindness. He has never deliberately and maliciously hurt anyone. He is moved with compassion so easily, it amazes me. He once got up in the wee hours to bring a bag of food to a former colleague who had fallen on hard times–someone who had called, because he was literally without food. The man passed away shortly after that. He KNEW who would care, because Tom never turns anyone away with real need. He doesn’t judge people. I’ve seen this times without number.

I am blessed beyond measure to not only witness Tom’s love, but that of his beautiful family. They are role models for love in action, decades of it. I owe these people my life in many ways. Love like this restores your hope and counteracts the poison of lies from those who live in hate. It contradicts the haters who tell you, you are hopelessly flawed. You are the problem. You are wrong. You are defective. You are not worthy of my love.

Love says, I’ll take you, flaws and all. I will bind up the hurt places. I will cover you with my kindness. I will keep you warm when you are cold. I will listen when you open your heart and I won’t dismiss or laugh at you, I will believe you. You are worthy of love.  I love you.

That kind of real love makes another human being come to life again. It does something else.  It causes a person  to want to  return that love with everything they have. The haters will never know love–love that gives life and laughter and joy. The haters spend their years wanting blood and pain from a victim, hacking away with all their might, only to find out in old age that the only one they were really  injuring was themselves.  It could have been so different and so beautiful if only they would have loved and without conditions.  Could have been.  The saddest words in the English language.

Yesterday, I caught the blue of the sky as background for our magnolia tree in full bloom. God’s glory shining through his creation.

Follow-up: Lonely in a (Church) Crowd Pt. 2

My post, Lonely in a (Church) Crowd, clearly  hit a nerve. There is no question that there is a problem with this issue in churches today. In this follow-up post, I wanted to address a few things based on messages and comments I have received.

My own experiences with this problem, as everyone’s experiences are, are made up of a unique history and set of circumstances.  I do bring to the subject matter, due to my age, more than a little experience. I have a lifetime of living this, including those experiences of my childhood in various churches, and also the added insights gained by talking with countless people through my 23 years in Christian radio.  I know that which I am addressing.

There are some things I am not saying in my comments about the subject. I received a message from a new church elder from a denomination I am personally familiar with. The message, in essence, put blame and responsibility on me, dismissed the importance of what I mentioned and then went a step farther to say that Tom and I should start a home church, so the imperfections of the average church wouldn’t make their way in. It was pure sarcasm, of course. Duly noted. (I would add that this man has no knowledge of my husband or me and our lives.)

So what wasn’t I saying in my first post? I wasn’t saying that churches must reach a state of perfection before they are good enough for me or others.  Hardly.  I do have a problem with a church where a pastor’s wife can walk up to tithing members of many years and ask them their names and  if they are visiting.   (True story from a family member.)  I do have a problem with churches where people shuffle in, week in and week out, nodding politely at people whose names they don’t even know, and that’s OK with them. For decades.

I do have a problem with pastors  (or elders) who can make trips for the sake of teaching those in other states or countries and yet seem unable to drive 2 minutes down the road to visit those with clear spiritual struggles, or just visit them at all.  There isn’t much glory in that kind of thing, visiting those who can’t do much for you. It is, however, where real ministry begins.

I have a problem with loveless places of worship and loveless faces, and women who can talk endlessly with their BFF’s, while all the stranger gets is the sight of their backs in the Narthex (lobby, or whatever you call it in your church.)

I also have a problem with elders like the one who wrote who dismiss, callously, the concerns of a Christian woman like me who writes of something that is a reality, a tragic reality, for many. What’s missing? Loving concern. It’s amazing how far that goes in staunching the bleeding in hearts, it’s amazing how that balm of kindness can heal wounds. Suggesting that it is a woman thing, with hysterical females sobbing into their hankies at not being liked, is exactly the spirit that drives many from the church entirely. And I have another bit of news:  The experiences I have written about are not just those of women, as evidenced by the comments on social media to this article and here at the blog. I spoke with someone last week who described the treatment her  husband receives from others in the church. They’ve been there for several years, but he’s quiet and humble. The kind nobody notices or bothers with.  No, it is not just women experiencing the problem in churches that are too busy with their church programs, activities, etc.  to notice their own right in front of them.

It’s a lack of love. That’s the real problem.  Not public relations or manipulation towards the end of membership growth, but love. That kind of love has to be placed in hearts by God, the one supposedly being worshiped in church each Sunday. If you can’t reflect that in the house of God of all places, something is terribly off.

Additionally, for those who recommend trying to find others in the same boat within a church, that’s one suggestion, and a good one. But realize that not everyone is equipped physically or emotionally or spiritually to continue to try in the face of ongoing failure to break in.  Some will just give up.

I always believed that “church” was supposed to mean more than an hour on Sunday morning, a brief crush in a crowded hallway and then the car. A family should mean more than that, or am I wrong? After the preaching of the Word, shouldn’t it mean relationships, shared burdens, shared rejoicing over things, a place to serve and a place to find help when you are in need?  If so, than why are so many not finding that?

Anyone can slide in and out of a pew or seat each week. Whether “church” in the fullest sense goes beyond that takes more than a lonely person wishing things were otherwise. I commend those with the tenacity to keep trying. Not everyone can do that. Do we care about those who can’t or even recognize them?

The elder who wrote to me insisted that “Word and Sacrament” were all that was needed. Stuff and mortify your hurt  and shut up. But Word and Sacrament are given in a context. When that context is unloving, uncaring, and it functions  like an assembly line in a factory, (here’s Communion, you’re good to go for another week) when Christ’s love for us is the whole point of the Sacred Meal, you create stumbling blocks spiritually. Rather than open hearts to God’s Word, you shut them down. The elder who wrote to me doesn’t have to like that fact, but it’s the truth.  And God help those in clerical clothes and professing Christian leaders who put stumbling blocks where there don’t have to be any.

A lack of love is the hallmark of our dark times. It’s no surprise that the church is this way as well, as it seems to take its clues from the culture, rather than from the Scriptures.  And yes, Orthodoxy is crucial, but putting that into practice in our lives is where ministry begins.

We can only try to run counter to that spirit in how we treat those we meet in a church and out of it, for those who have no church.  Program heavy institutions calling themselves “churches” can do what they want. The real ministry of the church – meaning the people –  is still one on one, person to person, in good times and bad. God seems to be using many of us outside the institutional church in various ways.  Small lights out there where there aren’t any. And it’s a shame that these things even have to be said. Consider it said.

Love Without Walls Is No Love at All

A protester this week held up a sign that said, “No walls for the Land of the Free.”  No walls. No barriers. Nothing. The false thinking expressed on that sign applies to far more than the current political scene.

Imagine a random person of unknown origin passes our home some night. There are no locks on the doors, no barriers, because my husband and I have decided we will just live in “love” to all those who are in need. No walls, no boundaries. No checking as to who these strangers are.

The individual, and then another, and another comes right in, and they help themselves to the food Tom has bought for our family. One assaults our daughter and me, the others take off with the things we own to be sold for cash.  Tom watches it all passively,  eyes filled with compassion and tears  for the strangers who have harmed us.  Life without walls, only love. Right? The whole scene should provoke moral outrage, not admiration. Because that’s not love.

Love that does not protect is not love at all. Love bounds in what is valuable and precious and ensures its safety. The locks on our doors are there to protect us. Tom protects us and keeps a watchful eye out for our well-being, because he  loves us, and he hates what is a threat to us.

Real love hates, yes, hates, what threatens the object of that love. It is prepared to erect walls around it to preserve and protect. People care about their valuables and entrust them to banks with vaults for a reason. They lock out what threatens the things they care about.

This is why nations and leaders that don’t protect the freedoms and safety they enjoy  by erecting strong boundaries are fools.  Any help they provide to those in genuine need should take place only when what is most important is protected.

Likewise, men and women who don’t protect their marriages and their children don’t show true love at all. Love erects a barrier so that harm does not come to what is precious. Borders are there to preserve and protect. Without them, nothing of value is safe.

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Where Love is Found

It’s not in Valentine’s Day bouquets and chocolates that true love can be seen and felt, as nice as those things are.

It’s in the dear voice in the hospital room when a scary diagnosis comes. “It’s OK. We’re in this together.”

Love is in the extended hug at the end of a long day when a tired husband comes in from the cold, having toiled so that wife and child can have what they need.

It’s found in the man who carries the laundry baskets up the stairs for a wife who struggles physically.

It’s in the clean laundry a husband finds in his drawer and the meals prepared, however simple.

Love is there in forgiveness when an apology comes from one or the other.

It is in the warm hand that covers a cold one when life’s tragedies seem overwhelming.

Love is in the eye contact where a smile is never far away.

It is in the ear of the listening spouse who may have heard the same story many times, but doesn’t say so, because he knows something lies underneath the telling of it.

Love lies in deep understanding of where a spouse is coming from, even when they are at their worst.

It is real love that patches up hurt places, that listens, that protects and defends. It’s real love that builds up the other, that looks through kindly eyes, that supports, that is loyal and steadfast.

This is what young adults, especially, need to know in this tragic, broken world of fakery and fraud in counterfeit love and marriage.

When you remove all the contemporary wedding frippery and glitter, all the Instagram filtered glam of the Big Day, you will have either a foretaste of hell or a glimpse of heaven.

It takes two who are committed, by God’s grace and with his help, to walk through life together with the goal of bringing a little heaven down, whether it be in a hospital room, a little cottage or a castle. It can still be done.

“And standing there…Jane knew that she had found the best. Marriage was not a thing of luxury and soft living, of flaming moments of wild emotion. It was a thing of hardness shared, of spirit meeting spirit of dream matching dream.” ~ The Dim Lantern by Temple Bailey

“…Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ Corinthians 13:!3

Caring Hand on Senior Hand

Savor Them Now

The photo below was posted at a Texas daycare. Parents were too busy on their phones to look into the faces of their dear children who had waited all day for the moment they would have a parent back. Imagine being that child, so proud of your handiwork, waiting to show Mama or Daddy what you’ve made, only to find that they don’t care enough to get off their phones. It brings me to tears.

If such a thing were possible, I wish I could have one day with each of my six children back when they were small. I can remember the feel of each their skin, the bath times, the bed time stories, the meal time fun we had, the times they were sick and I was worried, the hugs and tuck-in rituals, the kisses on their chubby faces. I love each of them more than words can say, and I always will.

Advice from older generations to the younger is not generally received well anymore. Young people don’t want to hear it. The terms “Grandma”and “Grandpa” are used as an insult online frequently to dismiss something an older person has to say. But here is what I would tell a young mom if I could. You have absolutely no idea the speed with which time flies. You hear it often, because it is true. That baby who wakes you up every two hours is a toddler by the end of their first year. Walking. Away from you. Do not resent your children’s impositions on your time. The echo of their small voices in your mind will soon be all you have, and regrets are terrible to live with.

I have to remind myself of these things every day. We have a young child, and some days, I think (as I once did when I was a young mom), I can’t wait until this child can do this herself. But what is different is that now I stop myself from that line of thinking. She will be eight years old this summer. EIGHT. How did that happen? The little girl times will come to an end so very soon that it chokes me up.

At night, I lie awake thinking of her asleep in her bed with the Hello Kitty sheets and her dolls and stuffed animals nearby, and a kind of panic hits me. Was there something else I should have done—should be doing with her? Have I enjoyed and savored this phase enough? She doesn’t know that some nights I get up to kiss her while she’s sleeping. Because she’s growing so fast, and like her siblings, she will be gone before we know it.

Moms (and Dads), whatever else you have to let go, don’t let it be loving and spending time with your little people (or kids whatever their age.) Emmy asked me to play with her the other day, and I was in the middle of something. I wish I had put it down. I promised to make some muffins with her the other day, and we never did. Muffin making is on the agenda after school today. She will be thrilled.

Don’t rush your children to the next developmental phase. Their “littleness” is precious, and they’ll get to the next milestone before you know it. Those soft little hands will soon stop reaching for yours, because they’ll be too big. Something to remember.

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Hello, Again

My husband is a professional trumpet player and for 21 years, he has called from intermissions at orchestra concerts, ballets and shows he’s playing at night to help support our family. I look at the clock and know right when the phone will go off and I’ll hear his voice.   “Hi, Ing…”