Tag: grace

There are two songs competing in my head:

Please, release me let me go

VS

I will not let you go

The first song is one I remember from, I think, one of those old K-Tell commercials advertising records (if you remember those). Those are the only words I know from the country song.

The other lyrics are from a song very familiar to me. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody seems to have garnered a popularity that extends far beyond it’s 70’s release. There are two voices singing in a tug-of-war. One pleading to be let go and the other defiantly proclaiming he will not let go.

It’s a familiar internal battle. Anger at the silliest of things, things I can’t change or control, mount in my head. Somewhere in the distant corners of my mind are soothing words saying “release and let it go“. Often those sage words can’t be heard over my pride until I’m nearly undone.

I get ridiculously peeved at the morning traffic. Or at the traffic lights! Frustration over internal bureaucracy seems more justified but, again, my ire will not change what is.

And so the duel goes, day after day until I can sit in calm and give rational thought to my actions.

Losing my cool over congested traffic is not useful nor helpful. I need to follow the words of the first song and practice releasing and letting go.

Things that seem unjust or without merit are harder. Letting go isn’t always the answer but neither is letting them get to me in ways that cause me to lash out in angry words. I need to find a way to use my voice in helpful ways to create beneficial change. Or at least contribute to the conversation.

I’m not a quiet kind of person. For some crazy reason, I think my opinion matters. The key is to release my words with grace. And then to let them go with equal amounts of grace. If I can do that, the anger and frustration will also be released. And that’s what I really want to let go.

Five-Minute Friday grace

Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash
“I believed in God but I never believed he believed in me.”
Richard shared those words in our Sunday chapel. It’s easier to share with others who are part of our Fellowship of the Broken. I’m sure they are feelings held by many in the room. Broken by addictions, grief, loss of direction and purpose these men are empty. They’ve left a wake of hurt and anger. Promises have been broken – again. Lies were the currency they dealt in.
Who would believe in them? Surely God is in line with others who’ve turned their back after being hurt one too many times.
The account of Jesus calling the disciples is simply amazing.
     “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:19-20 NIV
 
     “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9
 
Who does that?
Who drops what they were doing and follows someone they don’t know?
Was it really that simple? 
Didn’t their mama’s teach them not to go with strangers?
I want more background.
 
Why would Jesus call these seemingly random men? Why does he call us?
 
 
The first will be last and the last first.
He challenged the religious leaders and kept company with the sinners.
He broke Jewish law and went against culture on many occasions.
 
If there was ever someone to always choose the underdog it was Jesus. And just to be clear, we’re the underdogs He’s chosen.
 
It’s never about what we can do for Jesus but what he does for us. 
 
*Years of addiction have been turned to service in ordained ministry.
*A man who couldn’t carry a tune could beat the drum and welcome others to church.
*A retired insurance salesman with a smile as big as his voice learned all the names of the children in the church they attended a few months out of the year.
*The couple who don’t say much say it all in their actions of service.
*The thief on the cross.
*The woman caught in adultery.
*Me.
*You.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

faith grace

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

“If being ordained meant being set apart from them, then I did not want to be ordained anymore. I wanted to be human. I wanted to spit food and let snot run down my chin. I wanted to confess being as lost and found as anyone else without caring that my underwear showed through my wet clothes.”  

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

 

There are things most church folks keep hidden. We pretend our marriages are healthy, our children are making the right choices and that we have quiet time with God every day. We pretend to be part of the right political party for our denomination, to read the right books and know the right bands.

 

Growing up in the church I have pretended a lot. When my husband and I became ordained and entered full-time ministry I kept pretending. I didn’t talk with church members about the books I read, movies we went to or music I liked. When one talked about their favorite praise and worship band, I didn’t reveal that I don’t like the sameness of Christian music.

 

There’s nothing wrong the fiction books I read or the movies we see and music I listen to. But I was sure some members of our congregation wouldn’t approve so I kept the charade of piety.

 

My family is loud with stories and opinions but quiet about things that matter.

 

When my parents’ marriage was falling apart no one told us. At Christmas break they moved us to a new town, leaving the only life we’d known, not telling us why or what was next. They were experts at hiding what we needed most.

 

When you’re loud and talkative and laugh a lot, people can be easily fooled into thinking you’re an open book. Loudness is the best thing to hide behind.

The words of Barbara Brown Taylor stopped me cold. I read them again and then one more time. Although she was writing about leaving her calling as an Episcopal priest, I know those words because I live them too.

 

Even when you show parts of yourself, people think the title, pastor, minister, reverend, etc. takes away marital strife, depression, anxiety, or problems of any kind. Conversely, they think you are a biblical encyclopedia and have deep unwavering faith.

 

We decide a lot about a person based on their title or outward personality. Dr. gives an elevated status of education. Clerk marks them as ordinary. An introvert can seem awkward but behind the titles and outward signs are stories left untold.

 

Age is bringing an unwrapping for me. An acknowledgment of who I am without apologies. I don’t need to defend my reading choices or taste in music. Like Taylor, “I want to be human”. I want to be seen as the flawed, searching woman I am, clinging to God’s grace every day.

 

Perhaps more than an unwrapping it’s bringing an understanding and acceptance. I am Gods beloved. Every piece I think I’ve hidden is known to him and still, his love chases after me all the days of my life.

SaveSave

SaveSave

faith grace

There have been times this month that I wondered if I had one more story to tell. It was a fleeting thought because every day I look into the faces of Johnny, Blair, Chris, Matt, Jason, Jeff, David, Robert, the Steves, and Mikes, and Joe’s. There’s JoJo who never got one swing for the Mets, the team that drafted him before he injured his arm and eventually lost his teaching career at the grip of addiction.

Or Armstead who carried the label “black sheep” of his family. How did his alcoholism fit with his college grad siblings working their professional jobs? Today he holds a blue-collar job but his fleece has been made clean by God’s redemptive grace. He’s welcome at family reunions again.

Whether I look in our counseling wing, administrative office, warehouse, stores, kitchen, truck drivers, I will see faces of redemption.

The challenges some have overcome are nothing short of miraculous. How can one not see the hand of God when their lives have been touched by it?

There are the faces we see when they’re coming back to worship with us or as sponsors or to lead a group or chair a meeting. There’s Curtis, Alfredo, Jason, Jack, Joe and Richard and Dodd whose life wasn’t changed through our program but is no less a redemption story.

They are talented and brilliant. They are, as the old hymn says, once lost but now found.

 

But those aren’t the only stories of redemption. Most of our stories aren’t grand, they aren’t what miracles are made of except that God’s hand has made each of one of us a miracle.

There is a list of women’s names who are signs of God’s redemption. They haven’t come through the doors of our Center but their souls have been changed and their lives marked as God’s own.

Phylis and Joan, Betsy, Crystal, Ruth, Dawn, Beki, Janice, and Lisa….and more, so many more who share the light of Christ in a world stumbling in darkness. They are singing redemptions song. My life is touched by theirs and our awkward notes work to sing the song of hope.

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble[a]
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Psalm 107:1-3 ESV

We tell our stories to give thanks to our Redeemer. We tell them to speak light in a dark world. Because our redemption shows it’s available to everyone.

We tell them to speak light in a dark world. Because our redemption stories prove it’s available to everyone.

faith hope

 He sat quietly trying not to be seen but he had to come back. He had to try again to get this thing called recovery. He had a piece of it but it’s hard outside our walls.
It’s hard to work your job, go to school, attend recovery meetings and meet with your sponsor – the things that keep you sober. So you miss an AA meeting because your job has left you worn. One becomes five when no one is requiring a signed slip like when you were in the ARC. You don’t have a required group to attend where the tools of recovery will be reinforced. You aren’t surrounded by 99 other men, many supporting and pulling for you. You’re out there. On your own. And sometimes it’s too much.

“Welcome back”, I said as I saw him sitting in the chair outside the Intake office. He’s always been a soft-spoken man and this day perhaps softer as he said, “thanks for having me back.”

Really? As if we wouldn’t or as if we aren’t the ones grateful you chose to come back and regain order and sobriety and peace. Thank you! Thank YOU for knowing this is a safe place.
This story of redemption is one played on repeat. I confess my failures and sins one day and take them up again the next. I fall victim to gossip and pride because it’s hard out there when I stop following the program of following Jesus.

I’m scarcely different from these men who have couch surfed in crack houses or lost their business, their nursing license, their teaching positions, lost it all because of the disease of addiction.

The only difference is that my failures have been kept quiet. It’s like that for most of us. The envy, hate or whatever it is that haunts us makes us no different. Just more presentable. Not to God but to each other.

God stands before us with open arms saying ‘Welcome back’, again and again through his forgiveness and grace.

Thanks for having me back.

faith grace recovery

Some families are dancers with feet never touching the ground. They dance with words cutting wide circles around politics or problems. They smile and curtsy to others who are tripping on their own feet.

It’s okay. If you don’t say it it’s not happening. Just keep dancing to the song playing in your head, keep singing to the tune we’re playing.

***

It’s obvious he has a problem with alcohol but let’s never say it. Let’s not actually confront or intervene. They still have their job. They just don’t remember last weekend or the conversation with their son.

We might nod in agreement when someone uses the word relapse or raise our eyebrows as if in surprise. Really? I never noticed there was a problem.

***

You never smell the alcohol. You haven’t seen them touch a drink. She says she’s going through the change. Or maybe some kind of allergic reaction.

We can dance and twirl and sing and smile because as long as we’re playing this tune the song will never end.

There’s no dancing in recovery.

***

Our work is about naming the song. About learning new steps to new tunes that sing true words. Our work is about redemption. About reclaiming life.

We say you’re only as sick as your secrets. Ignoring the disease won’t bring healing.

You recognize the voices that are singing out of tune. We try to help them hear the pitch, to tune their ear to the words that are true. The counselors are vocal coaches really. We’ve all admitted we’re a bit tone deaf and we help one another find the pitch.

But there’s this tune the family has been singing for generations. The lyrics sing a happy song but the notes never seem to match. There’s always a clunker in the choir who’s offbeat and off key. The others try to fix it by singing louder hoping the volume will cover up their mistakes.

***

She’s trying, she really is. Him? His hearing has never been sharp. Sing louder and no one will notice. Maybe they can mouth the words and we’ll keep smiling. It’s our family song, after all.

***

A mama got tired of trying to sing the happy words. She came in with her 33-year old son who was fresh out of detox. Their voices carried pain and his seemed tinged with anger. There’d been a misunderstanding and the voices of both raised. A third part started bringing the crescendo down and then the rest for a breath. Everyone took a breath but the mama wasn’t letting hers out. She was afraid. The real song is terrifying. But it must be sung for healing to begin.

She hugged the counselor then grabbed me in her embrace while the tears couldn’t be contained. This song was a bit warbly. There were no words in this section, just the tender sound of tears.

***

I’m not sure what song their family has been singing. I’d guess it’s somewhat like the part in Bohemian Rhapsody where the two parts seem to be singing against each other.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
No, we will not let you go!
(Let him go) No, we will not let you go
will not let you go

Only there are three parts being sung. The mama pleading to the drugs “will you let him go” and the son hearing the familiar refrain of heroin’s song “No, we will not let you go”.

It’s always the song of desperation that brings people to us. These are the songs of aching desire and fear of failing, again.

They are akin to the songs of King David as he wrote in his despair. His sins had found him. They had been named. There was no more hiding, no more dancing. Psalm 51:3 VOICE

There are songs of truth to be learned. There is a new rhythm in which to choreograph our steps. We sill sing and march and claim recovery found in truth. It is the only true recovery.

We will dance to the redemption song.

faith family hope recovery

I don’t know Margaret’s story. I only know her critical spirit matched with a voice like a sharp-edged knife could make my shoulders scrunch with tension.

It was our first pastorate. We were not what she expected. Their congregation of retired pastors and long-time members were entitled to more. She took it upon herself to let us know.

Margaret let us know plenty in the two years we were there. She and her husband invited us to dinner at their house. It was a simple meal meant to provide our need for food. No more, no less. This would be an indicator of Margaret’s way of life. No fluff, no need for compliments, just clear and direct.

Most Sundays she inspected me. She’d put her hands on my shoulders squaring me with her as she flattened my color or smoothed my lapels.

She marched into my office one day informing me our son had given her a real scare. He was crossing the street as she was parking their car. He hit the front of her car with his hand intending to make her think she’d hit him. He succeeded. More than startled, she was, let’s just say, not happy.

I listened, nodded yes in agreement that wasn’t appropriate behavior but inside, I was smiling. I could only think how she couldn’t see what everyone saw: she was an old biddy!

Margaret was a talented pianist. Hum any song in her ear and she’d pick it up and play along. Lead a hymn that is noticeably high for your range and Margaret magically lowered it to just the right key. No fuss. No need to tell her what a talent this was. She could have been the originator of the expression “it is what it is”.

She and her husband were faithful in attendance and giving. They gave of their time, talents and finances.

Whatever her hard edges were, Margaret was no stranger to redemption. While her rough exterior was evident, so was her desire to serve. She held her faith in Jesus dear. It just didn’t look the same way in her life.

Familiarity is comfortable. Even in redemption. We question the different, the unfamiliar. We question practices and which Bible translation is the “right” one. But His grace fits all. God’s grace isn’t limited to color, gender, geography or talents. Redemption is given to all who believe and accept Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

faith grace Salvation Army

Jason stood up to share during our testimony time. “This is the best-kept secret in Broward County.” He was talking about this place, this program, this residential facility, a place I call Grace-land. He was talking about The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was talking about our ministry, our people, our heart, our prayers. He was talking about redemption.
Granny and mama both saved Green Stamps. As a child, I helped put these stamps in little booklets that mama would take to the Redemption Center. She would hand the required number of stamps to a clerk in exchange for something she could use in our home. Redemption was a process of exchanging one item of lesser, or no, value (the stamps) for something of greater value, for something of use.
The Oxford Dictionary defines redemption as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil: God’s plans for the redemption of his world.
Redemption stories are testimonies of the priceless value of God’s grace in the form of his son, Jesus, being exchanged for the wreckage of our lives. This is amazing grace.
 

We were gathered in our chapel for our regular Sunday worship service. The congregation is made up of the residents who are required to attend and other men we call Alumni; they’ve completed this 6-month month program and are living on their own. Sometimes we have family members join us but most Sundays the only two women in the service are our paid pianist and me.

Our surroundings are humble. This 55-year-old building that has kept winds and water at bay through a few hurricanes doesn’t look like much from the outside. The street in front of us is one of the busiest in town. Yet, the thousands who drive past us each day aren’t aware of what goes on behind the concrete block walls. The sign spells out Adult Rehabilitation Center but really, we are a redemption center. Like the Green Stamp store, we’re exchanging hope and grace for broken lives.
As Jason said, we are the best-kept secret in town.
Write31days is an annual event joined by thousands of bloggers. The challenge is to write every day of the month. As I write through 31 days, I want to share stories of redemption.I want to share about addiction and disease and hope and restoration. We’ll share stories of living in this place I call Grace-land.

SaveSave

grace hope recovery Salvation Army

Comfort is a word with a double edge.

We are urged to get out of our comfort zone and curb our indulgence in our comfort foods, the pint of Ben and Jerry’s we crave at the end of a hard day….not our best go-to.

Comfort is familiar. It is routine and known and safe.

It is also complacency and hiding and avoidance. When does the contentment that soothes your soul become bad?

Harder still is the answer. The answer for me isn’t the same for you. And it seems to change, starting with the disclaimer: it depends.

It’s not that comfort is bad, maybe it’s that we don’t always look for it in the best places. To be honest, I’d rather toss back a few almond M&M’s than recall a verse of scripture or inspiring quote. Comfort=easy=lazy=not real comfort

Most would say it’s about balance. The truth about balance is that it’s elusive. It’s not 50-50 as I’ve mistakenly believed. We grab our doses of ease when we can. We stay in our zone. We lap up conversation with a good friend because it tastes better than ice cream and is calorie free. Or maybe we share the conversation over the sweet comfort of ice cream or cookies or pie – yes pie…with ice cream!

While we’re at it, let’s put our favorite play list on in the background and talk about the last good book we read. Let’s laugh at our silly mistakes. Let’s get comfortable with the rhythms of life and let’s make space for grace, the truest comfort.

 

 

Five-Minute Friday grace

They are gathering for Saturday breakfast in the back area of Panera Bread. This group of 10 or so are dressed in their church clothes; men wearing ties and most of the women are in dresses.

Her hands were full as she held a plate in one hand and coffee in the other when another woman put her arms around her shoulders and whispered in her ear. The older woman nodded and said, with a resigned smile in her voice, “I’m just gonna let it hang”. I looked down to notice the lacy edge of her slip hanging below the hem of her dress.
How old do you have to get before you decide to just let it hang? To not be bothered with it or embarrassed by it? to loosen your grip? to let it go?
The only time I’ve stepped outside our house without makeup has been to walk to the mailbox. The one exception for early morning walks and even then I wear sunglasses.
I’ve had nightmares that I was someplace in shorts or a skirt only to notice I hadn’t shaved my legs. Nightmares!
I’m not going to stop shaving my legs or wearing mascara but maybe there are some things I need to let hang.
Things to not care so much about
How to load the dishwasher
Drivers that don’t get out of my way
Which lane is shorter/moving faster
Cellulite (it happens)
How many likes my photo gets on Instagram
The newest iPhone/car/eyeglasses….you get the idea
Getting older
Your turn. What’s on your list?
Summer has been the time of the year that calls out in its long days to slow down….relax….let it go. Now might be the best time to cultivate a new freedom.
Put the map away for a day or week and wander. And enjoy the wonder of creation.

grace