On the day we left Bolivia I got a tattoo of a queen bee on my arm. It was the third in a series of images I had placed on my arm with indelible ink over the course of one year. My first tattoo is a black lace butterfly. The middle one is a dragonfly. My bee is on top. I imagine there will come a day when the sleeve is complete with hexagonal honeycomb, a beetle or two, and leafy filigree. For now, I am content with my winged trinity.
On my last day in Bolivia I got a bee tattoo
My winged trinity … and my sweet niece
Fourteen months after the acquisition of the bee, I find myself on my college campus listening to an entomologist give a lively lecture about bees. Dr. Roe doubles as my Anatomy and Physiology professor. She does a fine job teaching about the human body, but her passion for insects is quite evident. The discourse came about as an initiative of the garden group. Permission was granted by one of the leading Sisters of College of Saint Mary for us to run a beehive on campus starting next Spring. This will be a thrill!
Did you know that bees undergo metamorphosis in a cocoon? I didn’t. This fascinates me. Cocoons have been a reoccurring theme in my life over the last few years. I leaned in to study the images on the slide as she explained the three week transformation of egg, to larva, to pupa, to fully formed bee. The egg is laid by the queen. It hatches and is fed by nurse bees. As a larva it grows and fills up it’s six-sided cradle. Then the bees come along and cap the capsule, sealing the larva inside. What happens before the fully formed bee breaks out of this cocoon astounds me.
Did you know that inside its cocoon the bee becomes liquefied? All the cells, organs, and features that allowed that larva to eat and grow break down. “Gradually the pro-pupa becomes little more than a bag containing a nutrient rich soup,” according to this video demonstration of the process: Bee metamorphosis: remarkable internal changes. Do you grasp the sheer absurdity of this fact? The construct of a wriggling little structure becomes liquid.
Then comes the reconfiguration. In that tiny, dark, soupy cocoon, the liquid swishes around to reconfigure and reshape into a pupa. It grows legs and hair. It’s brain and DNA formulate to give the little creature an instruction manual and purpose of life. The pigmentation of yellows, browns, and golds appear from that milky goo. It’s eyes bulge. Fragile wings grow which will allow that bee to survive and soar.
My eyes welled with tears. I am in a cocoon stage of life. This liquefied stage of a bee’s life spoke to me. In this darkness, safely capped off by my community, it’s okay if I melt. It’s okay, for this time, to submit to the reconfiguration process. It’s okay to feel like I am drowning for a little bit… because that will pass. My life is getting reorganized. I will emerge from this cocoon, resplendent and ready to fly.
For now, I need to be in a cocoon like a bee in a cocoon.
One of the nicknames of my hometown, which I have returned to, is The Big O! (With the exclamation mark, thankyouverymuch.) One whole week has passed since we began our Big New Life in the United States of America. I have come full circle. Getting re-acquainted with the place where DaRonn and I grew up has been fun. Showing the kids around and introducing them to Stateside life has been interesting. Adjusting to the new unspoken expectations has been rough.
We have noted that people in the U.S. compared to people in Bolivia:
Worry about safety a ton more – seat belts, mandatory car insurance, car seats, a disinfection wipes station for the shopping carts at the front of the store, and a very visible presence of well-equipped law enforcement officers all around town, just to name a few.
Have so many more options – huge menus, restaurants everywhere, shops full of shelves full of varieties of every type of thing you could want to buy, channels on tv and on the radio, religious expressions, styles, and employment for a wide range of ages and abilities.
Are SUPER generous with their resources – thrifts shops, homeless shelters, relief aid programs, free stuff on curb-sides and craig’s list, abundance of donations of VERY nice things from perfect strangers, sales and clearance items, and volunteering of their time, not to mention so many gifts of brand new things.
The Midwest is S…P…R…E…A…D… O…U…T.
The land sprawls. The ribbon of roads and highways stretch long and wide. The spaces between dwellings feel vast. The immense forests and parks preserved in these borders make me swell with pride.
At first when I began maneuvering in this spread out place I thought of all the space as wasted. My thoughts stopped short. I remembered the reoccurring theme for this season of my life. No, this is not waste, this is healthy. I am regaining the margins which I allowed to be eaten away over time. The corrosion of busy-ness crept in, cramming out breathing room. Reparation begins with the creation of margins.
Margins. Yes, I am letting the margins grow once again.
Margins of time. Margins of space.
Margins for thought. Margins for belief. Margins for health.
Margins to tend my garden. Margins to be still. Margins to breathe.
Margins which allow me to fall in step with the unforced rhythms of grace.
Margins which enable me to be kind, gentle, and faithful.
Margins which suck me down into the plushy, over-sized, purple swivel lounge chair and swallow me up for spontaneous sessions of solace.
The Big O!
Oh! I had almost forgotten what a livable life looked like.
Oh! There is hope for restoration.
Oh! My God, my Emmanuel, thank you…
For a long while I hung my head in shame assuming that God was removing us from our “post” in Bolivia as a punishment for misbehaving. Maybe there is some truth to that, but I think my thinking was skewed. More and more, as I watch this transition unfold, I think He removed us to demonstrate His Goodness and Grace.
This evening I watched my precious nephew wriggle and wrestle and resist the sleep his weary toddler body needed. His mama wrapped him up and rocked and rocked; he finally fell asleep. I smile now as I think about God watching me over the past few years fight and fuss against the rest He knew I needed. Submission to this season came slowly. I am grateful as I look back and see God’s patience with me as He pulled me closer and closer to Him. My, how I pushed against those arms! My, how He rocked my world! Finally I fell…
I really don’t feel strong or brave. Most days I jolt awake as the rush of nervous acid pours into my stomach. The aftereffects of the daily emotional roller coaster ride make me nauseated. The regrets choke. Thus, I have determined that bravery is not an emotion, it is a derivative.
As I share my story with a low voice, tears in my eyes, so many people tell me I am strong, that I am brave. They see me. They see the circumstances. Then they affirm strength??? I really don’t feel it. Oh boy do I wish I did!
I wince at their words, doubt trumps dauntlessness. I bury myself in my notebook. My hand trembles as I make it pull the jumbled words onto paper. My thoughts slow and calm comes as I think about bravery.
Forged in the fires of truth unhindered, time, and surrender comes forth words to define bravery. Definitions help me maintain realistic expectations of myself, and others.
> Bravery is not a stoic face to mask authenticity. Nuh uh.
> Bravery is not a bully who lashes out in fear. Nope.
> Bravery is not an ungodly holler from a maniac who runs reckless to sure defeat. Sorry Sparta, you can keep that crap.
Bravery: Life lived with strength derived from the assurance that 1. I am the beloved of God, 2. God loves everyone, and 3. His love in me enables me to love well.
So when my teenagers come to me distraught and fraught with emotions I can rely on the strength in me derived from the love infusion from my Father God. Then I can attempt to listen with empathy. I can speak, if I need to. Or shut up. I trust that God can love them well when my resources fail. I choose to engage, rather than cower and hide (which is my default mode, by the way).
So when the days topple on top of each other and mash with the piles to-do lists, and I breathe too quick, and my brain begins to spin like the tilt-a-whirl, I can stop the scared screamy sounds in my mind. I see the lips of my friends who tell me I am strong. Yes, I am strong, because this tangible weakness draws me to the source of my bravery. My bravery is a derivative of the assurance I am loved.
So when terrible scenarios of what-if replay on loop in the darkest corner of my heart I can crawl to that place and face the fears. In the past I have shut that part of me away as “bad” and “sinful” and “faithless”. With weak limbs and scraped hands I can do the next thing. Just do the next thing. And the next thing might be a simple flip of a switch on a plastic flashlight to shine a shaft of bravery on the damp, creepy parts of my soul. A simple task made nearly insurmountable by the paralyzed state created by my imaginations of what will be revealed. But my bravery is not brazen or foolish. True brave strength is surrender to Love. Love knows me. Love accepts me. Love sits beside that awful terribleness, and waits with me for the light.
So what do I do when I just do not feel so strong or brave? I cry. I fuss. I complain. I moan. And when I get that all over with I return to the assurance part of my definition. I can rest when I have been assured. Sometimes this blessed assurance comes from those around me. Sometimes the assurance comes from a song whispered in the recesses of my throat, sang with raspy tones. Other times gritty, holy stories or chunks of scripture assure me.
One prayer from the book of Ephesians has brought encouragement.
“14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:14 – 21
Patterns can be deciphered only after the passage of time. We hear beauty in music because we anticipate repetition, as well as remember what came before.
My life used to be driven by goals, small objectives to reach those goals, and problem solving along the way until those expectation boxes could be checked. My eyes fixed forward rarely glanced to the sides and abhorred what laid behind. I rushed ahead at breakneck speed.
Recently, like over the past five years, I have started to value awareness over accomplishment and affection over ambition. In this new way of looking at things I have loosened my grip on accusatory tendencies (both towards myself and those around me) and moved in the direction of unconditional acceptance of all people, including myself. I began to open my vision to more than only what lies ahead, but also to who walks beside me, and occurrences from my past informing my present reality.
Goals are good, but they are only part of all the good in this life.
Accomplishments help people, but they are not the only thing that help people.
Driven people, such as myself, sometimes get a lead foot. It serves us well, at times, to slow down and even stop the car.
Thanksgiving morning I sat in bed doing one of my favorite “slowing down” things: writing and doodling with a pencil in my notebook. As of late my prayers have become provincial and sporadic. Journaling moments have become as prayer for me. Even the drawings are my heart spilled out for my God to hear. He understands. I believe. That morning my thoughts and “prayers” turned to employment in the Sates.
For this fresh start to work we both need to work. I knew that was one of the stipulations we agreed on as we talked through the decision. I wasn’t worried or anxious. I knew, though, that with only my lonely little high school diploma to present to future bosses I had to fill out a resume with life experience stuff. I also needed to be open to any kind of job that came my way. I had puttered around with putting on paper my past positions and dates of employment. I had done a few searches online to see what was out there in Omaha.
On Thanksgiving morning I made a list of what kind of job I would like to work when we get to the States. The basic gist of the list is this:
“I want to do something I enjoy with people I get along with and get paid for it.”
Reductive living is the name of game at this stage, my friends. I scratched a few more thoughts on the page about weekday hours which allowed time for study. I also noted the idea of working within a creative, purposeful team for a company which was upstanding in the community.
It felt insignificant and ho-hum at the moment. The day progressed with much merry making and lots of fun with a few other families gathered together to eat, give thanks, and play games. I got home late at night. After the little kids were put to bed I sat down to check on my friends who live inside my computer.
One of the messages stopped me completely. The brakes were full on, folks. I read and re-read to comprehend the words on the screen. I cried as I remembered my morning “prayers”.
A job offer!
It felt as though God slipped his arm around my shoulders and whispered in my ear, “Here you go; you don’t have to give up.”
See, the thing is, there was part of me that was grieving the giving up of a missionary life. We are coming off the field. We are seeking stability. Even my Isaac-like life as a missionary had to be put on the altar. I see the necessity of going to the States. It just makes me sad for so many reasons, and this was one of them.
This unsolicited job offer came from an organization fighting human trafficking in South East Asia!
It came from a dear friend, Laura Parker. We met about five years ago through our blogs. I was the first person who came to her mind when the position was being made. The job is Communications Manager doing the online stuff of: the bloggers community, facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc. It’s a part time gig.
They want to pay me, too! Where do I sign?
Me officially accepting the job I start January 5th, even before we get to the States. I am so excited!
This gift came to me on Thanksgiving and I have not stopped giving thanks for it. I am so humbled to be invited to be a part of this phenomenal team empowering rescue and fighting to end modern day slavery.
When I sat down with my children to tell them about this new job I used my words carefully. “I will be helping an organization who operates in Asia to legally shut down places where people have women and children as slaves. These slaves are forced to do things with their bodies that they do not want to do. Using online connections I will help people get the word out so more people will join in to help free those slaves.”
One of the kids said, “So basically your job is a super hero.” I have such great kids.
The name of this amazing team of super heroes is called: Exodus Road. <– Click the link to read more.
I began this post speaking about patterns. A pattern is emerging. I am so thrilled to see it happen.
One of my closest friends, Andrea Baker, and her husband Andy lead an incredible ministry called Word Made Flesh Bolivia which serves to give abundant life to woman and children affected by prostitution. I have always admired their work.
Our former interns, Melinda and Romon Gore, have begun a ministry in the Dominican Republic to house underage girls who were victims of child trafficking and prostitution. Red Roots is all about bringing restoration to the broken. Love that!
My desire to become a midwife has led me to become informed about the dire issues worldwide regarding victimized women. The passion to become involved has been slowly growing.
It would seem that my path has been leading me in the direction of helping bring freedom to women.
I am humbled and honored to be invited to help in the abolitionist movement of my time.
Thank you to all who have been praying for us through this transition. This is one of many answers to prayer that we have been seeing. Though undeserving and still messed up I receive this kiss from Heaven and I am so very thankful.
We sat on the concrete bench. My eldest son, only five or so at the time, looked out over the city from our perch. Cochabamba boasts of possessing the tallest statue of Christ in the world. We took some visitors up the hill to see it. As they meandered we sat.
“Mama, you know, God is nice to mean people, too,” he said without breaking his gaze.
“Oh, why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well, even if you are nice or mean you still get the air and the rain and the sun,” he explained.
One of the most ancient names we know of God is ‘I AM’. Later we hear the words of Christ and know that I AM is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our eternal Lord inhabits the expanse of the Heavens and the Earth, He influences all of time and space, He exists.
To know and believe that God exists unconstrained by our human constructs, yet moving and being within them, is to trust that His character and power affect us all. Regardless of the definition one might give to the way she or he relates with God, or avoids relating with God, we are subject to the Sovereignty of His Majesty; Our Humble King reigns.
God is Love. Sovereign Love casts out all fear. He leads me beside still waters, in paths of righteousness, and through valleys shadowed by death, for His name’s sake. But I gotta still move my feet.
I AM in the air, the rain, and the sun.
I AM in the seen, the unseen, and the hoped for.
I AM in all.
I AM with the evil, and with the kind.
I AM with the doubter, eyes wide open, and with the believer, eyes pressed shut tight, in prayer, in denial, in defeat.
I AM with all.
So I trust that He is in all this happening in and around me right now, as he has been from the beginning of time, and will be for all eternity.
Side by side we walk, He and I. Sometime I veer this way or that and He enjoys the exploration, as long as we are together. Sometimes I feel Him take my hand and whisper in my ear, and I lean into His woos. Other times He and I commune in the simple talks between friends, in the deep thoughts shared, in the confessions laid bare in intimacy. He is there, He is here, because He is.
A woman told me that when she was a child she carried one of her mother’s high heeled shoes in her backpack. She was so scared of God’s punishment that she armed herself in the case He should jump out and try to get her. Her plan was to throw the shoe at Him and run away.
Can I tell you that with all these hard times we are living there have been moments when I want to throw a shoe at God? But not so much in fear, rather in indignant anger. I thought I did everything “right”. I thought I followed all the rules. I thought I took the path of greatest devotion. I’m a missionary, for Christ’s sake!
All the while that I am throwing shoes of deserving dutiful devotion laced with manipulative attempts of purchasing a good life at God’s chest, He doesn’t go away. He takes it. He opens His Easter arms, smiles wide and tells me, “Come on, take your best shot, give it all you’ve got, get it all out, I can take it.” He doesn’t run and hide from my insults and fury. He is the I AM Who can withstand my deepest outbursts of rage.
Then my arms fall limp, battle sore and weary. He is, still. He bends His battered form next to mine. He leans my head on His bruised chest. He is, still.
God is in the voice of my counselor. God is in the tears of my friends as they weep with me. God is in the arms of my daughter wrapped around me. God is in this, all this, everywhere. I trust Him.
I trust Him to be able to take it when I question the silence. I trust Him to be able to take it when I want to blame, accuse, and judge. I trust Him to take it all and make it all into something that will be well, and good.
How can we give? This question follows the previous chapter which explored ‘How should we give?’ In Chapter 3 we take a look at the human tendency to use giving as currency. We give expecting something in return. Or we give to assuage a guilty conscience. Or we give to be seen and admired. In effect, we have a tendency to give … to ourselves. For in each of these examples we benefit from the gift.
Miroslav Volf says:
“Whether we give in order to extract goods from others, win praise for magnanimity, put a fig leaf over our moral nakedness, or feed some raging beast inside, in one way or another our generosity often proves wither counterfeit or impure. We give to ourselves, in whole or in part.”
Delving deeper into the inner realities of our heart condition we find sin. The author focuses on three key aspects of sin at play when we attempt to give: selfishness, pride, and sloth.
“So can we counter the effects of selfishness, pride, and sloth and make our giving pure? Not before we land in God’s perfect world of love on the other side of this world’s history. Only when, in communion with God, we become the perfect image of God as individuals and communities, will our giving attain purity.”
Things were sounding pretty dark until I got to the part addressing ‘Transformed Attitudes’. Much emphasis was given by my mom during our upbringing on our attitude. She used to do ‘attitude checks’ rather frequently to help us be aware of the motivation of our heart at any given moment. I heard a pastor once say, “Attitude is almost everything.” And the old saying goes, “Your attitude will determine your altitude.”
The author says this:
“Giving depends on the proper attitude toward three things: towards things we possess, towards others, and towards ourselves.”
Things – our relations to things changes ones we truly understand that everything has been given to us by God.
On our last trip to the United States with all the children (we have 5) the generosity of my Uncle and Aunt shocked me. After thanking them profusely for allowing us to used their mini-van to drive around various states for three months, free of charge, I was speechless and choked up. My Uncle looked me in the eyes in total sincerity and said, “Everything we have was given to us by the Lord. It was His in the first place, so if anyone has need of it we are glad to give it because it was given to us by God. Our home, our cars, our time, our table, are all for His service.” This was the first time I had seen such genuine generosity. It filled me with ease and an overwhelming desire to follow his godly example.
This quote sums up this idea with precision:
“Earning and possessing are not just a bridge between our desires and their satisfaction. They are a midpoint in the flow of gifts: from God to us, and through us to others. We give because we have been given to; we don’t let other simply fend for themselves because we haven’t been left to fend for ourselves.”
Others – we can consider others as the intended beneficiaries of God’s gifts.
A new kind of board game has emerged in which all the players compete against the game. They work together in strategy and cooperation to beat the enemy. It is a thrilling experience to join together in a common cause with your friends or family for an evening, instead of passing the time trying to beat the ones you love.
A new attitude towards self – without being “more-than-enough” people, our wanting will always outpace our having, and we’ll end up perpetually exhausted and forever dissatisfied.
“A rich self has a distinct attitude toward the past, the present, and the future. It surveys the past with gratitude for what it has received, not with annoyance about what it hasn’t achieved or about how little it has been given. A rich self lives in the present with contentment. Rather than never having enough of anything except for the burdens others place on it, it is “always having enough of everything” (2 Corinthians 9:8). It still strives, but out of satisfied fullness, not out of the emptiness of craving. A rich self looks towards the future with trust. It gives rather than holding back in fear of coming out too short, because it believes God’s promise that God with take care of it.”
Gratitude … contentment … trust
At this point a thought struck me, “Is there enough love in me to love abundantly? The logical answer is: yes. God and His love infilling me is enough and more than enough to make me a generous lover.” Amen! This frees me up to enter into the flow of love. I don’t have to muster up feelings or put on a mask of faked love. I can trust that He has loved me, and that love in me is more than enough to spill out into the lives of the people around me. There is no scarcity of love. He gave love freely to me, I can give love freely to those around me.
Thankless ingrates. This festers in me at times. I don’t want to give because the gift is unnoticed or under-appreciated. This goes back to the start of the chapter about giving … to ourselves. Which is pride. Volf clears things up very nicely when he says:
“We are not disrespected by ingratitude; our pride is not injured. The ingratitude of recipients wrongs not us but the gift-giving God.”
There you go! I don’t have to worry about. I place the recipient and their own attitude in God’s hands. Anything that I gave them was given to me by God in the first place. So I am not offended – I pass that over to God. He can interact by His gracious mercy with the others as He sees fit. He doesn’t need me to defend Him. He is strong enough to handle that. To hear this, as a recovering control freak, brought great relief to give freely.
As Jesus said, “freely ye have received, freely give.” Yes, and amen.
The Interlude serves as a dramatic and heart wrenching introduction to the second half of the book about forgiveness. It stirs profound questions about the capacity of the human hear to truly forgive in the face of impossible circumstances.
This book is quite heady yet balanced by truth told in anecdotes. The quotes from well known and highly respected individuals underscore the impact of the points the author makes. I also very much appreciate the thorough involvement of the Hold Scriptures as he leads us on the path to a truer realities in the way we give and forgive. I recommend the book.
Miroslav Volf puts two chapters back to back. At first one might not attend to the differences and think the chapters repeat.
Chapter 2 – How Should We Give?
Chapter 3 – How Can We Give?
Both fabulous and necessary questions. “Should” invokes a sense of duty or expectations. “Can” denotes a focus upon the abilities or capacities. At the time of this writing I am finishing up the reading of Chapter 3. A full post on that chapter will come soon. I wanted to have the contrast of the two foci before commenting. I am glad I did.
Most of my life I have been driven by a sense of duty and obligation. Only recently I have begun to see a deeper way of operating beyond the “should” and into a relationship based interaction with the world. The enlightening of these new ways has been slow coming like an awaited sunrise, and no less surprising or miraculous.
This chapter on the “should” question of giving starts with a captivating retelling of two brothers who brought gifts to the king. One brother, a poor farmer, wanted to honor his king. He had an odd crop of one huge turnip. He hauled it in the cart to the king. As they conversed the king was touched by the poor man’s generosity in this midst of dire circumstances. Out of pity the king gave him plenty of gold, land, fields, and flocks. The wealthy brother hears of his sibling’s good fortune at the offering of a single turnip and thus decides to take the king a present of gold and horses, hoping for a larger gift than his brother received. The king took the present “saying that he could give him in return nothing rarer or better than the huge turnip. So the rich brother had to put his brother’s turnip into a cart and have it taken home.”
The story serves as an introduction to the reasons why many of us give. Some of our motives come from a pure place, others have ulterior motives of selfishness and greed.
He then quotes Natalie Davies and further elaborates on her observations.
” [she] distinguishes between three basic modes in which we relate to one another: the coercive mode, the sales mode, and the gift mode. … In the coercive mode, we take illicitly. In the exchange mode, we acquire legitimately. In the gift mode, we give generously.”
By a look at some bible passages from Romans and Ephesians we see God’s intentions in regards to giving.
“Pull apart the idea of being the channel of God’s gifts, and you’ll see that it involves three intentions on God’s part. One concerns us, the givers. Another concerns the gifts themselves. And the third concerns the recipients: our neighbors.”
He gives much detailed explanation as he elaborates on the generosity of God in our lives. That this pouring out of blessings is divine and incomparable. And it should compel us to be the channel through which God gives to others.
God gives to us –> we give to others
“When do we rightly give? In one of three primary situations. We give when we delight in someone. … We also give when others are in need. … Finally, we give to help others give.”
This portion was especially helpful for me. To understand that we needn’t muster up a gift to fulfill the requirements of serving God liberated me to be aware of the goodness He has already placed in my life. Then I have the freedom to channel that goodness into the lives of others based on those three pure motives.
This quote he shared by Luther in The Freedom of the Christian spurred a potent facebook status:
“God’s goodness is dishonored if we want to merit its benefits.”
I said on facebook:
Someone says, “I want to give you this vehicle because it will be perfect for your family.” You tell them you can’t accept such an extravagant gift. They finally convince you to take it. You tell them only if they will let you give them the one hundred dollar bill you have in your wallet.
Ludicrous, right? Insulting, right?
Yet this is what we do when we tell God that we will do good works to deserve His gracious gifts. We are incapable of paying Him back. Accept His goodness, then out of gratitude go and be good to others without expecting anything in return.
I may or may not have been thinking about the recent theft of our truck and how nice it would be if someone were to give us a truck. Then my thoughts started to veer down the road of what we deserve. Does not our lump sum of good works merit a life packed full of blessings and free of such hardships? I could see the direction I was headed. It was not pretty. So instead of crashing my own pity party I pulled on the emergency break and did a U-turn. I changed the question to: Has not God poured out piles and piles of goodness on us even though we DID NOT merit it in the least? He has. He continues to. Therefore, instead of considering the dark behavior of becoming a stingy, selfish, hoarder I can freely open my heart towards others and give to them generously NOT based on their merits, but based on God’s goodness to me.
Miroslav Volf begins this book about “giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace” by telling a moving true story of adoption. He speaks of a change in his heart when the birth mom of his oldest son gives him and his wife the gift of her child. Adoption has turned my life upside down, too. My path was not paved, as the author’s, with infertility. Yet I can relate deeply with the questions of faith, prayer, and God’s character with which he wrestled.
After his own story he moves into a classic story called The Little Prince. He speaks of the Rose the Little Prince cares for.
“”People where you live,” the little prince said to his pilot friend, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for… And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose…” And he added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.””
He expounds on the concept with the following lines:
“For the heart to see rightly, the hand needs to give generously. That’s the deeper wisdom the little prince goes on to reveal.”
The initial reason I felt compelled to read this book was the suddenly realization that my personal assumptions regarding reciprocity in relationships may be erroneous and damaging. Growing in generosity, I feel, will combat previous tendencies and lead me into a greatly needed freedom.
The first chapter brings up two common ways we relate with God. One way is to view God as a Negotiator. The other is to treat God like Santa Claus.
When we negotiate with God we wrongfully assume that we have anything to offer the God who made everything and therefore has everything. We insult God when we tell him we will give him such-and-such if He will do such-and-such for us. This is also played out when we feel an obligation to repay God for His goodness with some sort of offering or sacrifice.
This is challenging for me. Just the other day a friend said she wanted to offer her services as a dentist to us free of charge and I insisted that I needed to pay her or at least give her something for her generosity. She sounded hurt. She just wanted to give me something because she wanted to be generous. This is the same thing I do with God sometimes. I see that He has been good to me so I then feel obligated to pray longer, read more of the bible, or behave better. All the while God wants to give to me just because He is good. Anything I would try to offer Him by way of time or resources has already been given to me as a gift. Attempting to give it back to Him is actually unkind and ungrateful.
The other tendency is to treat God as a Santa Claus, demanding nothing from us.
“A divine Santa is the indiscriminately giving and inexhaustible fertile source of everything that is, and everything that is to come our way. God is an inexhaustibly fertile source of everything. But is it true that God demands nothing?”
Such a great question! At first I wanted to revolt and say, “Wait, you just spent many pages convincing us that God gives out of the generosity of His heart. Now you want to turn the tables and tell us that these gifts were not given freely?” These thoughts urged me to read the rest of the chapter.
At this point I would love to include large chucks of the writing to help you see the beautiful pattern of thought. By a close look at the end of Romans chapter 11 and the beginning of Romans chapter 12 we see God the giver obliging a response from us. Volf introduces us to a bridge:
“What then is this sacrifice that is neither a gift nor a counter-gift to God? To what do God’s gifts oblige us and why? Let’s explore these questions step by step, starting seemingly from afar. As we proceed, a contour of a bridge between our selfishness and our God-based giving will emerge.”
Faith – “… we are not independent of God but are living on a given breath. … To receive from God in faith is the height of human dignity. … faith doesn’t tell us how little we are and what we can’t do. On the contrary, it celebrates what we most properly are – God’s empowered creatures – and it frees us to our greatest accomplishments.”
Gratitude – “Faith receives God’s gifts as gifts; gratitude receives them well. … God’s gifts establish. They come with the message, “You are loved, and therefore you exist.””
Availability – “We can’t give anything back to God, not even ourselves, since we were never our own in the first place. We live and breathe and have our being in God. The most we can do is to make ourselves available for God to be used as instruments. … Today most of us want to be agents, not instruments. We want to act, not be acted upon…”
Participation – “Our giving is, as it were, an echo of his. That’s where the idea of the “indwelling Christ” comes in. … Christ’s indwelling presence has freed us from exclusive orientation to ourselves and opened us up in two directions: towards God, to receive the good things in faith, and toward our neighbor, to pass them on in love.”
The closing line of this chapter excites me and frees me to revel in the gifts God gives and freely give to those around me.
“When a gift is given, life becomes extraordinary because God’s own gift giving flows through the giver.”
If you are a part of this online book club I would love to hear your thoughts. Why not add your favorite quotes on the facebook page? Or you could comment after this blog, however extensively or succinctly you care to, about how the beginning of this book has impacted you. If you have a blog of your own you could write there and share the link here in the comments or on facebook.
The idea is to finish reading this book together by the end of February so that we can stay focused on the ideas being presented and not become forgetful by stringing out the reading. I brought this to a public format to keep me accountable to grow because I really feel like these ideas are important for my life at this time. Thanks for reading my blog, even if you are not reading the book. I hope that some of what you have seen here today has been encouraging and brought freedom to you.
Wanna join a Book Club? We will be reading ‘Free of Charge’ by Miroslav Volf. Participation is simple.
1. Get the book.
2. Read it.
The idea is to read all 6 chapters in the next two weeks, from now until the end of February. Intermittently you can share your insights, quotes, and personal experiences with the others in the book club. There are few ways you can share. I will be posting on my blog and on the facebook group created for this club. You may write on your own blog and share the link in the comments on my blog or on the facebook page. Or you can share your thoughts directly on the facebook group. You can even do short vlogs and share the links, if you like.
Sometimes growth in community is richer and creates a greater impact in our lives. I need this to impact me deeply to shake up some recently discovered assumptions that may be damaging some of my relationships. I want to grow and morph into who God has made me to be. I see this books as a tool in that discovery. I look forward to interacting with those who choose to read this book along with me.
The sun hangs hot and low in the West and our neighbor feeds the birds. He shuffles out in his neatly pressed button up shirt and pleated polyester pants. His white hair ruffles in the breeze as he tosses the crumbs on the walk. Steady and sure, though slow and old, he turns and returns to his home. Maybe he watches perched from a window, but he doesn’t stick around outside. When I see the birds flocked for their daily feed I slow my steps and watch a while.
Three or four kinds of birds come to eat the crumbs on the painted blue path on Pachamama Street. Black, yellow, grey, and dappled they prove the old adage birds of a feather flock together. That saying came to mind during a conversation. We tend to choose to spend time with people like ourselves. This translates into a filter or lens which determines our worldview. It also builds the assumption that those around me think like I do.
One of the core factors of my species of personality is a tendency to categorize and judge situations and people. I default to ‘black and white’ or ‘right and wrong’. This comes in handy at times when concepts need to be organized, goals set, or outlines made. It trips me up when I let it lose in my relationships. I am learning to appreciate the browns, golds, greys, polka dots, plaids, rainbows, and iridescence surrounding me.
In this discovery process a new way of seeing things came to me. Three strong women spoke to me truths that picked at my layers of suspicious cynicism. God hasn’t given up on me yet; for that I am so grateful.
“The majority does indeed extend to you grace, love, and mercy beyond condition.”
“You are loved by many.”
“I love you.”
It sounds so simple, so pure. Yet, for me to lay aside my previous assumption that most people were looking at me to scrutinize, criticize, and classify (which I lament to inform you is my go-to mode when interacting with others, an error which I hope is corrected soon) does imply a difficult task. Because it is not a task! That’s the tricky part.
My task oriented brain wants to DO something. In this case I cannot DO anything about it. I need to BE. As I embrace the truth that I am loved I can BE the beloved. When I know in my soul I am accepted I can BE accepted. When I assume that everyone I interact with wishes me well I can BE well.
Live Expectant of Acceptance.
Attract attitudes of acceptance.
Tractor beam trust.
Magnetized with positivity.
Positively magnetic personality.
Gravitate to goodwill.
Go with goodness.
Give grace and goodness.
Trust your True Love.
Assume doom no more.
These catchy phrases need to be the crumbs that daily feed my belief belly. And it starts with being aware. I want to be aware of God’s unconditional acceptance of me. As that seeps into my soul I can then be a carrier of grace to others. So be it, Father.
The talks with these women plus a good dose of journal writing landed me on an interesting word trick. One of my journal sessions ended in one little word at the bottom of the page: lost. A couple journal sessions later a word appeared on the bottom of the page: love. How did I go from ‘lost’ to ‘love’? We used to play those word games where you change one letter at each step to go from one word to another in the fewest steps possible. For me to go from ‘lost’ to ‘love’ took two steps.
lost –> lose
When feeling lost I need to surrender. Lose the self-righteousness, pride, and self-sufficiency. Lose the strenuous trying. Put tying on trial and choose to lose.
lose –> love
When I lose myself in surrender True Love tells me, “I love you” and gives me back myself with value and worth. I am accepted just the way I am. I am free to accept others just as they are in true love.
Do you struggle with trust? Do you assume, like I have so frequently, that others are constantly judging you? What has helped you to connect with others deeply in unconditional love?