Friday, January 29, 2010

Forgiving God

Forgiveness is a process that begins within. As with confession and repentance, the heart must be changed for true transformation to take place. Sometimes we struggle to make our actions start us on the path of forgiveness, and that can help, but it is only when the heart is truly transformed that life-giving forgiveness happens.

Transformation of the heart begins with God. As in so many other aspects of our spiritual growth, we learn and grow only because God has loved us first and we are responding to that love. As we grow in our relationship with God, our relationships with self and others grow as well. We thrive on God’s grace. As we experience God’s forgiveness, we have the process of forgiveness modeled for us. As we live out the fruit of being transformed by being forgiven, we realize the power of forgiveness and the value of extending it. Everything we know about life-giving forgiveness we know because we have received it from God. The grace of God’s forgiveness flows through us into our relationships and our world. It is a powerful process. Our experience of God’s grace and love is a strong foundation upon which to build a practice of life-giving forgiveness. Without this foundation, our attempts at forgiveness will be distorted.

Somewhere along this journey of learning to forgive, many experience the need to forgive God. The other day, I spoke with a young man-only eleven years old- whose father was dying. He spoke of the feeling he had that God was far away. He wanted to know why God would let his father die. He struggled to reconcile his life situation with what he had been taught about God and God’s love. Every one of us must confront this same dilemma of evil at some time in life. Perhaps our exploration of this question invites us into moments of both grief and anger. If we are honest with ourselves, mustn’t we admit that God is the Creator and the buck stops there? There really is no good explanation for why there is evil in our world. We are left with our feelings and our wonderings, not sure if we dare to blame God. I think that before we can begin to praise God for the glory of creation, we must forgive God for the ugliness in creation. It’s OK to be angry with God: God can take it. We beat God’s chest and scream our pain and hurt. God simply embraces us in love. We are forgiven for needing to forgive God. God knows our struggle to understand and knows how impossible it is for us human beings to truly grasp the nature of creation. Perhaps God accepts our forgiveness and forgives us as we offer it. The question of evil loses its grasp on us and our hurt and anger is eased. And in the process we have learned something about life-giving forgiveness. Now we are truly ready to begin the practice of forgiveness.

For more on life-giving forgiveness, go to and sign up for our Life-giving Forgiveness online retreat beginning Feb. 17th.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Self-pity Salve

Every now and then a good bout of self-pity is quite satisfying. This is not particularly grown up, but true – at least for me. Right now, I am sitting in a coffee house by myself away from home, feeling alone. The last couple of days have been spent with my peers and superiors, and I am feeling rather unfairly judged and misunderstood by my superiors. That makes me feel embarrassed to be with my peers. Surely they can perceive the ridicule I am getting from those who have some control over my work situation; I can tell by the way some of them avoid me or look at me with “concern.” Working relationships can be the pits, especially when the judgments of those in positions of control are ill-informed or unconsciously directed by their own baggage (at least that’s what I think in this situation). Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in positions that seem intractable and beyond our control. When I find myself in those kinds of situations, a little bit of self-pity sure feels good. And there is plenty of hurt and anger to fill the pity party guest list – and don’t forget to add a little indignation and self-righteousness. Even if I am alone, those guests bring me some shallow comfort. I’m not proud of that, but it is simply the reality of my present moment.

But then life goes on. I ask myself what’s next in this no-win situation. Self-pity may feel good for a little while, but too long in that place, and it becomes boring. One cannot stay there; it is a dead place. So I choose to get out. Here is an unlikely opportunity. Here is barren earth that needs to be planted. Here is a vacuum that cries out to be filled. A little creativity and energy can go a long way. When I simply turn in another direction, I find that the resistance that was blocking me in that institutional direction is powerless. The institution has no power outside of itself, at least not in this case. I can go around or over or away from the roadblock. I can remake myself in a place where the institution does not dictate the outcome of my life. I just go in a different direction.

I must discern the direction. Where is life? Where is the greatest energy? How can I contribute to the world? How can I use my gifts to the fullest? What gives me joy? How can I pay the bills…? There are many questions and a few worries. There is dream and there is reality and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were one-and-the-same? When they’re not, what are the things that are most important to me? Can I give up some things to satisfy the needs of the other thing? Must I do that? The fruitful thing about a roadblock is that it provides us with opportunities to look at these and many other questions once again. I have a chance to remake myself. I have another chance to discern God’s guidance and love in a new way. I can take a fresh look at life and approach once again with a new wisdom and experience that colors the new direction. I can learn from my troubles and be better for it.

I suppose this really isn’t news to any of us. We all know these things because we have been there before. From time to time, life gives us experiences that challenge and redirect us. I find that, in hindsight (sometimes far down the road), I gain an appreciation for the roadblocks and thank God that they stood in my path. With some practice, we come to this place sooner rather than later. I can already see some of that in my current situation. There are certainly things that I am thankful for as I face the current dead end.

So I slog on, enduring when I have to and making the changes that are within my power; and trust the rest to God. Where I have no control, I can grow in faith. But the truth is that there is a lot more within my power than I may think. I embrace that responsibility for myself and accept another growth experience. Then I move on in the direction that feeds and nurtures my body and soul. It really is up to me. But now and then, it just feels good to whine a bit, wallow in my self-pity, and pour out my lament. I feel better already.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Water into Wine

The last week has been filled with images of Haiti and the suffering that is taking place there. It is hard to imagine what people must be going through - those who have been trapped in darkness under the rubble for days, those who have watched their loved ones die, those who have lost limbs, those who have been hungry and thirsty, those who don't know if their loved ones have survived. I feel so helpless being far away and unable to do something with my own hands. Giving money just seems shallow and callous, even though I know it is probably the most helpful thing I can do personally. And I have been surprised that people I know are personally affected. It seems odd to be just a few connections away from people who have been personally affected; friends of friends or acquaintances who are there on mission trips. The whole thing makes the world feel so small and the connections so significant, and yet the disaster seems a world away. And what an outrage it was to hear what Pat Robertson said about this disaster being God's punishment for the Haitians for the deal they had made with the devil. What rubbish! I hope every right thinking, theologically astute Christian will stand up and shout down such bad theology! That is not the God that I know and worship, and I resent that Christianity is cast in such a light. Anyway, I diverge...

A few days ago, I was driving home coping with a disappointment that had to do with my job. I was pretty upset. In my mind, I went back and forth between my own troubles and the troubles of the people in Haiti. I felt petty in my disappointment, but still angry at what had happened for me. I thought about what the Haitians were going through and what I was going through. My troubles were really minor irritations in comparison. Even though I knew that intellectually, I was still upset for myself. So on top of all that, I felt selfish and self-centered. What a mess! When a disaster like Haiti happens, we are reminded of how fortunate we really are. I have a home and food and water. I have a family that is surviving and thriving and that I love and enjoy being with. I have everything I really need in this life, and it is all blessing. How can I complain about anything?!

On Sunday, I preached at one of the local churches. The scripture lesson was the story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. Even that scripture story seemed petty in light of the events in Haiti. It almost seemed silly to be studying it. But somehow, this story was significant enough to be included in the Gospel, even when it is followed by the rest of Jesus' ministry of healing and teaching and dying. The passage ends with a note that the disciples saw the miracle that Jesus had done and believed in him. The point of the story of the water into wine is one that works in any situation. Even in small things, like a social situation where a couple runs out of wine at a wedding, God is known and seen and present. If God is present in the small things, than how much more is God present in the big things?!

So one of my resolves is to view the situation in Haiti through the lens of God's presence. In every story I hear or fresh tragedy that happens, I can ask myself to acknowledge and appreciate how God is present. I can be grateful for the efforts of all those first responders, for the willingness of those doctors and nurses to give their time and skills and place themselves in danger for the sake of those in need, for the huge sums of money that are going toward helping the Haitians survive and rebuild, for the reminder of how destructive national debt can be for a poor nation, for the recovery of another survivor from the rubble, for those amazing dogs that sniff out the living, for the peaceful singing in the streets of those who suffer so much, for the coming together of international efforts, for the food and water that is reaching those in need, the list could go on and on. With the Haitians, I proclaim "Thanks be to God!" again and again. Have you not heard them say it over and over again? I will say it with them.

And when it comes to my own little problems, I can remember the Haitians and how God was present in their tragedy, and put my life back in perspective and give thanks to God. It seems silly to do otherwise.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A World of Possibilities

My life right now is abundant with possibilities. The possibilities seemed to begin to open up when I made space for them. Several months ago, I left a job that took a lot of my time and energy. I decided it was time to leave, and fortunately for me, was in a position to be able to take some time to discern what was next. I decided right off that I wasn't going to rush things and was going to take some time to rest and make some space for whatever would develop. I had a few ideas of what might be out there, but didn't want to make any quick decisions or settle into anything too fast.

Before long, I began to feel re-energized. The creative energy that just seemed to pour out of me was a wonderful surprise! I had so many ideas it was hard to keep track of them all. I began to look at a number of different avenues that were open to me and tested several at the same time. I began to develop my own website for spiritual direction ( and to develop a retreat practice. I also looked into the job market to see what was there. With my background in general management, it seemed that I fit every place and no place all at once. I applied to a few places, but realized that if I was going to get a management job, I would have to focus my resume in a few particular areas. I figured that when those areas emerged, it would be good to go down those paths and see what was there. The risky and exciting (and scary!) rout to take was to develop my own business in spiritual direction and online retreats. I spent hours putting together another website and creating the first retreat. With the help of my tech buddy, we got it done, promoted the idea, and met our first goal for enrolment. By the end of the retreat, we felt it had all gone smoothly, and although we hadn't made any income yet, it was a great success!

So one of the big possibilities that is very exciting for me is the fruit of my own creative energy - this online retreat and spiritual direction practice. I can imagine into the future and see some wonderful possibilities for where it might go. I look forward to what might happen with this work and hope that it can be useful and appreciated in this world. How it has already been received had been overwhelming and what that might mean down the road is exciting to imagine. I am also very grateful for the time I have had to unleash my creative energies and go with the flow. It has been great fun! And it has been a wonderful experience for me to work at home. I have had more time with my family and that is a blessing as well. This space that was created when I quit my job has been abundantly filled!

Of course, when life is like that, it is not unusual for other possibilities to pop up. Another rich and exciting possibility has come my way - a job that would take me in an unexpected direction. Sometimes those things come along, and just the possibility of it changes how you look at everything else. I have no idea where this one might lead, but it makes my world rich with possibility.

Life with possibilities feels expansive and exciting. There are times in life when we may feel trapped or stifled. The possibilities seem nowhere to be found. But I think it is important to recognize that we often choose to see possibilities or not. Sending out resumes creates possibilities. Reaching out to a friend or an enemy may create possibilities. Having an argument creates possibilities. Quitting a job creates possibilities. Sometimes we have to tear things down to get to the foundations of life, and when we do, anything can be built upon that cleaned foundation. The possibilities are so many when the creative energy can go in so many different directions.

We live in a world of possibilities. Life is so much more interesting and exciting when we focus on those possibilities and work with them. Some possibilities we create for ourselves. Some possibilities just seem to come to us without us doing anything. Some possibilities are life-sucking, some are life-giving. At every twist and turn of life, we have choices to make. We have so many possibilities to choose from. May we always choose those things that are life giving!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Journey

On April 30, 1975, the city of Saigon, Vietnam was in turmoil. It was the day that Saigon fell to the Viet Cong and the Americans pulled out of the war. Everyone who could get out of the city, did. Anyone with the means to leave, left. The tension had been intense for a long time, but today, a woman who worked in a bank where information was available, could see that things were happening fast. Those who were going to survive would have to act quickly. She had eight children at home. The oldest was eighteen and the youngest was six. She knew that they had to get out.

By now, the only way for this woman and her children to leave the city was by boat. So Mom gathered up her children, packed up some documentation, a few valuables and family photographs, and loaded up the family on two Vespas - all nine of them!. They drove through the crowded, chaotic streets toward the docks. Helicopters overhead were loaded down with VIPs desperate to get out of the country. Shots fired out and bullets whizzed past. Military guards threatened to stop the family at the check points. Bribes of money were given. When the family finally arrived at the docks, the crowds were desperately pushing and shouting. Refugees were being loaded onto barges that would be towed out to sea. As the family moved closer to the barges, they clung to each other, being careful to stay together in the pressing crowds. Finally they were close enough to lift the children onto the next barge. The children were quickly transferred one by one, and just as the last child was loaded onto the barge, the crude boat began to pull away from the dock. Mom was left behind.

The barge was towed away, children and mother helplessly separated. As soon as they were out in the open sea, the tug-boat disconnected from the barge and left it. The barge drifted. The crowd of people on board had no food or water, no shade. They had no way to steer or power their craft. Their only hope was that they would be rescued by the Americans; being found by the Viet Cong would be deadly. After three days and two nights, an American battle ship was sighted. The Americans were combing the sea for these barges full of refugees and taking the people to Guam. As the eight children were hoisted onto the gigantic battle ship, they began to hope that Mom might have been rescued, too. After a few hours of searching, the family was reunited. They arrived in Guam and were placed in a refugee camp.

The stay at the camp was short for this family. They were extremely fortunate to have an aunt who lived in the Denver area. They were able to make contact and the aunt made arrangements for the family to come to the United States. Just two weeks after leaving Saigon, this family arrived in Denver to begin a new life. And two weeks after that, I met my husband, the second son. I have always been amazed and grateful that they made that perilous journey.

Life is full of journeys: some more perilous than others. We journey from peace to war to peace, from danger to safety, from oppression to freedom. Sometimes it means that we give up everything, that we leave it all behind. Sometimes we risk much. Sometimes the loss is unbearable. We journey into the unknown, where the people, the language, the food – the very way of life – is different and strange. Always, we journey toward a vision, toward hope, toward new life. The spiritual journey is like this.

We travel through the chaos of sin, where life is threatened and death is waiting. We leave things behind. We summon our courage. We seek freedom. We seek peace. We go to a new land where everything is a new creation. As we explore the depths within ourselves, we bring light to whatever darkness is there. We strive to bring order to chaos. We leave death and destruction behind. The brokenness within us is healed as we let go of those things that destroy us. As we journey toward God, we are made new. We find a new spiritual home and the life that is truly life. We could choose to stay behind – it may seem like the safe alternative, but this is the way of death. If we wish to truly live, now is the time to begin the journey, to take the risk, and discover the new life that waits for us as people of God.