Fostering Refugees – The Stigma that Scared Me

A few months ago, at the height of reports showing kids being separated from their parents at the border, Pete and I came across an opportunity that immediately felt like a calling. We were encouraged to apply for a license that would allow us to foster these children until they are reunited with their parents or sponsor family, and we both were immediately on board. Since we submitted our application we have completed 15 hours of in-person training, approximately 22 hours of on-line Foster Parent College training, and amounts of paperwork that exceeded all reasonable expectations.

Last night we finished laying our hearts and our home on the line for a 4-hour foster home inspection and family interview.

Things that went well:

  1. We’re now one step closer to offering a temporary home to the kids separated from their parents at the border. My heart is singing!
  2. Our house is cleaner, safer, and more organized than it has ever been before. Good luck opening any of our cabinets ever again. If you need surgery, we have a platinum 250 person first aid kit that will SAVE YOUR LIFE! If you’re on fire, head on over and we’ll extinguish it immediately!
  3. Pete and I feel closer as a couple after exploring our past, present, and future, our strengths and weakness, and our hopes and dreams for 4 hours with a complete stranger.

Things that could’ve gone better:

  1. We could’ve done without the live scorpion on Isaac’s bedroom curtain during the SAFETY inspection!
  2. Could’ve done without our Jack Russell fishing through the case workers purse to eat her hair clip.
  3. When I answered that we had no weapons, Isaac could’ve forgotten (just like I had) that I have a Samurai sword from a leadership conference many years ago. #compassionatesamurai
  4. Isaac and Sonoma could NOT have played their new giggle-inducing game, which consists of them repeating the words, “you’re a bad mommy, you’re a bad daddy.” #kidsarehilarious
  5. Isaac could’ve avoided using EVERY innocent toy as a weapon of some sorts. The Minnie Mouse blow dryer turned full pistol last night!

We know we’re on the right path and answering a calling as none of this feels burdensome. We are thrilled for the next step and to minister love to these kids at a time of such trauma and fear and loss. #allgodschildren

Last night was also the first time we made our decision public by posting on social media. Until last night the only people we had shared with were immediate family and those we asked to be our references.

Since my post last night I have had quite a few people reach out wondering when we made this decision. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I hadn’t made our decision public until now.

The first reason I haven’t been openly sharing this decision is because I didn’t want it to look like or feel like we were seeking accolades. I knew a lot of our friends would be excited for us and I didn’t want our decision to move forward, when the movement got tough, to be influenced by the desire to please others or make others proud. I truly felt like this was a calling from the beginning and I didn’t want to be motivated or feel pressured by external sources.

Secondly, and sadly, I have been tentative to share our decision because of the negative reactions I feared we would receive from some. Due to the polarized climate we currently live in I was worried that our commitment to foster kids that have been separated from their parents at the border would require us to defend ourselves. I have heard so much hateful rhetoric throughout the year that paints immigrants as nonhuman and undeserving of love and kindness, compassion and grace. I could barely stomach the idea that our decision may be received with this level of vitriol…or any level of disappointment whatsoever. I was preparing myself for conversations with people I love and care about that would strip away my respect for them. I was arming up for debates on what “kind” of child “deserves” help. I was expecting heartbreaking backlash from at least a few people in our lives and I was afraid of how our relationships would weather the storm. But, the truth is…once an issue is made personal, hearts often soften. Once there’s a face we can touch, and a hand we can hold, putting a voice to a highly debated and sensitive issue, the dynamics begin to shift. Civility is often restored when the matter in question lands in our own backyard.

We have received an outpouring of love and support since my post last night and although it appears that some are more excited about our decision than others, there hasn’t been any nastiness or uncomfortable pushback. I must admit that I didn’t give the benefit of the doubt and for that I’m sorry. I hope our decision will help bring a name and a face to the debate around the border. I hope our decision will humanize this issue versus politicize it. I hope our decision will remind us and others of the inherent value of all people regardless of ethnicity, country of origin, race, color, religion, etc. I hope and pray our decision will be heart changing and maybe even life saving for all of us who are a part of this process.

A Daughter’s Response to an Ageless Father

My dad wrote the authentic and vulnerable poem below about his experience with aging and his hope in the Lord. I’m thankful that he gave me permission to share his poem on my blog. I’ve added a poem I wrote to him in response that he hasn’t yet seen. Dad, your influence reaches far and wide and my love for you is boundless. Thank you for allowing me to share your words with others…thank you for your courage in being open about how it feels to grow older. I learn so  much from you and mom every day!

Shrinking Man

Possibilities and dreams
the world was full of them it seemed.
Now my options fading fast,
life much smaller than my past,
Shrinking man.

Lovely wife and precious kids
Love my God for all he did,
Still feel his love as time flies past
But it remains a fact, alas
Shrinking man.

Influence fades as we get old,
Once sought for wisdom, now just told,
Powerlessness seems to creep in slow,
A mocking sense it brings of woe,
Shrinking man.

So on HIM I fix my gaze,
As my person fades away,
A day will come when I shall die,
And then I’ll see the reason why,
The process isn’t bad you see,
It’s just the path to victory.
With joy I’ll rest in His embrace,
Forever I’ll behold His face
Thanking Him eternally
That I will no longer be,
Shrinking man.

– Ron Little (my dad)


Larger Than Life – A Legacy of Love

My dad, my rock, my shield, my strength
grows bigger in my eyes, not weak
His heart expands, his wisdom grows
to soak it in, I draw close

In his eyes and in his deeds
God’s growing love is what I see
Each day, each year that passes by
his courage builds before my eyes

He shares his doubts, his fears, his pain
with an open heart he faces change
a vulnerable glimpse he offers us
a friend, a father, a man I trust

I’ve watched my dad grow in the Lord
evolve and change moving forward
a human life with sin and grace
reminding me I have a place

So, to my dad I want to say
as your “person fades away”
who you are to me remains
the many who taught me how to pray
A day will come when you will die
and I’ll always know the reason why
you loved the Lord with so much might
encouraged me to keep my sight
on the One of love and light
You will never be small to me
You will only be more free

– your daughter

Grace in the Trump Era

I’m about to get real about my sinful nature, so please be kind.

The election of Donald J. Trump has thrust me into a battle of flesh versus grace like I have never experienced before. At no time in my life have I felt more convicted yet less prepared to live out the message of Jesus, to love our enemies.

“…I say to you, love your enemy…respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. What reward do you deserve if you only love the loveable? How are you any different from others if you limit your kindness only to your friends?” Matthew 5:43-47

I’ve read this scripture, and the many like it countless times, but it’s never called out to me like it does now. I’ve always considered myself a loving, forgiving, and tolerant person, but the emotions that have risen up in me the past 18 months have been remarkably ugly and uncharacteristic. I loathe the shadow that seems to be rising within me, the bitterness swelling inside. I fear a dangerous reunion with depression and anxiety lurking for me every night, and I realize that this way of living…this swimming in an ocean of toxicity is not sustainable. There’s a quickening in my heart every time I react to our President with disgust, fury, and despair, and I recognize this quickening as a challenge I’m woefully unequipped to sufficiently manage.

I desire to have the heart of Jesus towards Trump, not because I want to be a “good Christian” or because I have something to prove, or want to “appear” holy and faithful, but because I believe that love heals and hate destroys. I feel the tremor of the voice of Jesus deep in my soul saying, “this is your Mount Everest Renee’. This is your purpose, right here, right now. This is who I’ve made you to be…a voice of light and love in this moment, a peacemaker, a woman who learns to wholeheartedly give and receive grace because she fully grasps that every one of my creations is worthy. Your life can be a testament to how I love you and every other human on this earth without conditions, without reservations. If you will allow me to transform your heart so that you can love who you’ve deemed unlovable, then you will break this destructive cycle and breathe in the freshness of my tender spirit in a way you’ve never experienced.” I want to respond to this persistent rumbling in my core, but my human nature cannot summon it. Sealing the goal for grace in my mind has not translated to action in my heart. I pray for the Lord’s heart towards a man I believe is undeserving of grace and then I scoff at myself as I reflect on the knowledge that grace IS exactly that… undeserved favor! If he could earn it then it wouldn’t be grace.

Grace for Trump is not the only place I struggle.

I yearn to have the heart of Jesus towards myself. I intend to offer myself love and forgiveness, but every time I respond to others from a place of judgment and exasperation, my heart sinks in shame. There has been a heaviness, a sadness, a separateness that isolates me from the love I used to sense in my daily life. I fear there’s no place for me anymore. I wonder if the wilderness has swallowed me whole. I scold myself for lacking the heart of Jesus, even while I’m consciously seeking it out. My internal dialogue is not one of compassion or hope as I continually disappoint myself in the journey towards becoming love. I am dispirited by my grave inability to create a gentleness in my heart when I so badly want to be an example of the love of Jesus. This year, I have teetered between healthy accountability and severe self-shaming. I pray for the Lord’s heart towards myself knowing that no amount of good deeds could ever earn His blessings. If I could earn it, then it wouldn’t be grace.

This journey for grace is more wearisome than I expected.

I dedicated this year to grace and I am persistently tested, consistently repenting, consciously aware of every ungracious thought and action. I have hit my knees begging for the Lord’s heart towards those I don’t understand, those I vehemently disagree with, those I fear. I have grappled over how to love my enemies..truly, radically love them. It’s seemingly effortless to flippantly say, “I will love my enemies.” It’s a different endeavor altogether to react from a place of benevolence when I come face to face with an adversary’s hostile shouts, venomous words, and furious eyes. I want to behold myself and others with generosity. I want a lens of redemption to filter out the world’s perspective so that visions of love, grace and mercy are all that remain. I want an agape love to spill out of me in a life-giving stream. I want to feel the strength of God’s love lifting me up in my weakest moments so that I may lift the burden of lovelessness and isolation from those who are wounded and lonely.

I am starving for a grace that glides naturally from my being, but the war of words raging inside my head has done nothing to encourage the love of God in my heart, and so I repent. I repent for making it about me. I repent of my bitterness. I repent of my judgment. I repent of my anger. I repent of my need to be right. My flesh reminds me every day that I am incapable of transforming my heart without supernatural intervention.

Below is a visual of the candid and often unpleasant inner workings of my daily thought life. Beware that it is brutal. I am not proud of where I’m at, but I am hopeful, as I believe The Lord is working on me every second of every day. I rarely make it to column 3 (The Truth), and even when I do, it isn’t without kicking and screaming. God’s wisdom has yet to take root in my heart, but that is my constant prayer.

My Flesh = My Worldly Response = My Knee Jerk Reaction = My Sin My Human Struggle for Grace = My Self Talk God’s Wisdom = The Truth
Trump is evil and there’s little to no explanation for supporting a man who bullies and disparages war heroes, immigrants, refugees, minorities, women, the disabled, the dying, leaders of ally countries, literally anyone who disagrees with him! Ugh! I hate this sin…this tendency to judge others that lives and thrives within me. I am not blameless. I am also guilty of making fun of others, laughing at jokes that are in poor taste, thinking less of certain people when I feel justified. In fact, I do this to Trump and feel TOTALLY justified! BUT, at least I’m willing to reflect on my faults and ask for forgiveness. At least I don’t live my life committing these offenses without any remorse! And, here I go again feeding the sin that enjoys its lofty place in my heart. Why can’t I get this grace thing right?! Why am I always making excuses for my lack of grace? Why can’t I will myself to love the way God loves? I’m so bad at this! I’ll never figure out how to love those my flesh has deemed unlovable! Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard…His gift of love and favor now cascades over us, all because Jesus, the Anointed One, has liberated us from guilt… Romans 3:23-24
I am physically ill as I observe how Trump fuels the fire of hatred! I literally can’t think of another person who can stir the malignant brew of animosity more effectively than our current President. And yet I give myself a pass as I fuel the fire of hatred with name-calling, negative social media posts, and fruitless conversations regarding my disgust for him! I cannot fight hate with hate, so why do I keep ending up here?! Shame on me, shame on me, shame on me! You are forgiven and so is he.
How is it possible that Trump’s Christian supporters can’t see how he capitalizes on fear to win their support and that fear is NOT from The Lord?!?! Yet, I’m full of fear too! My reaction to his policies and vicious rhetoric sends me into a whirlwind of fitful nights and dark days envisioning nightmarish outcomes. I’m guilty of allowing fear to rule my heart, as I fear his presidency will bring us to war and/or tear our country apart. I provide fear with a playground as I watch the news, read his tweets, participate in relationships that serve as an echo chamber. I am once again doing the very thing I claim to hate so much! If my faith is in The Lord, then there would be no fear! God will never give us the spirit of fearing men or others. The Holy Spirit gives us mighty power, love, and self-control…the light of revelation. 2 Timothy 1:7
I have yet to observe any behavior from Trump that exemplifies the love of Jesus, so why do so many “Christians” support him? Maybe I no longer identify as being a Christian when the reputation of some seems to be that of hypocrisy, intolerance, racism, nationalism, pridefulness, dishonesty, fear-mongering, hatefulness, bitterness, intimidation, un-forgiveness, belligerence, sexism… I have not been appointed judge of moral character. Who am I to act as if I have everything figured out and anyone who disagrees is blind? Who do I think I am?!?! How many times have I encouraged others to dial back their compulsion to be right? How many times have I prayed for the softening of hearts and the opening of ears and the healing of relationships? Yet, here I am dialing into the rage and digging in my heels. HOWEVER, he has admitted he’s never had to ask for forgiveness. At the very least I have the insight to know when I’ve sinned and the ability to feel remorse. At least I’m looking for a way to show love even when I REALLY don’t want to. And here I go again with my righteous anger, my rationalization of denying grace. Once again I’ve failed! God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it! John 3:17
Trump’s narcissism, pride, and lack of any humility whatsoever makes it substantially difficult for me to look at his face, hear his voice, read his words. I look at him and feel evil, see evil, hear evil. He stands for everything my parents taught me to avoid: dishonesty, bullying, disrespect, dishonor, selfishness, vanity, anger, cruelty, hubris, and the list goes on and on. He represents the opposite of every quality I want modeled for my children. He is everything I was taught not to be. The things he is praised for are the very same things I’ve been punished for. This posture of knowing all there is to know about a man I’ve never met shines a light on the sin of pride and superiority that lives inside of me too. My acidic reaction to Trump is not a seed planted by my Father. This is not a root that bears the fruit of love. This visceral reverberation spreads a twilight over my circle of influence when my desire is to bring the sunrise. So, why is this so damn hard?!?! If I want something SO badly, why can’t I just make it happen? Why can’t I turn myself into the loving and gracious human being I know the Lord desires me to be? I’m so frustrated with this journey. I feel like giving up on my search for grace. Lord, I cannot love the way you love without your heart. Please transform me! Please impart in me the Spirit of Love over the spirit of rightness! We are both struggling sinners and yet “Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly!”

Romans 5:8

If I’m supposed to give Trump grace, then he and every one of his defenders need to give (fill in the blank) grace! I can’t wrap my head around the people who stand up for his abhorrent behavior and then get defensive when someone reacts with anger in return. Trump started the racist and outlandish birther conspiracy against Obama, yet his supporters are up in arms over the Russian investigation. I hear people belaboring how upset they are with Robert De Niro for yelling an obscenity at an award show, yet these same people cheer when Trump calls NFL players “sons of bitches” and join in the chanting, “lock her up,” and applaud when he mercilessly picks on John McCain, and rallies around him when he encourages his supporters to physically harm protesters. I’m stunned and sickened that he can talk about grabbing women’s pussy’s and how easy it is to take advantage of them because he’s powerful and rich, but yet his base continues to talk about Bill Clinton. It feels to me as if deceit and sexual assault and misconduct are completely forgivable as long as you’re on the “right” side. The false virtues I’ve witnessed makes me definitively unwell. The double standard is outrageous! What is this hypocrisy?!?! Again, grace is undeserved favor and I need it too! Grace does not wait for the person to get everything right before it shows up. It’s not even waiting for us to get one thing right. If I insist on Trump changing his modus operandi before I change my heart towards him, then I will continue to run low on peace and I will exhaust myself chasing grace. There is no positive change that can come from my despondency. Hope is is not ignited by a fire of vindictiveness. Redemption and reconciliation will never grow from a place of hostility. I must find a way to allow the permanent station of grace to take camp in my heart, but I’m finding it nearly impossible and therefore I’m afraid I’m failing at being Love. “The Son of Man has come to seek out and to give life to those who are lost.” Luke 19:10

He is seeking us out even while we head in the wrong direction. Jesus views us through the eyes of love because we are made in His image and we have been reconciled to Him through the sacrifice of the savior. He does not withhold his love based on our behavior…He loves us in despite of it. The truth is that His transformative love is available to every one of us, and He will love me through my journey no matter how many wrong turns I take.

If you are offended for him, standing up for him, defending him, I feel like screaming, “he’s not the one that needs protecting! It’s those he oppresses and bullies and demeans and flippantly disregards that need protection!” If you can’t see the hurt he has caused, the hate he has stirred, the fear-mongering tactics he’s forced down the throats of anyone who will listen, then I don’t know how it is we are living on the same planet. There are so many things I can do to fight injustice, protect the oppressed, love the hurting, care for the poor, and none of those things require vitriol. I only make my heart-sick and the divisions in my circle of influence more polarized when I engage in shaming, finger-pointing, blaming, outrage, and resentment. Sometimes I witness myself expending more energy on being against someone than being for those who need me to stand with them. I am so disappointed that I have come to a place where my knee-jerk reaction is to occupy a space of indignation rather than a space of love and grace. I am terrified that I will never escape this murky water I’m drowning in. Where are you God?! I beg you to lift the heaviness of this contempt that has made its home in my heart the past 18 months. I cannot move forward bearing beautiful fruit without your transformative power! This all feels impossible! “Looking straight into their eyes, Jesus replied, Humanly speaking…no one can save himself. But what seems impossible to you is never impossible to God!” Matthew 19:26

I’m exhausted from this struggle. I’m exhausted just writing and reading about this struggle. Even while I seek His heart, strive to love the way He calls us to love, attempt to offer grace in all situations to all people, I feel abandoned to blindly feel my way through this chaos on my own. I don’t know how to give grace to Trump or to those who support him no matter what he says or does, but I do know that the Lord loves him and every single one of His creations regardless of our misdeeds and shortcomings. I know that as much as I focus on Trump’s need for forgiveness and grace, I need the very same things! I’m tempted to berate myself for my lack of love, but I know that’s not God’s desire for me. I know He is inviting me to rely on Him. Today, I feel alone. Today, I feel lost. Today, I wonder what road lies ahead. Today, I feel fatigue setting in as I relentlessly beg for a transformation. Today, my spirit is waning as I fruitlessly search for a heart I can’t create on my own. Today, I ask the creator to breathe new life into me. Today, I meditate on The Word that says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” – Psalm 34:18.

I imagine 2 main responses to my struggle:

  1. If you’re responding to me with disbelief, disappointment, or even disgust that I could have so much darkness in my heart towards a man I don’t even know, then I challenge you to consider that those are the very same feelings I share in response to Trump. If you’re feeling “column 1” feelings about me, let me be the first to acknowledge that I get it. If you’re sitting in judgement about me or anyone else during this highly polarized era of “othering,” would you join me in my effort to move to “column 3?” I don’t make this request because I need you to like me, but because I want us all to live in a place of wholeness and grace. I want us all to experience one another as God experiences us. I want us all to rest in a place of peace and joy as we face our daily lives in community with one another. I want us to find a way to give each other grace in this messy, broken, imperfect world full of messy, broken, imperfect people. I want us to conquer hate with love! I could try to convince you that I’m not a terrible person, but let me just admit that I’m a sinful human being who is seeking grace and striving to have the heart of the Lord no matter how many times I fail.
  2. If you’re responding with disbelief, disappointment or even disgust that I am making an effort to “let Trump off the hook so easily,” I want to be clear that seeking grace is not justifying, excusing, or trivializing wrong-doings. I strongly believe that lies, racism, sexism, oppression, and hate all have to be addressed and consequences are necessary. Grace can be offered without brushing anything under the rug or minimizing the ramifications of someone’s behavior. I believe that in order to be a light in this world we must be pillars of truth, which requires the courage to speak against polluting messages and the willingness to condemn untruths. We must speak up and speak out, and I believe that doing so from a place of love is the only way we can escape the cancer of “column 1.” I believe rising above the fury is the quickest path to a place of unification and healing. If you connect with my “column 1” feelings about Trump, let me be the first to acknowledge that I get it. If you’re sitting in judgement about him or anyone else during this highly polarized era of “othering,” would you join me in my effort to move to “column 3?” I believe that only love is sustainable. I believe radical love and profound forgiveness are powerfully transformative. I believe there’s a path that allows us to stand up for what is right without succumbing to despondency and animosity. I believe there’s a journey ahead that doesn’t include hate, but rather calls us to practice a communion of reconciliation so that we may avoid the death of our joy and the joy of those around us. I believe we can be breath in breathless moments rather than oxygen fueling the fire.

My life is full of choices that can move me towards grace or away. If I am to be an ambassador of redemption I cannot do so by engaging in maliciousness. I am choosing to create a community that bonds over inclusivity versus causticity. I am seeking a way to stand for justice and offer grace simultaneously. I don’t believe it has to be either/or…I want to live a life of both. I want to find a way to hold the hands of the oppressed, the vulnerable, the hurting, and claim out loud what I believe is right and worthy without pointing fingers, placing blame, screaming judgement, spreading condemnation or ostracizing. I want to love loudly and stand boldly for what’s fair, just, and good without being against anyone. I want to be an example of grace’s transformative power. I want the Lord to brand my heart with the reminder that every single one of us is His creation. I want to remember that we all require healing and that love conquers all. I cannot in good conscience continue to wallow in bitterness when I know with all my being that hate will not defeat hate and shame will not fill hearts with loving-acceptance and compassion. I want to live from a place where: Justice is necessary and Grace is transformative!

As I continue to wrestle with grace in the Trump era, I invite you to join me in reflecting on this beautiful scripture:

Don’t let anger control you or be fuel for revenge, not for even a day…And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them. Lay aside bitter words, temper tantrums, revenge, profanity, and insults. But instead be kind and affectionate toward one another. Has God graciously forgiven you? Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.” Ephesians 4:26-32

And when we fail, may we remember that we are forgiven.

Grief Keeps Giving. Grace Keeps Saving.

Burt, it’s April and I miss you.

I love celebrating your life but I hate that I have to.

It’s hard to describe the shadows that creep in late at night, while I lay awake unguarded. The harrowing memories that plague my tired mind. It starts before I even consciously realize that we’ve slipped into April. It’s as if everything shifts. The air is thicker, the mood cloudier, the dreams lonelier, the heart heavier, the words insufficient. Like clockwork the grief creeps forward, relentlessly gaining intensity with each passing second. It’s difficult to explain the trembling in my voice that appears this time of year. I may have told a thousand stories that included your name, but in April I can’t even silently think of you without tears welling up in my worn out eyes. It’s as if the valiant effort my mind put forth all year to shrink that permanent hole in my life was all in vain…completely upended as the hole burrows deeper and wider overnight. I am flooded with the realness, the pain, the emptiness that comes with no longer having you here. It’s as if I’m flung back to that day 5 years ago and I have suddenly forgotten how to cope…forgotten the miles I’ve traveled in healing…forgotten how to live with the sorrow that visits always uninvited.

There are no words to adequately describe the aching I feel in my spirit to see you again…hear your laugh, hug your neck, listen to your stories, tell you mine, introduce you to your darling niece and nephews. There’s no stopping the flow of tears as I imagine how much you would love these precious little ones that have been born since you departed, and how much they would love you back. Just last night I read The Book With No Pictures to Isaac, the nephew you kissed on the knee as you passed in the stars. I couldn’t help but imagine the hilarious voices you would’ve invented while reading this book and how much he would’ve relished in your time together. I try to do it justice, to make you proud, to give Isaac a glimpse of the joy and silliness you brought into our lives. I give it my all even while fighting back the quiver in my voice.

I love that your legacy lives on in your family and friends, but I hate that you left a legacy so soon.

Your birthday is in April.

The last time I saw your smiling face and heard your voice was in April, on Easter Sunday, when we announced that I was pregnant.The last letter you wrote me arrived in April. It was red ink, with capital letters, in your beautiful architectural hand writing, clearly expressing your excitement that your baby sister was going to be a mom. You passionately described the unconditional love that comes with parenthood. This letter…the last letter you wrote to me still explodes with adoration for your beautiful girls.

Then there is May.

You left us in May. The last text message you sent the family was on May 11th, the same day you died. While we were celebrating dad’s 70th birthday, you were being greeted by Jesus. The call I will never forget came the morning of May 12th. It was Mother’s Day…it was a day of mere survival because the unthinkable had happened…you had not survived. We delivered your eulogy on the 21st day of May.

I hate these anniversaries.

Every year, for 2 months I feel myself receding into the shadows where words are meager and bitterness clings to the tip of my tongue. I’m tempted to numb the vivid memories of this trauma with hollow distractions and senseless behaviors. For 2 months a year I spend sleepless nights soaking my pillow with tears of regret, anxiety, anger, fear, heartbreak. For 2 months a year I can no longer fight off the visuals of your death, your viewing, your casket being lowered into the ground, your daughters faces as I drove them to the cemetery. For 2 months a year I’m reminded of the agony I felt completing menial daily tasks after you passed. I’m reminded of the first time I showered after your death and how I despised myself for any sense of relief I felt as the warm water poured over me. I couldn’t shake the guilt that came with knowing that you lost your life in a bitter cold river and now I was allowing this same hijacker of life…this water…rain over me as a source of comfort, washing away my tears. For 2 months a year I think back to that time I couldn’t bare to use punctuation because it felt too final. As if the energy it took to end a sentence was more than I could muster. For 2 months a year the dam breaks wide open and I can’t fight back the sobs or run from the gripping sadness.

Then, the strangest and most unexpected gift is given. Somewhere in the middle of those 2 months I find solace because you ALWAYS show up. You show up in a dream that someone shares with me. You show up in a Bob Marley song that’s playing in a random boutique I step foot in for the first time. You show up in a memory I had forgotten about. You show up in a picture I’ve never seen. You show up in a story I’ve never heard. You show up in a beautiful building that I instantly imagine you creating. You show up in a whisper reminding me that I must not take a moment for granted. I feel you standing beside me. You dare me to self-reflect on my attitude, my complaints, my propensity to take the blessings around me for granted. I picture your smiling face and imagine all I would give to prevent you from taking that hike by yourself…I imagine how many more breaths you could’ve had…should’ve had…and I’m convinced once again that I must use my time and the gift of life wisely and in honor of you. You show up during those 2 months to confirm once again that God’s grace is sufficient for me and His power is made perfect in my weakness.

It is during these wearisome months that it becomes crystal clear how God uses each heart wrenching moment to remind me of the preciousness of life. Every year, by His grace, I experience supernatural strength and peace to push through the months of tears and the nights laying awake thinking of you and what I would sacrifice to have you with us again. He comforts me in my most vulnerable time of need and assures me that one day we will meet again and it will be a reunion more beautiful than I could ever imagine. He joins me in my grief and assures me that my grief is not without hope. This year He gave me a song on Easter Sunday and it consumed my soul as I sang from the depths of my mourning heart, “death where is your sting?!” As I sang, with my arms reached high I imagined you with open arms ready to embrace me when it’s my time to journey home. He draws me into Him and I feel close to you again.

Burt, it’s April and I feel you near.

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Burton James Little

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – 1 Pete 5:10

 

Grace Y’all

I need grace y’all! (Nashville emphasis)

I was with my co-worker in Nashville for a conference and we were making the best of it. We were consuming All. The. Food. We were delighting in the music, the people, and the adorable boutiques.

My wallet was beginning to feel exploited as we wandered towards a stylish store named Hey Rooster. It was one of those stand-alone stores that is so cute and creative that my automatic assumption is, “there’s no way I’ll be able to afford a thing in here, but I’m going to enter with my head held high in the clouds while I dream of a day where I can purchase every precious item that catches my eye.” As we neared the entrance, my co-worker said, “you know we won’t be able to afford a thing in this place,” at which I carelessly replied, “anytime there’s only 3 things in a store I’m well aware that it’s out of my league.” It was an obvious exaggeration to make the point that this shop was too charming for me and my dilapidated wallet. It was a remark I would soon regret.

Once inside, the woman behind the counter asked, “what did you say? Something about only having 3 items in the store?” My first response was to laugh and explain how niche’ stores are typically too expensive for my blood, but how I still love to browse because they fill me with inspiration and help me aspire to a day where I won’t feel the need to joke about boutique shopping. I quickly realized that she did not find my wisecrack humorous and quite the opposite, she was deeply offended. I can’t recall all that was said, as I began to burn with shame and sadness realizing how my statement had hurt her. She commented that she wasn’t just an employee but the owner and that even the person behind the counter deserves to be treated with dignity. She pointed out that her peanut butter may be more expensive than the peanut butter at a chain store, but that her peanut butter was of a quality unsurpassed. I agreed whole-heartedly and quickly apologized for my insensitive sarcasm. I told her that her store was lovely and she continued to explain to me the quantity of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into building and running a small business. I repeated how sorry I was and that my intent was not to offend.

As I browsed her merchandise I internally hammered myself. How could I be so inconsiderate? How could I be so impolite? I have a sister-in-law who is a small business owner and I have the utmost respect for entrepreneurs. I know the struggle and the heart and the endless hard work it takes to do what this young passionate woman was doing. How could I make her feel like this? I was in pure self-disgust and disgrace mode as I brought an adorable book to the counter to purchase for my son. As she handed me the bag I said again, “I’m really sorry.”

She replied, “I can’t give you prices like you get at all those chain stores you’ve been shopping at (gesturing to the bags in my hand), but I can give quality and I deserve to be treated with respect too.”

The moment I was outside with my co-worker I began to cry. I was devastated that my words had caused someone to feel belittled. Never in a million years had I expected to make someone feel disrespected or unappreciated. I wanted this small business owner to understand that my comment was about my own financial insecurities and had nothing to do with her abilities or her store. I wanted her to know how much I respected and admired her skill. I wanted her to know me and assume the best. It was tearing my heart out that I had hurt a stranger and she would never know that I’m not the person she had decided I was.

My co-worker, being the lovely friend she is, assured me that I wasn’t in the wrong and that the store owner had been inappropriately accusatory. My response was to imagine that the store-owner’s friends would most likely console her in a similar way when she told the story from her side. Clearly, we were interpreting the exchange from a one-sided place and so was she. She did not know me, my heart, or my intentions and nor did we know hers. As much as I wanted her to believe the best about me and my intentions, I would need to do the same for her in order to break the cycle of shame. It was in that moment that I realized:

WE ALL NEED GRACE!

It’s true that my intentions were not mean-spirited and when I realized how my words had been translated I was quick to apologize. Anyone who knows me well would probably conclude that the store owner had been unfair. It’s also true that there was no benefit to me being angry with her. I have no idea what she was facing that day, what news about her business she may have just received, what review she may have just read, what negative voices she fights off, what insecurities she lives with each day. Anyone who knows her well might likely conclude that I am an unaware, tone-deaf and selfish woman who needed to learn a lesson. The truth is that in that moment we both needed grace. In that moment neither of us needed to be berated. In that moment we both required grace for each other and ourselves. In that moment “shame on you” and “shame on me” was an unhelpful dialogue and monologue.

Many times in my life I’ve chosen to point the finger at another person in order to avoid the pain of my own mistake OR I’ve carried my mistake like a cross that weighs me down with self-condemnation, but not this time. This time I felt the deep need to release the burden and embrace the truth that all people make mistakes and at the same time can be beautiful, kind, loving, forgiven, and SHAMELESS people!

There is no redemption in pointing fingers at others or chastising ourselves. There is no healing in blaming or taking blame. There is no honor in heaping shame on another or drowning in it ourselves.

GRACE Y’ALL…WE NEED IT!!!

I would like to bless the beautiful woman who owns the store Hey Rooster. Please consider ‘Paying Grace Forward’ and check out her delightful store at: https://www.heyrooster.com

Dear Christians, Jesus is Calling Us!

I believe with all of my heart that in this time of exceptional polarization and heightened vitriol, Jesus is moving in powerful ways, and as He moves, He is calling us to be His hands and feet in a radical and reconciliatory way! He’s calling us to be a river of grace amidst the stones of judgement, a bridge of love amidst the firestorm of rage, a breath of truth amidst the suffocating lies, a blanket of peace amidst the whirlwind of fear, a testament to His unfailing mercy and goodness, a light in the darkness, a shelter in the storm. God’s will for our lives is to love like Jesus. 2018 presents a fresh opportunity to cling to the promises of our Father and release the grip we may have on our political ideologies and religious doctrine. If we love Christ then we are called to love like Christ! I believe The Lord’s heart aches when He witnesses believers showing anything but the love of the Lord to those outside their tribe, their nation, their race, their political party, their religion. I’ve shattered my own heart with actions and words that did not honor and glorify God. I’ve engaged in outrage and I have had to ask for forgiveness. In 2017 I felt a distance between my heart and the hearts of other Christians that I have never felt before, and with that, came loneliness and confusion. Last year reminded me over and over that we must look to Him and ask for His heart so that we may show His magnificent love His monumental way. It is always the right time to stand up for what is lovely, cast off ugliness, and hold firm to His message of love and grace for every one of His creations. Christians, if we believe we were created in His image and He is Love, then we must be prepared to love without borders or judgement…we must be prepared to show a love that is all inclusive and accepting…we must be prepared to vulnerably and persistently seek reconciliation with those who look, think, live, speak, pray, vote differently than us… we must be prepared to be a supernatural example of what His love and grace looks like in a broken world full of broken people. In order to be a visible reflection of Christ’s image we must allow Him to transplant our heart with His. I believe the Lord yearns for tenderness in our hearts, discernment on our tongues, softness in our speech, selflessness in our actions, and an approach to others that comes from no other place but a place of love. I believe there is no better time than now, in 2018, to open our hearts to those across the street, over the fence, on the other side of the aisle, and beyond the borders of faith and country. I believe The Lord yearns for us to fellowship with one another, break bread and draw close. My prayer is that a strengthened connection will loosen our judgements and quiet our hearts. My prayer is that we will reach across the table to hold hands, heal hurts, and spread joy. My prayer is that we will let go of our talking points and learn to love his ENTIRE creation as He does. My prayer is that we will put Him before all else so that we may consistently represent His gospel and be a light to the world. My prayer is that we will learn to see and treat others as The Lord does and that we will silence the untruths that attempt to misrepresent what we believe and who we live for. My prayer is that Christians will be an example of Jesus’s love in all circumstances to all people.

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.” 01 John 3:18

In 2018, what would it look like to be Love? What would it sound like to be Love? What would it feel like to be Love? Christians, how can we align our actions, our words, our hearts, our daily lives with the love of Jesus? How can we communicate the kindness of Jesus and confirm to his entire creation that we want to share life’s burdens even when our struggles differ?

What was Jesus’s relationship with the poor? How did he care for the impoverished? Were there pre-requisites to His giving? Did Jesus measure a person’s work ethic before he fed them? How can we think and talk about those who have been stricken by poverty in a way that shows the love of Jesus?

When the word “lazy” is used to refer to a human being (a creation and image of God) on welfare does it heap shame on a person who has been struggling with shame for years maybe a lifetime? Is this a word that brings healing or does it create new wounds and rip open old ones? Do we talk about those who are suffering from a place that sounds hard-hearted and unloving, judgmental and unkind or from a place that represents The Love of Jesus? Is it possible that only God sees and intimately knows what another person has endured in their lifetime or what they presently face on a daily basis? Could it be that if we knew a person’s story and what they’ve lived through we would be amazed at their resiliency and that they’ve even survived?

Taking it one step further, is it possible that what we think about a person’s “story” should have nothing to do with how open we are to give?

Could Jesus be calling us to stop judging and to JUST LOVE?

Through my work in Medicaid as a medical social worker for 15 years, I know of thousands of people who were living comfortable lives and then suffered a terrible tragedy that stole their independence, their livelihood, their physical and emotional wellness, and sometimes even the lives of their loved ones. I also know those whose tragedy started when they were born into a home that provided no safety, no love, and no promises of happiness…born into a life I cannot even being to imagine enduring. Even with this knowledge, is it our responsibility to deem whether or not the reasons behind a person’s circumstance are “sad enough” or “make sense?” Are we called to judge whether or not someone is deserving of relief or rescue according to our criteria?

Matthew 25:35-40 says, “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

When we consider how we will give, it may do our spirit well to remember that no inherent worth comes with money or hard work…our worthiness comes from the grace of God. Those who live comfortably are no more worthy of God’s love than those who struggle day to day to survive on little to nothing. Jesus gave in love, and so must we.

We are called to love not judge. We are called to pour out God’s grace not blame and shame. We are called to connect and build relationship and join others in their pain with an open and giving heart. We are called to open our arms not point or wag our finger. We don’t need to understand the why or the how behind a person’s circumstance before adopting a loving and giving heart towards them. We don’t need details to press in, break bread, connect, love.  Christian’s, let us love without condition…let us give without judgment…let us include without limits…let us love like Jesus.

What was Jesus’s relationship with the oppressed, the stigmatized, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised? How can we avoid complacency and a silence so loud it deafens those who have also been muted?  As Christians, should we be careful not to insinuate that, “if I’m not affected it doesn’t matter?”

My truth is that I live a life of privilege, most of which I was born into, that is not affected by most governmental decisions. Health care, immigration, welfare, gay rights, civil rights, etc. are not issues that directly affect my daily life or well-being. I have never had to fight for benefits tied to who I love; I’ve never had to wonder how my children will receive health care or fear that I could lose my livelihood with a vote. I have never had to escape a dangerous country clinging to my children while begging the Lord to keep them alive. I have never had to worry how someone might treat me because of the color of my skin.

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Psalm 9:9

Can we dismiss, minimize, or trivialize the concerns of our fellow human beings and still be an example of love and grace? Could it be that if it weighs on their hearts, it weighs on the heart of The Lord, and it should weigh on ours as well? I believe Jesus would always choose people over policy. This is not a call to protest or to rail against people we don’t agree with. Anger is not from The Lord, but a heart to advocate for others and a spirit of kindness are. As servants of Jesus, a willingness to “be with” and “judge not” would serve Him, others, and us well. He was not a political man but a lover of men and He loves and cares for those who are hurting regardless of the cause.

“…If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday…” Isaiah 58:6-11

Would Jesus disregard those who call for justice and equality or would he listen to the breaking of their hearts and offer love and healing? Does God yearn to transform our hearts in a way that brings reconciliation and healing, love and forgiveness? Could we ask for the heart and ears of Jesus and listen to the message behind those who are hurting without judgment, jumping to conclusions, and justifying offense?  Christians, I believe we can embrace truth and avoid perpetuating false dichotomies or taking up political, personal, and or religious offense so quickly that we dismiss a need for change or miss an opportunity to love. Jesus spent time with, identified with, individually ministered to and released the oppressed and I pray that He will help us do the same.

How would Jesus respond to those who have been victimized by sexual misconduct? What is the heart of God for those identifying with #metoo? Does God’s heart break with each new breaking story? Does he mourn for his sons and daughters who have suffered in secrecy and shame for so long? Does he weep with them?

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to heal wounds and restore what has been stolen.

I am a part of this movement and I don’t know of a woman in my life that isn’t. I’ve been harassed, humiliated, and forced upon by men in a way that has shamed me and changed the way I see myself in the mirror, and it happens to people all over the world without any political motivations. Certainly we must be responsible in our investigations of each claim, but we must also be responsible in our responses to the brave and vulnerable victims who come forward. Christ does not desire for his sons and daughters to drown in secrecy and shame because they are too frightened to come forward due to political, professional, and/or personal maliciousness. Christ desires freedom and restoration and that can only occur in the light. I believe it is important to treat the #metoo movement as an opportunity for supernatural healing on both sides and this will mean we have to lay our judgement and knee-jerk reactions aside. This movement is an anguished cry from so many men and women who have been horrifically mistreated and abused and it is an opportunity for Christians to come forward with love and acceptance.

How would Jesus respond to those who have been accused of sexual misconduct? Does God consider their political ideologies or their hearts? Are we being a holy representation of God when we brush the sin under the rug? Are we being a holy representation of God when we condemn the accused? Making excuses for the sin or the sinner fuels the fire and re-injures those who have been victimized by the sin, but we also don’t have The Lord’s permission to judge and condemn. We are called to be agents of intercession and how we view the perpetrator should not change based on political party, faith, culture, etc. The ministry of Christ is to intercede before the throne of God for the sinner in the hopes that he will respond to the voice of God. Regardless of a person’s politics, religion, race, ethnicity, history, etc. Jesus wants to set them free of their perversion, make them whole, forgive their sin and bring them home to Him.

John 3:17-19 states, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Truth will set the sinner free and shining light into the darkness is the function of the Holy Spirit.

We must consistently speak truth, offer grace, forgive, and love if we wish to exemplify the Kingdom of God.  Christ spilled His blood for every sinner and only God can shine a light into a dark heart and set it free.  As one of my favorite authors, Paul David Tripp wrote, “grace moves toward wrong, not to condemn, but to rescue restore, help and forgive.” Transformation and healing are possible for perpetrators and victims and we are called to believe this and pray for this regardless of party affiliation or identification of faith.

How much does Jesus love his creation…his entire creation? Does he weep for refugees and immigrants who flee their country of origin to escape brutality and negligence in their country of origin? Would he encourage us to make decisions about his creation from a place of fear or a place of love?

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:18-19

If I sit and imagine I live in a country where my children’s lives are at risk every single day, a country where my children have seen dead bodies before they’ve seen a playground, a country where torture is commonplace and the sound of music is replaced with the hissing of missiles and the rhythm of explosions, I become physically ill. If I imagine having children in a place where the government leaves my kids starving or allows gangs the freedom to kidnap my family members, I see myself doing ANYTHING (regardless of legality) to save my children’s lives. Can we imagine if these were our starving children, our bloodied brothers, our sobbing mothers? What would we be willing to do?

Of course there have to be safety measures. Of course there have to be laws, but again Jesus calls us to LOVE…and love over fear. He doesn’t call us to only love Americans or law-abiding citizens or those who speak English or those who share our same values or culture…he calls us to love everybody…every person…every human he created and he created all of us. God didn’t create countries or borders…He created people…human beings…all equal in His eyes. How does God see his creation? Is it possible that the way we sometimes speak about other human beings saddens our loving God who sees His creation as a lovely and lovable whole? Does He desire for us to avoid the use of dehumanizing language so that we will make decisions that consider others as a creation of God?

Christians, I believe we must talk about and treat immigrants (legal or not) as if they’re God’s creation, because that IS who they are…they are our brothers and sisters! They are not “the other.” They are not “those people” or “them.” They are US!!! They are God’s!

What is Jesus’s heart towards those we struggle to love? Does God have criteria on who is deserving of His sacrificial love or does He offer love to His entire creation without condition? For those of us who have struggled with discouragement, fear, offense, anxiety, and possibly outrage this past year, are we willing to release the negativity we have invited into our hearts and minds to seek a replacement of supernatural peace and joy that can only come from The One who loves perfectly? Can we stand up for what’s right, defend the oppressed, love the outcasts, lift up the down trodden all while asking Jesus to protect our hearts from anger and judgment, un-forgiveness and despair? I know that I cannot summon a loving heart towards every person, but God can. My human abilities have not allowed me to reach a place where I can forgive everyone, but Jesus forgives and so I continue to pray for His heart.

Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), and to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]?” And so, in 2018, I am committed to diligently practicing loving-kindness and setting aside my ego.

I openly admit that I struggled last year with balancing my desire to be a refuge to the hurting while also showing love to those I believed (right or wrong) were causing the hurt, but I was convicted when I read these words from Paul Tripp:

“Lost children need compassion. It doesn’t make any sense to get mad at somebody who is lost. It doesn’t make any sense to make it a matter of personal offense against you. It doesn’t make any sense to condemn a lost person with words or throw a punishment at them and walk away. Lost people need understanding and compassion.”

I’m lost a lot! I need compassion and understanding! I believe I can have compassion for the most difficult of people IF God imparts His love and grace into my heart. This is not something I can do on my own, but I do desire a softer heart towards those that offend and disappoint, and all humans do, including me. I desire an ability to forgive.  I desire a freedom from outrage and an ability to stand for compassion for all…even those I don’t believe have earned it. But, who has earned it? Who does deserve it? I have done nothing to deserve the Lord’s unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness, so I ask you reader to also have compassion for me when I offend and disappoint.

I want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do what The Lord instructed in Luke 6:27-28, “But to you who are listening I say, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I cannot do these things without divine intervention, so I continue to seek the Lord’s heart through prayer and fellowship with other Christ followers who believe in His message of unconditional love and grace for all. His power is made perfect in our weakness, so as we face hardships I pray our hearts will find rest knowing that when we are weak He makes us strong.

In an age of echo chambers and confirmation bias I am praying that in 2018 God will break the chains of political ideology and dogmatic theology so that we can be Ambassadors of His Love…a safe haven for all of creation…a warm and tender place of good news.

I pray from Psalm 51: “Create in me (us) a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (us).”

Amen.

 

 

 

A Lesson from my Letter to Mormons

Words Matter

After posting my blog, A Letter to Mormons, I received a comment from a woman who spoke to an issue I think many of us have struggled with on both sides of the fence. I want to bring attention to this quote because I have spent weeks sifting through its meaning and how it made me feel.

The woman wrote, “I live in Utah, where my husband and I have moved to dedicate our lives to sharing truth with Mormons and helping them out of their religious cult, which is exactly what it is.”

When I read this comment, my heart sank, blood rushed to my head, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I physically bristled. I immediately began imagining how hurtful this statement could be to the Mormons following the comments on my blog. The whole purpose of my letter was to connect with my Mormon neighbors and this divisive comment broke my heart. I will admit that I struggled with anger as I felt the need to defend all the open-hearted, courageous, loving Mormons who had poured their hearts out in their responses to me and trusted me enough to share their stories. After I processed my initial disappointment, I paused. I paused and considered all the times I had heard this term used in my circle of influence while growing up. It was not until this moment that I realized how damaging this 4-letter word could be. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never thought about the implications of this language until now. I had always assumed that Mormons knew what non-Mormons meant when they used the term “cult” and that any hurt feelings were due to a misunderstanding. Please forgive me for my short-sightedness. As I was reflecting I began to put myself in the shoes of my Mormon neighbors (and new friends, Praise God) and it brought me back to the many moments of name-calling, shaming, and embarrassment I’ve endured throughout my life when I didn’t fit someone’s mold. I began to realize how painful this must be to hear and how nasty it must sound even when the person using the word doesn’t have malicious intent.

First, I want to share (for better or worse) how this term was used in my world. I grew up in a non-denominational Christian household and I was taught that a cult was any faction of Christianity that adds to or changes the Holy Bible, or any religious group that dismisses or alters the main tenets of the Christian faith with unorthodox beliefs. If this is the theological definition and it’s taken at face value, then it explains why Mormonism (with its addition of The Book of Mormon) would be referred to as a cult by non-Mormons who practice the Christian faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. So, I grew up believing that the term “cult” was a religious technicality that described why and how our faiths and belief systems are different, and although an important difference from my faith perspective, I had not considered all the inherent damage that could be caused from casually throwing this word around.

After some soul searching the last couple of months I’ve come to realize that even when non-Mormons believe this definition, refer to this definition, and use this definition to substantiate their desire to share their faith with Mormons, the issue is how this word makes people feel…what it does to a person’s heart. In our present day and age, the word “cult” goes beyond the theological definition and carries a much heavier and sinister connotation since the tragedies of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, TX in 1993, the 1997 California Heaven’s Gate group suicide, and many others.

Words matter. Words can cut us to the bone and labels can destroy any chance of connection we may have with another person. Even if you are referring to the genuine theological definition please stop and consider how this word might make people feel. Consider what is heard when you use this label. When I hear the word “cult”, I picture darkness, fear, coercion, abduction, suicide, murder, death, loss, powerlessness, brain-washing, evil. If we are truly seeking to share the love of Jesus Christ with our Mormon neighbors, are these the words we want them hearing us use to describe them? Are these the words that open another’s heart to our faith story? Are these the words that build bridges and fuse connections? Are these the words that open the doors to vulnerability and whole-heartedness? Are these the words that ignite receptiveness and intrigue? Do these words break down walls and allow for authentic, loving, respectful dialogue?

If someone approaches me with a label that feels like name-calling, my defenses go up, my walls get higher, my heart closes shop and there is no longer room for relationship. I am not going to hear how you love me and care for me and want to share your heart with me after you’ve insinuated that I am dark, scary, and evil. Labeling is not helpful. Relationship is helpful. Breaking bread and fellowship are helpful. Lifting others up is helpful. Loving one another, sharing each other’s story, giving context to why we believe what we believe is helpful. Pointing fingers, calling names, using words that make others feel like they have to defend who they are and what they believe is not helpful…even when you have the best of intentions.

Regardless of technical definitions, the words we use to speak to one another or about one another often carry emotional meaning, which in turn causes emotional reactions. Regardless of why you choose to use a certain term, considering how your language affects a person’s heart is more important than driving home the point you are trying to make. The words you choose matter.

With all of this being said, I also had comments from readers that have experienced what they called a “kidnapping” of a loved one by the Mormon Church. I have not experienced this with the LDS community, but I want to share my story. There are churches of all faiths and denominations that have unfit representatives who use their church to abuse power and perpetuate sin. My great aunt was preyed upon by a “pastor” of an evangelical church in rural Oklahoma. She wasn’t able to have children, so he used the hole in her heart, the vulnerability, the pain to convince her to adopt him. He has parents, a wife and kids, a church and yet he is also an adopted son of my great aunt. She uses her life savings to pay for his expensive trips, his gorgeous house, and his kid’s college tuition. As soon as she began to show signs of forgetfulness, he moved her into a nursing home and wouldn’t let her leave. My family isn’t allowed to visit her because he is now her guardian and has requested that none of us be allowed into the nursing facility to see her. It has been a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, rage-inducing, grief-stricken process to watch and live. So, please let me say that if you’ve experienced something similar I can understand, truly understand, why you would look at the religion affiliated with that person or those people who tore your family apart and feel nothing but disgust, fear, and anger towards them. The challenges for me and for anyone who has experienced something comparable to this is to (1) refrain from judging the whole lot according to the actions of a few and (2) seek the heart of Jesus who is the only one with the grace to love and forgive all people under all circumstances.

If we do witness this sort of behavior in our faith communities, we must speak up. If there are people attending a church, any church, who begin to shun their family because they practice a different faith or if there are people being “ex-communicated” for their sin, their lack of faith, their decisions, their lifestyle, their humanness, then we are called by Jesus to call this out. Jesus was not exclusionary. Jesus did not say “love those who are like you” or “love those who live up to your moral standards” or “love those who attend the same church” or “love those who never show their sin.” Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.

In summary, if we’re going to love like Jesus and proclaim a faith in a God who is Love then we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be cautious and caring with our words, bold in our response to injustice, forgiving of those who have hurt us, and inclusive of all of God’s image bearers! When we share our faith and our truth and our beliefs, may we do so with words of love void of judgement, words of connection void of shame, words that build bridges instead of walls and words that embrace the hearts of others in the warmth of agape love. May we always speak our truth with kindness. Words matter!

God is Not American

God is not American. God is not Republican or Democrat.

God is Love!

God is not discord and He is not mere tolerance. God is not rash, arrogant or hypocritical. God is not disgust and He is not despair or hopelessness. God is not a wall-builder, a divider, a nationalist or populist. God is neither bitter nor disagreeable. God is not apathetic, harsh, or dishonest. God is not unjust or biased. He is not an enabler and He is not permissive. God is not an ideologue. He is not offensive or defensive. God is neither limited nor narrow-minded. God is not fear, anger, or hate.

God is Love!

God is not interested in our rationalizations for treating one another as if His signature is missing from those who don’t match the color of our skin, speak our dialect, share our faith, practice our politics, or perceive the world through the same set of lenses. God is not eager to discover our motivations for marrying our political ideologies, our religious doctrine, our worldly principles, our preferred talking points, or our cultural philosophies over being the reflection of His image on the earth. God is not fascinated with our flimsy justifications for doggedly declaring, “I’m right and you’re wrong” at the expense of loving one another as His unique and lovely creatures.

God is love and He is captivated by His creation. He longs for us to begin looking to Him as our Navigator through this broken world. God is knocking at the door of our hearts and with arms open wide he waits for us to invite him in. God is interested in seeing us love one another, fully and unconditionally, as brothers and sisters. He hungers to witness us ministering life through empathy, joining one another in the mire and sharing the burden of each other’s difficult journeys. He yearns for us to place our identity in Him, which translates into being “for love” and against no one. His deep desire is to watch us spread the good news of the Gospel, the love of Jesus Christ, to every soul we come into contact with, both near and far.

As a lover of Jesus, I have been struggling with many questions. “During this vitriolic time in our country, what is my responsibility?” “How do I stand up for what I believe is right without permitting anger in my heart, irritation on my face and indignation in my tone?” “What am I called to do when I feel The Lord is being misrepresented by those who claim to be Christians?” “How can I effectively advocate for justice from a place of love and grace?” “How can I ‘fight’ for the disadvantaged without fighting?” “How do I stand firm on The Truth without letting the desire to ‘be right’ get in the way?” “How can I protect the persecuted without taking a combative posture?” “How can I be a light in the midst of the darkness?”

I believe the answer is love.

I openly confess that in all my humanness and raw, mortal emotion there are days I witness the events erupting around me and I find myself brimming with resentment, fear, disgust, and a sadness that borders despondency. My blood pressure rises, my heart races, my palms sweat, the tears flow, my voice shakes, my countenance falls and I feel a boiling under the surface that I know is not from The Lord. Before I project my cynicism on social media or detonate my negativity onto my closest circle of influence I occasionally (by the grace of God) stop and pray, and it is only then, that I can hear His voice speak to my soul.

He says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

In this moment, as I ask The Lord to quiet my aching soul, I’m cautioned that hate never delivers the heart to a place of compassion or freedom. I am reminded that although fear may produce a change in behavior, it is not the catalyst our Father uses to break chains and heal wounds. I begin to recognize that as I fill my heart and mind with the world’s perspective I become bogged down in the mire of human capacity and a darkness that can only be shaken off with God’s truth. I hear him calling me to calm my mind, turn off the ideas of this world, and tune into him…resting in His heart. I hear him calling me to boldly confess my short-comings and to rely on Him for transformation.  He calls me to release the heaviness in my heart and the chaos of my mind to Him, because He alone, is big enough to crush the burdens of this world. He calls me to fix my heart on the unveiled Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of supernatural hope and grace, peace and love. He calls me to surrender my angst to Him because He is God and I am not. He calls me to be brave in my speech of what His GRACE (God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense) has done in my life. He calls me to reject cynicism and follow His lead to a place of unfaltering worthiness, restoration, peace, understanding, inclusion, vulnerability, transparency, forgiveness, and humility. He calls me to divorce the things of this world; the ideas, the politics, the idols, the dogma I have married myself to, and at times, unintentionally worshipped. He calls me to produce fruit at a capacity that only His Spirit living in my heart can yield.

God is Love and the fruits of His Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

There is an innate goodness deposited in us as God’sc reation, yet there is an immense gulf between our limited human range and the boundless embodiment of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that is found in Him alone. Jesus came as a gift from the Father to span this gap and make the impossible possible. He can enable us to love as He loves, which is a perfect love. God is everything we cannot be on our own. He is everything we cannot WILL ourselves to be, but when we draw near to Him, we can more effectively and more consistently bear this fruit.

The fruit of His Spirit is love – A love that cherishes diversity as God’s creative genius and delights in the beauty of His glorious masterpiece we call the human race. A love that breaks through the resistance in our hearts, splitting us wide open to receive and expend radical love and healing transformation. A love that devotedly tends to those whom God weeps for. A love that revolutionizes relationships and builds bridges across the chasms of loneliness. A love that cherishes neighbors near and far and allows a tenderness to flow from our lips, regardless of disparities in position.

The fruit of His Spirit is joy – A joy that calls us to a hopeful expectancy of God’s plan for our lives and fastens our eyes on His light in the most somber hours. A joy that lifts our spirits to pinnacles unseen regardless of the valley our blistered feet trek. A joy that springs from our souls even while clouds hang low and cast shadows across our vision of the present and the future. A joy that delights in The Lord and each other. A joy that is steadfast while the world preaches hopelessness. A joy that incites our hearts to rejoice and our feet to dance without inhibition or justification. A joy that cannot be muted by the roaring chaos around us.

The fruit of His Spirit is peace – A peace that hushes the hurry and calls us to calmly and deeply breathe in the tranquil Spirit of our Father. A peace that quietly visits our inner-most being while the winds howl and life beats on our backs. A peace that enables unity and disables discord. A peace that paints our surroundings with a soft serenity and a mysterious stillness that allows us to hear the voice of our Father. A peace that plays notes of harmony to our souls and songs of contentment to our hearts. A peace that slows the eagerness of reactivity and quickens the passion for proactive love.

The fruit of His Spirit is patience – A patience that envelops us in God’s timing and silences the ticking clock of our mind’s desired agenda. A patience that lifts us beyond the deadlines of this world and embraces us with the beautiful vision of eternity in God’s presence. A patience that restrains our individual motives and humbly seeks God’s purpose for our lives. A patience that steadily waits on the wisdom of the Lord before rushing forward to speak or act. A patience that dauntlessly faces agitators with persevering humility.

The fruit of His Spirit is kindness – A kindness that surpasses common decency and pours out a spirit of charity. A kindness that shines from the eyes and expels warmth before words are ever spoken. A kindness that reminds us that no sin can steal away the beauty of God’s creation. A kindness that urges philanthropic diligence and devoted thoughtfulness towards others. A kindness that passionately flows from our deeds of generosity, fairness, justness, mercifulness, and soft-heartedness. A kindness that compassionately shows others their value in the eyes of the Lord.

The fruit of His Spirit is goodness – A goodness that transcends political policy and religious law and guides our behavior to be a reflection of Jesus, who fed the poor, healed the sick, ate with sinners, and died to forgive those who murdered him. A goodness that separates us from common mores and conduct. A goodness that generously offers grace and practices integrity when no one is watching. A goodness that chooses honesty even at the cost of preserving one’s dignity.

The fruit of His Spirit is faithfulness – A faithfulness that pledges its allegiance to the love of God over country and self. A faithfulness that adheres to the heart of The Lord versus gripping onto ideologies. A faithfulness that goes beyond the ideals held in high regard by this world. A faithfulness dedicated to spreading the light of Jesus to the dark corners of the earth. A faithfulness that is dedicated to God’s calling on our lives, to love Him and love others, living out The Gospel of Jesus Christ. A faithfulness that is earnest in remaining open to the work God wishes to complete in our hearts. A faithfulness that seeks sincere and reverent worship to The One who compels us to recognize our sinful nature and forgives our trespasses.

The fruit of His Spirit is gentleness – A gentleness that tenderly brushes tear-soaked hair away from the face of a widow. A gentleness that sees the pain behind the eyes of a madman. A gentleness that reaches out to rage with a soft touch and affectionate words. A gentleness that carefully weighs the consequences of words and deeds and approaches conflict with loving caution. A gentleness that delicately approaches the enraged while recognizing that behind that hardened façade lays a fragile soul. A gentleness that responds to this harsh world with civility and addresses hurtful campaigns with grace and elegance.

The fruit of His Spirit is self-control – A self-control that enables our minds to remain poised in the midst of a hailstorm of slander. A self-control that calls on God’s mercy before our judgement. A self-control that guides our intentions with an understanding that unrecognized nuances often result in inappropriate conjecture and false conclusions. A self-control that remains dignified when the ugliness of the world unleashes its fury. A self-control that abstains from jumping into conflict with the desire to point fingers and place blame. A self-control that restrains words and deeds with a love that is supernaturally stead-fast.

I have conceded that I cannot wholly bear the Spirit’s fruit without The Gardener. I can try with all my finite fortitude to “be better” and “do better,” but the truth, His Truth, is that I cannot transform my own heart. There is Godliness in me because I was created in His image, but I am marred. I have the capacity to love, give, rejoice, find peace, practice patience, show kindness, display goodness, model faithfulness, demonstrate gentleness, and exhibit self-control, but I also have glaring deficits in relation to all of these fruits. My insufficiencies are not proof that I am contemptible and worthy of shame, but rather a testament to the fact that I’m human and broken. I cannot reflect His perfect image and fully accomplish that which He calls me to do without his endless supply of grace and unwarranted favor. On any given day, in true sinner’s fashion, I may not represent any fruits of His Spirit. My heart only lines up with His, when I die to myself and find freedom in His grace. Sadly, I acknowledge that there are times I don’t even pursue the seeds of His fruit as I lazily allow myself to be spoon-fed the noxious produce of the world. So, I continue to fervently pray:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Please straighten my path and place a longing in my heart to draw nearer to you. When I’ve allowed the noise of the world to penetrate my heart and mind, please silence the clamor and give me a relentless desire to seek an intimate relationship with you. Please transform the areas of my heart that fall short of your glory. Give me the strength to fervently pursue you and the harvest of your heart. Guard me from being swept up in the news of the day only to forget that unwavering hope and eternal life is in you and that your love is the only path to deliverance from the world’s heavy yoke. Help me to be an expression of your love and when I tell my story let it be a story of you.  Give me your heart of forgiveness and teach me how to love those I’ve self-righteously judged as unlovable. Lord, please crush the spirit of judgment that lurks in the recesses of my mind and give me an ability to see your beauty in every living being. Purify my heart so that I will be unwilling and unable to criticize. Fill me with an unlimited ability to express your love under all conditions to all people. Lord, please help me to abide in your presence so that you can produce your fruits in my life and prune the dead branches away. Please help me to accurately and fully represent your compassionate heart. Grow a tireless desire in my soul to escape the shallow grave of human emotion and arrive to a place where you instill your authentic agape love in the very core of my being. Please teach me how to be an example of your unfailing and radical love. Help me to love without qualifiers. Show me the way to you in every situation. Lord, guide me in your will and break me free from the chains of anger and worldly perspectives. Help me to look to you first in all circumstances. Lord, please forgive me for my quick tongue and the need to be right and replace my mortal desires with the passions of your heart. Protect me from the harshness that attempts to penetrate my core on a daily basis. Please soften my heart towards those I don’t understand and show me how to see others, hear others and love others as you do.  Heavenly father give me a heart of tenderness and guide me through rough waters with peace. Help me to be selfless in my love and persistent in my relationship with you, my Navigator, my Gardener, my Father. I love you Lord!

In Jesus’ name,

Amen!

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