Sunday, October 20, 2013

On Clearance


Last week our Sunday services were sweet. Worship was inclusive and powerful and the message was challenging and truthful. And our minister spoke some hard things.

Recently he talked with someone who basically suggested that the church was a group of people who had the same problems as everyone else, but we just tended to hide them behind the walls of our homes. That was the gist of the comment. That was the point of it. Perhaps not verbatim. In the moment that those words came out of my shepherd- brother’s mouth I thought I was going to choke where I sat.

I sat there in my movable church pew chair and I kept thinking, but we are called to be real. Real. And we have every reason to be such. But we are hiding behind walls and masks. And falseness shadows us. And pretensions tangle us. And deception blinds us. And expectations strangle us.

The world wants us to be unbroken. Unblemished. Flawless. Seamless. Not because it wants us whole and complete, but because it can’t stand something broken. The world doesn’t like scars. Surely something broken cannot be beautiful or useful.

Who am I kidding?

Often the church doesn’t like or want anything or anyone broken either.

Broken things get discarded. Set aside. Often treated like trash. Because of this we hide our brokenness. We attempt to cover it up and gloss it over and we try to praise God anyway.

To get us to hide is one of the enemy’s most strategic battle plans.

So, how do we break that strategy?

We acknowledge the truth.

We are all broken.

We are all damaged—slightly or badly. We are all hiding something behind the walls. We all have fault lines running under our surfaces.

Not too long ago a friend of mine grieved because they have realized that they are damaged inside, and because of that damage they can not easily give or receive love.

My heart was broken. My heart was broken for them. My heart was broken for me. My heart was broken because of the cost of that transparency for them. To admit you are damaged is a hard, hard thing. It is a hard place to walk.

Sometimes when you go to a store there will be a clearance; damaged, broken and no-longer-in-demand items will litter the shelves. Placed haphazardly. Thoughtlessly. Carelessly. Why? Because these items no longer have the greatest value to the store. These items will no longer bring them retail. They are no longer in demand, and they are clearanced out.

The world (our culture, our way of life, our sphere of people) discards the broken. Overlooks the damaged. Turns away from the ruined.

God does not work in this way.

How do I know?

Watch Jesus.

Walk back through the Gospels and watch only him. Watch Jesus as he moves through the course of a day. Just keep a careful eye focused on how he engages those who his (and our) world considered to be broken and damaged.

Watch how he treats the lepers.
Watch how he handles the caught-in-sin woman.
Watch how he cares for the sorrow-laden.
Watch how he listens to the confused.
Watch how he comforts the wounded.
Watch how he frees the chained.
Watch how he loves the desperate.

He took and still takes damaged and broken people and makes them whole.

Whole.

He was careful with them.

With us.

With me.

We have to stop hiding behind walls. We have heard this exhortation before, but we do not heed its wisdom. We have been told, more times than we can count, to take off our masks. We have been told that honesty and transparency are marks of true believers who are invested in and trusting in Jesus.

Why then does it seem that when we do these very things that we become the mark?

We become the target for talk, gossip, criticism, judgment and censorship? Why does it seem that when we allow people to see our weaknesses they attempt to wound us in that very place of fragility?

No wonder people are reluctant to be transparent and real. No wonder we hide. No wonder we camouflage our fears and habits and doubts and sins.

No wonder.

We are called to imitate God. We are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. And yet, do we treat people as he did?

Remember his harshest words were given to the religious who showed and offered no grace to those who were honest and transparent. His most stinging remarks were to those who beat down the broken. His boldest actions were reserved for those who took advantage of the weak.

Yet, the Body of Christ is notorious for hurting its own wounded. I have heard story after story (it’s part of my story too) of broken people who went to the Body of Christ for healing and found little or none. Everyone was too busy giving them solutions and remedies—spouting Scripture that instead of being a healing balm proved to be a dagger, and it is cloaked as speaking the truth in love (We best read that verse in context).

Because of this we are afraid.

We are afraid—if we reveal our darkness to others we fear that any light in us will be dismissed.

We are afraid—if we confess our sins, as James exhorts us to do, we fear that instead of healing we will receive condemnation.

We are afraid—if we share our struggles with others we fear that we will become fodder for the gossip chains.

Therefore, we hide.

Like Adam and Eve. We attempt to cover our nakedness with flimsy leaves.

In our damaged, broken and clearanced states we try to muster up praise for God.  But we don’t believe it. We don’t inhabit our praise. We don’t understand the wholeness he offers.

We can encourage people to be real and transparent. But, Body of Christ, if we don’t stop wounding them when they do…

We can ask people to share and be open. But, Body of Christ, if we don’t stop sending arrows straight into their wounds…

We can exhort people to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness. But, Body of Christ, if we don’t stop crucifying them when they do…

People are desperate for something more than fig leaves as clothing.

People are desperate for something other than antibiotic ointment and a band-aid.

People are desperate for their fragmented lives to be made whole.

People are desperate to not be relegated to the clearance rack.

Body of Christ, what are we going to do?


Oh, Tamera, what are you going to do?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chill Bumps


My story is one of triumph. All of my pages have yet to be filled, while each chapter so far is finished with tears, lessons, chains, debt, pain, questions, joy and strength. There are days I am discouraged when I flip to the last page and it is blank.

It is then I remember books are not read from end to beginning, rather savored word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. I will be patient, and I will be articulate with the words I choose to fill my pages. I will be cautious who I let read my story, for not everyone appreciates broken beauty.

So do not be discouraged, my beautiful friends, sometimes a blank page is one of the most beautiful things we can be.

                                                Olivia Vaughan
                                                October 2013


Beautiful, growing wise Olivia



There are two magnetized white boards on our refrigerator. My daughter bought them and put them there, and they are often filled with words. Notes to sisters, reasons why sisters are loved, quotes and scripture occasionally. These sisters are forever writing on things that aren’t necessarily meant for text, but that’s the beauty of it! I get up in the mornings or come home in the evenings and often there will be a new message on one or both of the boards. Sometimes I laugh. And of course, sometimes, I cry.

One October morning the words in Olivia’s paragraph above appeared on one of the boards. Standing in my night gown I read and reread those words. I texted my third daughter and asked for permission to print her words here.

Why?

That is a question that doesn’t even need to be answered. All my daughters can write. Seriously, it blows my mind. Words are embedded in all of them, rooted and established but translated differently in each one. They all have their own wording, phrasing, vocabulary, style and voice. But they all have itit being whatever is the mystery that allows us to string words together.

But Olivia’s words have hung round my neck like a vintage Victorian locket. I hid them away for several days. Then I opened them and read them and loved the beauty of them, but for a while I ignored the pain of them. I turned a blind eye to the truth in them.

Last night one of her friends came by to eat cookies with us. She stopped at the fridge and read. She turned and looked at me and asked who had written the words. I told her and she said, “that just gave me chill bumps.”

I agree.







Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One Flesh

Earlier this morning I posted Oh! What a Night! In that post I mentioned that the precious couple, Regan and Isaac, asked me to speak at their wedding. These are the words that I spoke to them that September evening. 


Isaac and Regan (Photo courtesy of Steve Bates)



Isaac and Regan,

We marry because we love and that is a good thing. Scripture tells us that God is love.

But marriage is not meant simply to be a means to make us happy. It was not designed solely for our own personal comfort.

Marriage, above all else, is to be a reflection of the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Between Jesus and his Bride.

Marriage is a living parable.

Isaac and Regan, your parable begins today.  

Fleshed out for all to see.

The two of you will determine whether your marriage will be a holy place.

Your choices and decisions will determine whether it is a sacred space.

Your choices, individually and together, will determine if this marriage will be simply a common, legal institution or a holy, God-ordained covenant.  

A covenant requires participation from both people involved.

Isaac you are to protect Regan. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. You are now her head. This is not a place of dominion. It is a place of accountability.

Isaac you are to provide for Regan. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. And that provision should never be stingy or tightfisted.

Isaac you are to pray for and with Regan. Pray for her physical, emotional and spiritual well being. No one in the world who will know how to pray for her like you. No one.  

Regan you are to support Isaac: physically, emotionally and spiritually. You are to have his back and to stand at his side. You are his helpmeet, but not his doormat.

Regan, you are to be a sanctuary for Isaac: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Be a place he longs to come home to, a place where he feels safe and a place where he is encouraged.

Regan, you are to sustain Isaac in and through prayer. Pray for his physical, emotional and spiritual  well being. No one in the world will know how to pray for him like you. No one.  

Lastly…

Isaac, choose daily to live a life worthy of respect.
 
Don’t be harsh with Regan.
Don’t tease needlessly.
Don’t devalue her feelings

Regan, always offer respect to Isaac.

This need is coded into his DNA. May you be the place he receives the better part of this need—not his military position, not his occupation. 

Regan, choose daily to live a life worthy of Isaac’s love.

Don’t attempt to control him.
Don’t attempt to manipulate him.
Don’t attempt to change him. 

Isaac, always offer love to Regan.

This need is written into her DNA. May you be the place she receives the better part of this needed love—not her appearance, not her friends.

There are many jokes about how complicated women are and how men are never able to understand what women want. Well, Isaac, here’s your answer: Regan needs to know you love her. Everything she will ever ask of and from you will be tied to this truth.

Isaac and Regan, when you walked up that aisle you came as two separate beings. When you turn and walk back down that same aisle you will leave as ONE FLESH.

In the language of Mr. R.: your lives have now intersected and will have the same trajectory. They are NOT just parallel lives.

They are lives intertwined into ONE FLESH.

When you leave this building you will be a living parable: a visible image of Christ and the Church.

Live a life worthy of your calling.

.




Oh! What a Night!


September ended with a celebration—much like it began. It began with a birthday and ended with a wedding. Not any of my children, but close.

Two of our dearest friends’ son married a beautiful girl on the last Saturday in September. 

The whole week was a whirlwind of engineering ingenuity, hard labor and frugal creativity. Family and friends transformed a barn, albeit a nice barn, but a barn, into a grand place for a wedding reception. Midweek everyone involved was not sure it would get finished.

But it did.

And what a finish!


Photo courtesy of Sherry Mohr.


The wedding ceremony was touching. Personal. Intimate. Funny.  Sweet.

The reception was wonderful.  Casual. Welcoming. Personal. Intimate. Revelatory.


The transformed barn was gorgeous. The entrance of the farm property wound through two stone pillars and the long driveway was lined with aged and weathered trees. The driveway opened up into a court in front of the barn. The night was dark. The deer that had crossed in front of our car earlier in the week most likely watched from the line of trees. Lanterns hung from shepherd’s hooks, cascades of greenery and baby’s breath hung like willow tree branches over the sides. Each lantern produced only a small circle of light, but together they lit the path into the barn. Inside everything gleamed white and airy. And light—diffused and softened everything it touched.



Photo courtesy of Sherry Mohr.


The whole affair, including the bride and groom, looked like a double page spread in Southern Living. Simple. Elegant. But with no pretension. None. And the atmosphere was calm and easy.

The night had been covered in prayer. Covered.

The groom’s mother looked far too young to be his mama. And the groom’s daddy knew it. And he was proud. Very proud to hold his hand to the small of her back. This deep contented pride showed; it gleamed out from his face as he watched her and the children their covenant had birthed.  

And the bride’s mama carried hopes, wishes and prayers deep in her heart for this daughter of hers—they were all written on her face and in her eyes. And if you watched her close enough you could almost read them. Line by line.

The groom’s precious paternal grandmother sat with her Dinner Club—a group of women who had been doing dinner together for years. Women who came to the aid of the other, who helped one another, prayed for one another and encouraged one another. I watched them at the table and longed for a dinner club of my own—of women who knew my history and loved and ate with me any way. I knew several of them. And just to show you the extraordinary orchestration of God—one of these women brought me dinner years ago when I was in a wheelchair with a broken wrist and ankle. Her pineapple casserole still makes my mouth water. I hadn’t seen her since that season, and she didn’t recognize me at first. But then she did, and I was caught up in a hug that went on forever. She had gifted the bride and groom with her culinary abilities: chicken salad croissants piled high on great oval silver serving platters.

Platters and bowls of food filled the buffet table. This was our job for the night. Steve, Abby and I (after my older daughter’s prep work) made sure the food stayed piled high. People wound through and around the tables filling their plates. Chatter and conversation carried through the food area. Steve and I attempted to anticipate what would be needed. I walked the line and assessed, and then would tell Steve or Abby what we needed and then they went to retrieve it. We had a couple of near debacles, but we managed. At last every guest had been through the line. Then we fixed our own plates and stood at the door eating and watching the dance floor.  

This night was not about us.

We understood this. It was about our friends. And their children. And this new covenant that had been made. But God has a way of using all things, all things to the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Months ago, at the end of one of our Idol Lies gatherings the bride asked me if I would be willing to speak at their wedding. I was stunned.  Would I? I would honored. 

Even then I began praying for words. And for the last week before the wedding I prayed. And prayed. Several friends were praying for me because this was an important and priceless time, and I wanted words to reflect this.

Steve and I worked the weekend of the wedding. Friday night after work and after the rehearsal dinner, my kitchen table light burned late. I stayed up crafting the words. What could I say to these two young people that might possibly make a difference?  I went to bed with the words finished, but I still prayed.

The next day during an afternoon break I checked my phone for messages. I read through them. The last one came from my third daughter. I stood in the workroom and read and reread the message. I showed it to my husband, and we both fought back tears.

She said,

Today is about Regan and Isaac.
No one else…
But later on, be sure you and Steve
celebrate each other.
After all,
It’s because of your alls’ example
that you’re speaking tonight.


I tucked this away. He and I both did. This little three sentence text stopped my nagging worry about what I would share at the wedding.  When God calls, he equips.

Steve and I stood in the doorway of the buffet room watching. So many people we knew and loved were gathered at this reception. My eyes moved from table to table, from family to family and I just marveled at the connections between them.

Even the DJ had a connection.

He knew what weddings were to be about. He started a song and called for all the married couples to come to the floor. Steve and I looked at each other. We were still eating and catching our breaths, our first few bites just chewed and swallowed. We decided to wait.

But we couldn’t.

We joined the other couples on the floor. I tilted my head up to look at my husband. We pivoted and turned. We aren’t good dancers, but it doesn’t matter. He held me close, tight against his side. And I fit there.  In the muted light of the tent, under the canopy of swaying white, we sang to each other.

Can I have this dance for the rest of my life? Will you be my partner…

I looked up at him and he leaned down to hear me.  

We make a good team, don’t we?

He nodded. Yes, we do.

This man, this big beautiful man, squeezed me close, my head against his arm, my hand tucked and swallowed into his. I could feel his heartbeat.

I told him I was glad he married me. And I asked if he would do it again?

Absolutely.

My knees hurt from standing on the concrete. My feet ached from the fashionable shoes I thought I needed to wear, but my heart was so full.

I prayed there on that dance floor. I thanked God for what he had done, for what he had given. For the miracle.  

I leaned into this big man of mine and he leaned into me. Words were whispered. He leaned back and looked down at me. And I swear I could see his love for me. Years ago I would have watched us and envied what we have. Years ago I would have done my duty, and quietly left the barn, leaving the happy reverie to others.

But not on this September night.

The celebration my daughter asked us to have happened. With no planning. No coercion. No gimmickry. Naturally. It flowed out of who we had become because of the grace of God.

After we danced we sat at a table outside the barn. It was ten degrees cooler. The night sky was inky black and the stars dotted across it. The lanterns shone as pinpricks of light in the dark velvet. I sat on Steve’s lap,  and I laid my head against his. No words were said. No words were needed. 

And we watched.

Watched the new couple weave in and out of the crowd. Watched them look at each other. Find each other. Laugh with each other. Hold each other. We watched them and prayed.


Isaac and Regan (Photo courtesy of Steve Bates, Turn on Media Group)


Later we sent this wonderful new couple off through a shower of sparklers and cheers. The bride and groom left the reception and walked down the driveway. 

Alone, together.  

We could see them holding hands. We watched them until just the glimmering white triangle of her dress remained visible. We could hear their laughter and their whispered words…and then they faded.


Oh, what a night!
                                                                                                                                               




Thursday, October 3, 2013

Superman


My husband is Superman today.

Really.

This morning he left the house in his Clark Kent persona. Black glasses, black hair (this was amazing since his hair is the color of pewter), the recognizable Superman logo showing out from the V of his slate gray buttoned shirt. Red tie askew as if his hand had just pulled it sideways in order to allow the transformation.

I stared at him. I peered through to see him in the disguise. He was there.

And I fell in love all over again.

This is Spirit Week at the high school where he teaches Algebra II. And today everyone is supposed to be dressed as a superhero or a villain. And my husband went as Clark Kent. AKA Superman.

As I watched him walk down the sidewalk to his car this morning I began to think.

I wondered how many times the disciples, the crowds and even the religious leaders saw the earthly persona of Jesus and dismissed him? They didn’t recognize that Jesus was the disguise of the marvelous divinity of God. It’s an old clich├ęd connection. I have heard it before—Clark Kent walking among the citizens of Metropolis. Moving, working and living among them. All the while being Kent, but in reality being someone far more.

I wonder.

I wonder if when Jesus caused the leprosy to dissipate from the leper’s diseased body, did Thomas turn and stare at Jesus—peering through? Did Andrew look closely at Jesus when he defied the religious hatefuls and uncurled the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath? Did Levi/Matthew gaze into the face of Jesus when he stretched to see the widow of Nain’s son? I wonder if John’s head cocked crookedly when Jesus began to read the passage from Isaiah in the synagogue.  Did he ask himself could this really be?

Often the ordinary hides the extraordinary.

Often the Great-Beyond-Us is clothed in the common, the mundane and even the banal—obscured.

Often beauty, as Ann Voskamp suggests, is veiled by the ugly. And if we do not make an effort to look past and through the ugly we fail to see the reality.

Often truth is disguised as a fairy-tale—the reality that cannot be repeated or measured or proved.

Often love comes costumed in the ridiculous and the absurd.

And we miss it.

We miss the truth because we don’t think Superman could ever be Clark Kent.

It’s just too absurd.  

We see only what we want to see. Or what we think we should see. Or what we think others think we should see.

Father, I pray today that you open our eyes. Please don’t allow us to miss you because we think we know how to see you. I pray that you would remove the scales of our cultural bias, our religious bent and earthly bigotry.

Peel them back so that we see with eyes fresh. Lift all these filters so that we might recognize YOU. The light will be so pure and so bright that we will be momentarily blinded, but when the eyes of our heart have adjusted we will see you. We will see you in your glory—though partial it might be. 

Remind us that there is no darkness in you. Remind us that there are no shifting shadows in you. Remind us that our Superman has no weakness. No falterings. No failings.

Amen and amen.