You couldn’t live in 2021 without wearing a shirt full of labels. For my Friend Group (our very uncreative official name for the past 19 years) we wore the worst ones. They were all middle aged, Evangelical, conservative, white, church ladies. Of course, that meant that in the broader filthy world of the internet we must be brainless racist buffoons that carried around the big Jesus book. We were too old to have ever heard the phrase “systemic racism” or understand that “woke” was a way of life and not simply poorly used grammar. We certainly never thought we would live in a world where viewpoints could be censored, and debate was replaced by something called “cancel culture.” But under the labels that we were all coping with wearing in this strange world, a depth and beauty shone. It was a soulish beauty born of the hardships of real life. None of us had been spared. And the kindness of Jesus brought us together in a most unusual way to remind us of who we really are…beneath the labels. And, in that strange reminder we would find our voices again. Between the 7 of us there were 22 children, all grown and out of our nests. And, with little time to plan or prepare we all flew to Portland to gather around a broken-hearted mom and bury one of our 22. We would be with Sue, right next to her as she had to do the most of unnatural endeavor that any mom of any age could ever face, burry her son. Moms are not supposed to say things like, “I have to pick up Ben’s ashes on Wednesday.”
And there we sat, face to face without masks and without a computer screen as one group again. After Ben’s memorial service, the friend group sat around talking, crying, sharing memories and even laughing about life. An emergent understanding fell upon each one. The bond between each other had outlasted more than a year of isolation from Covid19. It had outlasted political upheaval and the tearing apart of families over political alignment. It had lasted the absence of our church communities. But all of that was minor compare to our ability to outlast the conflicts, the hurt feelings, the miles and even, dare I say…theological and political differences (Yes, even Christians can have different views). Why was it so easy to be together? Each of us carry stories that correspond to scars we bare. If the healed over wounds were represented by scars upon our actual bodies, our group would certainly look as if we fought at the battle of Dunkirk and lived to talk about it. Those disfigured raised bumps on the skin had been tended to over the 19 years by those in the sacred circle. The women in this group were the ones that produced the balm and bandages. Some of those scars healed leaving only a faint discoloration that would require a bit more sunscreen when swimming at the beach. Other scars were felt every time the weather changed. They might have ached at night. Some would produce a yelp when bumped at just the right angle. None the less, every woman in the circle was scared in her own broken and beautiful way, including me.
I left that trip with a renewed commitment to thank God for the gift of the friendships that lasted over the long haul. I would make more time for us in my life. In these crazy times we all need a place, a sacred group of our very own people, where we can fall apart. I won’t be cancelled or shamed for thinking differently with them. I may be teased a little, I actually expect it. My doubts can be spoken out loud in their company and I will be challenged when needed. They hand me courage to face the days ahead. I can count on these women to actually pray for me, love me, like me, and laugh with me until the tears run down my legs if you know what I mean (we are all over 50 so that is my only excuse). I see Jesus more clearly in their company than nearly any place on earth.
I don’t need social media or the headlines of the day to tell me who I am. I couldn’t care less what a hip, skinny jean wearing millennial thinks of the way I do life. I don’t plan on reading a bunch of woke books written by people who deny the beautiful complexities of the million variations of shades of skin and cultures of people all around me. Jesus has already confirmed and celebrated my identity with my freckles and flaws galore. I am His very own hand-crafted daughter, and he gave me a group of women and a dear family who will remind of it as often as I might forget.
So, world, bring me your worst labels. I plan to take each one and redefine them and use them to the glory of God. Some can’t be redeemed so for those I plan to make some cool origami birds out of them before I throw them into the waste basket.
Raising four kids, born in a five year span of time, is my best bet for receiving an award. I have not decided if it is an award for courage and bravery or merely a survivor award. But, I do feel an award is appropriate. As I might consider an acceptance speech for such an award, it would be full of the mantras I repeated over and over again to each of my children from the time they were finally in pull-ups all the way through to them having their own families to raise. I have heard my self say these same statements under my breath to no one in particular during the year 2020 with a world wide pandemic, political unrest and upheaval, and the rise of the most heartbreaking pieces of humanity with human trafficking, opioid abuse and homelessness.
What is it about us that we default to viewing ourselves as pitiful creatures? We see ourselves as so pitiful that no one else but a merciful God could ever want us? My niece adopted a cat from the humane society. This cat was really ugly. It had a broken tail, it was way to skinny and had gunk running out of its eyes. She couldn’t take her eyes off that pitiful creature. She knew if she didn’t take the cat that it would likely go un adopted and have to be euthanized. She rescued that creature. Now, it is true that God rescues us too but, not because we are pitiful. He rescues us because He created us with such beauty and splendor that He can't stand the thought of not having us. He desires eternity with each of us. It is hard to even say it outloud, but, He is wowed by ME! He not only finds me attractive but I am one of a kind! I was created to perfectly exist in a deep abiding love relationship with the God of the universe!!! I AM CHOSEN, LOVED, PURSUED, WORTH FIGHTING FOR, BEAUTIFUL, TALENTED, AND WORTHY.
If I were Satan and I wanted to stop Life in Christ for Every Alaskan and the World Beyond, I would go after you, a child of God, and disable your ability to make disciples. This would be my strategy:
1. I would convince you that you had nothing to offer. I would whisper in your ear that you are not enough. Your life is too messy. You have too far to go and your life is not worth imitating. I would skew the Word of God that tells you that you are more than enough in Christ Jesus. His best, or the miraculous stuff, is reserved for better people. Jesus can’t fully live His life through you. You can only settle for His pity. You are a great spectator, accept it. Never reproduce life change, you can’t, you simply are not enough.
4. I would tell that you don’t need help. I would love for you to see yourself as capable, independent and self-assured. You have what it takes to get the job done…all by yourself. I would even go as far and making your first attempts at making disciples and leading others to Jesus so easy that you would believe your own press. I would tell you that God needs you. You are special and if you don’t do it, who will? I wouldn't want you to believe the truth that you can do nothing without Jesus. I would hide your need from you at all cost.
5. I would make you so afraid of the corrupt world that you retreat into a Christian bubble. I would isolate you into little pockets with other followers, so afraid of corruption that you would never mingle with the lost. I would make you paranoid that your kids will be sucked away into corruption. I would want you see the lost as evil instead of those God has made in His image. I would exchange your heart of compassion and grace and give you a heart of judgment.
The truth is this; I would only need to harm you in one of these five areas. If I can succeed in just one little area, you won’t reproduce yourself in the lives of others. Your children won’t see the true gospel incarnated in you and your church won’t ever get to benefit from the gifts God gave you to build up the body. You won’t experience the full joy of being on mission with the God of the universe. You will live small.