Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

Regret #1 ...

I've experienced a couple of deaths lately and this has me thinking about life. Isn't it funny how that works?

By chance I picked up a book a few months ago that sat on the bottom of my pile until recently. It is called "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying" by Bronnie Ware. (And yes, her name is Bronnie, not Bonnie.)

Fascinating. Motivating. Thought-provoking.

What do you think Regret #1 is?

I will spare you the suspense ...

Regret #1 is: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

So, I've been asking myself every morning: Is this day - at least most of  it - the day I want to live? Or is it mostly the day others expect me to live?

Pretty great questions, aren't they?

If I notice too many activities that are not true to who I know myself to be I am going to start cutting those things out of my life, out of my days.

If I notice not enough space, time, or energy for the things in my life that feel truest to me, then I will  create more space, say no more often, remove obligatory tasks, cut out dumb time wasters.

I want to move more and more toward living every day in such a way that I don't experience Regret #1 when I face the end, whenever that may be.

Way too many of our younger years are often spent trying to gain the approval of others - our peers, our parents, our own inner critic.

As I move through these middle years, I happily find myself worrying less and less about what other folks think of me. I care more and more about what I think of myself.  I really only do a few things well. Thankfully, those same things bring me life and joy.

My current mantra is as simple as this:

Do the things that are the most you. Don't do the other things. The end.

God is doing a new thing ...

The people of God were in exile when the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote words of hope and conviction to them from the mouth of their God.

This morning I read: "Remember not the former things, nor consider things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:18-19)

I could not help but be reminded of the earthquake we are experiencing in the arena of women and men and sex and harassment and inappropriate behavior and flat-out rape.

For men it may seem as if allegations and accusations are appearing out of thin air. Memories that have been buried in women's minds, psyches and bodies are emerging on a daily basis.

Bill Cosy - BILL COSBY! - was sent to jail today for drugging and raping women. The ground shakes ...

And I get that there is fear.

Because the ground IS shifting. The old ways are gone; new things are happening.

Innocent men feel fear. But I believe that fear is unfounded. Less than 2-3% of these kinds of allegations are made up.

Less-than-innocent men also feel fear. I believe that fear IS founded. Perhaps the chickens really will come home to roost.

Women have always felt fear. Fear that we will be touched when we don't want to be. Fear that we will be harassed and no one will believe us. Fear that we will be taken advantage of at a party or if we have an extra glass of wine. Flat out fear that we will be raped if we jog, or walk, or stay home alone.

So, fear is now a common denominator.

And if fear is what is needed for some men to understand that inappropriate and unwanted behavior on their part may very well cause immediate and future damage to their lives and their careers, then fear may be just what we need until this ship gets righted.

Over two decades ago while attending a church different from the one at which I currently work, I, and several other women, reported a pastor who inappropriately touched us. We did this at great personal cost. We were all "crucified." The man is still a pastor. Thus, #WhyIDidntReport.

Currently, I face innaproppriate male behavior every month or so as I live out my calling to preach and teach. Never from my colleagues, however. If they saw some of these men do what they do, they would punch them.

All too often, I have been silent. I don't want to be rude. I am a pastor; I'm supposed to be nice! I don't want to make men feel bad. Maybe they don't understand that times have changed and it is no longer ok to either touch or comment on a woman's body. Sometimes, I am so shocked that I am rendered speechless.

No more.

It is past time for me to speak up.

For myself.

For the women who will come after me.

And for the men who do this stuff. For their sake, too.

The God who created us male and female desires that we treat each other with immense respect and fierce tenderness.

When we do this, men AND women, we will have absolutely nothing to fear. And everything to gain.

"Behold," God says, and continues to say, even in our day, "I am doing a new thing."

Accept being shipwrecked ...

I have always loved this little story from an essay by Brennan Manning. Hope you do, as well.

"One day Saint Francis and Brother Leo were walking down the road.

Noticing that Leo was depressed, Francis turned and asked: 'Leo, do you know what it means to be pure of heart?'

'Of course. It means to have no sins, faults or weaknesses to reproach myself for.'

'Ah,' said Francis, 'now I understand why you're so sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.'

'Right,' said Leo. 'That's why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.'

'Leo, listen carefully to me. Don't be so preoccupied with purity of heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire him. Rejoice that he is what he is - your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you've turned to Jesus, don't turn back and look at yourself. Don't wonder where you stand with him.

The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human. It even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise him from sunrise to sundown. Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into his peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled - stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.'

After a long pause, Leo said, 'Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.'

'No doubt about that,' replied Francis. 'But holiness is not a personal achievement. It's an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew. To cry out, 'You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the  Lord,' that is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn't come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.

'Then how?' asked Leo.

"Simply hoard nothing of yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging painful consciousness of your past. Accept being shipwrecked. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are no longer aware of yourself, like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.'

Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul."

 

 

To lie fallow ...

"... and what came after that was fallowness - a season to rest and reset, to be replenished and renourished ... to hold space and emptiness and be still in the quiet of not being rushed."

********************************

Growing up in Iowa, I know that summer is the growing season. I see it all around me.

So it might seem weird to tell you that most summers I try as hard as I can to let my mind and soul lie fallow.

Fallow - like a piece of farmland plowed and dug up but left unsown for a period in order to restore its ability to grow an abundant crop.

I have to lie fallow.

I use my words the remaining months of the year: Reading, writing, thinking, drafting, editing, speaking, talking.

By the time June rolls around I feel like a wrung-out washcloth. Not one drop left in me.

And so I stop speaking.

At least I stop speaking for a living.

I write less in my journal and simply read.

I try not to teach classes, do weddings, take speaking engagements.

And - I have come to learn - I stop blogging.

I tried to write some blog posts this summer and just could not do it.

It's hard to explain. It just feels as if all my words are gone.

And so I have learned that if I let the "words" part of me lie fallow most summers, come fall a crop of words appear to grow as if by magic and off I can go again on my jolly way - teaching, preaching, writing, leading, talking - letting words tumble out of me with abandon.

A crop of words grown in the rich farmland of my life left to lie fallow for a season.