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

To be a part of the church ...

To be a part of any human organization is hard.

Know why?

Because humans are hard, including our very own human selves.

And it feels like human interaction and connection has become increasingly hard over the last 5-10 years.

Polarization.

Demonization of "the other."

An inability or unwillingness to listen to views different from our own.

An increasing sense of outrage and umbrage when we feel slighted or misunderstood.

As well as a kind of "I will just take my ball and go home" attitude when faced with conflict.

As the church in the United States undergoes seismic shifts alongside the culture at large, it is hard to hang in there. 

It helps to read the letters Paul wrote to the early church; it quickly reminds us that church life has never been easy, conflict-free, or without controversy.

Know why? 

Because humans are hard. Always have been, always will be.

But there is great value, I believe, in remaining in human organizations especially when it is hard.

There is something about having to face our own biases, our own sinful tendencies, our own arrogance, that humbles the hubristic soul.

Nothing quite takes one down an appropriate peg or two like realizing we are not the center of it all.

I love how Catholic scholar Ronald Rolheiser puts it:

"To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers, and hypocrites of every description.

It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul within every time, country, race and gender.

To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul ... 

because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves."

The problem with walking away from the church when the going gets hard is that we might miss out on the painful, beautiful act of having the sharp edges of our souls rubbed off through the simple (but really hard!) act of remaining in the mess when we'd rather run.

My body is not an ornament ...

There is a fabulous book out called More Than A Body: Your Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament.

Haven't read it yet, but it is on my list.

Most women have been convinced that our bodies are designed for "ornamental" purposes - to be seen, liked, admired, to be looked at, assessed and (hopefully) found pleasing to the male gaze.

I get it. Being attractive is a normal human desire.

But it is exhausting.

And the source of so much female unhealth I hardly know where to start.

One way I see this at our household is the difference between my husband's side of the bathroom counter and mine.

(I wish I could insert a photo here)

Mine is a hodge-podge of lotions and potions, brushes and boxes, products designed for luxurious hair and glowing, age-proof skin, colorful lips and cheeks.

His has some mouthwash (that we share), a few Q-tips and a toothbrush.

At night, he rinses his face with hot water and goes to bed. 

I will spare you the details of my evening beauty routine, but it involves more than hot water, which I have read is very drying for my aging skin.  I asked my husband about this and he said he's never read anything like that!

I would laugh if it weren't so tragic.

Beauty sickness is real. It is time-consuming. It is exhausting. 

And women are the ones who get ill with it.

My recent bout with back pain, a herniated disc, surgery and its subsequent recovery has given me new appreciation for my body's ability to do what I need and want it to do in the world.

Isn't it strange how we don't appreciate something until we lose it?

It wasn't until I lost the ability to walk, bend down to pick something up, to twist or stretch or reach that I started to appreciate what a gift it is when my body can do those things!

My body is an instrument, designed beautifully by God to do all I need and want to do in the world.

My body is a gift. A gift to me.

My legs are a gift to help me ambulate, do yardwork, trek through the forest to see the trees and sunset.

My arms are hearty, powerful swimmer's arms that are never going to look dainty in a sleeveless top. But they can pull weeds, hug my family, carry 13 bags of groceries at once and pick up my friend's daughter to swing her around!

My tummy has housed three amazing children, grown them from a few cells into strapping, healthy babies. It is incredible. And it will never see the light of day in a bikini again. Praise the Lord!

And man, am I grateful for my body today.

It has healed from surgery in a few weeks and I am walking on these strong legs almost three miles a day.

I am grateful for my legs, arms and tummy, not judgmental toward them.

They are instruments designed to be used, to be worked, to be delighted in.

They are not ornaments to be admired, judged or assessed ...

They are my legs, my arms, my tummy ... and I have finally made friends with them.

It's just too bad it took surgery to make this friendship happen.

What if your body is an instrument, not an ornament?

How would that change your perspective toward it?

When the enemy is you ...

I preached this weekend on Jesus' command for his followers to love their enemies.

This, I believe, is Jesus' hardest command.

It is so antithetical to all we are encouraged to do in this dog-eat-dog world.

In my final moments, I talked about how one of our greatest enemies is the one we encounter in the mirror each morning.

The room fell silent. I could feel a painful tenderness fill the room.

The recognition of truth ...

As Henri Nouwen once said, "Self-hatred is one of the greatest enemies of the spiritual life."

What if the greatest task of our lives is to come to understand how God sees us?

What if the greatest task of our lives is not to do something great for God, but to simply believe that we are who God says we are?

We are - every one of us - God's beloved children - God's sons, God's daughters.

Even before God sees our sin - he sees us as his good, good creations.

God's kiddos.

We are deeply, deeply loved.

I love Julie Canlis's writing about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives:

"If you think you have to invoke the Spirit to enter your day, the good news is that the Spirit is already ahead of you.

The entire created world is the Spirit's playground, as is your ordinary life ...

The Spirit's job is to bring us to live in Christ and into the very relationship that He enjoys with His Father ..

In [John] Calvin's theology, the Spirit's primary and most difficult work is to persuade believers to act like children, to pray like children, the help them delight in the Fatherhood [or parenthood] of God, to be gentle with themselves, and - to use a rather apt cliche - to be, long before they begin to do.

Only the Spirit can convince our orphan hearts that we are God's children."

Listen for the voice of God's good Spirit today, friends ...

The Spirit who is everywhere before you even arrive ...

Whose primary job is to convince you - deep down in your soul - that you are not an orphan,

but a deeply loved,

deeply known,

deeply cherished

child of the God of the universe.

Rest in that today.

Our bodies are prophets ...

Our bodies are prophets.

They know when things are out of whack and they say so.

(Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World)

I had surgery a week ago to remove part of a herniated disc that was pressing on my sciatic nerve.

The surgery went well; herniation removed, the nerve is freed, and I am starting to walk again.

Slowly, carefully, mindfully.

Which is almost the exact opposite of how I walked prior to hurting my back.

It is almost the exact opposite of how I gardened, swam, biked, did much of anything, I am afraid.

Oh, I've been trying to slow down -- meditate, appreciate, rest.

But nothing has quite done the trick like a herniated disc.

"Our bodies are prophets," Barbara Brown Taylor says ...

"Yes, I see that now," say I back.

This afternoon I walked past our house and gardens, none of which I have been able to weed one single time this spring.  

And yet as I stood across the street and looked with fresh eyes at my unkempt gardens, you know what I saw?

Pure beauty!

Purple hyacinth like little grape clusters.

Some kind of pink heirloom flower whose name I do not know.

Columbine shooting up through little tufts of wild grasses.

Butterfly weed starting to poke its green shoots through last year's mulch.

Elephant ear hasta piercing the muddy soil.

It was all so gorgeous and green and full of life; it took my breath away!

And I didn't lift one finger (or herniate one disc) to make it so.

It happened. God created it to happen. And every spring without fail it happens all over again.

With or without me.

My body's prophetic message?

"Alice, you don't have to try so hard. Things get on just fine without all your ferocious effort."

My soul breathed a sigh of relief.

What if I really can try softer, rather than harder?

Might not the ragged beauty of this earth be more enjoyable if I surrender the delusion that it is my  tedious toil that makes it so?

Yes. 

The answer to that question, my friends, is yes.