And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September 21, 2009 The Theater of Life

The community theater with which I am active opened a show this past weekend, which means that last week was, shall we say, verrrrry busy. Late rehearsals every night, changes with the sound system and accompaniment, drama on stage and in the wings. If you’ve never participated in community theater, I highly recommend it, but it is not for the faint, requiring enormous amounts of time and energy and commitment.

Because of my involvement—immersion, really—at this particular time, I was musing on the fairly common analogy of our lives as plays. So much that goes on with theater mirrors the Christian walk. You must be able to trust your fellow actors, for example, that each will learn and know each cue, each line. That your props will be safe, ready for your use. That the sound crew will stay on task. That sets will enhance, not distract from, the production. That the director will do all he or she can to bring out the talents necessary onstage for an excellent performance. I could go on and on. It’s easy to jump from such thoughts to the church, and beyond that, to life in general.

Is God the director in our lives, or merely part of the crew? Are the actors with whom we regularly perform trustworthy, or do we find ourselves constantly covering for their mistakes? Who is our audience—the world? God? The mirror? Our bosses or bank account? Have we studied our lines, laboring over each cue, each nuance, or expected what we should know to miraculously find its way into our little brains with minimal effort?

I came across the following unattributed essay online and found it very thought-provoking, although perhaps in a different direction than its writer intended:
“LIFE IS A THEATER; Invite Your Audience Carefully. Not everyone is healthy enough to have a front row seat in our lives. There are some people in your life that need to be loved from a DISTANCE. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you let go of, or at least minimize your time with, draining, negative, incompatible, not-going-anywhere relationships/friendships. Observe the relationships around you. Pay attention. Which ones lift and which ones lean? Which ones encourage and which ones discourage? Which ones are on a path of growth uphill and which ones are going downhill? When you leave certain people do you feel better or feel worse? Which ones always have drama or don't really understand, know or appreciate you? The more you seek quality, respect, growth, peace of mind, love and truth around you...the easier it will become for you to decide who gets to sit in the front row and who should be moved to the balcony of Your Life. ‘If you cannot change the people around you, CHANGE the people you are around.’ Remember that the people we hang with will have an impact on both our lives and our income. And so we must be careful to choose the people we hang out with, as well as the information with which we feed our minds. We should not share our dreams with negative people, nor feed our dreams with negative thoughts. It's your choice and your life..... It's up to you who and what you let in it.”

On the surface, that sounds very good, very sensible. We do need to be aware of those around us and their impact on our lives. It goes without saying that some relationships are healthy while others are poisonous—the sooner we rid ourselves of those, the better we will be. But…

On the other hand—not to sound hyper spiritual or cliché—but what did Jesus do? He hung out with the dregs of society whom the Good People of the town considered toxic. He invited a man to live with him for three years, fully cognizant of the fact that the man would betray him. He welcomed people with pasts to his most intimate conversations, never questioning whether he could trust them—knowing, indeed, that he could not.

Jesus “(changed) the people” he was around, but not by banishing them and substituting more appropriate, acceptable, uplifting, encouraging, helpful people in their place. He literally CHANGED them, from the inside out. People came into contact with him and left the better for that contact.

Which leaves me incredibly comforted (to know that Jesus would welcome even someone like me) and also incredibly challenged (to realize that I am much more likely to cut people out of my life who negatively affect it, rather than seek to be a positive influence in their lives). As in all things, there needs to be a balance, but do I err on the side of reaching out to people or pushing them away?

As with most things spiritual, there is a paradox at work. The Bible counsels us to be self-aware, to love our selves first and care for our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. There are valid times for separating ourselves from potentially harmful, even sinful, relationships. But when reading the above quote, I remember Henri Nouwen, who chose to care for a severely retarded man and take a vow of poverty, instead of continuing a life of public speaking and wealth. Or Mother Theresa, who saw Jesus in the eyes of the dying masses of India.

I’m not at their level of spiritual maturity, obviously-- I have trouble loving the people in my own household, at times! But I am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV). I trust my director to get (even my) performance the way he intended. It may take an awful lot of rehearsals, because I often flub my lines or miss my cues, or refuse to even show up, but the show, as they say, must go on. God will see to that. If I remain under his direction.

That much, of course, is completely up to me.

Permission to use, with acknowledgement of the source.

Monday, September 7, 2009

September 7, 2009 Love Unlimited

"God loved his creation so much that he gave his one and only Son over to death- the only way to atone for everyone’s sins with the sacrifice of a perfect man- that whoever will believe in Jesus and trust him with his or her life shall not die in sin (a just punishment) but instead live beyond physical death in eternity with God himself." John 3:16 (paraphrase)

We’ve probably all got our personal lists of despised activities and attitudes, ranging from serious to trivial. When we hear of someone doing something on our lists, we mentally assign appropriate punishments. If I were God, I would….

Years ago in Ft. Pierce, Florida, where we lived at the time, a young boy--only three or four--was murdered by a man who was supposedly taking care of him. The boy eventually died after being sexually assaulted with a household item of some kind—a chair leg, or a hose… I don’t remember. (Some details you don’t want to know.) The little boy’s name was Benjamin. I do remember that.

I also remember thinking that an appropriate sentence for Benjamin’s killer would be assault with an object of similar size-to-age correlation, forcing him to endure exactly what he had forced upon Benjamin. Even then, however, the killer wouldn’t have experienced the sheer terror of betrayal, the toddler-sense of being loved and cherished and safe turning inside out in the instant his babysitter became, right before his eyes, a beast.

Oddly, I’ve never been asked to sit on a jury.

I fear I’m growing less tolerant over time, not more. My grace is so pitifully limited, my love so devastatingly finite. God, on the other hand, has no limits at all to his love, grace, forgiveness, and pardon. “Whoever believes…” the Bible says. “Whoever comes…”

When six-year-old Adam Walsh was taken from a shopping mall in Hollywood, Florida in 1981 and decapitated, I was the mother of two young children. Rocking the baby to sleep one summer night shortly after the tragedy occurred, I remember praying for his family when the Holy Spirit whispered, “Can you pray for the person who murdered him?”

I tried. I’m pretty sure I mouthed the right words, but God, seeing my heart, found no compassion there. Knowing that Jesus had died for the sins of all, that he had died for my own sins… at that moment I wished for there to be limits on God’s goodness. Hell wasn’t just meant for Satan and his angels, surely, but for his agents of pain and suffering such as this criminal.

When my own shortcomings grow into actual wrongdoing…when I do not fall into sin so much as I leap into it…as a child would leap into a pile of dry leaves shouting “Wheeeeee!” is the way my friend Doug Easterday describes it…then I want my heavenly Father’s mercy to know no bounds. When you sin, however, especially when you sin against me!…not so much.

When I began writing this, I intended to discuss one of my pet peeves—people who claim to “be there” for you who clearly are not. The paradox is, of course, that God, who created us all to be in intimate relationship with him, not only has the most people crying out to him in need but also the largest capacity to meet those needs. Through some mysterious, mystical way, impossible for our tiny minds to grasp, he actually is “there for us” at all times, whether we acknowledge his presence, desire it, or push it away with all the anger of a little child being made to be still…until the child tires of struggling, relaxes in the loving yet firm arms, and falls peacefully to sleep. “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NASV).

Benjamin’s murderer is, as far as I know, still alive. Adam Walsh’s murderer died in prison. One still has time to hear the gospel and believe, if he hasn’t already. It is possible the other cried out to God for mercy before it was too late. We may be very surprised at some of the people we rub shoulders with in heaven.

And some of them may be surprised to see us.

Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.