Tuesday, February 23, 2016

From Fear to Flow

"Imagine what it would be like to be free -- not of your faults but your fear of them."  Eric Elnes says those words in his book, "Gifts of the Dark Wood"on page 45.

What are your faults?  It reminds me of when you have a job interview and you want to have a fault in case they ask, but you want it to be a good one, like I work too hard or I care too much.

I like to be in control.  In our family, I pay the bills, I manage the calendar, and I do those things because I like to.  I like to know what is going on and who needs to be where.  But sometimes I think that I am the only one that can do something.  It is something that I have been working on, but I am so thankful that my partner in life is willing to help with kid activities and making kid lunches.  I used to not ask for help though.  I used to think that I could do it all, that I should be able to do it all.  But now, I lean in and I ask for help because I need it.  And because my life is better when it is shared.

For me part of wanting to be in control is also thinking that I am right.  Well, because I am right.  Just kidding!  I think :)  I really have to be on my toes and not sleepy or grumpy to see someone else's side.  I am not up for a "discussion" after 10 pm, because I get mean.  I think that we are often the meanest and cruelest to those that we hold closest.  We feel like they will love us no matter what, so we like to test it just to make sure!

Jesus says, "Whoever tries to preserve their life will lost it, but whoever loses their life will preserve it" (Luke 17:33).  About Jesus' words Elnes says, "Operating underneath the surface of Jesus' statement is a movement from fear to flow.  Flow is what results when you stop obsessing over your need to survive or be perfect and discover that you have been given distinctive gifts and abilities that bring you alive in this world (and may keep you alive here) that are accessible only when you let go of your need for survival, rightness, and perfection.  Such gifts are largely invisible when your view is clouded by fear and self-loathing or blaming others" (46).

So, my wanting to be in control is a gift that I have as well.  I have a gift for organization and it has kept me alive!  So, instead of beating myself up about it, I can see it as a gift.

So many of us focus on our shortcomings.  We think that we don't measure up.  And it might even carry over to our faith.  Elnes says, "Most people -- even those who by all outward appearances are pillars of faith -- quietly suspect that if God saw who they 'really' are they would be deemed unworthy of God's love and attention" (48).  We may say with our mouths that God loves us, but Elnes says internally we may do whatever we can to avoid any possibility of a deep or intimate relationship with God that would expose our darker side (48).

God loves me for all of me.  The good and the darker side. The things that drive people crazy included!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


The book that our church is reading for Lent is called "Gifts of the Dark Wood" by Eric Elnes. The chapter for this past Sunday was called "The Gift of Uncertainty."  Elnes says, "To most people, uncertainty seems more like a curse than a gift.  When you cannot see the endpoint of your journey, or the path ahead is not clearly marked, you grow nervous.  If you do not have rock-solid assurances that everything will be OK and that the path ahead is perfectly safe, you tend to dig your heels in" (25).  

How can we be OK with the uncertainty?  How can we embrace the unpredictability of life?

I am a worrier.  I know, I know, Jesus says, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:25-34) and the Apostle Paul says, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).

I know these things in my head, but getting them into my heart are a different story.  I like to play out different scenarios and make pro/con lists.  I like to think of the worst thing that could happen, so that I will be relieved if it isn't quite that bad.

Elnes says that religion does a disservice when it seeks to remove uncertainty from life (25).  He says, "Faith built upon certainty is a house of cards that falls apart when the 'unshakeable foundation' shifts even slightly" (25).  

Struggle and uncertainty are a part of life.  Elnes wonders if our lives were a movie.  We want to watch a movie where the actors are uncertain about the future.  We want to watch a movie where the actors are not sure how to respond in every situation.  Elnes says, "Too much certainty removes the adventure from life and sucks the joy out of relationships" (27).

I think what helps the most is when I tell myself again and again and again that my constant worrying is not helping.  Elnes has a personal mantra, "Do not worry about anything until it presents itself to be worried about" (39).

So, there is no use worrying about the future until it presents itself to be worried about.  There is no use worrying about my car breaking until it presents itself to be worried about.  There is no use worrying about the teenage years for my children until they present themselves to be worried about.  There is no use worrying about the tax bill until I sit down and actually start working on my taxes.

This morning I was reading a magazine article about how to live longer.  I mean who doesn't want to live longer?  There are so many things that you have to do to live longer, but they summarized it down to one.  Move more.  When I am incapacitated with worry, I can move more.  I can put one foot in front of the other.  My favorite John Wesley quotation is one that he told to new preachers in March 1738.  He told them, "Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith."

Preach peace till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach peace.
Preach strength till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach strength.
Preach love till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach love.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Beginning a journey

Today is Ash Wednesday when Lent begins.  I love Ash Wednesday.  I love talking about the reality of death. Death is happening, we can't run and we can't hide.

The book that we are using for our Lent series at Greenland Hills UMC is Gifts of the Dark Wood by Eric Elnes.  Marcia McFee has created a Lenten worship series and one of the stories that she tells for Ash Wednesday is about our own John Thornburg.  John was a pastor at Greenland Hills from 1984-1991.  Marcia shares about an Ash Wednesday service that John wrote about years ago, "I remember an Ash Wednesday service early in my ministry in which one of the durable saints of the congregation graced me with an epiphany.  When I came to her place at the altar rail, I imposed her forehead and said, 'Marjorie, remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' She looked up at me with a tender and discerning glance from her 75 year old eyes, and said, 'THANK GOD.' I had never really thought of mortality as good news, but she did."

The Gifts of the Dark Wood series explores what it means to be in the Dark Wood moments of our lives.  Marcia McFee says, "We are not going to talk about just how to get out of it, as if life is good only when we are not there.  We are going to explore what it might mean for our lives to recognize the gifts of the Dark Wood.  What if times of uncertainty, failure or emptiness are opportunities for spiritual awakening?"

Life can be good during those dark nights of the soul (as Saint John of the Cross called them).  I remember a few years ago in September looking at my calendar and saying aloud, "If I can just make it to November then life will slow down."  Life has not slowed down.  It has just gotten busier.  And yes, the busyness is overwhelming and exhausting and never-ending, but there is good in it.  The image that has been coming to my mind lately of my life is of me treading water.  Treading water and feeling like sometimes my head goes under and I have to struggle to get to the air and breathe.  Taking a sabbath day has helped, but there is so much to do on Mondays.  Laundry, dishes, cleaning, and this past Monday ...  TAXES!  So, this Lent I hope to reimagine myself from treading water to laying back and floating on the water.  I know that the busyness of the kid activities are just for a season.  In seven years our oldest child will be in college.  So, how can I enjoy this time?  How can I breathe in this time?  How can I enjoy my spouse and grow in our own relationship?  How can I grow closer to God amidst the busyness?

Randi Zuckerberg recently tweeted, "The entrepreneur's dilemma: Maintaining friendships.  Building a great company.  Spending time w/ family.  Staying fit.  Getting sleep.  Pick 3."  Sleep, work, family, fitness, friends -- which three would I pick?  I definitely want to sleep, so that is number one.  Then, my family, love them!  And my work, love Greenland Hills UMC!  And I try to fit in fitness and friends as much as I can.  But where does faith fit in?  Am I supposed to just pray without ceasing all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and so faith doesn't count because it is always there?

I am going to commit to journaling this Lent, once a week on Wednesdays, on this blog that I had to dust off.  And I hope to write about those times of uncertainty, failure or emptiness because they are opportunities for spiritual awakening.

I just went downstairs and said hello to some of our preschoolers.  One of the little children asked, "What is that on your face?"  I said, "it is the cross of Jesus."  And she said, "Jesus!" and ran to kindermusik.  Give me Jesus, give me Jesus.  You can have all this world, but give me Jesus... In the morning when I rise, and when I am alone, and when I come to die.  Give me Jesus.