worship in a minor key.

“How long, Lord ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2 NIV)

What is the most honest you have ever been with God? Sure, when things are going great, we can be so quick to spit out a hollow, “I’m blessed,” but what about when we don’t feel so blessed? How quick are those praises off our tongue then?

(I am aware that this could very quickly turn into a commentary regarding a subconscious — or even conscious — neglect of the evidence of God’s blessing in our lives. True, many of us really are blessed in so many ways that we fail to recognize, but it is not my intent to address that at this moment.)

What about when we are feel hurt, alone, or even are quite possibly experiencing real suffering and/or persecution?

For myself, I faced a test of this sort at a time in my life when, as a result of numerous actions of my own, I felt isolated from my family, my friends, and my church. This loneliness was only augmented by various thoughts of self-harm, and even suicide. Thankfully, I am as far away from that place as I could ever imagine now, but the pain I was feeling was very real, and very confusing. That I had none to blame but myself only amplified the situation: I was my own enemy in my mind, tormenting myself with guilt and shame, constantly reminding myself of the various costs of my decisions. No matter where I was, I saw judgment and condemnation in every eye. (The truth is that, while there may have been some, most — if not all — of the people I interacted with hadn’t the slightest inclination of what was actually going on in my life.) Nowhere did the weight of my shame crush my spirit more than at church.
I felt alone in a sea of faces. It was the one place I knew I needed to be, and it was the last place I wanted to.
My soul hurt, and the most distant action of all, was worship.
I didn’t feel like God was great and merciful and worthy. The church could save its cheap platitudes. I wanted — I deserved — the God of wrath and fire and retribution.  I didn’t want to praise Him: I wanted to fight Him.
So I would sit, stone hearted and alone, while everyone around me sang and worshipped and enjoyed the favor of God’s blessing.

Have you ever reached a point with someone, where they know you’re mad, but you still want to tell them just how mad you are? Would you dare do that with God?

I did.

I cussed at Him. I insulted Him. I began to unload all my rage and pain and confusion and frustration and fear and shame and loneliness on Him. Maybe I could make Him mad enough to do something about it. I didn’t really know what to expect.

I never expected Him to just take it.

That’s when I discovered a new understanding of God’s grace. He can handle EVERYTHING I can think to throw at Him. And He answers, not with wrath, but with a gentleness, patience, and kindness that leaves me in awe. God isn’t some insecure, fickle (false) friend, waiting for just the right excuse to leave you behind.
It was out if this new understanding that I began to truly understand worship like I believe David understood worship. God can handle my honesty, and I don’t have to be afraid to bring it to Him.

This revelation set my heart free.

There are still times now when, for various reasons, I don’t “feel” like worshipping. Exhaustion, stress, pain (both physical and emotional): I bring them all to the table now. I lay them at His feet alongside my joys, my thanksgivings, and my blessings. And there I find that I can praise a God who is big enough to not be shaken by my hurt, my fears, or my sins.

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord ’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6 NIV)

love in a hurricane.

I was almost thirty years old when I received this message:

“Hi, you don’t know me but I believe that I am your half sister.  If your older brother is John Rutter and your fathers name was John Paul Rutter, than we share a father.  I would love to talk if you are ok with that, let me know.  Thanks.”

Life comes to a screeching halt.

I could write about my sister and the other half-brother I learned about that day. I haven’t built much of a relationship with either of them other than some minimal contact on Facebook. (If either of you are reading this, please know it’s nothing personal: I’m just as bad about keeping in contact with the family I’ve known about for thirty years longer.)
I could write about the confusion of hearing my father had passed away after a fight with cancer.
I could write about the tinges of jealousy I felt toward two people I had never met — through no fault of theirs — that whatever their relationships with him, they got to meet and know our father in some way.
I could write about so many things that I felt that day, but I don’t want to, and the one person that I truly wish could read this, never will.

A while back there was a letter making the Facebook rounds to “the man I never knew,” or something of that sort.  The author wrote about forgiving his/her father for not being there, even though he missed this/that/the other. It felt honest and raw, but it felt somewhat snarky as well. I couldn’t help but wonder, has the author REALLY forgiven him, or have they mistaken forgiveness for acceptance and moving on?

This is not that post.

Because I want to thank him.

I want to thank my father for partnering with my mother to create myself and my brother. Make no mistake, his relationship with my mother was not a healthy one, but I thankfully acknowledge that I would not be here without him. One half of my genetic code is his: I wouldn’t be ME without him.
I want to thank him for leaving: not because my life is better off without him, but because so many things could be so different if he hadn’t. I have two half-siblings to be thankful for. Regardless of my relationships with them, there are at least two people on this earth that might not exist had he stayed. My mother is now remarried, and while my parents’ relationship may not be perfect, they are growing daily and I am blessed with an abundance of family to love (and still not keep in touch with).
I want to thank him for making me stronger: for giving me the opportunity to pursue wholeness out of a broken place, to prove myself better than I ever should have been, and to recognize even more the grace of God that sustains me daily. I learned to fight for the things I want, and while the methods with which I fight are (mostly) no longer of this world, I am a fighter nonetheless. He helped make me fierce.
I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of love and forgiveness. It would be easy to be angry, to express my hurt and frustration with an absent father. But those are far outweighed by the peace of being able to forgive the person who has perhaps hurt you most, to “love your enemies” so to speak. The truth is, he was never my enemy. He was just a man as broken and in need of forgiveness as I am.

I don’t know my father’s position in regard to his faith. Honestly, I don’t know that I need to know. Does it make a difference to my own? Would it validate or void any call to forgiveness that I have been given? I don’t remember Jesus teaching us to forgive seventy-times-seven times, except “that guy.”

I am not going to pretend to speak for my brother, my half-sister, or my half-brother (whom I was also surprised to learn about that day). I have no right to invalidate their feelings toward myself or my father. These thoughts are my heart and mine alone. I hope that they are not misunderstood. I very much recognize that my father hurt me emotionally in a way that it would take thirty years to recognize, and God only knows how many more it will take to unpack it all. He abandoned me.

But from the deepest wells of my heart, I am grateful for him. I hope that he eventually found the happiness, joy, and peace I believe God wanted for him. Unfortunately, he never got to hear it from me, but I would want him to know he was forgiven. I hope he knew it.

I hope to see him in Heaven one day, perfect, healthy and whole as he was created to be. I don’t believe that the memories of this life will have faded, but instead, the glory and magnitude of God’s forgiveness in the face of the hurt, pain, and sin will be shown all the greater. I really do hope he’s there.

I really want to tell him I love him, and that I’m glad to meet him.

what to do when God tells you to do nothing.

A quick note: three days in and I’ve already missed a day in my attempt to write every day of February. Oh well. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. It’s about challenging myself to write, not a legalistic obligation. I had a busy day and chose to spend the evening with my family rather than writing. I have no regrets.

And we’re walking…

How do you respond when God tells you to do nothing?

I struggle with taking rest. I realize the value and necessity in it, yet I am inclined to work myself to exhaustion, and when I do finally stop, I am still easily overtaken by thoughts of what needs must be met and what awaits when I am finished “resting.” In Western Christianity, the “Protestant work ethic” is a term used to describe, in essence, the mentality that we must work hard for the Lord’s purposes. Sloth is dreaded as one of the “seven deadly sins,” and our culture and society constantly tell us that we need to work harder, to do more.
Don’t get me wrong, laziness is something that none of us should hope to achieve. It is rooted in selfishness and does nothing but unjustly create a burden for those who must pick up our slack.

But what about rest?

There’s small story in the Old Testament where God speaks to the leader of Israel, some guy named Moses, and gives him a list of ten (not so) small suggestions. Heard of it? You can read about it in Exodus 20.
The fourth commandment reads a little like this: ““Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…”
(Exodus 20:8-10 NIV)
James (sounds like a handsome, uber-masculine dude) writes that, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10 NIV)
Do we realize that by resisting a rest (oh yeah, I went there), we are committing just as much of an affront to God as killing someone else? Let me say that again: God sees our refusal to rest and MURDER on the same level!! Part of that truth is, by not resting, we’re killing ourselves; physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Let me say it this way: Jesus summed up the law as, “Love God with everything you have.” (Commandments 1-3) and, “Love others (5-10) as much as you love yourself (#4).” Our love for others can only healthily pour out of a place of resting in God.
God is calling us to rest so that we can then bring the Kingdom of Heaven to others out of a place of wholeness and peace. The world is feeding us the lie that we must minister out of our own strength and then (typically at the end of the week) be filled back up.

The point of this isn’t legalism. It’s not about following the Law perfectly and being righteous by our own accomplishment.
The point is that God wants us to rest. He wants to bring restoration, healing, and comfort through those times of abiding in Him, and out of that rest empower us to live as citizens of His Kingdom.

Rest: is it the end or the beginning of your journey?

solitaire-y confinement.

Sum totalled, there are four games on my phone. Two I voluntarily installed, one is the hidden Lollipop game available on certain Android operating systems, and one is the Google Chrome Dinosaur. The two games I chose are a crossword puzzle collector, and solitaire. Yes, the card game.

Please take a moment to envy the wild life I lead.

I chose those two for several reasons, but mainly because they help quiet my mind of various distractions and stressors.

For those who know me fairly well, my personality may give fair insight as to my choice of digital entertainment, but for those who don’t, allow me to elaborate:
I have a love/hate relationship with puzzles. I’m good at them. VERY good at them. They stimulate my mind and push the logical boundaries of my brain. They challenge me.

I hate them for it. I obsess over the solution until I find it. I HAVE to know the answer. My mind churns with fury and fire until I have proven myself better than the obstacle in my hands. I cannot stop until the solution has been found.

Which leads me to solitaire.

I play Vegas style, which, for those of you who aren’t digital card sharks like this rogue of the interwebs, means scoring is done on a “monetary” scale (no actual financial transactions occur) instead of a point system. Also, you are limited to three turns through the deck, as opposed to limitless tries. This combination of limitations creates an event where the unstoppable force of my obsessive logic runs headlong into the immoveable object of one simple, yet unavoidable truth of the game:

There is no guarantee of a solution.

While there are strategies that may positively or negatively affect my potential within the game, I am completely helpless against the deal. I must reconcile myself that no matter how hard I strive and struggle, there may not be an answer.

And it is within that moment, that reconciliation, that I find peace. When I can accept the fact that there are things beyond my own control affecting the outcome of the scenario, I let go. I don’t have to work harder, think differently, or attempt to manipulate the situation to bring about a desired outcome.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”
(Proverbs 3:5-8 NIV)

I am no longer a slave to the lie that I must have the answer.

I have to remind myself that life is sometimes like my simple card game. I am free to choose and implement my strategy, but also must rely on discernment to show me when there are simply factors beyond my control. Many times those factors include the choices and actions of others, circumstances beyond my abilities, or situations that I have no business being a part of in the first place.
This is not to say I find complacency acceptable. Not at all! Rather a call to discernment and wisdom; to recognize the situations upon which we have no bearing, and to find peace in those moments rather than strife.

There are certainly times in which we must put forth our best efforts. There are, simply, others in which we must realize that the game was never ours to win.

And I’m learning be OK with that.

noodle soup.

“Tigress: It is said that the Dragon Warrior can survive for months at a time on nothing but the dew of a single ginko leaf and the energy of the universe.
Po: I guess my body doesn’t know I’m the Dragon Warrior yet. Gonna take a lot more than dew, and universe… juice.”

“Is God’s grace enough?”
A friend asked this recently in a group discussion, and hand-on-my-heart, honest-to-God, this scene from Kung Fu Panda was my response.
Paul writes about his own struggles (the thorn in his side) and of his hearing  God’s assuring voice, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Jesus went into the desert and was tempted to turn a stone into bread. His response? “Man shall not live on bread alone but by every word from God.”

That’s all well and good, but I guess my body doesn’t know it’s the Dragon Warrior yet.

Sometimes we may find it easy to get discouraged on our journey, especially in our faith. Healing doesn’t come; breakthrough always seems just out of reach; we (or those we love) seem to constantly be in the midst of pain and suffering. Or maybe it just seems like others are getting and we are not.

Two things to be cautious of: 1) covetousness, and B: idolatry.  Focusing on your neighbor’s blessing takes your eyes off your own, and will cause you to miss out on what God has in store for you. Idols are made when we begin to form our identities on the basis of our pain; it defines every aspect of our lives and becomes the lens through which we view everything else. It is nothing more than a lie about a false identity.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians carried encouragement and hope. He writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (1:18-19 NIV) His reminder to the church not only brings a message of hope, but also of identity and power, and reminds us that all these are available to ALL believers.  He even let’s us know that it’s OK if we’re not quite seeing them yet: “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.” (1:13-14 NIV)

I know that sometimes it can be difficult to hold hope and faith when we don’t see immediate results, but by His very nature God cannot break His promises, and He has promised much to His children. You are who He says you are, Dragon Warrior.

Sometimes we just need to be reminded.