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Let’s Pretend Our Own Christmas Story

Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise. Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you. Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet? Would he want to do the same for you? Would you protest because you feel unworthy? Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell over and over about giving birth in a dirty drafty barn and about the terror of fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set? Would he accept a glass of wine and grin and ask if you’d like an upgrade?
Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to the people living in those shabby back rooms at the Highland Motel?” Or even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check the bridges for homeless people who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees from the war in Syria.
Or perhaps he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You didn’t feel any condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because you know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but in order that we might be saved by him.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.

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Becoming Free to Hear God

I just want to reiterate my theme song: We are all born different.

I don’t have expertise in much, but personality differences have been my area of specialization since the early 1980’s. I used to be a consultant on their implications for marriage relationships, teaching/learning styles, approaches to spirituality and even management skills.

We are different in both what and how we take in information from the outer world
We are different in how we process what we take in.
We are different in what we value.
So, we are different in how we respond to what we take in.
We are incredibly different in how we communicate.
We are different in how we live in the world……whether goal driven, pleasure driven, influenced by others or our own built in agendas.
We are different in whether we are focused on the present moment, the past or the future.
Words have different meanings and even a totally different impact for each of us.
It is an absolute miracle that any random group of us can agree or act in concert on anything, even in the same family, church, culture or country, never-the-less across cultures, religions, and nationalities.

However, both my studies and experience have shown me that after midlife we have a natural inclination to grow and develop more in the opposite strengths and orientations. So, age may have its perks and probably the greatest of these is a greater potential for peacemaking.

Here is a part of my personal journey that hopefully illustrates this possibility.

In my mid-forties I was accepted into a three year course of preparation for Lay Ministry.
A part of it was taking a battery of tests ranging from IQ to personality tests. Then we were given feedback on areas that might be problematic for ministry.

I was told that I had two areas with a potential for limiting my effectiveness in ministry.

#1. My IQ was high enough that I most likely always assume that I am right in any conflict of opinion. This is a weakness, because no matter how smart anyone is, no one, but God is right all the time. And….(here is the zinger) the most necessary quality for hearing God is humility.

#2. I was over sensitive and thus, easily offended.(My humorous, but pitiful first gut level response to this was, “If you know that, why would you hurt my feelings by telling me?”)

It has been a long and somewhat painful process of integrating these truths into my conscious responses to life.

Several years ago, I got into a conflict with my church’s Minister and the leadership of the church. This culminated with a woman Elder telling me that I was just an unhappy person who was never satisfied with anything. Frustrated, hurt and angry, I left organized religion for about two years. During this period I focused on trying to listen to God and my relationship with God became much closer and more fruitful. This culminated in the realization that I was, in fact by nature, both extremely idealistic and a perfectionist. These traits have a good side; I have been at times a change agent for the better. However, since no person or organization is perfect, they tend to make me critical of pretty much everyone and everything.

The realities and practical limits of an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, including myself, are like a pebble in my shoe. Coming to grips with the reality that in this life, we can only inch toward any ideal, never reach it, is as painful for the idealist as accepting the call to change is for the pragmatist. The ultimate challenge for all of us is becoming free to hear God in each situation. Sometimes God’s choice is a matter of timing, sometimes what seems good, may need to be let go to make way for something better as yet unseen, sometimes more time is needed for grace to change other hearts.

This is my prayer variation: “God, help me to change what you want me to change, to accept what you want me to accept, and to hear which you are calling me to do in each situation.”

Here are the challenges that I am still in the process of learning on how to hear God:

#1. I must let go of the assumption that my way of seeing an issue is the best or God’s way. It might actually be, but I cannot see the whole picture or the long term effects like God can, so I cannot make my opinions into idols.

#2. I must consider the realities or practical limits of the situation and be willing to inch toward or even let go of what I consider the ideal.

#3. I must let God heal the hurt behind the anger that any conflict carries with it, such as feeling unappreciated, rejected, like a failure, or somehow inadequate.

#4. I must trust that God is in every situation and can teach me and others what we need to bring about spiritual growth and good out of what seems so wrong.

#5. It may be necessary for us to take time and space to heal our wounds, but we need to avoid burning bridges. Sin isn’t feeling hurt or angry or even needing time away from a situation.

Sin is refusing to take the time to seek the grace and do the work needed to reconcile, however long that may take.

Peacemaker Ministries

I wrote recently about our women’s group starting a new class on conflict resolution. I’m very excited about this opportunity, but I do realize what a challenge this will be. So, I’m praying for our group and our facilitators, and ask my fellow B4Peace bloggers to pray also.

The book we are using to begin is Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson.

I have only read the introduction so far, but it has captured my imagination and revived some of my long lost hope about peacemaking.

Ken Sande says that since he became a full-time Christian conciliator in 1982 he has seen these peacemaking principles used to stop divorces, restore friendships, reunite churches, settle lawsuits, and even bring peace between warring tribes in Africa and Asia.

I’m looking forward to seeing what can bring about those kinds of reconciliations and peace.

He also says to learn more about Peacemaker Ministries’ resources, training, or services visit http://www.Peacemaker.net.

I feel like I am standing at a door to a whole new way of life, perhaps even a deeper sense of purpose.

Don’t you love those moments in life?

My discovering the wonders of blogging last year at seventy-five is continuing to open new worlds to explore at seventy-six.

Thank yous to: our nephew David who gave me my first computer seventeen years ago, our son Thomas who is our computer tech, Tracy who introduced me to blogging last year, and the bloggers around the world that keep me inspired, particularly Kozo and the group, B4Peace.

They have all taught me that it’s never too late to learn new, exciting, and life changing things.

Do Not Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good: Be Perfect Only in Forgiveness

I did not manage to pray or meditate on peace exactly last Sunday. But I was praying and working my way through articulating a request for forgiveness from the Elders (Session) in my church. I have been alienated from my church for over two years.
I have prayed and struggled with this the whole time, but only recently saw that I have made choices that increased the mutual estrangement, instead of moving us toward reconciliation.
Several times over my seventy-six years, I have taken offense at what friends said and cut off the relationships. Two particular women, a decade or more older than I was, had done many kind and generous things for me and my family, but unfortunately they said things that hit me where I felt most vulnerable. And I let them literally die without ever saying I was sorry or even telling them why I became alienated.
I realized when beginning to be a part of B4Peace and the Sunday night prayers/chants for peace, that since I have had several small strokes and three clogged arteries in my head recently, I might not get a chance to reconcile, if I postpone saying that I am sorry very long.
Asking to be on the agenda for a Session meeting, sitting waiting for it to begin, feeling like the elephant in the room that nobody was mentioning, trying not to say anything accusatory, just to take responsibility for my part, was just about the hardest thing I ever remember doing.
With some encouragement from our minister, most, maybe all, said that they accepted my apology. But the response was less than warm and no one volunteered any apology for their part in the conflict. By the time I got to my car, I was in danger of getting angry once again. What I realized is, that forgiveness takes one side, reconciliation takes both sides. And that forgiving them was my problem, because forgiving them reconciled me to God. Their being sorry was their problem.
In working through aspects of this estrangement, I have realized that an area of oversensitivity caused by my own inability to admit a weakness, blew everything out of proportion. Admitting to the reality of that particular limit has set me free of a source of fear and defensiveness.

Another outcome of this spiritual struggle has been recognizing how my idealism often gives me a critical spirit. The truth is that God is much more realistic about our human limits than we are. Yes, we aim for the ideal. Yes, we encourage and share insights with others in our spiritual journey. But, at any given time our vision may not be the same as God’s. He/She may have an entirely different agenda. Letting go of our preconceived ideas, at least holding our vision lightly with fingers open, is the only way we will ever hear God and the only way we will ever have peace.
I have already forgotten the source, but a quote helped me at a crucial point in coming to grips with how destructive my unrealistic expectations have been: “Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
I do not tend to see the glass as either half empty or half full. I see it as a challenge. I start imagining possible ways to fill it to overflowing. There have been times that this trait was perfect for my situation/job/project. I was in the right place at the right time with enough resources and talented support people who shared my vision.
But recently , I’ve recognized that the situation I am in now does not have the resources or people with the shared vision. And I cannot accomplish my goals alone, nor should I, even if I could. If God wants it and I’m willing to do whatever, God will supply what else is needed. Otherwise, instead of either trying to force my oughts and shoulds on others or silently judging them as falling short, I need to wait on God. He may know that here and now, a half empty glass is all that is needed to accomplish His purposes, which are more important than my need to feel important or successful or smart or superior.
My wanting to always make everything bigger and better is like having only a hammer, when what may be needed is only a dust cloth.

How peaceful it is to be still and know that He is God, and I am not.
What a gift!
Thank you, God, for setting me free.

Peace and the Personal Commitment to Forgiveness

Once again, a miracle: I, of the erratic memory, did remember to join in praying for peace this Sunday evening. I am unexpectedly peaceful about being a part of this. I decided long ago that inner peace is quiet joy. And that is exactly the gift this experience brought me. I got so caught up in prayer and reflection that I lost track of time. Prayer for both my own and others’ broken relationships stretched out as I thought of more and more needing healing. When I reached the stage of praying for peace for all people, because of my own recent experience of reconciliation, I actually felt hopeful that events small or large would begin to happen in the lives of every person to help them become a tiny bit more peaceful. It made me want to not only persevere, but to gather more and more others to commit to praying for peace on a regular basis.

This year, when Kozo, through his ‘B4Peace’ blogging project, invited us all to begin blogging about peace at least once a month, it challenged me to become more open and committed to the healing of some broken personal relationships. My most serious alienation happened about two years ago and had not only gone unresolved, but had caused complications with other relationships. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but if I was going to write about peace, I needed to at least start dealing with my own conflicts.

As I began praying for the grace to let go of my bitterness and allow God to heal the hurts that fed it, I was invited by friends to participate in a Spiritual Growth Class based on the book, Soul Feast, by Marjorie Thompson. I read the book and found it challenging and exciting, but one of the two facilitators of this class would be the man whose words had both wounded me and set off the very painful chain of events that resulted in more broken relationships. It hit me that this might be the answer to my prayer for grace and healing, so I joined the class, but chose a seat safely far down the long table from my adversary.

For several months, we managed to interact civilly, but cautiously. We tiptoed around anything relating to our controversy, while finding shared ideas on spirituality. I could tell that both of us were truly trying to apply the insights in the book.

Out of the blue, a conflict developed between my male nemesis and the female co-facilitator. He quickly became so defensive and verbally combative, that she left in the middle of the class. No one knew what to do, but when he began to just go on with the class, as if nothing had happened, I asked if we could pray for our friend who was hurting. I said that I didn’t believe any of us really wanted to hurt each other, but Christians or not, conflicts happened, and we all needed grace for healing. We said a simple prayer for healing of hurt and then we went on with the class.

Within two days time they had reconciled completely. He had called her after class. Though she didn’t take his call while she was still furious, by the next day, she had prayed her way through to understanding and forgiveness, and so had he when she went to see him.

As I witnessed this, I immediately realized that I should have gone to him soon after being hurt, explained how I felt, and trusted God to give us the grace to overcome our differences. But, I also recognized that I hadn’t, because he had unwittingly blundered into my worst minefield of insecurity. Now, in praying about and coming to grips with that particular personal demon, I finally experienced a greatly needed new freedom. Then, I was not only able to reconcile with him, but to share with our class how powerful seeing the human frailty of our co-facilitators being healed by their commitment to love was.

I don’t think any words in a book or sermon could have had that power. We really are called to flesh out the gospel for others, not by pretending to be perfect, but by our commitment to forgiveness. I am now praying and working on reconciliation of the other broken relationships set off by this one. Thanks again, Kozo for challenging me to do this.

A New Beginning in Forgiveness

I have been alienated from someone important to me for two years.
Everytime I tried to forgive, I just relived the hurt and injustice, and my resentment grew stronger and more entrenched.
Yesterday, I finally looked at it from a different viewpoint: How could I have handled my hurt in a way that could have given us an opportunity for healing and reconciliation instead of letting this fester into a poisonous wound?
I realized that a lot of harm could have been avoided, if I had been courageous enough to simply go immediately and explain how hurt I was and why.
I hope to do this now, but the conflict set off a chain of events that will now be much harder to heal than it would have been in the beginning.

I want to thank Kozo for his challenge to forgive in his blog, everyday gurus.
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