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Jesus Loves Me, but I Suspect that I’m Not Playing with a Full Deck.

Many years ago after a long and very disappointing search for spiritual meaning in most of the major Christian denominations and even some other world religions, I was encouraged to say a prayer, “Jesus Christ, if you are who you claim to be, I want you to be my Savior and Lord.” This was not connected to any denomination. I didn’t expect anything, because as I explained to the woman challenging me, I didn’t believe in God and I thought Jesus was a very good man, but a delusional idealist that got himself killed. At first, nothing happened and I felt pretty safe that nothing would.

Then suddenly I simply knew with my whole self – mind, heart and spirit, that I was loved unconditionally by God, even though for some years like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, I had opposed anything Christian in the public sector. Suddenly, things from Scripture, which in my search I had read from beginning to end, came together with things I had learned when recently getting a degree in Psychology. And I was filled to overflowing with total mind blowing joy.

That was forty-seven years ago and my journey has since been centered on the person of Jesus as the Love of God fleshed out so we can understand it, experience it, and learn to love like that. I have found that there are some people in all the denominations who “get” that. But all the denominations have pieces of the puzzle that they emphasize to the detriment of the whole picture. Most of humanity including nominal Christians- have simply missed the point of Jesus Christ. To me the greatest tragedy I see in today’s broken world is that Christians are turning people off before they can discover the Love of God in Jesus.

To discover that Love of God in Jesus we pretty much need to put everything we were taught or heard on hold in a mental file, and spend some serious time getting to know the man Jesus personally, discovering in the New Testament that he grew and changed in how he understood his faith and even his ministry over and over until He “got” it and was God’s perfect expression of Love that we could know in the flesh. Then we too will be able to live that process of becoming Love…..never perfectly……sometimes falling under the weight of our human imperfections, but mostly inching closer by seeking grace. It will not be exactly the same or on the same schedule as anyone else, because we are all different. We weren’t all dealt the same hand. Frankly, I think I am one of those who isn’t playing with a full deck.

But God, and only God, knows what we each have to work with, so only God knows how well we are playing the hand we were dealt. We can’t even judge ourselves, never- the-less anyone else. I also learned in my search that the mystics (those that have encountered the Love of God powerfully and personally) of all the world’s religions say pretty much the same thing, “We are all one and whatever we do to anyone, we do to all.”  Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” You would think that we would be a lot more careful how we treat people, even those we may unfortunately be inclined to consider outsiders or sinners.

I can’t help but wanting to share the Love of God I have experienced through Jesus.  But I have learned the hard way, that trying to force our own particular Christian beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, is the mostly likely way to prevent them from becoming open to that experience of Love. We can let the world know what we believe. We can teach our children what we believe. But when we force those beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, we risk being responsible for closing their minds and hearts to God.

I have seen over these forty-seven years that each person’s journey is different and though saying that particular prayer has validity and meaning, it doesn’t always have an immediate impact like it did for me at that point in time in my search. Each person is different and each person’s timing on their journey is different. I think some of us are like the prodigal and some of us are like the older brother. I have seen truly kind and good church going people who believe in the Love of God, but only finally experience it with that explosive joy through a personal encounter with Jesus in their seventies or even later.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” It’s a lifelong personal journey of growing and learning and the high points come at different times and in different ways for all of us. Perseverance is the key.

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Gifts of Age (Part Seven): Aging Like Fine Wine by Dancing in Our Hearts

Dance of Youth

New bottles seldom hold particularly fine wine. Likewise, the gifts of age don’t come in teenaged bodies. On the outside I’m a short, plump, white-haired old lady on a walker. But inside me still live all my younger selves. And the imp inside has gotten braver with the passage of time, so I challenge other little old ladies on walkers to races and to consider themselves armed and dangerous. I plan to get tee shirts that say, “Bare Toes Beware” and “I Can Do Anything You Can Do, Just a Whole Lot Slower.”
Being in my mid-seventies, not only means that I’ve run out of a future full of possibilities, it also means that I’ve actually seen the consequences of some of my major screw-ups in my younger years. And part of my spiritual journey has involved developing enough self-awareness to recognize a self-serving element even in the good things that I do. Parting with delusions is a painful process, but like most difficult things in life, it has an up-side. It eventually makes it easier to live lightly, unburdened by carrying pockets full of stones to throw at others. All those cracks in my façade make that quite hazardous.
Letting go of physical agility and mental acuity as major parts of our self-image is one of the most frightening challenges of this part of the spiritual journey. When I was young and lithe, one of my few natural talents was ballet. In fact, I often expressed my emotions through dance. Once, I danced in sheer joy at the awesomeness of God, while reading The Well Springs of Life by Isaac Asimov. He used several diverse sciences, that study both the macrocosms and the microcosms of the universe, to trace the incredibly orderly and unifying processes of evolution in all aspects of creation. Even such a small glimpse of the brilliance and glory of God was almost blinding. Verbal praise was simply not enough. This cried for praise with my whole self. I put the book down and danced to express my overflowing  joy.
I can no longer physically dance, nor do I have enough mental energy or short term memory to explore complex scientific descriptions of the glory of God in His creation. But age brings simple moments of grace that lift my heart and mind to dance on butterfly wings.
A grandchild whose journey through autism began with learning a few simple signs to ask for basic needs, now keeps me awake chatting past our bedtime. As I pray for energy to stay awake, I dance with delight in my heart at having this once unimaginable experience.
In another part of my series, Gifts of Age, I describe the timely sight of a cow-pile covered in golden Monarch Butterflies just as I was telling God that I was up to my neck in manure down here and asking where the heck He was in all this.  What a perfect symbol of grace.  Butterflies, the classic symbol of transformation, happen to need certain chemicals found in manure.  Problems that go beyond our human ability to solve can open us to God and the grace to grow.

And, believe me, old age is full of that kind of fertilizer.

Dwindling energies and a sense of time passing at warp speed force me to re-evaluate my priorities. Where do I want to focus my limited resources? On image? On possessions? On my aches and limits? On pleasure as a temporary distraction? On a past that I cannot change? On a future that may never come?  It seems more important now, to focus on recognizing the footprints of God in my daily life, on celebrating God’s presence in the small and ordinary, even in the heartbreak, and to share that awareness however I can.

No matter what our age is; today is the only day we actually have.  We can seize it, rejoice in it, and  dance in our hearts.