Posted by: alliehope | April 30, 2009

True Beauty

I promised myself that I wouldn’t touch this one with a “thirty-nine and a half-foot pole” (to borrow a lyric from How the Grinch Stole Christmas). But thanks to this, I have to.

I’m not going to bother here recounting the story (the link I provided does that). What I’m after is an even deeper question: what’s the point of the beauty pageant, anyway?

I think I know what the point is (warning: my feminist colors will betray themselves here). The point, as I’m seeing it, is to parade these living Barbie dolls around in outfits that would get most people arrested for indecent exposure to send the message to women that it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how brave you are in standing up for your beliefs, how determined you are to make a positive difference, your ultimate value is how good you look in a bikini.

Excuse me for saying this, but that’s f’ed up. And it’s even more messed up when Christian women don’t seem to be bothered to ask the real question of why beauty pageants are even necessary in this day and age where women can be and accomplish anything. Why aren’t they pointing to women like Michelle Obama or Kay Warren as better role models than some, I’m sorry to say this, bimbo in a bikini?

Ultimately this indicates our willingness as Christians (and I’m guilty of this) to buy into the world’s definition of beauty, one that, unfortunately, denigrates women. If we affirm that women are cobearers of the image of God, then why are we so willing to celebrate a culture that turns them into sex objects? Can we turn our back on this whole ugly affair?

I think we can. On this one, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t praise Prejean and hold her up to our daughters and younger sisters and younger friends, and yet at the same time buy into the lies that she represents as “Miss California”. We need to remember what the writer of Proverbs said: Charm and grace are deceptive, and beauty is vain [because it is not lasting], but a woman who reverently and worshipfully fears the Lord, she shall be praised!
(Proverbs 31:30; The Amplified Bible).

Posted by: alliehope | March 22, 2009

Two Hours to Save a Life

Two hours. 120 minutes. 7200 seconds (if my math is right). There’s a lot you could do in two hours: clean your room, buy a new pair of shoes, write a blog post, watch a movie. But what if you could save a life in two hours?

Here’s your chance.

For those of you in the Chicagoland area, I highly encourage you to get involved in a Willow campus’s efforts to pack meals. The goal is huge, but doable. After all, the organization we’ve partnered with is doing phenomenal work, and we can all make a difference.

For those of you outside the Chicago area, check out the organization’s site, and consider donating to help their work. It’s not an inexpensive proposition to buy the supplies and ship them overseas once the meals have been packed. It might not be two hours packing meals, but you will have done something to put even a small dent in the massive crisis of world hunger.

This is even more important when we stop and consider how the global economic downshift has disproportionately affected the world’s poor. I heard at church today that in an economic downturn, the wealthy are inconvenienced, but the poor are crushed. (500 points if you were at Willow Creek this weekend and can tell me who the heck said that!) The quote sticks out in my mind, and calls me to remember that when I’m tempted to think I’ve got it bad, I could just as easily have it a whole lot worse.

So, in my mind, doing a shift of service like this is one way for me to put hands and feet to my gratitude to God for what He’s given me. It’s a way for me to make an impact in one of the most perplexing problems our world faces, and a way to remember Jesus in serving the least of these. And, I will also say this: it’s also pretty cool to be able to say that in two hours, I didn’t help to save one life, but possibly the lives of thousands.

Posted by: alliehope | March 18, 2009

Happy St. Paddy’s Day (and other stuff)

I can’t help but think about our culture’s attribution of things that happen to either “good luck” or “bad luck”. Sounds kind of fatalistic, if you ask me. So, in the spirit of questioning “luck”, chew on this.

Needless to say, reading that has made me think about the whole question of sovereignty vs. free will yet again, and yet again admit that I don’t have any answers (at least none that could be defensible as a doctoral dissertation).

Deeper than that, I’m forced to admit something I HATE admitting: that I am dependent on God for everything I could ever need. This flies in the face of our culture’s self-sufficiency, which makes me think of something else: I’m also dependent on God to help me overcome my prejudices and intolerances. Without His Spirit working in me, I cannot reach the kind of intentional inclusiveness that Jesus modeled on my own. I might come close, but it would still be motivated by my own desire to get ahead, and would thus be manipulative and self-centered, and it would eventually backfire on me badly. (Thanks to Nancy Beach, the teacher of this message, for challenging me to see this, and to up the ante in terms of what I do, and my dependence on God to help me do it!)

Why is it so tough to admit dependence on God? I would think it would be a natural thing, since God meant for us to live in fully surrendered communion with Him. But a quick read of Genesis 3 reveals that our drive for independence started early, and it’s something that’s as inherent to us as our DNA.

Its consequences are obvious: we will struggle with each other, with ourselves, and with the earth itself, and we are cut off from God’s loving provision for us. But we can go home again: we admit that we are utterly powerless over ourselves, our sin, our brokenness (what the 12 Steps would call our addicitions), and admit that we can’t help ourselves. Then we day by day surrender ourselves to God’s loving direction, and when we choose to disobey, repent, and surrender yet again.

I don’t think it matters if we have to surrender 1,000 times in a single day. God honors our willingness to keep coming home to Him, beaten up, clothes torn, snot running down our faces. He sees us, even that messed up, and says, “This is My son, this is My daughter; in them I am well pleased”.

If you’ve never made the decision to surrender for the first time, I invite you to do so. It’s very simple to do. Just pray this, and mean it in your heart:

Lord Jesus, I confess that I’m a sinner. I know that I’ve messed up, and I can’t clean up my mess on my own. I need You to come into my life, to take away my sin through the blood that You shed on the cross, and transform me by the power of Your Holy Spirit.

Thank You that You gave Your life to set me free from the chains of sin, and having to depend on myself to live. I am Yours, Jesus, today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.

If you prayed that, and meant in in your heart, feel free to contact me, and I can help you get in touch with some resources that will help you grow in your faith. May God bless you on your new journey!

Posted by: alliehope | February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday 2009: The Gift

The alarm in my iPod rang at 5:30, bringing me out of a troubled sleep. For just a moment, I could not remember why I was being woken up at that hour, but then I remembered: I had made a decision (that I tried to back out on yesterday) to go downtown for at least part of the morning to pray, to meditate, to seek God’s direction for the next 40 days, the time known to a lot of Christ-followers as Lent.

So I left my warm bed and journeyed down to the Chicago Temple, one of the most beautiful churches in the city (and also one of the quietest places in the city!), arriving at about 7:45. I prayed Psalm 51,(verses 1-17, at least) and then had ashes imposed on my forehead as a mark of repentance and remembering the fact that I will someday die.

I then received Holy Communion, something I had not done for a while, and in that moment of remembering His sacrifice, my soul was strengthened for the morning’s work, and the four gifts that would emerge from that day’s Lectionary passages:
repentance, given from Joel 2:13,
righteousness, given from 2 Corinthians 5:21,
remembering God’s character, given from Psalm 103:13-14and in re-adjusted priorites, given from Matthew 6:12.

Blogger’s note: before I go any further, I have some ‘splainin to do: the Lectionary is a cycle of readings from the Scripture, intended to take the reader through the Bible in a year. It’s most often used in more traditionally-oriented churches. And, just so the reader knows: I’m not trying to be funny in having all the words for the gifts I received in the passages start with the letter “r”. This blog post is NOT brought to you by the letter R or the mumber 7. This ain’t Sesame Street, people.

Having said that, I know know that God allowed me to see those things to remind me that despite how I often feel, He has never left me or forsaken me. He is still working in my life, no matter if I can’t see the results of the work He’s doing. His call to me is to simply walk in trusting communion with Him, letting go of the results.

In hindsight, it was almost a set-up. I got of the train at the Washington stop, and as I walked toward the exit in the crowd of early commuters, I saw a sign: “Complete control matters”. And in a moment, I said out loud, “No. Complete surrender matters!” The sign, and my reaction to it, I think, were a hint of what was to come, and God’s gentle call to deeply enter into this sacred season, and into a deeper level of surrender.

Blogger’s second note: take a minute to read the comments section after the entry. You might find some interesting things to look into if you want to have this season be a little more meaningful, but are scratch for ideas! Here’s praying for a blessed Lenten season for all of you!

Posted by: alliehope | February 22, 2009

On Forgiveness

Ahh…Good to be back online and in full blogging mode again!

So much has happened between now and the last time I wrote, and two things stick out: the dawning of a new relationship, and a promotion at work. God is doing a new thing in my life, and I have no idea where either thing is going.

However, in order to fully embrace whatever He’s up to, I’m finding that I need to still deal with some old stuff, namely the emotional and sexual abuses my father perpetrated on me when I was a child. I thought I had, but I’m finding more and more that just like restoring a piece of art to its original beauty, the more dirt comes off, the more still needs to come off.

It’s a hard thing to deal with, this whole idea of a shattered childhood, of innocence stolen. Of course, I’m going to be angry. Of course I’m going to cry out and rail against God, wondering where He was when I was repeatedly told that I would be “trouble” for men, that I was a “dangerous little girl”. Of course I’m going to want an accounting from Him of His seeming inactivity when I was repeatedly exposed to unspeakable pornography–things that adults shouldn’t see, to say nothing of a child!

But ultimately, I’m going to wonder, if this is what a father can do to his child, what about THE FATHER? What was God thinking, what was in His heart as all this happened to me?

This is where the book The Shack has been so helpful to me. It’s helped me to realize that even though God didn’t necessarily ordain what happened to me, He is redeeming it, making something beautiful out of it. He is able to transform, I am seeing, even the ugliest things into things of unimaginable beauty, and where I see only chaos, He sees a perfect pattern, growing according to His divine wisdom. (I won’t give away the scenes in the book that brought this home to me. But there are many).

I’m finding more and more that in order to really go forward, I have to go back, and forgive the man who did these things to me, and let go of my anger toward God for allowing them to happen. This has not been an easy process. However, I know now that it is one that breathes new life into my soul, and that new life is now starting to be seen in my new adventures.

I don’t know where the road will lead. But God has called me to take forgiveness as my companion for the journey; without it, I am likely to take bitterness along with me, which can only keep me from seeing the beauty of what God is doing. I can only hope that as I continue on in this work, God will lead me into new ways to use my story to bless others who have traveled some of the same territory I’ve walked.

I write this entry with about 3 days until Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the Christian Lent season. It is traditionally the time of examination, of repentance, of recommitment. But this year, as I go through those things, I want to go through them with an eye toward forgiveness: forgiving those who have hurt me, seeking the forgiveness of those I have hurt, and forgiving myself for the sins I have committed. I am convinced, as Lent 2009 draws ever nearer, that without the hope of forgiveness, our souls shrivel up and die. But with it, they thrive and grow, bringing beauty to this sin-ravaged world.

And so I pray:

Heavenly Father, Source of all forgiveness and mercy, how we praise You for the wonderful gift of the ability to release the past and let go of the hurts that have been done to us, and the hurts that we have inflicted on others. It’s so amazing that You have give us this ability–an ability deeply rooted in Your heart, which is ever directed to Your children’s good. Grant us, Father, as we journey into forgiveness, that through it, we would gain an even deeper glimpse into Your heart, which beats with mercy and love. As we gain this vision, help us to incarnate the love we receive in the work of forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. +

Posted by: alliehope | January 17, 2009

Salute to a Hero

Like all of America, I have been spellbound by the story of pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III, and his courage in the face of what could have been a disastrous plunge into the Hudson River this past week. His quick decisions saved many people from certain death, something to be commended, to be sure.

I have begun to think, however, what about the other heroes in our midst? What about all the unsung souls who quietly act the same courage to free people from the bonds of injustice, toil among the poorest of the poor, whether in an inner city slum or in a forgotten village on the other side of the world? What about parents, who raise their children to be men and women of integrity and compassion? Surely these are heroes to be saluted as well.

In reflecting on this, I am going to go on a limb here: I believe we all have the potential to be heroes. If we are alive on this planet, we are called to live heroic lives.

Don’t get me wrong here, dear readers. Not all of us will be called on to act in such extraordinary circumstances as the ones that have gripped the country the last few days. However, I think the last few days have called us (particularly me) to redefine the meaning of the word hero: A hero is someone who consistently acts with courage and grace, regardless of the circumstance.

Working from this, then, in the middle of January 2009, my challenge to you, my readers, is this: How will you become a hero in 2009? What impact will you have on this world? (Remember that no action you take is ever 100% impact-neutral. We all make choices that ripple off of one another–will your ripples make positive change, like those of a hero, or negative change, like those of the anti-hero?)

Notice I didn’t say “villain” there. To narrow this world down to “hero” and “villain” is the reductio ad absurdum o0f the Hollywood fantasy writers, who are trying to make good and evil into categories so obvious a child will get them. I’m talking about something a little more complex. The anti-hero isn’t necessarily a villain in the Hollywood sense. He or she is an individual in hiding for whatever reason, not knowing the extraordinary potential that lies beneath his or her skin, waiting to be drawn on for the good of the world. His or her actions can’t necessarily be construed as evil, since he or she really doesn’t understand, or is in denial about, the life he or she is called to live.

Here let me state unequivocally that there are villains in the world. These are folks who have gone from anti-hero (the folks who you couldn’t pick out in a crowd) to being outrightly evil. They are twisted souls, in thrall to the oppressive power of Satan, hell-bent on destruction. These are the folks who perpetrate terrorist attacks, traffick innocent women and children in the human sex and slavery trades, who kill, who steal, who will stop at nothing to preserve the power they think they have. (I said that to clarify the distinction I’m drawing between the anti-hero, the “average Joe or Jane”, and the truly evil).

Having granted that evil people do exist, and the forces of darkness do exist in this world, I want to return to us, particularly those who call ourselves Christ-followers. He has given us a heroic charge: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19a; 20b, Today’s New International Version).

I am now back at the challenge: for us, as Christ-followers, to rise up as heroes this year. Don’t know where to start? Start on your knees, with heart and hands open to God’s leading. Then check out the following resources:

Compassion International: be a hero by sponsoring a child in poverty.

International Justice Mission: be a hero by advocating for the rights of victims of human trafficking, sexual slavery, and other forms of bondage.

Habitat for Humanity: be a hero by working to help families live in stable, decent, affordable housing.

I gave you those to help you expand your vision beyond your borders a little. Of course, your children, your workplaces and your churches need you as well to stand up and be a hero on their behalf. I can’t promise you a cape or any cool superpowers, but I can promise you the hero’s reward of knowing that you’ve made a difference to a world in desperate need of heroes. (Oh, and for the record, I think what Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger did was really cool).

Posted by: alliehope | December 31, 2008

2008: The Best Words of the Year

I think I’ve worn out my Borders rewards card this year, and frustrated a couple of their cashiers trying to find some titles. However, this year’s been worth it–some of the books that have come out have been tremendous. So, in no particular order, here they are.

Toni Morrison, A Mercy. I had to read this at least 3 times to truly “get” it. It’s a little gem of a book, coming in at less than 200 pages. But it’s spellbinding. She can really tell a story, and this is no exception. It is haunting, strange, and ultimately satisfying.

William P. Young, The Shack. I realize this choice will mark me as theologically controversial; I accept that. If you want to take up the issues it presents with me, I’m more than willing to discuss them with you.

Having said that, the story it tells is ultimately the story of all of us: we all have our “shack”, our place(s) of intense pain, loss, and shattered dreams, and it is in those places that God most deeply meets us. The story of Mack’s transformation as a result of his encounter with his own “shack” (both in literal and figurative terms) is inspiring, and one that I keep coming back to as I deal with my own “shack”. (Blogger’s note: the copyright on The Shack indicated 2007, but I didn’t (providentially) stumble on to it until 2008, which is why it’s in this year’s list for me).

Rob Bell, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. This one both infuriated and inspired me. I’d only read snippets of Velvet Elvis, so his disjointed writing style was somewhat off-putting at first. But once I got past that, his view was shattering.

His writing exposed the arrogance with which a lot of Christians live, and the ignorance we are so often guilty of. The way he traces the narrative of the Bible was one that I keep coming back to in my quest to further understand who God is, and what He put me on this earth to do.

Gary Haugen, Just Courage. I saw him live at Leadership Summit at Willow Creek this past summer, and his talk was nothing less than inspiring. I have admired the work of International Justice Mission since I heard about them on an Oprah show about human trafficking.

The book, Just Courage, is a short read (I finished it in a day), but it packs a terrific punch for its less than 150 pages. It made me wonder, Where in my life have I “gone on the trip, but missed the adventure”?

It’s not a manipulative, guilt-inducing punch, though. The book is a gentle, but strong, call to be involved on behalf of the least of these, to stretch beyond yourself and into the work of justice on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. It’s not about guilt for what you’re not doing (as I thought in my first read-through), but rather about finding your passion, and using it to spur you into the fight for justice.

John Burke, Soul Revolution. I loved this. I can’t say enough about it (and someone has my copy now, dagnabbit). I have read a lot about the “spiritual disciplines” in the last several years, and I assumed (mistakenly) that this would be more of the same: I should pray more, read the Bible more, swear less, give more, serve more, be less self-focused, etc, etc, etc. I thought, spare me the guilt trip!

Fortunately, Burke did just that. Through both story and Scripture, he makes a great case for the disciplines as being building blocks for our lives, not things that we “should” do without compelling reasons why we do them.

Erwin McManus, Wide Awake. While not as strong theologically or creatively as Uprising, this was, out of all the books I’ve read, the biggest swift kick in the rear. It’s about chasing God-sized dreams, living life to its fullest. Again, nothing new. I’ve been hearing the same song for years.

But somehow, the contents and the way he casts the vision for a person living “wide awake”, living their dreams, helped to crystallize a lot of the journey I’ve been through the past couple of years. I’m learning to embrace and live out the hero within me, something that isn’t always easy. But thanks to McManus’ inspiration, I’m learning that’s a process, not an instant result.

Last, but certainly not least, Bill Hybels, Axiom. This book is the most unusual of my list, since it’s really a book of short leadership lessons, not chapter by chapter. But the lessons are so compelling, since they come from Hybels, who’s spent over thirty years in the leadership trenches.

For me, as I’m just starting out, learning who I am and what I’m called to do as a leader, this is invaluable. I felt like Hybels had come alongside me, and was teaching me what he’s learned in his years of experience. As I’ve read through it, I’ve found my values and priorities challenged and nurtured, and learned to ask more and better questions, something that I’m still not too good at.

Honorable mentions: This is the part of the list where I name books that I’ve loved but am running out of room to talk about! So on the loved but not forgotten list: Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, Shane Claiborne’s Jesus For President, and Mark Batterson’s Wild Goose Chase. Loved all four; I just don’t have the space to talk about them here!

Posted by: alliehope | December 19, 2008

The Big Yawn

Much ado has been made recently of Barack Obama’s choosing pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration on January 20th.

The title of the post gives away what I think of it: big friggin’ deal. I’m not so far left-wing that I’m automatically thinking Obama’s sold gay-rights advocates down the river, nor am I so far right-wing that I’m thinking, “How dare Rick Warren sell out to the liberals?”

At the end of the day, Obama has the right to choose whoever he wants to give that prayer, just as we have the right to criticize him for that choice. However, I don’t think it’s worth making such a big stink over, especially when there are two wars going on, our planet is in peril, our global economy is hanging by a thread, and terrorism looms large, and people wonder where the terrorists will strike next.

I will grant that Warren has said some pretty controversial things. But he’s also been through some stuff , like every single one of us on this planet. He’s much more of an “everyman” than the screaming gay-rights people like to think, and the “OMG, he sold out!” people think.

Quite honestly, I’m with this guy. I think this is a moment for both Obama and Warren to set some real leadership, and put ideologies aside in favor of real change. It’s only when we shut up about our little opinions that we see the real issues, and this isn’t one of them.

Posted by: alliehope | December 11, 2008

Integrity: A Rant and a Prayer

Unless you’ve been living with your head in the sand the past 24 to 36 hours, you’ve undoubtedly heard by now the sad tale of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

I am at once cynically satisfied (after all, sometimes I wonder, is “honest politician” an oxymoron?) and deeply disturbed by these revelations. The cynical part of me thinks that he had it coming to him for being so stupid, and that the prosecutors in charge of the case throw the book at him.

However, the deeply disturbed part of me looks at this tale of woe and thinks, there but for the grace of God go I. I am reminded that this kind of depravity is what I am capable of when alienated from God. I am cut off from the very Source of morality and truth, and can very easily justify sinful decisions that harm myself and others, and tear at the sometimes delicate fabric of the Divine-human relationship that is supposed to be the sustaining force of my life.

I hear the words of James echoing about how the wisdom that comes from above is exactly the opposite of the wisdom of the world (James 3:13-18). It is this heavenly wisdom that is the core of integrity, the quality of living purely and peaceably before God and others.

I look at the actions of Blagojevich and shudder, knowing, as I said, that I am capable of those kinds of actions if I do not keep watch over my heart, since it is from the heart that both words and actions flow (see Matthew 15:10-20).

So, then, what is the remedy? What of this rant/self-examination? Integrity, I’m finding, comes through prayer, accountability, and disciplined study of the Word of God. (It’s been said that the Bible is the only book that when we read it, it returns the favor and reads us.) It comes from study of those who lived lives of great purpose and purity, namely Christ Himself.

It comes also from pursuit of knowledge, knowledge of what integrity, this word I’ve been throwing around, really is, and applying it to my life. Maybe reframing it a little bit: Henry Cloud calls “character” (another word for integrity) “the courage to meet the demands of reality”.

The word itself comes from an ancient Latin understanding of wholeness, of unity within oneself. The fractured person is therefore to be understood to be without integrity since he or she is not whole. This understanding is closer to the reality that I’m peeking into here, that of how fractures within the soul are what give rise to sin.

These fractures come from many directions, but they have the same wellspring: alienation from God. I mentioned that I’ve seen this so often in my own life it’s ridiculous. One needs only to read Romans 1:18-32 to get a clear picture on how this works. (Hint: Pay especially close attention to verses 18-26 and 28-32). And to know that all of humanity’s in that boat? No wonder Blagojevich did what he did!

This alienation from God, though, is not humankind’s final condition, however. God, in His mercy, provided Jesus Christ to reconcile us to Him, and rebuild our fractured lives through His shed blood on the cross. It is only through accepting this costly sacrifice that we can find real healing, and real transformation into the what we were meant to be all along: the image of God, conformed to Christ.

When we are conformed to Christ, we will naturally act in integrity. After all, He never sinned, never broke a promise, never lied, never tried to use people to His own advantage. Please, please, please, for the love of all things sacred (and maybe a few things profane), don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we’ll never sin. After all, to err is human, and no matter how vigilant we are, we will all wrestle with the still-fractured elements of our lives, still make bad decisions from those places that have not yet been brought into submission to Christ.

I am saying, however, that those places can be restored, and will be restored as we surrender to Him. They will be restored through prayer, through study, through accountability (and through, at least in my case), a few swift kicks in the butt. They are restored through, as the AA Fifth Step tells us, “Admitt(ing) to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”.

After all, it’s the truth that sets us free, since in the truth, we see the fractured places in our lives, and the destruction we have caused when we have lived from those places. We are then able to move forward from those places, confident that God is using even them to bring others who are still in pain, still fractured, closer to Him. We can give of ourselves more freely, confident that God can use our stories of pain and brokenness to reach souls still in darkness.

Ultimately, that compassionate nature is what emerges when we live in integrity. We’re able to see wrong for what it is, and see the possibilities for healing from it, both in our lives, and in the lives of others. While we do not lower our moral standards, we do not cling to them self-righteously, condemning those still fallen. This is what Jesus Christ modeled for us, and what He wants to conform us to as His Spirit transforms us from the inside out.

A Prayer

Father, as still more disturbing revelations come out of yet another politician consumed by power and greed, and seduced by authority, I find the revelations holding a mirror to my soul, revealing what I’m capable of–the same kind of corruption and defilement. Yet I give thanks, that You are working within me to conform me to the image of Christ, showing me the depth of my sin, and the depth of Your grace.

Thank You, Father, that none of us can ever fall farther than Your grace can reach. Thank You that You sent Your Son to take our sin, our hell, the death we deserve, and gave us Life Eternal–not just in some far-off heaven, but in the here and now! Thank You that we no longer need fear your condemnation, but can receive Your tender calling–calling us home, to repentance, to humility, to transformation.

I pray, Father, in this season of Advent, this season of returning light, that the light of Your Son would shine into the darkest corners of our souls, revealing those places that still are not submitted to You, those places that are still fractured. Help us, Father, to let go of those places, to surrender them to Your healing and cleansing, that as You heal them, You are transforming us, little by little, in ways that we might not truly grasp until we see You face to face in Your heavenly kingdom. Grant us the grace, Holy Father, to continue pursuing You, pursuing holiness, until that day, and use us to draw others into that pursuit–the only race worth running. In Jesus’ name, amen.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen. +

Posted by: alliehope | November 29, 2008

Thoughts and Thanksgivings

Another Turkey Day come and gone. The leftovers now sit in the fridge, and some of the Black Friday crazies are sleeping in, sleeping off their consumerist hangover. I am wide awake, musing on the blessings of the last year, and just how much I have to be thankful for.

I started a cheap little notebook of gratitudes, with the goal of writing in three things a day. It’s amazing how taking those thirty seconds shifts my entire perspective. It gets my eyes off of me, off of being a “selfish little clot of ailments” (500 points to whoever supplies the name of the person who said that, since I’m blanking out on who the heck it was). I’m starting to understand that gratitude by its very nature does that, since it’s basically impossible to be grateful and self-centered at the same time.

I become aware, in my moments of gratitude, that there are so many in this world who are far less blessed than I am, who are often far more grateful than I am for the little they have. I’m so convicted by this, as I am by a sign I saw at the Jimmy John’s on Jackson St. the night of the most recent choir rehearsal last week: “The gap between more and enough never closes”.

Maybe, at its heart, gratitude is about recognizing that I have enough for my daily needs, and have so many of my wants met as well. I think back to the Israelite community gathering the manna in the desert, and how the writer of Exodus adds in the comment that “the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Each one had gathered just as much as they needed” (Exodus 16:17b). That one gets me every time, since I see in it a foreshadowing of what Jesus would say in Matthew 6:11, ‘Give us this day our daily bread”, in the familiar King James language.

What I see in this is God’s desire to give us what we need, not just what we think we want, in order that we might come to trust Him. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what we think we need (which are more often than not merely selfish wants), and we lose sight of just how much has already been given to us. We (at least I) get so tangled up in what’s immediately in front of me that I forget to step back and appreciate the blessings God has given me.

I think about a story attributed to St. Augustine, about a man who had a vision of God. In the man’s vision, God appeared to him and told him He would give him whatever he wanted. So the man writes out a few things, then hands his list to God.

God, knowing what’s in the man’s heart, encourages to write more. So the man does. God is still not satisfied. The man goes back to writing, and writes out the deepest desires of his heart, things that he’d never admit to wanting. God looks at him and says, “I will grant you all these things on one condition: you will never see My face again. Though you call on Me, you will not see Me”.

The ending of that story always jars me into the realization that through Christ, I have access to God Himself, not just the things He provides. It forces me to understand that I all too often make the stuff of life into idols, placing the fulfillment of my perceived needs above trusting God to show me how to create with Him the life that will most glorify Him. It shows me that knowing Him is truly more important than anything I could be given, or anything that I could give (since, after all, I am merely giving an infinitesimal fraction of what He has given me).

I am also reminded through gratitude that it’s not enough just to feel grateful. I have to do something with the bounty that God has given me. Regardless of what I do, I know I will be held accountable for what I do (1 Corinthians 3: 10-15). In this light, then, gratitude poses a challenge to me: to give my best as an act of worship, since God has given His best to me. That’s what I call “Thanks-living”, and it is ultimately more impactful than an emotion that passes.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »