Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pretty Packages

I love a pretty package. Pretty wrapping paper and big bows automatically excite me. I imagine all the wonderful possibilities such a package could contain...something expensive, something exquisite, something absolutely fabulous.

I never imagine the gift inside being something that's been broken and glued back together. I always imagine the thing inside being just as marvelous as the package in which it's presented.

The conversation veered towards where most of my conversations veer lately: religion, Christianity, and the difference. The topic is almost always on the forefront of my brain in recent months. The more in-depth the conversation went, the more I felt the internal struggle. A familiar struggle. Present a pretty package and hope the other person believes what's inside is just as fabulous as what I'm presenting...or open the package and display the me that's been broken and mended. In a matter of a few seconds I questioned, Do I tell? Do I share? Yes.

I opened up what I'd wrapped just so, and displayed the not-so-fabulous parts of me. And the conversation got real, real quick. No more pretending. No more presenting. What I laid bare:

Christians mess up...sometimes badly. I regurgitated my mess, my story, as an example.

I struggle, but God...

Maybe the Jesus that many Christians present isn't the Jesus of the Bible: Jesus wasn't wrapped in a pretty package; He offended people with His love; He spent most of His time with social outcasts instead of with the religious.

A quote from my pastor: Jesus plus nothing.

Sometimes I'm annoyed by all the other pretty packages, as much as I'm annoyed by mine.

For the first time, I felt like I shared me, messed up as I am, and the God who loves me anyway, without wrapping it all up in a pretty package that leaves people feeling the presentation is fake. I walked away with an unfamiliar understanding: love strips away the pretty presentation and exposes the broken parts that God has mended.

With that understanding comes this: I no longer want to try to present a pretty-packaged Christian who people walk away from thinking that what's inside can't be as real as the package. I don't want to be the person that people walk away from and say, If that's what being a Christian involves, and if I have to keep all those rules and appearances, I don't want any part of it. I want to be the person who people walk away from and say, If that's what loving Jesus looks like, and if He can mend my broken parts, I want in!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Did I Read That Right?

I love Jesus, but I don't like the church.

My head jerked around to re-read. Did I read that right?

Those were the words on a local church sign, advertising the upcoming Sunday's sermon. I've thought about that sign quite a bit. My initial reaction stemmed from deep parts of me that have always known the Sunday School answers: We're supposed to love the church.

Then I was honest with myself: Sometimes I don't like the church. And, more than likely, I'm sometimes the church person that causes someone else not to like the church. Ouch.

I've wondered how the pastor of the church with that sign delivered the sermon. I've wondered what points he included in his sermon. I've wished I had been there to hear what he had to say.

I'm aware that many pastors would jump on that sign statement, and berate those who agree with it. Unfortunately, the more honest and transparent conversations I have with people, the more I hear how others feel the same way. It's almost like a secret underworld of people who find one another when we work up the courage to offer one honest statement. Suddenly, we realize:

Hey, maybe I'm not alone! Maybe someone else feels the same way I do. Maybe there are other people who are weary from wearing masks, uttering the right words, dressing to fit someone else's code, smiling and serving when all they want to do is lay in a heap and cry. I'm not the only one who sometimes dreads coming to church where everyone attempts, in vain, to fit the same mold.

The joy-filled Christian life doesn't come without difficult circumstances. Yet, at church, we often pretend it does. And that often makes us hold back our longings for honest, authentic, transparent relationships. We start to feel like we don't belong with all the other joy-filled Christians. Before we know it, we no longer like the church. We no longer want to attend. It becomes work to wear the mask, but we put it on and go through the motions without an ounce of honesty, authenticity, or transparency.

You'll find me somewhere in the middle. I desperately want honest, authentic, transparent relationships. But I wear my mask, mostly out of fear. I've succumbed to trying to fit the mold. Because of that, I'm probably that person that causes other people not to like church. The irony is that I don't really like the mold, and being part of the church sometimes makes me want to run far from it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Constant: Change

Change is happening again. I'm living in what is constant: change.

What's been so unsettling over the past five years is that the thing that keeps changing in my life is the balance of friends. I can count on one hand the number of people now in my life that were there five years ago. {I take the blame for that.} Two weeks ago, I would've said I'm finally developing new, real friendships again. But maybe not. And I'm pondering the why.

Here's what I'm processing:

The more I let go of rules and traditions, and

the more I attempt to loosen the masks, and

the more I want to be real, to be who God created me to be (instead of fitting a mold),

the more the rule-and-tradition-keeping, mask wearing, too-scared-to-be-real people run from me.

I pursue, only to be rejected. So I quit pursuing.

The interesting and ironic part of it all is this:

I now find myself more comfortable among those I formerly would've condemned. I'm comfortable with people who love Jesus, yet don't want to keep rules and traditions. I'm comfortable with people who don't love Jesus and don't even care about rules and traditions. I feel the freedom among these people to be me...a mess who loves Jesus and knows that Jesus loves me. A mess who knows that no amount of rule keeping or rule breaking will make Him love me any more or any less.

As much as I want to be comfortable with rule-and-tradition-keeping, mask wearing, too-scared-to-be-real people, I'm not. And I wonder if there's a balance to be found. I wonder if my desire for them to experience and live in grace and to be authentic and transparent outweighs my desire to accept them as they are.

I wonder if the soul stirrings of constant change will ever settle into a rhythm and balance of people and friendships...

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Miss Me

I went on a beach trip with a friend this past weekend, and we talked about...well, anything and everything. On the way home, I said to my friend, I've been more me this weekend than I've been in a long time. And with that statement, I realized I still wear masks.

I wear the homeschooling mom mask. While I do love having my children at home, and love having the opportunity to teach them, I don't love it like a lot of other homeschooling moms. There have been more than a few days this year that I've wanted to run down to our local schools, and enroll my girls. Yet, for some reason, I feel pressure to love homeschooling like other moms. I'm torn on the subject of homeschooling, yet parties on either side of the issue have strong convictions, and there's no place for a teetering mom like me.

I wear the I'm-a-good-girl-now mask. This is the mask I wear most often. I make especially sure it's tightly in place when I go to church. I think I'm fearful I won't fit the mold. But, the question now begs, why would I want to fit the mold? I really no longer buy into rules and traditions that are stereotypical of Southern Baptist church goers. Yet, for fear of condemnation, when around those who adamantly hold to the rules and traditions, I play the part. I wear acceptable clothing...a little too much exposed skin would label me as inappropriate. I read acceptable books...reading Rob Bell's book might label me as a heretic. I speak acceptable lingo...one wrong word, and I no longer love and live for Jesus.

Those are just two of the masks I identified myself as wearing. I could list quite a few more. And I've realized something: I miss me. I miss being who I really am. I miss being able to question aloud. I miss voicing my opinion, or lack of, for fear of not fitting the mold. I know that Jesus loves and accepts me without the masks, so I'm questioning why I feel the need to wear masks to gain love and acceptance from others. The question of authenticity and transparency creeps right into my face. Is there a time to put aside authenticity and transparency to be acceptable in my surroundings? Or do I risk being authentic and transparent to the point that others would be uncomfortable, and perhaps, offended? Those are the questions that must weave their way through my heart and mind, while I silently pray for answers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nothing and My Favorite Posts

Sorry, friends...I have no words. I stare at the blank screen, waiting for an idea, a word, some thought worth putting into sentences. Nothing. Hopefully, words will overwhelm me soon. In the meantime...I'd love for you to share a link to a favorite blog post, one of your own or someone else's!

A few of my all-time favorite blog posts:

Do You Feel Judged? at Life Lived Fully

When You're Busy Being Angry at Grace Is For Sinners

God of the Third Chances at The Best Days of My Life

Enjoy reading! Let me know if you like those posts too!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Not the Only Freak

Tornadoes are common in Alabama in the spring. Before last Wednesday, many of us didn't take the threat of danger seriously and went about our business. So last Wednesday morning, I set about on my storm-day routine. I don't know why, but when I know severe weather is on its way, I start cleaning. It's habit. I posted this on Facebook:

Is there such a thing as "nesting" before a storm??? I feel the strong need to get my house clean before it starts... Weird.

Now I could ramble on here about being prepared for the storms of life. Yes, that's important. But, instead, I want to take another route.

That one post received 27 comments. I was shocked at just how many other people have the same habit as I do. Cleaning and baking before a storm seems to be pretty much commonplace. I had no idea! And I don't think any of the other commenters did either. It was as if we all thought we were the only ones, and were quite surprised to find out other people did it too. I even posted this comment later in the thread:

This cracks me up. Y'all know I'm going to have to write a blog post about this: I expose my secret storm habit, thinking I'm a freak, only to find out there are a bunch of other freaks out there too!

Secrets have a way of making us feel lonely, like we're the only ones in the world who are carrying that burden. When we take the risk of exposing our secrets to others, we are usually filled with angst. But, often, an amazing thing happens. We often encounter many others who are hiding similar secrets, and feel the same loneliness as us.

It's a refreshing thing to live in community...to have a few, trusted friends with whom you can identify. I'm finding more and more of those friends...people who are willing to be authentic and transparent, to share life. I can't adequately describe the bond that develops between people when they share secret life experiences. I'm finding that I'm closer friends with people I hardly know than with people I've known for years. There's something to be said for transparency and authenticity:

Sometimes it just helps us realize that we're not alone, and that there are a bunch of other freaks out there too!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One Sentence

I had a long blog post about the responses to the reactions of Bin Laden's death, but am on the fence about publishing it. So I'll sum it up with one sentence:

We claim and encourage authenticity until someone's opinion doesn't match ours.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Good Girls

Years ago, when giving my testimony, I would present myself as the good girl. I was the girl who grew a preacher's daughter and never got into serious trouble. I prided myself on not having a life-changing testimony.

I'm not the only one. I've heard countless similar testimonies during women's small groups and Bible studies.

What I didn't share in my testimony back then was that while I had a good girl image, I had bad girl thoughts. I had private sins. I also had acceptable sins...gossip, white lies, among others.

When we present ourselves as having always been good, what good is our testimony? We may as well say that we don't really need Christ. We may as well say His sacrifice was in vain.

The Bible says No one is good except God alone (Luke 18:19).

We may appear good. Our sinful thoughts may never have been exposed. Our acceptable sins may not seem so bad. But, the truth is, we all sin. And to give a testimony in which we say that we are good and our lives haven't changed all that much...well, maybe we should just sit and be silent.

If we can't give the hope of a changed life to a lost world, what good is our testimony? No, our lives on the outside may not look all that different, but certainly when we realize that even our good deeds are as filthy rags, we will experience a heart change. And that's something to talk about!

Good girls, are you really all that good?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Just When I Think...

Every time I start thinking I've got it all together {you know...life}, I am reminded that I most certainly do not. There've been at least half a dozen, if not more, times just this week that I've wished I could rewind a few seconds and have a do-over.

I'm great at speaking before I think.

I'm great at sarcasm.

I'm great at forgetting my own mess.

And all those things I'm so great at land me in trouble or leave me feeling guilty. I'm reminded of my imperfection.

I'm reminded that God is gracious for a reason: He knew I {we} would make a mess of things...repeatedly.