Head-Over-Heels – love from a God undeterred

I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.
I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.

By: Jana Greene

“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
―     Brennan Manning,     The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out    

From the very first minute I met my beloved husband, it was obvious that he was interested in me. He made is so clear! If ever there were a love at first sight, we totally nailed  it.

But seemed to be such a good man, that I had this primal urge to warn him.

“You should probably know,” I said, while waited  for a lunch table on our first date. “I’m an alcoholic in recovery.”

“And  have two daughters, 10 and 13, who I raise by myself.  And they are really handfuls.“  He only smiled at me, undeterred.

As that first date progressed, it was clear that this man was special, different. He was warm, attentive, interesting. I had butterflies, but in the most comfortable, natural way. As it turned out, that he had a 13-year-old daughter, too.  In our first, long conversation, I kept having the oddest feeling that this was The One.

We saw each other every day after that. We simply couldn’t be apart.

In times of anxiety, I wanted to tell him, “RUN! I am not worth it!” and when he didn’t run, that dark place in my spirit that was born of so much rejection in the past, whispered, “He will one day abandon you, you know. He will figure it out.”

Even after such a brief courtship, it occurred to me that If he wanted to run, I would rather it be right away, before I fell any deeper in love with him. I felt like such a mess, with nothing to  bring into this new relationship.

Nothing but me.

“I have medical issues,” I would say at otherwise intimate times. Or, “I struggle to pay my bills.”

I was sure that this sexy, compassionate, amazing man would not stick around, if only he knew the true me. But a strange thing happened … the more he came to know the true “me,” the more he just kept falling in love.  The alcoholism recovery (which is a lifetime endeavor,) the single-parenting of teenaged girls, the health issues….none of these – or any of the other in the plethora of anxieties and insecurities – kept him from loving me.

Oh how many times I experience the same dynamic in my walk with God!  From the very first moment I accepted Christ as my savior, it was obvious that he was head-over-heels with me.

From time to time I remind him: “I am small, insignificant. I battle anxiety, and fear abandonment, and have nothing to bring to the table. Only me.”

He is such a good God, it’s almost as if I feel I should warn Him.

Often, when I feel those butterflies that come from knowing the Living God has fallen in love with me, I still wonder “why?”  I am in awe that the God of the universe is undeterred by my character defects, challenges, and  not concerned about what I can “bring to the table.”

I’ve told God that – if he wants to run, I understand. I’m kind of a mess. Sometimes, when I am most anxious and depressed, when the old feelings of being a “mess” crash over me, I think about the early days when I tried to talk my Beloved husband out of loving me, and he just smiled. I was enough, he wanted me, just me – forever.

What kind of God would be crazy about me?  The kind that cannot be talked out of it.

The kind who just wants  to be with me, because when he created me, it was love at first sight.

And when he runs, it is only toward me.

JUDGED.

JUDGED

By: Jana Greene

“None of us has ever seen a motive. Therefore, we don’t know. We can’t do anything more than suspect what inspires the actions of another. For this good and valid reason, we are told not to judge. ” ― Brennan Manning, The Wisdom of Tenderness: What Happens When God’s Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives

You don’t understand me. You may think you know me, but you don’t.

If you only knew my heart … you might not judge me so harshly.

 Or, you might judge me even more harshly….if you knew my heart.

A few weeks ago, I posed the simple question on social media:  “If you could describe the feeling of being judged by others in one word, what would that one word be?”  I  received an avalanche of responses from people of all different ages and creeds –  in rapid succession. Most of the responses were graphic, the words divided pretty neatly between two camps:

Deep, wounded feelings of inferiority,  and a strong, almost violent verbal depiction of spiritual beating.

Being judged  does not feel uncomfortable… or  a little unpleasant.

It’s personal.  It’s the worst kind of personal, because it confirms the  fundamental fear of being misunderstood, and couples it with the sting of rejection.

My own word to describe feeling judged  was “jagged.”  When other people judge me, it makes me feel torn – not slashed in a way that is easily mended or stitched, but with uneven edges and patches missing. When the full brunt of the judging stops stinging, I can tell that healing will be slow and scarring.

Isn’t that the crux of feeling judged? If taken to heart, it never heals just-so. Judgment feels jagged,  because it is sharp-edged self-righteousness … like the blade of a sickle, separating us one from another without benefit of cautery.

Many readers responded with similar words.

“Raw”” shared one friend. “Cut-to-the-bone,  ashamed, disgusted, disappointed, gut-wrenching….take your pick.”  She continued, ” it’s never fun to feel judged… like you came up short on character or something.”

Broken. Splintered. Betrayed. Heavily yoked.

Another friend found it difficult to stop at one word to describe her feelings. “Violated and victimized,” she explains. When people smile to your face, and talk behind your back, “It is sabotage , emotional hijacking.”

Being assessed as “not enough” is just as painful, as having your value estimated by another human being is often worse than having been misunderstood.

“Vulnerable,” described one young woman. And as if she had made herself vulnerable in the posting of the very word, others added to the sentiment. “And less-than.”

Misrepresented. Misunderstood. Rejected. Pitied. And perhaps most stingingly, condemned.

“Unworthy,” shared one. “And crestfallen.”

“Small,” said another friend, to whom I would never would have attributed that feeling. “You know – like someone has just decided you’re not worth a place at the table.”

The comments of one person gave me great pause.

“When someone passes judgement, I feel like they put a label on me,  stuck me  in a box and taped it up tight. This enables them to just ‘walk away’  and not ever really know the true me. I have to also add that I think people pass judgement when they are afraid, or lack knowledge and empathy.”

Only one person can have one person’s experience. Only God knows what my experience is.  The oft-repeated adage, “Only God can judge me” is true, but we forget that sometimes, when we are busy determining whose motives are pure and whose are not (as if we could ever know) and who among us is in the wrong.

Being judged by other human beings doesn’t make one  repentant.  If anything, it makes one defensive. Maybe when our spirits evolve beyond that spiritual schnaudenfrude (by your misfortunate deeds, I feel much holier) the blade will dull.  I hope so. I think God wants his kids to be kind to one another. That evolution can only happen when we ask for God’s help in overcoming our human ways.

I have to be reminded of this constantly –  to live this, because I’ve just made too many mistakes to survive  spiritually intact otherwise.  I’ve been too hurt, and  inflicted too much hurt – in my careless, momentary value judgements of others.

And taking the judgement of others too tightly to heart slices and dices, jaggedly…opening a a big, black, sucking vortex of self-important insecurity. When the scars from all the judgement become too tight, it is a reality check that I am giving people too much power.

The power to stick me in a box, tape a label on it and walk away…and never even know the true me.

The true You.

You don’t understand me. You think you do, but  you don’t. (Heck, I don’t even understand me!) But the Father, who understands every individual’s inherent value,  does. And it’s personal.

God, in Christ, says

“You think you understand me, but you don’t.  If you only knew my heart, you might come sit next to me at the table,  and know freedom.

I KNOW YOUR HEART.

There is no condemnation.

I’ve seen what you’ve done. It is finished, as far as the East from the West.

I’ve walked around in human skin, I know the temptations firsthand. It isn’t easy. Shake off that yoke.

Shake it off and stop trying to tie it around the necks of others. The burden is mine.

I understand you. In me, you are….

Perfect. Unbroken. Complete. Valued.

You are connected. Continuous. Fixed and whole.

I didn’t come to cut you away, but to bridge what is holy with what you are – what you really are …mine.”

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” – Romans 8:1 (Message)

 

The Church in Us

Wall painting at Lifepoint Church, Wilmington, NC

By: Jana Greene

“And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Brennan Manning

Church.

It is a place and a people, both.

My earliest exposure to church was as a small child in my grandparent’s Baptist congregation in Houston, Texas.  I remember my grandmother carrying me on her vast hip down the aisle, introducing me to other congregants as we passed.  When I sat down next to her for the service, I was surprised to see that everywhere was red.   Inside the proud brick building, pews were deep red velvet, as was the carpet.  Shiny Baptist hymnals were red as well, although many had faded to pink from the sun through stained glass.

“This is God’s house,” I remember her whispering to me.

I had heard about him before – God – in the stories that my grandparents read about all of the animals being crowded into a boat because water was filling up the world,  and about his talking to a man in the belly of a fish.   I told my grandmother that filling the world with water didn’t seem like a very nice thing to do, and she’d chuckled.  She explained that God sent a rainbow as a promise that he would never do it again, and that the flood seemed bad but was really good.  “Noah’s flood meant that God’s people could start all over again.”

She also told me about God’s Son, the Teacher. He lived a long time ago and loved all the people. She said that even though this Teacher was in Heaven with God, He would live in me, too, if I asked.

At thirteen years of age, I asked.

Since that time, I have experienced the Spirit of God many times in churches – and also the stinging judgment of my fellow humans there. So long as services are held on this planet, there will be issues in the churches.  As is true with most tangible things, the church itself is imperfect. It is a divinely touched organic thing, subject to troubles when people forget to offer up Self as a living sacrifice to him.  Sometimes even good people forget.  The church should disassociate itself with sin by virtue of it’s holiness….but there is always hope for sinners.  God’s son, the Teacher, said so.

He has  called us to gather and fellowship anyway.  We need each other. He also said to welcome others into his church just as they are, and to do so with love, to point people to Jesus.

The “place” of church has changed through the years.  Today, services are just as likely to be held in a building that shares walls with a grocery store, or on the sea-side, or in the auditorium of a middle school. Some have sleek décor and play rock music, some deliver messages by simulcast, some are still in proud brick buildings with stained glass and hymnals faded pink by the sun.   There is a church for every taste nowadays, for every spiritual leaning.

But the God of the people in his church is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  His church seems to be growing in passion for the lost ones, those Christ was so passionate about.  Many followers of Jesus  are constantly aware of their guilt and sin in order to spread the awareness of joyous forgiveness.

God’s house should be the perfect place people to start over again, not for keeping sinners at a distance. God’s people should be the loving extension of his grace, a people whose souls are stained a deep, crimson red with his blood.

A place and people full of grace.

The Saint-Sinner Paradox: Come as you ARE

saint-sinner ambigram tattoo – inkarttattoos.com

By:  Jana Greene

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

 –Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

I don’t know if you are familiar with Brennan Manning’s books, but if not…I recommend them highly.  Although Ragamuffin Gospel is a classic, “Abba’s Child” spoke to me the plainest. 

I like plain talk, I like honesty. 

Brennan Manning is just plain honest.  A quick Google search of his name will alert you of the controversy among Christians about his life.  It seems that Brennan Manning is an alcoholic whose theological views go against the grain of some denominational teaching.  He is a sinner, whose view is that life is messy, and relationship with God is all about grace. 

Are you a bundle of paradoxes? 

Some of my favorite people are, including my other two favorite authors – Donald Miller, who wrote “Blue Like Jazz”, and Anne Lamott, whose “Traveling Mercies” literally changed me forever.  I love everything these two write.  But they are not what you might expect, if you were to expect traditional Christian literature.  They are honest in a literary way like Bob Dylan (or perhaps Adele, for the younger generation) is honest in a musical way….raw and real.  And I love that.

I once attended a live simulcast by a very famous Christian author and speaker.  There was a sense of excitement leading up to the event that I can only liken to the Super bowl, if the Super bowl was geared toward middle-aged females of the Caucasian persuasion.  The speaker, I must tell you, is very charismatic and popular.  She is “The Face of the Christian Bookstore”, I suppose you could say.  The simulcast was very nice.  It was two hours well spent, but not two hours that changed my life.  I’m glad that there are people whose lives are touched by this speaker.  There is nothing wrong with her message, she seems to have gotten past some truly difficult times in her life and she gives God all of the glory, as she should.

But “very nice” doesn’t hook me anymore. 

Donald Miller’s bestselling “Blue like Jazz” is a semi-autobiographical account of Mr. Miller’s departure from his Christian upbringing by attending university at “the most godless campus in America”.  Some Christians are shocked that the book (and recent film depiction) contain references to both sex and drugs, and believe those things should be omitted.  Had they been, the story would never have been told.  Because sex and drug issues are a part of life, and a very real part of what many people struggle with….even many Christians.

And Anne Lamott?  Although I personally disagree with her political views, I adore her honesty.  She writes like a sinner; like a sinner who is crazy in love with Jesus.   A 2003 Christianity Today article b Agnieszka Tennant describes her this way:  “She came to Jesus just as she was—a foul-mouthed, bulimic, alcoholic drug addict. One week after having an abortion, she surrendered to him in her very own version of the sinner’s prayer, punctuated with the f-word. The author calls Ms. Lamott “a Born-Again Paradox.”

Indeed. 

Please don’t think I am condoning any of the behavior mentioned.  Being a follower of Christ means that you try to walk in His footsteps because He was perfection incarnate.  But being human means that you will misstep sometimes because you are not.  That’s my theology.

Are you a paradox?

I am a bundle of them, when I get honest.

I admit that I forgive and struggle with grudges.  I am sober but crave oblivion.  I run to the downtrodden but turn away from what I see.  I am real but I still sometimes wear a mask.  I am no rational animal; my emotions run the show far too often.

A Born-Again Paradox, crazy in love with Jesus.