A Plot Twist

There is more than one ending to a story. When I was a kid, Choose Your Own adventure books fascinated me. The writing was so-so, but I loved that a character wasn’t locked in to a storyline. It recognized human nature is nuanced. A character could make so many decisions. The plot twist changed depending on the choices and actions of the characters. No matter what course I chose for the main character, there was always a plot twist. Always the moment where everything seemed lost, dark and unavoidable. There was never an option where the character went through the days from point A to point B without anything ever happening. Authors recognized the characters could make any decision and there would be consequences for that decision, and they weren’t afraid of that.

It is the story that most mirrors life, even if we don’t like it.

We like our fiction to be dark and filled with the lost night of the soul, because the redemption that comes at the end is freeing. But in our lives? We want the nice happy, apple pie, no fuss ending. We want to wake up and go to sleep without our stories being interrupted.

But there’s no plot twist in that, is there? And if there is no plot twist, there are no consequences, and if there are no consequences, how do we ever embrace life?

I am reading a really difficult book right now. A really difficult, beautiful, joy filled book. It is written by a woman, just a few years older than I, who faced a cancer journey I can’t even fathom. Aggressive breast cancer that took over her body.

But didn’t overtake her heart.

Karatippetts

The thing about a plot twist is it propels a character into action. The story has changed and the lay of the land is no longer what is expected. A character cannot roll up into a ball and not do anything.

With a plot twist, decisions have to be made and consequences will follow, good or bad. What we want, or what we don’t want. And those consequences cause us to make other decisions. And that is what living life is.

The only certainty is that inaction isn’t a possibility anymore. We are going to grow and change from that hard, difficult moment. And that is pure beauty.

Kara, in her plot twist, chose joy not regret. Love not bitterness. Hope not fear. What a story. What an ending. Even in her last days she exuded a peace that still brings me comfort.

The consequence of her decision? A joy filled ending to a story cut short too soon. She is a strong example of how to live when the plot twist happens.

My own plot twist came at age 28. Just a short ten years ago. My life wasn’t the picture of rainbows and unicorns I expected when I was a little girl. It brushed up against the heartbreak of disease that Kara mentioned. And in that moment, before I ever read the words of this woman, I chose joy.

At my plot twist, I chose to live with the unshakeable belief that I was not alone, nor would I ever be alone. No matter what happened in my story. That decision had consequences.

It changed my life.

I became stronger. I stopped being afraid. I started dreaming again. It taught me that hard things can be good. Beauty can come from ashes.

I made it through radiation. Three anxiety inducing scans. I ran a marathon. A half dozen half marathons. I lost 42 pounds. I wrote two books.

It isn’t the life I thought I’d live at the beginning of my life.

But I’m so glad it is the life I’m living now.

And the plot twist could have been anything, the important part is what I did in that darkest spot, when I thought life was over.

Today, think about your own plot twist. Or maybe, you are teetering on the edge of a new plot twist. Remember, there are so many paths you can choose. There isn’t just one story and one ending.

You. You get to pick what happens next.

And regardless of what happens, there will be redemption of your story.

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Friday Encouragement: Inhale joy

IFbeatitudemourning

My life is in a season of transition. Isn’t everyone’s? When it gets down to it I avoid change because it means I am saying goodbye to something, even if the thing I am saying goodbye to is something I’m ready to give up.

This week as I studied the beatitude above, I started to think of change as something worth mourning. Every resurrection comes from a death. Whether it is a death of relationship, a death of career, death of a dream, or death of a vision. These are things that need to be grieved in order to accept the resurrection that follows.

But our culture avoids mourning, and when it avoids mourning it bypasses the comfort that comes with it. When we exhale our pain, loss, grief we allow space for God to be on His knees with us. In that space God’s comfort is with us in the next inhalation.

Let God mourn with you

Mourning  is a place we resurrect. Where whatever we were, or were a part of dies, but is also the jumping off point for joy. Mourning is a rhythm of life that we can’t ignore. When we ignore it, we can’t accept the comfort that comes with it.

Exhale loss and breathe in joy

Today, name the places of mourning in your own life. Write them down. Say a prayer. Invite God to come next to you and sit in that space of loss. Even as you speak the words a resurrection occurs. The new can’t be contained in the old. So breathe out your loss and breathe in joy. Allow God to take the ashes of what was, almost and could have been and let him weave it into joy, beauty, mystery.

Believe that blessed are those who mourn;

For they shall be comforted.

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Synchronicity or a glimpse of the eternal

I like the synchronicity of life. Sometimes people call these God moments. I believe they aren’t just moments, but glimpses of the eternal.

For the past week I have studied the Beautitude:

Matthew5 3And I struggled with it.

Every. Single. Day.

What I have always read and heard in those words is that unless I suffer I will not meet God. And I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to be brought low to my knees. I don’t want to despair.

Jesus spoke these words to two groups. The religious elite and everyone else. He said it to unmoor the listeners from the set of beliefs that said, only those who experience material riches are blessed. Jesus came along and said. Nope.

And they needed to be shaken. I needed to be shaken, and boy did those words shake me. All week I asked myself, will I only gain God, if I lose everything?

Then on Friday I read a Psalm about David. David the boy shepherd, who plays the harp. Defeats a giant. Becomes king. And he messes it all up. He has a man killed. He has a baby out of wedlock. His sons all start fighting. But was still loved by God.

David wrote a beautiful Psalm that shook me a little more.

psalm 51 17

This is a man who understood what it meant to come to God, warts and all, and still find hope. Still find love. Still find blessings.

It wasn’t until yesterday when I sat in the seats at church and listened to the message. Which was about David. The boy who was anointed king while the other king still reigned. Who was called by God and answered that call with nothing more than who he was and what he had.

A harp

A slingshot

A voice.

He came to God poor in spirit. Not destitute. Not in despair. But as he was so he could be filled up and given God’s kingdom.

Synchronicity or a glimpse of the eternal when I wrestled with God.

Being poor in spirit is a lot of things. There is hope in that for those who are lost. Who are marginalized. Who despair. The hope is they aren’t forgotten. They are blessed too.

And there is hope for us. For those of us who look in our full hands, full hearts, and minds and say, God, here I am. Use me. Even like this. I know I am called by you, because you do great things through people. People even like me.

I don’t know that I will ever hear the first beatitude the same way again, because now I know I am included.

I am known, chosen and loved. Exactly as I am. With exactly what I have. I come and serve.

Today, go out and live the truth, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. For theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Lift up your hands and say. “Here I am. Use me. Just like this.”

Watch the world change.

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A big deal

This past Sunday was a pretty big deal in the church. For the longest time I thought Christmas was the most important holiday in the Christain faith. And then I realized Easter is the bigger holiday. As the years go on, I realize Pentecost is a really important day in the life of a Christian, but it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of Christmas morning. Or the thrill of new life on Easter.

719

But this past Sunday as I sat around a campfire with my church I was reminded how important Pentacost really is.

It is the day we celebrate coming alive.

It is a people

centered in Christ

in community

on fire with God’s love

who are sent to change the world.

Pentacost isn’t just a day that the banners on our altar change, or our pastors wear different colored stoles. It is a day we remember that the Holy Spirit is with us. In us. Around us. Through us.

A day we become empowered to do great things for the world.

This Pentacost I wondered why, on a day we received the Holy Spirit do we sit in our churches and celebrate inside the walls? Doesn’t it seem like the right day to go out in the world and serve?

I love the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit came as a “violent wind” and “tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” gathered there, and then they spoke in tongues.

It was such a weird scene that some people thought they were drunk, but others heard the Gospel.

In their own tongue and they were amazed. Peter then addressed the crowd.

Pentecost

The Holy Spirit is for all and we the church are the ones who spread that call. With the tongues we were given, in our unique way with our special gifts. The Holy Spirit descended on each one of us. It lit a fire in our hearts to go out and spread the message of peace, love and reconciliation to every single person we meet.

In whatever way we can

As often as we can

As each circumstance requires

The fire we were given only grows if we allow it to spread. It extinguishes if we keep it inside of us. Pentacost is a reminder in our church year that we were given a precious gift that we weren’t meant to keep to ourselves.

This Pentecost, go out and spread the Gospel. Speak the language you have been given, to the people you are with. It is life changing, it is world changing, it is kingdom changing.

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Choosing your story

Choosing your story

This week my family was riding in the van. My oldest had a complaint of some sort or the other. She is going through a growth spurt (of which I have no empathy, I never experienced growing that fast) Her legs and arms often ache and she, much like my husband, doesn’t deal well with pain.

The youngest starts singing at the top of her lungs, “Life is Hard. Hard. Haaaaarrrrddd.”

Because that is pretty much my response to most of life’s difficulties. Because if life isn’t hard, it is almost impossible to see the absolute beauty in it.

Then this morning I went out for my run. The clouds in the distance were swollen and heavy. But to the right of me the sky was light and shades of blue poked through. I put my money on the wrong clouds and  two blocks from my house the skies opened and released its torrent.

I hate running in the run.

The refrain, “Life is Hard. Hard. Haaaarrrrddd.” echoed through my head.

We get to choose how the story plays out. Rob Bell calls this Anakephalaiosasthai. When suffering happens, we choose the next step. We choose to believe God’s redemption was always there or we can choose to believe grace skipped us. We can live in to: Joy. Redemption. Reconciliation. Or we can choose: bitterness. Anger. Pain.

Our stories are told the way we want them to be told.

Almost ten years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. And for about a year it leveled me. Not just the treatments, but my story. I was so angry and bitter it happened to me. It wasn’t fair. I didn’t want that life. I wanted everything to go back to the way it was.

Somewhere along the way my story changed. Cancer no longer became the thing I wish I didn’t have, but the catalyst for change in my life. My healing wasn’t only physical, but emotional and spiritual as well. What I say about cancer now is, it was the best worst thing to ever happen to me.

Life is hard. But it is so freaking beautiful at the same time.

What is the story you tell about your hardship? Do you have broken relationships? Chronic illness? A bad marriage? A difficult job situation? Where does your story lead you? Is the path rocky, bitter, and full of anger? Or, is that rocky path beautiful and full of life? Do you turn your face to the rain and accept refreshment? Do you marvel at the pain in your body as generating new life?

(Paraphrasing Rob Bell) The thing about stories is, if you can tell it, you’ve already lived it. You’re through the other side; it didn’t destroy you, so why live like it has? This life we have is precious and beautiful and so short. The hard things in life ARE hard. They bring us to our knees. They change us. But every hard side has two retellings. Don’t waste your life telling the wrong story.

Choose today to live into: Hope. Truth. Grace.

And do yourself a favor and listen to this RobCast that explains it so much better than I ever could.

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Compassion is . . .

We need more compassion in today’s world. When I open my news feed and see people debating whether gay rights is biblically right or wrong, I want to answer with compassion.

When I see faces stretched in anger, hurt pouring out of hearts after centuries of racism and segregation, I want to answer with compassion.

When I see families arguing. Friends fighting. People who forget they are loved, I want to answer with compassion.

Compassion starts with hearing and listening. It begins when I stop arguing with the person in front of me and open my head, ears and heart to his hurt. Her brokenness. The world’s injustice.

We say we fight for justice in this world, but often we mean human justice. One that answers discrimination with arguments about state’s rights. One that answers a negligence of justice with rioting and riot gear.

Our justice is not true justice. Because the only true justice in this world begins with compassion. It starts with looking at the person in front of you with dignity, love and respect. No matter how different they are from you. No matter how they may have hurt you in the past. Compassion says I will stop following my own hurt and focus on us. On our relationship.

On reconciliation.

Compassion says I might lose something I thought was important, for what is important.

Love

Hope

Redemption

We all have people in our lives who need compassion and often we, ourselves, need compassion. Dialog happens when we let go of “fair and equal” or “I deserve.” Often those are code words for this is mine and I will do anything to keep it. Nothing good comes from such a scared place. Instead, if we look at the person in front of us and remember she hurts as much as I do, he is as afraid as I am or she doesn’t feel loved; kindness emanates from that space. Patience rolls in like fog, dampening our anger. We remember her light comes from God as much as mine does. If I lay down “my side” and focus on “our side”compassion becomes the common language instead of anger.

I want this world to burst with compassion. I want hurt to be answered with love. Anger to be answered with kindness. Fear answered with hope.

And above all, I want us to love each other recklessly and fully; with gentleness and peace; with hope and longing for complete restoration of relationship.

1Peter38

Jesus challenged the rich young man to lose his life. Lose his life for what is eternal. Today, lose you life for what matters. Let go of something you thought you couldn’t live without in order to bring about restoration of relationship.

Let grace and compassion run wild in this world.

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Sunday Reflection: Grace

“Because we religious types are really good at building walls and retreating to temples. We’re good at making mountains out of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and hills out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy and who’s unworthy. We’re good at getting in the way. Perhaps we’re afraid if we move, God might use people and methods we don’t approve of, that rules will be broken and theologies questioned. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, this grace thing might get out of hand. Well, guess what? It already has.”

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

What if today, you baptized yourself in grace?

What if today, instead of accepting the human call of death, darkness and sin you heeded God’s call of life, light and grace?

What if today, you didn’t look in front of you for affirmation, but up to the One who loves you recklessly?

What if today, you ignored the human rules of worth and accepted you were already redeemed and worthy?

How would you live different? How would you love different? How would you change the world?

Today, on this Sunday

Let-grace-run-wild

Let it run wild in your heart, in your mind and your world. Live into that truth, today and everyday.

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