A Confession

For a Christian, there really is no bigger sin than having hate in your heart.  Christ tells us that the most important commandment is to love God and the second is to love each other.  Pretty clear that hate isn’t a part of a Christian life.
I confess…  I HATE people who have animals and don’t treat them with loving kindness.  I don’t just hate the obvious abusers, but I hate people that don’t treat their animals well.  I can’t pray for them.  I can’t love them.  I just don’t know how.
Yesterday morning as I was pulling in to the local gas station/grocery on my way to work, the truck of one of the regulars was in the parking lot.  No surprise.  But the dog in the bed of the truck was a surprise.  I had never seen a dog in the truck before.  It took all of three seconds for anger to flare up in me.
It was 19 degrees.  Animals struggle as much as we do when the weather see-saws back and forth from 70 degrees to 19 degrees, and any dog who lives in Tennessee isn’t really equipped for 19 degree weather.  What makes this jerk think his dog wants to sit on a cold, metal truck bed when it’s 19 degrees?  Imagine how cold it was back there when they were traveling the 45 miles per hour (or more) on the road to get there.  The poor dog was exposed to subzero windchill for what?  To protect his upholstery?  Meanwhile, he’s in the cab of the truck enjoying heat and no wind.
What was this jerk doing while his poor dog was lonely and cold in the back of his truck?  Eating breakfast in a warm seat across the table from one of his buddies.  How do I know the dog was lonely?  First, his body language screamed Yellow Zone–uncomfortable and unhappy.  Second, dogs are pack animals.  They NEVER want to be alone.  Instinctually, alone equals death.  What dogs crave most is the company of the pack, whether that pack be us, other dogs, or other animals.  So this guy was depriving his dog of the one thing his dog wants most, so he could eat breakfast with his buddy.  Nice.

You can see how quickly I escalate and how angry I get.  God made these animals for the sole purpose of loving and serving us.  I get so angry when I see someone clearly defile that love.  The correct, Christian response would be to pray that through Christ the person’s heart is opened to the love of his animal and through that love to God’s love as well.  Instead, I fume.  Sometimes for days.  Not only does it not bring the guilty party closer to God, but it also separates me from God.  It’s sin.  Plain and simple.
Even with the best of intentions, losing sight of God’s great love for us and all his creation happens in the blink of an eye.  One minute we’re rejoicing in his Grace, and the next, we’re mired in hate and anger.  I shouldn’t stop caring, but I certainly need to find a better way to do it.  I need a way that gives God a chance to show me his wondrous mercy and perform miracles even on heartless jerks who leave their dogs alone in the bed of a pickup when it’s 19 degrees.
No one ever said it would be easy.  Christ only said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NLT)  Possible but not easy.
Today, I pray that God will give me the strength to seek and serve Christ not just in those I want to love but even in those I don’t.  I pray that God will soften my heart to love even my enemies.
Which of your “enemies” do you struggle to love? to pray for?

My Favorite Season

Lent is hands down my favorite liturgical season.  When I say that, people look at me as though I’m crazy or as though I like beating myself up.  Neither is true.  Well…  Maybe the first just a little, but in a good way.  😉
I love Lent because it gives Easter it’s meaning.  How can we rejoice in the resurrection without experiencing the trial and death that preceded it?  More than that though, I love Lent because I can think of no greater intimacy in a relationship that humbling yourself and admitting your shortcomings.  There is something inherently intimate in the act of penance, which can only serve to strengthen your personal relationship with God.  And when that penance is complete, God answers, “I love you.  You’re forgiven.  You will enjoy eternal life.”  What could be more beautiful?
For me, Lent is always a time of positive transformation–a time of spiritual growth.  Growing up in a Roman Catholic family, I’ve been in the habit of giving something up for Lent, but I have always tried to give up something that will ultimately make me a better person and bring me closer to God.

Last year, I gave up most of my earthly possessions.  We moved from a nice, three bedroom house into a travel trailer.  We had minimal storage.  Only those things that I couldn’t replace that had significant personal value were stored or kept.  Everything else was listed on Craigslist or given to Goodwill.  Hard process but a transformative action that refocused my life on more important things.  My gaze shifted from earthly concerns to deeper, divine concerns.
In years past,  I gave up things like hair color, processed foods, and Diet Coke, allowing me to be a healthier, more authentic version of myself. This year, rather than removing something from my life, I’m adding a discipline.  I’m committing to prayer three times a day.  I hope to eventually increase that to 5 times a day, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  😉
Many people see Lent as a sad or dark time, which it can be.  We have to face Christ’s sacrifice and our role in it.  Even more scary…  We have to face ourselves.  Lent requires quiet and stillness, which are contrary to our fast-paced external world.  But Lent can be a time of positive transformation, a journey to prepare us for the risen Lord.  Lent can be a deep, spiritual blessing.
What are you experiencing this Lenten season?

Christ-Centered Marriage

WeddingBandsMarriage isn’t for the faint of heart.  Life really isn’t either.  At least not a life well-lived.  Both require us to have a strong foundation in Faith.  In a recent installment Ignatian Spirituality entitled The Depth’s of God’s Love, Becky Eldredge wrote

Even as my love for my husband developed, I awakened to the fact that even our relationship was not the firmest foundation in my life. God’s love was the unshakeable foundation, and it was upon this rock that our marriage was built. It was out of God’s love for us that we could love each other.

For me, this eloquently sums up why so many marriages that started out so beautifully fail.  People place their spouses or their marriages in the place meant for Christ, expecting the love of a spouse to live up to the expectations we have for the divine love of God.  We all want to love as God loves, but we’re imperfect.  We just can’t do it like God does.
When we place that much weight on our spouses, there just isn’t any way for them to live up to that.  We set ourselves up for failure.  When we’re continuously disappointed, the disappointment leads to resentment, and before we know it, there’s no love left.  We’re no longer grateful for the wonderful people we once married.  Instead, we feel weighted down by people who can’t be what we want and who often are feeling the same way towards us.

When we make our relationship with Christ the foundation of our lives and God’s love the rock on which our marriages our built, we still have bad days, but we learn to forgive and to be grateful.  We don’t allow resentments to be built.  We allow God to continually heal us and our marriages.  When we have bad days, we lean on God together to help us through to the other side.
I know a man who gave up his faith for his spouse.  He did a complete 180 in his spiritual beliefs in order to take on her faith and please her.  As an Anglican, I don’t believe any denomination is wrong.  I believe God gave us a variety of Christian faiths to be able to reach more of us.  That being said, if we walk away from our faith for another person, what does that say about our relationship with God?  Perhaps we never really believed?  Or perhaps we’re putting the other person in God’s place?
I made the same mistake once and ended up giving up the most important thing in my life for someone who didn’t respect the person I was, who would have never given up his faith for me.  In the end, I didn’t like or respect the person I became, so how could I expect him to honor, cherish, and respect me?  All true love begins in God.  Without it, we have no real basis for a life together.  With it, we can know a love and an intimacy that brings us closer to God.
How does your relationship with Christ strengthen your love for your spouse?

My Cursillo Experience

TEC1For me, Tennessee Episcopal Cursillo #73 produced the kind of radical transformation Christians hope for but are often too scared to really expect.  For my non-Episcopalian friends, Cursillo is a short course in Christian leadership.  You arrive on Thursday evening and spend the next three days listening to and discussing talks from clergy and lay leaders.  Every day, you celebrate the Eucharist, sing praise hymns, and pray together.  You are immersed in the love of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I went up the mountain for Cursillo, I was an empty shell.  I had achieved everything I set out to achieve, but I was unsatisfied.  I was the youth minister at my church but felt distanced from God.  I had a wonderful husband and home but felt alone.
The person who came down that mountain was not the same woman.  I came down the mountain connected to God in tangible ways and felt his presence in everything around me.  I wanted to surround myself with people doing God’s work in the work and live my life more intentionally.  I realized on that mountain that I had been living my life according to the expectations of others rather the plan God had for me.
The Holy Spirit guided that weekend, and the transformation that followed.  Since that weekend, every aspect of my life has experienced radical transformation.  My marriage has deepened and strengthened.  My husband has retired.  I have a different job.  I live in a different place.  I attend a different church.  Most importantly, my heart is filled with gratitude and joy.
TEC3What I found on that mountain could only be found in prayer in a place surrounded by people who understood that when Christians gather together, God shows up and miracles happen.  Maybe not burning bush kinds of miracles, but certainly life-altering miracles that open hearts and minds, changing lives.  I experienced the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth and left determined to bring that where ever I went.  I experienced the joy of doing God’s will and left determined to do God’s work in the world.
In addition to the major changes, my day-today life has experienced radical transformation.  I work every day to remain focused solely on what’s in front of me.   At the end of the day, I review my Bullet Journal to make a to-do list for tomorrow.  I review that list in the morning, but during the day, I only look at the list when I’ve completed the task at hand.  I don’t focus on the future or the past but instead only on the present.
I begin and end every day with prayer.  It is literally the first and last thing I do.  I also make time for prayer and Bible study at various points during the day to help keep my focus on what matters.
I’m still a work in progress, as is my life.  I have bad days where it’s all I can do to get through the day, where my faith is non-existent.  But the main focus of my life is God, which offers rewards so much greater than anything we could imagine for ourselves and sustains us even when we can’t sustain ourselves.
Have you ever experienced radical transformation?