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Lent is a time of introspection, a time for gazing into the mirror of our own soul. It isn’t comfortable, but it is necessary. When we gaze into the mirror in Lent, we do so to see ourselves as we really are. We notice the flaws and blemishes, and even the scars that make up who we really are. I don’t know about you, but it is hard to look at these things. It would be so much easier to look in the mirror and to only see what is good and lovely and appealing. It is humbling to look and see the ugliness that exists in us too. But it is in through seeing those things, that we can find forgiveness, healing and transformation.
Sometimes when I gaze into the mirror, I become absorbed with my flaws. It is so easy for me to get down on myself, and struggle to forgive myself for not doing it better. What I forget is what the Lord sees as He stands there looking at me. He looks at me through the eyes of grace and a love that withholds nothing and transforms everything. How moving it is that. He looks at us through the eyes of grace and a love that withholds nothing and transforms everything. My blemishes lose the focus as His love enfolds me. This love and grace forgives, heals, and transforms me and us into something new, even as we look into the mirror. This changes everything. Though I will never be good enough, though I will never be without flaws, His love and grace are enough. They cover me and change me, even the very image I see in the mirror. He created us in His own image and He continues to do so, thanks be to God. Just when I start to get downhearted, the Lord reminds me of the depth of His love, and that I am one of His own. He sees me through that love, as one gazes at their beloved. This beloved Lord lives in me, and is even reflected in this imperfect me. The blemishes though part of the story are not the whole story. His love and grace abound, cover me and transform me even now. How sweet is His love, His love, which even frames what I see as I gaze in the mirror of my own soul.
Paul says in Ephesians 3:18,19, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (NRSV)
A wonderful reminder.
A couple of years ago I was talking with a women who is and has been for many years my therapist, counselor, mentor, and teacher all rolled into one. I told her that I worked really hard to always get it right, to have the answer, to always know what to do, to speak the right words, to be strong and in control, to do the right thing, to make the best choices, to accomplish everything I set out do to and to accomplish them with perfection. On and on I went describing the expectations I had for myself. Then I told her, “It’s not working. I can’t hold it all together. Things aren’t turning out like I planned and intended.”
When she stopped laughing she said, “Well, welcome to the human race. Who do you think you are?” She could just as well have said, “Remember that you are…
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One of the most life-giving statements ever said to me is “Remember to Whom You Belong.” It was said to me during one of the lowest points in my life. I felt broken with little sense of hope. My life felt shattered. I received that statement like a cup of cold water on a hot and weary day, like one parched with thirst. I was thrown a life line to cling to in that statement and I hung onto it.
Through the years, the truth of that statement has allowed me to keep going when I thought I couldn’t take another step. It has enabled me to put one foot in front of the other through countless trials along the way . The truth of that statement has also gifted me with countless joy and deep inner contentment which is impossible to describe, for how can one put into words how much it means to journey with God alongside of you loving you.
“Remember to whom you belong.”I have carried the truth of that statement in my heart and spirit for almost 30 years. Thank you Jolene. You have been one of the greatest gifts I have known in this life. You are such a wise and beloved friend. Your words reminded me that God uttered those words to me when I was a young child; reminding me that I was God’s child, and that God was raising me. Those words were also a life line then, enough to get me through years of trial, and to also fill me with indescribable joy.
When you feel alone with little to no sense of hope, remember to whom you belong. There are so many things in life that take us to that painful place, heart breaks, loss of every kind, the inability to live out of who we really are, addictions, rejection of others and sometimes even the church. When you are in that place, receive this life line, “Remember to Whom You Belong.” You are so loved by God, just as you are. You are not forgotten. God has promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 You are not alone. You are God’s beloved.
“Remember to whom you belong.” Those words uttered to me so long ago, have been more life-giving than I can describe. May they be life-giving to you. And when you come across another in a desolate place, may you pass these words along like offering a cup of cold water on a hot and weary day.
People’s stories have always drawn me in. When I was young I loved reading people’s biographies more than anything. When I was ten, I remember reading about Jim Thorpe, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Florence Nightingale, and George Washington Carver. Each of their stories left an imprint on me. They were fascinating people who made a difference in the world.
When I was a teenager I read about missionaries Hudson Taylor and Jim Elliot who had a tremendous love of God and of people and who impacted the world in such significant ways.. Their stories touched me deeply. Through their stories, and others’ like them, I felt called to ministry even at the age of thirteen.
A few years later I read about the three Catholic sisters and one lay church woman, who felt called to live and minister in El Salvador, during a time when there was escalating violence and oppression against the country’s citizens. They went anyway to stand alongside and care for those who were suffering. Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Jean Donovan were martyred, and yet their lives continue to speak. And recently designated Saint, Archbishop Oscar Romero, for choosing to walk with the poor and oppressed was also martyred. He knew to choose to walk alongside and advocate for the suffering, that it would cost him, and it did. However, hearing their stories he couldn’t do otherwise. He was changed by the stories he heard.
My first years in ministry I heard the personal stories of refugees, who had to flee their countries because of persecution against them. I resisted hearing at first, because I knew their stories would draw me in,change me and could cost me something. However, when I heard the stories of their suffering and struggle, it changed me forever. How could they not? God was with them, and beckoned me to walk alongside them too.
There have been so many stories from books I have read, to people I have walked alongside. The stories have reached my heart and transformed me. To hear another’s story can be messy and cost us something. However, we are called to hear one another, and when we really do, it changes us. God calls us to hear, and in hearing, to walk alongside. Who are we resisting to hear, to really hear, underneath our differences? What are we clinging to that impedes our way? Following God is not easy. The way is, hard. However, we do not walk alone. He walks right beside us and the people whose stories He wants us to hear.
I am reminded that it isn’t just individual stories we are listening to, rather they are part of God’s bigger story. I want to be faithful to God’s bigger story of which these individual stories comprise. Archbishop Oscar Romero and those Catholic sister and lay woman were able to listen to the stories of the people because they were being faithful to God’s bigger story for them and the people.
God continues to change me through people’s stories. The stories that have reached my heart in recent years and change me are those in the LGBTQ community. There is so much to hear. I resisted at first, because it might cost me something. However, there is so much to hear. Their stories matter. Their pain and struggle matter. To not hear and to remain silent is to contribute to suffering. And their stories are a part of God’s bigger story. God calls us to go deeper beneath what we think and beneath what we may lose to follow God and walk alongside another. Who is God calling us to hear? What are we missing when we don’t hear?
Stories continue to draw me in. Each person’s story, heart, life matters. It is interesting to look back and to see that God has always had me on a listening journey, from reading biographies as a kid, to walking alongside people now. People’s stories continue to draw me in and I am forever changed. I am deeply grateful to each person, and to my Gracious God who holds us all.
Sometimes as we move through our routines, our tasks, and our days, we miss so much of what is before us, because we are focused on what is beyond us. How many moments have we missed, because we were not seeing? Our mental to do lists can loom long, and our preoccupation with a project can keep us from seeing both the gifts in the moment and those who need to be seen. As we move through a grocery store staring at our list of items to be purchased, we may miss the person needing a smile or a sense of warmth or connection. When we are preoccupied with making dinner, we may miss our son or daughter who just want to be heard.
When I look back, I can recognize so many missed moments. I was forever running through my list and what was next that I missed what was before me. Over time, I have been learning to slow down, to notice more, and to let go of what doesn’t matter so much. When I do this I discover treasure. It is the treasure of a meaningful conversation with someone I love. It is the depth of beauty in God’s creation. It is the light in someone’s eyes, when I genuinely smile at them. It is the gift in really hearing another. When I am attuned to the moment, I find each moment richer than I ever knew possible. It is like snorkeling and discovering wonders all around us when we intentionally pause to notice them. I have discovered joy and contentment are found in the present moment as I see.
I am also learning that when I let go of my biases and my assumptions, that I see the person before me not so much in a category, but as they are, a complex person created by God to be who they are. And thus I pray Lord, help me to really see. Help me to see beneath and beyond categories and my biases to the depth and uniqueness of the person before me. I believe God has created each one of us as a work of art, and so I pray Lord, help me to see as you do and to notice what you want me to.
What does it mean to really see? It seems it is both noticing and letting go, in order to see more deeply and fully the gifts found in the moment. I am trying to reside there. It is a richer place.