It’s both awesome and awful to realize just how completely we are known by God
From our first breath to here.
I stood at the kitchen window and noticed the lime green glow of Spring on the grass.
I remembered the sycamore tree, the hand sized leaves and the broken branches.
Thirty-plus years ago, I cut down branches heavy with green leaves and decorated a tiny cinder block room.
There was a grand plan. I’d be teaching children about the man who climbed the tree to get a chance to see Jesus, Zacchaeus.
It would be my first time as a Vacation Bible School teacher and I was intent on winning best decorated classroom.
The first night, a line of children trailing me down the hall, I giddily swung open the door to discover a disaster.
Leaves wilted and woeful covered the floor and the stench was unbearable in the poorly ventilated room.
I don’t remember teaching the children about a greedy man who got to see Jesus and then fed him supper.
I remember who I was then and am grateful to be not quite the same today.
Just as Jesus knew Zacchaeus was hated by many, was sneaky, corrupt and greedy, He knew I was just learning back then.
Just learning what matters to Him.
Not fully grown, but fully known.
We are already known. The secrets, the shame, the actions we take wrongly motivated,
Jesus is not surprised and doesn’t keep a record. It’s we who do.
My mama used to say, Lisa, stress’ll kill you. I’m here to say I believe its not so distant cousin, shame is more fatal.
The Woman at the Well in the heat of the day encounters a man who shouldn’t be there. She calculated her replenishing of her water to go to the well when she could go unnoticed.
She is surprised by a man who tells her he can help. He has a certain kind of water that won’t run out, she’d never have to be sneaky again in coming to the well.
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 ESV
She’d never have to be thirsty again. She decides to accept the stranger’s offer.
“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” John 4:15 NLT
And we know Jesus wasn’t talking about a cool drink of ice water on a humid day. He was talking about the refreshing peace of an abundant life.
Jesus tells the woman to go and get her husband and come back. She tells him she’s not married and he answers with “I know.”
Then he tells her what he does know. That she has a reputation and is well known for being with husbands of others and is now with a married man.
Whoa! or “How dare you?” she could’ve said.
She was brazen after all.
But he continued to enlighten her and she listened, connecting his gentle wisdom with the possibility he might be the Messiah.
So, he told her that indeed he was.
“The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!” John 4:25-26 NLT
Then she is overjoyed and goes to tell all the townspeople what they already knew about her she’d tried to avoid.
The reputation she tried to cover was now a proclamation…you’ve got to meet Jesus!
“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” John 4:39 ESV
There was no shame anymore, only her story.
Only a tax collector’s, a disciple’s who denied and regretted, a woman’s wearing shame and a lascivious reputation.
A woman like me who didn’t know anything about the value of the story of Zacchaeus, only wanted to be noticed because of trees in a room.
God is patient. He already knew and knows our journeys.
Yesterday, I stood in the parking lot with a woman. As women our age do, we caught up on the lives of our children. We compared wisdom and we exchanged worries.
She asked me to keep writing.
Said she needed my storytelling.
My story of rescue and of tripping and getting back up gradually as I learn.
Today, when you recall your own mistakes, missteps and wrong motivations, will you pause with the truth of being known?
Will you accept the grace that has never said give up, go your own way or isolate in secret shame?
From the upstairs window, I watched their coming and going. The wife, tentative in her steps and the husband, with an armload of groceries, one hand against the small of her back. I noticed their commitment to one another, their quietness and settled joy.
I mostly avoided them. We, the upstairs tenants and them, below. My baby brother and I lived together. What a life it was. Barely getting by, outrageous behaviors, dangerous rendezvouses and mostly him being certain I was okay and I less caring and attentive to him, carried on in my reckless ways.
My brother and I were together, it’s an invitation to be safe I will forever treasure.
All the while, the diminutive couple surely observed us. Never confronted or complained about our noise up above, only nodded occasionally in a knowing way.
One Sunday I was brave. I watched from our window as their sedan found its spot. The gentleman had gotten his wife settled in and I walked lightly down the stairs and stood facing his caring eyes.
And he did not look away.
“How can I know the will of God?” I asked with timidity.
Close to forty years ago and I can’t say what he answered, only that his tone was gentle and he gave me a small book.
A book I only skimmed, a paperback long ago packed or trashed away.
The will of God is not a detailed plan, more a captivating pursuit.
I believe it is simply and profoundly a decision
to trust and to renew that trust as often as necessary.
To sit quietly waiting.
To consider how decades later, a church going senior citizen’s response matters.
There was no correction in his tone, no critical reply or even “come to church with us next Sunday.”
Instead, he instructed me to be a seeker. He gave me a book. He compelled me towards words and the Word.
This morning, I sat in the place I love. I pondered all of the voices of advisors…
Podcasters, those who believe they’re gifted with prophecy, experts on enneagram and such…people who are benefiting themselves by joining the trauma healing (bandwagon) force.
The voices are loud, lauding quick and exciting never known to be possible results.
Yesterday walking, I mentally answered a question.
Who is God to you?
I answered. “God is my creator.”
Remembering the sufficiency of that astounding truth, I watched the sun for more than a glance.
The golden light landed on my art. I watched it become more outlined.
Become a window.
So I sat for a minute more and answered my heart’s question.
The will of God is for me to see Him. To settle my search inviting other relief or rescue.
To see God on a chilly morning because I sat still long enough.
And to remember the value of a gentle response, never haughty and a hindrance.
Hopeful, always hope.
“Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.” Proverbs 3:13 NLT
I had to slow my steps, intent on only art canvases, make the beeline to the back and hurry on. No eye contact, small talk time, just me and my fast walking.
I needed to halt or bump into a woman with her son. She had a shuffle step that was familiar, I remembered a mama long ago who had an injury leaving one hip higher than the other. So, I thought this might be her and I’d be able to ask how she’s doing along with her now adult son.
Strangely, it wasn’t her, instead a younger version.
Still, our eyes met and she exhaled a big sigh. I asked “Been shopping all day?” And she replied that they’d been in the street since eight o’clock and she’d been takin’ her mama to all her doctors.
I saw her then, saw her loyalty and I added as I walked beside and then ahead of her,
“I remember those days. They are so hard. Get home and find some rest.”
She nodded, thanked me.
I bought eight 8×10 canvases and carried on.
I noticed the line was short at Chick Fil A and I was thirsty. I ordered my little indulgence, kids meal, fruit not fries and tea and answered “Lisa” as the young man calculated my change.
He asked how my day was going and I said “good” as I sensed the awkward in between, the task of giving me change and so I asked “Are you having a good day?”
His deep dark eyes met mine and the rising up of his chunky cheeks in a smile beamed as he happily answered, “Yes, I am.”
I rounded the drive thru line and watched a couple of boys/young men play “rock, paper, scissors” to determine who’d bring my order.
The one who lost sauntered over to my car and chuckled, “I just took your order!”
I smiled back and said that’s so funny because I was about to ask if you had a brother.
Serendipity, sort of, the chance to share kindness again.
Last stop, Publix for collards for tomorrow. Intentional here too, I have a short mental list and on a mission. The soup aisle is running low on chicken broth and my path intersects with a shopper who doesn’t hesitate to look up and say “Hey! How ya’ doing?”
I smile, realizing I don’t know her and she keeps talking and adds “I’m about to cook a big pot of soup for my family!”
“Sounds good!” I go my way and she goes hers until we’re both in the parking lot, cars loaded and I hear “toot toot” from her little SUV and my eyes meet her excitement in getting to wave goodbye to me, someone she doesn’t know.
I’d say it’s just accidental, this thrice encountering kindness from strangers and reciprocating.
But, since I have a thing for things in 3’s, I know it was heavenly, this afternoon of kind conversation and willingness to be seen.
Unknowingly, three people changed the course of my day from sullen to seeking, from deficient in hope to hoping.
Three people, working in community with my Good Father yesterday.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 ESV
What ideas about your identity are ingrained deeply in you? Does it feel more safe to believe the hopeless parts of you instead of the hopeful?
I’ve been thinking about the lame man in the Bible who was afraid to figure out a way to move into the water. 38 years of being paralyzed. When we read of his encounter with Jesus (who he thought was just a man suggesting he simply try), we’re conditioned to label him as crazy, lazy or simply self-pitiful and disabled by choice.
What a label, “disabled by choice”. Maybe though, disability was what he knew, how he planned his day, accepted the unfairness of his condition. So, what seems crazy was really just fear of different. Unfamiliar.
“They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” John 5:12 ESV
The man who learned to walk couldn’t really explain it. I suppose he just thought less about who and how than he was astounded to be walking. I wonder how long or if it took him a bit to feel stable, stable in his steps and the miracle that began his embrace of faith. Maybe.
I wonder if he was tempted to lay back down, in a sort of awe and uncertainty life could be this way for him.
If we’re not taught that change can be possible and that even though it might be trial and error, we might “stay on our mat” too.
This is a truth not often expressed.
It’s safer to be the person you’ve called yourself or been called (even if fragile and floundering) than to see our very own growth, to acknowledge how far we’ve come and to slowly dip our toes in the water…the truth of God loving us…until slowly, intentionally and not without moments of backward sliding, we find ourselves lighter, floating, completely and confidently immersed in our healed identity.
If the toil and trials of life have a larger tally it’s likely loss feels more dependable than gain, more believable.
Knowing we are loved because God is love and is patient with those of us who are just learning to swim without the weights of our past keeping us only frantically floating.
If grace was matter, a substance to be measured, tallied, considered in a debate about comparables, how much would you say your cup would contain, how substantial would be the grace you’ve been shown?
I woke before light and stayed still until I saw the light coming across the hall, narrow slats on the carpet from the room with the silver tree.
I remembered the homeless one.
Three times I’ve now seen him, he finds spots to retreat in the woods near the abandoned mall. He looks to be mid-twenties, thin but not starving.
I first saw him camped in a shady spot. I shopped at Target then drove back to give him $5. I hurried my window down and sort of frantically thrust the money towards him. He said thanks and I drove away. I don’t know why I was scared of him or being harmed.
Then I saw him leaving all his bags in front of Target and dart inside and I worried someone might just take all his stuff and I wondered if he was worried. When I was done shopping, he and his stuff were gone.
I don’t know his story. I just want him to know what I know about grace.
It was 22 degrees in Carolina this morning.
I remembered the homeless one.
The third time I saw him, I had a back seat full of groceries and one last shopping stop. He was standing at the intersection, cardboard marked with a scrawl, “homeless”.
I looked his way, smiled that smile of mine that says worry, accompanies an inaudible moan.
I paid for my art supplies with cash and added a Hershey bar with almonds, wrapped in cash, $10 and headed back to the homeless man.
This time, I paused. I let the window all the way down. I gave him the candy bar and money, suggested he eat something good.
I looked at his eyes, he at mine.
And I told him strongly as if I was telling a long held secret to someone before you’re not sure of ever seeing them again.
God loves you.
And a second or two transpired that felt like hours and I repeated myself and added, “no matter what.”
I got the sense that he believed me or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he thought
Well, lady what good is that?!
I don’t know what he thought.
I just know my God is love and if I forget that I also stumble over the immeasurable gift of grace.
I fall into that pit of looking to others to determine my worth, to prove to myself that I’ve done enough and more to be worthy of this abundance of grace I’ve been shown.
Paul talked about this to people who continued to question their rights and their wrongs in an assessment of themselves and others to believe in their righteousness.
They believed and couldn’t fathom not believing it was all up to them to be good enough.
Paul told them he would never waste the death of Jesus by complicating it with his behavior.
“I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” Galatians 2:21 NLT
Grace matters, matters more than any effort we pursue, any accomplishment we know.
It matters more than our falters, our failures and thank goodness it matters so much more than our stubborn and strong or feeble and sad efforts to prove ourselves right enough not to be found wrong.
Here’s a song about such an incomprehensible thing, to know my God is love.
Friday night, two weeks ago, I sat in my friend’s den. We’d had a yummy and not without funny incident meal in a tiny town nearby. The night was cool. The Labrador and cats had been fed. My friend sat on the “Elvis” velvet green sofa and her husband faced me, each of us in the ivory armchairs.
My friend suggested, I “give my talk” as a practice for Saturday morning. This would be my third practice reading.
I made it through and my friend and her sweet husband approved. Then, she added,
“Lisa, it is beautiful; but, try to talk instead of reading. Look up.”
“Okay, okay.” I assured her and went to bed scared and vulnerable.
Tossing and turning but waking to a pink morning sky, I journaled and landed on the passage in II Timothy that tells us not to have a spirit of fear. I found another verse I’d only skimmed over before.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” 2 Timothy 1:8 ESV
We arrived at the gathering place, women preparing and chatting; I found a pen and reviewed the words I’d be sharing.
Added in places that I felt needed it
LOOK UP HERE
I’ve decided to share the essay/speech.
You’ll likely recognize the paragraphs or two that led me to choke up, lose my place and for the life of me not want to look up.
Places that caused me to stare in an awkward vacantness.
Still, I knew someone might benefit from my sharing. I didn’t know I’d be given such a gift of acceptance in their kind expressions that morning.
“Your slightest pain finds response in his sympathy.” Handley C.G. Moule
Here are my words:
Of Lasting Value
Lisa Anne Tindal
Louisville Presbyterian Church, October 22, 2022
I suppose it was over six months ago. My friend called me by surprise which is her nature. The call is always genuine, the conversation always for my betterment. I have a friend who is closer than a sister. She is why I am here.
This friend who is both soft and strong, hilarious and humble has influenced me towards courage all along the way. And so, this phone call from my splendidly southern friend was a gift and then, an idea shared in an unexpected request.
I am here with you today because my friend believed I should be. She shared that she thought of me and my journey and felt I’d be the just right speaker. I told her I would think, I would pray, and I thought…
Well, I don’t have to worry about this now, October is a long time away. August came and then September and I began to be very afraid.
And the fear became heavy and close to paralyzing. I couldn’t be quite sure why or rather I couldn’t decide which was the most accurate reason. After all, I’d spoken publicly in many places, business, philanthropic or civic engagements and I’d spoke about much less pleasant topics, homelessness, suicide, mental illness. Why the fear over sharing about my life, my journey, and least of all, art? Why did I feel so deficient? Why did I regret saying “Yes”?
On a Saturday afternoon, just before dusk, I made a list. Lists help to organize my thoughts, give understanding of my worry, spur me on. This list with a column for opportunities over the past year or so lined the left side and the right was absolutely nothing at all as I tried to respond to my mind’s question.
Why is this not enough?
What more could be proof?
Will it matter if you’re in a gallery, a solo show, if all five paintings in the current Charleston show are sold?
My soul was sullen. My mind knew the answer.
It would not matter at all; you’d still be trying to prove to yourself that you are “enough”. You’d still be trying to win the next marathon, jump unhindered through the next circus hoop of culture and comparison.
You’d still feel unqualified.
Later, I prayed before sleep and there were tears. The prayer, not one of request or providential goodness, instead I asked God to forgive me for trying to be anything other than his plan and his idea. I acknowledged I’d been striving to succeed, to fly on the wings of my own, wings that aren’t broken, no not broken at all…just marked by fading scars and not fully grown.
I sat in my morning spot the next day, recalling my cry. I reviewed the list and remembered a couple or three wonderful things I had omitted.
The list is long. The list is truly amazing; but neither sufficient nor satisfying on its own.
As a woman, a little girl, a mama or wife, how do you measure significance? Is it in the success of your children? The accolades in your profession or maybe in the longevity of your marriage that has endured some stress? Or is it smaller, more insignificant things that matter so much more?
I am a woman from south Georgia, raised by a mother who loved through cooking and often masked depression with achievement, a father who was broken and as kind as a southern breeze on a humid day until he needed relief from whiskey and then he could express his brokenness and anger. It was hard many days, thankfully not all of them.
My parents were human.
A girl who was “daddy’s” who became a young woman broken by the weight of that label. A young woman who loved the quiet comfort of art and longed to love God but was afraid she couldn’t measure up.
A young woman who suffered harm, overpowered by strong and angry hands on more than one occasion. A college student who lost her way and began to starve herself to gain control.
A woman who became a single mother to two and found the wherewithal to support them through keeping Georgia’s children safe as a DFCS employee.
I am a woman who is now married to a man who understands me (although it was an effort) and the mother to two adult children I treasure, a grandmother to four, very soon five grandchildren.
What’s your story? Have there been debilitating detours or even small dilemmas? How have you tried to redeem them?
Has it been tough on your own?
I love to imagine being alongside women in the Bible who found themselves in places and situations that didn’t masquerade their disadvantages.
Their stories are ours.
They are in our Bibles. These women I call “Colors of My Bible”, figures that began to develop in the margins of a Bible gifted to me in 2016. I began to see myself in their stories, at times not sure the reason, and yet, as I continue, their stories, their colorful lives continue to change mine.
They are women who came to understand, it is God who decides we are valuable.
It is God who positions us in places to remember this and to add value to the lives of others by our embrace of this truth.
Of what value are you?
Maybe we are similar to the women with ancient stories,
We are strong and have value.
Esther, an orphaned young woman raised by her uncle found herself in an unlikely position. Her beauty, I suppose we could say was her ticket. More so, it was her commitment to her people, her family that made her courageous. I like to imagine her clothed in purple, diminutive in size and in the background are the other competitors for her place in the palace. I remember Esther for her bravery. Her allegiance to her family and her courage to protect them became her value.
Martha, a favorite of mine because she did what I do. If there is angst, an unanswered prayer, a rescue or remedy I’ve decided isn’t coming, I have the answer. It’s control, cleaning, rearranging.
Once I painted the bathroom cabinets, replaced the mirror and changed out all the towels in the bathroom. I was waiting on a call from The Citadel to see if my son in his Freshman year first week would be coming home. I think of Martha and her plight of “needing to know” or being sure all would be well. I like to envision her finally sitting down to rest beside her sister Mary and being gently reminded things like a cluttered kitchen don’t matter. I remember Martha for her anxiety. I remember Jesus telling her to rest, all will be well. Her learning to trust and rest became her value.
The Woman at the Well, known by many for her lascivious ways, I relate to her story. Admittedly, I am not a theologian; but I’ve read that is was not unheard of for women to “serve” more than one man. This was the culture back then. This is why I love the approach of Jesus. He didn’t have to say to her “your secrets are exposed; your lifestyle is well known”.
Instead, he offered redemption in the form of I know, and I still care.
I like to build on the story of when she ran back into town to tell everyone she’d met the Messiah and he too knows all about me. Here’s an even sweeter part of this story to me, the townspeople knew her. They thought less about her messy life than they did the message she brought them. Her living past her shame became her value.
The Woman Caught in Adultery I believe was despondent. I believe she expected to die by stoning that day. I see her with eyes cast down, numbed by the reality of her exposure. Although she was prepared to be stoned, I somehow see her as suicidal. When Jesus confronted the accusers, she must have been surprised. I suppose he could have told her to hurry home, to go her way; instead he asked her to take notice…you are not alone, “Go and sin no more”. Her life was changed despite her imperfections, it was changed as she acknowledged her wrongs. Her humble admission in the face of punishment expected leaves me with a beautiful image of her walking away, eyes lifted up and shoulders strong in faith. Her humility although despondent became her value.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, so young and unprepared. As I speak to you today, my beautiful treasure I call Heather Analise is ripe with the soon birth of her second child. I recall the first days of my granddaughter, helping any way I could and the preparations her parents had in place, things like schedules, feedings, monitors, sound machines and cradling swings that lulled her to sleep. Mary, surprised by an angel, simply believed and continued in her appointment arranged by God. I wonder about her questions, if she shared them with Joseph. She pondered ( a word I love) and I wonder if her ponderings were sometimes fearful worries over the mysterious and unfathomable delivery she was chosen for. Belief in what made no sense, confidence in what she couldn’t have predicted, and a quiet resolve to believe in what she did not yet see. Occurs to me now, the similarity of the life of Mary and the definition of faith. Her faith in a time of unknowns became her value.
Hagar, (Am I the only one who wonders, couldn’t God have at least given her parents a prettier name?) the mistress of Abraham and Sarah who met their needs and fulfilled their wish for family. A maidservant, who with the wife’s permission, slept with the husband so that in their old age could carry on the lineage with a son. Here’s where I used to find myself on “Team Hagar”, relating to her condition as a result of abuse and manipulation. Again, culture in these ancient days allowed this. Sarah resented Hagar and Hagar hoarded over Sarah the benefits she brought to her husband and to them, a child.
Jealousy between women has apparently been around for ages.
Hagar ran away, not broken and afraid as I once believed. No, I believe she was just angry. She had enough or maybe the “maidservant with benefits” was not proving to be as beneficial as she thought.
So, she ran.
The angel of the Lord found her in the wilderness and confronted her fleeing. More than a confrontation though, it was an acknowledgement that you may not feel it but “God sees you.” Being seen by God changed her, not so much her living situation or positioning in life; but, knowing God saw and sees her strengthened her to carry on. Hagar’s words, the first to give God a name, “El Roi” has become her value, we too are seen and known.
The woman who spent over a decade in hiding, unable to be cured from her uncontrollable flow of blood, despairingly decided to simply give the healing of Jesus a try. How many of us have had to leave work, tie our sweater around our waist or worse, agree to surgery to remove the source of flow? What a personal thing a period is.
What a last resort to try anything for better. So, the crowd was thick that day, the scene perfect for her to go unnoticed and to simply be near this man who’d been healing so many desperate others. She touched the hem of his garment and she was made well, and Jesus felt the sensation of the miraculous leaving his body and he stopped in his tracks.
He sought the seeker.
When he found her, He called her daughter and she began to live unhindered and unhidden that day. She didn’t expect to meet Jesus, only hoped for healing. Her resolve to seek healing and to keep seeking. This is her value.
Esther, Martha, the Samaritan Woman, the Adulterous, Mary the Virgin; Hagar and The Woman in need of healing, these are just of a few of the figures you may find in the margins of my Bible. What began as a tentative practice with color moved to canvas and from canvas to local shops and galleries. From galleries to pages on social media, articles in magazines, a website, a children’s book and an invitation to be photographed for a national exhibit.
I stand before you an example of a woman sort of lost and found.
You see none of these accomplishments were solid enough for my soul’s standing as far as my value and worth to be unshakeable. It made sense to me that my childhood was so deficient in encouragement and notice that I’d set my mind on achievement and unrelenting aspiration in the confidence that one day, some way, I will believe I am enough.
And yet, I had to understand, accept, on my own I am never enough.
Rather, I am a work in progress, a sailboat shifting in the winds of God’s direction, a woman who asked God to cancel this event, deciding for God that I was not qualified, not attractive enough and not skilled eloquently as far as speaking.
Hmmm, I wonder did Moses have a sister?
Thank you for the invitation to choose the braver as Martha chose the better, as Esther chose the more courageous, Hagar chose God’s knowing, the three women defeated, scorned and or wrongfully living chose the joyous gift of living differently, Mary chose not knowing and yet, believing and because she chose our story continues,
a life of value according to Jesus.
My prayer is that you know this choice, that you’re easy on yourself as you try to remember.
Your value is not accomplishment or acclaim. Rather, it’s a quiet thing, a life that leaves an example, one that is lasting even if often scary.
Waze directed my ride from Georgia to Carolina down the prettiest road, asphalt with no yellow lines dividing lanes and railroad crossings that required me stopping to look, look and look again.
I loved every bit. Give me a backroad shaded by oaks, bordered by cotton fields and slow walking men checking their mail, glancing up to wave to random travelers like me.
Churches, white, small and seemingly vacant, but who knows?
Maybe a handful of congregants still gather and seal their togetherness with “Holy, Holy, Holy”.
I’d consider joining in. I’m braver now than before, I’d have possibly invited myself in to the Sunday service and been unbothered by the inquisitive looks over me, a stranger.
On Friday, I was greeted by the women responsible for the Presbyterian Women’s Gathering. I noticed their welcome. I noticed their strong connection. I noticed them working together on their Saturday morning gathering.
Then, on Saturday morning, I joined in.
I was the speaker, the stranger needing introduction, the mysterious artist they’d been hearing about, wondering if I’d prove worth their time and worthy of my friend’s call to invite me.
I spoke, they smiled.
They listened. We communed.
So, I left feeling like a companion of these women, all of us on roads that follow Jesus, guided by wisdom, grace and a conviction to serve one another simply by the extension of a heart and hand, loving one another.
Waze told me to turn right where the road ended, saying “not maintained by the County”. I paused.
I felt fear climb up the back of my neck. Left, I thought, turn and go back the way you came.
Then left revealed a sharp curve and a steep hill and a road with yellow lines,
A sign with the words to the road I remembered.
Confidently, I continued.
Continued and believed.
Surprised by the road that led me back home.
Keeps leading me on.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” John 14:1-4 ESV
She plucked a few “babies” and I picked a branch full of blooms for inside.
The splendid color praising a very sweet Saturday.
Rarely do I pass by the patch of grass shaded by pines and hidden by high fence.
The place of the flowers showing their brilliant display.
Yesterday, I was moved in a sweet heavy way by the nearness of spontaneous praise, the connectedness to another who felt the words of a song and proclaimed in a way that was personal, something they only knew, were fearing or taking hold of in renewed faith.
Once, I sat beside a woman with a jawline changed by the ravaging in her body evidenced by the cloth covering her head.
I felt her being comforted by song. I embraced it beside her. We listened together.
I touched her arm in a goodbye as we exited. I hope my look said “I care”, words felt unnecessary.
She’d surely heard them in abundance already I was certain.
Another time, I sat next to a man about my age who looked like he’d been a linebacker in his day. He smiled as if he’d been lonely when I asked if the seat was vacant and he made affirming sounds during the message.
My favorite part was his singing, his abandonment to the joining with others maybe better at singing than he or I.
He sang along.
He sang loud enough to be heard clearly, his one voice in the crowd of others.
One Sunday, I found a spot next to a woman who was large and strong and dressed up for Sunday in a way that said confident joy. Once the music began, I saw my first impression was accurate.
Because she sang like the old cliche’ “like no one was listening”, like maybe she understood what Maya Angelou felt…
like a splendid bird who had been set free from its cage.
Together, we were in an old country church with the windows up in August. She swayed and her swaying body made me sway.
We became secret sisters.
Reluctantly, I went to church last night. Sullen over feeling alone, burdened by answers not coming soon enough and vulnerable over what it seems God is calling me to that I sort of wish He wouldn’t.
I listened to a podcast on the way, one hosted by a woman who is learned because of her scholarly credentials coupled with the dilemma of serious illness, typically an honest and helpful voice, interesting.
She is a researcher, well read and well respected, a historian of religion.
She once believed in “praise and worship” and has now decided she doesn’t. She is now quite critical of what she defines as manipulative.
Although she misses the beauty of joining others in worship, she’s just not “taking the bait” anymore.
So, I stopped listening as I began to feel conflicted and that “critical spirit” that’s not beneficial began to creep in.
I thought of her jadedness. I can relate.
I felt sad for her. Her scary illness had caused her to become cynical, to be expectant of bad things, to decide maybe, after all, God is “not good, not great”.
I switched to music and listened.
One hand on the wheel on the crowded interstate, the other raised in agreement to a song about prayers, circumstances and healing.
Three or four years ago, I too believed most people were faking praise, were desperate for attention or just liked it when church felt more like a nightclub than a sanctuary.
Then, I landed on the second row from the stage because I was late. Pondering on my drive there, my ambivalence over my commitments and asking God to help me know where I belong.
God answered that day.
A thought, a word,
the Holy Spirit.
“You resist most what you need most.”
I need to feel connected to worship, I need to be led by vocalists and musicians to do so.
Not manipulating me, rather encouraging me.
It’ll be rare for me to be seen raising my hands. I’m more private, more quiet. I believe made “wonderfully” that way.
My personality of praise is more receptive, more being alongside the extravagant praises of others and with eyes closed, a simple opening of my hand, palm towards heaven.
In a way, I suppose, an exchange.
Freely receiving the goodness of God and privately, quietly joining others in a praise that says “Thank you”.
I’ll never stop singing.
Steadily, and mostly in secret places.
Being so grateful to stand so close to others made different by God’s design, that the praise they give, I get to join in.
A spirit of grace, love and mercy, one that’s not critical.
May what you’ve been resisting find you today, my prayer.
And another, let there be a song that beckons the jaded, the reluctant, the uncertain of us today.