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Posts from the ‘Faith’ Category

The Time-Out Chair, Donuts, and Forgiveness

I’m in favor of New Year Resolutions and I’m not ashamed to say it.  I believe in the clean slate of a fresh calendar year.  I’m not sure if it’s the thrill of buying a new paper calendar I won’t actually write in, or the sugar hangover of holiday eating, but Jan 1 feels like just the right time to pull myself together and resolve to do life better.  But I don’t start my new goals on Jan 1st.  Nope, the morning after the shiny ball drops, I eat leftover cookie-cake, drink artificially sweetened carbonated goodness and put myself in a time-out chair for a few days.

Time out chairs aren’t just for tantrum prone two year olds.  In fact, as my kids get older (11yrs & 8 yrs), I find “time out” a helpful tool for ALL of us.  “Mom needs a time out” is not uncommon as I’m trying to navigate life with a tween girl and a strong willed boy.

The same goes for my New Year time out.  I take a few days to reflect, instead of quickly charging back into the world making the same choices expecting different results.  These are the three questions I ask:

  1. What went well that I want to continue? 2. What needs improvement? 

The answers for the first two questions typically come to mind pretty quickly.  In 2014, I exercised more consistently than ever.  We paid off substantial debt.  We ate family dinner (at home) more than in 2013.  These are things I’m pleased about and want to continue.  I also spent 2014 working, sleeping, and eating my way through difficult relationship circumstances.  I’m guessing that’s why I gained ten pounds instead of losing it.  (Oooops, so much for that ’14 goal.)  I connected with friends less, distanced myself from God, stopped blogging, and buried my hurt in work and carpool…and yeast glazed donuts.  So yeah, improvement potential here.

  1. What needs forgiveness?

This is the most important question.  The one that puts spring back into my step after disappointment and hurt.  I’m careful here to say “what” instead of “who”.  We forgive actions done by people.  Transgressions are the sin, not the people.  This has helped me tremendously to genuinely love and care for those who have hurt me.  It also reminds me to resist the temptation to define myself by the mistakes I’ve made.  There will always be consequences of sin.  Some consequences we will have to live with forever and others we can remedy.  But love does not require a perfect record.

There is a short sentence in the Bible (Romans 5:8) that says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Please catch the word ‘while’.  He did not wait for perfect behavior or a make-it-up-to-me offering, he loved and extended forgiveness in the messy, confusing, painful world where people sin.  I want to love the way God loves.  The best way to accomplish this is to extend genuine forgiveness to others and myself.

Who have I hurt in my fierce independence?  Who have I ignored or forgotten because I didn’t give myself margin in my schedule?  Who is seeking my forgiveness, but I haven’t fully offered it yet?  For what have I not forgiven myself?  How am I going to ask for or extend these forgiveness?

Do not let the fresh start of a New Year pass without going to the time out chair.  Reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and forgiveness.  After reflection, take action.

Celebrate.  Resolve.  Forgive.

Cheers to 2015!

 

Into the Dark

Unexpected Friendship
Our first meeting seemed simply by chance, sitting side by side in a small café in Indianapolis. Our separate conversations held in close proximity carried the same thread of interest, locations, names, and subject matter. I couldn’t stop my interruption as I leaned 6 inches to my left and said, “I can’t believe we are both talking about mission trips to India, the Church of God denomination, and shoe shopping. How do I not know you? Who are you?!”

Two months later, she walked through the front door of a mutual friend. We were both shocked. We laughed as we remembered our crowded dining experience and jokingly said, “God must want us to be friends! Let’s have lunch.”

Kimberly Majeski and I went to lunch. And that led to another lunch and then some shopping, and more lunches, and more shopping, and then to strip clubs. Turns out, my new friend likes to frequent some pretty dark places and I’m fairly sure that’s the reason God was the maître ‘de in the café last spring.

This is my story of going into the dark.

A Flashlight in the daytime
When you have a friend who makes a habit of going to strip clubs, there are going to be conversations. Conversations ranging from how to choose an “appropriate” outfit to wear when visiting a club to what happens when the dancer tells you she needs diapers for her toddler, a ride to the BMV, or a place to live. During those conversations, I always used my best supportive head nods and encouraging smiles. Because we all know that encouraging someone else without actually getting involved with what they are doing can be mitigated with the appropriate amount of nods and smiles.

One day, when we were talking about her growing ministry dreams, Kimberly said this, “When we walk through the door of a smoky and dark strip club, the light of Jesus inside us shifts everything. You can feel it.”

It was the “shifts everything” that caught my attention.

She went on to explain, “In strip clubs, the windows are blacked out or bricked shut so no light and no hope can get in….but when a believer walks through the door, every element of darkness (seen and unseen) cannot overcome the light. Everything shifts.”

And that’s the conversation that launched my memory bank back into 38 years of well-lit rooms. My Christian parents and home-church that molded my heart, ensuring there was never a day in my life I didn’t know Jesus loved me. I recalled mission trips my church took to help other churches build and grow their ministries domestically and overseas. There were summer camps and Christ loving counselors that instilled confidence and depth into my faith. As an adult, I’ve spent 15 years working in churches as worship leader, recording artist, and teacher. Sure, I’ve seen a few dark places…but often more stumbling on them by accident rather than going on purpose.

John 1:4-5 says, ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

By the grace of God, Jesus’s light lives in every believer. There is nothing we can do to change that miraculous truth. But then it occurred to me. I’m a flashlight in the daytime.

Imagine using a flashlight all day long, every day. It would be helpful at times. When things get grey or dim, the light brings clarity just when you need it. On a stormy day, the lights may even go out completely for a while. Thankfully, you’ve got the security and peace that a beam of light brings to the situation.

I think this is how I’ve been living. My Christ-light shines and gives hope to daily shadows and even occasional storms. But I’ve started to imagine what it would be like to take that light into a dark place. A really dark place. What would happen if I went into the dark on purpose?

Strip Clubs
I decided to give it a try. I told Kimberly I’d visit the clubs with her. Imagine the day when I sent a text to my pastor that read, “So….I went to two strip clubs last night.”

I enjoyed visiting the clubs. The women were friendly and nearly giddy when we came through the door as they exclaimed “The church ladies are here!” We delivered small gift bags with lip gloss and candy.  I watched a way-too-young girl devour the chocolate in hungry gratitude. I sat with another woman my age and discussed the local high school merger, her grandbaby on the way, and favorite fast food. I spent time swapping stories and hanging out with women at the top of their shift. When the men started to arrive, our time was over. We left and I prayed the light would stick with them through the night.

Finding my Dark
Finding darkness is not hard. All we have to do is open our eyes to the sin and brokenness of the world around us. There are literally hundreds of options. Orphans, Widows, and Grieving Parents can’t remember what a warm light feels like. The Depressed, Poor, Hungry, Enslaved, Uneducated, Abused, Addicted, War-torn and Powerless are living every day in thick, heavy, darkness. So, how do we know where to go blazing with our light? For months now, I’ve been wrestling this single question.

Luke 10:1 After this, the Lord appointed seventy two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

In this story, Jesus is sending out believers to places he has not yet been. These were not mission trips to the inner-city synagogue to re-paint the Sunday school rooms. These were dark places filled with evil spirits and demons (see Luke 10:17). But they were places he was ABOUT to go, and herein lies our answer.

We must allow Jesus to appoint us to the dark places he is about to go.

We can stumble into darkness every day. We often do. But we can’t miss our appointment to a specific place. (He didn’t send all 72 to the same place!!) There is a darkness that needs the unique nature of the way Jesus’s light mixes with our life experience, passion, and gifts.

Into the Dark
I’m still asking God to show me the dark places he wants to go with me. My heart has always been especially broken for the vulnerable and voiceless children in our community, so I’m investigating CASA. For now, what I know is that I’m not supposed to hang out in the comfortable daylight all the time. I’m going back into the dark, on purpose. It will be more strip clubs. But I think it will be other places too.

Where are you going to go? I’d love to hear about it.

When we walk into the dark, the light of Jesus will shift the darkness.  Did I feel it?    Did I know it was true?   Yes, I did.

 

Learn more about Stripped Love

-See more at: http://www.kimberlymajeski.com/stripped-love.html

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• “Follow” us on twitter @stripped_love

When the casket is too small.

OliverI drove my habitual route to the memorial today. My mind and emotions were somewhere between dread and disbelief when I looked up and noticed I was stopped in a long line of traffic on University Ave. Out my window, just yards away I could see hundreds of people gathering for Ball State graduation today. Parents and family members walking toward the accomplishment of another chapter complete, another milestone checked off, and another long awaited moment commenced. It was there, in a caravan of caps and gowns, that the stark reality hit. They won’t see him graduate from college. They won’t see him start Kindergarten. They won’t soothe and swaddle his way into this world. So…much…loss, wrapped up in a 34 week boy born into heaven before he was delivered onto earth.

It’s days like today I need my blog. Days when the human condition turns cold with sorrow and injustice. For me, the best comfort is to open a blank sheet and let the words spell out new hope.

The memorial was a loving tribute to a short life. The parents of the boy in the urn held each other and we held them. It was honest and hopeful, sad and beautiful. In our collective presence, we acknowledged that the right words wouldn’t be found. Words were not our gift. Our presence is what mattered.

As I drove home, the BSU graduation ceremony had ended. The caps had been thrown, the gowns discarded for shorts and flip flops. Another tear fell because today is for crying and grieving and feeling deeply.

At home, I was greeted by a seven year old boy with a mission. A mission to hug me so hard I would fall over. (I guess because that’s what sounds great to 7 year old boys and he isn’t allowed to karate kick me). In the process he managed to laugh and kiss and hug away the tears that were still fresh. I locked him in my arms and realized I was wrestling with my purest love wrapped in skin. And it scared me. The ‘what if’ game started to play. What if he gets hurt? What if he hurts someone else? What if his casket comes before mine? On a day like today, fear sets in. How could it not?

Somewhere today there is a mom laying on a bathroom floor trying to get through first trimester nausea. Another is experiencing a restless night caused from an over-active goal kicker in the womb. Parents of unborn babies everywhere are counting down the days, making plans, rearranging life as they know it…all for love. And yet, there is also sometimes fear. I suppose because that’s what comes with loving someone else more than yourself.

Somewhere else there is a mom with a baby in heaven who is choosing between taking a risk or playing it safe. Can she trust her body to carry a life again? Can she trust God? Can she handle 38 weeks of pregnancy after what she knows? After what happened? Can she let herself love another unborn child? Her heart wants to love again…but there is fear.

Fear is a natural and appropriate response today. Fear means that we care deeply. But there is something beyond the fear, waiting for us. A place beyond the mind-games and what-if scenarios. 1st John 4:17 says “There is no fear in love”. LOVE Wait…not just any love. Don’t I prove that over and over? I fear and fret and worry over my kids riding their bike on the street, going to school with germs and jerks, and ok, really anything where they are not asleep with no covers or pillows, on theirs backs, in their beds. And…even then.

The love John speaks of here is Perfect Love. Perfect love is the very essence of God. He goes on to say, “Perfect Love casts out fear.” God welcomes us into the safe embrace of His perfect love and declares there is no room for fear here. Here, where His grace is enough. Here, where He can be trusted. Here, where His Love is bigger, deeper, and stronger than our own.

In a way, every casket is too small. Too small for the memories. Too small for the lifetime of experiences and joy it holds. Too small to give back the hopes and dreams piled high inside. Age doesn’t matter when we sit together knowing that life on earth is short.

My heart aches today. I ache for parents who held their babies for a moment instead of years and for widows and orphans and….. But, even with an achey heart and weak words, I am praying against fear. I am praying we all press in closer to God’s perfect love rather than our own flawed, injured, human version. I pray our love to those in sorrow and grief would be a barrier against fear. Let our friendship and presence and love be a layer against anything that would stand in the way of God’s safe embrace.

Written with loving thoughts for Oliver, Carter, Amelia, Zoe Dawn, my baby brother Davis, our own middle daughter or son and the others gone too soon. I hope you are all singing and playing in heaven today. We will see you soon.

The Ashes: Reconsidering Lent

Ash WednesdayAsh Wednesday…beautiful dust.

Today is Ash Wednesday. Its the day after Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, and drink all the beer in the fridge after work day. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season we know as Lent. Lent means “spring”, with its root in the German, Lenz, or Dutch, Lente.

It is interesting to me, when I hear from non-catholic friends “Lent is for Catholics”. What?! That is like saying “Advent is for Methodists” or “Weddings are for Presbyterians.” Can you imagine not decorating for Christmas, hearing Christmas carols, shopping for gifts, getting together with friends, and anticipating the birth of Jesus until December 25th? What would happen if there were no thought or preparations for a wedding until the day set on the calendar? Of course, there are some who prefer to do Christmas and weddings in this way, but for me, the anticipation is what makes the event so special!

There is no Biblical command regarding how we observe the 40 days prior to Easter. And, while the Catholic church does a great job emphasizing the importance of Lent and regulating some all church practices, it is not just for Catholics. Just like ignoring the days leading up to Dec 25t would diminish my Christmas joy, to ignore Lent would lessen the impact of Easter on my heart.

So what do we do? And more importantly, why do we do it?!

A good place to start is reading a very short passage in scripture, Matthew 4:1-11 (also in Mark 1, & Luke 4). Here we read of Jesus, shortly after his baptism being led by Holy Spirit into the desert. During those 40 days, He ate nothing. At the end of the fasting, the Bible says Jesus was ‘hungry’…ummm…hello understatement?! I’m guessing its there in case someone tries to speculate that a 40 day fast was easy since Jesus is the son of God. I think it should have said, ‘Jesus was fully human, fueled by calories, tempted by carbs, underweight, dehydrated, and hungry!’ At the end of the fast, Satan comes to tempt him with food, validation, and power. But, Jesus stands firm, clings to God and scripture, and Satan leaves. This is how Jesus began his formal ministry. Before He started calling fisherman and tax collectors to be disciples, He fasted for 40 days.

Fasting

I was having fun reading Facebook posts about what people are ‘giving up’ for Lent. Common fasts are alcohol, chocolate, baked goods, fast food, swearing, TV, and Facebook. These are great! But I wonder (because this has definitely been true in my life) if the choosing of what to ‘give up’ was done with the desert, and Jesus, and Springtime in mind? Giving up sweets and alcohol is a healthy choice, but is it a diet or a path to true fulfillment? Spending less time with TV or FB is efficient and smart. We will waste less time, be less tempted toward jealousy, and get more done. But is it a discipline or an opportunity for discipleship?

Diets and disciplines are good and yield good results. Weight loss, beating sugar or caffeine addition, more productive work time, and more focused attention on people rather than screens are things many of us want! Lent is a time to go even deeper.

The Ashes

On Ash Wednesday, those who routinely observe the start of Lent will go to corporate worship and receive a cross of ashes on their head. For centuries, the dust of the ashes has represented our need to die to self. Where I live, in Indiana, its easy to look around and remember that all things die. The trees are bare, the grass is crispy, anything that once had a bloom is slumped over or hiding in the frosty ground. This is Lent. A time to die to ourselves so that way down deep, in the spaces only God sees, life can be brought forth again. New life requires death. Spring require winter. Resurrection requires crucifixion.

Reconsidering Lent

If you read this on February 13, a week later, or right before Easter Sunday, I’m inviting you to join me in reconsidering Lent. It’s not about 40+ days, so don’t let that stop you. Lent is about spring, about finding life after death. It is about knowing that in the deep, dark, dying places, God is preparing new beginnings and life.

3 Questions

1. How does what I’ve chosen to fast from during Lent cause me to die to myself and make room for Christ?

1b.  What should I chose to fast from during Lent to cause me to die to myself and make room for Christ?

2. In the most vulnerable time of His fast, Jesus faced tremendously difficult temptation. If, at the end of Lent, my toughest temptation or circumstance is put before me, will my inclination to cling to God and scripture be stronger than it is today?

3. Jesus began his formal ministry after 40 day of fasting, prayer, and temptation.  Does God have a ‘new beginnings’ or another step forward in His plan for my life?  (He does!) How can I best listen to His voice during my fast?

Thank you for sharing your Lenten experience with me.  My prayer for us all is that we go deeper and hear His voice.

Ash Wednesday…beautiful dust.

The long list of “I won’t”

Over my lifetime, I have compiled a long list of “I won’t”.
To name just a few:
I won’t move back to Muncie.
I won’t gain the weight back.
I won’t get a dog over 50 pounds.
I won’t get a dog that sheds.
I won’t have a 100% commissioned paycheck career.
I won’t EVER wear skinny jeans. Or flat-soled shoes.
I won’t EVER EVER EVER eat sushi.
and of course, you saw this one coming,
I won’t blog.

So what happened?! Well, I married a Muncie guy, moved back, had two kids, gained the weight back, and got a big hairy golden retriever! I took a commissioned sales job with a fashion company which eventually convinced me to give skinny jeans and ballet flats a whirl. I still haven’t eaten sushi though.

Of course I had very good reasons for all of these “I won’t” declarations…and maybe we can talk about those later. But the vow to not blog is really weird…even to me. I love to read other people’s blogs. I love to write. It’s therapeutic and my learning style of choice. I have always known that if I want to process an experience or learn something in a deep way, I have to write about it. So why the fear? Why the vow to stay clear?

Sometimes the very things we work to keep at a distance are exactly what we are supposed to embrace.   God has a very consistent way of doing this in my life.   Just about the time I’ve conquered an “I won’t” He brings it home on Christmas eve with a bow on its collar.

Merlin on Christmas

I’ve kept a long list of reasons why I can’t blog for the past two years.  (I’m too busy.   No one will read it.  Who really cares?  I should clean my bathtub instead.  blah blah blah…)  The point here isn’t explaining why and how I got past all that.  What I’ve learned (again) is that if GOD has planted a seed inside a person, He will see it to fruition.  In His time.  He may not tell us why we are supposed to drop the excuses and do it, but He will always provide the way.

Are there seeds planted deep inside you that you’ve vowed to ignore a while longer?  A seed to create? or explore? or learn? or help? or change the world?  Take a look at what you’ve declared a ‘NO’ to see if it is time to be a ‘NOW’.

I would love to know what has been on your “I won’t” list that you feel God may be asking you to turn into an “I will”.  Leave a comment with your thoughts.  It’s more fun that way.

I’m sure my own list of “I won’t” will continue to surprise me.

Except the part about sushi!

Why this blog is called “Beautiful Dust”

Hi and welcome to Beautiful Dust, a blog that celebrates the dusty truth of life.

Several years ago, I was having one of those days. A bad hair day, a fat jeans day, a bad mom day, a frustrating work day, a day of feeling completely incapable and ugly at every turn. As I hit the bed exhausted and unsure if I could get up and repeat the whole process again, I came across a book of poetry that provided just the comfort I needed. One sentence jumped off the page.

“He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”

The poetry is written by David in Psalm 103 in the Bible. What grabbed me was the word “dust”. I felt like dust at that moment. Small. Incapable. Weak. Dusty. I turned the pages back, all the way back, to Genesis.

God’s hands mixing earth and dust, love and freedom. God’s fingers molding, coaxing, creating. God’s heart desire taking form in his hands. God’s breath drawing in…..and then Life. Companionship. Beauty. When God breathed into the heart of humanity the dust became me, and you. (Genesis 2:7 NIV)

I laid there thinking: If God remembers that I am dust, than why am I working so hard to forget? My daily fight to be the picture perfect parent, spouse, ministry leader, and Christian woman was suffocating me! With every failure, more air left my self-inflated sense of self worth.

I suddenly felt better. Relief. I am dust. I am DUST! I don’t have to figure out how to be amazing in all my roles as a woman. My job is to let God breathe Himself into every part of my life. When a dusty life takes in the breath of God, it is poised for extraordinary purpose. That’s where I want to be.

I get really tired when I try to take on the world without the breath of God. I wonder if you do too? If so, I would love for you to join me for some dusty commentary on finding beauty and purpose in life.

Welcome to Beautiful Dust!