Today I Saw God
I love song mash-ups where DJ’s, singers, and others mix portions of favorite songs into a new composition and in doing so, create something with a power all its own, separate from the effect of the individual songs themselves, strong though they may be. Let me do that here with verses from the Biblical books of Genesis, Colossians, Revelation, John, 1 John, and James related to race, unity, and our common roots in Christ. Let’s read collectively as a summons to find the courage of Christian conviction to participate in the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work of racial reconciliation in God’s world:
So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…[Declaring] Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…[So,] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Please, Holy Redeemer, let these moments in scripture grant us courage of conviction as we facilitate racial reconciliation in our personal lives and the larger community. We know that if we speak up for respectful conversations, whites becoming informed of the issues, racial reconciliation and equity in all elements of secular and spiritual living, we may lose friends, family members, and colleagues for a while…or longer. Walk with us, Lord. Help us with forgiveness, too -- for ourselves and others. We will make mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offensive acts or words. They WILL happen. How we respond thoughtfully to these gaffes, imperfections, and the pain we cause others is a clear and courageous expression of our Christian conviction and God’s grace. Lord, grant us the receptiveness to hear you, the humility to recognize the error, and the fortitude to make amends. And noting your direct commands in the Scripture above, Lord, your call could not be more clear. Carrying the lantern so, we see the way ahead.
Each year when Groundhog Day arrives I am inevitably reminded of the Bill Murray classic of the same name in which a disgruntled and unhappy man is faced with the question, "what would happen if we were forced to repeat the same day over again until we got it right"? Murray's character, Phil, is cursed to repeat a celebrated holiday in which humanity anxiously awaits the response of a groundhog required to face the fear of its own shadow. Should the groundhog see its shadow and retreat back to safety, the world is doomed to another six weeks of winter weather. In true Murray fashion, he hilariously navigates his way through the repetition while pride, righteousness and fear keep him from the path that could lead him to salvation. Comedies do not normally ask important philosophical questions but in this case spoiler alert "Groundhog Day" asks us to take a look at our own lives and determine whether or not we are truly living up to our potential and following the "right" path. Heartwarmingly and with perfect comedic timing, Phil learns his lesson while discovering the true nature of friendship, love and success.
When I was younger I saw this movie as a clever comedy that my parents used as a way to wake my brother and I for school in the morning. Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" would play incessantly on the record player until we were awake enough to stop the noise, just like Murray's character experienced every morning he awoke to discover it was still Groundhog Day. As the years go by, it takes on a different meaning for me. I first realized that Phil was just like me. He was not entirely satisfied with his life as it was but was not sure how to change it. Unlike me, he was magically given a reset button each day until he got it right. Once I became a Christian, I started to see that Phil was more like me than I ever realized. Just like I am, Phil is asked every day he wakes up to choose God's path and not his own. It is a daunting choice, and one both Phil and I fail at constantly.
Phil would not be described as a giving person before his transformation. He avoids connection at all costs and uses sarcasm and humor to avoid conversations. It is no wonder that Phil is unable to keep or make friends with such a negative attitude towards other people. He gives as little of his own energy as he possibly can to each interaction and therefore gets just as little back.
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good amount will be poured into your lap. It will be pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The same amount you give will be measured out to you."Luke 6:38
I unfortunately find myself using this same tactic, especially when it comes to awkward conversations. No matter how well I know a person, I will resort to some sort of joke to cut the tension I imagine to be present or to avoid sharing something personal. As Phil can attest it takes practice, a lot of hard work and emotional energy to fully give of yourself in each interaction you have.
Phil is also one to exaggerate the truth. Constantly yearning for greener pastures, he tells everyone that he has a better job waiting for him yet year after year he never actually goes anywhere. Similarly his love interest, played by Andie McDowell, does not even claim to have a better job, but simply dreams of bigger and better things. Like McDowell's character, I fall into the dreamer category. I start things and never finish them or imagine what could or should be different and never act on it. Countless books have been written on this subject alone and as a dreamer, I am not ashamed to say I have read most of them. The most recent of these I acquired this past Christmas and devoured in two days. "The Alchemist" by Paul Coelho tells a philosophical story about a boy searching for his purpose in life. The boy reaches the same conclusion that Phil eventually does.
"People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel they don't deserve them, or that they'll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren't, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly." "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and eternity."
Phil eventually realizes that dreaming of success is not success. He has to face his fears head on, just like the groundhog faces the sun, to make his dreams reality.
"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be Impossible for you." Matthew 6:33
When Phil finally follows the right path, he wakes up the next day to find that while he is free of the unending repetitiveness of his poor choices, he must soldier on in life making new choices in hopes of remaining on the right path. God is asking us to do the same thing. Every day we wake up to a new day and make choices. Whether right or wrong we must soldier on and every day we get the same reset button that Phil received.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2
God gives us a choice and forgives us when we make the wrong one. He offers us a reset, through forgiveness of our sins, so that we can keep trying to discern what God wants for our lives.
What we choose to do with each day is up to uswe can either face our fears head on walking into the warmth of spring, or we can cower in fear of our choices leading us down into the dark unending cold of winter. I would love to say I am someone who recalls Bible verses on command, but instead I have them posted inside the cabinet I use as my office, written on my Bible, on my desktop screensaver, in the bathroom and literally anywhere I can paste it to remind myself of His word. I strive to be the person God wants me to be and have to remember that like Murray's character discovered, it takes a lot of practice (and prayer) to become my best self. If I remember the words in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me", I can rely on the fact that I do not have to be perfect because God will give me all I need if I ask it of him. My ability to choose is God's gift to me and whatI become as a result of my choice is my gift to God. God eagerly awaits my choices just as I eagerly await our famous groundhogs choice to face the sun.
Mary and Joseph bring their baby boy to the temple in Jerusalem eight days after his birth- around New Years Day on our calendar. This is an expected rite required by the law of Moses. It is at this ceremony that the newborn is given his name. The gospel of Luke tells us,"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." (Luke 2:21 NIV).
Names are pretty important. They are usually selected with great care. Often there is an important reason they are chosen. It is very common to name a first born son after his father. In my family we have a Bailey Hendricks Gray IV meaning four generations have named their sons after their father. In my husband's family, his mother is named Angelina. She is named after her paternal grandmother. Each of Angelina's six children named a daughter Angelina. Clearly those children wanted to honor their mother!
So here they were, Mary and Joseph naming their first born son, Jesus. I wonder what that was like for Mary and Joseph. Both had been given clear instructions by the angel. They were told separately – Luke's gospel tells us about Mary's visit and Matthew's tells us about Joseph's visit- to name the child Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) which means "He saves." When did they first discuss the naming instructions? Was Mary concerned that Joseph would be disappointed? Was Joseph worried what others would think of them breaking with tradition? Would they tell the crowd that angels gave them this name or keep it to themselves?
Surely Mary and Joseph must have wondered, "He saves what? How does he save? When will he save?" It seems none of that was laid out for them, however, it was clear was big things were in store for this little boy. Mary and Joseph being the faithful servants they were did exactly what the angel instructed. They had no idea what was ahead yet they took the next faithful step on this journey of theirs. They named him Jesus/Joshua/He saves.
As I consider another new year, I wonder what surprises might be ahead for me? Will I be as faithful as Mary and Joseph to follow where God leads? Will I take the next faithful step when I have so very little information about where it leads?
Today, I did things a little differently. There was no sudden urge to wake up and try to do ten thousand more things that I could not accomplish but would make me anxious anyway. There was no mad dash to put in my contact lenses that give the false perception of perfect sight. I was not rushing past the mirror after my shower; fearfully dreading the steam evaporating too quickly and forcing me to take in the visage of my less than perfect physicality. The frantic search for my body shaper and the rush to heat my flat irons to straighten my naturally curly hair was utterly absent.
Today, I paused to glimpse my full form; one that was shaped by the inconsistencies of self-doubt, overeating, extreme physicality, multiple pregnancies and childbirths, and the stillness of utter exhaustion. I stared at the scars from too tight shapewear that strained to give my bulges of womanhood – excess weight from having a child, losing a child, and having twins, weight fluctuations, and genetics – into a form that somewhat aligned with the requirements of American society. I flopped my "bat wings," as my nanna calls them, knowing they would never lead me into flight. I smirked at the faint remains of my "birth line;" a line that all the women in my family have that is our built-in pregnancy test which runs from the lower abdomen to the sternum and darkens once pregnant. I shake my head at the days when I didn't know what it was or why it existed. I regret many of the stretch marks that were not the result of my children but the result of seeking food as my solace because I didn't have friends who would understand what it was like to be in my skin, in my economy, or in this world as me. I marveled at the stories every inch told of a life imperfectly led and all the potential that lay before me in it.
Our bodies tell such grand stories. They hold so many memories and moments, yet we dismiss them as machines or a necessary evil to be accepted as an "intelligent" species. I have been guilty of being dismissive and cruel to my body, intentionally and unintentionally. I have even gone as far as starving it, poisoning it, cutting it and forcing it to be more like society says it should be. I remember hearing growing up that God made me in His image, that He has known me since before I was born, and that I am part of Him just as He is part of me. So, why do we – no, I – mistreat and dismiss something that is so precious?
While watching The Greatest Showman last week with my daughter for her birthday, these thoughts kept coming to me throughout the movie. It led to my momentary pause of all the things I do to restructure who I am to be what I believe others want me to be. But there is something unapologetically beautiful about all the characters in the movie that I found inspiring and wanted to embody. Yes, I realize it is a prettied up version of P.T. Barnum and his evolution of the circus, but the overriding themes of self-acceptance, contentment in what you have, and the love of diversity really convicted me.
These characters and their story initially rang so true because I too often feel an oddity and out of place, but willing to put it on display because it feels less lonely in the spotlight. I saw elements of myself in Lettie, the Bearded Lady, who has the beautiful voice but the world thinks is a horrific misstep of nature in her size and masculine face. I knew the frustration of Anne and Phillip's love that society disdained but felt so divine. I relate to the fat man who feels much larger than he is. And I humbly accept my similarity to P.T. Barnum who is always trying to prove himself to those who really matter the least, even though it feels like they matter the most.
The wonderful turn of events is, the gift of song, that has brought me to this stage has helped others share their oddity and malformations too. I have witnessed a huddled mass of outsiders that feel rejected, unworthy and unloved make a beautiful rag-tag crew of love, dare I say, a family, in the wreckages of our lives through church and the gift of community there. That is the beauty of God's love – when practiced not just preached – which shows in how we view our bodies and those of others. These shells that some covet and some cover are just temporary shells of the amazing gifts that God has put on this earth to share with one another. Energy is constant, not the human form. We are all connected by that energy to bring joy to each other. To revel in the odd and fantastic. To admire the extreme and bizarre. To embrace the strange and exotic. To love the misshapen and grotesque. We are all, at some point, one or more of these things to everyone else around us. I am so glad God gives us so many chances to see how amazing and beautiful we all are. It is amazing the fantastic and impossible things that can be possible when God brings together those whom the world would think make the unlikeliest team. I am thankful for the creative as well as the stoic, the cheerleaders and the naysayers, the loving and the bigoted, the intelligent and the ignorant, as well as the righteous and the broken. They are all beautiful souls and opportunities of love existing in beautiful bodies of varying mass and construct. How lucky we are to be apart of this circus. And how grateful I am to finally see I am blessed to be part of it all.
Yesterday, I did battle with our coat closet and I won!
Only two of us live in our home right now and yet, for some reason, our reasonably large coat closet was full to overflowing, junk strewn all over the floor. If a guest arrived at our home last week and handed me their coat to hang up, I would have strategically thrown it over the back of a sofa in our living room.
But not anymore! I have conquered the dragon! I am a Shield Maiden of Rohan, Ruler of the Iron Throne, Mother of Dragons! (Insert Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones theme music here.) You are welcome to come on over and hang up your coat!
Perhaps I am being a wee bit dramatic, but my tendency to make mundane tasks into epic battles of will is quite extraordinary.
Here's the thing: I am not without skills and the ability to follow through. I am capable of managing complex, multi-faceted projects, leading groups of people in major fundraising efforts, and starting a growing business. And oh yeah, I wrote a wholeBOOK, for goodness sake!
Yet, I can NOT seem to clean out my bedside table, organize the stacks in the study or mail the boxes I promised to mail to my daughter. Every room in my house has a corner or crevice that hisses at me when I walk by, mocking me and my big plans to finally, someday, conquer the clutter. When my youngest left for college, I made a list of cabinets, closets, shelves and drawers I was going to tackle. She graduates in May and I am STILL talking about it.
BUT yesterday, I emerged from the coat closet with two bags of giveaways, one bag of trash and a sense of equal parts accomplishment and amusement.
Here is what happened differently yesterday: I had two coaching clients cancel because of illness. Instead of filling that unexpected block of time puttering mindlessly on the computer or getting ticked off watching the news, I asked myself these questions- the kinds of questions I often ask my clients:
- How do I want to intentionally, purposefully use this gift of time?
- What would give me a sense of accomplishment right now?
- What do I say is important to me and how does that impact how I choose to spend my minutes and hours?
- Who does God say that I am and do I believe Him?
In light of those questions, I decided to tackle one of the many looming, leering, mocking projects right that minute, no delay, no excuses. I ended up dragging it out over the course of the day, getting distracted by sending photos of myself in reindeer antlers to my children (no, I have no idea why there were reindeer antlers in my coat closet amongst the FIVE HUNDRED pairs of gloves.) It wasn't pretty or terribly efficient, but I got it done.
One tiny little baby dragon vanquished!
Yes, I know I am making way too big of a deal about this. Cleaning out a coat closet isn't hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Grieving a loved one is hard. Losing thirty pounds is hard. Cleaning out a closet is a joke by comparison.
Yet I am finding many of us struggle more with the little things. We rise to the occasion when the crisis comes, but we feel shame over our inability to master the minutiae of daily living We become paralyzed by that habit, task or struggle that keeps us stuck feeling like a failure. The good news is that God is equally present right in the middle of the mundane, and wants to help us. Because I know God loves me, I am learning to have a sense of humor about these kinds of struggles. Shame keeps me stuck, so I must give myself some grace in the places where I am frankly a bit of a mess. Yet, God also wants me to move forward into becoming my best self, so sometimes I need a kick in the butt and the reminder that I am capable of learning and growing. Sometimes, I need to hear something like, "You got this! Get it done! No more excuses."
Which of those do you need today? A little extra dose of grace? Or a pep talk to get off your behind and get back in the game?
Go get that dragon, brave warrior!
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com