Series on Suffering #2 – “A Container for an Ocean of a God”

Suffering an ocean of a God

Suffering : A container for an Ocean of a God! by Robynn. Find all Robynn’s posts here. Find a quiet spot with a cup of tea or coffee to read this one. You’ll be glad you took the time….


When I was 9 and she was 8, in the quiet of a boarding room, while helping each other make a bed, I asked Amy Jo Inniger if she’d be my best friend. She said no. I was heartbroken but I accepted the rejection bravely. A year later she asked me if I remembered the question I had asked her a year before. Of course I did. “The answer,” she said, “is now yes!”

We were kindred spirit friends of the Anne Shirley and Diana Barry variety. She was the wind beneath my wings. When I graduated from high school a year ahead of her she loyally wrote me each week. When she ended up at Wheaton College and I was in the middle of the desolate Canadian prairies we made a way to see each other. She took the train up. I drove down (twenty-four hours straight with a brother and another friend!). She was in our wedding. I was in hers. She and her husband followed us to India and stayed in our town for nearly six months. Amy Jo was in the delivery room when Connor was born. She sang over him his first lullaby. She crocheted his first blanket and matching hat. Eventually her and her beloved husband found themselves in the slums of New Delhi living and working among the poor. Her house was the size of some king size beds. She cooked as the poor did, over a one burner stove. She washed clothes as they did, under the tap. Every Thursday they’d escape to a nicer part of town and stay one night in their “team center”. Every Thursday she’d call me on the phone.

A prayer letter we wrote in January 2000 tells what happened:

                When I was 29 and Amy Jo was 28, I stood by her hospital bed and watched her enraptured face as she saw her baby daughter for the first time. It was 11 pm, 6 hours after her surgery. The hospital was asleep and quiet. Amy had awakened and asked to see her baby. A nurse and I wheeled baby Kiran Hope’s cot down three floors to the Neuro ICU. When Amy focused on my face she smiled in recognition. When she saw the baby she beamed. “Oh Kiran, you’re so pretty.” She listened with pride as I told her about her new daughter, how healthy she was, how she had scored a 10 on the Apgar test. “Kiran, I’m so sorry that I can’t be with you these first few days,” she apologized, “but I’ll have the rest of my life to make it up to you.”

                Those were some of the last words Amy Jo ever spoke. She slipped into a coma at four the next morning and died four days later.

                The symptoms were sudden and simple: an intense migraine that started on November 11th. After pregnancy related causes were ruled out she was referred to a neurologist. The first MRI was done on November 27th and was inconclusive. Further tests, done on the 28th and the 29th revealed she had a large malignant brain tumor. On November 30th at 1:30pm they began two operations, first a C-section and then brain surgery. Kiran Hope was born at 1:45pm. Amy Jo came out of the OR at 5:10 pm. I had the blessing and privilege of introducing her to the little girl she had longed for years later that night.

                Amy Jo was a loyal kindred-spirit friend. She loved Jesus and wanted to be like Him. All she ever really wanted was that He be glorified. She was convinced that it was more important to Be than to Do. She was frugal and enjoyed simplicity. Little things were Big treats for her. She loved beauty and colour and texture and saw it all around her, in vegetable carts, bright saris and children’s faces. She was a well read, intelligent woman with opinions that would have shocked some! She was extremely uncompetitive and couldn’t hold her own at Scrabble for the world! She was generous and wanted those around her to be happy.

                I loved her. And the missing ache is still quite sore.

Amy Jo died. Even now as I type those words, it’s still so hard to believe.

Understandably, those were hard days. It didn’t make any sense. God had every opportunity to answer the prayers of hundreds, maybe even thousands who prayed. We asked Him to heal Amy Jo, to restore her to life, to give Kiran the mother she deserved. But God didn’t come through. For months afterwards my faith was shaken. I couldn’t understand it all. We had prayed. Emails went pouring out soliciting prayer from literally around the world. Mega churches in South Korea prayed in unison, smaller groups of more reserved people prayed together in the UK. They prayed in Pakistan, they prayed in Canada and the US, they prayed in Germany. And we prayed in India, fervently, sincerely, desperately. But still God did not heal. And Amy Jo died.

Months later Lowell preached a sermon that I hated. He entitled it Who Forgot to Pray for James? The text was from the book detailing the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 12, “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had James killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. Then he imprisoned him…. while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him”. Most of us know the story: the prayers of the church swayed God and He arranged for Peter’s miraculous deliverance! But was not the church also praying for James? Is there any reason to think they weren’t? Of course they were. Believers are being persecuted, the faithful rise up with prayer and power to beseech the Great God of the Universe to put an end to it. It’s what the church does! There is every reason to believe that the believers also prayed for James and others who were equally brutally treated, and yet God allowed James to be murdered and Peter to walk free. It doesn’t make any sense. Who can know how God figures these things out?

During that sermon Lowell used an illustration that communicated powerfully to my battered faith. He explained correctly why I don’t like swimming in the ocean: there are living things lurking beneath the surface, the waves are unpredictable and splash my face, it’s cold and deep, there are undertows and pulls that frighten, it’s salty and sandy and alive.  I do not like swimming in the ocean. I much prefer a swimming pool, a heated pool at that. The temperature is controlled. You can enter at your pleasure either the deep end or the shallow end. You can go in as far as you like and then climb back out. Blow up a floating device and float on the top if you choose! The bottom is level and smooth. There are no surprises. Nothing lives in a swimming pool.

And that’s the kind of God I prefer as well: one that is controlled and moderate; a God who I can measure and understand. I can enter His depths but only as far as I am comfortable. However that’s not the kind of God we have. Our God is an ocean of a God. He is alive and dangerous. There are forces at work below His surface. He alone controls the depths, the sprays, the splashes of His personhood. He woos us to the bottom and the water may appear murky and mysterious. Our God is wild and untamable. He is expansive and unpredictable. When we say he is Holy, we mean he is strange and weird and we do well to take our shoes off. The ground is Holy and the Water is deep.

After his horrid sermon Lowell asked that we sing a particular song. The words to that song, now old and rarely sung, still alarm me, “It’s all about you Jesus. And all this is for you, for your glory and your fame. It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way. You alone are God and I surrender to your ways.”

Suffering gives us a container to somehow hold this unholdable God.  Suffering reminds us that he alone is God. There is a humility that shakes our knees, we are overwhelmed by our smallness, our fragility, our mortality in the face of it all. And although we are wiping the Wild Salty Wonder out of our eyes, in some ways it’s never been clearer, we’ve never seen things as poignantly as we do now. It’s all about Jesus, his glory, his fame. Who are we to think that He would do things our way? He alone is God and so we do, we surrender to Him and to His Holy, Weird, Strange, Wild ocean-like ways! Suffering does this for us: it allows us a glimpse at how strange and weird he really is, it lets us see his holiness up close.

Much of this post was adapted from Chapter 9 of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission written by Robynn Bliss & Sue Eenigenburg

For Love of Little K

For Love of Little K by Robynn


I just spent a couple of hours catching up with my friend Kimmery. Because of the nature of the summers we’ve both had we haven’t seen each other in forever. It was fabulous to visit her in her new place, see boxes mostly unpacked, pictures already hung on the walls. She is settling in.

Kimmery is my friend. I love her deeply. She’s actually famous in our town for wearing the #4 K-State Wildcats basketball jersey when the Lady Cats were in their prime (2000-2004). Recruited from a high school in Nashville, she left her mama, her younger siblings, her community to move all the way to Kansas to play basketball.

A year ago she earned her PhD from Kansas State University in Family Studies. She’s one of the most determined, hard working women I know.  And she has heart. Dr. Newsom cares deeply: for her clients, her family and her friends. She’s loyal and long-lasting.

More importantly, Kimmery, is the mother of nearly 2 Little K. If she’s determined as a professional, she’s also devoted as a mother. She loves well, sacrificially, completely. Little K is disciplined and bright. He knows right from wrong. He can count to ten forwards and backwards. The little stinker already knows many of his ABCs.

Kimmery made coffee and gave me a tour of her place before it brewed. She offered me breakfast. She hadn’t slept well the night before and she was exhausted. It was a slow going morning for her. She was late getting to eat. I chatted away as she fixed herself an omelet and washed a bowl of grapes for Little K. I told her about our move, how the kids were settling, what I was working through in my attitude. After she sat down she shared some of the struggles she was facing with finding child care. Her daycare provider was suspended. It’s a tough story with complications and human complexities. We spoke of her mom, who’s been working hard to get her GED, but who recently found a job.

And then I asked Kimmery what she thought about what’s going on in Ferguson. She bristled some, sat up straighter, and asked me if I really wanted to know. I told her I did. I thought I did.

What followed was nearly forty-five minutes of her sharing her responses to what happened in the past ten days in Ferguson, Missouri. She nearly cried when she described what upset her the most. After Michael Brown was shot six times, two of those times in the head, he lay there in the street, uncovered, on display. His own mother a mere yard away was prevented from coming near the body of her dead baby for “investigative purposes”. Kimmery passionately pleaded with me, “Where was the ambulance? Why wasn’t he covered? Why didn’t someone call 911?” She said all she could see was pictures of dead black men and women hanging from trees, lynched and left on display, while white people stood around and watched. She told me story after story of similar things where black men and women were immediately assumed to be guilty and were mistreated simply because they were black.

Connor and I were chatting yesterday evening. He wants to go to Ferguson to join the protesters. He wants to skip school and go. In his mind this is history in the making. One person can make a difference he told me with the passion of youth. It’s an issue of civil rights. It’s not right what’s happened there.

With tears in his eyes he prophetically spoke a powerful truth, “Racism is still an issue mom. If anything it’s worse now than it’s ever been because people say it’s not an issue.”

At one point in the conversation she pointed over to Little K, who at the time was flinging his head back and forth on the couch. He was babbling jibberish and squealing at the educational program on the tv. Kimmery, pointing at Little K, said, “How am I supposed to raise him? Knowing he has a target on his back from the moment he’s born.” That’s when I could hardly contain my sobs. I’ve known that Little K man since he was born. When he was barely two months old I watched him once a week while his mom taught class. He’s been in and out of our home ever since. At church he reaches for me. I snuggle my head into his neck and he giggles. Tears ran down my face. How can Little K be the black man shot down? But that’s Kimmery’s greatest fear. Michael Brown’s mother in an early encounter with a television camera after her son was shot, railed at the reporter, “Do you people not know how hard it was to raise him? To keep him off the streets? To get him to graduate from high school? To get him enrolled in college”. Kimmery honestly can relate to that heart breaking mother’s lament. She gets it. She faces it. She fears it.

I drove away from Kimmery’s house with my heart stuck in grief. My spirit was in convulsions as I agonized with my friend. I didn’t know how to process Kimmery’s anguish. I didn’t know how to respond, what to do, where to take it. I cried so hard I should have put the windshield wipers on. I could barely see.

And I took my heart to Jesus. I took Kimmery there too. I scooped up Little K on to my shoulder and I marched him over to Jesus too. I had no place else to go. Deep inside, where there was a very small quiet spot, I heard the whisper of a tiny verse from the ancient old letter St Paul penned to the pockets of the faithful in the community of Galatia. “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus…” There is great gospel truth in that tiny line of scripture. This is what life is supposed to be like. This is why Jesus came: to eliminate the lines, to erase the boundaries. This motivates me to work toward those equalities. I take on civil justice issues. I take on the freedoms of women, I take on the immigrant’s story because these are the things Jesus took on.  He intended that his message and his love would communicate across boundaries and slowly, slowly eliminate them.

I could drive away from Kimmery’s house. Kimmery cannot. She is beautifully black and she’s raising a black son to manhood. Somehow, and I have no idea how she’ll even begin, she has to learn to live above her fears. Somehow, and again this seems impossible to me, she has to find the space to shake off suspicion and truly live. But I don’t know how she possibly can but for the remarkable peace that comes from Jesus who delights in her colour. I commend her to his care.

For the love of my Little K we have to keep talking about this stuff. It may make us flinch inside. It may stir up anger or resentment or confusion. Those of us who are white need to own that there is privilege in that. We need to see what’s happening around us. No more denial. No more overstepping or abusing our freedoms. Let’s be honest. Let’s communicate across these boundaries as well. Please, for the love of Little K.

For further reading please see this excellent article Dear White Mom

What is your response as you think of inequalities and race? 

Picture Credit:

The Fourth Watch


The book of Matthew, first gospel in a set of four, says that Jesus came to the disciples on the fourth watch. His disciples, fishermen by trade, had gone fishing and a storm came on what had been a calm sea. 

The Romans divided the night into four three-hour segments and the Jews had adopted these divisions. The fourth watch was the last part of the night between three and six in the morning. This was the last watch, the end of the night.

The fourth watch is that point where you wake up and it is so dark, you look at the clock beside your bed, and you sigh deeply – you can still sleep for another 2 hours. Or it’s the time when you have to be at the airport for the early morning flight, that flight that leaves at 6 am, passengers sporting only sleep-blurred eyes and coffee breath.

Or it’s the “darkest before dawn” part of the night.

It meant this storm on the sea of Galilee had raged all night long. It meant that the disciples were exhausted and defeated, that they had battled a critical weather event with every ounce of their human strength – but it was not enough. The storm was going to defeat them.

Until Jesus came and spoke words that calmed the sea.

The fourth watch. My mind fills with questions: Why did Jesus wait so long? Why did this miracle worker not intervene sooner? Why, when it was at their last bit of strength, did he suddenly appear – a ghost-like figure walking on the stormy seas?

My questions will never be answered and even as I write them I know these questions reflect my heart – a heart that finds faith hard, that sometimes thinks God waits too long to intervene. Too long to move hearts and souls, too long to change circumstances. I want him to come on the first watch, not the fourth.

The death count in Gaza, the civil war in Syria, the conflict in the Ukraine, and terrible persecution of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq — all of it feels like the fourth watch. It’s gone on too long. When will peace come? When will evil be conquered? When will God intervene?

Because the world is waiting for the fourth watch.

*The story relayed is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. It was our Gospel reading this past week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since

Who Do People Say I Am?

lemon tea

Who do people say I am? by Robynn

According to research done by the Kansas Leadership Center one of the leadership competencies is ‘Managing self’. Part of that is knowing your strengths, vulnerabilities and triggers. It’s also knowing the story others tell about you.

Years ago, when our girls were tiny, friends left India, where we were all living at the time, to return to New Zealand. Before they left their little girl gave our little girls a framed picture. It certainly wasn’t high end art, by any stretch of the imagination, but it meant a lot to Adelaide and Bronwynn.

I was sitting at the dining room table, drinking a cup of coffee, catching up on some paper work, when I overheard the two girls chattering. “Our mommy is going to put a hook on the wall so we can hang up our picture,” Adelaide, then 5 explained to her 2 year old sister. She paused before further elaborating, “mommy’s going to put a hook right here.” What she said next made me snort with laughter, coffee spewing all over the table, “You see our mommy is a hooker, she’s a really good hooker”!

There was a day, ages ago, when Jesus, having just fed masses of people and helping a blind men regain his sight, was walking along with his friends. Out of the blue he turned to them, mid-stroll and asked, Who do people say I am? The friends offered a few of the names people were calling him, John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet. They held back from telling him all that people were saying. They failed to mention heretic, lunatic, nut-job. He seemed to take that information in his stride. But who do you say I am? One of his best friends answers with confidence, You are the Messiah.

It was a sacred truth. Jesus didn’t want it made public. At least not yet. He then went on to invite them into that holy space. He began to share vulnerably what was ahead. He spoke of suffering and sorrow. He revealed weakness. He spoke of the dangers ahead, for himself but also for those he loved, his friends, his family. And he talked about it all with authentic openness. He was honest. He was plain. He was raw.

It made his friends uncomfortable. One close friend in particular, who had rightly pronounced who he thought Jesus was, now took him aside. He wanted Jesus to keep these things private….. Audaciously he reprimanded Jesus for saying such things.  Was it the gloominess of conversation? Was it the seeming weakness? The powerlessness? Whatever it was Jesus wasn’t taking it. He turned and rebuked his friend, “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Recently I’ve come to discover the danger of honesty. It effects people in different ways. Some are magnetically drawn to it. They realize they aren’t alone. It places them in community. It helps them to know that others struggle, others fall apart, others can’t manage everything perfectly. It brings them great relief. But there’s another group of people who find vulnerability to be a sign of weakness and a cry for help. They disdain it. It’s embarrassing. It’s awkward.

But maybe vulnerability is in part what Jesus was modeling. He was speaking of frailty and death, of suffering and rejection. His friends wanted him to be strong and invincible. Mentioning weakness made everyone feel susceptible. They wanted a message of strength and valour.

As writers and bloggers we process our worlds through words. We take what’s real to us and we work through it, writing it out, typing it tidy. Bloggers who protect themselves and others from their own pain come off as trite and superficial. The best bloggers give themselves, opening, plainly. Vulnerability is a natural byproduct of that process. It’s the whey from the cheese. It’s the chaff from the grain.

Adelaide told a tiny Bronwynn that I was a “hooker”. It’s not true. It’s not who I am. It’s who she said I was…but she was mistaken and she obviously misunderstood the meaning of the word. And now again in the face of my transparency a few have said I’m apparently in distress or in pain…that I’m weak and pathetic. A few have voiced concern.

Vulnerability and weakness are signs of strength. These are indicators that I’m growing in emotional health. I’m aware of my limitations. I’ve come to weakness through a feigned strength, through the back door of thinking I was independent and sturdy. Burnout graced me with an assurance that I’m not indestructible. I’m not god.

I offer you my self: vulnerable, transparent, exposing my weaknesses and my temptations, my vices, my victories, my soul and my heart. I stand before you as Robynn. I invite you into my story, into the places of pain that still percolate in my spirit. Come journey with me. Find community as you identify with what you read. Find the nearness of Jesus as you see him show up in my story. Find hope as you watch me trip over it. I’m finding those things too as I find the words to frame up the formations and revelations. Together we can discover that in our weaknesses He is strong. He is God and we are not.

Have you struggled with honesty? Have you had others misinterpret your vulnerability as weakness? How do you respond? 

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 27 “Myrrh Bearing Women”

myrrh bearing

There were eight of them. Eight who on Palm Sunday were overjoyed with the honor given to their teacher, their rabbi. Eight of them who on Wednesday could not believe that this man Jesus, a man who they had followed and loved, this man who had known their deepest sins and pains was unlawfully arrested and taken into custody. Eight who on Friday wept soul-tears at the foot of the cross as they looked at the bruised and battered body of their Lord.

Eight who were in a white fog of grief on Saturday.

But on Sunday they got up and did what they had to do. They got up and went to the tomb of Jesus to bathe the body with oils and spices, committing his body to the grave and the ground. Because as women that’s what we do. We grieve for a time, and then we get up and do what has to be done.

That is why the Orthodox church has a Sunday set aside specifically for the myrrh bearing women. Last Sunday was that Sunday and on this, a day set aside to honor Mothers in our society, I think of these women.

Tradition tells us that these Myrrh Bearing Women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the Theotokos, Joanna, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary and Martha, both of Bethany. Each of the Gospel accounts talks about these women and it is thought that they arrived at different times and in different groups. Several of these women were women of means, they had given of their time and their money for the years of Jesus’ ministry. All of them had tasted of his grace, all of them knew of his love. And all of them saw it end on a cross in a common criminal’s death.

And that is the wonder of what happened next — because these Myrrh Bearing Women would be the first to find that the tomb was empty. They go down in history as being those that went to the tomb early morning, only to be greeted by an angel and told those most precious words “He is not here for He is Risen – just as he said.” It was these women who were told to go tell the apostles what had happened. It was these women who were entrusted with this incredible joy.

But imagine if they had let the white fog of grief overtake them? Imagine if they had decided not to go to the tomb – because it was too hard. Imagine if they had missed the glorious proclamation of the Risen Lord? That’s where my mind goes. Because I know how easy it is to sink into despair, to think that circumstances will never change, that God cannot do the impossible. 

And so I miss out. I miss out on the gifts that are there when you show up. The more I learn of this faith journey the more I realize that some of this is about showing up. Some of it is about not knowing anything more that that you are supposed to get up and go. And when you arrive – that’s when you find out why.

Though weary from tears and heavy with grief these women stand out in history. They showed up and that’s when it made sense. With tears in my eyes and a prayer on my lips, I think about these Myrrh Bearing Women and I ask for strength to show up. 

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Shame On Me: Third Culture Kids & Shame

steps - shame quote

Shame on me: Third Culture Kids & Shame by Robynn 

Two Sundays ago our Pastor started an enormously brave sermon series on shame.  Since shame only regains its power when it’s kept secret, when no one is talking about it–speaking about it, naming it, bringing it into the light—from the pulpit, no less, is remarkably courageous.

I find myself stirred up and I’m not entirely sure why.

Brené Brown defines shame in Daring Greatly as, “…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Deep inside we are petrified of disengagement or disconnection from our community. We are afraid we won’t belong if we are truly known. Brown also talks about shame in terms of scarcity, often revealed in completing the phrase: Never______ enough. Never good enough. Never perfect enough. Never thin enough. Never powerful enough. Never smart enough. Never safe enough. Never extraordinary enough.

It strikes me that this is an issue the Third Culture Kid is especially familiar with. We know what it means to be deeply afraid of not belonging. We feel our differences keenly. We experience that lack of connection constantly. Our engagements, our connections, are fragile at best. We fear ridicule. We are afraid to make mistakes. It’s easier to stay quiet than to share our stories and experiences, which rarely translate. We struggle to be seen and heard. There is this core feeling, this deep sense that we aren’t enough, we aren’t acceptable where we are, we don’t belong.

Or at least that’s been my experience.

Never American enough. Never savvy enough. Never culturally adept enough. Never adaptable enough. Never an insider enough.

I live with deep, daily, durable shame.

(And that doesn’t take into account any other shame the TCK might have picked up, innocent or culpable, from life experiences in foreign or familiar places: trauma, body image issues, separation from parents as a result of boarding school, addictions, health issues, faith queries).

“Remembering that shame is the fear of disconnection—the fear that we’re unlovable and don’t belong—makes it easy to see why so many people in midlife over focus on their children’s lives, work sixty hours a week, or turn to affairs, addiction and disengagement. We start to unravel. The expectations and messages that fuel shame keep us from fully realizing who we are as people.” (Daring Greatly, Brené Brown)

Where do we go with our shame? What do we do with this heavy fear of disconnection? When we unravel where do we take our frayed edges? When we reach that midlife unraveling where do we go?

Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly, speaks of how to combat the shame. She talks about vulnerability and courage. Understanding shame and cultivating resilience to shame are pivotal points on the road to becoming real. She suggests practicing courage and reaching out to others in response to our desperate desire to hide. Talking ourselves through the shame like we would talk to someone we love and respect also promotes passing through the moment of shame: You’re okay. You’re human—we all make mistakes. She says we need to own our stories:  If you own this story you get to write the ending. Granted…our stories feel a little more complex. The plots feel a little twisted and whole chapters are written in foreign languages.

It’s good and true stuff from Brown. But I’m still left with the pain of my disconnection. I’m still left with a deep longing for belonging. Understanding it, naming it, practicing courage in spite of it, talking myself through it…. Still leaves me, up to my neck, sitting in it. Where do I go now? Where do I take my soul that struggles and simmers with the pain of not belonging, with the hurt of not connecting?

Sunday’s sermon suggested a space to place that soul that still pulses with the shame. There is a balm for the heart that longs to belong.

Pastor Steve proposed a Person who safely welcomes our shame. I can bring my shame to Jesus. And it seems Jesus has a particular affection and affinity for people steeped in shame (both those who are innocent and those who come to their shame by virtue of their choices). Try reading the gospels and consciously choose to identify with a shameful person. Stop and hear how Jesus responds. In other words…pretend to be the woman at the well and imagine Jesus engaging you in that moment. Imagine you are the tax collector and hear how Jesus talks to you in that place. You will hear Jesus’ deep acceptance. You will hear him transplant you from a place of alienation and shame to a place of attachment and belonging. He calls the woman betrayed by her own body and bleeding for twelve years–she who wished to remain invisible– he sees her and he calls her, “Daughter”.  Jesus reaches out and touches the untouchable and untouched leper. He makes eye contact with him and proclaims healing over him.

It doesn’t take my longing to belong away….which is disappointing. I still live with the feelings of shame. I’m not sure what to do with all of this yet…but it is comforting to know Jesus isn’t like the others. He doesn’t look away from those of us who live with shame. He doesn’t walk across the street to avoid contact. He doesn’t pretend he doesn’t see me. Jesus deliberately makes eye contact, he walks toward me. He looks deep into my eyes, lifts my chin up and calls me “Daughter!”

I’m trying to soak in the mystery that there really is deep belonging and connection there….

Brené Brown’s advice to talk myself through those moments– You’re okay…We all make mistakes —gives me the space I need to breathe and remember I do belong however I might feel.

Note from Marilyn – this piece…it’s so good but so hard. It resonates deeply with me. What about others? Weigh in through the comments. 

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A Lenten Meditation dripping with Kindness and Grace

By Robynn – Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss

Holy Cross

Along with thousands of Jesus followers around the world, I began my Lenten pilgrimage yesterday. To me, Lent speaks of journeying toward the Cross. I look forward to it every year. We, the church universal, are invited to participate in His sufferings, to enter into a deeper fellowship with Christ.  We are asked to approach slowly, deliberately. Holding hands we travel together –weak, broken, tired—toward the Cross, the Burial, the Victory of Resurrection.

It’s a humbling opportunity. It’s a sober season.

But this morning I was reminded that it’s a commute covered in joy and we come out of it completely soaked!

The first century God-followers in Ephesus received a letter from St Paul ages ago. The first part of that letter is dedicated to Paul trying to convince them how very intentional God was about loving them.  Paul didn’t want there to be any doubt. He writes sincerely and passionately. He longs for them to understand these things deeply in the quiet corners of their souls.

God….has blessed us with every spiritual blessing…

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us…to be holy and without fault in His eyes.

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

Just as soon as Paul tells them that God loves them and chose them and wanted them to be in his family so much that he went the extra mile and pursued their adoption. Just as soon as Paul is done with that delicious truth, he launches into another spiritual delicacy!

It seems the Heavenly pitcher is full and God is overflowing. He is so rich in kindness and grace that when God starts ladling it out it spills all over the place. He pours out his glorious grace on us! He showers his kindness on us, with all wisdom and understanding. We are left dripping and drenched; wet through with the kindness and generous grace of God! It’s a messy wonder. It’s a wet moment. We stand soggy and sodden, saturated with it all. Soaked to the bone, vulnerable as our own stuff, now waterlogged and redeemed, washes away. We may feel naked and exposed but for the clinging garments of praise and the clean coat of Christ’s righteousness that now clothes us. The holy ground is now mercy mud.

And it’s that kind of mud that Jesus swoops up and uses to bring sight to the Blind! Now we have eyes to see.

This journey to the cross climbs along the wet earthed path. He has rained down on us his grace and his kindness. Put away your umbrella. There’s no sense in trying to protect yourself. As wild as it weathers, he gently washes our faces, our wounded souls, our broken hearts. Kick off your boots. Splash a little. This wet dirt is a holy tromping ground, a soil suited for planting, a spot for seeds, a space for unending possibilities!

“A truly Eucharistic life means always saying thanks to God, always praising God, and always being more surprised by the abundance of God’s goodness and love. How can such a life not also be a joyful life? It is the truly converted life in which God has become the center of all. There gratitude is joy and joy is gratitude and everything becomes a surprising sign of God’s presence.” (Henri Nouwen, Show me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent)

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Digging My Hope Out of a Snowbank

As I heard a weather forecast today and learned that more snow is covering a nation already groaning under the winter of discontent, I particularly appreciated this post on hope by Robynn. What about you? How is your winter going? 


Winter is the most deceiving of the seasons. You look outside the window. The sun is shining. The trees beckon to you, inviting, calling. A few birds flit by. And so you think, okay then, I should go out. A coat, because logic demands it, gloves, they just make sense, and out you go! Whoosh! The wind immediately mocks. The sun sticks it’s tongue out. The imaginary birds have vanished. Winter wins! Her deception has tricked you again and you, the seasonal fool, have fallen for it again!

This winter has been particularly sneaky, long, cold and white. It’s been wearisome.

I find that in the midst of winter my sense of hope takes flight too and all but disappears. Or perhaps she’s buried under the snow bank. Maybe she melted into the grey slush. Whatever the case she’s gone. She’s done.

I’m determined to hunt her down. There must surely be shreds and shards of her left. Surely hope cannot have all been rendered shrapnel in the explosions of season and snow? Finding her has proven difficult. Despair and darkness cloud my vision. Depression drifts build up. Superficial and shallow comments salt the wound-roads. Trite talk ploughs through, wreaking havoc at the end of my pathways. The search has been hard wrought and I am sad to say, I have really only caught glimpses of hope hiding…Hope hasn’t jumped out to get me. Unlike young children playing hide and seek, she doesn’t seem to want to be found.

This week has been especially dismal.

Still my brief sightings of hope have birthed in my sorry soul an expectation that she is still out there. Like the pearl of great price, hope does linger in my town. I want to find her. I need the energizing motivation she trades for my well-worn weariness.

Yesterday I met a friend at Grace’s Asian Fusion café. Piano music met me at the door. I looked around for the speakers and much to my delight realized the music was live. In the far corner of the room stood an old upright piano and sitting upright on the stool was a gentleman even older than the piano. He gently, gracefully, invited classical tunes filled with emotion and energy to come out of that ancient instrument. And out they came, and filled the room, sweeping it with joy…. And dare I admit, a little hope!

My friend joined me and we tried Miso soup and some interesting sweet dumpling-bread. We ate cold sesame noodles with vegetables and peanut sauce. And we talked. She’s hit a wall in her faith experience. Everything programmed in her is being questioned and reexamined. She’s rethinking religion and rules; structures and systems. But we talked about Jesus and his wide wonderful mercy. I firmly believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father… But I have come to think that there are many paths to Jesus. And we talked about that and a bit of hope surfaced.

Today I drove to Wichita to watch our seventeen year old sing with his high school Chamber Choir at the Kansas Music Educators Association Convention. I drove through the Flinthills and across the prairies. Yesterday’s hay bales still scattered last season’s fields. However through the grey grasses bits of green were starting to shimmer. Hope is sprouting softly through the (hopefully) waning winter.

One of the songs the Chamber Choir sang was a Wendell Berry poem (The Peace of Wild Things) set to music. The music was written by a local composer, a KState Professor, and a father of the one of the students. It was filled with expectation. And it was contagious. Hope filled the auditorium together with the voices of the young singers who sang with strength and optimism.

My spirit has been snowed under. I’ve been physically ill for a month and my soul has caught the infection. I’m bowed low. The weight of winter wears me out. But I’m determined to protect my Hope. If I don’t have hope I will spiral deeper, darker, lower. Hope protects the soul from despair. Hope preserves moments of pure joy in the midst of great sorrow. Hope guards, redeems, rescues. I firmly believe that hope is not seasonal. It’s eternal and certain.

I don’t know about you but for me hope is not natural. I’m not normally inclined to being hopeful on my own…. I have to work for it. I have to hunt her down. I have to dig her out. What little energy I’ve had these past couple of weeks I’ve tried to dedicate to finding hope! A text message early in the week from a friend said, “Robynn just sitting here reading and I’m reminded that Christ in you is the hope of glory. Take courage sweet Robynn, he has overcome all that you are facing.” It was another push toward hope. Miss Cindy gave me courage to hope-search. Hope was in me—the Christ of Glory…. It’s a quest for the Super-natural. Hope has been elusive but in looking around, I have seen her. I’ve experienced her gently. I’ve been graced with her small moments.

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace…” Rom 15:13

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

*photo credit Stefanie Sevim Gardner

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