Preferred Status- Chosen, Holy, Dearly Loved

I grew up in a small Missouri town. When I say small, I’m talking one stop light and no McDonalds until I was a teenager. Population 4,600. And I must emphasize, I grew up in town, small house on a lot with neighbors close by. Since I moved away and married, I have ended up living in the country. Some people may term my property as a small farm. I can stand out on my porch and hear cows mooing in the distance. Having never owned cows or livestock of any kind as a kid, I was not aware of the extent of care they could require in the winter months. A few years ago my husband ventured out into the livestock arena. We purchased a few cows, had them bred, and watched the little calves grow. It was alot of fun and a learning experience for me. Things that never occured to me like giving them bales of hay on an extremely cold day and breaking the ice on our pond so they could get a drink were part of the daily norm until we sold them. Yesterday I was scanning my facebook account where I saw a brief video my niece had posted. Her husband is a farmer. They had a little calf that was near to freezing in these subzero temps from the “Polar Vortex” we are experiencing. He came into their house with an armful of calf to be warmed up in their bathroom for awhile. This was much to the delight of her little boy. That calf had achieved prefered status.

The scene from that clip has been rolling around in my head this morning as I have read my Bible. I’ve been spending some time chewing on a couple of sections of scripture. One is John 21:15-22 and the other is Ephesians 4:1-3. The section of John is an account of Jesus and Peter having a conversation after Jesus had ressurected from the dead. Just prior to Jesus’ death Peter had denied Jesus three times in an effort to save his own skin. I’m not so sure I would have done much better in view of the circumstances. Peter had watched Jesus be arrested and hauled off to an unfair trial and knew the hatred the religious establishment had for Jesus and His teaching. When questioned about his affiliation with Jesus, he made it plain to those questioning that he didn’t know Him, the One he had previously said He would fight for and die for, never deny. Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him. Twice He used the term “agape”. Once He used the term “phileo”. “Peter do you agape me, ‘actively prefer me and self sacrifice for me’? Take care of my sheep.” “Peter do you phileo me- ‘ hold me affectionately in your heart’?”

Agape… digging around on my “Bible Hub” app. looking at the Strong’s concordance puts it in a brighter light. It’s a preferred love. A preferred status if you will. It’s placing someone as your priority, your preference that you would give yourself away for. Here’s where the second scripture comes in: “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…” That term for love comes from “agape” too. Except this time the focus of the agape is from God toward us. It speaks of us being chosen by God, set apart for Him, and dearly loved- preferred, sacrificed for. Kind of like that little calf of my niece and her husband. Quite honestly when I look at myself, I don’t see a whole lot for me to offer God. I’m like a little calf in a “Polar Vortex” freezing to death, but God looks at me as her husband, the farmer, did the calf, VALUABLE. Valuable enought to brave a cold winter storm, pick up the little calf and take it into his home to be warmed and cared for, given preferred status. Not every calf in the field gets the attention that little one did yesterday. The farmer saw the need and sacrificed to meet it.

I believe that from the moment we are born until the day we die, our enemy, Satan, spends his time trying to get us to view God as anything but the One who prefers us, the One who sacrificed for us, and the One who went out looking for us in our most desperate time of need so He could bring us in. Satan tries to paint the picture of God as the one who looks out on a sea of people that are expendible, and a pain in God’s side. Not enough time for us, not enough grace, not enough love, distant, uncaring, tired of our screw ups, etc… But God “agape’s” us. He’s the one who leaves the 99 to find the one. So He can give the prefered status of His forgiveness, care, and constant attention to us. It is when I am able to see myself as that little calf, brought in from the cold, delighted in that I understand God has set me with His “Preferred Status- Chosen, Holy, and Dearly Loved”.

Letting the baby see the calf

My Next Fifty Years

Oh the joys of social media… Probably one of the main reasons I haven’t dumped Facebook and went back to a flip phone is the Birthday reminders. I am notorious for forgetting birthdays. Ask my husband. His is just two days after mine and I forgot it the first year we were married. Notorious… Anyway, the daily reminders of Birthdays of friends and family has been one of the little gems for my life that Facebook has given me. It also provides opportunity for me to mark my birthday each year. I’m not sure if that’s a little gem or not lol. Each year for as long as I can remember having Facebook, my status on my birthday has been “half way to…”. At 45 I was “Half way to 90”. At 47 I was “Half way to 94”. Well this year I have arrived. I will be “Half Way to 100”. This is probably the best year to stop that practice. My grandpa made it to just a few days shy of 101 and I’m pretty sure 100 years is about as far as I want to go.

Me almost 50 years ago. Lol
Just gotta be me.

All this reflecting on being “Halfway to 100” in a few weeks, has had me thinking about an old Tim McGraw song, “My Next 30 Years”. Here’s a little sample of the lyrics to refresh your memory:

“Oh, my next 30 years I’m gonna watch my weight
Eat a few more salads and not stay up so late
Drink a little lemonade and not so many beers, huh
Maybe, I’ll remember my next 30 years”

I’m not a beer drinker, but this song has been rolling around in my head for about a month. It’s a summary of all the things he would do different his next 30 years to get more out of his life. It’s got me thinking… “What would I want to do in my next 50 years?”

Where it all started in my first 20 years .

A majority of my first 50 years have been spent being married and raising a family. Married won’t change but raising a family already has. I’m down to one kid out of 4 that isn’t an adult yet and he’s just one year away from turning into one. So for my next 50 years life is going to be a lot more different than the first 50. My first 50 years I spent a lot of time preoccupied with things that just didn’t matter. Though I tried my hardest, I let the worries and cares around me squeeze out a lot of the daily joys. It’s funny how the little things like time spent playing at the park with my kids really did become the big things. Being busy with silly stuff made me miss some of the most important things during my first 50 years. My next 50 years I want to enjoy the gifts God has given me in my life: my husband, my kids, and my grandkid (grandkids to come). Being present, here and now each day with them… I want to soak up every ounce of joy God gives me with them for my next 50 years.

Somewhere in time during my first 30- 40 years.

It’s funny how my first 50 years I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to fix me. I think my next 50 I’ll try to just let it be and leave that to God. A good place to start is just accepting that I’m not perfect, but dearly loved by God, His grace really is Amazing and His forgiveness is Free. My next 50 years I am going to believe that when God calls me “Holy and Dearly Loved by Him” Colossians 3:12. He means it. It’s not just words on a page, and He wants me to know Him, not just work at crossing off another item from a religious “to do” list to make Him happy with me. Maybe a little less religiousness and a lot more relationship with Him my next 50 years.

For my next 50 years I want my theme song to be “This Little Light of Mine”. Instead of trying to figure out how to be God’s bullhorn, I want to shine. My daily interactions with family, friends, and acquaintances would be marked by this. Not some bold in your face intimidation, but a taste of God’s goodness just seeping off of my life. Get close enough and you’ll smell it, see it, taste it and want more of Him. I want to be a reflection of Him in everything I do for my next 50 years.

The more I think about it, the more I believe my next 50 years will be the best 50 of my life. Thanks to all the things I’ve learned the last 50. I guess they call that perspective, another Gift God has given to me. May I really take hold of it these Next 50 years.

The family. My “Opus Magnum” and The joyful gift God’s granted me my first 50 years

Process- One Step at a Time Toward Freedom

“So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭2:25‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭3:7-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There are some things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Things don’t go as you think they would, life takes turns that surprise the most confident and secure of us shaking us to the core. Then there is the constant nagging of an area of struggle. “Paul’s Thorn in the flesh” played out in our everyday life. The one thing that keeps us on our knees holding on to what we can grasp of Jesus when we can’t seem to see what’s up and what’s down.

I imagine the mood of ancient Israel during the time of its enslavement to Egypt was a combination of these emotions. There was this promise given by God to Jacob. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you and I will surely bring you back again” Genesis 46:3-4 And then there was the reality of their daily life trapped, enslaved, beaten, berated, suffering… somehow the two didn’t seem to go together. But God had a plan.

I’ve been living the Christian life most of my life. I grew up in church, Gave my life to God at a young age. I am one of those read my Bible daily, pray often, regular church goers. But I can honestly say that some of the “good” ideas to help others has been some of the most devastating areas of struggle in my life. Sometimes life doesn’t go like you think it will and instead of being a temporary resident of Egypt for a good cause you end up enslaved, beaten down, and suffering in a place that in your mind was not meant to be like that. “What did I do wrong?” May be the thought you play over and over in your mind. When really you didn’t do anything “wrong” at all. It may feel like you were left for a long term stay in Egypt.

The anxiety and depression I have battled in my life feels just like a long term stay in Egypt with a cruel task master on my back. Now that I admit that I struggle, (an act of being defeated as seen by some in the “Faith” world) I can see just how long the nagging taskmasters of “you’re never enough” and “everything is all up to you” have been driving me with their long mental whips. It’s been quite awhile, and much like the Israelites, I have asked God to step in and fix it all time and time again.

This morning I sat in the quiet of the pre dawn hours reading my Bible and praying thinking of my day ahead and my appointment with my counselor to come in a matter of a few hours When I came across the verses above. It hit me. God sees me. God has heard my cries because of the driving of my cruel task masters that try to tule over me and He is concerned. God sees our struggles. It’s not a disappointment or a surprise to Him. But He also has a plan and provision made for bringing us out of them. Sometimes it may be one by one, slowly, and not exactly how we expected. But He will come. He does not fail. Even though I may view my world through the eyes distorted by what the disappointment in Egypt caused, God sees me as I really am, His. His promise is not to be enslaved by the thoughts of my mind, but to step into His “spacious place” where I, with Him am “more than enough” and “cared for greatly” by Him.

And here’s the main kicker, He is going to show me all of this. Every hour, every minute, every second that I look to Him. It took God to step in a miraculously free the Israelites from their land of oppression. God has already stepped in and purchased my freedom through Jesus. I have to learn how to walk as one who is free, one of freedom’s steps at a time. (Sounds like the power of the P word “Process” Baby! 😬)

https://youtu.be/NieC8KA0EvI

Pandemic, Politics, Personal Life… I Trust in God

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7 NIV

Busy day yesterday… I got up and got around then I went and did the one thing I’ve been putting off, a grocery trip to Walmart. The cupboards in the house were bare and I knew the rest of my week would not afford me time to make the dreaded trip so I ignored my aversion to the 20 degree temps outside, the usual Walmart crowd, and grocery shopping in general, and I headed out the door. As I channel surfed my radio on the way to town, I hit a DJ on the local classic rock station as she just hit her monologue. “2020 just plain sucked as a year.” I paused for a second. “There is something to that.” was my first thought. “I don’t think 2020 has been easy for anyone this year. Pandemic, politics, personal life… yep! It’s been hard.”

Shortly after the trip to town my husband and I headed out for a full day in St. Louis to see a heart specialist. Friday is the big day to have a procedure done to fix the AFib he struggles with and it was time to go and talk the whole deal over with the doctor. Just another thing to add to several others on my anxiety/peace balance scale that is currently tipping towards the anxious side. There are several things that I will have to do that I don’t relish on Friday and Saturday. Among them is navigating city traffic and staying at a hotel overnight by myself, COVID restrictions won’t let me stay in the hospital with him… I’ve been putting on my best “stiff upper lip” and talking about how I will be just fine, and I will be. A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do…taking care of my sweetheart is the priority right now.

Psalm 20:7 has been rolling around inside of my heart this morning as I have sat here in the quiet of my house. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It’s easy to trust in all the things we surround ourselves with for our own comfort. Whether it be a good job, nice house, nice car, education, savings account, etc. I think we all are guilty of trusting in our own “chariots and horses” to take care of all we need. I like how the Passion Translation puts this verse, “Some find their strength in their weapons and wisdom, but my miracle deliverance can never be won by men. Our boast is in the Lord our God, who makes us strong and gives us victory!” I think it’s been easy to forget where my strength comes from and my trust should be. That’s probably why this whole crazy year of 2020 comes in to play. It’s funny how I can be so independent until the giants that surround me are so much bigger than I am. Then I become acutely aware that I need God to fight for me. I say just as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:9. “God’s grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness. I will boast in those weaknesses because Christ’s power works through me.”

The pandemic, politics, and my personal life may loom big. God is Bigger!! He won’t leave me in all this. I can trust Him!

Covid Has Come

“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” Job 3:25 NIV

Yesterday we got the news that my husband has tested positive for Covid 19. He’s been sick for 4 days already so it really wasn’t a surprise. Plus my two kids that are still at home have been snotting around here for awhile as well. C’est la Vie! The way things are spreading around the world I figured it was only a matter of time. Everyone’s symptoms are relatively mild and so far all this means is more time with my husband laying around in his recliner and more time with my teenage son staying home. Which I’m sure is driving him crazy. He’s got friends to see and activities to do. Here’s the tea… I have a few mild symptoms, scratchy throat, headache on occasion, but over all I’m feeling pretty good. I’m very thankful for that, but it does play into my anxious tendencies of wondering when the other shoe will fall and I will be sick. Like so many of you out there, I am not a fan of feeling sick… and I’m not a fan of how sick Covid has made some of the people I know from this area. I’m into having all kinds of energy and working on all kinds of projects. So the waiting and wondering can get to me if I let it. So this morning in the quiet glow of all my Christmas lights I’ve been contemplating all this.

The verse in Job that I quoted above came to my mind. Probably because I’ve had this belief in the past that if I am afraid of something it’s going to happen to me, because I am believing for that negative event. It sure looks like that is what happened to Job. He feared losing his kids, his health, his wealth, and “BOOM!” He wakes up smack dab in the middle of doing just that. The problem with this theory is Job is talking about what he feels is his experience, but He’s not aware of all the behind the scenes occurrences that happened in Job chapter 1. The interactions between God and Satan and God allowing the testing that would come upon Job. The afflictions Job had, had nothing to do with his lack of faith, his disobedience, or his fears. They simply came. I’m not sure I totally get the entire book of Job. It seems to go against the rational that God only pours out blessings on His people. But the book of Job gives me hope during the year 2020 and all the weird stuff we’ve seen. At times it seems that God and Satan may have had another discussion about planet earth and God has let Satan do what he wants. Here’s the deal, God has never fell off His throne. After 37 chapters in the book of Job of speculating, contemplating, and saying all sorts of reasons for Job’s suffering, God speaks. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” Job 38:3-4 God then proceeds to talk about all the minute and incredibly large details of life that He is fully aware of everything from the “storehouses of hail” to the moment the “mountain goats give birth”. The whole chapter of Job 39 reminds me of something Jesus said in Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

God has all this: He has the end game for the election results. He has the wild fires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. He has the riots, the persecution of believers, the discord. He has the details of my life, from the birth of my first grandson to the death of my mother in love. His eyes have never left me, and as I maneuver around my house that suddenly feels like a fishbowl of germs that I can’t hide from, He has me.

True Covid has come to my house hold, but God has never left. He’s still in control and He loves me. So I’ll be ok.

Here Comes the Son (November 2017)

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭130:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Last year Andy suckered me into taking him deer hunting on a school morning while his dad was at work. He hadn’t scored a big buck and needed someone who has a Hunters Ed Certificate, which I possess. (Thank you Salem Junior High PE class).
I’m not the deer hunter of the family as you all know, but I bundled up and trekked with him onto the neighboring federal land to the spot recommended by his dad. As we sat there in the dark, the sun began to appear over the horizon. Andy leaned over to me and whispered, “This is the time, when dad and I hunt, that dad quietly sings, “Here comes the sun. Do do do do. Here comes the sun. It’s alright. It’s alright.”” An old Beatles tune makes a memory for a 12 year old kid that I’m sure will stick with him for the rest of his life of him and his dad hunting.
I read the verse above this morning thinking about all the different occasions I’ve awaited the sunrise, trout fishing at Montauk on opening day of trout season, Easter Sunrise Service as a kid at church, watching the sunrise from my deck, etc.
You know it’s coming, it never fails, and when it comes it will be beautiful and usher in the awaited prize you have been waiting on as you sit there patiently awaiting its arrival.
God is as faithful as the sunrise, actually more so. He is worth waiting on. His love never fails and He is full of redemption- setting us free from all that has entangled us and kept us in bondage. It does not matter how dark the night has been. He will come. We can expectantly wait for Him knowing that what He brings as He rises in our lives will be beautiful and oh so good.
So this morning as you may be sitting in the darkness, waiting for a glimmer of hope. Remember, “Here comes the Son. Do do do do. Here as comes the Son. It’s alright. It’s alright.”
Keep watching. He will never fail!

SHINE!!!

The news today… you would have to be hiding under a gigantic rock to not see what is going on. I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not so out with it, I have been a avid Trump supporter this past election cycle. I’ll admit that four years ago he would not have been my cup of tea, but these past four years he has proven himself, presidentially, over and over.

I have found the censorship on major social media platforms maddening, the left wing agenda driven news media scary, and myself, little ole me, insufficient to really do anything of substance to change any of it. Really at times it can be scary. BUT GOD!!

It just so happens that my husband and I have been reading 2 Kings in the Bible on our YouVersion Bible App Plan (if you don’t have it get it!!!) 2 Kings is a history of the Kings of Israel and Judah as they were a split Kingdom. So you guessed it, division, good kings and then bad kings, actually really horrible kings, are accounted for. Times of peace and prosperity, times of oppression, and horrific injustices, blatant evil are all recounted in that book. In light of our current events in America and around the world, some of the accounts can seem eerily familiar. Which is something my husband and I have been discussing on the regular lately. We’ve almost got to the point, in the Bible, where God’s chosen people have chosen evil over God so much that they end up in exile. Oppressed by foreign rulers and taken away to a foreign land. Through a series of events and several hundred years they end up in the time when Jesus appears on the scene as a baby.

This scene has been playing in my mind a lot this morning. In particular a verse written by the prophet Isaiah centuries before that is about Jesus has been resounding in my heart.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬
https://www.bible.com/111/isa.9.2.niv

Jesus came to the world in a time of great darkness of hearts. Brutality, oppression, injustice, inequality, dishonesty, etc abounded by those ruling a majority of their world, the Romans. Sadly the religious institutions weren’t too far behind them on their abuses as well. But into that scene Jesus appeared. That light broke through and began a revolution that has changed the world and will continue to do so until God’s Kingdom is fully realized. “Your kingdom come, Your Will be done”.

I have no idea where this will go. I have no idea how all this will affect my life, but I also know that the light of Jesus has not been snuffed out by all these events. It cannot be. It goes forward and it fills the earth with God’s glory!

So what does all this mean for little ol me, Midwestern, middle class, mid aged woman in the Middle of the USA? SHINE!!! That light that burst on the scene is still shining and it burns brightly through every Jesus lover on the planet. This is not the time to cower in fear of all the what if’s of the future. This is the time to display the love, the joy, and the peace that won my heart so many years ago. In the end whether Trump is able to prove the allegations of fraud true and the results of the election are turned around or Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the reigns of our country. I am not to fear. God has always had a plan. I must trust it, and I must do what I was created to do by Him all along. SHINE!!

Thorns in My Flesh: Foot Pain and Anxiety

“Foot pain Sucks!” There I said it. As a person who has suffered with foot issues and pain all my life, it kind of feels relieving just letting that out. My earliest memories of heading to the big city from my very small rural hometown was for the very purpose of visiting a foot specialist. My parents saw my need and did their best to provide the best they could for their flat footed child. Which meant orthopedic shoes. They were kind of special when you are 7 or 8, but by the time I hit my teen years I was fairly certain I would rather hurt than wear anything so ugly, bring on the Nikes and Adidas! But as time went on and the pain increased, my willingness to see pediatrist or orthopedic surgeons that specialize in feet increased. It gets old trying to decide if you would rather stay seated or stand on up and work on through the pain. So began my love for Birkenstock anything, Feet Fleet Shoe stores, orthopedic shoe inserts, ankle stretches, an overnight foot splint to help with plantar fasciitis (takes a little getting used to), etc. It’s amazing the lengths I go to so I don’t have to slow down, sit down, and live with a ton of pain… All this being said, The battle against foot pain still goes on and due to pain in both of my feet, I’ve got an appointment with a specialist this week to see if there are any other tricks up his sleeve that can help…

Being a person of faith, and one who believes that God does answer prayers, and that He still heals today, I’ve brought this issue up to God more than once. I’ve asked for the elders of the church to lay hands on me, anoint me with oil, and pray for me more than once as the Bible talks about in James 5:14. I know God can heal my feet, but for now I tend to view them as Paul did his affliction he mentions as his “Thorn in His Flesh”. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul asked for God to take it away from him three times and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” and there is no record of Paul’s thorn ever being removed.

This all came to mind this morning as I have contemplated another couple of “Thorns in my flesh” That seem to stick around, Anxiety and depression. Once again I have found myself going to great lengths to try to keep up with my “self care” regimen of exercise, eating right, prayer, meditation, medication, rest, fresh air, daily confessions of who I am in Christ, etc. Plus the appointments with a counselor… It’s uncanny the parallel between my foot pain and my struggle with anxiety and depression. Probably the thing that sticks out the most is to what lengths I would go to get some relief for both of them. Because whether it’s pain in every step you take or pain in a majority of the thoughts you think, both are uncomfortable and therefore worth being treated the best way you can, self care, spiritually, and with help from the professionals. And just as I have taken my physical foot pain to God and asked for healing, I have done the same with my mind, but I believe part of the reason my struggle has not been totally relieved isn’t because I am doing something wrong. It’s more a matter of God helping me to get a perspective I never had before.

My youngest son has some of the same issues with his feet that I have, sorry son… If he complains of his feet aching, I automatically empathize with him deeply. I’ve been there, as a matter of fact, I’m there now… I can also say that my accepting where I am in my struggles with anxiety and depression, has given me compassion for those who struggle in their mind. I can tell you what little I know that works the best for me to get relief and I can point you to the One who ultimately makes sense out of all the ins and outs of life- Jesus. I know that looking back through the years and seeing the path I’ve walked that His presence and His help is what has made the difference for me, and although I haven’t seen Him come in and zap my mind into always thinking happy thoughts, I have found Him more than enough when I was unable to see straight or find the will to keep getting up and keep going on. In fact, it is in my growing in knowing Him more that I can take the time to stop and appreciate the little things like the changing leaves, my grandson’s smile, laughter with my kids, or the embrace of my husband. All of these are gifts He has given me to show me that it is true, “God’s grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness.” Whether the weakness be the aching of my feet or the struggles in my head, I can confidently say, “God and His grace is enough for me.” and “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13. Because the Evidence of God’s goodness is there, even in our struggles. It’s whether or not we chose to open our eyes to see it.

Orphan No More

Back in the early 90’s the world became aware of the Romanian orphan crisis. I remember, as a college student, surfing channels late at night on my parents TV and stumbling across a news report about it. In 1989 communism fell. Things hidden in the darkness came to light as the world watched news reports of hundreds of abandoned children left in orphanages that were poorly staffed. The bare minimum was done to keep these babies and children alive. I was captured by images of one year old infants in institutionalized baby beds rocking themselves back and forth. There was no one to hold them, no one to comfort them, no one to sing to them, tell them stories, or even call them by name. They had adapted to such cruel circumstances by soothing themselves the only way they knew how. Rocking back and forth with a blank stare on their face.

This morning as I spent my quiet time with Jesus, the image of these children came to my mind. So I open my YouTube app and did a quick search of the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. The first link that caught my eye was a short BBC report of a young man who survived the Romanian orphanage. He was adopted at the age of 11 by an American couple from California. What struck me about his interview was a quote that he said, “I could not adapt to a family environment. My mind was just so used to living in an institution. I was desperate to go back to Romania…” Institution, abuse, neglect… that was all he had ever known. A loving family with his needs being met was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. He talked about how easy it is to spot those who had survived the orphanages. “When you see a grown adult, sitting or standing rocking back and forth or doing something only an institutionalized person would do, you can instantly recognize that person grew up in an orphanage.” The final phrase that stuck with me, “I miss the orphanage. It was my home.” The young man in the report went back to Romania to visit his birth family and he had found that his mother wasn’t able to be the mom he was looking for and he went back to the United States.

Everyone has a past. Everyone has things they wished had never happened or that they had never done. We all are very much like the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. Due to the condition of our hearts, before Jesus, we have become used to the methods to self soothe that we developed through the years (addictions and coping mechanisms), and unfortunately we have let the conditions we came out of become our home, where we feel we belong, deep inside of our hearts. The labels we were given, engrained in us, are what we believe we are. So much so that we find ourselves searching back in where we came from trying to find the missing piece instead of embracing the “New” that Jesus died to give us.

I’ve spent the last week reflecting about my own identity, who I am. It’s not an easy task. Because just as that Romanian man looks at himself as an orphan, at times I tend to view myself as a spiritual orphan, left to my own devices. God speaks to me in His word about how I am to renew my mind, my thoughts, by thinking about the truth of the Word. I am not what I’ve felt like I was. I am who He, God, says I am. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people…God’s special possession…” or as the Passion Translation puts it “But you are God’s chosen treasure…” When God came to my Spiritual orphanage and found me in deplorable conditions, rocking back and forth trying to feel some kind of comfort for my broken and lost soul, God picked me. He took me out, He cleaned me up and put medicine on my wounds, changed my filthy, sin stained, rags out with His beautiful, righteous garments, and in that very moment Zephaniah 3:17 says the One who Delights in me, God, my Heavenly Father “sings” over me, His chosen treasure. God sings…

It is at this point, the truth of us being His treasure, that you and I have to make a choice. Will we accept the gift we have been given, new life, new identity in Christ, or will we wander about unable to take it all in because we cannot shake the image of ourselves that we have seen for so long? Only to find that what we thought was our “home”, our lives without Jesus, was nothing more than a cold and lonely place far from where God, the one who loves us, wants us to be, with Him, held closely by Him.

The Banquet Invitation

Way back in the 90’s my oldest brother was an officer in the US Navy. I was a young college student. One of my spring breaks I was able to manage a trip to Jacksonville, Florida where he was stationed. The goal was to get to fulfill a lifelong dream of going to Disney World. I also got a once in a lifetime experience. I toured the ship he was assigned to and got to eat dinner in the officers quarters. I felt like I had arrived. The atmosphere of the officers dining room was quite the experience: Formal wait staff, golden utensils, fancy dining room furniture, etc. It definitely impressed this small town, middle class, midwestern girl. It felt pretty good to have connections with a Naval Officer.

I have been thinking about that trip this afternoon as I have contemplated Luke 14. The setting of this passage is a dinner that Jesus attended at an prominent Pharisee’s(Jewish religious leader) house. I imagine there were several in attendance that felt pretty lucky to have scored a seat at the table with a “miracle man prophet” and a man of high position in the Prominent Religious Party of the day. It was enough to stir thoughts in one of the guests who had to comment to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God”. He probably got the picture of how neat it was to be there at that meal, and how in comparison sitting in the very presence of God at His Kingly table would be.

Jesus took that opportunity to teach a little lesson. In typical Jesus’s style, He told them a parable.

In His parable a man was preparing a great banquet. He was arranging the venue, planning the menu, and getting a list of his guest. He had put a lot into it and when he expected his guests to reply with the anticipated RSVP’s, he got turned down. Replies like, “I’m too busy. Just got married…”. “Just bought a set of five yoke of oxen for me to try out.” (Today’s equivalent of a new John Deere Tractor with all the accessories.). Or “I’ve just bought a field. Gotta settle down and enjoy it.” It was enough to shock the generous host with such snubs.

What happens next surpasses the out of place dining of a small town, midwestern, college girl’s dining in the Officers Quarters of a US Naval ship. The host told his servants to go out and compel the poor, the blind, the crippled, and the lame to come to the meal. When the banquet hall wasn’t full he told them to go to the country roads and lanes to find more guests for his banquet. The honored guests for the distinguished host would be the very people who during the time of Jesus were the lowest of the social echelon.

So why all the fuss over banquets, dining and rsvp’s in Jesus’s parable? This is a reflection of who it is that Jesus calls to be a part of His Kingdom feast now, the very ones He invites to become His disciples. There are those He invites that let their relationships, their possessions, their season in life to keep them from valuing the opportunity of a life time, sitting at a table as a guest of Jesus’s meal. There are those who never would expect to be invited because of who they are and what they have become. He compels the poor with nothing to offer, those crippled by their anxieties, pain, and past. He compels the blind who strain to see past the darkness that envelopes them, and the lame who are unable to stand on their own. Those far away in the places that would never expect an invite. Those are the ones He invites to come. Simply because He wants His house to be full.

I’ve heard many people talk about how they are not worthy of following God and sitting down with Him at the feast of the Kingdom. No One Is! This is the beauty of the invitation. Just as I sat in the US Navy’s Officer’s Dining hall having never worn a uniform or fulfilled any qualifications of an officer. Simply because my Big Brother was qualified to be there, we are invited to sit at the most important event of eternity God the Father’s banquet because our Big Brother, Jesus is qualified to be there and He has compelled us to come and dine. Ours is simply to respond to the RSVP.