Sunday, March 27, 2011

Those 3 little words

It's as if we grow up knowing that the three most powerful, most beautiful, most expressive words are "I love you." When I was younger, I stumbled across my mom's journal from her junior year of college. The ONLY entry in the entire thing was, "Last night, Brian said those three words that every girl longs to hear..." I didn't have to ask, "What were those words, Mom?" However, in this post I would like to posit that the three most powerful and significant words that we each long to hear, but rarely do - and offer too infrequently, are the words, "You are forgiven."

How many of us grew up fighting with our siblings? When push finally came to shove and one of us started crying, we immediately had to say, "I'm sorry." Most of the time, we said it reluctantly and without any feeling of sorrow.  At certain times, our mothers would make us accept the apology. Sometimes, she even made us say, "I forgive you."  Our heart wasn't there, usually.  It's like we learned to begrudgingly offer forgiveness.

Here's the reason why I say the words "You are forgiven" are more powerful than, "I forgive you."  "I forgive you" positions us in the seat of power.  We may offer these words as the injured party to the party that did the injuring...but we don't let go very easily. Stating, "You are forgiven," actually reminds us that this person has been extended the same divine mercy and grace from Jesus Christ that we have.  It places me on the same level of this person, which is proper.  It reinstates both of us to where we both belong. It's said that at the foot of the cross, there is level ground. The act of reconcialiation voiced in the words, "You are forgiven," places the giver and receiver there.

Today, I witnessed an event where reconciliation was needed. A misplaced scooter fell over and broke a garage door. A blame-game ensued. The boy did what he was supposed to; he put the scooter away - just not where it was supposed to go. It happened to fall over. However, the brunt of the blame was placed on him.  He bore the burden of knowing he'd upset his dad and wanted to place the blame anywhere else but on him - but he couldn't.

Last week, I over-reacted in various "discussions" with my parents.  It was definitely the weekend of "doing what I don't want to do and not doing that which I want to do" OR more aptly put, "behaving the way I don't want to, and not behaving the way I want to." I apologized - multiple times - and just wanted to know that the love had been restored, even though I acted ridiculously.  My little friend in the above story is the same way.  He just wants to know that the love is still there even though his mistake may cost his family hundreds of dollars.

Isn't this a position that we all find ourself in, at some point in life?  Haven't we all screwed up, behaved in a way that we know is immature and not at all how we know we should act?  Everyday we trespass against another - knowingly or unknowingly.  AND everyday, somebody else trespasses against us.  We want to hold it against those who wrong us because we desparately want to be right.  We even try to convince God that it wasn't our fault so that we are in the right.  We come by it naturally enough.  In the creation story, we learn all about how to play the blame game.  When God questions Adam, he's not just blaming Eve.  He's really blaming God: "the woman that You put me here with gave me something to eat."  He's really saying, "You know, if You hadn't created her, I wouldn't have disobeyed. This really has nothing to do with me. It's really your fault."

Playing the blame game is something we can do all too well.  Just because we're good at it does not mean that it's good for us to engage in it.  Do we really feel better when we place our hurts and frustrations on another person?  How do we feel when it becomes us; when we bear the brunt of the another's trespasses?  It doesn't solve anything.  It just begins a cycle of blame & guilt & desparately trying to be in the right, while wronging another.

That's what is so remarkable the Cross.  It's the great cycle-stopper.  On the cross, we're told that Jesus absorbed all of that wrongdoing. All of the ways that we have hurt another, He took that - and nailed it to the cross - where it died.  All of the ways that others have hurt us, He took that, too - and they were nailed to the cross - and they died.  Additionally, all of the ways that we wronged God by blaming Him for our lot in life, for what we, ourselves, did - He took that, too - and they died.  That death erased the scoreboard against us - and 'for' us (the one that makes us more right than another). It made us equal. REALLY - all equally forgiven.  All given the equal chance to have new life - by receiving mercy instead of punishment - and grace instead of banishment. 

How often do you remind another that they are forgiven?  Let's try it. When someone apologizes to us, instead of just saying, "I forgive you," let's also add, "You are forgiven."  Let's restore them to their position of love and trust in our lives.  Mistakes happen; wronging another happens - let's let people know that we give grace - unmerited favor - because we've been given it, too.

(I'm not advocating being a doormat or allowing behavior that harms you - just petitioning for us to be more quick to remember we are forgiven.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Light from Light

My title comes from a line in the Nicene Creed describing the divine nature of Jesus: Light from Light, True God from True God; begotten not made, one in being with the Father. (I could have some of those phrases mixed up; I am, after all, a newly minted Catholic.) My subject matter is "signs from God." 

At times in my life when I have been hard-pressed, downcast in spirit, crushed, I have looked to God for some sign of encouragement: to know (and be reassured) that this is truly just a moment in time; that "this, too, shall pass."  That this season I am walking through is really just a season, not what will be until the end of time.  Many times, He has answered me with light - brilliant displays of the sun breaking through and illuminating creation.

How like Him! What an allegory of Himself! Jesus is the Light of the World. The Son who broke into our world, broke the chains and burdens of sin and darkness that have enslaved us, and by living in us, illuminates our lives! This is the transfiguration that James, John and Peter witnessed.

[I have just taken a divine tangent. Now, I'd like to get back to what I originally intended to write.]

When I was young, my mom told me that when the sun would break through the clouds, she thought of it as God smiling down upon us.

That has stuck with me. Whenever I am feeling low, I look to the sky; to the heavens from where my Help comes.

About two and half years ago, after a relationship had ended (or so I thought), I spent an afternoon driving through the rain dropping students off at their schools. On my return trip, I just spent time crying (literally) out to God - wondering when things would finally work out - and asking specifically for some encouragement. As I drove into Ames, the sky immediately turned from gray and rainy to brightly illuminated by the sun. It was early October, and the trees glistened. The world was shining and golden.  I knew in my heart that God was faithful; that He had this; that the time would come - sooner that I thought and in such a way that I would surprise me with its goodness.

Last year, after Dan and I had just visited my grandpa in the nursing home, we were driving back to Ames. It was early on a Sunday morning, just four days before Grandpa passed from this life. My grief was so strong. That morning, I have never witnessed the Iowa landscape lit up the way it was. The sky was this amazing aqua-blue and the fields of northeast Iowa were a magnificent green. There were low clouds in the sky illuminated by the early sun. It was breath-taking. I was in awe. As I drank it all in and thought how my grandpa would LOVE to see a morning like this, knowing that he couldn't in the nursing home, the truth hit me that even a morning as breath-taking as this doesn't even begin to compare to Heaven. The beauty and light that we see here is nothing compared to the glory that awaits.

Today, while I praying and unloading my burdens, which feel particularly heavy this week, God just broke through. The ray of light that came streaming into my window was piercing it was so bright. I just had to stop and praise Him for who He is. I thought that this ray of piercing light was a way to say, "Hey Jessica; it's all right. I'm going to make sure you get that job you just applied for." I was all psyched to write this blog about how that ray of light you might have witnessed was for me because God is good & got me this interview or I made crazy headway on my work or - whatever.

I got the rejection email this morning about the job. It hurt, a lot, actually. I still have a crap-ton of work to do to graduate. It's overwhelming, to be sure. Maybe the Light's message today is, "See? Even when the clouds are thick and pressing in on you, I can pierce it. Keep looking to me. I am the Light. I will guide you. You will not be pressed too the point of crushing; I will keep you. I will provide. Keep the faith, dear one. Keep the faith."

In the words of St. Paul, "We are pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; perplexed, but not despairing; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:9) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)"

Amen. Let it be so.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A lesson learned - 15 years later

This is my official shout-out to my high school science teacher, Mr. Merlin Brown.  As a class, we rarely appreciated what he taught us, but now fifteen years later, I am finally recognizing the value of one of his assignments.

In ninth grade Physical Science, we each had to come up with a science fair project and write an actual research paper about it. We'd competed in science fairs since 6th grade - and I'd done pretty well, but we never had to write an official research paper. We just reported what we thought would happen and what did happen. Now, we had to choose a research topic, develop our science fair research question, test it and then write about it. It was hard!

I could now go into detail about my project and how it was the first year I didn't go onto to regional or state; I won't. That's not what this blog is about.

As part of this research paper, we had to make notecards for all the research articles that we read. Then, we were supposed to arrange said notecards into the sections of our report. Sounds smart & logical, right? Well, as 15-year-old procrastinator who wrote her reports the night before (and still got an A), it sounded like work.  A lot of unnecessary work, at that; did Mr. Brown not realize that I had a life? Things to do and people to see - and all that jazz?

Now, fifteen years later as the literary review portion of my thesis-like creative component is staring me in the face, I thought to myself on Saturday, "You know what would make this easy? Note cards!" I have read articles, highlighted them, thought about them - but the information and thoughts kind of evaporated when I didn't think about them for a few days. You know what would "save" that information and keep it in a handy location? Note cards!

So, you know what I'm doing in all of my spare time this week? Writing note cards! (and this blog, apparently) Perhaps the lit review won't seem as daunting now.  When it's all said and done, I'll have Mr. Brown to thank.