Moments In The Story

Taking time to appreciate the journey….


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From One Ragamuffin to Another

The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning…… I’ve read it twice, each time taking a ridiculous amount of time. The words filling each page are so well crafted and piercing. They are the words of a man that had a connection with God that I can only imagine, but long for.  I guess that’s why I have to take the time to patiently study his writing in order to really grasp it. But perhaps reading the Ragamuffin Gospel  took me so long because I underlined almost every sentence.

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After hearing about Brennan Manning’s death, I pulled out my worn out Ragamuffin Gospel book just to reflect once again on how much the truths in his book have spoken to me. I came to the page shown above and studied it for a while. I thought back to when this book meant so much to me. I can remember where I was while reading it, and what was going through my mind during that season of life. It’s one of my treasured books that I would never give away to Goodwill…and I’ve kept it in a certain spot so I would remember to read it a third time. Perhaps that time is now, because as much as I would like to say I understand authentic grace, the reality is I still struggle. I have trouble accepting it and I have trouble giving it. As I went over my underlined passages again, I realized that most of them are about learning to embrace His grace and love…a familiar feeling today.

Brennan said we should start here: “Jesus’ tenderness is not in any way determined by how we pray or what we are or do. In order to free us for compassion toward others, Jesus calls us to accept His compassion in our own lives, to become gentle, caring, compassionate, and forgiving toward ourselves in our failure and need.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

It starts with our acceptance, but it must also be given away. That’s the gift of grace.

“Gentleness toward ourselves constitutes the core of our gentleness with others. When the compassion of Christ is interiorized and appropriated to self, the breakthrough into a compassionate stance toward others occurs. In a Catch-22 situation, the way of gentleness brings healing to ourselves and gentleness toward ourselves brings healing to others.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

Recently I was humbled and brought to tears as I thought of a difficult forgiveness journey. I thought of the words I have heard so many times when people discuss forgiveness: “We need to forgive for us so that we do not carry a burden and become bitter”. What about forgiving for them? What if our efforts were spent offering the same gifts we ourselves have received in an effort for someone else to see God…and see themselves as loved and accepted by Him. What if it was about them and not us?

“The gentleness of Jesus with sinners flowed from His ability to read their hearts. Behind people’s grumpiest poses and most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their arrogance and airs, behind their silence, sneers, and causes, Jesus saw little children who hadn’t been loved enough and who had ceased growing because someone had ceased believing in them”.  (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

May I believe in them.

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Starting with Sincerity

“Mama, I just want to play with you”. Believe me – I hear that statement about 15 times a day. And the other day, in particular was a rough day. You know…the kind when both kids are taking turns crying, or crying at the same time all….day….long. And like most days lately, I thought I had broken my record for the amount of times I’d said “no” in one day.  And while I was trying to find yet another thing he could play with so I could take my 5-minute “wash only the important parts” shower, he stopped me in my tracks.

“Mama, I just want to play with you”.

There was a soft tone, his eyes meeting mine, and I really saw him. I didn’t see the “whiney” child who will not obey, or the older brother who knows not to take things away from his younger brother…I saw his sincere need. I prolonged my shower again and sat down to play with my son for a few minutes, but with a calm demeanor and a genuine desire. Just a few positive moments with his mama was all he needed. And I needed it even more. His sincerity brought a unique restoration that our relationship was in need of.

Twice in the past few weeks I have sat across the table at coffee shops from someone I dearly loved as we approached a delicate conversation. In each situation both of us listened and received what the other person had to say. And each of us felt heard. We processed, rather than blamed. We saw it as an opportunity to grow as individuals. And we put the person above the issue. Each situation was different, but one thing was the same – we each chose sincerity.

Now doesn’t that sound nice and simple? Well I can’t tell you how much frustration, hurt and confusion I had to work through prior to these meetings. In one case, I was feeling hurt and helpless…and I was getting ready to formulate my position on paper so I wouldn’t forget my points. I was going to do that right after I whizzed through my Bible reading for that day. As I was skimming through my reading, I saw the phrase “draw near to God with a sincere heart”. I stopped and immediately softened. I talked to God about it and I told Him how I really felt. I sensed His mercy and love for the situation. And I stopped planning and kept praying for His help in communicating and listening through a heart of sincerity.

Many times we approach conflicts or miscommunications as a battle to be fought. But I believe that our deepest longing underneath it all is to be understood. It’s scary to ask that of someone who has hurt us or is angry at us. I’ve heard people say, “well I’m just keeping it real”. What they are really doing is spewing – but without transparency, and with an agenda. Or there’s the person that postures as if they are listening, but uses deflection, blame-shifting, or “spiritual” reasoning to avoid owning their part of the problem.

I don’t think we even care about receiving an apology as much as we long for sincerity. It disarms us. It takes the angry breath out of our chest. It brings tears to our eyes. Even love without sincerity means nothing. But our words, spoken through the lens of sincerity can love others well beyond even well-meaning, truthful words. When someone communicates with me through sincerity, their words are received in my heart. And when I choose a path of sincerity, I end up speaking truth, being transparent, and avoiding the tendency to manipulate.

Our lives are busy and our days are full. We don’t always have the time to think through how to respond to every encounter we will have that day. We also don’t have the wisdom on our own to navigate through every difficult, even long-term problem with someone. But there is one thing we can do…we can start with sincerity….and see where it leads. Even if the person does not receive our sincerity, we will have a peace because we have been honest in a loving way. And we will not have regrets. Sincerity is the only “real” way to be. It may not lead to complete resolution, but it will lead to restoration – even if that is only for our own heart.

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…….and let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10)


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Settling For More

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I’ve been a Christian since childhood….but my friendship with Jesus actually began a few years ago. That is really another story, but as I write that statement, I am faced with the reality that I still long for more. No matter how much I learn, how much more of my heart I give Him – I still never obtain “it” – that elusive fulfillment we claim we can have. I have heard the following types of statements in various Christian settings my whole life: “God will meet all your needs”; “When God closes a door, He opens a window”; “Your identity has to be in God alone”; “How could God allow this to happen”? All of these statements reflect a belief in some Christian communities that when we have a right relationship with God, our lives will be perfect and we will be completely satisfied in Him.

Well after a lifetime of doing, planning and striving to be close to Him, maybe I’m alone here…but I still don’t feel satisfied. I still question whether I’m in His will or not. I still think I “hear” Him, and step out only to find a closed door. And I still want more.

A year ago I started the process of going back to school for a master’s degree in counseling. I wanted to do it really bad, but after facing the reality of the commitment, I had no choice but to put it on hold. With two small children, it was just not feasible. I was a little disappointed, but felt like it could still happen down the road. A few months later I felt stirred to pursue a ministry activity that I’ve been passionate about for years. I was excited, thinking this is what God had…and that’s why the counseling path didn’t work out. I spent weeks working on the “plan”, but circumstance after circumstance proved the timing was off.

One afternoon, around that time, I took my boys to the park and put them side-by-side in swings. As I pushed them, I was teary and almost allowing myself to be disheartened. I started asking God why…and how I had missed Him. I started feeling insecure and purposeless. Then….and no joke…I sensed a voice inside me saying, “swing them”. It’s a moment I could have easily missed as I was going through the motion of pushing the swings. I paused to delight in my 11-month-old’s fluffy, red baby hair blowing around in the wind. He smiled big, showing all eight of his teeth. And I smiled. My older son started laughing in the other swing as I tickled his legs from behind. I found myself truly engaging with my kids and treasuring this typical park outing. A man and his wife had walked by a few times. Finally they stopped – “Enjoy it”, he said. “We’ve been talking about how we pushed our boys in the swing like you are, and now they are teenagers!”

That experience has stayed with me. I was still disappointed for a few weeks. But although God said “no” to my plan – instead of a slammed door, I was faced with the intentional nature of His love for me (much more than an open window). His love allowed me to spend my energy embracing the moment before me instead of anxiously trying to figure out what “His will” for my future was. His love gave me a memory I could have altogether missed. Now my red-head is running around and saying words – not the baby he was at the park just two months ago.

I still talk to God about the longings I have, and I acknowledge that they are grounded in who He created me to be. At this moment I choose to have hope that what He put in me will be carried “to completion”…as His Word says….and in a way that will blow my socks off. My prayer lately has been, “God help me to want what You want for me”. And in that place I find a quiet trust and a quiet hope. His love compels us not to have regrets later because we missed what was important now. But our continual longing and our inability to be satisfied is also a gift. It points us to Him, with the invitation to receive more than we can ever ask or imagine. I’d rather settle for more than less.

Ephesians 3:17-21
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

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Driving with God in My Little Red Sports Car

It’s kind of ironic to think about the role of perfection in how we view the world and each other. I have spent most of my Christian journey focusing on my weaknesses, my sin, and my striving to be a good person (notice how many references to me were just in that one sentence – “I”, “my”). I’m not saying that all Christians do this, but for some reason the way I’m wired is to seek perfection. Even if I never achieve it, the fact that I’m seeking it somehow makes me feel better (a lot of “I’ms – goodness!).

So where has God been in this equation? “Well”, says most-of-Christian-life Kristin, “He helps me”. Oh…so he helps you be perfect, you ask? Good question. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that awhile back I saw John 10:10 in which Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life and have it to the full”. Deuteronomy 30:19-20 says, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life”.

I think this means that when I choose God, I choose life. He wants me to live life to the fullest, and He wants to do it with me. Umm…laugh at the things I find funny? Sit and watch that movie with me instead of watching me journal memory verses?

It’s interesting how as Christians we can be about earning our way into relationship with Him. We are uneasy about the vacuum between our efforts and His acceptance. We don’t believe He could really want us to be happy, to enjoy our lives, to relax. We fill our lives with duty and the Christian walk becomes all about what “I” do, rather than what “He” has done, can do, and will do with my little ole day changing poopy diapers.  What if all that agony over trying to figure out what He wants me to do for Him is not Him at all? What if the silence is His way of telling me I’m trying to do religion, and involve Him in something that’s not what He is about.

I’m not trying to down-play the importance of reading His Word, trying to get to know Him, and involving Him (um, finally some “Him” words). But to journey with Him means to drive on the road of life in the same car with Him. And He has to help me want to…I can sing for 3 hours, pray for 4, journal for 10…but if it’s about me earning something to feel more perfected, it’s just a waste. I’d rather have 10 minutes in the car with my rowdy boys yelling in the back… but my heart really talking with Him, like you would with a friend over coffee.

May you experience Him, laugh with Him, and drive with Him!

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, November 2012.


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Comparison: the robber of growth

I’m on a mission: to surround myself with people that make me grow. In the past I avoided this at all costs. Why now you may ask? Well, I’m not sure why it took me getting into my mid-thirties to grasp this, but I’ve begun to see people differently. Not as a competition to step up against, not as a crutch to lean on, not as a “ministry” or project that I can get some self-worth from. Ouch, it’s kind of hard to admit that I’ve held people in this regard too often in the past. And mind you, I’m not talking as one who has completely overcome this area in my life, but rather as one who is seeking to overcome it. I’m tired of it, almost a bit angry about it. How much of my time and energy has been spent orchestrating my relationships to make me feel better? How much effort has gone into evaluating, criticizing and being offended by others? Too much precious time. I have been robbed of years that could have been spent growing.

I believe God brings people in our lives who challenge us. Can’t you think of that “type” of person that drives you crazy? That makes you mad? The “type” you are always trying to squirm away from somehow – whether it is a co-worker, family member, fellow church-goer, or friend? Who makes you uncomfortable? Do you know why?

For me I have lost myself in a sea of comparison for years. It cost me so much happiness, and honestly it kept me in the same place. My striving to be better than others was to try and prove myself to myself. I thought it was a way to be better as a person in my career, as a mother, as a friend. But it was never enough! Embracing the situations and people that made me squirm would have been the pathway to becoming a more stable, solid, awesome person.

I’ve been trying an experiment for about a year now: when I come across someone I’m tempted to compete with, I stop and ask myself why. I choose to look at their strengths, and then I realize they have something I desire because they are stronger in an area than I am. At that point I can either choose to disengage or I can choose to partner with them. I can let their strengths be…I can even tell them about all the great things I see in them. I can ask them questions, try to learn from them. I can grow in an area I’m (shhhh) weak in. I can make a friend rather than an opponent. “We” can now be better together. Perhaps this could spread and more people could be a part of this. Maybe we become a great team. Maybe we can do some great things…together.

I’m convinced comparison is one of the enemy’s secret tools to keep us from freedom in Jesus. Think about how much it distracts us from growing in our own character and calling in life. Think about how much it hurts the people we come across. It creates more for us to be offended about, hurts those dear to us, and keeps everyone involved from truly living out their strengths.

Help me….help you! (silly Jerry Maguire quote) I want to stop hurting others through comparison, and I want to stop being hurt too. But the only way this will change is if one person at a time chooses to engage, and call out the strengths of someone that makes them squirm.

Will you try with me? What successes have you experienced in opening up your life to people that make you squirm?

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, August 2012.