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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Settling For More

T swinging

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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Only God Can Clean My Coffee Mug

Two years ago I went to a great conference. There were a few speakers and each one seemed to thread the theme of humility into their talks – in different ways. After a bit of stammering, I surrendered my thoughts a bit and started to realize that in some areas of my life I lacked humility and teach-ability. I also recognized that I had gone to such great lengths to avoid accepting this truth because it was not an easy thing to discover about myself. Then I had a picture in my head of being like the Pharisees who Jesus referred to as “cleaning the outside of the cup” but paying no attention to the inside. Just when I was about to try and come up with some happy thoughts I instead found myself asking God to help me understand it better. Then John Maxwell spoke and shared a story that really touched me.

Many know of him as a world-renown expert, writer and speaker on leadership. He is also a teaching pastor at a large church. He described a time (in recent years) when he made a leadership decision that was challenged by several people in his congregation. As he was preparing his sermon one week, he decided he needed to give a message to them about humility. His intent was to convict them and show them he was right. After all, he was an expert on leadership. As he reviewed the sermon over and over he felt more and more justified in his position and he was excited to give the sermon. He even decided to practice on his wife and show her the great words he had created. His wife listened, and when he was done she asked if he really felt that was the kind of message he should give to his congregation. After taking some time to pray, John felt God was saying that the sermon was meant for him…not for his congregation. He re-read his words a few times and the truth began to set in. He read it as a message God was giving him and was overcome with humility. He realized he was wrong in not taking the time to listen to people, and he realized he had pride in his heart. He decided to give the sermon to his congregation that Sunday, but he told them the message was for him. Afterward he cried and asked for their forgiveness, and asked them to pray for him.

John also pointed out that as a leader he had to wrestle with the question: can I lead myself? While we are not all “leaders”, I think we all have to wrestle with a similar question: are willing to do what we expect of others? – as parents, workers, spouses, family members, friends…oh, so I guess pretty much every one of us has someone in our lives we influence.

Recently I’ve been reading small chunks at a time of A.W. Tozer’s “The Root of the Righteous”. That guy didn’t sugar-coat anything – phew! But I’ve been challenged by the premise of his book, which (using the analogy of a fruit-bearing tree) describes the danger in only seeking the outcome others have achieved (the fruit in their lives) without learning from the character-building struggles they chose to endure (developing roots). Here is a quote: “Today we write the biographies of such as these and celebrate their fruit, but the tendency is to ignore the root out of which the fruit sprang. Our fathers looked well to the root of the tree and were willing to wait with patience for the fruit to appear. We demand the fruit immediately even though the root may be weak and knobby or missing altogether. Impatient Christians today explain away the simple beliefs of the saints of other days and smile off their serious-minded approach to God and sacred things.”

This is hard-hitting stuff, but I guess it’s not supposed to be easy when you look at it this way. In my zeal to develop more character in my life – woo hoo – it didn’t take long to feel discouraged. How do you change a lifetime of self-centeredness? Well you don’t. It’s only in seeking a relationship with Him – developing roots – that you even start to have a consistent desire. Only He can even give you the “want to” to change. Then it’s one step, one choice at a time. Sometimes it means failure. But you shove that root back into the ground…and you do what it takes to keep it there. You wrestle with God about it. You do what it takes. Instead of picking up the bag of oreos (and who would EVER eat a whole bag at one time??), the drink, or turning to whatever else is your escape….you decide to do business with God. Of course it’s not easy. It means doing it over and over. It means choosing something different than what you have chosen before…and all for fruit that make take years to see.

But what do I really want? And will I waste more years posturing and cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is filled with nasty coffee stains? No! I root myself in Him and the inside becomes like a new stainless steel mug all on its own.

Jeremiah 17:8: They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, October 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.