Column: Growing up with Jesus
I hate this about myself.
It's my hair. I keep cutting it.
Honestly, I can say that, in our wee small town of 7,000, I know every hair stylist in every salon
and they know me.
Karley cuts hair--she just moved into town--and she and I have become fast friends.
I obsess. I want change and so I obsess on something I can control on the outside and ignore the inside turmoil, which is exactly the place I need to look at for change and any real healing or peace.
I knew I was spiraling and needed intervention, but I wanted my way. As I traveled to speaking
events, I used my free time to sit in various chairs while a stylist textured, layered, point cut and
trimmed my hair to the point where I was looking at the pixie I had been trying to grow out for
more than a year.
I hated to text my Aunt Ginger, who is always encouraging me to grow out my hair because she thinks (and I agree) that it looks better longer and makes me look younger. I needed to let her know where I was at. I hated to not only disappoint her, but reveal my total lack of self-control and obsession with my outside self.
She texted back: "What's going on inside that you're hurting yourself?"
I answered, "It's my drug. It's the battle of the flesh."
"I get that, but to numb what?" she replied. "What's the temptation? We act out of something we aren't dealing with so we don't have to focus on the real pain or truth."
I read her texts and didn't want to think about them. I wanted to go and trim my bangs. The conversation continued:
Me: It's just that I'm writing and sharing a lot more of me--the real stuff--and I feel scared. Plus,
there seems to be more expectations and responsibilities that go with that.
Ginger: And you feel inadequate and insecure and think people are going to find out you're an imposter. It's an emotional roller coaster you're riding.
Me: Yep, pretty much. But I think it's spiritual, too?
Ginger: I am praying. I have things I do to avoid my real pain, too--things that are self- destructive. I squeeze and make zits out of nothing, for one example.
Me: I know you get it. I hate to disappoint you.
Ginger: I love you even with too short hair. It would be good to make a list of all that's hurting you right now.
Me: Oh, I have the list.
Ginger: We can talk when you come to visit. We need Sabbaths and margins.
Me: I've tried to not step into other people's messes to add drama to my own. But it's challenging.
Ginger: Yep. The earth experience is wicked hard.
Ginger was the one who shared what having a relationship with Christ was and not a religion of
"dos" and "don'ts."
I was seven years old and at my grandparents' home in Moorhead when she put a plastic Good News Glove on my hand, with different colored fingers, to explain the Gospel. I remember that the middle finger was black and said, "I have sinned," which gives new meaning to giving someone the finger.
I don't really remember why I agreed that I was a sinner, but because I loved and trusted Ginger so much, I agreed that I was one. If I had to explain it to a child now, I would say, "Sin is when you think you are the master of your own universe and you don't need God at all for help or direction."
According to Dr. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, "What sends you to heaven or to hell really has to do with your faith in the Gospel, which is that you can't be your own Savior through your performance and good works. What sends you to heaven is getting a connection to Christ because you realize you're a sinner and you need intervention from outside. What sends you to hell is self-righteousness, thinking you can be your own Savior and Lord."
I think Keller is brilliant. When he speaks I get it.
Yep, I'm a sinner, but the red ring finger said, "Jesus Christ died and came alive for me."
I simply had to receive this gift from Him because I could never earn my own salvation and that's what the white pinky finger signified. The index finger reassured that "God loves me." I prayed and asked Jesus to be the ruler of my universe. I meant it. I just didn't realize how hard it would be to give up control.
When I talk about surrendering all to God, I can always hear that praise and worship song play
in my head: "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."
And still, I can't honestly sing it the way it's intended because, really, what's in my mind
is this: "It's all about me, Jesus, and all this is for me, for my glory and my fame. It's all about me and you should do things my way. You are God but sometimes so am I, and I have great plans for my ways."
I sing the words "my way" really loudly to hear how ridiculous it all is, and then I'm reminded of the joke that asks, "What's the difference between you and God? God never thinks He's you."
The final finger on the glove was green, which represented growth in my relationship with God and sharing the "Good News" with others.
Me: Can I go next door and share with the twins what you just told me?
And off I went to make disciples of the neighborhood.
God is nice to me and gives me an opportunity to be heard on the radio with a short feature of
encouragement called Everyday Matters. I get to skip around the country sharing the hope I
have in Christ and asking, "Can you see the real me?"
When we are willing to look at our bad selves, we can deal with our real selves. It's the bad sin of self that needs God's redemption and grace. While grace is often tough to comprehend, it seems easier to understand when I need it from someone.
A few years ago I took some money out of my son Peter's savings account for some money he
owed, but I didn't tell him I had done it. I was traveling at the time and when I looked at my
phone and saw 18 missed calls from him, I knew he was on to me. I asked him to please forgive
Me: Peter, I need grace.
Peter: But you don't deserve it, Mom.
Me: Exactly. Grace is giving me what I don't deserve.
What makes the good news so good is that there is always hope and God is always on the move to redeem our messes into something good.
I think part of what has helped me as a Christian speaker is that I didn't grow up in a religious or politically charged household. I was the Laura Ingalls of the 1980s, who lived in the woods and hauled sap with her family to produce pure maple syrup. My mom cooked our meals on a blue enamel cook stove. Eventually, a lodge and buildings were constructed and the home in the woods became a family cross country ski resort, which still operates today.
My family was stable, with parents and a brother who I love and they love me, but we were far from any Norman Rockwell setting of perfect.
The escape and rescue into the world of theatre helped me to fit in and feel I had an identity, other than being the weird and skinny girl with no curves (except the scoliosis). In high school, I never missed a play rehearsal even though it was a 20-mile trek each way to the theatre. My dad helped me carry my dream of Broadway and didn't balk when I declared myself a theatre major in college. My mom was a champion, too, when it came to giving me freedom.
When I came home at fall break my freshman year, I told her I was going to smoke pot (because, duh, all theatre people experiment with pot and other shenanigans) and she said, "I don't think it's a good choice, but it's your choice to make."
Back at college after break, I remember a joint being passed round the room. When it
came to me, I nonchalantly said, "No, I'm good." To this day, I've never smoked weed. Had I
been told, "No, it's stupid, it's a gateway drug," I think I would've jumped back to school ready and happy to inhale.
I always keep this in mind when I tell people about Jesus.
My Aunt Ginger continues to speak God's grace into my life because the earth experience is hard and we need encouragement to know we're not alone. Without our understanding and need for grace, we wouldn't be able to extend grace to others.
I like how Mockingbird founder and author, David Zahl, puts it: "The cross of Christ both exposes
the futility of our efforts at establishing ourselves and answers them. It ushers in the real freedom that we are loved and valued, not according to what we do, but what Jesus has done. That is, we are good because God is good, not because we are good. The shackles are off, once and for all!"
It would be easier and more comfortable to stick to the message of, "Love God, love others and
do stuff," but don't offend people by bringing up sin and our need to change direction from what
Sin can be really fun. No one wants to be challenged with what the "pleasure center" in our brains tells us will make us happy. Don't I have a right to be happy and fulfilled? God made me this way. Leave me alone. But we're all sinners and I don't believe God has called anyone of us to hand out a list of dos and don'ts.
I do think we withhold love when we don't acknowledge that some of our behavior needs redeeming. Once we confess, God forgives, cleans us up and, by His grace, we can stop living for ourselves, pick up our stuff (cross) and follow Him. Sin may be in, fun and popular, but it always comes with a payback. Forgiveness from it is thrilling and freeing.
Here's the deal. When I share my mess, my pain, my sins and my mistakes, I also share the
parts where I've fallen and struggled, but I've gotten back up and "repented" (or in nonreligious
lingo, changed direction).
God gives us grace to resist the temptation and "sin no more." 1 John 1:9 is a golden promise from Jesus, "If we confess our sins to God, He can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away."
While we have freedom in Jesus, it doesn't mean we have freedom from problems, but we do
have hope. We have a redeemer who knows us fully and loves us completely.
My testimony is that I'm still here. I thank God that I have healthy relationships with my husband, four sons, other family and friends and neighbors next door. But I also have broken relationships with some that hurt my heart deeply and it's only by His grace that I have the hope they'll be mended.
There comes a point for everyone where we have to surrender our sin--the fun and not so fun--if
we want to be free.
I love people. God loves people. I want to sing, shout, speak and proclaim the Good News. I will always be growing up in Jesus, but, oh, how I look forward to the day of heaven when it's all perfectly purposeful, with no more tears or pain, and we can all eat, laugh and dance together.
I hope to see you there.