A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a room….

I met a new friend a few years ago who I liked instantly.  I hoped that we would be able to know each other for a long time.   Then she shared that she was a Buddhist.  Oh.  I have no problem with that; it’s just that I’ve never known a Buddhist before.  This was new and it was a good new. We talked openly about things and what was most appealing were these words: “I’m not going to judge you.”   How refreshing!

I know all about judging because I feel like an expert some days.  It’s so hard for us NOT to judge and we do it so sub-consciously that it becomes our default setting.  Granted, some are better at this than others, but I’ve also heard from some amazingly honest people lately about how opinionated they are, how they find it easier to gripe about people than listen to them and they seem to have more fun with friends with they’re criticizing others. Hhmmm….

After thinking about these comments, I prayed about trying a different approach with people:  to assume the best more often, and to not judge but ask about what else might be going on so I can have a more complete picture than the one I knee-jerk guess.  Or, just praying for them. As a Christian, I have prayed for forgiveness many times for my critical spirit and my lack of grace with others.  There’s no excuse when Jesus has been generous to the point of giving His life for me.  But I also know I’m a sinful woman who can look Him full in the face and His mercy covers me anew each day.

And to that end, this morning my Buddhist friend called and left me crying when I hung up.  Not tears of sadness but from a weight of compassion.  She asked the right questions, listened compassionately and understood my vulnerability generously and accepted my honesty graciously.   That kind of love brought me to tears.  I don’t claim to understand a thing about Buddhism; and I have a long way to understanding the complex mysteries of my God and Father, but I know for certain when He brings two women together to bless each other.

So here I am, a committed Christian, wanting to be a little more like my Buddhist friend in her acceptance and openness of people.  It makes me think of others who aren’t Christians but have something about their natures that I want to emulate.  Speaking only for myself and not for Christians at large, I know that I live in a bubble of my own making.  To my shame, I can’t rattle off a list of non-Christian friends.  It’s not because I’ve intentionally avoided them, but because my orbit is a little too small.  I’m working on that – and excited about it.

When we first met, my friend asked me if it would be a problem for me to befriend her and I said No immediately.  For one, I rarely think of her religion and, I also believe God can use anyone and He clearly is using her to bless me.  As we approach Easter, I’m reminded of the new life that He gives us and I’m thankful that sometimes a new turn of heart comes from unlikely places and people.

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Temporary idiocy

Since I spend the majority of my time with teenagers, I sometimes get the honor of being a friend, too.  And when they get hurt, I offer my love through a listening ear.  Recently, a few of these dear people have unburdened their hearts with stories that leave me sad but thankfully, not confused.  Here’s how it goes:

As adults, we know that it doesn’t take long on this planet before someone’s going to hurt us.  Well, these friends of mine were hurt so badly and couldn’t understand why the people who they previously thought were friends were behaving so, well, unfriendly!  In one case, they were unrepentantly snubbed with merely a shrug and in another, were the scapegoat for someone else’s sins.  People on the periphery did nothing to help, just left them stranded in cold water.

In talking to them, one observation made us mildly cheered and that is that most people are just temporary idiots.  The periphery people, especially teenagers, are basically good, solid kids.  Their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the right thing, but when friends’ relationships sour, the folks on the fringe don’t know what to do.  So, they end up doing nothing, which can hurt in its covertness as much as the original hurt in its overtness. Saying nothing is sometimes the wisest route, but other times, saying nothing hurts terribly. This is where temporary idiocy comes in. Their silence or hurtful actions are hopefully temporary.  Usually when the dust settles, they can see they were in error in stranding their friend.  The true friend will tell them that later.

I know this because I had a friend do something similar to me.  She had distanced herself with giant bounds because she guessed I wouldn’t like a decision she made.  I had no idea why she was so cool, but I gave her space and didn’t freak out.  Almost a year later, she called me and shared that she had changed course and now wanted to talk.  It was one of the best talks ever because I could honestly tell her that ignoring me didn’t help either of us.  She had assumed incorrectly.  I was completely indifferent about her decision so her fears were ungrounded but just having her say she was a temporary idiot made me admire and love her more.

In a recent movie, I heard this wonderful line: The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.  Isn’t that true?  Our hearts and minds get entangled so easily, but our heads have hope!  When we give each other some time, and talk openly, we can confess that we all mess up.  With time, we come around.  May we all have the grace to give to each other generously through warm hearts and listening ears.

I’m meant to be me

Many years ago I hosted someone for coffee and was a bit in awe of all she’d accomplished. Her resume was long and contained so much of what I wished mine would contain.  Half my mind listened to her talking, the other half cataloged my very short list of accomplishments. (why do we do that?)  That wasn’t the only time I’ve listened to an impressive list of works cited but I’ve noticed that each time, it’s more okay.  I’m not sitting there green with envy or seething with jealousy as much as I’m a little impatient with myself.  I’m not much of a visionary where I’m concerned, but I would like to add to my list of credits.  And, I like to think that it isn’t because I want my own name glorified, but because He’s given me gifts that I wholeheartedly believe must, and will, be used as He intended.

Well, it’s been 7 months since I declared this the year of courage and I realize that sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is accept ourselves and get going with using our gifts.  It’s my impression that most of us struggle with that.  Clearly, it takes some courage.  We’re quick to look at our flaws or our short list of accomplishments or worse, think we’re less than the next person.  In our minds we know that’s not right.  But in our hearts, we’re guilty some days.  Since then, I’ve also met with other accomplished folks and each time they’re gracious and friendly and warm.  And not only that, inspiring.

It’s a new concept that I’m embracing:  liking me and how I’m made.  It’s been a long time coming, but I’m getting it.  For many years it was more like an extra-large shirt that didn’t fit.  It felt inside-out, the color was wrong, the buttons didn’t match their holes…now I’m starting to think that I’m rockin’ this shirt!  I’m so glad it’s mine!!  At this rate, I’m expecting to find it quite flattering, even.   I can only expect that because He’s allowed me the courage to accept myself.

Paul Tillich says, “Trust is the courage to accept acceptance.”  So in this year of courage, I’d like to accept that the Lord has me firmly in His hand and is working out exactly what He has for ME to do.  My role is not going to be what someone else’s is, obviously; it’s tailor-made for me.  Not only does that inspire me to believe that exciting adventures await, but it also allows me to be genuinely happy for others when they become who they’re meant to be.

Don’t let worry overwhelm your wonder

Two summers ago my son was preparing to go on his first Mexico mission’s trip.  At the time, the news was rife with stories of danger for travelers.  For that reason, the team had been advised by locals to not do the street ministry they typically did – it was just too dangerous.  A week before they were to leave, our youth pastor called and told me that the leaders felt the Spirit leading them to continue with the ministry; so strongly, in fact, that they were asking if it were all right if our son participated.  What could I say?  I trusted the team’s word from the Lord and I trust the Lord…there was only one answer: Of course.

That choice was based on love, not fear.  Before you think I’m a stranger to worry and fear, I could tell you stories that prove I’ve spent my time there.  However, not long before that summer, I’d learned about the difference between love-based prayer and fear-based prayer.  So much of our prayers and conversations are fear-based.  ‘What if’ and ‘They might’ sentence beginnings prove it.  If you think about your prayers, so many of them ask the Lord to cover our fears.  He does and wants us to bring to Him all our worries, but I’d found that when I prayed too many of those kinds of prayers, my thoughts followed.  Instead, I tried a new tact: love-based thoughts and prayers.  What a difference!!

So, after that phone call and all during the mission trip, I prayed love-based prayers for my son and the team.  I asked that they truly minister and bless; that their love for Him would outshine any darkness there; that their compassion would be strong for everyone they met…and on and on.  Not once did a fear enter my mind.  The Lord reassured me that everyone would come home overwhelmed with awe and wonder.

Not only did that happen, but my wonder for the  peace He provided and the accomplishments of His goals overwhelmed me, too.  My son experienced beautiful people, the using of his gifts, camaraderie of the team and a stepping out of himself that he couldn’t have, had he stayed home.  With that, was a wonder at what God did.  His hand was everywhere as they all shared stories of an ability to go beyond what their bodies and spirits could do, so they could reach people who needed their touch.

As for me, basing my prayers in love made all the difference.  Had I worried instead of waited for Him to show me his power, I would have missed out.  My son needed to go to Mexico to teach me that, I guess.  Now, even though the world would tell me I have plenty of issues to worry about, I just can’t because I know that around the corner is an experience that will leave me in wonder at what God has done.  If I worry, I miss it, because an important part is for me to trust him to work, set aside my worry and wait for the wonder.  It’ll come.  I know it will because He keeps allowing me to live it, one story at a time.  So if you’re tempted to worry, don’t.   The wonder’s coming.  Watch for it in hopeful and confident expectation.  He will come through because He is a love-based God.

 

Jonah’s gift is mine

One quiet morning recently I was blessed to have some time to read my Bible and as I often have in the past, asked the Lord where He wanted me to read.  I was thinking Mark; He had me open Jonah.  Okay, I thought, this is super-familiar but I’ll read it quickly and move on.  Rude, right?  Well, He can work around my presumption.

And work He did.  My eyes landed on one word and my brain lit up from the verse,  “the Lord provided a great fish…” (1:7) Did you catch it?  He provided.  That word evokes goodness and graciousness – two aspects of God’s very character.  It makes me think of how He answers prayers.  Many years ago I kept a list of all the ways He answered our family’s prayers.  It happened so often I was compelled to note them all.  And although I shouldn’t marvel at a Father loving His children, sometimes I do.  Harder still, is when He answers in another way.  And He’s done that in my life, too.

I don’t think Jonah thought, “Whew!  I’m so glad this fish came along!”  Maybe he did, but he might have seen his situation going from bad to worse.  Similar to when I’ve said,  Really, God?  I’ve been feverishly praying and now this?  This is the exact opposite of what I think is best for me!  See that presumption again?  I know, I know.  I’m working on it.  The ‘great fish’ in my life has taken many forms and I have scarcely recognized them as such.  But I’m starting to gets wisps of hints of inklings that challenges and pain are my fish.  They swallow me, to be sure and I lie quietly in my bed thinking, ‘Is this my fish?  Is this the Lord providing for me?’  I certainly feel thrown overboard but remember what Jonah said after that: “I sank down;  But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.”

Sometimes we think since we’ve read something in the Bible many times before, we know exactly what it says.  I mean, Jonah ran, was swallowed by a fish,  was spit up, and  all in a page and a half.  I knew that in preschool.  But I realized that more often than I want to admit, my understanding of God is in pre-school too.  However, sometimes He brings us to something very familiar and enlightens us.  Just because He loves us.