Category Archives: Story

Quotes Worth Repeating – The Guru’s Cat

10257039_10204059223820221_7035561874645616129_n (1)The story of the Guru’s cat by Anthony de Mello is worth repeating:

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.   – Anthony de Mello

You can find this story and many more in Anthony de Mello’s book The Song of the Bird

A Social Justice Story

This post is part of the October Synchroblog: What is social justice?  I’ll add a list of all the other contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

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“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” -Cesar Chavez

Social justice is difficult to define. I heard someone say that there have been whole books written about social justice which never offer a concise definition. And so you can easily understand why I feel inadequate to offer up a definition. However, I am compelled to share a story with you that I believe has the definition of social justice written between it’s lines.

This story is true and it was written by my friend Hugh Hollowell who leads a ministry called Love Wins. Hugh is a perfect example of what it looks like to work for and practice social justice.  He inspired me to become a person who is aware of injustices in the world and to be brave enough to fight against injustices in word and deed.

She Call Me Bobby by Hugh Hollowell  

Several folks have wanted me to talk about what I do day-to-day.

“I don’t get it,” one correspondent said, “You just talk to the homeless? About what?”

Well, I do more than just talk to folks who are experiencing homelessness, but that is a big part of what I do. I want to show you how one such conversation went down just this morning.

Note: The way we talk, the choice of words we use, all of that is part of our story and part of who we are. Life on the streets is not pretty and it is not polite. Many in my position clean up the language when reporting what is said, but I have chosen to leave it.

*****

I was on my way to use the Internet at Morning Times (a coffee shop and, most days, my office) when I saw a gang of folks I know over by Betty’s van. I stroll over. The mood is solemn.

“Hey guys,” I said, “What’s going on?”

Everyone murmurs and shuffles, looking at the ground. I notice that one older guy everyone calls Slim was sullen and weeping.

“Slim,” I said, “How’s it going?”

“Bad,” he says. “I went to give plasma this morning like I always do on Fridays. This time, they wouldn’t give me any money. Instead, they told me I’m HIV positive.”

HIV. For most Americans it no longer means what it once did. However, these folks know that, if they get it, they probably won’t have access to the life-giving drug cocktails and cutting edge treatments. They all know someone who has died as a result of being positive.

For them, HIV spells death.

Having already heard this story, the crowd begins to melt away. I’m uncertain if it’s out of a desire to give us some privacy or a desire to get out of the cold– in any event, it was welcome.

I have known Slim for about two and a half months. I have helped several of his friends with job applications and have let them use my computer to check their email for messages from family. He knows me to say hi, but he has never really opened up to me. He is much older than most of the street folks, perhaps 50 or so. He told me once in conversation he had been homeless for seven years.

“They tested me, like they always do,” he begins to explain. “They test you every time. They wanted me to sign a paper saying I had HIV, but I ain’t signing shit.”

After several minutes of conversation, I managed to extract the following details.

That morning, Slim went to sell plasma. Many who are currently homeless do this as it is the only thing many of them have to sell. You lay on a cot and stare at the wall while they insert a needle in your arm. After they take blood from your body and extract the plasma, they put the blood back in you. They sell the plasma to the various bio-med places for research and pay you $20 – $35 and you can expect it to take about two hours. If you are a regular donor, they pay bonuses and an extra $5 every third visit, they say.

The routine tests on his blood for HIV showed positive. He was told he had to sign a statement saying he knew he was HIV positive. He refused and left – he later reveals that reading is not something he does well, so he has a fear of signing anything. Understandably, he was in shock by the time I heard this story, so the finer details were a bit harder to nail down. As near as I can tell, he had no second test and no referral to any health care options.

“You need to go to the Health Department,” I said. “You need to know for sure.”

Slim is crying. “It’s Christmas, man. I don’t need this.”

It goes like this for about 10 minutes, when I realize that Slim doesn’t have the two dollars for the bus to go out to the Health Department. I assure him I can spare $2.

“Will you walk with me to the bus station?” he asks.

“Be glad to.”

We begin to walk toward Moore Square Station, the central hub for the transit system here in Raleigh. Slim is beginning to calm down. He has the two dollars that I gave him clutched in a death grip in his hand.

“You are a nice man,” Slim says. “I know you help Sam and Julia out with clothes and help them, let them use your phone. I tell everyone what a nice man you are. I would ask to borrow your phone, but I got no one to call.”

“No one?” I said.

“Well, I got a Mom, but I haven’t talked to her in four years. I want to call her, but I’m scared. I’m afraid she don’t want nothing to do with me anymore. I done bad things.”

We talk about his Mom for a bit. It turns out she lives in Maryland and the family has endured one too many broken promises, so they no longer talk. I urge him to call because four years is a long time. He promises to think about it.

“You’re a nice man. Why you so nice? I mean, you help us out, you talk to us… I ain’t nothing, man. My own Momma don’t want to talk to me, you don’t even know me and you help me. Why you doing this?”

I hesitate. I know folks who would see this as an opportunity to swoop in, tract in hand, tell them about how Jesus will solve all their problems, fix everything. I try to imagine what Jesus would say.

“I care about you guys when it makes no sense to, because Jesus loved me when it made no sense for him to,” I tell Slim.

He perks up, looks at me from the side of his eyes.

“Jesus?” he said.

“Yup. Jesus,” I said.

I think I have lost him now. He surprises me.

“I know Jesus loves me – my momma told me,” he said. “But that Jesus, he is a motherfucker.”

I have no idea what to say to that.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Oh yeah. The thing about Jesus is, he don’t cut you no slack. Jesus is hard.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

We’re at the blue section of the transit station, waiting on the bus. The air is cold on my ears, the turbulence from the exhaust fumes pressing my jeans against my ankles. The two dollars has managed to disappear. After a lengthy search they turn up in a coat pocket.

“Thank you for doing this,” he said. “I don’t want to die from HIV.”

“Well,” I said, “we are not even sure you have HIV. The first step is to find out for sure.”

We agree to meet up this afternoon in Moore Square about dark so he can let me know what the verdict is. While we are working out the details, the bus pulls up and the doors open, a line of patient commuters waiting to board.

It’s one of those moments – they happen sometimes – when I think God tells me just the right thing to say.

“Slim,” I said. “What does your momma call you?”

He smiled, remembering. “Bobby. She call me Bobby.”

“OK, Bobby,” I said. “I will see you tonight.”

He laughs that I use his name. “Do you think Jesus cares I have HIV?” he asked.

“If you have HIV, then Jesus would be heartbroken,” I said.

“You gonna pray for me, aren’t you?” he asked.

I assure him I will. The breath is almost knocked out of me as he tackles me in a spontaneous bear hug, tears running down his face.

“If it is OK, I gonna pray for you too,” he said into my coat.

Then he turns, embarrassed at the sudden emotion and steps onto the bus.

As he waves to me from his seat two thirds of the way back, the bus pulls away, the exhaust kicking up leaves that swirl around my feet as both our tears dry on my coat.

If you want to know more about Hugh and Love Wins and how to get involved and help go here.

Check out the rest of these posts about Social Justice:

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds

This post is part of the August 2013 Synchroblog – Parables: Small Stories, Big Ideas

“Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this approach. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dusty theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-course that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”  Peter Rollins in The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales 

I love the way a good parable surprises us and turns our thinking upside down.  Many good parables take a well-known story or situation and give it a twist here and a tweak there in order to cause the audience to think about something from a different perspective.  Jesus was a master at crafting and telling a good parable.

But I notice that Jesus parables don’t always seem to have the impact that they should have on me and I think that is because they have become too familiar.  Which is why I think I got such a kick out of the collection of parables that Peter Rollins wrote a few years ago.

If you haven’t read Rollins’ collection of parables you should pick up his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.  I think the 33 parables in his book might end up pushing you around a bit and that’s what a good parable should do.

Here’s one of the parables from the book to whet your appetite:

You sit in silence contemplating what has just taken place. Only moments ago you were alive and well, relaxing at home with friends. Then there was a deep, crushing pain in your chest that brought you crashing to the floor. The pain has now gone, but you are no longer in your home. Instead, you find yourself standing on the other side of death waiting to stand before the judgment seat and discover where you will spend eternity. As you reflect upon your life your name is called, and you are led down a long corridor into a majestic sanctuary with a throne located in its center. Sitting on this throne is a huge, breathtaking being who looks up at you and begins to speak.

“My name is Lucifer, and I am the angel of light.”

You are immediately filled with fear and trembling as you realize that you are face to face with the enemy of all that is true and good. Then the angel continues: “I have cast God down from his throne and banished Christ to the realm of eternal death. It is I who hold the keys to the kingdom. It is I who am the gatekeeper of paradise, and it is for me alone to decide who shall enter eternal joy and who shall be forsaken.”

After saying these words, he sits up and stretches out his vast arms. “In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left hand eternal death. Those who would bow down and acknowledge me as their god shall pass through the gates of paradise and experience an eternity of bliss, but all those who refuse will be vanquished to the second death with their Christ.”

After a long pause he bends toward you and speaks, “Which will you choose?”

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Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jesus’ Parables are Confusing? Good! – Jeremy Myers

Parabolic Living – Tim Nichols

Seed Parables:Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom – Carol Kunihol

Parables – Be Like the Ant or the Grasshopper – Paul Meier

The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today’s Sermons – Jessica

Penelope and the Crutch – Glenn Hager

Parables and the Insult of Grace – Rachel

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds – Liz Dyer

Young Son, Old Son, a Father on the Run – Jerry Wirtley

The Woman Forgiven For Adultery (Guest Post by Susan Cottrell)

Note from Liz:

I know a lot of people say “the internet” isolates people from real life and real relationships but my experience continues to prove that wrong. I have made so many wonderful connections and friends online and it continues to happen.

I recently connected with Linda Mueller Robertson after I read her heartbreaking and inspirational piece Learning To Truly Love Our Gay Son in The Huffington Post  and she invited me to join a group she started and that is where I connected with Susan Cottrell. 

Susan is a writer and speaker who also blogs at Freed Hearts. Her and I are both passionate about making the world a better, kinder, gentler and more loving place for lgbt people.  We both live in Texas (a few hours apart) and will be meeting in person later this month (I can’t wait).

Here is a piece that Susan wrote and posted on her blog recently in which she challenges us to look closer at the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman.

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Remember the story of “Jesus Scattering Townspeople and Self-Righteous Men in the Name of Mercy and Justice”? Oh right, you may know it as, “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” I love that Jesus instantly knew the hearts of everyone involved. I love how Jesus never falls for any of it. I love that He lets her go!

It seems we rarely marvel at the whole picture of what is going on here. Instead – out of the entire story – many focus on Jesus’ parting words, translated, “Go and sin no more.” It’s also been translated to the softer, “Go and leave your life of sin,” but that doesn’t quite get it either. Instead, the translation I learned as a young Christian captures the heart of the situation and Jesus’ heart for people.

Jesus was not admonishing her to go do better, but inviting her to life, to His life. His message to this woman is, in essence: “You don’t have to live this way.” That is, “I offer you so much more than anything you’ve ever known.” This is true for several reasons.

First, let’s take a look at the setting: this woman had just been caught in adultery – most likely by the men who set it up to entrap Jesus (notice the man involved was not also caught). This is certainly not the first time they put their heads together to concoct a plan to bring Him down.

She is dragged out to the public square as an adulteress. Before Jesus. Before the crowd. Naked. Can you simply imagine the shame? I shudder to think of it. She knew that the consequence was to immediately be stoned to death.

Jesus then does the remarkable. Obviously stuck, obviously backed into a corner by these clever men who have succeeded in entrapping Him, Jesus has absolutely no way out. No way. Until He opens His mouth.

“You who are without sin cast the first stone.” The crowd is stunned. Flummoxed. This is not the way these situations were dealt with… ever. It takes a minute, but slowly the older men and then the younger ones drop their stones and turn away (most likely with guilt of their intended entrapment ringing in their ears, in addition to who-knows-what other skeletons they had hidden away). Only Jesus could have given such a mind-boggling response. Time and again in Scripture, Jesus circumvents their yes-or-no questions and gives an answer they never thought possible.

Then He turns to the woman. “Does no one condemn you?” “No one, Sir.” “Neither do I condemn you.” What?? You don’t? Why not? You have every right to condemn me under the law. Isn’t that what You do? Apparently not. But why not? That is part of the key to the puzzle of His following remark.

If Jesus used “Go and sin no more” as a mandate to go and rid her life of any sinful thought of action, He would have implied some condition, even though it came after her release. Like the policeman who lets you off with a warning might say, “Now, keep your speed down.” (Not that I have personal experience with this one…) The implication is, “I’m going to let you off this time, but don’t push your luck – and get out of here before I change my mind.” (That’s often the feel of, “Go and sin no more.”)

The trouble is, nobody goes and sins no more. Everybody sins and sins and sins. If she had the power to meet her own needs, or rid herself of her own sins, she would not have been tricked into this in the first place. Forget the heart, this interpretation would say. Forget dependence on God and just change your own behavior. But this is a fragmented concept, as if real change comes from the outside in, instead of inside out. Jesus always starts with the inside.

Further, if we think Jesus had to warn the woman in adultery not to do it again, we don’t grasp the situation. I’m pretty sure she got the message right then and there that if by some miracle she did not die on the spot from embarrassment, or from stoning, she would never, ever, no never, get caught in this situation, ever, again. The trouble is not voluntarily choosing to be in that situation again; the question is, how? How do I constantly find myself on the raw end of the deal? Why do I keep letting men like this take advantage of me? Why do I do this over and over again? How in the world do I find a way out from my broken and wounded heart? Anybody so shamed and humiliated would be searching for a way out, vowing never to let this happen again. That was the question Jesus answered! He always answers our real need! For Him to say, “You don’t have to live this way,” was astounding news for this woman! I don’t? She had to ask herself.No, Jesus was telling her, you don’t.

Jesus here makes an offer of deep healing. Jesus offers to make us a new creation, to break the bond of sin and death! He would not reduce his earth-shattering offer of life to a silly throwaway line that simply gives her more of the Pharisee’s lifeless medicine. That sounds more like exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for, rather than reflecting the true, heart-focused Jesus.

“You don’t have to live this way” is consistent with Jesus’ offer to the woman at the well, whom He did not tell to stop living with her boyfriend, but instead offered her so much more than the scraps she was receiving. Likewise, He offers the woman caught in adultery freedom from the likes of these men who set up and expected her execution.

Jesus had compassion on the tenderhearted and showed them their need for Him. He never, ever shamed or humiliated people but instead gave them hope! Jesus soundly chastised only one group in His earthly life: the self-righteous religious leaders. This is the mode throughout His interactions.Come to Me for rest and peace and life – I will give you life. Rules don’t give life; rules produce death. To say, “Stop doing this,” would only heap death upon her shame and humiliation. But Jesus never did that! On the contrary, He heals the brokenhearted, He lifts our head, He offers hope and life.

To reduce Jesus’ words to “Go and sin no more” is to reduce the gravity of sin. It reduces Jesus’ work as some kind of moral cleanup instead of life from death! The only way to convince ourselves we’re able to “go and sin no more” is to reduce sin to something manageable. But Jesus said the very thought of sin is sin. He showed us that our sin is so large, so deeply rooted, and so unmanageable, that the only solution is to recognize that we desperately need Him!

The next time this interpretation is thrown at you as evidence of the seriousness of sin, as if you are not taking sin seriously enough because you don’t tell somebody to stop sinning, I entreat you to pause. Ask Jesus what to say. As hard as it is for humans to grasp a free-and-clear pardon, that is what Jesus offers. Don’t set that down and take up self-reform. Instead, let Him shape you personally, from the inside out, so that the sin areas fall away, replaced by the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and other attributes only the Spirit can bring. That is what He does!

 

 

We Cannot Capture The Wind

This post is part of the June Synchroblog: Faith, Feasts and Foreshadowing in which we were invited to reflect on Shavuot and Pentecost and what we might learn from the similarities or differences in the two religious feasts.  I will post the links of all the participants at the end of this post when they are available.  To learn more about the synchroblog please visit the Synchroblog site.

The Spirit is like the wind.  The wind often arises unexpectedly, and blows with such force that everything in its path is toppled over and displaced.  If we are honest, this is the challenging aspect of this metaphor concerning the Spirit.  We cannot capture the wind. In this way, Pentecost serves as a reminder that the Spirit blows through all of our categories and continues to do the unexpected.  We may think we have grasped the wind, only to find that it has blown in a different direction.  In the face of such a wonderful mystery, we can either shield ourselves from its power, or revel in the wind that eludes our grasp.  – Margaret Manning

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This month Jews and Christians will each celebrate a spring festival.  Jews will celebrate Shavuot on June 8 and Christians will celebrate Pentecost on June 12.  The two spring festivals have some remarkable similarities: 

Shavuot is 50 days after Passover.  Pentecost is 50 days after the resurrection. 

Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mt.Sinai.  Pentecost marks the giving of the Holy Spirit. 

At Shavuot the law of Yahweh was written on stone.  At Pentecost the law of Yahweh was written on hearts. 

During Shavuot about 3,000 were slain.  During Pentecost about 3,000 received salvation. 

Shavuot represents the founding day of Judaism.  Pentecost represents the founding day of the Christian church. 

During Shavuot the spirit of God descends in a fiery cloud.  During Pentecost the spirit of God descends as tongues of fire. 

In both stories, the divine word comes down from heaven and is spoken to God’s people. 

However, there is one distinct difference between Shavuot and Pentecost that I find particularly interesting and insightful.

According to the book of Acts Jesus’ disciples were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they begin “to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4b)  As this happened a diverse crowd gathered and was amazed that each one heard what was being said in their own language.  The sign that they were surely hearing from God lay in the miracle that each one heard the same message but in the language they needed to hear it in.

In contrast, the event at Mt.Sinai is described by Rabbis as each person receiving the teaching that he or she most needed to hear.  An older person would have heard something different than a younger person.  A sick person would have received a lesson that was different from the one a healthy person received.  A child would have heard what he or she needed to hear.  A person with much would not hear the same thing as a person who had little. Men and women would have heard according to their own needs.  The content of God’s message was different depending upon who was receiving it.  The sign that they were surely hearing the voice of God was not that one message went out to all, but that each person heard what they needed to hear.  In other words, an infinite God spoke in infinite ways and what he said depended upon who he was speaking to.

Although I don’t believe that these two experiences “have” to be pitted against one another; I do find it interesting that most Christians today will insist that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture (what that interpretation is depends on the Christian you are speaking with) while the Judaic tradition still believes that there are many different interpretations of the Torah and that people typically “hear” the lessons they most need in their life.

An infinite God who speaks in infinite ways and what he says depends on who he is speaking to … that is what God sounds like to me. But many Christians would find the idea that there are numerous interpretations of scripture to be dangerous.  They would worry that someone would abuse the scriptures if we took that approach. (As if the abuse doesn’t already take place as people have used scripture to justify slavery and war, the oppression of women, racism and the unjust treatment of LGBT people)!  They insist that God must sound the same to everyone, everytime.  IMO that is making God much smaller than he is – that is like trying to “capture the wind.”

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Be sure and check out the other synchroblog posts:

Kerri at Earth’s Crammed With Heaven… – Transformation

Sarita Brown at Gypsy Queen Journals – Pentecost: A Poem

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – The Incarnation of the Temple, Torah, and Land

Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Random Biblical Calendar Thoughts, Unity & Love

K. W. Leslie at More Christ – Pentecost

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – We Cannot Capture The Wind

Emma Nadine at Life by List – An Outpouring of the Spirit

Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Shadow of Things to Come?

Abbie Waters at No Longer “Not Your Grandfather’s CPA” – Spiritual Gifts

Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – A “Wild Goose” Festival at Pentecost

Kathy Escobar at kathy escobar. – more than the leftovers

John O’Keefe at john c. o’keefe – What’s With This

 

God Breaking Through Moments

This post is part of the January 2011 Synchroblog  “The Manifestation Of God”.  This month’s synchroblog is inspired by The Season Of Epiphany, which runs from January 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday.  You can find a list of all participants at the end of this post.

An “epiphany” is a sudden realization, a breakthrough discovery, a brilliant idea, a light bulb coming on, one of those “AHA!” moments.

For instance … Archimedes, the Greek Philosopher, who discovered the law of buoyancy (known as The Archimedes Principle) had an epiphany one day when he stepped into his bathtub.

The story goes that the king of the day wanted a new crown made entirely of gold.  After the goldsmith made it, the king was suspicious that the goldsmith had made it of iron or silver and coated it with gold. The king did not want to destroy the crown in case it was gold, so he asked Archimedes to figure out if it was pure gold or not without destroying the crown. Archimedes thought about this day in and day out until one day while getting into his bath he discovered the principle that bears his name. Supposedly, he was so excited and anxious to share his discovery that he jumped out of the bathtub and ran through the streets naked shouting “Eureka!” (which in Greek meant “I found it!”)

We have all had those types of experiences when a solution or a realization seems to pop into our mind out of nowhere, but in reality the idea has come from within ourselves and has been produced from our own ability to think and reason.

And then … there is another kind of “epiphany” – it shares the idea of realization, discovery and light bulbs coming on – but it is different in that it isn’t produced because of our own thinking and reasoning – this epiphany comes to us through a Manifestation of God. It is a revealing, a shining forth, an appearance. God reveals something to us and “Eureka!” we have an epiphany – about God, ourselves, truth, others, love, suffering, life etc. etc. We could not have arrived where these epiphanies take us by our own ability to think and reason – it is not an experience that we can create from within, it requires “God breaking through”. These kinds of experiences – these “God breaking through” moments – always change us.

As D. H. Lawrence said, “people can do anything they want with an idea, but a truly new experience changes everything. Before you can do anything with it, it does something with you.”

The problem with these epiphanies is that when you describe them to others they often sound rather unimpressive. Of course, there are exceptions – a burning bush, a talking donkey, the transfiguration of Jesus – but for most of us it is something we hear or observe or read and when we go to relay the story and our epiphany to someone else they look at us like “how did you get that out of that???” But we know! We know that God has broken through to us because we have realized or discovered something (and in a way) that only God could have expressed or revealed.

Sometimes I have had a “God breaking through” moment about something that I thought I already knew and, in a way I did know it, but only in my head (as they say) – not in my heart – not in the way I needed to know it – not in the way that it formed me.

For instance, years ago I was preparing to speak to a group of Christian women around Valentines Day.  Well, I was preparing to prepare … in other words, I had no idea what I was going to say. I figured that love was a good subject but had no good ideas about what I should say about love. I was becoming pretty anxious about it as the event was only a few days away. I was new in the community and I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to say something worthy, memorable, profound about love – something that would endear me to this new group that I wanted to fit in with. I went to sleep that night asking God to give me “something good” to say and also asking myself why in the world I had accepted the invitation to speak.

At some point during the night I dreamt that I was a student at an elite dancing academy.  I loved it there and I loved my instructor. I was a good student, a good dancer and I had a good relationship with my instructor. I was trying out for an upcoming show and I felt confident that I would be accepted for one of the parts, but when the instructor read off the names of those who made it into the show my name was absent. I was shocked and disappointed. How could she not pick me? I was very good and she liked me. Why?

Next thing I know (you know how dreams jump around) I am rehearsing with the dancers who were going to be in the show because one of them got sick, had to drop out and I was chosen to take her place. I was very excited and felt that I was just where I should be. The instructor was giving us direction and correcting us as we were rehearsing and then suddenly the rehearsal was over. As we were all walking out, the instructor asked me to stay behind for a moment. After the other dancers left she told me that I wouldn’t be able to be in the show because I just wasn’t good enough yet. I was crushed and devastated. I began to cry.

All of a sudden I realize I am standing in a humongous industrial kitchen. I really have no idea what I am doing there or why I am wearing a chef’s coat. I look around and find a man preparing some food at one of the nearby steel counters. I walk over to him and ask him what is going on. He tells me the Executive Chef is looking for a new Sous Chef and wants to talk to me. I’m dumbfounded! I am not much of a cook and much less a chef.  Why in the world would he want to talk to me? Where did I even get this chef’s coat?  How did I get here? What in the world is going on?

Just when I am about to run out of there the Executive Chef walks in.  He walks right up to me, hands me a chef’s hat and says, “Liz, I want you to be my new Sous Chef.”

I stare at him in disbelief and can only manage to ask, “Why?”

He just looks at me and says, “Because I love you.”

At that very moment I woke up.

“Eureka!” I knew in a way that I had never known before that God loved me unconditionally – not because I was good at something – not because I performed well – not because of what I knew or had learned or perfected – he loved me and accepted me – period.

I also had an idea (hope?) that being accepted and loved by my new community wasn’t going to be based on my ability to give a good presentation.

And on top of that I had what I needed to give my presentation.

Sure, I would have told you before that dream that God’s love for me was not based on my performance – but after that dream it was real to me.  I didn’t just know what someone had taught me or what I had read – I knew it in my heart in a way that would change me and change the way I would prepare to speak before a crowd, the way I would approach a new community, the way I would take care of my family, the way I would help others, the way I would be a friend, the way I would think, the way I would live.  I knew it in a way that made me more vulnerable, more transparent, more real, more me.

It was one of those “God Breaking Through” moments and I was forever changed.

_________________________________________________________

I will post the list of participants here as they become available:

Mike Victorino – What To Do?

Beth Patterson – A Robust Universe Includes The Botched and Bungled

Jeff Goins – Epiphany: The Manifestation Of God

Jeremy Myers – Pagan Prophecies Of Christ

Mark Smith – Manifestation Of God

Minnow – When God Shows Up

Alan Knox – A Day I Saw Jesus

Ellen Haroutunian – Stories of Epiphany

Liz Dyer – God Breaking Through Moments

Kathy Escobar – orphans

Josh Morgan – The Manifestation Of God

Steve Hayes – Theophany: the manifestation of God

Sarah Bessey – In which Annie opens the door of her heart

Christine Sine – Eve of Epiphany – We Have Come, We Have Seen, Now We Must Follow

Tammy Carter – Paralysis In His Presence

Katherine Gunn – Who Is God

Peter Walker – Epiphany Outside Theophany (Outside Christianity)

Annie Bullock – God With Us

Jacob Boelman – Where God Shows Up

Christmas Story: The Christmas Rifle

The Christmas Rifle
by Rian B. Anderson

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.

It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted so bad that year for Christmas.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible. So after supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read scriptures.

But Pa didn’t get the Bible, instead he bundled up and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn’t worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. “Come on, Matt,” he said. “Bundle up good, it’s cold out tonight.” I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see.

We’d already done all the chores, and I couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one’s feet when he’d told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn’t know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn’t going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up the big sled unless we were going to haul a big load.

Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn’t happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. “I think we’ll put on the high sideboards,” he said. “Here, help me.” The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high sideboards on.

When we had exchanged the sideboards Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood—the wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. “Pa,” I asked, “what are you doing?”

“You been by the Widow Jensen’s lately?” he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight.

Sure, I’d been by, but so what? “Yeah,” I said, “why?”

“I rode by just today,” Pa said. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.”  That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him.

We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand.

“What’s in the little sack?” I asked.

“Shoes. They’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the wood-pile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us. It shouldn’t have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door.

We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, “Who is it?”

“Lucas Miles, Ma’am, and my son, Matt. Could we come in for a bit?”

Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all.

Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp. “We brought you a few things, Ma’am,” Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children—sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last.

I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.

“We brought a load of wood too, Ma’am,” Pa said, then he turned to me and said, “Matt, go bring enough in to last for awhile. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.”

I wasn’t the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and, much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too.

In my mind I kept seeing those three children huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks and so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak. My heart swelled within me and a joy filled my soul that I’d never known before. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference.

I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people. I soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared. The children started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “I know the Lord himself has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.”

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I’d never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the children in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn’t want us to go. I could see that they missed their pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn’t been little for quite a spell.” I was the youngest. My two older brothers and two older sisters were all married and had moved away. Widow Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you, Brother Miles. I don’t have to say, “‘May the Lord bless you,’ I know for certain that He will.”

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn’t even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t have quite enough. Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that. But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. So, Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand.”

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it. Just then the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children.

For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life.