Thursday, May 20, 2010


During the sermon that morning, the minister brought up this concept of identity and self worth. The point he was making, based on this section of Psalms, is that God's love for his children is based on knowledge of one as a person, as a creation of His, not on what kind of success you have had in your life. My mind wandered off his words a little bit, to wrap my mind around "identity" and "self worth", with the question being, "what makes a person worth loving?", not in God's terms, but in ours.
I didn't feel like I needed to pose at myself the question the minister posed to the congregation, which was "who are you?", the subject of identity. I know who I am. Perhaps more than most people, as my friend Rhonda suggested last week. Identity and self understanding has always been important to me, even mentioned in previous entries. Determining self worth has been a hard one for me, though. It's closely tied to related words, such as "self esteem" and "self image", things I've struggled with in the past...or have I...that's sometimes the question. From a historical sense, I know I have sold myself short on big occasions due to problems in this area, some residual effects of childhood wounds and a failure to sort of understand what to value in myself enough to raise the price on. I struggled with that walking into this failed marriage, which is what made it so hard to leave.
I think about that now, as the minister is talking. I remember something that affected me greatly last year, words that proved the death knell of the marriage, words that couldn't be taken back, things that directly indicated that the failure of my husband to love me was my fault, for not being worth loving. I knew he was wrong, at the time, because...well, everyone is worth loving. Not just because we are God's children, but because we are human. Humans have a need for love, a need for attachments, and truly everyone in them has something worth loving them for.
On the way home from the service, I was talking to my son about both the message of the sermon, and that night he witnessed his father saying these terrible things. I wanted him to understand what the minister was talking about, how God defines our worthiness of love, and how it parallels the way I feel about him. Truly, by the time a child is brought into the world, love has already been developed without the child having to do or be anything for it but themselves. Every little expression of personality, character traits, the positives and negatives and everything in between that makes a person who they are, simply the knowledge of who they are is part of that love. It should have been part of the language between husband and wife, but it wasn't what was spoken in our house, and I wanted my son to understand that, too, so that he could understand the choice I had to make. Surely most children don't want to see their parents split up, but I want him to grow up knowing it was a choice I made to live a life more worth living. I wanted him to know I was walking away to give myself the chance to live a life loved.
The night that time bomb exploded, I went to a friend's house with the children. I talked to her about what he had said, and she told me he was wrong, not just to say that (especially in front of my children), but to think that. "I love you," she said, "because you are a good person who genuinely tries to do the right thing."
Is that what a person has to be to be worth loving? I had spent a lot of time after that night wondering. I asked my close friends why I was worth loving, asked that husband himself to take back those words by giving me reasons. Everyone had different answers, because there are different reasons why each person placed value in me. Jen kept telling me, "it doesn't matter what I say, though, you are going to have to figure out your own reasons why you are worth loving. This is just what I see. You have to see it yourself to believe it." It's not that I questioned it. I always knew he was wrong, but for some reason it just kept hurting. That feeling went away some months ago, though, so I became healed, whether it was through acceptance or through the virtue of real love. I hadn't thought about this in some months, what it was that made me worth loving, but now I rolled it around a little.
I wondered, what is it that people think about themselves that make them think they are worth loving? What are those qualities we see in others that makes us want to emotionally invest in them? Among many other questions, I posed this one to my son, whose ten year old answer astounded me with its maturity, and the way it matched my other friend's idea, and even what the minister was saying, although I doubt my son was actually listening to him when he spoke these words.
"What makes a person worth loving," my son said, "is being good to others. Helping other people, being nice to other people, treating other people well....that's what makes a person worth being loved."
I looked for a little while online, curious as to what other people thought made them worth loving, or made others worth it to them. I looked at personal ads, thinking that this might be a place where you could see what other people, looking for love, used to describe themselves as being someone worth it. "Fun loving" was the most common term used in the women-seeking-men ads. "Trustworthy". I started to wonder if this was truly what women thought were the qualities that made them deserving of love,or if it was based on some idea that this is what men these days are seeking. I wanted to dig deeper into this concept, but got distracted by turning the question on its head, wondering, "is love worth it?" After all, in many experiences of life around me, I see it fade and change and hurt and disappoint. Is it worth all you have to suffer as a result of its potential consequences?
I was still thinking about that when my sons and I headed to the cemetery that afternoon. We were on the way to replace a geocache I had hidden by the graves of two girls who touched my heart. I didn't know these girls, but their headstones made me sad and caused me to reflect on the value of the life I share with my own children, of the love we hold for our children in our hearts.
We paused for while on a shady bench to wait out a family visiting a new grave nearby, the grave of yet another girl who died way too young. I watched as the family each took turns solemnly approaching the fresh headstone, spending time in their mind remembering, speaking to her, telling her how much she meant to them. My heart bled for them, with the imagining of how hard that must be. We waited near another new headstone, that of a young man in his prime. Fresh flowers lay next to his headstone, one with a note whose words had bled in the recent rains, but were still legible, a testament to how much he was missed and how special he had been in the life of the person who left this for him.
Finally, I made my way over to the area I was seeking, noting the flowers and balloons left for the little girl who recently joined the others. I replaced my geocache, then made a nod to the little girls lost. I opened up the picture on the older girl's headstone, again struck mute with her beauty, and thinking about her life,which I had read about on a website tribute to her following her early death, at age 20, by the hands of a drunk driver.
Then I gathered up my children and kissed them. I thought about how life is so short, how time might stop at any minute, how our time on earth is so fleeting, and how precious it is. I thought about the love that family had for the little girl that they now would miss forever, and how it is that, those things, that make love worth living for.
That make love worth leaving for.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Driving home from an outing with the children, I found myself reflecting on a collection of thoughts from the morning. The children and I had been at church in the morning, and at the end of the service, I noticed my oldest child looking at me, wondering what he was seeing in my eyes. As the service ended, I was overwhelming with emotion, this curious kind of emotion that looks like sadness to other people but really is a manifestation of humility when confronted with the power of God's love, and is in actuality an expression of happiness. I tried explaining this as such to a girlfriend on the way out of church when she asked about my wet eyes.
On the way out of church, my son wanted me to explain my tears. At one point, I stopped the car to look directly at him and explain this concept that I was getting in full doses, that I wanted him to understand. At home, we sat down and talked about it some more.
I was trying to explain to him the content of the sermon that had reached me on this emotional level. I also wanted him to get it for himself as well, to understand that this love that God had for us, for me, for his children, paralleled the love I have for my sons, and what it means, what's it worth, and what you have to do to get it. This conversation followed us in intermittent means throughout the day's events, and yet left me questioning some facets to it.
One of the points that was made in the scripture reading today, from Psalms, is that God's love comes from his knowing of us, that He knows us so well and intimately that the words we say, the things we do, come as no surprise to him. Have you ever loved someone like this? I think we all have. Children are full of surprises, for sure, but ultimately that's the feeling of "family" - that these are the people who really know you, who can anticipate the way you would respond to certain things, who know you so well that they sense what appeals to you and who you are.
As my son and I talked about this concept, and about family, and about expressions of love seen, said, and unsaid, his grandparents came up. This was related to a point I wanted him to get about my childhood, and The Void, and why God's unconditional love means so much to me. I asked him if his grandparents ever told him they loved him. He said they didn't say it, but he just knew that they did. I asked him how he knew, and he described certain actions, the way his grandmother took care of him, granted him things, prepared special meals for him. He told me that although his grandfather expressed these things less, he knew that he loved him "just a little bit more than Grandma does". When I asked him how he knew that, he told me that his grandfather just seemed to know what he liked, that it was like they had a special connection or something. When I pressed him for examples (because I could not imagine my father beginning a conversation with him about, say, Bakugan or something), he described situations where my father acted on a perceived interest of my son's, and presented him with something that appealed to him on this basis, "like he knows I am interested in the military, and he brings out a war movie to watch with me", he said. This made me laugh, thinking about my father, but in the end, our talk in this segment ended with my son saying, "It's like Grandpa and God are a lot alike. They both love me in the same ways", and despite my own issues with my parents and upbringing, I accepted this as truth, and I am so glad for my son that he has both experienced this kind of love in his life, and accepted it as such.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It seems like I've been concentrating much of my latest entries on matters of the spirit. It's not all I have been thinking about, and there are reasons I can't get into everything that has been moving me lately, but these ideas on faith have been compelling enough to put into words, especially after church on Sunday, and today was no exception.
In these entries, I find myself describing the initial stages of the church service. The combination of the imagery on the projection screens, the music on the stage, both in terms of the people involved and the songs themselves, the dark atmosphere of this contemporary service, even the design of the altar serve to set the emotional table, so to speak, and prepare the heart for the message at hand. I like that this service engages me emotionally, but it's the sermon that provides the intellectual fodder than I crave. Move my heart, but move my mind the most.
So this morning's scripture reading had me excited from the get-go, because it was words from the Apostle Paul, and I was waiting to take them apart and look at them with discernment. I've been wrangling up my complicated issues on Paul all week. To a degree, some of these issues are part of my quest for truth in all its forms, which means not accepting the idea of being spoon-fed my spirituality, but arriving at truth through questioning and seeking. In my seeking the truth about Paul, I find that about half of the books in the New Testament attributed to him are believed by many Biblical scholars to not have been written by him at all. Also, there is this question for me on whether Paul's message was truly divinely inspired, or simply originated in his own mind. Sometimes, I find myself wondering if what Paul was preaching was truly, in fact, the same as what Jesus was preaching. Sometimes I think that we, as a church body, actually spend more time processing and trying to follow Paul's word than Jesus, and I am not sure then if some of the intent has been diluted along the way.
At any rate, I cannot dispute that today's scripture was Paul speaking in line with Jesus, and it was a reading from Romans, which is one of the seven (out of the 13) books attributed to Paul that are undisputed as being authored by him. I looked up the reading when I got home to examine what I liked about it closer, but found that my NIV Bible was not reading the same as the words used by Bryan this morning, exactly. I liked his wording better, especially for Romans 12:10, which in my Bible reads:
Be devoted to each other in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Bryan's version read something like, "Treat each other with mutual affection. Try to outdo each other with honoring one another." I liked that idea much better, and it seemed much more clear to me than the lines above. I'm not sure which translation he was using though, because I looked it up in 21 different versions and none of them read like that, including The Message, which I was told he preaches out of. (This is another one of my issues with interpreting truth from the Bible, but that's a whole 'nother entry).
At any rate, Bryan was using these lines as a vaulting place to explain how the church community is supposed to be to each other. He got into this idea of the original Greek words in this text, or in other places in the New Testament, that were used to describe God's love. There were actually, according to Bryan, three Greek words for love originally used in today's verse (Romans 12: 9-17), three words meaning different types of love, and he expanded on those and what they mean. I've been thinking about the Greek ideas on love for the past couple of weeks, so this part was very interesting to me, as well as the bigger idea on how we lose some of the meaning of the Bible through time and translation - in the course of translating it from Hebrew to Greek to English and somewhere there and back again at different times during Biblical history. Sometimes the original words used in the Hebrew or Greek translations actually have a much deeper meaning, or say three different levels as opposed to the one in the English language. In truth, the English version of the word "love" is a conundrum, because it is one word that means so many different aspects, whereas in other languages, such as those mentioned above, they divide that word into several different words to reflect these different aspects.
So the point of the sermon was that there are these three types of love that God desires for us to show to each other as part of what it means to be a Christian. He described them as the following: agape, meaning unconditional or selfless love, koinonia, meaning fellowship, and philadelphia, meaning brotherly love. He is describing how these types of love may play out in a church community.
As he described the three forms, the words he was using were bringing memories to mind. When he elaborated on agape, on the giving without expecting back, I thought about Michelle. I thought about all those times Michelle had been there for me without ever asking anything in return. She is the living example of that kind of love. It's bigger than just her, though, it's this whole church. It's Erik and Paul Johnson laying a floor in my kitchen, for the price of nothing more than the materials, a whole day of their lives they gave for me that I could not even repay. Or Rich, helping me move in before I even knew him. His wife Kerri showing up at the hospital when Kaleb was born, and listening to me talk about my sadness about not being able to hold my baby. She offered me a sympathetic ear, and told me a story about her son being in NICU for a month, and how she didn't get to hold him either, so she understood how that felt, but that now he was a strapping little boy and just fine, just the way my son was going to be.
I remember the kindness of the church after the Great Flood incident, how a member of my bible study showed up at my door the night we got home with bags of groceries and a hot dinner, and how the Johnsons showed up the next day with a new car seat to replace the one we lost, and a cash donation raised by their Sunday School class. I was overwhelmed with gratitude when Paul Johnson was standing there with that offering. I remember telling him I couldn't believe a church was this giving to its members, that I had never witnessed a church congregation being like this. He said something to me like, "Well that's what MAKES a church. A church that doesn't do things like this is not a church worth belonging to."
I think I learned what our church is from moments like this. None of it was anything I asked to receive, but yet it was just freely given in a response to a perceived need. I can see Michelle's hand in many of these events, the link between, not only because she was the one who brought me into this church, and provided the example of how to BE in this church and as a person of faith, but how she was the one who asked Rich to help me, who told Kerri where my baby and I were, who drove three hours with two dog kennels in the back of her truck to rescue my family and my dogs from the Great Flood, who told the congregation about it, who saw a need and filled it over and over, if not from her deeds, but from her words. She exemplifies what it means to be a person filled with the genuine spirit of unconditional love. And yet, even though I know in my heart that there is nothing I could do to make Michelle stop loving me, I want to be worth that love. It inspires me to be a better person, for her, and for this God that we share, and for the church she brought me to. I think that kind of unconditional love could make a person complacent, and feel like they didn't have to try then, but somehow it works the other way, and at least for me, makes me want to live up to it. In the way that the giving of the congregation to my family when it was needed makes me want to give back to them, an endless cycle of paying it forward and paying it back.
At the end of the service, I look over to see my oldest son, earnest expression on his face, looking up at the words projected on the screen, and singing along with the hymn. In that moment, I wonder if he knows how much I love him. Understanding the unconditional love that God has for us can be likened to the relationship between a parent and a child. Sometimes I worry that I am not staying within the lines enough to please God, but vice versa, I wonder if my son understands that all the fussing I do at him to stay between the lines is not a reflection on him, or that it means I do not love him, or will only love him if he is perfect. I tell him I love him every night, but I think about the number of times I spend fussing at him and wonder if he knows that is out of love, too. I wonder if he won't grow up in therapy explaining that his mother's attempts to get him in line made him feel unloved as an individual. I wonder if he understands the concepts Bryan was talking about today, and about the agape aspect of both God's love and my love for him.
After church, I took a bike ride with my sons. This older one stayed out in front, leading the way, I took up the rear, and the little one who is just learning how to ride was in the middle. We just started trying to teach the little one about riding longer distances, about how to navigate the obstacles in the neighborhood. Sometimes the older one would have to stop, turn around, and tell the little one the best way to deal with that obstacle. Sometimes he would just lead by example, showing him the way without telling him. There were times where I would have to push the little one from behind to get him over a hill, or a bump, to get him going again when he lost his momentum. Sometimes I was back there rooting for him, "go! pedal faster!" or sometimes I was rejoicing with him when he figured it out. "Good job! Way to go! See, you can do it!". As we made our way around the suburban sidewalks, I was thinking about my church community, and how sometimes we worked like this. Some of us lead in front, teaching us or showing us the way. Sometimes we needed that push from behind when we were lagging. There are times when we want to rejoice in each other's accomplishments or strengths, or when one another finally makes it over an obstacle or figures out the way. It's these kinds of love, the brotherly love for each other, the fellowship, the selfless giving, the living as examples of how Christ wants us to behave that helps us grow as a group together, as we grow as individuals. It's how we keep each other in line, some following, some leading, all the way moving closer to God.