Fear Is A Liar

       Ringing in my ears as I walked through life this week was the grainy recording of FDR addressing the country and declaring this, say it with me, y’all, “The only thing we have to fear. . .is fear itself. . .”
In my childhood this quote stood tall and mighty next to JFK’s “Ask not” and MLK Jr’s “I have a dream” in defining who I was as an American. Americans, like MLK, strive towards a more compassionate and unified future. Americans, like JFK, seek to serve. And Americans, like FDR, are not afraid of anyone or anything, no way, no how.
Or, at least, we were.
It is undeniable that we are no longer a nation of challengers, a country full of men and women, shirt tails tucked, chins raised, eyes to the sky ready to face whatever may come our way. We are instead scattering, all pointing to the blue above with one hand and covering our faces with the other while we cry out “it’s falling!”
This is not a political statement. It has political applications, but this is a cultural one.
I keep coming back to this conversation. It’s different people, friends, family members, strangers, people from all walks of life. We are afraid. We are anxious. We are nervous. We have fallen into what FDR spoke of and I can see he was right.
Fear, friends, has it’s claws dug into our backs and it is a terrifying and terrible thing to witness. I’ve spoken into it before, but I will say it again. Fear is the enemy and the enemy is fear.
I’ve been hearing songs lately that say just what dear departed Dr. Klamet told me years ago, that fear is a liar. Fear is not real. You won’t prevent bad things from happening by being sick to your stomach with anxiety anticipating the worst and you won’t actually feel better should those bad things come to pass because you can say that you worried about it being just as it is. Fear can’t change the future, all fear can do is steal the joy of today.
I sat by a river and told someone this a few months ago. I sat on a stage and said the same. I sat in an office and there it was again. And tonight I sat in my bed and typed it to a far away friend.
Fear is a liar.
Fear tells us one little lie and he buys us for nothing. He must only claim to have the payment in his pocket, but he never is indebted to produce the purchasing price.  We give the weight, the value, the credit for fear to speak to our hearts and minds when we consider the lie as if it were or as if it could be truth and in that moment we arrange to foot the bill.
It is us who pays. We pay in our health. We pay in our relationships. We pay in our self care. We pay in our appetite. We pay in our sanity. We pay in the weariness in our soul. We pay and we pay and we pay until we are broke and broken.
And what we heard, never was so.
Oh there are things that are terrifying. There are things which sink stones in our stomachs which pull us underwater and threaten to drown us in sorrow.

Drugs.
Bombs.
Politics.
Riots.
Racists.
Assailants.
Bullies.
Kidnappers.
Accidents.
Corruption.
Fires.
Floods.
Cancer.
Cancer.
Cancer.

     Which of those is improved by adding fear? Which of those is solved by fear? Which of those will be more easily handled should they be handed to you is you are also clenching your fists around fear? None of them!
But which of those have you seen resolved, overcome, defeated, restored, put out? I know, I am not naive, that it is not always a story of victory with no cost, not always a story of victory at all. But as long as you have seen one wildfire put out, you can believe that this too will be extinguished. And there is truth, absolute truth, that at some point, there was a wildfire that was the first to be put out.
There is hope.
There is hope, friend.
Even if all these things come to pass, even if we are struck from all sides, even if our lives and our bodies are destroy, there is hope. These things of the world….they are just a moment. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, will we live in love or will we live in fear?
1 John 4:16-18 talks about how God is love and how those who have God, have love. It goes right into telling us that perfect love drives out fear. They cannot exist together. It concludes “He who fears is not made perfect in love.”
There are things I hear that stop me in my tracks for a moment. There in the distance I can see the waters rising up, building into a huge wave which threatens to crash on top of me and press me down into the undertow. But I have the choice. I have the choice to say, “I will not be pulled under.” I have walk on water kind of power to make the choice to not believe the lies.
The only thing that causes me trepidation is the idea that I might be overtaken by fear, because I cannot jam perfect love in the same space as complete fear. Cancer cannot press out perfect love, nor can fire or flood destroy it. Evil people cannot silence perfect love, nor can an accident catch it off guard. But love, it cannot exist where there is fear.
We must be on guard against fear.
When the adversary whispers lies…don’t believe him.
There is always hope.
And some may think I’m a fool.
Some might think I am simple.
Some might think I’m obnoxiously and naively holding on to a false belief system that will fail me.
That’s ok.
I’m not afraid of what people might think of me for having hope.
I’m not afraid of anything….except fear.

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Is Speaking Truth Love?

In college I went with a group of kids to hear a speaker at EMU. I have long since struggled to remember if it was Max Lucado or Phil Yancey, but those are two names written down the sides of bookshelves quite frequently in those days. Most often I credit this bit of wisdom shared there to Max Lucado, but I’m covering my bases here. The words are clear, the speaker is fuzzy.

The words were: We have to speak truth in love. To speak love without truth is a lie, but to speak truth without love…that is no truth at all.

Let me say them again: We have to speak truth in love. To speak love without truth is a lie, but to speak truth without love…that is no truth at all.

For this strong minded, loud mouthed little girl, that was a shifting comment. If you knew me in college, you could rightly describe me as someone who speaks her mind. She will tell it like it is. She says what others are thinking, but won’t voice. If the truth cuts like a knife and leaves a wound, I was certain the other person would be reminded every time they looked at the scar I’d caused and be reminded of truth.

I can remember those days like they were just a year or two ago. Because, probably they still were. Truth, friends, TRUTH!!!! I know truth! And people need to know it. They cannot go astray. They cannot be misled. And where they are veering to the left of the right it was my responsibility to correct where I saw deviance from the most strict, most honest line.

I loved that quote from college but for many years when someone would quote from Romans “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do” I would hear my heart cheer in response, “My mouth, y’all. Welcome to my mouth.”

I’d flip from Romans to James 3 and read “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Then, knowing the struggle to do what I want to do, but doing what I don’t want to do while trying to tame an uncontrollable beast…I was certain there was no hope of overcoming this.

Sure, I gained some manner of control and learned how to restrict my comments and opinions so that I could generally function as a socially appropriate person, but truth would get me every time and I would be unable to hold it in. If I am commanded to speak truth, then every time you choose silence when you have truth is a lie. Or so I thought.

I want to preface what I’m about to say with this disclaimer: What I am working through in my head does not involve situations where one must speak truth to defend a victim or to report illegal activity. Does. Not. And I am in no way encouraging people to lie. I absolutely believe in the high value of honesty and the piercing impact it has when employed.

But, here is the thing. I would see people look at the mark I’d left behind when I’d whipped out truth, and they didn’t seem to be grateful for the reminder that they should be realigning themselves. In fact, they would often go the other way. But why? I’d spoken truth. I’d even been intentional to do it in a kind and compassionate manner.

The past few days I’ve been reflecting on the mighty and terrible power of speaking one’s mind. I’ve reflected on a few moments in the past years or two where I’ve learned more about controlling my mouth than I ever learned in the first 34 years.

I had many stories to reflect on. Times I’ve told the truth and it made people mad. Time I’ve told the truth and the person didn’t hear me. Times I’ve told the truth and people have acted like they agree to get me to be quiet.  How I have felt the burden for truth. How I have felt the responsibility to say what “needs to be said.” How I have held to the belief that to hold your tongue is to lie, every time.

My friends, just because you know something to be true, it does not mean that the way to speak truth in love is to open your mouth. The quote that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is true: Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.

I have in the past year taken some theological questions via email with a dear friend and spiritual leader in my life, if no longer official by certificate of membership, his grace and wisdom is a voice I will always covet to speak into this walk. I have taken via email the same questions to another spiritual leader in my life, and I don’t know why I think the answers will ever be any different from one to the other, it helps to have these two voices who are willing to help me hash things out and help me simplify the matter at hand. The topics have varied, but as I look at our conversations in the rearview mirror, I am finding that they all boil down to this…

Me: I have a truth and the rest of the world won’t conform to it.
They: Extend grace.
Me: Also, they can be mean and hypocritical because they lack the understanding of truth that I have!
They: Extend grace anyway.
Me: I could extend grace better if I could accompany it with truth.
They: Are you willing to look at your truth, to lean in and to be open to a truth that is outside of your very capable brain?
Me: Yes, but I’m right.
They: Ok.

And a few days later the conversation changes.

Me: I may have been wrong in my analysis of truth.
They: Ok. Tell me.
Me: New truth. Presentation of evidence. Conclusion.
They: Excellent! You have done well to lean in on this!
Me: I don’t feel so much like I need to argue about it with that person anymore….but it’s still not fair that they get to be mean and hypocritical.
And then this…..
This every time….
They:  Whose problem is that?
Me: Oh.

While processing a theological point in the past month, I went through this same conversation sequence with one of these great men and when we reached the point where he said, “I think that your confusion over other people’s responses is their problem… not yours.”

Oh my heart. Or rather, oh my ears. They were finally open. This person has said this to me for nearly a decade in one way or another. He has spoken that same truth over and over while I didn’t hear him.

You know what I have heard though? I have heard him allow me my strongly held beliefs, even when they are the exact opposite of my own. I have heard him encourage me to follow God’s word to me and God’s leading on my life even if it points me in different directions than he’d chose for his own.

But what speaks the loudest to me from both of these men is this. I have heard them not say things. They have held their tongues and chosen words carefully to be as clear as possible without giving more information than I needed at the time. They have not used the application of truth from their lives to attempt to realign my beliefs or actions into a forced submission of what they think and how God has convinced them to walk.

What has spoken to me louder than any other truth they’ve helped me find is when they’ve chosen to reserve their words and allow God to speak to me. 

I have stayed in the conversation because they have not told me to be quiet by pressing their rightness over my wrongness. They answer my questions as honestly and reflective of their interpretations to the best of their abilities, and those have helped me process concepts. But concepts are concepts.

What is speaking into my heart, what is changing me, what is absolute proof to me that entire sanctification exists alongside of ongoing gradual sanctification while I watch layer after layer being pulled back on my life, is the love, is the grace, and is the commitment to allowing God to be the truth giver, and not having the arrogance to think they have all the answers, not every story needs to be told. Neither do they bear the burden of responsibility to change my mind.

I am slowly but surely learning, it is my responsibility to work out my own salvation, not everyone else’s around me. I am slowly learning how to speak truth in love by closing my mouth. I am slowly learning that if I want to communicate truth in love I have to be committed to a conversation that could last for years, to play the long game, because truth is eternal, truth outlasts a conversation. I am learning to trust God more in this way.

I will close with how I responded to the comment that my confusion over other people’s responses being their problem, not mine.

It is something to consider that the more I learn, the more I come across the idea that the rightness and wrongness of the rest of the world is not my problem. I should write that on an index card and pin it to my desk.

Today I think I shall do just that.  🙂

Speak truth, y’all, and now how to do it with your mouth closed.

The Church On Tangier Island

Sometimes missing church happens, but in this day and age with all the technology available, you can find a service to livestream any hour of the day. That is, you can find a service to livestream unless of course you are visiting Tangier Island.

When you go to Tangier you are going there to disconnect, and disconnect you shall, because unless you stand by this one large mud puddle near the beach or this a certain plank on the seldom used dock behind the Muddy Toes library, you won’t have enough signal to text, let alone find a sermon.

I’d resigned myself to being churchless this past Sunday, until, as we rode the golf cart around the corner to our B&B, I saw the marquee. Service after service was listed. I saw that there would be 2 services that evening and my curiosity was piqued.

Cats, gnats, beach, bikes and ice cream, I have experienced Tangier.  But I’d never stepped foot inside the little white church on the corner. As it turned out, we’d come on homecoming weekend. No football games and pep rallies for this event, homecoming weekend is just what it sounds like. When the folks who’ve left the island return. There is a festival style party with bounce houses and a stage. People who’ve gone off to serve on the mainland in ministry come home and help lead in the many services offered all weekend long.

I have in years past looked with curiosity at the small white church on the corner, but we’ve never been there during a service. This would be my opportunity to find out just what church on the island is like.

I entered up the steps into a small entry. No signs necessary to find my way to the sanctuary, I needed only allow myself to be led by preacher who grasped my hand as I entered and swinging our handshake to the left guided me a step and a half forward into a wide well light room.

Oh, I thought, I know this kind of church.

The light came generously through beautiful stained glass windows. The wooden pews formed sort of a semi-circle facing the pulpit which was raised about the congregation a few steps. The pews were soft and shiny and one could imagine that in just the right Easter dress you could slide from one end to the other if you got a good start. This church and others like it smell the same, a mixture of dampness (this one with a tinge of salt air), Murphey’s Oil Soap and a few centuries of potluck casseroles.

This church would be the same as others I’d been to, I was certain, where eyes don’t lift 3 feet above the ground the entire service, gazing from hymnals during singing, watching your knees during the sermon, and checking in your purse or your pockets for a mint or something else to pass the time.

A strong woman took to the front and raised a mighty welcome and immediately my head popped up. She greeted everyone and I strained to understand her thick island accent. For the first minute or two, she could have been talking about coffee and crabs, boats and buoys, for all I know, but it was pleasant. After a moment, the strange vowels sounded natural I could understand her, and I was smiling with her joy expressed of services I’d missed that morning and the day before, of seeing friends and family back to visit. “Hey!” she’d called. An island word, a greeting so common to her and a joy she’d found to share with a man she knew from Africa, teaching him how on Tangier one local greets another. “Hey!” the congregation rang back.

Something seemed to let me know I wouldn’t be knee watching this service. I looked from window to window, from pew to pew, and the familiarity of an old time church was still in the tangible building, but something fresh was in the room, too.

As the service got underway, we sang old hymns, songs that I’ve been singing to myself this summer and missing. I love the new worship music, but sometimes it’s nice to sing “How Great Thou Art” without a kicking drum solo in the middle. One lady in the choir had a solo, and though the style of her singing was classic, it was full of newness. A duet of two middle aged men sang and old song and sounded about like two pleasant men singing until something moved the songs from their mouths, deeper, and it resonated from within them and spilled thickly into the air around us all.

The missionary woman came again and invited joys and concerns and testimonies, and people rose to their feet and shared, joy upon joy and then one man, certainly in his early 60s stood and shared how grateful he was for his salvation. With a tremble in his voice and a tear in his eye, he spoke more sweetly about how much his faith meant to him than I may have ever heard. Ever. So unexpected to me and so precious was that moment, that I could only think “What is this place?”

The visiting speaker took to the pulpit and said that when he’d been asked to speak on homecoming weekend, he knew right away what he’d preach from. I tried to pull up a fast verse in my head with the word home in it and predict where we were going, but he went straight into his verse, from Proverbs 22 “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” Well, that doesn’t have the word home in it at all!

He gave a fine message where he spoke about his favorite national landmarks, and then moved to his favorite island landmarks. He shared the story of the history of faith on the island brought ashore with Rev. Joshua Thomas, a great story unto itself. He told of revivals that had happened on the island, where hundreds of people came forward to receive Christ. He referenced a revival on the island as recently as 1996.

Then he made this point. The landmarks WILL fall. The island, which is slowly being taken back into the sea as they pray for the funding needed for a second sea wall, the island too will fall. The people, good and faithful though they be, will also pass, from this life to the next. They are not immune to the passage of time. None of these are the landmarks. Not even, he pointed out, would he say that the revivals were landmarks. Those prayers and songs and times ended and people moved on from the altars.

No, he said, Christ is our landmark. Remove not Christ from your life, for He alone is the only which is unpassable, unshakable. He will remain.

And he closed expressing hope for another revival. It doesn’t matter that the most recent revival they’d experienced was in 1996, no time was too soon for more of God. His hope was for revival. His hope, he said, is that when people speak of Tangier Island that they say “They are a godly people.”

I will say of Tangier Island, they are a godly people. Do I know each of them? No. Do I think that they are free from the ins and outs and ups and downs of life? No. But this I know. While we on the mainland download and upgrade our faith, Tangier carries on, with hymnals and stained glass, with pews and and a pulpit. The service I experienced was dynamic and dear. It is not something you can manufacture for a special weekend. It is very obviously natural to them.

If you get the opportunity to go visit Tangier, include in your stay over a trip to the little white church on the corner.

Two last notes worth mentioning, if only so I can remember them years from now.

First, on the island there is a second church that I didn’t get to attend. I thought about the old joke about the man shipwrecked on the island who when rescuers arrived they found he’d built many small buildings. He showed them around his village he’d built pointing here and there saying “That’s my house, that’s the diner where I eat. That’s my church.” They saw another structure he hadn’t named and asked about it. He made a disgusted face and said “That’s the church I used to go to.” I wondered what it must be like to be on an island with two churches. On the mainland, we often ignore the churches in our neighborhood, viewing them as competition or not viewing them at all in our business to only view ourselves.

In the sermon, the man was thanking God for all the ways He’d blessed Tangier and set Himself among them. In this piece, he took time to thank God for the other church, for their work and their ministry to the island.

And secondly, as we entered the church there was a dog trying desperately to gain access to the sanctuary. He was shooed away repeatedly and I chuckled at how interested he was. Towards the end of the service, a woman rose and tiptoed out of the front door and returned a moment later. A minute or two after this, as our heads were bowed in prayer, I saw the woman in front of me jump a little. She spun around and mouthed something to people behind me.  Leaning forward, her shoulders went up and down with a little effort and then she popped back up, carrying the holy little mutt and taking him back to the entrance, she pitched him a little unceremoniously out the door.

It was as if I was reading a left out chapter from James Herriot’s Dog Stories. ❤

This service, these moments are enough to encourage you to give Tangier a visit and to find that church in session, but if that’s not in your ability, pray for those people, for their hope for revival and for their sea wall.

Resting Place?

Y’all, I’ve been busy. Like buuuuuuuuh-issss-eeee.

It has never been so apparent that I have spent the ten months before taking this job waiting for the phone to ring at a desk. My mornings, noons and nights have been jam packed. My muscles are pointing at each other saying “She hasn’t used me for a while, Has she used you? No?” A friend noted that she hadn’t seen anything from my blog in a few weeks, and I confirmed that it wasn’t a trick of Facebook choosing not to show her my posts, but in fact I hadn’t posted anything new in a long time.

Oh, I’ve started posts. You would not believe all the phenomenal expressions of the starts of ideas I’ve had the past 5 weeks, but before I can look back over things and hit post, I either run out of time or collapse asleep exhausted.

I have been doing and serving and helping and giving. I have done my honest best to do it with a good attitude and when I felt the stress level rising to walk myself into some private conversation with God, to seek out the counsel of a friend, or to sing and then sing louder.

But I have been living in anticipation of Tangier Island.

I am heading to Richmond with the kids today to join my parents and then rising before the sun tomorrow to head to the boat. A couple of days disconnected from the world, surrounded on all sides by rest and recovery? I can hardly wait!

It was with a body tired that I sent my mind to the ferry, checked out in the middle of the week. I have earned a break. So when it was suggested on Thursday that I help out  the next day building the pergola at the Resting Place at the fair, I was very clear. I would NOT be doing that. I was all served out.

Friday I drove in to do the last little bit at work I needed to do and start my vacation ASAP with some time spent with a friend I had missed during my busy season. What better to recover my spirit that lunch with my friend Jen.

Jen and I are so alike that I best describe her to others saying, “She is like my brain outside of my body so I can talk to myself and not appear crazy.” Whatever it took I would be hanging with her today. Girls lunch out? Running errands? Help her settle into her new house? Whatever it took I would hang with her today.

I did my few things and then texted her.

Me: Hey! What are your plans today?
Jen: Helping set up the Resting Place at the fair.

Ha. Ha. Hardy har har. I get your point, Big Guy.

So, even though I’d adamantly refused to go do that the day before, laughing and assuring the people who suggested it that I’d see them Wednesday, I turned the wheel towards Rt 11 and showed up at the fairgrounds.

I wouldn’t say that I built a pergola yesterday. But I spent a few hours doing little tasks like spray painting buckets or holding a corner post of the pergola so the people who know what they’re doing could build it. And I did that with an interesting assortment of people. It was a few hours of laughter, joking, bouncing ideas around and arranging furniture.

I had to stop and smile when I remembered that last year I knew for some time before that I wouldn’t end up helping with this annual offering my church has at the fair, and sure enough, fair week rolled around and my appendix went phooey on me. This time I am headed out of town for the first half and unavailable for the second half, but it was nice getting to see what goes into preparing for rest.

I was sure a few days ago that should I agree to show up and do any physical labor before my trip, I’d end up even more tired, but as I pulled out of that parking lot I had that same feeling I had every time I volunteered last year. It was as if I’d gotten more out of the experience than I had given.

I said to another friend this week, “You have to choose to take time beside still water, or else you’ll sat down and that’s no fun. It says ‘He leadeth me beside the still water.’ Sometimes He has to trip us to force us to sit down and rest.”

I don’t know that my brain is put back together enough for a well written conclusion this morning. But can I encourage you to do something?

Don’t count out the idea of rest. Rest and recovery is every bit as important in our spiritual, mental and emotional lives as it is in our physical lives.

And secondly, don’t count out the idea that rest might be found in doing something.  There was more relaxation in being helpful with good friends than I would have found on any couch. I have found little in life as restorative as doing good work that I don’t HAVE to do.

If you are at the Rockingham County Fair this week, stop out at The Resting Place and enjoy a moment of relaxation.

I’ll be thinking of and praying for the island of respite I’m missing at home while I’m sailing out to an island of respite in the Chesapeake Bay.