Love Train

A love letter to my friends and family:

It began with this post on Facebook this morning.

“Last thought for the night – I see so many people claiming love for LGBT people, and that they voted for Trump because “economy”, “security” or “I hate Hillary”. But I must point out that your reasons for voting don’t matter. Intent doesn’t matter, action does.

If I hit you in the face, because I was reckless swinging the bat and didn’t look to see who it would hit, I am no less culpable, and you are no less hurt.  (emphasis, mine)

This is way beyond “different views”, this is voting to do distinct and measurable harm, and I find that unacceptable.

THIS is why am angry. Either you deliberately chose to vote to harm my child, or you decided that what you felt was in your best interest was worth my kid being told she has no right to fair housing, or protection from firing, or to patronize the public businesses of her choice, or you couldn’t be bothered to understand what you were voting in and went along with the crowd never worrying about who might get hurt because you knew it wouldn’t be you. Either way, I find that astonishing that you now would be professing your “love” for someone LGBT in your life. Trust me, they’re not feeling love from you right now. – Jennifer Stake White.

My friend, Jennifer, exactly echoes the place of my broken heartedness with some additions. I have two children this will effect. Also, I am a two-time victim of sexual assault. So your vote spoke volumes to me about that too. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t know that about me or my kids. You knew it about millions of other people in this country. It is why my children stayed in the closet for so long and why I kept silent about my assault. Not to mention the fear and prejudice against people of color that I love, my Muslim sisters and brothers, I could go on.

I will not hate. But, I will also not tolerate complacency and silence, (which is complicity), from my friends OR family. I have seen who has stepped up to comfort and who has NOT and my heart is broken into a million pieces.

I come from a long line of fighters. I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure and keep my promise to those who will hear, especially my children, that Love wins. You are either on that train with me or you are not.

If you choose otherwise, I bless you on your way. Know that I will always love you. Like God’s love, nothing will change that. But if there isn’t room at the table for my children and so many others, there isn’t room for me. We will set another table.

Peace, love and all the grace I can muster.

Robin

Preparing Room

If I had to guess, I think most folks would expect that since I’m a pastor I practice what I preach.  Let’s just say, I try.  I’m not so different from the folks who sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday.  I’m human and I’m imperfect.  Shocking, I know.  I struggle with all the same things everyone else does, including forgiveness.

The good people, let me correct that, the awesome, faithful people I serve, have heard me preach many times about forgiveness. Jesus teaches us to forgive seventy times seven and to turn the other cheek after all. And from time to time after one of those sermons, I have had someone approach me and tell me they feel like a bad Christian because they are struggling to forgive what seems to them (and me sometimes) the unforgivable.  Their stories of pain wrench at my heart and there are times when all I can say is, “Dear God.”  They want a magic wand or a formula in order to be able to do what they think they cannot.  I tell them I don’t have one.  I often invite and encourage them to pray and share their struggle with God.  “God understands,” I say.  “God knows what you are up against.  God loves you and doesn’t think less of you because you are at a place of unforgiveness. Sometimes all we can do is try.  Moment by moment.  Day by day.”  And truth be told, we may never get there.  I think sometimes too, that giving it over to God is all we can do.

However, I also believe that depending on the wrong, if we are not careful, our anger will fester into resentment and eat away at our soul.  We become so consumed by what someone has done to us.  We want them to pay, to feel the pain they have caused us, and we cannot find peace until that happens.  And chances are, depending on the wrong, that may never occur.  In which case, we will have spent a good deal of our lives in a place of anger and pain, missing out on joy, allowing the person or situation that has wronged us to have control over our lives continuing to hurt us over and over again.

While that may make good intellectual sense it does not always translate to emotional sense especially in times of deep hurt and pain.  Many people get through it, some do not.  Whenever someone comes to me and shares their struggle to forgive, I am left wondering if I have any unresolved forgiveness issues of my own.  It is a reminder to reflect and become self-aware of my own sometimes unforgiving nature.  I have known betrayal and profound hurt.  It is usually easy for me to let go of minor transgressions even when an apology hasn’t come, or if reconciliation hasn’t been sought.  However, there have been other times, if I am honest, when I have borne an unforgiving heart.

Lately, I have been considering unforgiveness as a form of violence against oneself. We often think of violence in terms of extreme verbal and physical abuse.  But often our self-talk and the burden of unforgiveness can take not only an emotional but physical toll, on us as well.  It hurts, it can cause illness, and left untreated, it can destroy us.  I think if we are to truly love ourselves, and we have to before we can love others, it would serve us well to forgive others in order that we may find calm and peace. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the behavior of the person who wronged or hurt us, it means that we will not allow their behavior to poison our being. It is an opportunity to be gentle, kind, tender and loving with ourselves. It is a great act of non-violence.

As I move through this season of Advent, I am preparing room for the Christ child in my heart by letting go of any unforgiving feelings that have been taking up too much space in my heart and taken up residence for far too long.  It is not an easy task, but a necessary one, and as Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Forgiveness is the final form of love.” The world needs more love.  Yes?  Yes, it does.

Dirty Laundry

“We can do “The Innuendo”
We can dance and sing
When it’s said and done we haven’t told you a thing
We all know that Crap is King
Give us dirty laundry!” –  Don Henley

About a year and a half ago around the time of election season, I decided to “fast” from television news.  I couldn’t stand what I was hearing and seeing and what was being passed for news on the tube.  It was all opinion and no reporting.  It was yelling at the top of people’s lungs and arguing.  I was embarrassed for them all and not a little stressed out because of the tension it was causing among friends and families as a result.  It got me thinking about one of my favorite journalists, Walter Cronkite.  I thought back to the time when I was eight years old.  That was when President Kennedy was assassinated.  I remember his reporting of that awful day.   I recalled that as he announced on air that the president of the United States was dead, I remember he had to stop and collect himself because he was overcome with emotion.  But, he did collect himself.  He reported it and moved on.  That was it.  Straight reporting.  No commentary.  No opinion.  Just news.

Several years ago when I was in undergrad studies our ethics teacher had us join with a journalism class to watch the film, Good Night and Good Luck.  It was about Edward R. Murrow and the early days of television news.  In the discussion afterward, we were asked if we saw any differences in the way news was gathered and reported then and now.  We discussed the ethics of reporting facts and how critically important it was.

Once upon a time, journalists were the prophets of our culture.  They reported the facts after careful investigation and verification.  That kind of ethical reporting helped keep politicians and citizens real.  They helped the rest of us keep abreast of what was happening in our communities, nations and the world.  Once we, the people, had the facts, we were then trusted to make our own informed decision with the information with which we were provided.  Now, I’m not naïve and stuck in nostalgia.  I know very well that not all journalists in all times were ethical.  But, most were.  Most had integrity and cared about reporting what was true.  Again, they did their homework of gathering and verifying facts before going on air or printing them in the paper.  In fact, newspaper owners and editors demanded it.   There were consequences for sloppy and unethical reporting.

I am reminded too, of the film, Absence of Malice.  In this movie, a man’s life unravels because of irresponsible and sloppy investigative work before a news story is published.  This story is an example of one of the worst things that can happen.  However, I see something else happening in our culture that I find far more disturbing in many ways.  This brings me around again to my fast of national television news and why.  What passes for journalism on television is laughable. It has devolved into opinion and not news.  It has turned into distortion of truths (I’ve done enough my own fact-checking to know this is true) and outright hyperbolic manipulation of facts in order to sway the public toward a particular point of view.  Most recently, there was a story that made headlines in which a certain reporter said it wasn’t his job to the check the facts of another outlet.  Really?  This is what we have come to.  The major networks and news agencies are owned by a few very wealthy people.  We are hearing what it is they want us to hear to promote their agenda, not necessarily what is true.  It’s shameful.  What’s worse is that we, the masses are falling for it.  We are being manipulated and persuaded into believing what they would have us believe.   They incite, inflame and work people up in anger of the most unproductive kind.  They laugh all the way to the bank as they make money off of peoples’ fears.

Sometimes in discussions with people I know, if I challenge the “facts” they present that they have gotten from one of these stations, they are incredulous.  Some have become so indoctrinated they can’t see the truth when it’s presented.  When I suggest that what they have heard is biased opinion, not fact, they vehemently disagree.  When I describe what real journalism should look like, they don’t get it.  And then I ask this question:  “Do you know who Walter Cronkite (or some other well-known journalist) was? When they affirm that they do, I ask another question.  “What political party was this person affiliated with?”  More times than not, they don’t have an answer.  And that is the point.  I don’t want to know what political party any journalist is a member of, nor should I know.  It should have no bearing on good reporting of the facts.  There should be no editorializing unless it’s on the editorial page where it belongs.

I am thankful, that there still are many, many ethical journalists out there.  Sadly, their voices and work are dimmed by the cacophony of the pseudo journalists on television.  One has to dig deeply sometimes to find them, but they are there. I am proud to say that my sister is one of them.  I do my best to support their work and encourage others to do the same.

I tried coming back to television news.  Within a week, I was reminded why I parted ways.  It was more offensive than ever.  The time away made it that more glaring.  I highly recommend taking a break.  One’s perspective changes.  It really does.

I remember visiting my grandmother one time many years ago.  I noticed she had a pile of those newspapers that one would find at the supermarket checkout.  You know, the ones that said aliens landed in someone’s backyard and such.  I remember asking her how she could read that stuff because surely she knew it wasn’t true.  And in a serious as all get out tone she said, “Robin, they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true!” I told her that she was naïve and misinformed because people were suing those rags left and right for printing false and libelous stories.  I also remember thinking, “Thank goodness for real journalism.”

Who is the naïve and misinformed one now?

“Well, you can cool it,
You can heat it . . .
‘Cause, baby, I don’t need it . . .
Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all the unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head begin to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsman say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so” – Frank Zappa

A Little Ice Cream

I’m sitting here in my office desirous of a pint of my favorite Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Imagine Swirled Peace.  The only thing stopping me from having some is the fact that the grocery store in the village where I live doesn’t carry it.  They have Cherry Garcia, but I don’t like that.  Lucky me.

As a rule, I am a very healthy eater.  However, I discovered that sometimes I fall off the healthy eating wagon and seek comfort from food, ice cream in particular,  in times of emotional distress.  The reason I am seeking comfort from my favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor is that I am angry.  I am angry at our dysfunctional government.  I am angry that someone who shouldn’t have, died the other day for lack of resources that prevented him from getting to his cancer treatments.  I am angry at the cruel and uncaring, balance the budget at all costs, attitude of  our elected officials.  They don’t care about the people they are elected to serve.  They don’t care about the common good.  They care only about dismantling the government and serving their own special interests.  They are not in the trenches of everyday life that I and others like me who are overwhelmed by the need we see around us.  They don’t see the effects their decisions have on real people.

I pastor a church in a very rural community.  We are fortunate here in the village where I live that has a population of just under 1000 people.  We have a grocery store, a post office, a bank, two convenience stores, a lovely public library, a pharmacy, a K-12 school, and we are within 12 miles south and north of two hospitals.  We even have a bowling alley.  We can get gasoline for our cars at one of the convenience stores and there are several hair salons, a tavern, two pizza places, and an ice cream stand with a video store.  There is no department store or movie theater, otherwise there would be no reason to have to leave town to shop for anything.   It is amazing and surprising in this economy that our little village can support all of those things.  We are fortunate.  It is a quiet, safe little village.  Just about everyone here brags about that.  They stay here because of it and wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.  The young people don’t go far for college and look forward to coming back here to live and raise their own families when they finish.

Most people who live in our village have to travel elsewhere for work unless they teach at the school or farm for a living.  Most have nice automobiles, mostly trucks and suvs, and I wonder as I see them fill up those big gas guzzlers how they do it.  I drive a car that is 22 years old and have to stretch every gas dollar I have.

Underneath this idyllic scene is a segment of our population that is struggling mightily.  They are underground as it were because their pride won’t allow them into the light.  They call me after hours sometimes or stop by my office in the afternoon when no one else is typically there.  Or they call and say, “Are you the church that helps people?”  They are almost an underground network of people in need who pass the word along that we are the church that has a food pantry, gas vouchers, and vouchers for the grocery store for perishable items.  We don’t have certain days that folks can come.  We do it on an as needed basis as long as the resources are available.  We have regulars, like the man who died the other day.  I knew that the help I was able to offer him wasn’t enough and it saddened me greatly.  I worried about him.  I need not worry any more for now he is in the arms of God.

The people I help don’t want anyone to know they are in survival mode.  They are humiliated by their circumstances and when they come to me for help I don’t ask them to fill out forms or prove they are in need.  Jesus never said we had to qualify people in order to help them so I don’t.  Sure, I’ve been taken a few times by people, but that is their issue, not mine.  Most of the people who seek us out are swallowing every ounce of pride they have in order to ask for assistance.  They come to me when they have no where else to turn.  They tell me their stories because in their shame they feel the need to justify asking for help.  Most don’t go to or affiliate with any church.  I listen to their stories and tell them I will pray for them and I do.  I am their along the way pastor.  They don’t realize that, but in fact it’s true.  They don’t go to church but they want to know God is with them in their struggles and pain.  I do what I can.

That is why I am angry.  I see this all the time.  I see how the decisions to balance a budget affect the lives of real flesh and bone people. These are people God loves and cares for – people I care for as a pastor.  These are people some of whom worked their whole lives and have lost their jobs, their pensions, their health insurance.  They’ve lost their homes or they’ve been able to hang on to their homes but can’t afford the gas or electric bill, or food.  They don’t have enough gas to get to the job interview 40 miles away or enough gas to last until the first paycheck at the new job.  Some are relying on others to transport them because their car is broken down and there is no money to fix it.  Their unemployment benefits have run out. They are women with children who’ve left abusive relationships.  I could go on an on.  There is blessing and curse where I live and serve.  The blessing is that we are a small caring community fairly insulated from the rest of the world and the curse is that we are insulated, almost isolated, and too far away from the little help that may be available for those who struggle financially and otherwise.  The nearest major city is over an hour away. When you have little or no resources that distance might as well be a million miles away.   Today I feel overwhelmed by that fact.

I feel grief for the man who died and will have no service to celebrate his life. There will be no service to thank God for his presence in this world, to acknowledge that he lived among us and meant so much to those who knew and loved him.   I found out through the obituary in the local newspaper that he was cremated immediately according to his wishes and that he had been an over the road truck driver for thirty years.  I didn’t know that about him.  I just knew he had lost his job and at 60 something years old he was having trouble getting another one. I know he was scared when they discovered his cancer.  He told me so and I prayed with him.  He told me he lost his pride by the third time he came to me for help.  “I’m desperate,” he said. ” I don’t know where else to turn.”  I’m glad he found his way to our church and that we were able to help even in a very small way, and I hope that there was some small measure of comfort in that for him.  Now I am praying for God to comfort his family whom I have never met.

Today I am angry because in a country such as ours, no one should have to worry when they get sick whether they can go to the doctor or if need be get to their cancer treatments.  No one should go hungry and no one should be without shelter.  I agree that we need to get our fiscal house in order.  But why does it have to be at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our country?  Unfortunately, Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t make a flavor that can answer that question.

A Love Letter to Spencer

Dear Spencer:

Welcome to the world!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to meet you, to hold you, and to shower you with kisses and love as I was able to do with your mommy when she was born and your brother, Liam when he came into our lives.

I want you to know how lucky you are.  You have amazing parents.  They are the best of friends, they love each other passionately, they love your brother, and now they have you.  They are lucky too because you will bring them immense joy just as Liam has.  You couldn’t ask for better parents, trust me.  I’m your Nonna and I wouldn’t lie to you.  I am so proud of the parents they are.

Not every child who comes into the world is loved the way you are.  The world isn’t always a safe or nice place, but you are fortunate to have been born to people who know how to parent, who know how to love their children for who they are.  They also understand how important it is to be encouraging, to love unconditionally, and to do their best to protect you and keep you safe.  Who you are and will be is exactly what they want for you.  Not what they think you should be or what the world says, but how God has created you to be. In the world we live in today, that is a huge thing, let me tell you.  Your Nonna’s work, as you will find out soon enough, is all about that.  I help people understand how much God loves them just the way they are while challenging them to be the best they can be and help others.  Something must have stuck with your mommy, because she chose a life partner that believes the same thing.  That is how they have been raising Liam and that is how they will raise you.

Your parents will raise you to love yourself and love others.  They will teach you to look out at the world beyond yourself.  They will encourage you in your studies and help you figure out what it is you want to do with your life.  They will be behind you one hundred percent.  You will be nurtured and loved not just by them, but by two grandmothers, a Papa, aunts, uncles and so many friends.  You have a whole community of love that has been waiting to embrace you. Never forget that.  Never forget how special you are, but never forget that there are needs in the world and one of the things for you to figure out as you grow up will be to find out where your gifts match those needs.  If you learn to do that, to give of yourself, to share the gifts God has given to you, you will receive so much more than you could ever give.  This is something else I know a lot about.

I hope and pray that life is nothing but gracious and good to you.  However, into every life some sadness comes.  My prayer is that your sense of self, the foundation of love you will be given, and your faith will sustain you.  Please remember that who you are is enough.  Please don’t ever forget that I love you as fiercely and as passionately as your parents do and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect you.  There is nothing you could ever do or say that would make me love you less or turn away from you.  Come to think of it, that is how God’s love is.  God’s love is so gracious and unconditional.  There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you could do to make God love you less.  There are angry and sad people in the world who may try to tell you differently.  Don’t listen to them.  Just know that God’s love is bigger than anything we human creatures can possibly imagine.

I don’t know where life will take you.  I can’t wait to see how you will set your piece of the world on fire.  It’s still tough for women these days.  I’m working on that too.  I hope that by the time you are an adult, actually before that time, women will truly be equal to men.  That they will be treated fairly and justly, and not objectified.

Enjoy your childhood. Play.  Have fun.  Be silly. Please don’t be in a hurry to grow up. And laugh.  Please don’t forget to laugh.  A sense of humor is very, very important.  Be kind, Spencer.  Always be kind and you will never go wrong.

That’s probably more than you can understand or want to know right now.  Your Nonna can be intense and passionate when it comes to certain things. That’s something else you’ll find out about me in time.

In the meantime, little one, bask in the glow of God’s love which surrounds you through your parents, grandparents, and all the other people who think you are pretty special.

ImageI thank God for you, Spencer.  I never knew it would be possible to love other human beings as much as I have loved your mommy, Auntie Aly, Uncle Hunter and Auntie Emily, but I can.  That love just as big is named Liam and now you, Spencer.  I’m so full I could burst.

There’s one more thing.  If you ever wonder what this life is all about.  It’s love.  Really. Jesus said so, and I believe him because I’ve felt it and experienced it.  I know you will too.

Love,

Nonna

P.S.  When all else fails, just dance!  It works for me every time.

What Love Looks Like

Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.    – Jean Vanier

Her name was Marguerite Ann Calnan Giza.  Most people called her Bunny, except for my grandmother who called her by her given name.  I called her Mum, unless I was sick or hurting, then it was Mumma.  Today marks the third anniversary of her death.  The ache feels almost as fresh as it did the day she died.  I miss her beyond words.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, and there are other days when I forget she is gone and reach for the phone to call her.  Sometimes when I’m driving on the long rural roads where I live, I think of something happening in my life I and I want to call her and share it.   Except I can’t.  Those are the times when I cry the most -in the car.  I’m usually by myself and it’s often then that I pray and think of her.  Sometimes I’ll hear a song that reminds me of her and that will encourage the tears.  Mum loved music.  From the time I can remember there was always music in our home.  I remember she always tuned into WBZ radio in Boston in the kitchen early in the morning as she made coffee and breakfast.  If a song came on that she liked, she’d turn it up and start singing.  There was always a radio in the kitchen.  Always.  She loved Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole.  In fact, she loved all kinds of music.  When I was a teenager and I’d be in my room listening to Aretha Franklin, sometimes she’d yell up from the bottom of the stairs, “Turn it up!”  She watched American Bandstand every Saturday afternoon when I was growing up.  I recall her teaching me how to dance in our living room while we watched.  When I would watch Soul Train in as a teen, sometimes she’d watch with me and we would try out new dance steps together.

She loved her children fiercely and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to encourage or protect us.  Life in our home was chaotic for many years but my mother shielded us from as much as she could and I always, always felt safe.   My Mum was like a lioness defending her cubs and she was our biggest cheerleader.  If we were in a school play or musical, she would get there an hour early before anyone else so she could get a front seat.  She wanted to make sure we could see her.  She would smile the whole time and later tell us our performance was the best.   Okay, one of her faults was that she lied a little.    No matter what went wrong in my life I always felt that my Mum could make it better.    Even if she couldn’t fix it, just hearing her say, “It will be alright,” was enough.  She was always in our corner.  She spoke the truth in love, and even if she was disappointed in a choice we might make, her love and support never waived.  It wasn’t a blind love, she always made us own up to our mistakes, but it was an unconditional love.

She had a wicked sense of humor, kind of dark actually, and I’m proud to say my sisters and I inherited it.  When life would throw my Mum lemons, she would sing sarcastically, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.”  If we came home from school and she was singing that, we knew something was up.  We may not have known what, but it was something.  And then she’d address whatever it was and move on.

She was stunningly beautiful.  I always thought she looked like Grace Kelly.  I loved watching her get ready to go out in the evening as she applied her makeup and put on a dress.  Elegant and sophisticated.  That was her style.  Even when we had very little money, my mother knew how to stretch a tight budget and she always looked pulled together.

My Mum never finished high school but she was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known.  She was a avid reader and an extremely well-informed public citizen.  She was a member of the League of Women voters for a long time.  Education was a high priority in our home and our successes in school were always celebrated.  She always told us we could be anything we wanted to be.  She said she didn’t care what we chose to do for a career or job, but whatever it was, do it to the best of our ability.

I remember when I was being bullied in school and came home crying saying I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, my mother said to me, “Why be like everyone else?  Be different because you are.  Be you, and be the best you that you can be.  Be the good person that you are.”  And when kids would make fun of me and gossip about me or my family, she would say this, “Robin, you can’t control what other people say or think.  You can only control your own actions and thoughts.  You know what the truth is.  Sometimes that is all you will have and that will have to be enough.  If you know you’ve done your best, when you lay your head on the pillow at night, if you’re right with God, that’s all that matters.”  That last piece of wisdom has carried me more times than I can count and that’s no lie.  And then she would say, “Usually people who hurt other people, are in pain and are hurt themselves.  Always remember that.”

My Mum was strong and independent. She was a survivor, but her greatest strength and gift was her ability to mother and to love.  There have been times in my life when people have told me that I am a good mother.  It is a great compliment.  But it is no accident.  If I am a good mother, it is because I had one.  No, she wasn’t just a good mother, she was an amazing mother.  She taught me what love looks like and that is her greatest legacy to me and the rest of us who knew and loved her.

I don’t know what heaven looks like, but if God gave her  a home to live in, I know it’s clean.  She was compulsive that way.  And I hope she has a radio.  Sing on, Mum.  Sing on.

You Are Beloved

Today is the day in the liturgical church year when we read about the Baptism of the Lord – the day Jesus was baptized by John in the river and heard the voice of God say,

“You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3: 21-22).

It also marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.   Every year when this text comes around I am reminded of the day I received my “call” to ministry.  I was in the shower.  A fitting place if you ask me.  There’s all kinds of theological implications here on this one.  However, that’s not where I’m going with this.  I also clearly remember telling my husband, John.  His response was not what you might expect.  He didn’t jump up and down with joy and glee.  Really.  He looked at me with a blank stare for a very long time and then when he finally spoke said, ” Okay.”  If was half question, half statement.  I said, “I’m serious.”  He responded, “What makes you say that?”  I then went on to explain my encounter with God to him.  In any case, it took a little bit of convincing.  When he finally came around in a few weeks he said he had two questions for me:  “Are you sure?” and, “Why?”  My response was, “I have never been more certain about anything as I am this.  And why? Because people need to know how much God really loves them.”  From that moment on, we never looked back and I haven’t regretted one moment.

I have, with the help of the Spirit, held a theory for a very long time.  In fact, I would say it’s a passion.  I’m sure I’m not alone, others have believed it and taught it as well.  I posted two devotionals on Facebook this morning that share this view.   The theory is that if we as human creatures really understood how much God truly loves us and absorbed it, embraced it, lived it I believe the world would be a very different place.  Think about it if you will.  Don’t we act differently when we’re loved?  Don’t we live with more hope that the world can be better than it is?  Don’t we feel like we actually might be able to make a difference?  Aren’t we nicer even to people we may not care for very much?  Love makes a difference.  Knowing we are loved and accepted makes a difference.  There is a reason Jesus preached love all the time.  He knew it from the beginning of his ministry.  He knew it was the only way for us to find happiness and joy in our lives.  He knew it was the only thing that would change the world.

I was bullied all the way through elementary and junior high school.  I remember crying every day because I didn’t want to go to school.  It felt like I was being sent to hell because every day at least one or more kids would make fun of me, or threaten to beat me up before I could get to the bus.  I used to cry and beg my mother not to send me to school.  She would tell me things like, “Ignore them.  If you ignore them they’ll stop.  They just want to get a reaction out of you”.  And every day I would come home crying and say that I tried to follow her advice and it didn’t work.  She talked to the teachers and the principal and their advice was for her to teach me to toughen up.  Yeah, blame the victim.  Finally she just said to me,  “You have to go to school.  I’m sorry, but just remember, I love you.  You are beautiful.  Nothing they say can change that.”  At the time it was cold comfort to a pre-teen who only wanted to be accepted by her peers, but in retrospect it enabled me to endure.  At those moments of torment during the day I would remember that once I got home I would be loved.  I would be safe.  In those days I felt ugly, worthless.  I just wanted to fit in but there was no room.  I learned how to make myself as invisible as possible.  I didn’t raise my hand in class for fear of giving a wrong answer and being laughed at for that.  I did everything I could to keep the kids from noticing me.  Because of that, now as an adult, I can spot a bullied kid a mile away and my heart breaks for them.  Bullied kids need to be protected and they need to know that they are loved unconditionally.  Everyone does.  It makes a difference.  It changes how we view ourselves and how we view others.

By the time I reached my sophomore year of high school the bullying stopped, but the damage was done.  It took me years to rebuild my self esteem.  What got me through that time was the love of my mother.  She was my safe place.  My mother’s love was God’s love.  In time that is what I learned.  It changed everything.  Do I wish that I wasn’t bullied?  Of course.  However, that experience enabled me to develop a deep compassion for others and I don’t think I would be the pastor I am had I not been through it.  Now I can be a voice for the lonely, the scared, the voiceless.  I know what it means to an outcast and so I preach, teach and work toward making the church and the world a safe place where all people are included.  That’s the real Jesus work.

Now a large part of my call as I have discerned it is to preach the Gospel of love and teach people who to share that love with others.  Now I am not afraid to speak up on behalf of others.  I am braver.  I don’t shrink anymore.  Have I arrived?  No.  I am still a work in progress, but I know I am loved beyond all measure by the One whose opinion is the only one that counts.  That love is unconditional and I have claimed it.  I have a place in the heart of God.  That is something no one can take away from me or you, because it’s yours as well.

On a bad day when I need comfort from a cold world I remember the words of God from the book of the prophet Isaiah:  “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

I hope those words help you remember that you are loved beyond understanding too.  And if you are someone who already knows that, please reach out and share it with someone who may not.