Adjusting Perspective

“In this treacherous world nothing is a truth or lie. Everything depends on the color of the crystal through which one sees it.” -Pedro Calderon de la Becca

“And those who were dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

As part of my Lenten discipline this year, I reread the Old Testament. I tried to not focus on any individual passages, but instead I tried to widen my viewpoint and adjust my perspective and experience the reading as a story unfolding in front of me. Today’s reflection is about the danger of narrowing our perspective to the point that we miss the big picture of God’s plan. Just as easily we could reflect on the dangers of missing the details that are necessary and important while we are busy looking at the big picture. Life is truly about finding the balance between these ways of seeing and today, I’d like for us to consider the big picture of God’s plan and not stumble over the details. For some of us the big picture comes naturally and we tend to struggle with the details and for others the details are the easy part and we miss the big picture completely.

I have always found it fascinating to discuss a television series that has powerful and diverse characters with others who are watching also. It has fascinated me that we each choose a character, consciously or unconsciously that we begin to relate to and then watch and experience the story from that character’s point of view. Usually in books and movies the director or author determines our point of view. But in a television series with multiple strong and ongoing characters we begin to follow the storyline from the character we strongly relate to and see the story unfold from their point of view. Then we narrow down our perspective and experience the story as their story and begin to empathize and sympathize with their wants and needs.   One of the most powerful examples of this phenomenon that I have experienced in the last few years is the series that concluded last year, “Sons of Anarchy”. When I would discuss this series with others, it seemed if you were either a “Jemma” sympathizer or a “Jax” sympathizer. I believe if you went into the series because you loved Katy Segal and her body of work, you probably got hooked into the “Jemma” camp and if not you by default became a “Jax” camp sympathizer. If you were following this series from the “Jemma” camp, you could relate to her motivations and her fierce protectiveness of the family and club. While the point of the series, in my opinion, was about family and relationships, your sympathies were split into one of two camps. When you had chosen a camp whether that was consciously or unconsciously you began to experience the story and saw Jemma as an antagonist and her constant interference was unacceptable and troublesome. But if you were able to shift your perspective and see Jemma for what she was, a mother and a fierce protector of the family and the motorcycle club, you could forgive her intrusion and damaging actions. And ultimately you could truly grieve her inevitable death at Jax’s hand. When you were firmly in the “Jax” camp, Jemma was a conniving and controlling pain that ruined and destroyed Jax’s life and work. But ultimately looking at the series as a whole, it was a family and a club that loved and lived and died by their own rules.

In relating this to our spiritual lives, I think we naturally see the world from our own narrow perspective. We pray for what we want and need and forget to wait to see if this is God’s plan for our lives and God in his wisdom does not always answer those prayers as we had hoped but eventually we become aware of the greater perspective of God’s plan. We read the bible searching out scriptures to reinforce our viewpoint, conduct our affairs with family, friends, church and work from this narrow point of view. We look at scripture and society to promote and reinforce our views, beliefs and sometimes miss the broader view of God’s plan while we are busy making the world conform to our plan.   We forget to follow Jesus and strike our own path through the darkness. This keeps us from being able to consider other points of view, other’s needs and motivations, and what God’s plan is for our lives. Our hyper-focus on making life happen from our narrowed perspective is detrimental to following and allowing God’s plan to be evident in our lives. When we cannot or will not consider another point of view or adjust our perspective, we miss the opportunity to connect and understand others and their path.   We miss the blessing of knowing others fully and understanding their truth. Compassion becomes difficult when we are caught up in our own designed world with our own feelings, needs and wants and we miss being of service to others. God’s plan for our lives and relationships can be completely missed while we are busy making plans and controlling our own destinies.

We need to be mindful of the flow of life and God’s plan so that we can be wholly present in the moment and be open to correction of our direction if we are off course. We need to tend to the details while being mindful of the larger picture of God’s design.

It is not necessary or even possible to truly know what God has planned for our lives. We have been reminded in I Corinthians 13 that we “know only in part” and “for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face”. It really isn’t necessary to know everything or even possible, but we can be mindful of opening our hearts and minds to searching for God’s perspective in our lives. We have to have faith that God has a bigger plan for our lives and while we are responsible for doing the work we should not get so hyper-focused on the details that we are not willing to adjust our sails and change direction when necessary to be in obedience to God’s plan.

When our focus and belief’s are so narrow we can limit the revelation of Holy Spirit for our next step or we can even use this narrow viewpoint to exclude or judge others. When we read scripture for the sole purpose of proving our point of view, or a singular point of view we miss the perspective the whole story. We forget to take into account the context of the passage or the complete story. While this type of study may be necessary for specific studies or applications it is still a prudent practice to look at the whole chapter at the least if not the entire book. It can actually show us God’s plan is much broader and more inclusive than we may want to believe. It can shed new light on certain passages in the bible that we may have used to judge others and show us a different revelation of some classically misinterpreted passages. If we just use the bible to search for topics or answers that we want or need to defend our point of view, we can cloud the true meaning of the scriptures. We could take a few verses here or there and build our foundation only to discover too late that we have been building on sand and not rock. I am not saying that there are not times it is appropriate to search the scriptures to calm or fortify our spirit, I am just suggesting that we need to adjust our perspectives occasionally so that we are clear on what the bigger picture is behind those verses. This way we can be assured that we are not using a handful of verses to justify our behaviors or our own narrow point of view.

In our Christian faith, there seem to be very few absolutes. When we are asking God for a vision to see His plan we will not become caught up in details but we will be using those details to live into the commandment and one absolute that Jesus told us was the fulfillment of all the law. Matt. 22:34-40

In conclusion, I wonder if when Jesus said, “narrow is the way” and mentions how hard it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, was just saying that when we narrow our focus to only getting what we want and not considering the whole we will miss the blessing of living fully into His commandment of “loving our neighbors as ourselves”?

©Amber E Keithley 2015

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Pardon vs Grace

I have recently been on a “Netflix marathon watching “The Ghost Whisper”. It was a show that I did not watch when it originally aired and have caught an episode or two here and there over the years.   A few weeks ago I caught a couple of episodes and decided that I would like to see this series in its entirety. Hence, the Netflix marathon has been happening at our home, much to my poor husband’s annoyance. I believe that the reason this series has appealed to me lately has to do with the idea of pardon that I had been thinking a lot about. In this series, Melinda is a “sensitive” that can see ghosts and can help the ghost find closure in this life and move on into the light and find peace. It seems that most of the ghosts unfinished business has to do with seeking to receive or give forgiveness to those they are leaving behind. This idea that in order to find peace in this life or the next we need to be about the business of forgiving.

Pardon is defined: when used as a noun-a kind indulgence, as in forgiveness of an offense or discourtesy or when used as a verb- to release (a person) from liability for an offense.

We usually think of the word pardon in relation to the law and official pardoning of criminal acts committed by prominent people who are given a clean slate.   When we release an inmate on parole this is just a “we see you are trying to change, but we do not trust you fully”, kind of release from their punishment. They are not absolved of their crime, it is still branded into their record and all over their life.

I have been thinking about pardon a bit more personally considering how this fits into my faith and relationship with others and God. We know we are supposed to forgive, we know that we are forgiven by God, but I believe the concept of pardon takes forgiveness a step or two further. To me, a pardon is the excusing of an offense without exacting a penalty for the offense. This reminds me a little more of grace…according to the Book of Common Prayer “Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills”. I like the quote by Joseph Prince, which says, “The law condemns the best of us; but grace saves the worst of us.

As Christians, we speak of grace and forgiveness but by definition we cannot as humans bestow the gift of grace on others. This is where I believe we can expand our duty of forgiveness to others through the act of pardon. Pardon is not saying that an offense was not committed against us or that the person is not guilty of the offense, but it is an act of taking our forgiveness to the next level and letting the offender free from our punishment. Pardon becomes a little more like grace when we can let go of the need to punish others for their offenses against us. We can let go of our need to inflict guilt and shame and approach our offender with the spirit of reconciliation. While I acknowledge that there are offenses or offenders that it may not be prudent or healthy to allow to be in a relationship with us anymore. I believe we can pardon the offense and avoid the person. We wipe the slate clean for others and allow them to be free of our personal punishment for their offense and allowing them the opportunity to start fresh. Phillip Yancy said once “Mercy is not getting what you deserve while grace is getting what you do not deserve”. He said, “grace elevates us, God judges us as if we had never sinned through the filter of Jesus”. He continues with, “grace implies a risk, the risk we might abuse it, yet God seems quite willing to take that risk”, “grace is unfair, we deserve God’s wrath and get God’s love, deserve punishment and get forgiveness. This is the same with pardon, we take a risk to offer to pardon to someone who has hurt or offended us, but the same gift has been given to us through grace. We might get hurt or offended again, but we are better for having forgiven the 70 times 7 times that Jesus commanded. When we set others free by pardoning them, we are setting ourselves free. We no longer have to be about the business of score keeping of offenses and remembering how long we have decided that this offending person should be banished from our good graces. And in this freedom, we can bask in the grace that God has given us so that we may allow God to enlighten our heart, stir our minds and strengthen our will to better serve Him.

©Amber E Keithley 2015

Forgiveness

Forgiveness does not change the past but it does enlarge the future.

-Paul Boese

I heard this quote recently and was struck by the hope it inspires. So often we see forgiveness as just something that should be given to us and when it is our turn to forgive we find the task of forgiveness to be an abyss we cannot or will not cross.

Our forgiveness was purchased at great cost for God and his Son and but we find it difficult to forgive even the smallest of slights. When Peter asked Jesus how many times should we forgive…he quickly answers not just once but seventy-seven times or seventy times seven in some versions. There are many times when someone has wronged us and we want to forgive and we think we have forgiven but we cannot let go of the hurt and the pain it has caused us. Which keeps us dredging up those “sins” against us from the depths of the sea. But when God forgives it is also forgotten and thrown to the depth of the sea to be left forever. We, on the other hand, cannot or will not let the past go and this keeps us stuck in the muck and muddiness of the issue. It not only keeps the other person captive but it keeps us captive and stuck. There are “sins” that people might commit against us that we need to remember in order to not allow it to happen again, but we do not need to become stuck and wallow with it in the mud. Doing this keeps us from being washed clean by the blood of Jesus and allowing the person we feel has wronged us the blessing of being forgiven. While we are human and cannot necessarily be as forgiving as God, we can remember that God (Jesus) while he was in human form even prayed as he was hanging on the cross “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”. If Jesus can offer this forgiveness at a time when he had every right to hold on and be stuck in unforgiveness, then surely we can let go of the slights that have been done to us. Of course we cannot allow someone to continually “sin” against us and there does come a time when we have to make the hard decision to not allow him or her to be a part of our lives. We then need to ask God for the strength to forgive and the courage to set boundaries that will no longer allow that person to reign hurt and pain into our lives. This, I know from experience, is harder said than done. How do you set a boundary that will exclude someone from your life and help them to understand that while forgiveness has been offered, they are no longer welcome to “sin” against you. I always get stuck at this point, because while we want to have this boundary, were we not told to forgive “seventy-seven times” or “seventy times seven”? If we have forgiven them then shouldn’t we allow them full access to our lives again? And most importantly, doesn’t God continue to forgive us, over and over and over for the same ridiculous things that we do. But then I remember that I am not God, I am not perfect, I am not expected to be and that I am just a human being trying to live a life that is acceptable to God. I do my best and try to leave the rest to God.

Forgiveness of my “sins” was always on my mind as a child and I used to worry obsessively about the “unforgiveable sin” that is mentioned in Mark 3:28-29. We were limited only to the King James Version and the wording was frightening. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. It was one of those scary concepts that the church I grew up in threw around to keep you scared and “in-line”. They made this sin seem like something that you could accidently commit and then all would be lost. What they failed to take into account was the context and to whom Jesus was speaking. This verse kept me in a state of anxiety and unrest for many years. When speaking of any sins, their teachings skipped over grace and focused solely on works. While they would occasionally mention grace, it was not the center of their faith. After we had left this church, as young adults, I was introduced to a new God, one that I had never been taught much about: The God of Love, the God of Grace and Forgiveness and when I found out this God loved me in spite of my sin; I finally found the peace that I had read about in the bible but had never really believed existed. The only peace I had known before was fleeting, I found peace in following the rules and laws that they had told me were necessary for salvation but it was an uneasy peace. A peace that came from fear and did not ever allow for being human and never were we assured of salvation. It was a pick and choose kind of religion, pick the verses or parts thereof that would scare you into believing that they were the only ones that would be saved and therefore if you believed and behaved like you were taught, then God would love you and might even save you from eternal damnation. And if you were not feeling the peace that God had promised then surely you were not living fully into the rules and regulations that the God they knew, was requiring of you. Therefore I had the challenging lesson of forgiving the religion that I was born into. I found this to be a difficult task to begin; I was angry and bitter that they could so terribly misrepresent God and the bible. But as the months and years went on I realized that they were preaching and teaching only what they were afraid not to preach and teach. They were stuck in this fear and did not know the God I had come to know and love. It was then that forgiveness came and I was able to let go of this “sin” that I felt they had committed against me and allow it to be dropped to the depth of the sea. I was able to set the boundary of not allowing them power to scare me into a set of beliefs and rules and I was free to try to live fully into the grace, forgiveness and peace that was promised through the blood of Christ. When I allowed myself to forgive, I was granted, by the grace of God, the peace that was promised and I no longer had to be tied to the sins of my past and my future truly was enlarged.

©Amber E Keithley 2014

Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?

“Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?” Every time I hear this song on the radio it triggers a train of thought about how we behave in private and in public and how they differ. My daughter and I used to giggle when we would see someone at a traffic light behaving in their car as if they were in private. It always surprised us that they seemed to forget that others could see them picking their nose or examining a zit. There are many things that we do in the privacy of our homes that we really shouldn’t be doing when others are watching. And as children we are usually taught which behaviors are private ones and which one’s are publically allowed. If our parents have not stressed this enough, the other children will shame us into cooperation by a very young age. Recently someone posted a YouTube video of a senator picking in his ear and then it appears as if he is snacking on whatever he had found…of course we found this disgusting as we were taught, we don’t eat our boogers or anything we pick off our bodies! He seemed to forget we were “looking”!

When I was growing up my mother would remind us as we left the house to remember, “who we were and to whom we belonged”. It annoyed us as kids when she would say that and we would always leave rolling our eyes. But now it rings in my mind as a mantra…that my life and my example are being watched and that my life should be an example and Christ-like. I fail miserably at this, each day I am sure but it at least is a reminder of what I should be striving for.

As I began writing my classes to teach Massage Therapy ethics, I began to think about how we behave as a profession and how it reflects on others in the profession when someone does not adhere to a high ethical standard. Recently a Wilson man allegedly killed his girlfriend while his newborn infant and her young toddler were present, the paper repeatedly mentioned that he was a massage therapist. I was horrified by the murder and angry that his profession was mentioned so many times. It seemed unrelated but obviously the writer thought massage therapists should be held to a higher standard of conduct. It also seemed that they were surprised that he had received a license in the first place since he had a previous criminal history. This concerned me enough to question our state board and the board’s attorney extensively about their judgment in issuing his license. We do not have the luxury of being lax in our moral character because our profession demands that we be above reproach.

I believe as Christians, we have this same requirement; we do not have the luxury of being judgmental and unloving. Christ left us a very clear moral and ethical code of conduct that we are to live by…we are to love one another and do unto others as we would have them do unto us.   But how do we behave when we think others are not watching…I believe it is very telling when we read numerous news stories about “someone doing the right thing”, returning a found wallet with the money still in it, returning the bag of money the armored car lost on the street, helping a stranger when they had an accident and it was dark and a little scary to stop. And we never know when someone is watching us. As parents we learn this when our babies reach a certain age…the day you realize your toddler is following behind you with her little play phone held between her ear and shoulder and is saying hmmmm…just exactly like you are. Or the first time you slam on brakes and before that “word” can come out of your mouth, the little mouth behind you in their car seat spits it out for you. I’ve heard it said that children hear very little that you say and actually model what you do…so the “do as I say, not as I do” just isn’t okay when raising kids.

But the hard part comes, when we are alone…are we being Christ-like, are we being all that God intended or are we taking a break from our struggle of Christ-likeness and letting our human nature take the lead. Are we living in a way in private and in public so that others know we are Christians? Are we looking for the reward in public for something we have done in private? We tell our children that the reward is in the doing but then we sneer when someone doesn’t offer a reward when we return the wallet intact. Do we pray to be seen? Do we pray at all if we are alone and just grabbing a quick meal? Are we more likely to pray when someone is watching, so they can see what a great Christian we are or are we ashamed to offer grace when others might see us? Are we Christians on Sunday only or is there no doubt to others that we are Christians?

©Amber E Keithley 2014

“I Do It My Own Self”

We have the mistaken belief at times that we have to do things ourselves. It starts at very young age…I remember one of my child’s first full sentences was a very adamant, “I do it my own self”! While this is a natural stage of declaring and establishing our independence it isn’t long before we realize that we cannot always “do it our own selves” and we need help. If we refuse the help of others we not only miss the blessing that will come from allowing others and God to help us but we deny others and God the blessing that they receive from helping others. Sometimes it is pride and stubbornness that keeps us from experiencing the blessing that God wants to bestow on us and sometimes we forget that God will not forsake us. How often we wander aimlessly before we think of asking for help. I personally have found myself often asking for God’s help and then proceeding to try and “do it my own self”. To help myself let go of taking back the request I would ask God help with, I created a “God Box” that I put my prayers and worries into for safe keeping. When I would find myself trying to solve the problem again, I would make myself go and take that piece of paper with my prayer on it back and try to carry it around in my hand while I went about my day. It does not take long before you realize that carrying that around is not only hard but almost impossible. But the most powerful lesson and the one that brought me to my knees was when I realized as I went to the box to take a prayer back that I was essentially saying to God….I don’t think You can handle this and “I will do it my own self”.   It was then I realized that once I ask God for help, I must sit back and wait for Him to carry me and my problems.

©Amber E Keithley 2014

The Hard Questions

Recently someone ask me a hard question…she asked me, “if there are blessings from God and there non-blessings”, she didn’t want to use the word curses. It set me on a journey of thought like so many things do in my ADHD brain. As I thought about this I began to think about how we pick and choose what we want to believe about God. We want to believe that our God is a God of love and blessings and that Old Testament mean God is no longer handing out brutal punishment for wearing mixed fibers etc. but how do we explain the “non-blessings” we experience. If there is light there must be darkness, if there is good there must be evil, if there is right there must be wrong… and about this time I just get lost in my head. Is God concerned with my day to day life, does God want me to get to work on time and therefore makes all the lights green so it happens? Or is the devil the one controlling those darn lights so I am late again. Ahhh we want to say we have free will and therefore we could choose to get up on time and not lollygag around so we can leave on time. But why do we say it is a blessing when we are running a few minutes behind and then we realize that had we left on time we would have been right in the middle of the horrible accident that happened a few minutes before we passed? Or if we are involved in the horrible accident was God punishing us for some sin we have committed?? Here in lies the problem we have in our human minds…Jesus Jesus if you’re up there are you listening do you care??? Why are children being abused, that child has not sinned to the degree that they should be punished in this way. If it’s the sins of the fathers being heaped upon the heads of the children, what kind of forgiveness is that? What was the point of Jesus death and resurrection if we still have these terrible punishments being heaped upon our heads?? Why do the rich still get richer and the poor get poorer when they’ve worked their entire lives and never got a break/blessing?

Exactly what prayers are worthy to be prayed? What requests are okay, a good parking spot when it’s raining, a green light, a healing of the body or mind for yourself or others, world peace, or safety of our loved ones? Why are we not given the healing sometime, why does a child have to suffer with cancer or the loss of a parent at a young and vulnerable age?? Why why why?? It is these questions that keep some of our minds spinning. Why didn’t God in his mercy find another way to forgive his children, rather than Jesus having to die and be raised again…and why if we get a new body after death why did Jesus still have the wounds from his crucifixion?? We all have pat little answers for the questions of why bad things happen to good people but they are really trite when someone is suffering so desperately from some great and terrible non-blessing.

This world is desperate for answers that are real not trite and placating. How can we believe in a God that doesn’t protect the little children?? How can we forgive ourselves for our own transgressions when God doesn’t seem to be forgiving the little children?

And I am reminded of Job….

And in the midst of his suffering he says…I know that my redeemer lives…..

And all is restored….

©Amber E Keithley 2014

Money Can Buy Happiness!

We have been told that money can’t buy happiness and we have for the most part believed it and perpetuated it by repeating the adage and by allowing it to become part of our culture and personal belief system. How many of these adages have we allowed into our heads and hearts because we never challenged them or tested the theories ourselves.   Recent research has actually challenged this old adage and found it to not be completely true. Money did buy happiness when it was spent on or given to others. In the study a small sum of money was given to study participants; Group 1 was told to spend the money on themselves for something they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves and Group 2 was told to use the money to buy something for someone else. The amounts were fairly insignificant, from $5-$20, and at the end of the day the participants were polled about how their happiness levels were for the day. Overwhelmingly, the ones who had been instructed to spend the money on others reported significantly higher happiness levels. While the ones who spent the money on themselves had only a temporary moment of happiness, the ones who spent on others reported a lasting level of happiness. (TED Talks- Michael Norton: How to buy happiness)

This train of thought was triggered by two things that I have recently been exposed to: the first was seeing someone I love very much make some devastating financial decisions that landed them homeless and an “infomercial” that I listened to recently. In seeing this person create a situation that ended with them becoming homeless and having to rely on the kindness and charity of others was heart wrenching. But through this experience they have finally understood that true happiness and contentment comes from serving others and not having “stuff”. This has been a blessing for them and for me as well. The infomercial was Sean Hyman, a financial guru of sorts, who has a theory about money and Christianity. He talks about how making lots of money and being wealthy is biblical. He points out that the scripture is full of references about prosperity and how God wants us to be prosperous. He of course then offers to sell you his formula for success and you too can be wealthy in a very Christian way. Yes, I listened to the entire sales pitch because some of what he said intrigued me. I wanted to know exactly why we as Christians believe that money is bad and that the rich are going straight to hell. I have been looking at this more critically and searching out scripture and cultural research for answers. What does the bible really say about money, happiness, evil and the rich? What have we been taught to believe about money and will having money make us happy and how does this apply to my life and dear Lord what exactly does this require of me?

As usual, the reason I do things and I believe I’m not exactly alone in this, is to figure out just exactly how much do I, personally have to do, and just how little is acceptable. And Lord, please don’t tell me that I have to sell everything I own and live in poverty to go to heaven! (Matt 19:16-24) Which is why I like to just skip over the gospel story of the rich man who asks Jesus what good deed he could do so that he might receive eternal life. I started to get answers to my questions when Jesus responds; “keep the commandments”, and when the rich man answers; but I’m already doing that, Jesus responds with a very pointed “sell all you have and give it to the poor”. This is where I realized that all of the scripture and cultural references that talk about money and why it is bad and why it “doesn’t buy happiness” had to do with not keeping the commandment of loving my neighbor as yourself. The “love of money” is the root of evil, not the money. (1Tim 6:6-12) And we need to be loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, not loving our money and keeping it to ourselves. Being rich or wealthy affords us an opportunity to “love our neighbor” even more. In loving our neighbors as God loves us, we will bless others with all we have and we will in turn be blessed with happiness and eternal life. I also noticed that in each of the scripture readings that I had found where being rich was deemed a problem, came from the lack of loving your neighbor and not being in a harmonious relationship with others. And this was reinforced with research that shows that when we try to hang on to our money and when the amount of money we have is out of balance to what others have we act in ways that keep us from living the commandment to love one another. (TED Talks- Paul Piff: Does money make you mean?) This in turn brought me to a place where I could understand the true value of why I personally need to be “in church” and have a church family, why it is important to be a good steward of my own personal finances and give to others from what I have been blessed with. In my quest to uncover my own beliefs about money, I watched an interview with Rick Warren, which I will admit I had prejudged him, he spoke about tithing and how after the money began to pour in from his book being on the best-seller list for several years, he and his wife began to reverse tithe. They live on 10% and give 90% to charity and others. I will admit that my personal belief system may make it a bit easier for me to see the need for caring for others and that this belief system has more than once, cost me more than I had to give, not just financially but emotionally and mentally as well. But I believe that spiritually, I have been blessed and that if I am to truly live what I believe “giving is better than receiving” and I have to admit, I am pretty happy.

©Amber E Keithley 2014

Lighten Up

When I began to consider a Lenten practice for this year my focus began to gravitate toward something I had heard about a few years ago.   It was a 40 bags in 40 days…removing 40 bags of unused or unneeded items from your home to share with others in some way. And as my brain works in odd ways I began to see this a lightening Lent instead of the dark denial of Lent that we sometimes think of.

Every year as Lent approaches my family and I can usually be found trying to decide what to “give up” or deny ourselves for the next 40 days….And over the years, I must say that I have also found myself adding something like a prayer practice or a discipline and found that was meaningful too. But this year after a couple of years of hearing about the 40 bags in 40 days, I was not only intrigued but really inspired…it made me think about exactly what Lent meant to me…an opportunity to focus on welcoming the Light, the lightness that denial would accomplish. Many people give up some indulgence or thing they feel they are overly attached to for the sheer denial aspect…but what is the long-term benefit of this short-term denial. I know personally I gave up soda a few years ago and while I will now occasionally indulge in a soda, I am probably a bit healthier for not drinking it everyday. But what if we just give it up for 40days and then return to our previous ways…what was the true benefit. Just proving we can do something for 40 days?   How are we changed? Was there a real change in our hearts, bodies and minds? What can we do to make true and meaningful change? And is it just about making a temporary denial or are we ready to truly deny our selves and lighten up? Or do we really want to “cause a transformation” in our lives? I am personally looking for real transformation this lent. I want this transformation, so that on Easter I can look back and see real change in my life. I can see my heart, my body and my soul changed to be more Christ-like and less like my self-centered and sinful self.

While typically Lent is seen as dark, I believe it only begins that way, as we travel through Lent each day we become lighter as we release the baggage of the past, the hold of our addictions in preparation for greeting our risen Lord. Imagine how much easier it will be “enter the kingdom of Heaven” without all the “stuff” we have been carrying around. How much easier it will be to “come follow Me” if we aren’t dragging around our addictions, our baggage and our need to feed our ego. What if we gave from what we have no longer need of to those who are in need of it, what if that jacket we haven’t worn for 3 years is what keeps someone from freezing to death one night, what if not buying that Starbucks gave us a few extra dollars to put into the collection plate and because of that our Priest was able to help a family keep their electricity on or pay their rent and keep a roof over their heads for one more month. What could denying myself mean to someone else? And if I relieved the cares or worries of another what an amazing gift of resurrection would that be for both of us. One definition of resurrection: the act of causing something that had ended or been forgotten or lost to exist again, to be used again, etc. Not only are we honoring the denial of Lent but we would also be moving toward the resurrection of Easter. Well how perfect is that??? I am reminded of Colonel Hannibal Smith of the “A-Team” …I love it when a plan comes together”. I am sure Jesus has to shake his head at my constant surprise of how relevant His teaching are still today.   It is always an amazing thing to me to see how perfect the Christian teachings fit together, that our denial could lead to resurrection…that this is not just some ancient concept that does not apply to us today…the resurrection is alive and still happening today.

So this year I am not looking for the easy way through Lent, but I am looking for a true lightening up…and a personal experience of resurrection.

©Amber E Keithley 2014

Doubting is Honest

Doubt is honest…

When we admit our doubt we are being honest.

When we are honest we are open for a blessing and a revelation.

Thomas was a man of action and works. He was willing to back his convictions with action. When Jesus suggested they return to Judea, and the disciples were afraid, Thomas said “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. While the others were hiding in the locked room, in fear for their lives from the Jews, Thomas had been out in the world, living in the fear and when he asked for proof, Jesus provided it to him and he was then blessed with the absolute knowledge that Jesus was his Lord and his God.

Thomas admitted his doubt and when he did, he was able to receive the blessing of touching Jesus and his wounds and then was able to truly understand and declare …”My Lord and My God”. Jesus did not say, those who doubt are not blessed, he only added that those who would not be able to see would be blessed by believing without the touch and see that Thomas received. The other disciples had already seen and touched. Thomas was probably a kinesthetic learner, he needed the experience of the touch to learn. Kinesthetic learners are doers, Thomas was  one of those, a man of action. I would venture that most of us who “do” things for the church,  do so that we can experience Christ present in the world today. And when we “do” we learn and while we may have doubts in our hearts —seeing Christ present in the doing we receive the blessing of knowing an ever present Christ today.

God doesn’t ask us to not doubt, doesn’t ask us to not question, but gives us room to ask the questions and to touch and see and learn and then we can truly believe that Jesus is our Lord and our God. Touch and see, taste and see!

©Amber E Keithley 2014