Monthly Archives: July 2013

Pizza Stuffed With Grace

I am so lonely.

Plaque 100112 013The words rolled off my tongue before I had the opportunity to think. Usually, I lead up to brutal honesty. Somewhere between the salad and the pizza, sharing lunch with a new friend, I found the courage to blurt out this deep longing. Karla covered the brokenness of my words with grace, inviting me to explain.

I moved from the cold, icy and gray Midwest to paradise about 18 months ago. Because of his job, my husband is still there and we’re counting the days until we are reunited. I forge ahead in a county known for its beauty, wealth and glorious sunshine.

Paradise has a price I’ve found and mine is relational. Having enjoyed deep friendships in the cold, I longed for fellowship in the warmth. Yet, people here are busy; too busy to share life together. You have to work to stay connected and for whatever reason, the energy of this place relegates fellowship to a non-priority.

Maybe it is my Midwestern values, but I want to relate, to live in community, to walk arm-in-arm. I crave finding someone who will encourage my dreams, share cheesecake with me, dry my tears, rush into life beside me with courage and conviction; someone for whom I will do the same. I want friends who really know me and like me anyway.

As a gregarious extrovert, making friends has never been my problem. However, here I am clueless on how to coax this level of closeness. Silence after invitations, emails or phone calls caused my insecurities to grow. I yearned for someone to laugh with, to find a connectedness that seemed so second-nature two time zones away.

I am so lonely. My fragileness hung in the air over our lunch table even after my story was exposed. Quite frankly, I expected Karla to retreat. She lives a noble life brimming with zest and adventure, which is what drew me to her in the first place. After speaking these words, I half expected her to think, “Who needs this?” and politely, but gracefully flee from the table.

Instead, she looked at me with love and asked, “Are you free this afternoon? Let’s go get our hair cut.” What followed was a divinely appointed whirlwind of activity. She took me to a Vietnamese hair salon, a Mexican mercado and an Arab fruit market because we also live in a county teaming with God’s glorious flavors of humanity. All the while, I silently thanked God for this surprise blessing.

Uprooted many times due to relocations required by her husband’s job, Karla understood how lonely being the new kid on the block can be. Only from the perspective of her own disappointments could she restore my hope. Overcoming her own struggles with finding and nurturing community blessed her with the ability to lessen the burden of mine. As she came alongside me to encourage, she oozed one thing – love. Well, maybe two – love and acceptance.

When we welcome to our tables those who might be different than us, the Lord meets us. When we linger there to invest in another, God blesses us. Community matters to God. For when we speak affirmation, joy, encouragement and forgiveness into another – when we truly celebrate fellowship – in one of God’s great mysteries we ourselves are transformed.

America the Beautiful

MC900444636On the 4th of July, I trekked down to Lake Mission Viejo to watch an awesome fireworks display. I got there about an hour and a half prior to the start, which gave me a chunk of time to relax, people watch and read the good book I brought along.  As the 9PM start time approached, the crowd’s excitement grew palpable.

My patriotism swelled sitting underneath the fireworks, full of pride for America and content to enjoy this mid-summer night. But, I also felt something else; a sadness I’ve never experienced. For Midwesterners like me, we wait for all year long for nights like this night. We eagerly set aside mittens, boots and heavy coats for flips-flops, shorts and t-shirts to soak up every bit of summer. Normally during the Independence Day fireworks, I’m both thankful to be sitting under the stars without feeling like the Michelin man, but maybe a bit gloomy since it won’t be far too long before we’ll again be freezing in the cold.

But this year, my sadness was solely for America, for the country of my birth – a country I love deeply. I fear for her future. Politics aside, my grief was for her citizens. More so than any other time in history, our citizens don’t worship a transcendent God. What started out as a Christian country has become a country that worships technology over community; chasing wealth instead deep fellowship; being politically correct over spreading the love of God. Matthew 22: 37 – 38 says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Answer honestly, when was the last time you felt your neighbor’s love?

Yet, God does not want a moment of obedience to this command. He wants us to live as citizens in this land, guarding every step we make to make sure we love with His love, graciously and undeservingly poured down on us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Obedience is remembering and choosing God in everything we do, choosing to walk in His steps and following the path He has set for us. And we do this out of love, not fear. Not because people are watching and keeping score. We love because we want to please God, that is our true motivator.

And even though America prides itself on being a Christian nation, we cannot be Christians in name only. For it is impossible to come to Christ and continue to respond to the world in the same way. Our behavior will change along with our perspective, our standards, our motives – everything. Loving in this way sounds like an impossible and overwhelming command. It is – outside the power of God.

So instead of engrossing ourselves in our instant messages, instead of feeling comfortable with our standard of living, instead of relying so heavily on ourselves, our hearts must cry out like the Psalmist:  “Teach me your ways, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)

When we love our neighbor as ourselves, our world changes. Our reliance is centered on God, who will guide our steps. God has already been where He wants us to go. All we have to do is discipline our steps, making sure ours match His.