Friday, April 10, 2015

Unfamiliar Paths

When we lived in town we had a neighbor a few streets away who was legally blind. He could see fuzzy shades of light and dark, but nothing else. He walked by our house every day. A known path.


I would imagine that the familiarity brought comfort and certainty in a world where he would otherwise be quite lost. Those bumps in the road and cracks in the sidewalk were his friends, telling him how far he had gone and how far he had to go. He knew what to expect when he got to the top of the hill or when he got closer to the dull roar of traffic on the main road. The familiar path was his lifeline to a safe and secure existence.


I cannot imagine how completely disorienting and even terrifying it would have been for him to be plunked down in a place he that he did not know and told to take a path he had never walked. How every step would be uncertain. How every turn would bring the unknown. How he would have no way of knowing how much longer before he reached his destination or even if he were going the right way at all.


It is hard to lose your beaten path, your known way in the world. It is disorienting. Uncertain.


Sometimes that comes with the loss of a job, a career, a home, a friendship, a marriage, a life.


How do you move forward? Where are you even going?

There were times in this past year that I said that I felt like the Israelites in the desert, but with no pillar of smoke by day or fire by night to guide me. And no parting waters before me.

Yet God says this:


I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, 
  along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; 
I will turn the darkness into light before them 
  and make the rough places smooth. 
These are the things I will do; 
  I will not forsake them.     -     Isaiah 42:16


I will lead the blind by ways they have not known.

There are times when I am too blind to see the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night. This is taking utter dependence to an entirely different level.


Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. 

My blind friend would know the terror of being on that unfamiliar path. Yet I know that terror, too. Many of us do.


How do you move forward when everything in your life has changed, sometimes gradually, sometimes in the blink of an eye?


How do you move forward when you have no idea where your next paycheck is coming from? Or when you have no idea what God wants you to do with your life? How do you move forward when all you worked for is gone? When dreams are crushed and hopes dashed? How do you move forward when your trust has been betrayed? How do you move forward when you have seen your husband snatched from this life before your very eyes?

I would imagine that you must take the hand of one who knows where they are going. Someone that you trust.


Absolute, utter, complete dependence.

Terrifying? Yes.


But he will not forsake you. He says so.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fat As a Bad Witness?

When I was in college I knew a student through one of the campus ministries. This woman was kind and compassionate, with an extensive knowledge of the Bible. She led a weekly Bible study and was diligent in discipling other young women. She seemed to have a real heart for reaching out and loving others. She was everything a fine, upstanding, Christian college student should be. But she was overweight.

When she graduated from college she wanted to go on staff with this particular ministry. Now, I wasn't there in the interview. I didn't hear all that was said. But I remember hearing the upshot. They would accept her as a staff member only if she lost weight because "being overweight is a bad witness."

I still reel when I think about this.

Let's unpack this. "Being overweight is a bad witness." Says who?

Those who have no problem with this statement will usually come up with, "well, gluttony, after all, is a sin." But who says she is a glutton? Unless you get ahold of her medical charts and her personal history and a map of her DNA and a long term calorie count, there is no way for you to truly know the source of her weight problem. And unless you can see to the depths of her heart, there is no way that you can know that she is a glutton. Gluttony, after all, encompasses a heck of a lot more than a passion for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

People are overweight for all sorts of reasons and sometimes these are reasons beyond their control. Some people are overweight for medical reasons. Some people are overweight due to side effects from a medication they take. Some people are overweight because their body just doesn't burn fuel like thinner people. Some are overweight because their appetite control mechanism seems to have gone wonky. Some people are overweight because they have totally screwed up their metabolism through diet after diet after stinkin' diet, in pursuit of some sort of cultural approval, only to find themselves fatter than ever.

And some people ARE overweight because they eat too much. But we don't always know why. Some, having grown up with deprivation, are terrified of going hungry. Some, having been violated by the opposite sex, are terrified of having an attractive body. Some are using food to fill a hole, a deep longing. And some are eating too much because it just plain tastes good. Perhaps this was the problem the Powers That Be at the campus ministry assumed. That my friend was overweight because she ate too much and that was a bad witness.

Tell me, why can't you be fat and be a good witness? After all, a witness is somebody who shares their side of the story.

If you are called in to court as a witness to a crime,you are not called in to recount the laws of the land, you are called in to tell what you experienced and what you saw. That is it. This is what you know.

Unless this woman was specifically committing the sin of gluttony (and that is a Pandora's Box if there ever was one), why should she be kept from ministry just because she is overweight?

As I see it, she would be just as, if not better, equipped to minister to others as anyone out there. Not only does her weight in no way hinder God working in her life, she could have a much deeper view into what it means to cling to God when you are scorned by the beauty standards of our world.

I cannot imagine being a college student struggling with my weight or my lack of physical beauty and finding that only thin, fit, pretty, perky people representing Christ on campus. What does that say? That God doesn't care about you if you are fat or homely. I would want to have someone to turn to who knows rejection and shame and heartbreak. Being a fat person in today's world pretty much guarantees you all of those.

I see nowhere in the Bible where we are told that somebody's BMI will limit the working of God in their life or through their life.

Might there be issues in her life that needed to be dealt with? Sure! Might it be good for her to develop, if she already hadn't, a healthy lifestyle? Of course! Could she be a witness, even a GOOD witness, for Christ, even if she was fat? Absolutely!




Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Young Pastor

Lately I have seen a number of articles where highly respected pastors and Christian leaders give their advice to young pastors. What advice would I give young pastors? Well, it didn't take me long to figure that out. So here goes:

Dear Young Pastor-

I am sure you are on advice overload by now. I am not seminary educated. I am not a pastor myself. I am not a high profile believer of any stripe. I am just a person.

I see a lot of advice to young pastors about knowing theology and about knowing the Word of God. That is good and fine. Theology is important. You don't need to be preaching heresy. The Word of God is important. You have to know the foundation of what you believe.

But who are you preaching the Word of God to? People.

For all the advice to make yourself a student of God's Word, along with that, I would highly recommend you make yourself a student of people.

Because ministry is not just a bunch of impressive sounding words and lofty theologies.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just about checking all the boxes as a good Christian.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just a spiritual stepping stone to a successful career.
Ministry is people.

Knowing people is essential. There is so much variation in how God made us. In our temperament, gifts. Our life experiences. Learn. Learn from people.

It takes humility to learn from others. That may be hard. From what I hear, it is easy to come out of seminary convinced that you have all the answers to life's questions wrapped up in a tidy package. The truth is, we all have more questions than answers.

Ask questions. Listen to people. Listen to their stories. Refrain from wanting to fix them or give quick answers for their questions.

Learn about people. About how God made people. It warmed my heart to see a young pastor friend of mine post an article on Facebook about introverts with the comment, "I am beginning to understand."

Seek out information on things you don't understand. What happens to a woman's heart when her husband is unfaithful? What happens to children whose father walks out the door? Or dies before their eyes? Or spends years in prison? What happens to someone who is physically or emotionally or sexually abused by those he trusts? What happens to a man's sense of worth when he loses his job and can no longer provide for his family? What makes some people seek to lose themselves in a world of drugs or alcohol? What pain do they flee? What is it like to be in rehab? To be at war? To come home from war more wounded inside than out? What do young women go through when faced with an unplanned pregnancy? What does that kind of panic and helplessness really feel like? What is it like to give up the child you grew inside or walk past the protesters and have an abortion? What is it like to keep that baby and raise it on your own? What makes a man abuse the woman he vowed to honor and cherish? What is it like to learn differently from everybody else and to feel like the odd one out...all your life? What is it like to be the last one left when every friend of yours has died? What is it like to be the only single person in your entire group of friends? To always be the last one picked for the team? What is it like to struggle with mental illness? To face racial prejudice? To be beaten while you are down?

Every time you listen, you learn. And every time you learn, you are expanding your ability to care for others.

And people know if you care.

Thank you for listening.
Ginny, A Person







The Perk of Failure

Over the years I have moaned on and on and waxed eloquent and sometimes not so eloquent about my failure as a mother. Or at least my failure as a mother in the success-driven, competence-glorifying, "you must do it right or else" culture that is my world. (

Last night, however, I was having a discussion with a friend about a phenomenon that is all too common. The perpetual mother. You know them. Perhaps you have one of them Perhaps you ARE one of them. This is the mom who, regardless of the age of her child, really has trouble letting go and transitioning to that adult to adult relationship.

Her child can be 30 and she is still hovering or chiding. We see it on sitcoms. We hear it from friends. We may say it ourselves. "She treats me like I am 13!" (Insert eye rolling here.)

Well, for once, I am pleased to announce that my pathology has a good side. I don't have that problem. For all my failure as a mom...all those structures I didn't impose, all those homework assignments I didn't assist, all those chores I didn't dish out (the list could go on ad nauseum)...taught me something important. I am no good at managing people. Especially little people. But really any people.

And when you are tired and when you are tired of being a failure (by the standards of the day, anyway), you take the first exit ramp at your disposal. That exit ramp came none too soon. My kids now range from 19-25 and I am oh, so happy. In spite of my feeble efforts, they are fabulous, wonderful young adults. I love being friends with my children.

If by some miracle they come to me and ask for my input, no problem. I am happy to share what limited wisdom I have scared up in 51 years on the planet. But if not? I love them. I am here for them. But I want to treat them like the adults they are. And what a relief that is.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Biggest Heart I've Ever Known

Twenty-four hours ago I answered the phone and heard her voice. Her broken, weary voice. "Matt died. Matt died yesterday. He's gone." Amy proceeded to tell me in shock-induced detail the most heartbreaking story. Of deserted beaches and tides and gasping for air. Of being stranded on the sandbar with her two sons for over an hour, watching as the sea took her husband's body away. Of flagging down help and a ride in an ambulance. Of not needing to identify the body because his was the only one missing in the water.

Over two years ago I got a call. Amy was at the hospital. She was losing her baby. After miscarriage upon miscarriage, she had gotten this baby to 22 weeks. I spent the night with her boys while she and Matt spent the night laboring to bring a not-yet-ready-to-be-born baby into this world.

Two days later Amy poured her heart out in the most beautiful words which many of you read, which I shared in my post "No Words, Just Tears." Because there are times that there are no words, just tears.

There really is no way to fathom this loss. Matt was her stronghold. The love of her life. Her kind, compassionate, strong, wise, gentle, creative, goofy, quirky, hilarious husband of 20 years. And he was the father that every kid would dream of.

Who wouldn't want a father who was part Peter Pan, part Norm Abrams (the This Old House guy)? Who could build your tiny home and expansive lot by Bee Tree Creek into an Appalachian Neverland?

Matt Auten was all heart. The biggest heart I have ever known. All tender, gentle, humble, and often broken heart. He felt deeply and loved deeply. He was a brilliant musician with a voice smooth as butter. He was a witty wordsmith. He saw life the way it was. No delusions. No pretending.

He was the closest thing I have ever had to a little brother. He was a kindred spirit and fellow weather junky. He called me one day, "I am over by Home Depot and the sky is a Kermit Frog green." We shared a dream of storm chasing. We shared a love of severe weather and Diet Dr. Pepper and a hatred for poison ivy.

You could pour your heart out to Matt and know that he not only listened, but he felt it with you. No condescension. No fixes. No heady theological answers. Just compassion and empathy and a mutual need to cling to the grace and mercy of God in a world we don't understand.

On Tuesday that grace and mercy he so clung to was made made fully known...to him. I picture him now, singing praises to Jesus on guitar, maybe those hymns I begged him time and time again to record. I see him there, surrounded by those babies he never touched, and by Baby Christopher, whose tiny finger he held for those few brief moments. I see him there, rejoicing and loving and maybe even building tree houses in heaven, while wearing shorts, no less. With a Diet Dr. Pepper in hand. I see his tears washed away.

But for his dear wife, Amy, who has experienced too much loss already, of babies who just weren't meant for this world, and now of her lover, rock, and best friend, my heart breaks. For his sons, who at ages 9 and 7, have lost their hero, there are no words.

No words. Just tears.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Connecting the Dots

When I was a kid I used to love those connect-the-dots puzzles (truth is, I still do). Having the artistic ability of a warthog, it was great fun to draw a line (never terribly straight in my case) from dot to dot and see, in the end, that it actually looked like something.

But the only reason my connect-the-dots artwork ever looked like something was because they had numbered the dots for me. Sometimes it was completely counterintuitive to draw a line from Dot 16 all the way across the page to Dot 17, when it would have been so much easier to go directly to Dot 20 right next door.

But following the numbers was the only way to get the intended picture and connecting the dots any other way would have ended up with an entirely different picture.

Now I am a grown-up. Or so they say. My life is filled with dots. But no numbers. Others' lives are filled with dots. But no numbers. Yesterday I discovered how easy it is to connect the dots in the sequence that seems most logical to me and come up with a completely inaccurate picture of somebody else. It breaks my heart.

I have asked for forgiveness. It has been most graciously granted.

I am learning. I am learning that the most logical connections are not the most accurate ones. In order to know where to go next, which dot comes next in the picture, I need to know more. I need to ask questions. I need to listen and listen and listen some more and even then humbly accept the fact that my limited skills may paint a less than full picture.

I do indeed see through a glass darkly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fellowship of Grievers

Robin Williams is gone. Suicide. I guess the darkness was too dark. The future too grim. The pain just too much. I don't criticize him for that. As many others have said recently, there but for the grace of God go I.

Depression has been part of my life, along with its buddies Anxiety and Obsessive Thoughts, for almost 40 years. Sometimes it comes. Sometimes it goes. Sometimes it has been crippling. Other times more like a little black rain cloud following me through the day. I have had my most intense depression as an adult and as a Christian.

One of the hardest things about depression is the loneliness. The isolation. The world around you spins on. The people around you continue to live happy, productive, and fruitful lives while your heart feels like it is being ripped out of your chest. You hurt. Yet you are alone in your hurt. It seems like nobody else in the world can understand. You long, more than anything, for somebody to look you in the eye and say, "I know. I know."

And that is the tragedy of suicide. You often don't know that somebody else was feeling the same kind of despair until it is too late. You don't find out that you had a kindred spirit until he is gone. And that makes the loneliness all the worse.

What is it about our culture that makes depression such a topical taboo? And what is going on in our churches that people cannot be honest and open about their pain? After all, Jesus was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3)

I need to take that to heart. That Jesus is a kindred spirit. But can't we also learn from him? If the Savior of the world was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, then shouldn't it be ok to let others know that we hurt?

If indeed we are to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15), how on earth are we supposed to do that if everybody is too ashamed to admit that they are mourning? I don't know about anybody else, but I need fellowship. Fellowship in pain and fellowship in grief. I need a Fellowship of Grievers. And maybe if we grieve together, it won't hurt so much.