sleeping child transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner

Being a Christian Because I Needed Some Real Answers

I’m going to talk about being a Christian this morning. (I know, some of you just clicked off.) But stay with me here for a few lines. I’ll keep it short. I’m going to tell you my story, and how I got here.

I wasn’t always a believer. In fact, I was 32 when I became one. I was on top of a mountain, all by myself, having gone for a hike that day, when I began to follow Jesus. He came to me there and asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Not physically for those who are literal like I am.) It was a heart thing and totally unexpected. Up until then, I had said Jesus was likely a good teacher or prophet or some such, but in that second, I said, “You are the Lord.” And, he’s been Lord in my life ever since. No, not perfectly so. I don’t submit to him in everything. I wish I did, and maybe I’ll get there.

As Ruth Bell Graham had put on her tombstone, “Construction is finished. Thank you for your patience.” Amen.

I was at a point that I didn’t want the world to tell me how to think or live anymore. I wanted God to tell me, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was still looking for a savior in any form (guy on a white horse, a job, a new town, friends, a new dress). Yes, there’s plenty the world can teach me, but the first Sunday School class I went to after becoming a Christian was led by a guy who brought the Sunday newspaper in with him. The idea was that we’d read the headlines and discuss what we thought about world events. But, I didn’t want to know what the people in the class thought (though they were all nice folks), I wanted to know what God thought. Einstein said, “I want to know God, the rest are details.” I was right there with Einstein. I needed God. I needed God to tell me what to do. Other people are in the same boat I’m in. We’re all rowing terribly hard, and getting nowhere fast.

I needed real answers.

By following worldly wisdom, I”d made some superiorly ridiculous decisions. I was 32, exhausted and needed true help. I figured since God created the world, then he had a pretty good idea of how I should live in it.  I was tired of holding the world up. Maybe not the whole world, but, mine.

I remember coming across this verse:

It is vain for you to rise early, come home late, and work so hard for your food. Yes, he can provide for those whom he loves even when they sleep. Psalm 127:2

I read that and took a nap. I’d spent my life trying to maintain control while looking for something that would bring me happiness. Happiness in a world where suffering is the norm is hard to find.

Giving my life over to God, some say, makes me a wimp. Well, call me a wimp.

I got tired of controlling my own destiny, plus it just didn’t make sense. I didn’t even create this life that I live, so that argument is already out the window from the get-go. I came into this world with no effort of my own, it was beginning to make sense that living it as if I created it was even more superiorly crazy. Giving control of it to the one who did create it seemed the only reasonable thing to do. And so, that day on the mountain, I said, out loud, “Well, I’ve made a mess of this life, let’s see what you can do with it.” (Impertinent has always been an issue for me.)

I said I’d keep it short, so I will. The word grace is what I’ll end with. Grace is relief in spades. Grace is God’s way of saying I’ve got you covered. Your life, your screw-ups (hey, guess what, I’m going to use those!), your future (yes, I’ve got a plan), your eternal destiny (yes, eternal), and so you rest. Rest in the grace of knowing I love you and I will take care of you.

Deal.

 

 

 

 

Shack Suffering and Joy

Consider it… pure joy

The book of James, written by James, (some say Jesus’ half brother, others say his cousin) begins without any lead-in. He straight-up tells his readers to consider whatever trials they are facing as pure joy.

Here is it is in the NIV translation of Scripture:

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:Greetings.2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Consider it: The reason I can don’t skip these verses entirely and move on to number 5 (which is a favorite) is that James tells me to consider that my suffering is pure joy. I like the phrase consider it (over feel it), because it gives me space to step back from my suffering for a moment, and reflect. 

I feel James asking for a shift in my thinking. “Cinthia,” he seems to be asking, “Can you view your suffering through a different lens, and possibly find joy?” In a world that views suffering through the lens of horror while asking the question, “Why does God allow suffering?” James (who was martyred for his faith, so he is no slackard on the subject), tells me that suffering comes bearing gifts–joy, perseverance, and a perfected faith that lacks nothing.

It is hard to consider suffering in any light other than panic and fear, because suffering is so often unfathomable. Don’t think this short study is easy for me to digest because I’m the one writing it. It isn’t. I am heartsick for your suffering and mine. I know women who have buried children, and in the same year, spouses. Women who received the bodies of their son’s, returned to them in a casket from Afghanistan. Women who were just told, you have Alzheimer’s, at 45. I shed tears, now, over it. I cry out, quite literally, to my God, and say, “She is your daughter. Go to her!” The tears of friends are my tears too. Suffering is no small subject and I do not make light of it, but James asks us to consider it, and so we do, even when we are shocked, confused, outraged, feeling assaulted, and wondering how to fix it immediately. Remember this, when the unthinkable happens and we are not prepared for it, God is. In that regard, Scripture speaks to suffering in all 66 books. Generally, we are given three primary things to consider about suffering (if you have time, look these verses up):

  1. We will suffer. (John 16:33, I Peter 4:12)
  2. God is with us in our suffering (Psalm 22:24)
  3. Direction and understanding about our suffering. (Ephesians 4:14)

If Scripture is true, and I believe it is, then we will suffer trials of many kinds. Don’t immediately discount your suffering because it isn’t persecution for your faith. The kind of suffering James is talking about here takes any form, hence many kinds. I’m even going to be bold enough to toss some of my “consequences for not so stellar decisions” into that definition.  I don’t mean I will blame God or others for my mistakes and sins, but I plan to hold onto God’s refining fire of me during those consequences. I want my suffering, whether I brought it on or got blindsided by it, to count for something. I don’t want it to be wasted. Pure joy actually sounds good. It gives me hope that the suffering isn’t just for suffering’s sake.

Personal Questions (for journaling or reflection):

  1. What does James promise as a result of the testing of our faith in vs. 3-4? .
  2. How do the words not lacking anything resonate with you? Do you desire that kind of faith? (Can we be honest about it? Because God is not only able to handle our honesty, he uses it to raise our chins. He uses it to free us.)

Don’t confuse not lacking anything with moral perfection. It is the perfected faith of believers that is the topic. I’ll be honest. I want a mature faith, just like I want an established and prosperous career. But, I am not sure I want the work that accompanies that career, or the suffering that develops that faith. Can you relate?

Personal Questions:

  1. What could be the perfect result of your (my) present suffering?
  2. What would be the result if you (I) could skip the suffering?

Because, here’s the deal. I think we can and often do skip it. We:

  • Shop it away.
  • Drink it away.
  • Exercise it away.
  • Work it away.
  • Compartmentalize it away.
  • Play it away.
  • Literally move away.
  • Pretend it away.
  • Use anger to keep it away.
  • Use relationships to distract it away.
  • Blame it away.

I have refused the perfect result of suffering for much less. But does it make sense too? C.S. Lewis related suffering and endurance to a surgeon’s knife. If you were sick and needed surgery, would you stop the surgeon half way through his task? No. Even if it required your suffering, you know that to finish the surgery is to be healed. You endure the surgery for the perfect result.

Since there has never been a time in my life when I was not lacking something (spiritually speaking), then I am quick to dismiss James’ here. If I can’t envision it, I don’t seek it. But, if suffering is going to come, whether I am seeking it or not (and seeking it is fool’s play), then perhaps my ability to envision the joy or maturity that follows, doesn’t matter. What matters is the gift of God’s Word framing my thinking during my plight. When I am blindsided by life, I can hold onto what God promises through James’ pen. There is joy in the midst of my pain, and my suffering will not be wasted. It will produce fruit in me. That is hope for uncertain times. 

Comment questions: (Answer in the comments below if so led):

  1. Has there ever been a time when you chose to skip the suffering through some worldly effort?
  2. What was the result of that “skipping?”
  3. If it is possible, would you consider experiencing the suffering now, and letting God have his perfect way with you?

If we’re going to consider (not feel) our trials as pure joy, we must consider the perfect result of that trial. We must consider that the answers to our probing questions are found in the completed suffering, not in the deliverance from it.

That is surely enough to consider for today.

Father of grace, Lord of life, Creator of all things, 

Fight for us. Come to us. We are scared, tired, weary, unsure, defeated. We are lost. But you are there. In the darkness and in the light, your arms embrace us. Your arms enfold us. Let us rest in your arms, comforting our hearts with your great presence. Understanding that the You and you are alone are worthy, and in you we are fulfilled. You are life. In the midst of our fears, and all that assails us, come to us. Fight for us. We love you. In Jesus Name.

Small, Medium and Big Christians: Auditing the Faith

One Sunday after church, my oldest son (age 10 at the time) came into my bedroom to announce something.  He wanted me to know that it had come to his attention that there were “small, medium and big Christians.”

This is a mild announcement compared to some of the things my children have sprung on me since, but I could tell he wanted me to take him seriously. So, I did.

I probed a bit to get his meaning, though frankly, it wasn’t too hard to discern.

He said he had noticed that not all Christians were the same. Meaning, of course, that we’re at different places in our faith journeys. I agreed. His concern was that one person he thought of as a small Christian was seen by everyone in our church as big. What had he missed?

Well, imagine the following conversation. Of course, before you even think it or get it out of your mouth (because I know you are thinking it), we had the discussion about judging others. To which, he retorted, “Dad says we can judge if someone has fruit or not.” My ex was always the clever one. Touche.

Honestly though, I wasn’t concerned about my son’s discovery that the church was busy promoting some elder as a stoic in the faith, while my son witnessed a very different person Mon-Saturday. Let’s face it. At some point, all of us church goers figure out that there’s a few loose screws sitting in the pews. My polite way of saying, a few who, for whatever their reason, show up to church, but haven’t a clue whomthey worship. I mean bottom line, for some, church is a social means to a business end. Or a cultural habit that revolves more around friendship than worship. There are plenty of reasons people go to church, not all of them have to do with Jesus. My son was going to figure that out soon or later.

No, this little announcement had a different impact on me. It had me on the edge of my seat of wondering where MOM fit on the small, medium, and large Christian scale.  I mean I talked the talk, that’s for dang sure. Was I walking the walk in his 10 year old eyes?

So, I nonchalantly got him off the elder by quizzing him instead about everyone else he knew. I was hoping to insert my name into the list and catch him off guard, so he’d be honest. After all, he’s 10, he knew who paid for the pool and movies. I started with his Maurme, my mom, his grandmother. “Oh, she’s  HUGE.: She got a huge? Huh. I went on, Aunt Debbie?, Aunt Kathy? Your Father? and so on. When I slid my name into the list, he cut his eyes at me, and said, “Mom, of course you’re big.” Hmmmm…

The child was desperate for a night over at a friend’s house who lived a long way across town, and I had agreed to talk Dad into it. So?? Was I truly a big Christian in his eyes? Or the means to his present end? Who knows? What I do know is that I became acutely aware that a 10 year old had pretty much nailed the faith (from appearances) of each person I listed. It was revealing because I could see how he arrived at his conclusions, and I really couldn’t argue with him. My mom is huge.

He’d done this without a word or a discussion. In his child’s eyes, he had watched each person in his world with a keen observation, and made some rather stern determinations. It was humbling, and life changing for me. I wanted, from that moment on, to be a big Christian in his eyes.

This past Sunday, sitting in an entirely different church than the one my son witnessed,  the Pastor said that as Christians. sometimes we want to “audit the faith.”

You know, like auditing a class. You get to sit in the class and partake of all the good things–lectures, notes, books, learning–but you do not have to take the tests and quizzes, or turn in term papers. Christians want all the blessing of the faith, but none of the testing of the faith. At least, I think we can safely make that assumption about most of us because who on earth wants to be tested in anything?

Here’s the problem with that: tests are what grow our faith.

If I want to grow as a Christian, and become more mature in my faith, then the Lord will test me. Test me to prove his total faithfulness to me. How would I know he would provide if I never needed him too? How would I know he would give comfort, if I only experienced joy?

Lately, I have found myself in a circumstance that proves to have no solution. I can’t think or muscle myself out of this situation–something I can generally do. I was thinking (obsessing ) about it again yesterday, and I said out loud, “I have no backup plan for this.” The Lord whispered in my ear, “You have me.”

When the Lord is the only back up plan we have, we’re facing a test.

When the Lord is our only help, we’re facing a test.

Now, I have two beautiful granddaughters, and one Bonus Daughter. I want them, if ever asked about YaYa”s faith, to respond as my son did about his Maurme, “She’s HUGE.”

Keeping in mind, of course, that our huge is still so very small compared to the greatness and glory of God. Amen.

Wow. My Cup Runneth Over.

Wow. I am hugely touched by all of you! So many of you reached out to me, letting me know that yesterday’s blog post spoke to you. You shared some of your truthful things with me, and one beautiful woman sent me her list of 7. I will always cherish that.

Here’s what I want to say to all of you: I love you. So very deeply.

Funny how that works, right?

We try so hard to be perfect, or at least, keep our flaws in check. We try to make sure no one finds out we’re crazy. (That’s my #8, truly terrified that I’m certifiably crazy.) Why? So, we’ll be loved.

But, life is one big dichotomy. We hoard our secrets close, and all that accomplishes is keeping people at arm’s distance. But, we tell our deepest fears, the things we don’t really like about ourselves, and it brings people closer. They lean in to hear us, because they hear themselves in our words. They have a list of 7 too.

But here’s what I’m not going to do.

I’m not going to say you’re wrong.

I’m not going to tell you that you’re brave when you said you were scared.

Instead, I’m going to honor what’s in your heart, and tell you that I’m afraid too.

But, let’s keep swimming. (Yeah, I love Finding Nemo.) I’ll swim with you. I’ll do the journey with you. And, I promise to be honest along the way, if you promise to be honest too. Because somehow, knowing I am not the only one with a list of 7 makes me feel stronger, a bit more sure, a little less crazy. It makes me think this life is do-able, after all. So thank you for that.

And here’s what else I promise you:

1. I promise not to pretend I have it all together.

2. I promise to be honest about my fears. (Like now, I’m almost 55, will I accomplish ANYTHING before I die. Does it even matter?)

3. I promise to encourage you, and please encourage me. Life is hard. Faith is hard. Sometimes, I hear a song about giving it all to Jesus (that Mandisa song), and all I can think is, exactly what does that look like? Will someone please tell me what that looks like? I just want to call her up and say, “Mandisa, what does that look like?” (And btw, Mandisa, you look fabulous with the weight loss. Really. Way to go, girl.)

4. Lastly, I promise to be your friend no matter what is on your list of 7.

I love you all. You are powerful, wonderful, devoted, godly women, who are living life fully. May I be like each of you. My cup runneth over.

PS I’d love to publish some of the lists of 7s (anonymously). If you’re up for it, send them to me. (It doesn’t have to be 7, it can be 2 or even 1). I think it would be great to see how similar we all are, how flawed and beautiful at the same time. You can send them to me privately, cinthiamilner@gmail.com, or do the hashtag thing, #listof7. and tweet it or instagram it, or whatever you do. (@CinthiaMilner)