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Archive for the ‘thinking things through’ Category

It feels good to be writing again after all the tragedy of the past few months. Today I’m honored to be featured over at themitchroush.com. His monthly series, “Music Changed Me” showcases people he knows and loves sharing the music that has impacted their lives. My piece focuses on disliking the word “secular” being used to label songs that are sacred to me, and the love song I have on repeat during this season of healing.

I’ve known Mitch for over 20 years, and oh the stories I could share about him. Ha! He’s an incredible man. Take some time to get to know him through his writing. He does an excellent job weaving faith and creativity throughout all he does.

It brings joy to my soul to hear him describe me this way: “Niki is one of the most eloquent feather-rufflers I know. An edgy soul, not out of attention, but out of a fierce love that has no other way of being expressed. She’s passionate and wants nothing more than for everyone to have a place at the table.”

Thank you, Mitch. That means a lot to me!

Here’s a teaser:

Music is one of my love languages.

If my inner 80’s child were to make you a mix tape and share with you the soundtrack of my life, you’d grin and possibly groan at the quirky variety of my musical tastes.  I bet you’d find something that suits your tastes too. Now and then, I get stuck on a song to help me through a particular season, repeating it until the music cleanses me or the season passes.

– See more at: http://www.themitchroush.com/music-changed-me-13-love-on-repeat

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angi

Angi Sanders Painter

Passed away. Left this earth. Went home to be with Jesus. Died.

Cancer sucks. That’s not news to anyone. All of those phrases fail me. There’s no sufficient way to convey the rending I’m experiencing losing my friend Angi so unexpectedly, but let me try.

There’s hemorrhaging in my heart and I can’t staunch the aching flow. My stomach is twisted and I yearn to curl up in my bed and cry myself out. My throat is clogged with unspoken words and questions…so many questions. I have phantom limbs burning to hug her once again. The pounding rhythm in my head cries out that life is not fair. It never was. It never will be.

Everything aches.

Outwardly, I’m placing one foot in front of the other, keeping my chin up, and plowing through my to-do list. I have a family to take care of, a conference to prepare for, and a life needing to be lived. I cannot change my circumstances this week and won’t be gathering with the rest of her loved ones (Oh, how she loved me, and I her) as they honor her life, so I’ll do that here, with my words.

She loved my words and never stopped telling me so, especially when I couldn’t seem to string them together in a coherent thought without chasing them down rabbit trails. My words are wild things I’m still learning to capture and contain, but she never stopped telling me I could do it. She always believed in me. I’m sure she still does.

We met fourteen years ago at my son’s first birthday party. We became great friends, though she told me later that I scared the crap out of her. She was on the quiet side while I only visit there occasionally. 😉 She embraced me and my family and loved us well. We spent hours shopping, creating, sipping, laughing, and lounging. We helped each other pack and move, got lost in long theological arguments discussions, held each other during the painful parts of life, and when we no longer shared a city, made sure the phone lines between us worked properly.

Kyle and Angi

I can still see her blush as she told me about meeting Kyle and hoping he was “the one.” I can hear the laughter and conversation around our dinner tables as we spent time in each others homes after they were married. My mommy heart remembers the love I felt towards him as he hoisted my little Max into his fishing boat and handed him a wrench, setting him to “work” with him and calling him “little buddy”.

It was a Sunday morning when my friend Angela called to tell me Angi and Kyle were in a terrible car accident and Kyle was killed. I flew back to Indy as fast as I could to trudge through that nightmare with her. We slept a little and talked and cried a lot. We found ways to celebrate our togetherness while grieving such a terrible separation from him. It was horrible and beautiful. I remember lying next to her on their bed while she dialed his number over and over again just to listen to his voice mail message, tears streaming down both of our faces.

She held me through some terrible losses of my own, making sure my family was fed when I could barely function, gifting me with things I couldn’t buy for myself, speaking encouragement to me even when I didn’t want to hear it. Always loving me and thanking me for our friendship.

She was a teacher and amazing with children. She changed the lives of lots of little people and their families. When I decided to homeschool, she not only supported me but told me, “If anyone can do it, it’s you.” She helped me figure out my kid’s learning styles and gave me lots of recommendations. She called me to lament over some of her student’s home lives and wanting to take them all home with her. She had a big heart and a certain grace for parents even when she wanted to wring their necks for not seeing the treasure they had in their children. I loved that about her.

I’m good at a lot of things, but my kitchen skills? Not so fabulous. I’m a follow-the-recipe kind of girl, but Angi was one of those annoying people who throw things together and voila! It’s a gourmet meal. Angi taught me a few things about southern cooking and we had lots of crazy discussions about the way to a man’s heart. I teased her and made her blush when I told her us Yankee girls had our own suggestions on how to get that done. Ha! She patiently showed me how to make her Chicken and Dumplings, and it’s her mama’s sweet potato pie recipe that I’ll bake (with pumpkin) next week for Thanksgiving, as I do every year. I taught her how to make Beer Brats, so I think we’re even. Wait, that wasn’t me, that was my husband. Never mind.

Angi and Niki

Angi drove all the way to Oklahoma City to surprise me at a Ladies Retreat I was speaking at. On one of her trips to visit me in Colorado, she held my hand while I got my first tattoo, though no amount of cajoling could make her join me. She took me to a traveling Lord of the Rings exhibit and bought me a Galadriel ring, only making fun of my nerdery a little bit. She taught me how to make jewelry and I taught her how to get organized, something she told me she’d get around to someday. We started and failed in a business together. I shared my beloved mountains with her. She went to summer camp with me for several years as my nanny – the best one my kids ever had. She loved all of my children, but had a special bond with my Zoe. Maybe it was a girl thing. Maybe it was a Zoe/Angi thing. I loved watching them together.

When I started blogging back in 2004, Angi called me and said, “I just found you on the internet! Well, it’s not you, but this lady could be you, you’re so similar.” And that’s how I met my friend Pam, a kindred spirit on the other side of the country. Angi brought us together. She was good at that.

Angi and Toby

A few years ago, she called me and said, “Let me tell you about Toby!” I giggled as she gushed about this man she had met and how sweet he was. She felt so lucky to have found love again, something she had always doubted she would find in the first place. She was so happy to have such a great love and sang his praises about his care for her. Because life is complicated, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him face to face, but I love that man for loving my friend! I wish they had been able to make the trip out to Colorado like they had repeatedly tried to plan.

Angi and Holden

Then there is Holden. What a beautiful little blessing he is! Angi was heartbroken over not being able to have children, but she and Toby began preparations for adopting that sweet little guy before he was even born. He changed everything. A lot of my current agony is for him. He’s got an amazing daddy and I trust that he’ll grow up hearing stories about his sweet mama and how much she loved him.

Painter Christmas

Back to the “C” word. The first time Angi told me she had ovarian cancer, it took me about 5 minutes to go through all the stages of grief. Then I became Warrior Niki. I prayed with her and for her. I told others to pray for her. I took on whatever role she needed me to take on while we talked. I became loving mother, encouraging friend, ass-kicker, and grieving sister. Many of our phone conversations took place while she was lying on a hospital bed with a tube in her arm, or in the middle of the night when she knew I’d be awake to talk with her through the nausea and insomnia. I tried to be there in spirit during the good days and bad. I didn’t get the chance to be there in person, but she never held that against me.

A few weeks ago she texted me:

Angi Text

I’m a writer. I can’t believe my last words to this woman I love were, “Awesome!!! 🙂 I’m so glad!” I have so many other words I could have chosen, but I didn’t know. I thought we’d have several thousand more exchanges. I wish we had. By the time I found out she had been given two weeks to live, she was already gone. It was another shocking Sunday morning. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I’m terrible at goodbyes, but I would have found a way.

I am awed by her life and so very grateful she shared it with me. She was strong and weak and real and bursting with love and faced everything even when she wanted to run and hide. I am devastated by her death and healing will be slow, coming in waves, because that’s how I do things.

A well-meaning friend posted something on my Facebook page about not grieving because I know I’ll see her again. Yes, Angi and I shared our faith too. But friends, while I am confident that we will meet again someday, that sentiment doesn’t do me a bit of good today. It’s not comforting at all. My deep sorrow is not indicative of my level of faith, it’s a testimony of my overwhelming love and compassion, something gifted to me by my heavenly Father. This sucks, and I think God thinks so too.

Ang1

For those of you reading this that knew her too, I say grieve how you must, without guilt or platitudes or rushing through it. Now is the proper time for that, so do what you have to do. No matter where you are, be thankful for the ways Angi impacted your life. Speak or write the words you’re choking back as you relive the memories you made together. Honor her.

For those who didn’t know her, I hope I’ve given you a glimpse of who she was. She was a beautiful soul and she will be greatly missed.

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It’s been a hard week, and it’s only Tuesday! My friend Heather called late last night and I shared a bit of my funk with her, but I still went to bed unable to escape the feeling of being crushed. People have failed me this week. I’ve failed myself. I’ve failed others, and it sucks. Like lava flowing through my veins, my anger has been an internal companion lately. I find myself getting irritated by things that wouldn’t bother me if I was feeling like myself, which I’m not.

Is this an identity crisis? Do I need to just pull up my big girl pants and get over myself?

I’m reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I think she’d tell me I’m not being kind to myself. I wonder if I’m experiencing my mid-life unraveling? She describes it as a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. I’m doing heart and soul work and like Brene describing her own journey, it’s a bit like slogging through mud on my journey to living wholehearted.

I’ve been focusing on all the times I HAVEN’T kept my word, said or done the kind thing, loved someone well, served with compassion, finished what I started, and lived like I wanted to. I’m caught in the sinkhole of wanting what I won’t ever have and feeling sorry for myself. But it’s not just a pity party; it’s a deep grieving for an impossible relationship. Most of the time it’s emotionally manageable, but in my current state, it cements me in the bottom of the sinkhole. I need a rope.

I woke up this morning to a text from my friend Cherie. As we messaged back and forth, she made me laugh and I felt a little sun. I shared a bit more of my funk with her, and she spoke my name back to me, reminding me who I am. I lay in bed for a while, crying to God about my life and the uncertainty I’m feeling. Pete must have crawled in our bed after Benny left for school this morning because he was curled up asleep on Benny’s side. As I was wiping my eyes, his little voice said, “What’s wrong mommy?”

“I’m just sad right now and I’m talking to God about it.”

A minute later, my phone beeped. It was a Facebook message from an old high school friend. Stephen shared a video of his lesson from last Sunday, telling me that somewhere in the middle of his talk about Grace, he told the story of a time in high school when I called him out. It’s a story he has shared several times because for him it was a rooster’s crow…a call for a new beginning. A call to remember the grace we live in. He thanked me again for allowing God to use me to get through to him. I cried some more. The year I met and knew Stephen, my senior year, is one I’ve always referred to as my year from hell. But God used me in that hell and He gave me a few good friends. Stephen reminded me of that today of all days.

I guess that’s three rooster crows. Heather. Cherie. Stephen.

I’m still in my pajamas, and I may stay that way today. That’s okay. In my core, I know who I am. On the outside, sometimes I forget. My face is dry now, but my heart still hurts and I’m crying out to God. He’s the only one who hears the things I don’t feel safe enough to share with other people. He doesn’t hand me my big girl pants and tell me to snap out of it. He’s the one who sends three friends to speak life to me and remind me who I am, and then He holds me while I cry.

Watch the whole thing, but minutes 16-20 are about the rooster crowing. Good stuff! Here’s the link:

Undeniable Grace

P.S. My memory surrounding the letter I gave to Stephen is a bit hazy. I’m a wordy girl, so I’m sure the song lyrics weren’t the only thing I wrote, but I can’t remember what else I said. I only remember how nervous I was giving it to him, prepared for the possibility of it being the end of any friendship we did have. Lucky for both of us, we weren’t close enough friends for me to make him a whole guilt-inducing mix tape. Imagine slogging through that! 😉

And Stephen, if you read this, I’m humbled I’m part of your story. My heart is the same, but my methods have changed, and like you, I’m all about God’s grace! Thank you for messaging me today. Your timing was perfect.

I shared some thoughts a few months ago on Peter and the rooster crowing:  Jesus, Peter, Me, and the Number Three.

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Most of my blog posts could start with, “I have this friend…”

I have this friend who buys me Chai…a lot, and another friend who tells me I’m amazing on the days I feel like a big fat failure, and yet another one who tells me when I’m full of crap. These ladies have shaped me, but many times my growth has come through loss instead of love. Or maybe it was love in the midst of loss. Tonight I’m thinking about a friend who said goodbye, and the incredible impact he made on me.

This friend and I spent quite a bit of time together during a pivotal season of my life. His parting words to me were beautifully sweet and I should have known they were a goodbye. I can be naive like that, thinking friendships last forever. Some don’t. There was pain for me in the parting, but he left me with an amazing gift – words to dive into and explore. Words that moved me into a place of introspection and quality time with God. I’m sure he has no idea the impact his letter made on me. Here’s a brief glimpse of what he said:

“Do not let yourself be bound by the labels that others write out for you or that you unjustly write out for yourself.  Only judge yourself by who you come to know you are through your relationship with Christ and time spent getting to know yourself…You are so much more than… (He inserted a list of activities and titles I mistakenly thought defined me.) Understand the places where flowers grow after you have been there. Understand that part of you that possesses greatness while still being totally separate from what other people think or know of you. Understand why and how God loves you in particular.”

I have that paragraph memorized. Why? Because that friend was one of many God has used to speak this message to me. That bold part? I’ve created several pieces of art with that as the centerpiece. That phrase was pre-tattoo sleeve, and probably influenced my idea for the design.

I’ve been pondering identity this week and I’m stuck on the phrase, “So much more.” My friend Nick used that phrase on Sunday and I cried. It’s definitely one of my heart messages, and I need to share it with you. Ready?

YOU are so much more than the labels you and others write out for you. YOU are so much more than __________ (fill in the blank for me) and YOU need to understand the places where flowers grow after YOU have been there and why and how God loves YOU in particular…because He does. He loves YOU like crazy. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or whether or not you believe in Him.

My friend’s words have become a mantra for my life – to leave people better than I found them. I want flowers to grow in their lives after I’ve been there. I am finally walking daily in the knowing that I am so much more than, and so are you.

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“I don’t want to do it.”

“It’ll be okay. This is the next step for you. Trust me.”

“But I waited a long time to get away from my childhood of rough people and hopelessness. I thought those days were behind me. Now you want it in my face every day? Why, Lord?”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

“Then feed my sheep.”

“But what does that even mean? Aren’t I already feeding your sheep? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last 9 years in youth ministry?”

“I have a different flock in mind for you. Trust me. Do you love me?

“Yes, of course I do. You know that I love you.”

“Then tend my lambs.”

“But Lord, I’m not sure I can. I’ve never been homeless. Why would they listen to me? What if I say the wrong things?”

“Do you love me?”

“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Feed my sheep. I chose you for this moment. You have what it takes, and I went before you and prepared the way. Just follow me.”

 

I lived this conversation nine years ago, before leaving traditional youth ministry. Like Peter falling back on fishing, youth ministry was my place of relative comfort. I knew what to expect. I was familiar with the tug of the net and the weight of a good haul as well as the frustration of being…fishless.

Oh yes, I get Peter. He and I have a lot in common.

I’ve gleaned many truths from the Bible story in John 21:

  • When we throw our net in where Jesus tells us too, even working as a team we won’t be strong enough to pull in our catch, and our net won’t rip. I like the sound of that.
  • Sometimes we provide the catch and sometimes Jesus does. (He was already cooking fish and bread over a fire before the disciples reached the shore and He asked them to bring more fish for the meal.)
  • When Peter saw Jesus, he jumped in the water to head for shore. I’m guessing he was still trying to get his head around Jesus’ resurrection and was eager to be with Him as much as possible. I wonder if just for a moment, he thought it a second chance to walk on water. Would I?
  • At the end of this passage when Peter asked about Jesus’ plan for John, Jesus told him not to worry about anyone else, just to follow Him. Now there’s a lesson I need to embrace!

Here’s my favorite part of the story:

The Bible tells us Peter was hurt and probably frustrated when Jesus asked him the same question three times. Yes, it takes some of us longer to catch on than others, but I think it was more than that. Three is one of the numbers that repeats throughout the Bible, especially in Peter’s life:

  • Peter spent three years with Jesus before this story takes place.
  • He was one of the three people in Jesus’ inner circle, and present at the transfiguration.
  • He had denied Jesus three times.
  • Jesus came back to life three days after His death and Peter was one of the first people He pursued.
  • The fishing story in John 21 was the third time Jesus had appeared since His resurrection.
  • Going back to the beginning, the third day of creation was when the water parted and earth rose up creating land. That same day there was vegetation (growth) and it spread. Can you see the parallels between creation and the resurrection?

I’m fascinated by numbers – it’s no accident that our ministry is called SEVENS. Numbers create beautiful patterns and focal points to help us understand order and importance in the stories of our Christ, the Bible, and our lives today.

Like my friend Chris pointed out in his post on Sacred Margins earlier this week, Peter’s job changed when Jesus took him from being a fisherman to being a fisher of men. Peter owned a fishing business, which means the man had skills and potential, a mighty combination which Jesus used to plant and grow His Church. He still works that way, you know.

It wasn’t Jesus, but Peter who needed this confirming conversation of the triple confession of love. Jesus knew who Peter was and where he was headed, but I think He also knew that in the back of Peter’s mind, he hadn’t let go of the triple denial. By asking about his love, it made Peter think a little and open himself up for healing of that wound. It was further confirmation that Peter was getting a second chance. It also provided an opportunity for Jesus to give him his mission, not once, or twice, but three times.

I too required more than one charge about the mission Jesus gave ME to feed His sheep. My concentration was on the flock of teenagers in my life and God moved me, literally, changing my flock to the homeless, broken-hearted, and captives in the Denver and Boulder area. New flock, new mission, new confirmation that Yes, I love Jesus and He’s building something with me. I’m part of His plan. He’ll keep welcoming me back when I drift and doubt, giving me direction…as many times as it takes.

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I love people. Gay, straight, Bi, Transgender, whatever. I am also a Christian. Some of my friends think that is a contradiction. I can’t do anything about that. I have spent a lot of time on my face before the Lord on this and every other subject I have questions about. All I can say is that I KNOW that I am a lover. It is who I am created to be. I said in my last post that I do so clumsily and with abandon. My goal with this post today is to show you why and how I live and love the way I do, and why I think it’s part of being a Christian, not in opposition to it.

I went to a small Christian college in Nebraska. It was there that I learned not everything has to be a fight, that Jesus is so much better than I ever could have imagined, and most importantly, that I can love people who aren’t just like me, and Jesus is proud of that. I met so many of my life-shaping friends there, including Beckie, who has been posting our conversations on her blog this week.

When I arrived at York, I met and fell in love with an amazing boy. We were inseparable. Best friends. We were so different, but it didn’t matter. We had the same heart. We connected and talked about everything and loved each other deeply. While navigating through our feelings, we decided to give dating a try. That’s when people started telling me how dumb I was that I couldn’t see he was gay. It was so obvious to them, and was I really that blinded by my love for him that I couldn’t see the truth? I didn’t know what to do with that, so I loved him anyway. Our dating was short-lived, and our friendship was awkward for a long time after that, but I still loved him. I still do love him. He is still amazing. I haven’t seen him since college, but we pop in on each others Facebook pages now and then. If we could sit across from each other today, we would have a million things to talk about and I believe that deep love would still be there. Is he gay? I don’t know. Yes, I think so. I’ve never asked him. I don’t care. I love him because he is an amazing person, funny, charming, generous, and he loves Jesus as much as I do. I would love him even if he didn’t.

Let me tell you about my other college friends. I have friends who’ve had affairs, gotten divorced, and were arrested for breaking the law. I have friends who are so against Christianity now that I’m one of the few Christians in their life. I have friends who are preachers, teachers, camp directors, photographers and the list goes on and on. I love them all: the boys who broke my heart, the one who threatened me, the girls I competed with and against, the girl I hated then but is my dear friend now. They’re all just my friends, not my cheating friends, my divorced friends, law-breaking friends, etc.  I learned how to love people no matter how private or public their sins were. It’s where I learned forgiveness, both as the giver and receiver. I have been reconciled to these people who hurt me, and chosen to love them, and they love me. Loving my gay friends who didn’t hurt me has been so much easier.

They weren’t pulling me aside for private chats about my need to gain approval from men, my promiscuity, or my out of control anger. I wasn’t going to pull them aside to tell them how much I disapproved of their lifestyle. Why? Because their lifestyle was MY lifestyle. We were students at a Christian college, trying to figure out life apart from our parents and who we were now that we could decide for ourselves. We were insecure and scared but heading into the future together. We sat in classes together, held hands during devotionals, shared a few thousand meals, wrote each other encouraging notes, attended banquets, and skipped to the mail room together. We hugged and wrestled, held each other when we were sad, celebrated together, studied and did community service together. They encouraged me when I met Benny, and they rejoiced with us at our wedding. Not once did I feel the need to ask them if they were gay, or have them explain and defend their feelings or beliefs. I suspected, and with a few of them I KNEW, but I just didn’t see them as any different from me. I saw them as friends. Nothing more. Nothing less. All of us with sin in our lives. All of us loved by God. My being straight and them being gay didn’t define who we were. It still doesn’t. I don’t get all caught up in vocabulary either, like calling it a lifestyle.

What does the gay lifestyle look like exactly? My friend is a teacher. He gets up in the morning and spends his days helping children learn the basics of what they’re going to need to succeed in life. He comes home and does laundry, hangs out with friends, goofs around on Facebook, and goes to bed. I just described MY lifestyle. Oh, and he’s gay. He doesn’t ask me what Benny and I do in the privacy of our bedroom, and I don’t want to know the details of his sex life either. My sex life is not my lifestyle. Who I am married to is not my lifestyle. You don’t know my level of kinkiness in the bedroom and you wouldn’t dare ask me because sex is not something we talk about. You don’t think my bedroom is your business and neither do I.

Some of my straight friends are concerned about my acceptance of sin and don’t understand why I wouldn’t do everything in my power to make sure my gay friends know what the Bible says about homosexuality. (Trust me, they know.) They don’t understand why I would be in community with people so blatantly going against God’s word. (Don’t I do that sometimes too? God’s word is where I got my example of loving others. Others=sinners=me too.) They are using words and phrases like “condoning behavior” and “justifying sin” and they want to know where I draw the line. They believe that my lack of calling people out on sin means I have no standard at all…anything goes. A certain Bible story about rock throwing comes to mind. (John 8)

I am the woman caught in adultery, naked and humiliated, waiting for my life to end at the hands of my indignant neighbors. I am the man hiding in the crowd as my lover bears the brunt of the crowd’s wrath. I am the religious leader who planned this little scenario to trap Jesus and trick him into contradicting himself so I can kill him. I am the woman holding a stone, not sure I should be here, but thankful that it’s not me in the middle of the circle. I am Jesus, more loving, clever, and merciful than everyone else there.

What did he draw in the dirt? Was he drawing the proverbial line? Because the words he spoke drove the crowd away. Whichever one of you is without sin, go ahead, throw your rock at her. He didn’t say she wasn’t sinning. He didn’t condone her adultery. He wasn’t showing his lack of conviction or unbelief in the seriousness of God’s word. He just loved her.

Here’s my line in the dirt: I am all about love. The pursuit of it, the immersion in it, and the outpouring of it, to ALL who cross my path.

1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)

The Way of Love

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. 11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. 12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Read it in whatever translation of the Bible you prefer. The message is the same. If I do not love, I am nothing. Will I love perfectly? No. I don’t have to be perfect because Jesus is. I call myself a sinner, but guess what? He doesn’t. He calls me sister. I know what sin is, recognize sinful behavior, and I draw the line before that point. I love the sinner.

I don’t focus on hating sin. I focus on loving people. That’s my line.

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I am a clumsy lover.

Benny and I stayed up talking late into the night about yesterday’s post. He wants you to know that he sacrificed sleep for this conversation. 😉 He challenged me to be clearer in my thoughts instead of using broad strokes and lumping people together in categories – something that annoys me when other people do it. He said my examples were extremes and that we know lots of people who can and do love people and still hate the sin in their lives, including us. Let me paraphrase a 3 hour conversation in a few lines:

Benny – “Niki, isn’t that what we’re doing with SEVENS? Isn’t that who you are when you love _______ (our drug addict friend) but cry over what the addiction is doing to her body, and refuse to give her money for her next fix? You’re loving her, but hating the consequences of her behavior.”

Me –  “But my point was that I’ve experienced so many people using this phrase to justify their hateful behavior towards others whose sin looks different or is more public than their own. It’s stupid and unfair and looks nothing like love. And I know others who think that love is pointing out everyone’s sin, convicting them of how bad they are so they’ll see their need for Jesus. That’s not what I read in the Bible. I’m calling them on it.”

Benny – “But when you say it’s impossible to separate the two, you’re lumping me and a whole bunch of other people into that category, and I think I do a pretty good job of loving the sinner but hating sin. ”

Niki – “So what’s your point? I should retract what I said?”

Benny – “No, a lot of it was good, but you were still not as calm as you think you were. Some of your wording was confrontational and I think you need to spend a little more time thinking through what you really want to say. And by the way, you’re not a sinner; you’re a new creation.”

Niki – “I know. That was going to be part of my next post.”

~sigh~

He’s right, and I stand corrected. Perhaps I should have thought through this a little more. I am a clumsy lover. I don’t always love people well. I fall into unloving behaviors too easily, especially when it comes to what I refer to as “church sign/bumper sticker theology.”

I’m not retracting what I said because I know a lot of people who don’t seem to be able to love others because they are too busy showing disgust for others sinful behaviors. I don’t think that is loving at all. It’s possible they just don’t know how. I’ve been there – wanting to love others but failing. Yes, I’m very clumsy indeed, even in my blogging.

I want to answer my questions at the end of the last post.

Why should we waste time hating behavior when so many people are desperate for our love?

I don’t think we should. Like my friend John said, if my kid has cancer, I don’t have to be reminded to love my kid and hate the cancer. I hate the effect of the cancer, but I focus on loving my kid. The loving gets my time and energy, not the hating.

What does condoning behavior look like?

Using the example Benny gave me, if I know my friend is a drug addict and I give her money so she can buy her drugs, then I am condoning her behavior.

How is it different from loving behavior?

If I know my friend is a drug addict, I don’t give her money to buy drugs and I hold her hand while she’s suffering, maybe help her find the help she needs.

I think my identity plays into this discussion as well. I am a shield. I am built to stand fearless on the front line. Sometimes I get a little over zealous in how I choose to walk that out.  I’ll be talking more about identity in the coming days, but for this discussion let’s just say THAT is my problem with sin in a person’s life. It blinds them from understanding and walking in who they are, and creates a residue that mucks everything up.

One of my friends spoke to loving the sinner in the mirror. In my experience, it’s a short walk from hating the sin in my life to hating myself for not being able to immediately change it. I appreciate my friends who worded this phrase to me in a way that made me think longer and harder on what I posted. I’m still thinking.

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