Alone – Five Minute Friday

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

aloneSome things are easier when I am alone. Singing is easier when there’s either no one to hear me or someone who sings along with me. (I’ve joined the choir at church.) Though I’ve trained to sing opera, worked with a vocal coach, and have a powerful voice, I actually sing off key in a soft breathy voice if I’m singing in the presence of someone who’s not singing and who’s not really an audience.

Writing is easier when I’m alone. So is speaking. Sewing and drawing and embroidery and all sorts of other accomplishments are also easier. If I’m working with others or alone, I excel at so many things. When I feel someone is watching, I choke, shy away, fumble; I naturally give way to others, do what they are doing, follow their lead.

Yet I’m in a time of learning to excel when I’m not alone, even if others are not participating. It’s part of denying myself that Jesus talks about. It’s scary. But since He has brought me this far, I’m convinced He will continue to take me where He wants me to go and, with His help, I’ll marshal through. Let’s see where He has taken me this time next year.

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On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source: http://thespiritualsoldier.blogspot.com

Find – Five Minute Friday

“How do you walk through it?” Her unlined forehead furrowed softly. “I mean when you find yourself in that powdery desert?”

Her boss’s face resolved into puzzlement as he searched for the word.

“There is no how,” I replied after a time. “You just do it.” Her boss nodded. “If you waste your time worrying about how…”

“You’ll die,” her boss completed my thought. Our eyes met for an instant. Though we had different experiences, we both understood finding our way through the desert.

find desertBut so many I know don’t understand what to do if they find themselves in the desert. So many have never been told that it’s not an intellectual exercise; there’s often little time to plan. Mostly, one just begins and prays for strength to continue walking while continuing to walk. Mostly, the “how” has been implanted in our hearts by the day to day work of self-sacrifice and faith. Mostly, it’s just the ongoing work to find ourselves or be found. Beyond that, there is only placing one foot in front of the other.

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On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Happy Again – Five Photos, Five Stories – 5

feast 2“Three pirouettes!” I cried out. “Three pirouettes! For the first time, God!” I took a series of quick steps and executed a grande jeté. My hand reached for the barre. A huge smile lit my face; my eyes sparkled. I took a deep breath, “That’s what it needed, three pirouettes!”

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?”

Time stopped. A rich, white noise masked the strong, driving beat of 38 Special’s “If I’d Been The One.” The question hung in the air. I blinked away the tears that suddenly pricked my eyes.

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?” The Voice spoke again.

“Y-yes,” I found myself responding. Tears surged past my attempts to blink them away. The mirrors reflected my crinkled forehead, of eyes sparkling with tears. I did not ask, Why are You asking me? What does it mean?

For much of my life, I have kept in check a very young part of myself who longs to squat keening in the marketplace, “Look at what they did to me! Look! Look!” as I toss dirt and ashes on my head. Her deepest desire is that my losses, my wounds, my pain be acknowledged. Beyond that, she doesn’t know what she wants. Some losses are so great, it’s impossible to imagine any recovery.

So when my dearest Friend asked if I could be happy without knowing everything, I could say, ‘Yes.’ Hadn’t I just turned three pirouettes when I’d never imagined myself turning more than two? Didn’t that make me happy? Didn’t singing, swimming make me happy? Hadn’t designing a pencil skirt that fit a narrow waist and wider hips made me happy? I didn’t know that I didn’t know what happiness was. I was willing to go along for the adventure.

But the keening child in me knows happiness. She remembers everything. She holds within her the absolutely delicious experience of belonging to specific people, of being loved by specific people, of being at home with them because they are hers and she is theirs. And through the adventure, she has often noted that this is all very nice but…

It’s grand that these people are accepting my invitation to dinner but they’re not my family. What a lovely time I had with my girlfriends but I don’t really belong to them. How grand that they threw me a surprise birthday party but they don’t really know me and so can’t really love about me. Then I unexpectedly found myself waiting five months for my insurance company to begin paying on my disability claim, wasn’t allowed access to my profit sharing account, and had already spent all my savings on being ill. Friends (and even strangers) swooped in and provided the funds I needed to pay my bills. At the same time, they continued to be my friends. The young, keening child in me was flabbergasted and dazzled. But she insisted there was at least one person my friends could never replace. She knows the place in my heart I never go, the place to which I never invite anyone.

I have no auditory memory of Marmar’s voice, no auditory memory of Portuguese. I do recall the sound of German, French, Italian, Spanish, and several other languages. Though I read Portuguese quite well, each time I hear it as it’s the first time. Each time I want to wail. Perhaps it is mercy that hinders my memory. Her loss is beyond telling, a pain I will carry to the grave. Perhaps my Friend has granted me the grace to forget because memory would bring more pain than joy.

“‘Helen was happy here,’ said Phronsie decidedly. ‘And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.’

“Polly drew a long breath, and shut her lips. ‘But, Phronsie, don’t you see,’ she cried presently, ‘it may be that Mrs. Fargo wouldn’t ever want to go to Heaven unless Helen was there to meet her? It may be, Phronsie; and that would be very dreadful, you know. And God loved Mrs. Fargo so that he took Helen, and he is going to keep her happy every single minute while she is waiting and getting ready for her mother.’”*

Fallen Sparrow learned to drive recently and set off on an adventurous motoring trip from Maryland to his home state of Minnesota. Some planned meet ups didn’t work out. I was concerned that he might be disappointed. When I gingerly inquired, he told me he wanted to let one of those he missed know, “I will always fail you and disappoint you, but Jesus never does.”* We cannot escape entropy. Life fails and disappoints but Jesus never does. Christ holds us together, holds all that we are. And just as He held my innocence until I could receive it again, He holds Marmar. And perhaps I long for heaven more than I would have had I never lost her. Though her voice remains just beyond my memory, the sight of her fills my heart. I see us in heaven some day. We will dance before God, her extremely long, dark hair flowing freely and my (not quite so) long, dark hair bouncing in the breeze.

In the meantime, I am happy again. The young child within me longs to keen on occasion but I know, friends love me; I belong to people who belong to me. There are feasts on earth even though there is also famine. While earth was never meant to be heaven neither is it hell. I can be happy and long at the same time. We’re not an either/or people; life is not a zero sum game. Christians are both/and people. Even as we wait, we know we are “heirs in hope of eternal life.” And “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

*Margaret Sydney, Five Little Peppers Grown Up: http://www.readprint.com/work-5664/Five-Little-Peppers-Grown-Up-Margaret-Sidney/contents

Image: An earthly feast – Grilled chicken breasts with a balsamic and garlic glaze; Baconated kumatoes with fresh basil, garlic, and spicy pepper oregano; Old Bay Shrimp (with butter for dipping).

It’s My Job – Five Photos, Five Stories

its my jobAbend ist’s, die Sonne ist verschwunden,” I sang softly to myself as I trailed my hand along the textured wall covering.

“Why do you have to touch everything?” a voice behind me demanded.

Shaking my head, I stopped and recognized the assistant supervisor. “I like the texture,” I told him.

“You’re such a little girl!” he insisted.

“I’m seventeen.” My voice was a soft breathiness.

“How were you ever hired?” he harrumphed.

My forehead crinkled, “Because I love math and understand financial statements.” Doesn’t he remember that? I inquired of my Friend. Everyday he gives me a pile of financials to summarize and add to the spreadsheet.

The case manager passed us and caught my attention, “I could use your help.”

“Sure,” I replied.

“Don’t worry about him,” she told me as we walked to her office. “You’re my little stalwart. I know when I give you a project it will be done quickly and competently.”

My face broke into a big smile. Mentally, I hugged myself.

Five years later, I had completed the last two years of my undergraduate degree and was a case manager. Surrounded by documents, I meted out assignments, provided quality control, located lost documents, and kept track of the various aspects of my cases. When on major litigation, which was most of the time, I worked 100 to 120 hours each week. I weeded out applicants interviewing for a spot on my team by telling each one, “There are 168 hour in each week. If you plan your time well, you can work 100 hours and still have four hours for recreation.” I didn’t mention that they must limit sleep to four hours per night. Many applicants walked away at that point. The few who remained were offered a three-month probationary position assuming they could read, write, and think. Many dropped out or were fired during probation. A partner once joked that I fired more paralegals in one month than the firm did in a year. He was right.

I wanted co-workers who were like me. I wanted them to take their jobs seriously, to notice patterns, to catch mistakes, to improve on my work, on the work of the attorneys. Senior members of my team ought to be able to manage a privilege review, prepare trail exhibits, and not just remember smoking guns and key documents but find new ones and present to the partners who could vaguely recall a letter, fax, or email. Repeatedly, I was disappointed. Repeatedly, I encountered team members whose work was inept. By the mid-90s, I was so exhausted I took a break to work in not-for-profit and then in fashion.

By summer 2001, the economy took a downturn and Liz Claiborne let me and my boss go. During that summer, I supplemented fashion consulting with short contract jobs in law. After September 11, there was little available in fashion but law was burgeoning. I took a job as a case manager specifically to correct errors on litigation that was headed to trial. I loved to solve knotty puzzles others had created.

Post 9/11, teams were considerably smaller. often I was expected to be both case manager and paralegal. Tasks that had previously been assigned to a junior paralegal fell to me. I was deeply offended. Such tasks weren’t my job. My job was to resolve kinks, to untie knots. My job was to make an impossible case ready for trial. The firm ought to provide someone else for low-level tasks. They did assign me a part-time clerk but it wasn’t enough. I was indignant and being indignant began to take a toll.

At about that time, I began having serious problems with my health. I needed to take sick days that I’d not yet accrued. The department supervisor graciously approved them. As I became sicker and sicker, those I worked with went out of their way to make my job easier. It frequently struck me that I had not earned such kindness. I knew I was very, very fortunate indeed.

One afternoon, a partner called and asked me to digest (summarize) a transcript. Digesting had been replaced by software but some older partners prefer a summary; they fear the technology. My shoulders grew tight and painful during the conversation. As I hung up the receiver, I demanded of God, “Why doesn’t he have a junior paralegal do that? He knows it’s not my job.”

“They are paying you.” Each word sounded in my head and heart; I knew the Voice only to well. I heard the words again and again, “They are paying you.”

Suddenly I laughed. “You’re right,” I told my Friend. “They are paying me. And as long as they pay me, it’s my job to do what they ask of me.” I thought for a second as I pulled the transcript up, “As long as they don’t ask me to do something that’s wrong, it’s my job to do whatever I can to help no matter my job title.” As I began preparing the summary, the voice of my first case manager arose in my memory, “You’re my little stalwart. I know when I give you a project it will be done quickly and competently.”

* Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nsw_risg/2549640610/

Sin – Five Photos, Five Posts – 3

Ice cracking Photo-by-Jerry-DaykinNot too long ago, I found myself complaining to God because other people’s sins had cost me a great deal of money. A young friend of mine took on the responsibility of raising her nephews and niece and needed an attorney to help her gain custody. I had the funds and offered to help. As the months passed and the bills mounted, I became frightened and a little fractious: Why should I bear the cost for the sins of people I don’t even know?

One day, when my friend was visiting, a breath of sanity blew through the room. I looked at her and realized that she is the one who is really facing the cost of these sins – she and the children. She will be caring for her nephews and nieces for the next 20-plus years, long after I’ve recouped my expenses. Those kids will bear the scars from neglect, abuse, and abandonment, scars I know only too well. My meager contribution was tiny compared to the cost of the fallout from sin that they each would pay. I remembered that I had offered to help precisely because I too have born the cost of sins committed by others.

That’s the way sin is. Its cost is enormous and affects more people than we can imagine. Sin is like the first crack in the ice on a pond that branches out until the solid surface is a mass of small islands that can safely support no one.

One lie makes it easier to tell another and then another. When we are bombarded by lies, we no longer know the truth or who is trustworthy. We find ourselves on shaky chunks of ice, floating farther and farther apart. Buying drugs keeps the dealers in business. More crime is attracted to a neighbourhood. Eventually, it destroys the quality of life for everyone. How many children are killed in drive-by shootings each year? Adultery destroys families, unsettles the foundations of children’s lives, destroys trust, affects future relationships. Every sin is like that with perilous branchings and breakages. My sin overlaps yours, together, we break and cannot mend.

At times, I find myself in conversation with atheists, anti-theists, those who are fed up with God and am often asked, ‘Why is there so much suffering in the world?’ Sin is the answer. We don’t see the patterns of destruction sin traces in our lives. We don’t see how one sin leads to another and then to another. But I have long believed that my childhood was filled with opportunities for people to choose something other than sin. The soldiers who killed Grandpère and Ti might have chosen not to commit that sin. What other sins did they go on to commit? The man who took me from the park sinned. When he raped me, he sinned again. Had he not committed the first sin, would he have committed the second? What madness did the minister invite into his life when he chose to claim me for his own rather than follow the law and call the police? What does it mean to decide that another person is an object for the taking? And what of the sins I have committed, do commit? How do they make it easier to go on sinning. (I can certainly attest that it was hard to break myself of lying or hiding out because I was afraid to face someone. Choosing sin makes it easier to sin.)

Christ forgives our sin if we repent and I do hope to meet those who sinned against me in heaven one day. But forgiveness doesn’t repair the cracked ice. We break it and usually we can’t fix it. Often, we have no idea how big the crack is or how to repair it. Sin gets passed on. Those affected by sin must choose whether to accept it as an opportunity to obey God or to disobey. We can open our hearts, wallets, and homes as my friend is doing. We can turn away or push someone else off a chunk of ice that seems bigger and sturdier so as to ensure our safety; we can either obey or disobey Christ’s commandment to love as He has loved us. But God is never to blame because our “tiny” actions have far reaching consequences.We are more powerful than we realize. Obedience is more powerful than we know. And disobedience is devastating. We need only look at the many places in our lives that ought to be solid but are constantly being broken apart. My choice to obey won’t heal everything but it will heal some things and is part of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

* Image source: http://thehockeywriters.com/the-winter-of-discontent-hitchcocks-precarious-throne/

Here – Five Minute Friday

here cozy libraryWere I able to have anything I want, here would always be a cozy, halcyon place. (I used to nag God about when my halcyon days would come.) Here would be a place where visitors could select a good book, get a cup of tea or coffee, and sink back in a deep, cozy chair. Here they could find space to stretch, paths for walking, an adventure or two, and always back in time for a delicious dinner, a happy evening, and a good night’s rest in a comfy bed. All would know that God is always be here and all would be happy.

But the here in which I actually live is not a halcyon place. (I stopped nagging God when I realized earth is not heaven.) Here I live with an excruciating past and have been given the job of translating those horrors into some sort of readable shape that is honest while not being a platter of horrors. God holds all of my here, including the excruciating past, in His hands. What He will do with the outcome of my writing, I don’t know. All I know is that while here is not as comfortable and halcyon as I’d like it to be, here is real. Here is rich with God and many, many adventures.

The halcyon days were a fantasy. Reality is where I find God. Given my choice, I’d run to God every time. With Him there is endless joy and adventure; there is so much more than I can imagine. God isn’t limited to the boundaries of my imagination and here, with Him, neither am I.

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On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/domienova/home-library-ideas/

Fantasy – Five Photos, Five Stories – 2

fantasy prison A story beckoned and my imagination cast me as the main character: Cinderella, Bernadette Soubirous, Sara Crewe, Pipi Longstocking. Sometimes, I was Julie Andre in my version of Daddy Long Legs or Jo Stockton in Funny Face or one of many, many other characters from books or from one of the few films or television programs I was allowed to watch (or watched without permission when the adults failed to guard the living room). My imagination took me away from the girl who was abused and neglected, the girl who had to keep so many secrets, the girl who was not even allowed to reveal that she remembered the before time.

Somehow the fantasies always became wound up with that first rape. At first, the prince rescued me from the molesting step mother, the brutalizing step children. But by the time I became an adult, there was no prince; my fantasies became darker and increasingly abusive. My imagination created scenes that I knew, even as they played themselves out in my mind, I never wanted to live. Anxiety – good or bad – triggered fantasy and fantasy became a prison. It was beyond my control. Somewhat pleasurable, dark horrors arose in my mind: What if I had been sold as a sacrifice? What if I had been sold as a slave? What if I had innocently wandered into a relationship only to find myself trapped, brutalized, and murdered by someone who took pleasure in hurting me because he could?

Intellectually, I knew that I was reliving the horrors I had experienced as a young child. I was trying to rework them, make them, somehow, okay. But I also knew that nothing in my power could ever make them okay. I held the gaping wounds up to God and begged Him to heal me. I ended fantasy after fantasy confused, unable to fathom how the creeping darkness would dissipate. How could I be healed? How could I ever stop fantasizing? How could I be free? Therapy hadn’t helped. I had never trusted my therapists enough to tell them much about my fantasies anyway. And I had assumed that finding my family would cure all my ills. But my family was dead and I couldn’t hope for healing that way.

Finally, I was freed from prison in a totally unexpected way. A friend who knew about my past scandalized me. For a year I suffered from flashbacks and fantasy had no appeal. Wide-eyed joy eventually blossomed: “There must be something innocent in me,” I told God. “Otherwise, I couldn’t have been scandalized.” I find more and more innocence in me. Learning that abuse had caused me to be confused elicited more joy and fantasy still had no appeal. Another round of flashbacks which another friend triggered cauterized my soul – I couldn’t even imagine wanting fantasy.

These days, I experience rare temptation to lose myself in fantasy; life hasn’t become exactly easy. But fantasy still has no appeal. Fantasy limits me to my own imagination. And though I have an immense imagination, it’s not much next to what God does. He brought me along, healed me bit by bit, and, when I was strong enough, reset my default from fantasy, when I’m anxious, to prayer, exercise, chatting with a friend, singing, all sorts of activities that lead me into the light.

Real life continues to be filled with the hard work of living but it’s good work, like the work I’ve been doing to strengthen my knees and correct an imbalance in my leg muscles. Today, for the first time in a long, long time, I climbed and descended several sets of stairs with a minimum of pain. I’ve still got a ways to go but my knees and leg muscles are getting stronger. Living the moments of my life without escaping into a world of my own creation is becoming easier. I still have plenty of dreams but remind myself that with work and help from God, some of those dreams can come true, just as they have in the past. Fantasy is ephemeral. It’s like eating whipped cream all day. It can be pleasant but it’s nothing real, nothing sustaining. I do better with real food.

Forgiveness – Five Photos, Five Stories – 1

Darla Sands, who writes the most delightful stories, nominated me to participate in the Five Photos, Five Stores Challenge. I’ve been mapping out the life changing lessons I learned that must be included in the middle chapters of “Loved As If.” This challenge is an excellent way to sketch out five of them.

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debt paidI’ve learned that forgiveness is marking the debt paid. Those who have hurt me (and there have been some inexpressibly deep wounds) stole some extremely precious things from me. Eventually, I had to accept they could never return what they had stolen and I must either go on demanding payment or write it off and trust that God would either restore what was lost or make it possible for me to live with the holes in my life. When I realized I was demanding payment from people who annoyed me but never really hurt me, I knew I must do something about the rage in my heart. The only sane thing to do was mark the debts paid. And when I couldn’t, I asked God to work forgiveness within me. He does.

Turns out I can live with certain holes in my life. Also turns out there are fewer holes than I feared. God holds much that I thought was lost forever, like family, like my innocence. Nothing is returned in the same way but all is restored. The greatest gift of forgiveness is learning how great God is, so much greater than murderers and rapists and child abusers. Through forgiveness, the monsters from my past are ephemeral shadows blown away by a gentle puff of air.

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Here are the challenge rules:
1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Write a post that relates to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, a short paragraph, or some other type of composition.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation.

And here are my two nominees:
Carrie McCoy, whose blog,  Living With Unspeakable Joy, is filled with encouragement, faith, and hope.

Christian Community Is A Christian Thing

Years ago, at a time when I still had many acquaintances but few real friends, I had one very, very dear friend. She did her best to comfort me when I discovered my parents were, in fact, dead. She helped me understand the responsibility my therapist had towards me and I towards him. And, to celebrate my birthday, she even made frozen dinner (it was better she not attempt real cookery) and gave me the kind of toy I was never allowed to play with when I was a child. Once, she even saved my life.

But she wasn’t a friend I could keep and I knew it. Whenever I was discouraged about finding my family, worried about work, or indecisive about whether I should go to an audition, she’d offer to “do a reading” for me. I understood that she was offering me the best she had. And perhaps God had given her gifts of prophesy. But she saw the gifts she might have as hers to control. She believed she should peer into the future so that she and others might have an easier time traversing life.

Whenever she offered to “do a reading” for me, I’d demur. I didn’t want to hurt my friend but I knew divination to be, at the very least, an attempt to circumnavigate the limitations God has placed on us. He has given us this moment and asks us to trust Him. He has not given us permission to map the suffering and good things in the future and then plot an optimal course through. As time passed, I became more and more uncomfortable with my friend’s activities. Though she was wonderful, our ability to be in community was hindered because we walked very different paths. We couldn’t accompany one another because we didn’t share a common goal. Ultimately, I ended our friendship.

Christian community is a Christian thing because of the common goal we share: Christians are striving to follow and become like Christ and to get to heaven. We regularly fall and are oft times reduced to crawling yet as we travel together, one of the most important things we do is encourage one another. Just as CPT Sarah Cudd’s received support to cross the finish line and earn her EFMB in the video below, Christians support each other as we follow Christ. In fact, no matter how much we disagree, we can’t be Christians without each other. We are indispensable to one another.

Years ago, when my life felt like one overwhelming disappointment, I needed people who would remind me that God loved me and that I could trust Him even if my dreams of finding my family never came true. Invitations to peer into the future were a temptation that made living in the moment more excruciating. When all I longed to do was read the last page of the book and make sure it held the happy ending I envisioned, I needed to be reminded that God was calling me to crawl and trust. No matter how wonderful my friend was she couldn’t help me do that because paging ahead in the midst of suspense is the exact opposite of trust.

As long as non-Christians aren’t hindering our faith, they certainly ought to be our friends. We ought to invite non-Christians to participate in most community activities. And we must do so without an agenda. We must not invite people because we plan to convert them. Through loving friendship, we show Christ to those who don’t know Him. When friends ask questions, we must be honest and trust God will use us as He sees fit in their conversions.

Still, there will be times when following Christ will require relinquishing friendships with some non-Christians, often because of our own weakness. We are not to be unequally yoked and that can include friendships too. When following Christ takes us away from some relationships, we need to remember that He will bring us together in Christian community, in His Church. He will prepare us to present His Gospel to a world that is not starving for knowledge of what tomorrow may bring but for His love today.

Christian Community – Not Just A Catholic Thing

And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.'” (Luke 5:18-20)

Jan luyken's paralytic lowered by frinedsWere I limited to one depiction of Christian community, I’d choose the healing of the paralytic in the fifth chapter of Luke. Jesus sees not just the faith of the paralytic but their faith, the faith of the paralytic’s friends. They work to gain their friend’s healing. When the way is blocked they create a path. Mere building materials can’t interfere with their love. These friends are filled with solid faith which the paralytic needs to reach the One who has the power to heal.

I have not always experienced Christian community in the Catholic Church. Obviously, I believe Catholicism is true or I wouldn’t be Catholic. But Catholicism is as filled with selfish individuals as any other place where humans gather. (Too often, I’m one of them.) It’s so easy to become involved in the forms and forget the people. It’s so easy to write a cheque each week and contribute to parish charities but never get to know the other people in the pew. It’s so easy to be concerned with myself to the exclusion of others. The “Sign of Peace” during Mass can be the only expression of Christian community many Catholics experience.

Fortunately, some Catholics take Christian community seriously. They reach out to others, befriend them, and don’t give up until they have helped their friends reach the One who heals. And fortunately many Christians do the same in many, many churches throughout the world. Their arms are open, ready to embrace others. They carry each others’ burdens — carry each other, when necessary. They don’t give up even when the way is blocked.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

This is how the community of believers in Jesus Christ love one another, by daring to get our hands dirty in each others’ lives, by sacrificing for one another. When we are as concerned with our neighbour who sits next to us in church as we are with our own lives, we live the great commission to love one another. That is Christian community. It’s not an either/or proposition — the people and concerns in our lives matter. It’s a both/and experience, making space in our hearts and lives for one more person. Sometimes the tiles we must peel away are not on another person’s roof but in our attitudes and hearts. But because we are heirs through hope of Jesus Christ, every Christian has the ability to peel away those tiles with help from our friends and through the healing power of Christ, and love as Christ loves us.

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