A Gutter Ball Performance

In my experience, there in nothing quite as vulnerable as bowling. Your skills, or in my case, lack thereof, are on display for all to see. There is no turning back from what you’ve done. Everyone has seen it. It’s out there… strike, spare, split, gutter ball… it’s all out there.

I was with one of my best friends and her family a few months back. They were going bowling and invited me to join them. At that point I had bowled a grand total of four times in my life and on one of those occasions I was two years old.  In my more recent attempts I managed to take a fair stab at the game, nothing spectacular,  but I held my own. I was looking forward to just being with this extended family of mine and bowling sounded like a lot of fun.

Not coincidentally, the Lord had been making me aware of my thoughts and behaviors with regards to “performance.” I was stuck in the mindset that somehow it was about what I did for Him that was somehow connected to being loved. I knew in my head that wasn’t right. That’s not how He operates. But my actions and my thoughts weren’t supporting what I knew to be true. I had hoped a day with close friends would take my mind off of it for a while but, as He often does, God had other ideas.

For the next two hours the Lord proceeded to show me exactly how much my “performance” was worth to Him. To say my bowling skills were pathetic would be extremely generous. I am not sure I even broke 100. Every time I stepped up to the line, it seemed my attempt was worse than the frame before. It didn’t matter what I tried, lighter ball, heavier ball, slow release, fast release, flip the wrist, don’t flip the wrist, spin the ball, don’t spin the ball… nothing I did seemed to work. It was utterly humiliating.

Although I don’t think she would ever admit it, I believe my dear, sweet friend was purposely throwing gutter balls just to make me feel better. She is not competitive and she knows I am. She’d sacrifice a good score just to make me feel better. That’s just her heart for me. But even in her gracious attempts she still outscored me by a significant margin.

But the most powerful thing that happened to me that day was not the humiliation of a horrible bowling experience or even the love of my dear friend. The most powerful experience came from her dad, David.

Although his whole family was there – his wife, his daughters, his grandkids, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephews – he was focused on me. He just wanted to talk to me, spend time with me. He wanted to hear my opinions about things. He didn’t talk to me about bowling. He didn’t try to correct my form. He just wanted to know me better. He didn’t care what the score was. He’d just be waiting for me after each attempt I made so that we could pick up our conversation where we left off. And, when the game was over he wanted to make plans for the next time we would be together.

The ride home for me that day was a tearful one. I was raw. I felt totally exposed. My “performance” was out there for the world to see and it was awful. But the tears weren’t because I bowled a terrible game – although that didn’t help. The tears were coming from the vulnerability of having my “performance defense” ripped away from me in such a tangible way. I was not only face-to-face with the truth of being a horrible bowler, I was also face-to-face with an overwhelming sense of love and acceptance. I had a choice to make. I could either continue to cling to the lie I was believing or relish in the love that was being extended to me.

Amidst the tears and confusion as I drove home, I sensed the Lord’s presence. He knew my choice. He was the One who put it in front of me. Still following my old pattern of behavior I said to the Lord, “David was so nice to me.” I heard God ask me, “Why wouldn’t he be?” I answered through my tears, “Because I’m a terrible bowler!” I’m almost sure I heard a sympathetic chuckle from the Lord as I felt His embrace. Had the feelings not been so deep I would have joined Him in that chuckle. I knew it was ridiculous as soon as I said it but it didn’t change the fact that that is exactly what I believed. The choice was an obvious one. I chose to let go of the gutter ball performance and cling to the love.

What David showed me that day was a beautiful and powerful example of God’s love. It is NEVER about our performance. It is always about His love for us. He already knows us. No one knows us better. He created us. He wants to show us how well He knows us and that comes through spending time with Him. His desire is not only to spend time with us but for us to desire to spend time with Him and grow closer and deeper in our relationship. It’s all about that relationship. We as believers get so focused on what we “do” for Him. But that is not what deepens our relationship WITH Him. That is not where our love and acceptance is found. The love and acceptance come first. It always has! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It has NEVER been about our performance. Our performance could never merit the kind of love He has for us.

It is only from the depths of our relationship with Him that the gifts He has given us flow freely into the world and what we “do” for Him becomes visible for others to see. What we “do” isn’t for Him to see and notice us. It’s for others to see and notice HIM. Our focus should always be Him and our relationship with Him. It should never be about the works. They should flow from the relationship and what He does with them in the lives of others is between Him and them.

Lord, thank you for loving and accepting terrible bowlers like me. Thank you for your love and acceptance before I ever did one thing for you. Help me to focus my time, energy and love on my relationship with You. May the gifts you have given me flow freely into the lives of others to point them to You. But, may my focus never leave You and may I always desire to spend time with you. Thank you for giving us people in our lives to show us Your great love for us. Thank you for David. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

Team Hoyt – An Inspiration in “Being”

Those of you who have followed this blog over the years know that it is my passion and goal to help others understand that as believers we are to be the glove on God’s hand in the world. There are times when I get caught up in the “doing” and forget that the whole idea is just “being” His glove. When I forget that, God brings me back to reality.  On one occasion He used the inspiring story of Team Hoyt.

Team Hoyt is a remarkable father and son duo. They have competed in 1130 races from 1977 to 2016. It all began when Rick asked his dad if they could participate in a 5K benefit race for one of the students at his high school. Rick has cerebral palsy, so the only way for the two of them to participate was if his dad pushed him in a wheelchair. His dad, Dick, who was 36 when they started was not a runner, but he agreed to run that first race with his son. After the race was over, Rick communicated to his Dad, “When I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”  That was all the motivation Dick needed to continue to race. Since then, they have participated in 72 marathons, 257 triathlons (7 of which were Iron Man), 97 half marathons and many, many other events. Their story is an incredible inspiration.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Adubrj3yya8 team-hoyt-profile

So, when God gave me the picture of this amazing father and son team I knew there was something He wanted to teach me. After some reflection on their story I finally asked Him, “Is that me, Lord?  Am I Rick?”  Without hearing a response, I knew that I was.

Rick is unable to walk or talk.  Physically, Rick is not able to help his dad in any way when they race.  In fact, he makes the race much harder for his dad.  In triathlons, Dick tows an inflatable raft that is strapped to his chest.  Rick rides in that raft as his dad swims.  When they bike, Rick sits in a special chair that is mounted onto the front of Dick’s bike.  And when they run, Dick pushes Rick in his wheelchair.

I said to the Lord, “If I’m Rick then I suppose that you’re Dick. So if that’s us and we’re a team… I’m not doing anything. Is that how you see me, Lord?”

Then the Lord asked me, “Was the father a runner?”  I knew from their story that he was not.  It was Rick who wanted to participate in that first 5K.  And, it was through that experience that Dick realized what that activity did for his son: It made his disability virtually disappear.  So, he began training as a runner, a biker, a swimmer and ultimately an Iron Man triathlete.

It was starting to become clearer to me. This father didn’t choose running so that he could win races. He chose running so that he could be closer to his son.

“Okay. So, it’s about connection.  I get that, Lord. But Lord, the son… he’s not doing anything. Is that really me?” I asked again.

Suddenly the image in my head changed. It was a picture of Jesus and I standing near the south rim of the Grand Canyon. He was holding me as we looked at the gorgeous view.  I wiggled from His embrace and picked up a small pebble near His feet and ran to the edge of the Canyon and threw it as hard as I could.  Then I ran back near Him picked up another pebble and threw that in as well.  Back and forth I went, excited and determined with what I was doing.  Finally, I heard Him say, “This is what it looks like when you think you are ‘doing’ something for me. It’s like you’re trying to fill up the Grand Canyon with pebbles.”

I’m not sure why that seemed like a good idea to me, but that was indeed what I was trying to do.  Then He showed me that the few pebbles that I had thrown were hung up on the rocks and bushes not five feet from where I had thrown them.  None of them had been even close to their intended target.  Every attempt I made was futile.  Then He showed me the most convicting part of the image.  Each time I threw a pebble, I was leaving His presence. I wiggled away from Him in order to “do” something for Him.

Finally, I was convicted. I saw what the Lord wanted me to see.

It’s about connection.  Dick didn’t start training and competing with the goal of becoming a world class athlete.  He began training and competing to connect with his son!  Every drop of sweat has been to give his son a sense of true joy, delight, fulfillment, and purpose.  It is not about racing… it is about being together.  So our lives should be about being connected to the God of the universe.  He doesn’t need us on His team, He wants us on His team. He wants to give us joy, delight and purpose by including us in His plan for us.  He could run faster, swim farther, and bike a lot easier without us, but that isn’t what He wants. He wants to include us in His ventures in spite of us.

Just as Dick has sacrificed himself physically for his son, so God has physically sacrificed Himself for us.  The physical pain and death His own Son suffered on a cross was so that He could meet us in the midst of our weakness, frailty and imperfections.  His death and resurrection was so that we can be connected with Him.  It is in our weakness and need for a perfect Savior that He is strong.

Finally, Team Hoyt is not known for their victories. They are known for their inspirational story, for their relationship, and for taking on life’s challenges together. This is how God is made known to the world that does not know Him. It is through our connection, our relationship with Him, and the way we take on life’s challenges with Him. It’s not about what we “do” for Him, it’s the strength of our connection with Him that will draw others to Him.  We cannot, even with the best intentions, be focused on filling up the Grand Canyon with pebbles for Him.  We must be focused on “being” with Him, remaining in Him.  He will run the race.  He will push, pull and carry us to the victory He has won for us through His death and resurrection.

Lord, thank you for the constant reminder that it is not about doing for You but about being with You. I am so grateful for your grace in meeting me where I am at and allowing me to compete alongside you in this world with You as my teammate. Bless the Hoyt’s, Lord. May others see You in their story and come to know You personally. In your Son’s precious name, amen.

Team Hoyt. (2017, December 3). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:05, December 29, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Team_Hoyt&oldid=813450733

What’s In a Name?

IMG_1276I became mildly obsessed this past summer with the movie, “Ricki and the Flash.” Mildly might be an understatement… truth be told I saw it four times – actually paid admission four times to see it!   Star Wars – Shmar Wars… I was hooked on Ricki!  So what was it about this box office bomb that captured my attention?

For those of you who didn’t see it, and I’m guessing that’s most of you, the story is about Ricki Rendazzo, an aging, struggling rocker who had left her husband and three children to pursue her music career.  She suddenly finds herself having to return to that family to deal with a crisis – her adult daughter’s divorce and subsequent depression and suicide attempt.  What she finds when she gets there are the consequences of all her actions – four very broken and bitter relationships that have festered over time, and the reality that her children’s step mother has filled the role that she vacated years earlier.

I know I’m not painting a very happy picture and the question remains, why would someone go to see this four times!  Somehow amidst the terrible reality of this woman’s actions, love wins.  In all her frailties and all the pain she has caused, the family comes around to accept and love her where she is at.  Now, perhaps you would say, that is just ridiculous writing to turn a script around like that and come out with a happy ending.  That may be very true.  I won’t  speak on the movie’s accuracy or trueness to life.  All I can tell you was there was something about Ricki’s character that I identified with and I will try my best to translate it to you.

Ricki Rendazzo is the main character’s stage name.  There are two scenes in particular where her name plays a pivotal role.  First, as her cab pulls up to the luxurious private housing tract of her ex-husband she is asked to give her name to the security guard.  She says confidently, “Ricki Rendazzo.”  The security guard peruses her clipboard and after a long glance at her list she asks Ricki for her ID.  When she hands it to her the security guard says, “This says your name is Linda.  Oh yeah, here you are, Linda Brummell.” Ricki tries in vain to explain, “Yeah but he knows I prefer the name…”  The gate quickly opens and the cab drives through.  In another scene Ricki is in a heated argument with one of her sons.  Her son blurts out, “I was born gay, mom!”  To which she replies, “Well, I was born Ricki!”  It is Ricki’s name and her identity associated with that name that I resonated with the most.

I don’t wish to make this woman a hero.  She had abandoned her family,  for a mediocre music career and life in a fleabag hotel.  Her actions impacted her children’s lives immensely.  They became bitter and angry and distant towards her.   She hurt many.  But I guess what I saw in this very fractured life fraught with poor choices and hurtful actions was someone who knew her calling.  It pains me to even write that sentence because I am not for a moment saying that she was justified in what she did.  No!  Not at all!  What I am suggesting is that perhaps she never was Linda Brummell.  She tried to be.  She thought marriage and children were what she was supposed to do.  But all along she was Ricki… Ricki was who she was created to be and eventually she could no longer play the role she was pretending to play.

Now before this turns into an endorsement for the worldly mantra that has become so prevalent today… “We all must just be true to ourselves!” let me clarify.  That is NOT what I’m advocating.  Frankly, our world has used that mantra as a license to pursue self-indulgence, revelry, addiction and anything and everything that makes us feel good.  That is not the life that God has for us.  He has given us clear boundaries and a set of guidelines to follow that are for OUR good… not His.  It is only when we follow Him that we will truly have the freedom we are seeking through indulgence.

The message that I took from this movie is that we have each been given a calling.  It has been planted in our very core.  It is who we are and we have been given the gifts, skills and talents to carry out that core calling.  As a result often we are asked to be different, to not fit in with the mainstream, but to stand out and stand up for who we have been created by God to be.  This is not about us!   This is not about pursuing our OWN lusts and wants and desires which is what the world wants you to believe.  This is about pursuing what He has put us on this planet to do and we cannot be afraid to be different when we are being obedient to God.

Ricki, in my mind, was ultimately obedient in pursuing her gift and calling.  In the final scene of the movie this financially strapped, aging rock star gives her son and daughter in law the only gift she has to give – her music.  She is given dirty looks, seated in the back of the room, and looked down upon by everyone in the room.  But she stands up with her long braided hair, heavy metal make up and tattoos and walks on stage.  With a room full of people showing her outright distain she performs.  She gives everything she has to give and the people who matter most embrace it.

There is no denying that this character had created a wake of tragic consequences by pretending to be someone she wasn’t for so long.  But, ultimately her family met her where she was at with a lot of grace, forgiveness and love.  We have a gracious God who will do the same for us, but we need to turn to Him and pursue what He has for us wholeheartedly.  And the sooner the better… the less damage we cause in our wake of disobedience.

Lastly, names are important to the Lord.  We see several times in the Bible where He changes the names of His people based on the changes He made in their lives.   He changed Abram to Abraham (from”exalted father” to “father of a multitude”); Sarai to Sarah (from “quarrelsome” to “princess”); Jacob to Israel (from “supplanter” to  “triumphant with God”)… and the list goes on.  Our names say something about who we are.

I was given a very specific name when I was born by my dad.  It was “Christin.”  Even though it was not the conventional way of spelling that name, he insisted that Christ be in my name.  For many years, in fact most of my life, I have not used that name with the exception of legal documents (mortgage papers, bank accounts, etc.).  Well, recently I’ve been convicted about that.  I chose Chris as a nickname when I was 11 years old because “Christin” reminded me too much of my early school years and I really disliked those years.  But the truth is, my name is Christin.  It has a meaning… “follower of Christ.”  Quite literally it is “Christ IN me.”  It is also my calling.  It is who I am and the core of my being and I want to reflect that identity to the rest of the world.

So, I guess you can say I am practicing what I’m preaching.  My business cards, voicemail message, and signature line on my emails have changed.  My Facebook account has also changed and my bosses and colleagues at work have caught on.  I’ll still answer to Chris but, “I was born, Christin!”

Lord, help us to know and be true to the life and purpose you have called us to.  Meet us with your grace, forgiveness and love wherever we may be and help us to turn and accept our calling wholeheartedly for you.  Keep us from pursuing our own wants and desires and help us to trust in your great goodness as our reward.  We love you.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

THIS is Love!

 

With the events of this past week still fresh in our minds I want to comment and reflect on the nobel profession for which I have been privileged to be a part of for more than 20 years – law enforcement.  While I am not a sworn officer, I have spent my career surrounded by some of the finest men and women on the face of the planet who have sworn to protect the people they serve.  Men and women who train to love. Yes, you read it correctly – they train to love you.

What you witnessed last week as you watched the news footage from San Bernardino was the most unadulterated expression of love you will find in human beings.   It is love that says, “I will not just stand between good and evil, I will run after evil until it is stopped.”   It is love that says, “I will do this not just for the ones I love but I will do it for everyone.”  And it is love that says, as the Deputy from San Bernardino put so eloquently, “I will take a bullet before you do – that’s for damn sure.”

Aside from the men and women in our military I do not believe there is another profession that is more Christ-like than law enforcement.  The Bible talks a lot about love.  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15:13)  It also says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  God’s love is sacrificial and it doesn’t come as response to what we have done.  In fact, it comes in spite of what we have done.  We don’t deserve it.  It is powerful.  It is unadulterated.  It cannot be stopped.

The men and women of law enforcement in your community have been chosen by God to represent Him and His love for you.  Whether they believe in God or not is inconsequential.  They have been chosen by Him to enact His love on this earth in the same way that His own Son enacted His love… through the potential of sacrificing their own lives for the sake of yours.  Very few of the rest of us will ever have the privilege of delivering God’s love in that way.

Unlike God’s Son however, these officers are not perfect.  Their lives do not bring salvation as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection does.  They, like you, make mistakes – sometimes very serious mistakes because of the power they have been given.  But I guarantee you with very, very little exception, what motivates our officers to do their job every day is love.  Some of them may be too tough to admit that, but I don’t know how else to define what they do for you every day.  Whether they are writing a ticket to hold you accountable for actions that may get you or someone else hurt, or running into a gun battle to save lives it is a heart filled with love that drives them.  Their day is spent looking for evil and trying to defeat it.  And when they are not looking for it they are training to be better at defeating it.  Every second of their work day (and much of their off-duty time)  is spent training to love you better and keep you and your family safe.

These past couple of years have been tumultuous for the law enforcement community.  Regardless of your feelings about cops or any injustices you may have personally experienced at the hands of law enforcement, I can only say that they will continue to love you.  They will defend the law that gives you the right to speak out against them.  They will even put themselves on the front line and take rocks and bottles from you.  They will continue to arrest bad guys even when voters have taken the teeth out of the laws that keep the law-breakers behind bars.  They will continue to respond to your calls whether you love them or hate them.  Because it’s all about love.  And we will keep loving you because that is what we have been called to do.

God’s love is as relentless as the long arm of the law.  It is unshaken by our temper tantrums, our misdeeds and our out-right rejection of it.  His love is relentless.  His sent His Son to die for us while we were still His enemy.  I pray that you accept His love.  If you don’t know Him personally, He knows you, He loves you and He wants a relationship with you.

I also pray that you will come to understand that the officers that work in your community love you.  They show it to you every day in ways that you are not even aware of.  They are willing to give their life in order to save yours.  They do it every day.  They do it day and night.  And they do it for you.  THIS is love.