Won’t Back Down

This week’s Monday School is inspired by a story Jesus told in Luke 18:1-8. The story is called The Parable of the Persistent Widow.

First, we’re introduced to the judge. Jesus described him as one who had no regard for God or people and the judge admitted it. In other words, the judge was selfish and probably corrupt. Then Jesus told about the widow. The widow went to the judge over and over and over about an injustice she experienced. We’re never told what happened to the widow, only that she demanded justice against her adversary consistently and relentlessly. The judge grew weary of her continual demands and finally granted her the justice she sought.

Jesus made this point. If an uncaring, selfish judge will give proper justice to the poor widow, how much more will our loving God give justice when we seek it?

But the best part of the entire story isn’t the story at all. Verse one says, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Another Bible version says, “always pray and never lose hope.’ Still another, “always pray and don’t lose heart.” My favorite part of the parable is WHY Jesus told the parable.

Think about it. The widow had no tangible resources. No network of friends that could help. She was poor, alone, and helpless. The only thing she had was grit. Maybe you call it moxie. Some say tenacity. Even so, I’m sure there were days she was as tired of seeing the heartless judge as he was her. Tired of hearing the same answer day after day. But she didn’t give up and she didn’t back down.

Jesus told this story so we would always pray and never give up. When it seems too hard and the waiting is too long. When the light at the end of the tunnel is gone. When it feels like we love or work or give in vain.

We pray and we don’t give up. We keep hoping. We keep loving. And we keep working.

This story makes me think of one of my favorite classic rock songs, I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty. When I hear this song, I can’t help but feel more confident and determined about anything I’ve resolved to do. If you haven’t heard the song in a while, I encourage you to look it up on your music app and add to your playlist.

The lyrics are simple and powerful.

“I Won’t Back Down” 

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down

(I won’t back down) Hey, baby
There ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down) Hey, I
Will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Well, I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Let us pray and never give up.

 

Share Your Story

Each of us has a tale to tell if we would only tell it.
Frederick Buechner

Your story matters. Your little stories, your big ones, the whole story of your life so far.

We learn about ourselves and others and the world through stories. They change us and connect us. Stories deepen our understanding of one another. Stories help us see what really matters…..past what we wear, our age, and the color of our skin. Past what we fix up and try to hide. Stories help us see the heart. A friend recently wrote, “Stories push us to grace.”

But I’m not talking about our Instagram stories, or any of the ones we post to social media. I’m talking about sharing your life. Your life is a story and a collection of thousands of stories and your stories are best told within relationships.

I’m talking about the kind of stories shared with a group of friends over lunch. The face to face kind you share with your teenager because he’s struggling with his faith. Listening to a story that makes you laugh so hard your face hurts. Sharing the stories of triumph or fear, tragedy and faith, joy, failure, hope and love. And especially the stories that bring tears to our eyes.

So no matter how you do it, keep up with your stories. Write them out in a journal. Share them with those you’re close to. Type them out on a blog, whether you publish it or not. Because it’s important to keep track of our stories. Our real stories. The messy ones we prefer no one to know. The ones about living inside ourselves and those that make us uncomfortable.

We keep track of our stories so we don’t forget who we are. So we remember what we’ve seen and felt and lived through. Because when your friend goes through the same thing, you can be there, sharing your story, and making your friend feel less alone. Or you sit there and say nothing at all because you remember the times it was all you needed.

Keeping track of our stories help us remember those things. If we lose track of our stories, we lose the ability to connect with people in the most essential way – heart to heart. We forget how to be with people and try to fix them instead. We forget compassion and empathy.

We forget how it feels.

Jesus was a storyteller and ever compassionate. He was weary and thirsty when he met a woman from Samaria. The woman was an outsider, looked down upon by those around her because of her lifestyle, but Jesus didn’t treat her any differently than he treated anyone else. Possibly for the first time in her life, she didn’t feel shamed. Jesus told her everything she ever did. She was seen and understood and known. The woman was so heartened by this she went into town to tell the story.

She didn’t wait until all her problems were solved or her circumstances changed. She shared Jesus with others right in the midst of her messy, complicated life.

God uses the stories of our lives. The happy times, the messy ones, the ones that almost killed us, and even the ones we think can’t be used. All for His glory.

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,……. John 4:39  ESV

Share your lives. Tell your stories. Live like it matters.

She Was Seventeen

I was at the funeral home last night, gathered with extended family I don’t see often. A lot of us together in one place. There were moms and dads, and brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and cousins…..lots and lots of cousins. We’re happy to see each other, even under the circumstances, and we say so.

We smile and hug each other, ask about our families and can’t believe he’s driving already or she’s graduated college. We wonder at the children growing up and getting married and having children of their own. We ask “where did the time go” or say “how time flies.” Funeral homes make us more aware of time. More thankful for it, too.

After we catch up with each other, we remember. We think of the ones who aren’t with us. We think of the good times, maybe the hard ones too. We laugh and share stories. My cousin shared long ago stories about his brothers and sister, of growing up with lots of cousins and playing on Sharrott Hill. Then he recalled something about Mom and told me the story.

IMG_5522He was in 2nd grade and she was 17. She took him and a bunch of her other nephews to see a movie called The Blob. He remembers having nightmares that night. He told me Aunt Jan was always so much fun.

My cousin told me a story about Mom I’d never heard.

I’m glad I was there to hear it.

Against the Odds

My parents’ story is an “against the odds” kind of story. They were like the rest of us, trying to make it the best they knew how. Learning to make a life, raise kids, work their jobs, and have fun while doing it. They got it right sometimes but they got it wrong other times.

I don’t hold the wrong parts against them.

We’re all learning as we go. Not one of us has it all figured out. Still we wake up each day, try again, and maybe do better than we did yesterday. But we don’t give up and we don’t give in to the idea that it will never change or that we’ll never learn. We keep at it. Sure we go through trials, we have pain and sorrow and bad things happen. But by the grace of God we make do with what we’ve learned so far.

And we forgive. Then our hearts are softened and all of the sudden we realize we see people differently. Even the ones that caused the pain.

Because you love people better when your heart is softer. And you’re better prepared for the next thing life throws at you. You’ve learned how to weep and laugh and do it with those who are weeping and laughing.

And at the end of your days, someone will say your story is an “against the odds” kind of story.

It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, and sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools-friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty-and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.

                                                                              Anne Lamott

Abrupt

Keep Track

 

He knows us far better than we know ourselves…….that’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.      Romans 8:28 (MSG)

 

How we look ahead has a lot to do with how we look back…..how we keep track of where we’ve come from and the people we’ve known and who have known us along the way.

Who we are now is because of who we were then. The people who raised us and taught us and the ones who hurt us. Our parents and siblings and childhood friends. Aunts and uncles and cousins. Our teachers and preachers or strangers and lovers. All of them had and some still have a part in our lives.

And because God gave us the gift of memory we can’t get around it. That’s just how it works. So it’s important to remember well and truly……the wonderful and happy and the scary and tragic. All the good and all the bad.

A gracious thing happens when you remember well.

The good memories are treasured. They come unexpectedly and make you smile. Sometimes they bring tears but it’s the sweet, cleansing kind.

The other memories….the painful ones and scary ones…..the lonely ones…….the dark ones……all of them can become a source of thankfulness and compassion.

Thankful….because you’ve either made it through or are making it through. And compassion for those who have endured or are enduring the same pain or darkness.

Because we either make our worst memories work for us or they’re going to work against us.

All of them make our story. God takes all of it and uses it for our good.

We just have to let Him.

“It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years, God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still choose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later.”      Frederick Buechner

In response to Beloved.

Memory

I’ve been sorting through moments. The kind caught with a camera. And we all know what happens when you sort through photographs. You look and you remember. Memories flood your heart and mind and you keep looking through the photos and you keep remembering and you smile and laugh and want others to look at them with you.

Then there are the photos that you’ve never seen before of people you loved and that loved you. You see these moments and you wonder then you learn something about the people in the photos.

Another feeling comes when you look, really look, at these moments gone long ago. It’s a strange strong feeling. And it’s a new one to me. It has some yearning in it, mixed with a little sadness and some happiness……..restlessness too.

But it’s good to remember because as Frederick Buechner wrote, “…even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”

My favorite photos are the ones I’ve never seen. The photos of people and places and happenings before I was born.image

Like this school picture of my dad from 1956. He was 14. His dad died when he was 14. I don’t know if this picture was taken before or after his father died.

Or this picture of my mom with two of her five sisters. She is the tallest one. Mom had two brothers also. She was the baby of her family and she was a daddy’s girl.

Or the one of Mom and Dad on a beach somewhere. That’s Mom in a green bikini! I never knew Mom wore a bikini but Dad always wore a hat.

They’d lived a lot of life before I was here. They had the same experiences common to all of us. Joy and pain. Sorrow and regret. Infatuation, rejection, hope and despair. Friendship and betrayal. Fear and love and faith.image

Then I became part of their story and they lived more life and we had more joy and pain. Regret, fear and sorrow. Faith, hope and love.

Now they are part of my story.

“Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things”.    Frederick Buechner

A Discover Challenge post:The Things We Leave Behind.

Traditional

Groundwork

imageWe have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it, we have to know it. And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.                          Wendell Berry

The beauty that surrounds my home today is the result of my parents’ hard work.

When I was a little girl we had a plain yard. Grass to mow. An apple tree and lots of pine trees in the back. We had a vegetable garden too. But no landscaping. No mulch or fancy stones or yard ornaments. My parents didn’t have the money or time for landscaping until all of us moved out of the house.

Then that’s where they spent most of their time and a lot of their money. A new yard project was underway constantly. Dad was the do-it-yourself master at anything and the yard was no exception. They planted flowers and trees and mulched and sprayed and laid sod and added stepping stones and edgers. They were proud of their yard but mostly enjoyed sharing it with others.

imageA Fourth of July barbecue, an Easter egg hunt, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and Labor Day too. Anytime was a good time to get together and sit in the yard.

My daughter told me last week, “I love how Grandpa planted so many flowers.”

Me too.

We get to experience the bounty of their hard work in the dirt. Their groundwork makes the beauty possible.

Not only in the yard around the house. But in my heart and my memories. In my personality and my character. In who I am.

They did the hard work of teaching us, correcting us and showing us and loving us. They laid the foundation. And it wasn’t easy. And they didn’t do it well sometimes.

They were fighting some tough battles while trying to raise a family. Some we know about. Others we never will. Hardships and addictions and anger and fighting and lying and job losses and lots of bad things happened.

But good things did too. Really good things. Like working together in the yard. Christmases. Playing cards at the dining room table. Sitting on the porch watching thunderstorms.

And apologies and forgiveness and perseverance and love. And all the other good things that come with those.

All of it is groundwork. The good they did, the mistakes they made, the life they lived in front of us.

And we get to experience the bounty of their hard work in the dirt. Their groundwork makes the beauty possible.

 
Story

“I had always believed that the world involved magic:  now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.  And this pointed to a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose: and if there is a purpose, there is a person.  I had always felt life first as a story; and if there is a story there is a story-teller.”

G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy