Thursday, June 30, 2011

As If There Is All The Time in The World To Say I Love You

As much as we may not want to admit it, we do have relatives we love more than others.  It's not that we don't love all our relatives, but some just have special places in our hearts.  Two of my favorite cousins (I have three by the way) always lived away.  Growing up they lived in Oregon and could only come back here every couple of years.  I remember as a child, Mom would say, "Randy and Julie are coming," and I would be so excited.  I couldn't wait until they got here.

We would meet at my grandmother's house in the sprawling metropolis of Jerusalem, Arkansas.  They were usually here in Arkansas for two or three weeks and we would have the best time.  Once we decided to explore the back roads of Jerusalem and walked for hours before we finally found a familiar landmark.  The problem was we were still hours from my grandmother's house and exhausted.  Thankfully, another cousin of ours (by marriage) came along and took us home. 

Those were great times, but then we all grew up and started pursuing our adult lives and as it happens, we drifted apart.  I can't remember the last time I saw or even heard from Julie, but I think it's close to 20 years, now.  It was 14 years ago in April since I last saw Randy when he visited me before moving back to California.  He'd been in Oklahoma and we actually communicated some that year, but then he moved away again and we lost touch until last Christmas.

Over the last five or six years, Randy has suffered from kidney failure and has been on dialysis.  At the same time, he has been having heart problems, which steadily worsened over the last two years.  I worried for him, thought of him often, and told myself I needed to write, but it wasn't until the card came that I finally did write.  It took me two months, but I answered his card telling him like he had me that I thought of him often and remembered all the good times we had as kids.  I gave him my email and said I was much better at keeping in touch by email.

Over the last month or so, Randy's health has deteriorated even more and within the last few weeks, I've had that nagging feeling I needed to write him again and tell him how much he means to me.  Of course, I would be somewhere or doing something that didn't lend itself to writing and so I'd tell myself I'd do it soon.  If I hear he's still declining, I'll do it.  I told myself again Sunday, I need to write him...I'll do it.  And Sunday, I had all the time in the world to tell him I loved him.

Randy died this morning.  And suddenly as I heard mom telling me over the phone right after lunch today, I realized even on Sunday, there was no more time left to write Randy and tell him what he had meant to me.  I cried in my office all afternoon because I loved my cousin even if we had barely communicated in the last 14 years, and I cried because of regret for not staying in touch when I knew he was really sick. 

And, I'm writing this post today to remind anyone who reads it to not act as if you have all the time in the world to let the people you love know how you feel about them.  You have right now, so don't put it off.  Time may be up for you or the person you long to tell one last time, "You were so special to me.  I love you, cousin."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Arrogance and the Defeat of Custer

Today, is the anniversary of the Greasy Grass Fight or as you may have heard it called the Battle of Little Bighorn.  On this day in 1876, the 7th Cavalry led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer was utterly defeated. 

Three forces led by Crook, Gibbon, and Custer were dispatched to bring about the defeat of the Lakota.  The US Army thought it could trap the Indians and end the Indian problem.  However, Custer made a series of errors, which turned the table.

First, he advanced more quickly than he was ordered to do.  Gibbon was leading the infantry brigade and was advancing very slowly.  Crook had been turned back by Crazy Horse and his band at Rosebud Creek.  So, by moving too quickly, Custer had placed himself in an isolated position. 

Second, he had grossly underestimated the number of Indians in the village he was attacking.  The Lakota had been joined by the Cheyenne and Arapaho and there were thousands of Indians gathered there.

Third, he had no respect for the fighting ability of the Indian military.  Once he neared what he thought was just a village, he ordered an immediate attack and split his troops into three groups.  This was to ensure few Indians would be able to escape.  What it ensured was Custer's troops were weakened and at the end of the day Custer and 210 men were dead.

According to Lakota writer Joseph Marshall, III in his book The Day The World Ended at Little Bighorn, the Lakota claimed victory, but "uneasiness settled in the minds of many of the old ones."  They had seen the whites go from annoying interlopers to land-hungry enemies.  Marshall says, "That knowledge was the basis for a nagging question that some asked one another, or simply wrestled with alone.  What would this victory bring?"

This incredible victory would bring terror, sorrow, and death.  Crazy Horse would be killed in 1877 after surrendering.  Sitting Bull would surrender and be killed on a reservation in 1890.  From June 25, 1876 until December 29, 1890, the Lakota would be hunted down, put on reservations, and finally over 200 Lakota would be massacred at Wounded Knee bringing about the end of the "Indian conflicts."

The bright spot in all of this is the Lakota were not utterly destroyed.  Their way of life was forever changed, but the army couldn't destroy their spirit.  Marshall says, "The forces that sent armies to herd our ancestors onto reservations could not destroy the essence of our culture."

The Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho are still among us.  Most are on reservations today, but they have preserved their culture, traditions, and language for the most part.  And, within the last few years, both sides of the story has been told.  What was once called Custer's Last Stand, is now called the Battle of Little Bighorn.  And, thankfully, reasonable people realize the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho were defending their way of life - just as all of us would do if we were suddenly invaded by hostile forces today.

Little Bighorn is now a National Monument where both the 7th Cavalry and the Indian tribes are remembered and honored for both sides fought bravely that day in 1876, and as with any war only one side could be victorious. 

Perhaps the lesson we can learn from this is arrogance can make us think we are invincible when in fact all it really does is cloud our ability to see how vulnerable we are until it's too late.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whoever Exalts Himself

This post for today has been rolling around in my head for some time now.  It's one of those things that just won't go away, and I don't know if writing about it will make it go away or not, but I've decided to go with it.

I get a lot of praise and, for lack of a better term, adoration because of the work I do with the Lakota kids.  Being human, I feel good about what I'm doing and that people notice; however, I also feel enormous discomfort when receiving the praise and adoration because I don't think I'm doing anything special. 

I love going to Pine Ridge each year, and honestly start anticipating my return the minute we drive away from the reservation.  I can't hardly wait until September rolls around each year.  Many times I question if this ministry is a God thing or a Lisa thing.  I usually begin to question it when I'm trying to get the funds needed to make the mission happen, but we always get just what we need, and I know it's absolutely a God thing.  So, in the end, I conclude if God didn't want this to happen, we wouldn't get what we need.  The struggle while overwhelming at the time is always that much sweeter when I see God come through.

So, I think I'm supposed to go.  I think God was preparing me for this long before I had even the slightest inkling I would be doing this every year.  I have always been fascinated by Indian culture and tradition.  And, as I started to study the history of the American Indians, He placed a burden on my heart for the people that never goes away.  I can't explain how my heart aches for these people across our country, who have faced such injustices so often at the hand of people claiming to be Christians.  I think God and Jesus must have felt such sorrow at how the American Indians have suffered. 

My greatest fear in the work I do is that one of these days, I will start believing I'm something special for going  Therefore, I remain ever vigilant to stay grounded in the one truth, which is the only one who deserves praise is Jesus, the Son, and God, the Father. 

I constantly remind myself what Jesus had to say about the Pharisees, who did everything for show, who wanted the praise of men, who wanted to be noticed for their great works.  "Everything they do is done for men to see.  They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long, they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplace and to have men call them Rabbi...for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."  (Matthew 23: 5,12)

When people thank me for going, I'm at a loss at exactly how to respond because in my eyes I'm doing nothing extraordinary.  God tells us to go, to do, to pray, to give.  He expects me to follow through and while I fall short in so many ways, this one thing I do joyfully and with no desire for praise.  In reality, the greatest thanks anyone could show me is to give to the cause.  Embrace the purpose of the mission, which is to show Jesus' love to kids, many who have no concept of what love is all about from any perspective, human or divine.  If you embrace the mission, you've shown me you appreciate what those of us who go to Pine Ridge are doing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Completely His - Part 3

Shannon Ehtridge in her book Completely His introduced me to a new perspective on ministry.  It's actually based on a concept given to her by David Ravenhill.  It's the concept of the Ishmael or Isaac ministry.

Using the story of Abraham and Sarah, Ethridge illustrates how we humans can try to accomplish our purpose or we can take the time to pursue God and learn what His purpose is for us.  We can try to do things ourselves or we can trust God to use us to make His purpose happen.

When it appeared Sarah couldn't have children, she decided to take matters into her own hands and convinced Abraham that he should take her handmaid, Hagar, and have a child with her.  Abraham didn't seem to have a problem with this plan, which just shows us that even God's true believers can make poor decisions when they don't check with God first.  Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, but Ishmael wasn't the fulfillment of God's plan.

In God's time, Sarah did have a child and he was named Isaac.  Isaac was God's plan and the tribes of Israel would come from Isaac. 

Ethridge says, "Instead of asking God 'what dreams do You want to bring to life through me?' we often ask, 'Lord will You bless the dreams I have for my life?'"  I know I have at least 99.9% of the time asked the latter and not the former.

According to Ethridge, our dreams will bear human-sized fruits (Ishmael ministries) not God-sized harvests (Isaac ministries).  As Ravenhill shared with Ethridge, "Our dreams are either self-appointed or God-anointed."

How do we find out what our Isaac ministry is?  Know Christ initmately, and be willing to submit to God's dream for our lives.  If we get to know God, we will discover what we are born to do for His kingdom, and He will let us know when it's time to make the dream happen.

There are two questions Ethridge says we have to answer if we want to have Isaac ministries:
  1. Are you willing to give God permission to enlarge your dreams if they are too small?
  2. Do you trust in His infinitely good and loving nature enough to surrender your own plans and embrace His?
For me, I will say the submission and surrendering are hard.  I want to stay in control.  Stubborn will keeps me in the Ishmael category even though I long to have an Isaac ministry.  And, my soul wrestles within me to say my dreams are not important - forget my dreams, please Lord use me for Your dreams.

© Lisa Kelley 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Completely His - Part 2

Yesterday, I began a short series based on Shannon Ethridge's book Completely His.  The book uses the analogy of Jesus as our bridegroom and has had a profound effect on me.  I simply haven't been able to stop thinking about Jesus as my heavenly bridegroom, and what that should mean to me.

Ethridge tells the story of Hosea, who at God's urging took a prostitute for a wife.  And this wife didn't immediately change her ways.  Eventually, she did, but the reason God wanted Hosea to marry such a woman was so He could visually demonstrate how the children of Israel were playing the harlot with Him.  Ethridge quotes Hoses 2:20, in which God tells Israel, "I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion.  I will be faithful to you and make you Mine, and you will finally know me as Lord."

Jewish custom required a bride price be paid by the groom.  And this bride price was nothing to sneeze about.  The bride came at a great cost.  Jesus, my bridegroom, paid the ultimate price for me.  He gave His life to have me as His bride, even though He knew I would not be faithful and I would search in all the wrong places and ways to find love and fulfillment.  I am certain, He also knew when I would finally come running to Him and say, "You are my Lord."

Ethridge says, "God wants us to love Him with a reckless abandon kind of love.  A love that says, 'I'm going to love You, no matter what it takes, no matter where it takes me, even if the going gets tough or times get hard.  I'm going to love You. Period. And that will never change'...We simply can't find our heart's true delight anywhere else except in the presence of Jesus."

How does the faithful bride of Christ act?  The way a faithful bride of mortal man would act.  She longs to be with Him.  She makes time to be with Him.  She expresses her love for Him.  She thinks about Him.  She asks Him to stay with her.  Ethridge says, "The true bride of Christ longs to adore Him."

Tenth Avenue North has a lovely song called Beloved.  In it, Jesus tells us how we are His beloved.

You're my beloved, lover I'm yours.
Death shall not part us, it's you I died for.
For better or worse forever we'll be.
My love it unites us and it binds you to me.
It's a mystery.

For better or worse - Jesus has gotten the worst from me that is absolutely for sure.  And, as undeserving as I am for the better, He gave it to me anyway.

© Lisa Kelley 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Completely His - Part I

Over the past two weeks, I've been reading a book by Shannon Ethridge called Completely His.  I'm not sure how many posts I have in me about how this book has affected me, but there are at least two or three.

In this book, Ethridge really focuses on how Jesus has said He is our bridegroom and we, the saved, are His bride.  Naturally, I have heard this analogy all my life, but it wasn't until I read this book I really started to think about what it means if Jesus is my bridegroom. 

With regards to earthly marriage, I've always believed in the sanctity of marriage.  I've never married, but I knew if I ever did, I would enter marriage with the idea I would be married to the person for life.  At least twice in my life, I've had a married man come on to me with one even going so far as to say, he had never had an affair, but he would with me.  I wasn't flattered.  I was absolutely appalled and took a long hard look at how I'd sent any type of signal that would indicate I was romantically interested in these men.  To my knowledge, I hadn't.  I'd just been myself and while I considered both friends, I'd never even thought about a relationship with them because they were married.  The only thing I knew to do when it became obvious their feelings were inappropriate was to distance myself from them because I knew I wasn't going there - ever.

Before you think how good I am, let me stop you.  I may have believed in the sanctity of an earthly marriage, but my life hasn't reflected the sanctity of my marriage to Christ.  And, for this I feel such regret.  All these years, I could have been giving myself to Jesus in a way that showed how very much a relationship with Him meant to me.  I've pursued other lovers - career, entertainment, empty earthly relationships, which in the end have not satisfied me.  Etheridge says, "The essence of idolatry is looking to something or someone else to fill us up and satisfy us in a way that only our Creator God can."

Shamefully, it's only been within the last year I've truly made an all out effort to know God more intimately.  And even now I still only give a part of myself to Him.  I read His word, but I don't spend an adequate amount of time trying to hear what He is saying to me.  I pray, but it's still totally one-sided and sporadic at best. 

Ethridge quotes Basilea Schlink from her book My All for Him, which for me sums up what Jesus wants from us.  And, it really isn't anything more than what an earthly husband would want, which I would willing fulfill if I were married.

Schlink says, "From Jesus words 'Whoever loves Me...' and 'Do you love Me?' we sense how much He yearns for us to love Him.  But it is a special kind of love He seeks.  It is the love that is reflected in the relationship between an earthly bride and her bridegroom.  An exclusive love.  A love that tolerates no rivals.  A love that gives the beloved, the bridegroom, the first place.  As the heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus lays claim to such first love.  Because He loves us so dearly, He longs to have the whole of us.  Jesus gave Himself unreservedly for us.  Now, He yearns for us to give ourselves completely to Him, with all that we are and have, so that He can truly be our first love."

One of the changes I've made this year is to listen to more Christian music.  Music has always spoken to me, and I've found there are more songs than I can even begin to name that have spoken to me about how much Jesus loves me.  One of my favorites, which is now my ringtone on my phone, is By Your Side by Tenth Avenue North.  Literally, every where I go, I hear this song, even in church this morning as the choir entered, so I'm thinking there is a message for me in it.  When I hear it, I don't think about Tenth Avenue North.  I imagine Jesus singing to me, and He is really telling me that even though I've strayed...even though I've acted like His love wasn't enough...even though I've tried to find love in all the wrong places...He has been faithfully waiting for me, ready to hold me whenever I would turn to Him and let Him love me as only He can. No one else has ever said, "I love you...I'll never let you go."  But Jesus said it when I first came to Him, and He is still saying it after all these years of my unfaithfulness.  And, all I know is I've never known anyone else who could and would love me in such a way. 

© Lisa Kelley 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011

When Love Is Not Enough

I've spent the last two days driving to and from Hot Springs in order to attend a conference.  The trip to Hot Springs is always a sad trip for me because it's a drive down memory lane where I'm reminded of a day that was just about perfect.  I shared the day with the person I consider the love of my life.  His name was Tony.  We went with his family and stopped at a restaurant in Benton for breakfast before driving on to Hot Springs for a day at the lake. 

I watched him ski and had a great time with his dad, stepmom, step-sister and step-brother.  It was warm and sunny...the perfect day for a heart to love.  We talked about love and Tony said love wasn't really real.  People could have feelings for each other, but love was just a term people used.

My heart belonged to him, and for the next six years, we would have an off and on again relationship until it would finally end because he didn't want to make a commitment to anything truly serious.  He said he didn't believe in love and marriage.

Does this sound like a scene from a movie?  If you've ever seen When Harry Met Sally, you've seen the glimpse of my life when Sally tells Harry that her former boyfriend, Joe, is getting married.  She says, she told herself he didn't want to marry; but the truth is he didn't want to marry her.  I cry every time I see this scene because I know just how she felt.

The truth was Tony didn't believe in love and marriage with me, but he did believe in marrying someone else.  And even though more years have passed than I want to admit, my heart still aches when I think how I loved him. 

I learned the life lesson many people learn - sometimes loving someone completely with all your heart isn't enough to make them love you too.  And, while I have gone on and really don't think of him often, I can't make the trip to Hot Springs without remembering a perfect day when I was young and hopeful that love could happen for me.

© Lisa Kelley 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Navajo Land

Last week was one of those weeks where I felt most alive.  Why?  First, I was in a part of the country I love, the desert southwest.  Except for the unfortunate smoke situation in New Mexico, the weather was perfect with upper 80s and less than ten percent humidity.  Second, I was doing what I love - working with kids who have the odds stacked against them because they are American Indian and live on a reservation.  Finally, and most importantly, I was trying to share God.

As wonderful as last week was, I still feel a lingering sadness.  Statistically speaking, many of the beautiful kids I met last week will accomplish little if we measure them from a strictly materialistic, achievement point of view.  Some will not finish school or barely do it.  Some will succumb to peer pressure and join gangs or start drinking and end up living in addiction.  Some will experience physical and mental abuse and become abusers themselves.  Right now, they have such potential and all I can pray is for God to help them dodge all the darkness they will encounter. 

And despite the bleak statistics, there is hope.  I have hope what we did last week might have a lasting impression on some of the kids.  That, they might have hope not necessarily in this world, but in an eternal life where they are free from pain, hunger, and discrimination.  A life filled with God and his graciousness.

There are many things I could write about this experience.  Not all would be positive with regard to how the kids are treated, but I find at least for now the feelings are too raw to share.

All I know is I wish with all my being I could make a positive difference for the kids in Thoreau and the kids in Pine Ridge.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Line in the Sand

I've just returned from the Navajo Nation and I'll be writing about the experience in a future post.  Today, though, I'm concentrating on an experience from the Zuni Pueblo.  My travel mate, Audra, and I stayed in the city of Gallup, New Mexico, while the group we worked with stayed in a house outside of Thoreau.  Audra and I are high maintenance women, I guess, but the thought of staying in a house with 14 other people and sharing two bathrooms wasn't appealing to us.  Because we stayed in Gallup, we were very close to the Zuni Pueblo and on Monday during the day, we headed to Zuni to check it out.

Zuni Pueblo is a very traditional place.  No photographs are allowed unless you purchase a permit and you can't visit the actual Pueblo without a guide.  We didn't buy the photo permit, but we did pay for the guide to take us to the Pueblo.  Our guide, Sherry, was very pleasant and informative and I enjoyed meeting her and hearing about the Zuni culture and traditions.

We actually visited the Spanish Mission in the middle of the Pueblo.  A mission, which is no longer used and in fact was de-consecrated many years ago.  What has stuck with me about our visit to the Pueblo is the things the Catholic missionaries did to try to convert the Zuni to Christianity.  I want to be very clear - I'm not bashing the Catholics because it could have been the Methodist, Baptist, or any other Christian denomination that would have tried to impose their beliefs and ideas on the Zuni in an effort to win them to Christ.  In this case, it just happened to be the Catholics.

The Zuni have different beliefs, especially when it comes to entering graveyards.  They don't go into areas where the dead are buried.  For most of us this is something we don't understand.  It may seem silly or superstitious, and that's fine for us.  However, for the Zuni, it is important.  They actually have a non-Zuni person who somewhat maintains the graveyard, at least this person decorates the graveyard on Memorial Day.

When the Catholic missionaries came into Zuni land and built the mission, they made the entrance to the mission in such a way that the Zuni had to march through the graveyard in order to enter the church.  And this is the thing I'm so troubled by.  If you're goal is to win people to Christ, why must you trample all over people's beliefs? 

I don't believe like the Zuni.  I don't think it matters if you walk through a graveyard.  But, I'm not Zuni.  I can't begin to know how God feels about these things because I'm not God.  I know He isn't happy with false gods and the worshipping of false gods, but in the grand scheme of things is God displeased with the Zuni because they don't go through graveyards?  And if, this is something that displeases God, don't you think He would press upon a Zuni convert's heart to move away from the superstitions that displease Him?

I think He would.  I believe the Holy Spirit would inform any person of things they should and shouldn't do once they accept Christ.  We, Christians, don't have to impose our rules of right and wrong on other people.  If you look at the history of our nation and the way Christians have dealt with the American Indians, it's a sad and disturbing story.  I, for one, feel such an enormous burden for the many lost American Indians, who may never know Christ because of the terrible things Christians have done to them.  Things that had no Biblical basis whatsoever.  Nowhere in the Bible will anyone find that in order to be a Christian, you must talk, dress, and live like white people.  It's not there. 

I realize each person is responsible for himself or herself, but white people drew a line in the sand when it came to converting the American Indians - a line that said you can't be who God made you to be and be a Christian.  You must be assimilated and act like we do or you can't be truly saved.  And, this unloving spirit so grossly shown to our native peoples keeps thousands and thousands of people from being able to open their hearts to the only One who can save them so they can have an eternal life where they are accepted as the beautiful people God created them to be.

I'm not a Biblical scholar, and these are just my thoughts and feelings.  All I know is God created American Indians and He loves them as much as He loves any other persons He created. 

The link below will take you to a website with photos of the Zuni Pueblo.

Zuni Pueblo pictures from the Zuni people