I Have More Power than I Ever Thought I Had…Some Thoughts on FAITH

I very nearly to forgot write this post.  I’ve done super well, faithfully following through on my New Year’s intention to post something every week…

…TWO WEEKS.  Not until Week 3 did I falter.  Technically, we’re right at the beginning of Week 4 and I really did miss Week 3, but I’ll treat myself with some grace and lump both weekend days into Week 3, ‘kay?

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Truth is, I didn’t even know what I wanted to write about.  This week has been so busy – conference last weekend, catapulted into a shortened school week due to a holiday and the end of semester, all in one week, started a new graduate program so all my spare time is spent on homework assignments (God, is three master’s degrees enough? Can this be the last? Why I’m working on #3 is, of course, fodder for yet another blog post…). And this afternoon, we welcomed into our home an exchange student from Thailand.  Busy, busy, busy!  Not enough room in my mid-life brain to percolate some fresh inspiration…

Even my Scripture study habit has suffered.  So today, after looking at my schedule of reading and determining just how much I needed to catch up on, I settled into my cushy chair by the fireplace and began reading…

…over and over again, I came across the connection between FAITH and MIRACLES.

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I know, I’m about to get a “You freakin’ Joel Osteen parrot!” from a lot of you, but regardless of some folks’ use of the word “faith” to turn God into a divine vending machine/ATM/barista, Scripture says it – quite clearly:

  • In Mark 6, Jesus couldn’t perform miracles because of the people’s lack of faith.

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  • In Numbers 21, those who had faith in God’s directive to look at the bronze serpent were healed; those who didn’t, died.

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  • In Acts 3, Peter and John clearly state that the crippled man’s faith is what healed him.

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Please understand – I am absolutely not a name-it-and-claim-it thinker.  I am a dyed-in-the-wool, choices-bring-consequences, you-made-your-bed-now-get-comfortable, and God-gave-you-brains-and-brawn-so-use-them sort of person.  Very independent, and very prone to kicking myself when I make a poor choice or exert less than perfect wisdom in any given situation.

It hasn’t been like me to ask for miracles. Historically, I’ve found that rather embarrassing…a miracle was evidence that I needed God to cover my backside (which, granted, He has done more than once).

There was a time when I no longer believed in miracles, or in God, for that matter. It wasn’t so long ago, and I found myself swimming in a sea of doubt, and despair, and darkness.  And I realized that although I didn’t know if God existed, and if He did, I didn’t know if He was listening to little-ol’-me…

…but I wanted to believe He was, and I wanted Him to hear me.

In my mind, I could see myself as that little lost lamb Jesus told us about, and I wanted a Good Shepherd to rescue me before I fell of the cliff (or, rather, catch me in mid-air because I was already falling).

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I remember talking with a friend about this, a friend who was acquainted with my extensive background in a variety of religions, and he directed me to Scripture.  Mind you, this was at a time in my life when the Bible, the Baghavagita, the Book of Mormon, the daily newspaper horoscope, the Wiccan Rede, fortune cookies…they were all about the same to me.  I had great respect for all expressions of faith and religion, but believed none of it.  My life had led me to a place where I hoped everyone could find something that would help them become a better person and leave the world a better place, but I certainly could not speak to the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

I’d been reading Scripture about the Savior.  At every turn, my heart and my mind were being confronted by Jesus Christ – His words, His actions, His love.  And my friend asked me, “Do you believe this is true?”

I didn’t know.  Like Pilate, I asked myself, “What is truth?”

But maybe the darkness in my life made the light all that much brighter, because it was different than it was when I was growing up and first learning about Him.  There was a power in these Scripture encounters that I’d never experienced before, an urgency, a texture and resonance that was new to me.  What I was reading was no longer merely cerebral, but three-dimensional and REAL.  I could feel the person living inside the earthly tabernacle being sculpted, shaped, literally remodeled. It was almost – heck, maybe it was – physical.

My answer was paltry. “I-I-I [I’m not a stutterer; I was in that moment] think so.”

He said, “Good enough…good enough.”

And you know what?

It was good enough.

The tiny little mustard seed – the desire for the tiny little mustard seed – started a chain reaction of miracles in my life that steered me to a completely unexpected and only-dreamed-of-place.

Where I wanted to run away from my life, I settled in.

The marriage that was failing faster than I could keep it together was healed…because I was healed.

Out of the blue, the opportunity to leave a career that was leaving me withering and lifeless and start a career in music (those of you who know me know how significant that is) presented itself.

And religion (yes, I love that word now) became for me not a trite observance of Sunday ceremony and ritual, but a binding of myself to the God who loves me and makes me able to love, and that love continues to re-create me, every day.  My experience with Jesus Christ is as tangible to me as my experience with my husband or my friends or my colleagues.  He’s right there, just a prayer or thought or funny comment away (yes, we joke with each other now and again…).

But I had to ask myself today – was it really my faith that made those things happen? Because here’s another thought, no less powerful, but one that looks at this issue from a different perspective.

In C.S. Lewis’ book Prince Caspian, part of The Chronicles of Narnia, we run into a Dwarf named Nikabrik. He’s quite the surly fellow and absolutely does not believe in Aslan.  As they’re holed up in a bunker and feeling quite hungry, he quips that, if Aslan (who was standing right there) was real, he’d produce a feast for them.

Well, what do you know? Poof! A feast! And everyone digs in. Roast, apples, potatoes, pie, you name it…

…but all Nikabrik seems to experience is a few moldy turnips and rutabagas (both of which are fantastic – less the moldy bits, of course – in a nice beef stew).

Ultimately, Nikabrik didn’t want to believe, so Aslan was powerless to do anything for him.  He chose to remain in blindness, and so he couldn’t experience the miracle that was happening around him.  No faith, no miracle…or no experiencing of the miracle.  Where everyone around him was rejoicing and delighting in the hand of providence, not only did Nikabrik not experience it, but he couldn’t understand why everyone else was so thrilled with moldy turnips and rutabagas.

So does my faith – little and paltry and weak though it might be – actually produce miracles, or does it enable my ability to participate in and experience them?  Does my faith in God move God’s hand or place me in God’s hand?  Does prayer change things…or me?

C.S. Lewis had a very clear thought on this matter:

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Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shal find; knock, and it whall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, KJV).

All it takes is to ask.  But if one doesn’t believe, one won’t ask, and so the miracle remains elusive, out-of-reach, and, for all intents and purposes, non-existent.

After pondering all of this, I don’t think that our faith is like a supernatural power-up for God.  God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do…and fortunately, Scripture is pretty clear about His direction, so we don’t have to worry about God being flaky or unpredictable. My experience, however, does indicate that our faith is a supernatural power-up for us, because it gives us the power to move into a place where we can see and hear and experience and partner with everything God is doing.

And that, my friends, is the greatest miracle of all.

You should try it.

 

Turning the Heart – A Mother’s Day Reflection


It’s that time of year again…that time when mothers are celebrated and gushed over and sent flowers and chocolates and cards and Facebook GIFs and, if they’re lucky, get breakfast in bed and have the house cleaned for them by someone else.

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I generally don’t get any of those; I am one of the non-traditional, alternative-type mothers: step- of three…

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Three awesome stepchildren and their spouses and the grandkiddos they’ve brought into the world…how we got all of us in a selfie I just don’t know…

…adoptive- of one (who was a senior in high school when he joined our family)…

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Who knew that, when he moved here from Thailand at age 4, that our lives were bound to collide?  Apparently we have the same eyes…

…and foster, for a brief time, to my nephew.

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Foster parenting: the hardest thing in the world.  My heart was never the same.

I haven’t birthed any babies; in fact, if I had to accurately describe myself, it would be like, “I’m not really the ‘mom’ type”. Not that I don’t nurture and love and get all gooey over babies and children…I just prefer that said babies and children belong to someone else.  I actually love kids! It possibly explains my draw to helping children in other ways; I’ve been a youth pastor and a social worker, and am still in contact with many of my former church and foster youth.  Now I’m a teacher.  No one can tell me that teaching isn’t a maternal sort of vocation…

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Teacher Appreciation Week 2017

And I’m a granny now, too…I see my my grandkids, who live about 2 hours away, a few times a year, and that’s pretty sufficient to get my quota of hugs and kisses and then they go home and I have my house back.  It works.

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I’m definitely a C&E (Christmas and Easter) grandparent…love those holidays!

Now, with that lengthy introduction, I have to say that this post is NOT about why I’m as much of a mother as any other mother; I resolved that issue years ago and am quite comfortable with how my journey has turned out.  I don’t get weepy on Mother’s Day and wish for cards and chocolates and breakfast in bed.

This post is about this daughter and her mother.

My mom and I have struggled over the years.  Really struggled.  I come from a long line of abuse; not intentional abuse, but abuse that happens when people get damaged, and thus marry damaged people, and thus create damaged people.  I was very damaged growing up, and we didn’t talk about it.  Talking about it might incur blame on someone, and there’s no way anyone was healthy enough to accept responsibility for the dysfunction enough to make conscious changes.

That damage leaked into my own marriage and my own attempts at parenting (already challenged by the step- issue).

That damage has impacted and shaped every decision and every turn I have made in my life.

That damage has caused, among other things, a long personal history of never really feeling connected to anyone or anything, a feeling of being rather “tribeless”.  As a kid, I never felt like I belonged in my family.  Holiday meals where my mom and her sisters and my grandparents and all the cousins gathered? I dreaded them, and tried really hard to hide in a corner with a book.

I left my hometown when I was 20 and didn’t look back.  I’ve been back to Yakima, Washington, enough times to count on one hand since then.

I don’t have close sibling relationships.  I haven’t seen my brother in 11 years.  I hadn’t seen my sister in 8 years; we did, finally, meet for lunch last year.  And contact with my mother has been rare and occasional since 2006.

I chat with one cousin, occasionally, on Facebook.

I’ve struggled with that lack of connection with my husband and his family; the fact that I’ve remained married for nearly 20 years is absolutely miraculous; it must be a God thing.

About a year-and-a-half ago, as I was undergoing intense spiritual work, I felt a deep urging, though, to make peace with my mother.  To my clinically trained mind, that meant arranging long, therapeutic conversations about wrongs experienced, boundaries being laid out, and forcing the revisiting of things long past.  It made sense to me; one can’t forgive unless the offending party admits guilt, right?  And I felt there were so many things that needed to be redressed.

I had the opportunity to go to Portland for a conference last summer.  My mom drove 5 hours just to have lunch with me.  As I was driving to the restaurant, I started rehearsing everything I was going to say, and my anxiety grew and grew and grew.  Then, right before I got out of the car, the Holy Spirit spoke, loud and clear:

“Just LOVE her.”

That was the first time I’d seen my mom in several years, and I nearly cried when we met.  I was nervous, and felt awkward, but I started seeing her through new eyes that day.

June 2016
First mother-daughter pic in many, many years…in fact, I don’t have any others.

This was a woman who had survived – a lot.  My dad was mentally ill and terribly unstable; she kept their marriage together until he died and functioned very much like a single parent, before and after his death.

This was a woman who had sacrificed – a lot.  One example: for five years she squirreled away grocery money so that she could finally buy me a piano when I was 14.  That gift changed my life and really set me on my path towards discovering my purpose.

This was the woman who had successfully brought me, and two others, into this world, and had done her very best to guide us into adulthood.

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June 1987 – my high school graduation trip to Disneyland.  Mom, Ron, Beth, and me.

This was the woman who introduced me to my Heavenly Father, and who taught me from before birth to love His Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, and to follow Him no matter what.  When I was away at summer camp, and after I left home, her letters to me always ended with, “Remember who you are, and whose you are.”

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Major Glenda Berko – a lifetime Salvationist (member of The Salvation Army).  I miss bedtime devotions with her.

As I looked through that new lens, all the wrongs – wrongs not imagined, wrongs very much real and visited multiple times in multiple therapy sessions – suddenly became not so important.  And that burden, the burden of finding my own sense of justice – fell off my shoulders.  Forgiveness happened.  I haven’t picked up that burden again, but keep working towards increased peacemaking and relationship-building; not just with Mom, but with my brother and sister.

But even so, connection with my family has been difficult.  The feeling of being on the outside, looking in, has remained so very strong.

Over the last year, I’ve spent many hours on Ancestry.com, researching my lineage.  Sent my DNA off to be analyzed and everything.

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It’s amazing what stories can be told by a vial full of spit!

I started with my father’s side; I always felt more like a “Berko” than an “Ozanne”, so it was a natural place to start.  I had a great time seeing pictures of relatives of whom I’d heard brief mentions growing up, and seeing pictures of the grandmothers whose resemblance I bear.  Lithuanian (not Hungarian, like I’d thought) women are beautiful.

I went as back as far as I could.  The records stopped in the late 19th century, probably due to the Jewish pogroms in Eastern Europe.  I’d figured as much.

Then it was time to do my mom’s side.

I waited.

Then I dove in…

…so far, I’ve made it clear back to 1801, to the Channel Islands between England and France.  I don’t know any of the people that I’m finding…but they’re my people.  One entry discussed my mother’s maiden name; the very surname Ozanne, given in the 15th century, from the Hebrew word, “Hosanna”, denotes a family history of being Christ-followers.

More recently?  Quakers.  I come from a lineage of people who took a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ very seriously.

The more I discovered, the more names that kept popping up, names and dates and births and marriages and migrations…the more I felt that sense of connection, of history, of belonging.  These are my people, and I love them. I can’t wait to keep searching.

And as that sense of connection grew, my heart – so separated from and often cold towards my mother’s family – has started to warm, and I have realized that my mom, her mom, her grandmother and great-grandmother (and the paternal side, too, but this is about Mother’s Day), are part of a story that is so much greater than any one of us.  A story so great that it makes miniscule the imperfections and slights that have plagued my own life.

For the first time in my life, not even knowing the particulars of that story, I feel proud to be part of it.

This is a work of God.

Malachi 4:6 says:

“…and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…”

The heart of this daughter has been turned back to her mother.

It is prelude of greater things to come, a magnificent healing in our family.  I know it.

Thanks be to God.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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My mom.  Glenda Jean Ozanne Berko, from a long line of strong, persevering women of faith.

 

Refuge in a rocky place

I’ve challenged myself this year to read the Bible cover-to-cover; the last time I did this was 22 years ago, before marriage, family, a very consuming career plus simultaneous grad school, and before the middle-aged lag in energy.  Then I read all 66 books in 3 months.  Now I’m trying to get in just five chapters a day, but including some more in-depth study and journaling along with it, so I’m actually digesting and processing what I read.

I know, commendable.  I’m a few days behind, don’t admire me too much.

Anyway, sometimes things jump out at me out of nowhere and I spend more time than I plan chewing on them…hence being behind (along with being far too busy – true confession, sometimes I just forget).  Just such a verse waved at me last night, Genesis 31:21 – “So he [Jacob] fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.”

The first thing that happened was, as a lifelong singer of the sacred, an African-American spiritual popped into my head, the only one that could in response to this verse:

There is a balm in Gilead

That makes the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

You sang along, didn’t you?  Deny it all you want; you did.

Then I had to ask myself, What’s so important about Gilead? Why did he go there? Handy-dandy, trustworthy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance  defines Gilead (pronounced ghil-awd’, by the way) as “a rocky place”.  Here’s a photo of modern Gilead:

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Looks a lot like the mountains in Eastern Washington and Oregon where I live; not very pretty AT ALL.  Sage, tumbleweed, scrub brush, rocks everywhere.  Yet this is where Jacob went when all hell broke loose for him.  After leaving his uncle Laban’s home (and uncle was a bit miffed because Jacob had prospered so greatly while working for him; the employee surpassed the employer), Laban followed him in hot pursuit, and there, in the middle of this yucky place, God met him and told him to lay off.  It was in the middle of this rocky wasteland that Jacob and Laban made their now famous covenant with each other, “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (31:49).

In that same place, Jacob was faced with meeting Esau, the brother from whom he’d stolen his birthright and patriarchal blessing.  In this deserted and uncomfortable terrain, Jacob wrestled with “a man”…but then named the place Penuel, which means “God’s face”.  Whoever Jacob wrestled with left him a changed man, a changed name, and a changed attitude.  The next day, Jacob and Esau met after more than two decades and, surprisingly, the past was all water under the bridge.

Yucksville was the site of God’s protection, deliverance, and blessing.

Makes me think about the hard times, the rocky places, the steep cliffs and prickly bushes in my own life.  How often am I too busy commenting (because I don’t complain, per say…nope, not me) on the surroundings and the difficulty of the situation that I don’t see my Father so very carefully maneuvering and manipulating things to serve His – and my – best interest.  I’m so longing to get out of Gilead and into the Promised Land (whatever that is in the moment) that I don’t experience the balm – the comfort, the healing, the blessing – that is part of the rocky place.

Needless to say, I’m still behind in my Bible reading goal; at this rate, I’ll finish next January.  But hanging out in a rocky place isn’t so bad, even if my timeline is thrown off.  Maybe I won’t try to book on out of here quite so fast this time.