The Problem With Mercy (Friend Post Friday #8)

He may be the only Patriots and Red Sox fan to live south of the Mason-Dixon line, and he belongs to a small subset of pastors whose clothing of choice includes a Dr. Pepper baseball cap and jean shorts.  He blogs fearlessly (at More Conversations That Matter) about topics that some shy away from; yet his goal isn’t “being right” but starting a conversation that births change, hope, and healthy dialogue that seems to be slowly disappearing from our culture.  He also happens to be my dad, and today I’m excited to introduce you to him as my October “Friend Post” blogger!!  The man isn’t without faults (he did force me to eat canned spinach once….CANNED!) but I’ve always deeply respected the way he lives his life.  And it’s not so much the fact that he started a church and pastored for years, it’s the way he allows God to move Him.  He cares little for what people think of him, yet you can’t be around him without feeling seen and valued.  In addition to blogging and loving people in his community and beyond, he’s currently a part-time pastor at Westside Community Church in Huntsville, AL, eBay selling genius, and there’s a rumor he’s even working on a book.  I hope you’ll let the humble words of his post reverberate in your soul and find yourself closer to God’s heart in the end.

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“The Problem with Mercy” – by Roger Martin

God does not want you to consider mercy.
God does not want you to attempt mercy.
God does not want you to extend mercy.

God wants you to love mercy.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (The Bible, Micah 6:8, NIV)

My daughter, Carrye, has part of this staggering word from God indelibly inked on her arm.

“Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.”

Do justly. I understand that. Pursue what is good and right. Of course I should do that.

Walk humbly with God. It’s amazing that God wants to walk with me at all, but if He wants that, I’m in.

Love mercy. Uh…this bothers me.

It bothers me because he does not ask me to be merciful. He asks me to love mercy.

On rare occasions, I do love mercy.

Several months ago, I was on my way to an eye appointment. I was in a hurry, not because I was late, but because I am always in a hurry. Approaching a stop sign to turn right, I saw a huge stream of cars approaching from the left a little way back. I would be waiting for a long time to get through this stop sign, but if I pulled out right away, I would save a lot of waiting. I made a break for it, after a brief hesitation at the stop sign.

I saw the blue lights in my rearview mirror almost immediately. I eased into the Burger King parking lot. I had joined the tens of thousands of thousands of lawbreakers in America that would be would be caught. Drug offenders. Thieves. Undocumented immigrants. Stop sign-ignorers. I was busted. And now I would face the law. I waited, heart thumping, watching the officer in the car through my side view mirror.

Finally, the officer opened the door and marched toward my window. Here is what I knew. That officer approaching my window could write me a ticket or issue me a warning. He could fine me or he could reprimand me. He could give me justice or give me mercy. Guess what I wanted? Mercy. But it was more than that. In that moment, I loved mercy. Believed in it. Hoped for it. Thought of ways to negotiate for it. Longed for it. Championed it. Mercy for lawbreakers…please!

And God presses into my heart a reminder about all the other lawbreakers in our country, and He asks me the question, “Do you love mercy for them?” I think of people like Nuri Chavarria, resident of Norwalk, CT, who came into our country illegally 24 years ago. Assigned for deportation, she was supposed to board a plane to Guatemala on July 20 of this year. She instead took refuge in a church and has since been granted a temporary stay. Do I love mercy for her? Do I love mercy for 51 year old Robert Booker, who is 2 decades into a life sentence for three non-violent drug sale offenses?

I hear so many voices in our country today clamoring for justice, for law, for full consequences. She knew the law. She knew the consequences. She broke the law, and now she should pay. Send her to Guatemala. He should not have been selling drugs; put him away for life. It’s only fair. We love justice.

Wait a minute, Roger. Doesn’t God want justice, too? Are you suggesting that laws should be ignored, that crimes should not have consequences? I am not. After all, in the instruction quoted earlier, God says “act justly.” We need laws that champion justice, and just laws must have consequences. I believe that God calls us to both “do justly” AND “love mercy.”

But something is wrong when I love justice for other lawbreakers and love mercy for me.

God calls us into the difficult space of loving both justice and mercy for all. What will it look like for me to love both justice and mercy for others? It will help, of course, to look at the deeper story of the person. It is why I want tell the officer a bit of my story in an appeal for mercy. I could tell you that Nuri Chavarria has four children—all American citizens—the oldest of which has cerebral palsy. Is that the only reason to seek mercy? No, but mercy becomes a bit easier when we look at the person behind the crime and put ourselves into her shoes.

The officer wrote me a ticket for failure to yield. Justice. He told me he could have cited me for more. Mercy. The court offered to take the offense off my record if I would go to traffic class. Mercy. I got both justice and mercy. Are there ways to love both justice and mercy? Could Nuri be fined and allowed to pursue citizenship? Could Robert’s sentence for a non-violent offense be changed to time served—24 years?

We could debate details, but the bigger question is whether we ever love mercy for anyone besides ourselves? God is pressing me on this. Roger, will you love mercy for others as much as you want it for you?

Yesterday, I stopped into a tiny little thrift store, not unusual for me since I sell on eBay and am always looking for items to purchase and resell. The older sales clerk chatted merrily on her phone in a language I did not understand. I peered into the glass case between me and her. That’s when I saw them: four somewhat valuable porcelain figurines. Four very distinct figurines. Four figurines that were stolen from my home in February of this year. It was unmistakable. I was stunned. I was a bit angry. I was perplexed. My mind whirled. Did she buy them from the thief? Was there a different story? What should I do?

I asked to see them, and she placed them on the glass counter top. I told her they had been stolen from my home. I told her that she should not buy from that person again, because the items were stolen. She smiled and shook her head: “Not pay. Donations only.” I told her that they had been stolen in February. She smiled and nodded, carefully putting each back into the glass case. I asked what she was selling them for. $10 apiece. She smiled again.

I could call the police. The officer who responded to the theft had answered my exact question. “If you see anything in a pawn shop somewhere, feel free to call us.” I could call them. I could demand that they be returned to me. That would be fair. But I sensed that God wanted me to love mercy. God had blessed me with many eBay sales. This woman was eking out a living trying to sell mostly yard sale leftovers. My figurines were easily the most valuable items in her store. I smiled back at the clerk, and I left her store slightly closer to the heart of God than I was when I walked in. Slightly brighter. Slightly freer.

Love mercy. Love mercy because it is right. Love mercy because God does. Love mercy because you deeply want mercy for yourself. There is, after all, this sobering word from Jesus:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (The Bible, Matthew 7:2, NIV)

One of the Afflicted (Friend Post Friday #7)

Well, I am technically a week late, but have no fear, September’s Friend Post Friday is here!  I’m eager to introduce you to Annie Bartosiak, someone I’ve just met within the past year but have already learned so much from.  She grew up in Killingworth, CT and if she’s not enjoying a hike you might find her quietly people watching.  She has a passion for traveling, and recently returned from a lengthy trip that included Australia, Thailand, and Europe!  If you get the privilege of talking over coffee with Annie, you’ll find that she is a beautiful mix of bold and humble.  She wears her passions on her sleeve, is constantly exploring books and subjects that stretch her, and listens well to the perspective of others (a difficult trait to find!)  I may be a little biased because she washed my dishes for me, but I believe Annie has a needed perspective that flows out of the introspective journey of her travels and beyond.  I hope her wisdom touches you!


“One of the Afflicted”

by Annie Bartosiak

After having travelled extensively earlier this year, I returned home with an increased sense of awareness and curiosity which has driven me to question certain situations I am now encountering in my daily life.
I am allowing myself time and space to observe, feel and reflect (a process I believe many people in today’s society are too rushed, self-absorbed, detached or perhaps apprehensive to engage in) in order to try and figure out how I can live my best life possible.
Through my reflections, I stumbled upon two different yet interrelated themes which seem to explain much of the chaos afflicting us internally, which has rooted itself in how we perceive and conduct ourselves as a whole in society.
The first is the belief in redemption. Nowadays, when many individuals do not have a religious affiliation, or if one does, is not fully committed to the scale of belief/devotion that true following entails, it leaves one in a very murky state of mind and vulnerable state of being. Our insecurity, as a result of unbelief, leaves us unfilled, constantly participating in distracting or destructive behavior. I am not saying one is not allowed to have doubts; rather, today one is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choice when it is no longer predicated on fundamental principles or beliefs. It begs the question, “What would my life look like if I lived out my true beliefs?”
There are times when I feel consumed by hopelessness. It has taken me awhile to figure out that not only are outside influences affecting me (the world is so big and has so many issues that I know I cannot fix myself), but internally I am not actually following and practicing my beliefs to the fullest extent. To give a small example, I am an advocate for eco-friendly practices. I strive for zero waste overall. I like to bring a reusable cup with me for coffee (or a mason jar if I know I’ll be getting a juice or smoothie). If I have forgotten to plan ahead and there are not in house reusable choices, I will opt out of getting something. I know this might sound a little silly and extreme, but I would not be able to enjoy the indulgence if there is waste attached which the environment would suffer for as a result. It makes me sad to be in a disposable culture where most people don’t even think of the effects of their choices. But I will not hold it against them. I just choose a different path for myself-I have the power to live out my personal choice/belief and also to not judge another for his/her own.
Lack of absolution leaves our society and oneself spinning in circles. We become susceptible to misguided (in extreme cases, perverted) thoughts. Today, we are seeing contention engulf groups of individuals concerning issues we believed we had already fought and won as a larger society.
I am also not saying we all have to share the same beliefs, merely, that our collective beliefs need to be united in striving to support and sustain everyone’s wellbeing. I want to be able to lift you up and be lifted in return. This line of thought leads me to my second theme: the discipline of restraint.
You give to others what you receive from them. Giving kindness in return for kindness is easy. It is also easy to fall into negativity and offense when it is shown to us or it is what we constantly encounter in our everyday lives. We need to endeavor to rise above and give kindness to all, especially to those who seem incapable of reciprocating.
For instance, I was recently at the supermarket buying a few groceries when I encountered such a situation. I chose the self checkout lane since I reasoned I could go at my own pace which might even be quicker than the regular line. There were a couple people standing in each line so I waited behind an older woman who only had the similar few items in her cart. It took me a minute or two to realize that the associate was helping another woman ahead of both of us scan a full stack of coupons into the system. I knew it might take a little longer, but I decided to sit back and relax and just let my mind wander. Others were not at the same leisure. Suddenly the woman in front of me spoke up abruptly (shouting the distance of 3 cart lengths to the associate in front of her), “Do you think you will be done anytime soon?” Her tone was not pleasant, with a note of irritation one can normally brush off in public. The associate responded, “I’m sorry. I’m not sure.” The woman continued, insistent, “Well how long do you think you’ll take?” The associate held up the stack of coupons to show her the extent of his task, shrugged and said, “I don’t really know-a couple of minutes or more probably.” Now there was a woman with a cart full of groceries and children in the line next to us. She said to the woman, “You can go ahead of me. That’s no way to talk to someone.” This remark diverted the woman’s attention and irritation towards the other and she replied, “You have to right to say that to me.” And the other responded, “Well you really shouldn’t talk to someone like that. Now, I’m telling you, you can go ahead of me.” (And I’m pretty certain she gestured ahead of her own cart to the scanner that was now unoccupied.) The older woman quipped, “I don’t want to go in front of you.” And truth be told, that is the moment I walked off shaking my head. Being in the midst of negative emotions really affect me a lot, but even after I went to another line, paid for the items and left, I could not stop thinking about the entire situation. We (I’m generalizing the American population) no longer practice patience or understand the power of silence. I have noticed time and again how many have become preachers. A preaching moment causes tension and resistance, whereas, a teaching moment can be silent and impactful. I’m not saying that there is necessarily a right and wrong side to this scenario, just that negativity feeds into negativity. I don’t believe anyone in the vicinity of that exchange left feeling happy or comfortable. At the heart of this problem are grace and humility. In today’s society we indulge ourselves in many superficial and afflictive thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Most of the time we are in our own heads and worlds it doesn’t even occur to us to extend our thoughts and feelings towards others, strangers primarily, to empathize and try to build a positive from the situation. These caustic practices isolate us as well as blind us to the beauty and the power of love and happiness.
Separation supports an unhealthy view of oneself and the world. We, as a whole, feel undeserving, yet incapable of rectifying this attitude. We need reassurance from others. But usually block this need with a wall of contentious superiority. By investing in personal restraint of egotism (restrictive tendencies we sustain that are perceived to be self-fulfilling), we would consciously be opening ourselves up to the support of others. These are the parallels of the afflicted. Freely give to others while practicing restraint within oneself.
We are all broken individuals. Yet we resist this truth. But together we have power. It is time to have faith and reach across the chasm dividing us all, hoping others will reciprocate. If we cannot depose our self-perpetuating actions, if we cannot forgive, we cannot abound.


If you have something to add to the conversation, please join in by commenting!  And if you’re interested in being a “Friend Post Friday” writer, feel free to contact me!  I’m currently looking for writers for December 2017 and January/February 2018!

Moving On, Community and Letting Go (Friend Post Friday #6)

I still remember the first day I met Maura Eckels, my guest blogger for today.  We were at a mutual friend’s graduation party and her sweet love of children found her gravitating towards the playground where I was swinging my kiddos.  From the first conversation, I could tell Maura oozed passion to taste and change the world- and not just in a passing fad kind of way- the girl was ready to make a real difference.  I was amazed that someone so young was already aware of such a deep calling on her life.  It’s no surprise then that her faith and heart have since taken her to Franciscan University where she’s enrolled in theology and human life studies, with plans to graduate and carry God’s heart wherever He takes her.  If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Maura, you’ll find yourself caught up in her smile and eager dialogue, while simultaneously feeling challenged to fully live your beliefs and convictions the way she does.  Her journey hasn’t been easy, and in fact her life circumstances have made tuition alone very difficult for her.  I’m sharing with you her tuition go-fund-me page in the hopes that you will read more of her story and please help out financially if you are able!  And I hope you’ll stick around to be inspired as she shares her honest beautiful thoughts.

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“Moving On, Community and Letting Go”

by Maura Eckels

There’s this closing scene in a film called Brooklyn that deeply moves me. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s about this young woman from Ireland who takes the boat to New York City and meets this Italian fella. The movie ends with her standing on a street in a city which became her home. She sees her husband after a long period of time (she married the Italian guy), he sees her and then she says this incredible line:

“One day the sun will come out-you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past and you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

As I moved away from Connecticut and into a new home in my college town, I found myself on soccer mom duty for the children of a former professor. Three munchkins, one minivan and an afternoon practice seemed to be the perfect medicine for my soul after a restless day driving to Ohio.

It was here that I was overcome with this same realization. These friends and families around me have become my community. This poverty stricken town has become my home. And for right now, this is where my life is.

Just days before I was cleaning out the childhood bedroom of the home I’ve known for 21 years. I noticed that the mess I was either throwing away or organizing into storage bins paled in comparison to the mess of my heart. On the one hand, I could taste the sweet freedom of moving out for good and on the other, the daunting reality of now facing life with the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, like dust on a shelf.

As I took one last look at the empty room holding nothing but my battered heart, a truth washed over me that perhaps you can sympathize with: We don’t realize how much crap we have until we sift through it and we can’t see how broken we are until we try to clean shop.

Somehow, I’ve painfully managed to grasp on rather than let go of that which weighs me down. This still small voice would keep asking to lighten the load and to share in my burden, but I couldn’t figure out how to concretely give it over to Jesus. And the truth is, I still can’t. So I resolved to carry it alone. Worse, I accepted that maybe I am alone. After all, how could He possibly be helping if he claims his yoke to be light and mine is so heavy?

Then a beautiful woman reminded me that God will allow you to struggle because He wants you to show up for your own fight. And I remembered all the times I made it through the valley with the help of His grace and once again I am reassured that just as I was victorious before, I will be victorious again.

His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I want Jesus to be my number one. I want him to be enough for me. He is the bridegroom and I am his bride. His love for me is covenant; it’s eternal. My maker wants to marry me. He gives himself totally and completely on the cross, holding nothing back. His body given up for me. Love without condition. And in response to Christ’s disinterested gift of self, I desire to be one right back. I want to love him for his own sake and goodness and not for what he does for me. And I can’t claim to fully love someone whom I fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore, I will continue to ask for the grace to not put God in my own image because it’s a false one. Rather, I hope to see him for who he truly is.

The problem is this: Jesus is not as tangible as I would like him to be. I can’t see his facial expressions, hear the inflection in his voice or know what his laugh sounds like. Does he have a preference in wine? I mean he created the vines, but you never know. It’s the details which seem lacking. He feels less real to me than the people around me even though that’s the furthest from the truth. He’s more real…I know that. Yet my heart won’t consent. I hate admitting that he doesn’t feel enough for me because he is supposed to be. To love God for his own sake means to really know him. But I realized that I don’t know him well because if I did, I wouldn’t fear him.

Yet, I have to believe that the same God who created us for himself in whom we alone find satisfaction and fulfillment is also the same God who said to Adam in the Garden that it is not good for man to be alone. We need others just as much as we need God. I mean Heaven itself isn’t just us alone chillin’ with the Trinity. It’s us, Him and the angels and saints. Even our forever is community. Community is what we’re created for.

I know that soon enough I will have to say goodbye to this community that the Lord has blessed me with these past three years. He’s given me so much more than I could have ever anticipated for myself and for this, I am eternally grateful. As I’ve been learning to detach from objects, people and places, I’ve come to the conclusion that as Elizabeth Bishop says, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Letting go is okay, necessary and good. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfectly content with it, but I can only pray for a holy indifference so that when God asks me to leave, I’ll leave and when he asks me to stay, I’ll stay.

Just as God has given before, he will give again. I’m reminded of this even now surrounded by what feels like an abundance of blessings. Even when we are left with what may seem like nothing and no one, we can have confidence and peace knowing that one day he will fill our cup again. When our brokenness surfaces, we can trust that he will heal us in his timing. We can choose to believe the promise Jesus gives us that everything else will be given to us when we seek first the kingdom of God. So I’m choosing right now to seek him first. I want him to be my priority amidst the struggle of this life. In this pursuit of the one who brought me into being, I can find consolation knowing that he will take care of the rest.

Faith (Friend Post Friday #5)

It may be difficult to perfectly sum up today’s “Friend-poster”.  One of the very first times I met her, Lexi Mcguigan’s vulnerable words made me cry as she poured out her soul in a Breaking Silences girls’ play at Epoch Arts.  This is the place I’ve watched her invest so many precious pieces of herself in others through art and her servant’s heart.  She’s got this infectiously genuine personality and she’s present and invested in each moment.  One of the best things about Lexi (aside from the fact that she’s willing to babysit my three children!) is that she never wants to stay stagnant- she’s always thinking deeply, allowing herself to be shaped by God and others, desiring to grow even through the most difficult seasons.  And as she’s grown, she’s gleaned poignant wisdom to pass on to us.  I hope you’ll be inspired by her heart today…here’s Lexi!


“Faith”

by Lexi Mcguigan

When I was asked to write for the blog I was super excited, I love sharing my perspective and
view of things. I had already decided at the beginning of the month what I was going to write about and I thought that was that…. But boy was I wrong. What I felt the need to write about now was faith.

Faith:
complete trust or confidence in someone or something
synonyms:​ trust · belief · confidence · conviction · optimism · hopefulness · hope

Faith is a strong and powerful word, before looking it up in the dictionary I knew what it was, but I decided to look anyway and what I found interesting and kind of a call out was that a synonym of faith was conviction. I feel convicted of sin all the time, I am not a perfect christian nor do I claim to be, my only goal is to give God all of me. And I fail at that more than I succeed. I feel most people can relate to that because we are all human, we make mistakes, we falter and stumble. My main issue that I come upon is myself, I am my own worst enemy, the critic I can’t escape, the only one that can truly destroy my mind. So how do we escape from our own thoughts? Well through prayer, and I learned that through trial and error, through running away, and finally through just realizing the only one I can truly turn to is God. I have never before experienced the chaos and shake up of God in my life like this.

I have always had issues with control, I am very aware that I have no control and God always will but that does not stop me from trying. I’m stubborn and want things to go a certain way and I always seem to be telling God “I know your way is best but let me try” or “God I trust you, I give you all of me… except for this because I really think I need to do this.” I have this need to have everything stay the same or go in the direction I believe it should instead of trusting God’s plan. I have never been hit so hard in the face by my own actions and words as I have this past month. I never realized how much the word faith meant to me, God has stripped people for my life, moved me, changed me and altogether shown me that I am loved, I am his and yet I can’t give him my complete faith because I hold onto fear.

Fear itself is something we all feel at certain times, some more than others. I personally have been living in fear for most of my life. I believe that it is so easy to fall into fear which can lead to countless amounts of things. This past week we’ve been having some issues with our landlord, and only last night did I see what it was truly like to not live in fear or what might happen or to hold onto a grudge but to see this person through God’s eyes, this person God created just as he created me and he loves just as much as he loves all his children. For me to see this person as less than that itself is faithlessness in my opinion, to not try to understand my enemy, to not imagine them as my brother or sister; is a sin. In the bible it says “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.”(Psalm 34:4) So why do we still hold onto fear? When we give it to God are we truly giving it to him? I can answer this truthfully and say that not always do I fully give it to God and then I wonder why it still eats at me. At times I blame God for my own faults. And I think the hardest part about it, is sometimes when I blame him I am fully aware that I am to blame. Yet I am forgiven. Why then do I have fear?

As much as I wish I didn’t have fear I know it goes hand and hand with faith, without the trials and different stops I have made in fear I wouldn’t have the faith I have. Along with the the other things that have contributed to my faith, fear has played a big part. I know God has me on a path of for beautiful and amazing things, he would never abandon me so I am putting my trust in him. To quote tobymac. “It’s a little bit overdue, but I’m putting my trust in you. I refuse to backtrack because God has me on a road and it’s a one way street, no u-turns, and backing up on a busy road is illegal. He’s got mighty plans for his children and it all begins with faith. Fully giving yourself over to your Father, Your maker, the creator of all things.

I am a complete mess with God in my life, thinking about it now; I’m not even sure how I
survived without him. My journey with God is far from over and I am bound to fall down at times but I have the faith and trust that God will pick me back up, dust me off and tell me to get back in the game. And there’s times I feel like giving up, It’s hard to be in a world so full of negativity and anger, sometimes we start to be in the world instead of being of the world. We as christians need to spread this faith, I remember during the hartford project this month the pastor of South church said something amazing that sticks to my heart. “It’s like we’re in a battlefield, were clothed in this amazing armor of God and we’re watching others go out into battle unprepared. We are letting people die because of fear.” Yes it is scary but our God is always with us, we are only here for a moment. I want to see my friends, family acquaintances and strangers in heaven rejoicing because of our God. The only way we’re going to do that, is by faith.