Normal Grace

We have been living in a time of intense change. I’m not speaking to the issues of the country but our own lives. We left pastoring and launched out into the unknown, literally going where we have never gone before. If anyone ever could say they followed the Spirit trusting Him to lead you to the right place it was us. We never even planned where we were going to stay and often changed our plans of how to traverse the country at the last moment or at the word of strangers. We ministered in streets and basically loved people any and everywhere we went. We were blessed to meet so many wonderful people and to have our hearts broken by the plight of those in such need comforted by the fact that Abba’s grace is ever lasting. One lesson that was reiterated and I hope I have learned it burying it so deeply in my spirit and psyche is, people need to be seen as normal people no matter the situation they are or have been in. Once you see people of the street as “Homeless” you forget they had and have a life. You forget they still need friends, to be seen as individuals not a gang, group, mob…or whatever we do to impersonalize the masses. When we see them as a group we forget the individuals have different needs, wants and desires. We all need food, clothes, shelter hence this need is not only particular to the street people. Which begs the question, “what else do we all have in common”; more than most people could possibly imagine.

We eventually left the street ministry to pastor again which might seem to some normal for us but for me it was difficult; I love the pure ministry that you have in the streets. What I mean by pure ministry is no worries about church buildings, business, placating people who are complacent, dealing with schedules…aka all the normal things with church pastoring. Since being here we have heard the words ‘not normal’ a lot. The weather is not normal: all the rain, colder than normal, roads crumbling due to flooding, more snow in the mountains than normal. Again on a personal level, shopping is not what I consider normal, restaurants that we normally frequent aren’t here, styles of worship, the mindset of church attendees and their expectation for what He will do are not what I consider normal. I will confess I have not been considered normal by most in the church realm no matter what area of the country we have pastored in; so it is not that I am judging by myself but by what I’ve seen and experienced before over a vast number of years. It’s hard to keep a rhythm or steady pace when nothing is familiar aka normal. I am not trying to change or judge situations, people and places by what I want but it is grievous when I feel that we are falling and failing being anywhere in the range of ‘normal’ in Abba’s expectation Hence I second guess my ‘place’ and desires, my passions and responses to the times we are in.

What has caused this time of extraordinary change and strange circumstances even more difficult to navigate are what I will call extreme life status challenges. The family has been stressed out by various situations, illnesses and disruptions which have caused much grieving. The world situation continues to seem out of control, crazy, damaging to our core values and beliefs. People we love are facing life threatening illnesses. Each and every one of these make the season we find ourselves in not normal to the max. It almost feels like a Job challenge, waves of bad news.

What Abba has been teaching me and even illustrating in our life situations may seem trivial and even possibly trite but just like the “little foxes that spoil the vine”, sometimes it’s the little things that bring us back to an awareness of normal.

Let me set the scene a bit: due to the strange, I had developed a siege mentality and at times even felt a little (or a lot) resentful that I couldn’t have it a bit easier. I sometimes felt I’d paid my dues and should have a free pass or get out of jail (aka craziness) card. Hmm, an all too typical entitled reaction we see so much of today. Abba in His grace brought me back to a realization that I do not deserve anything, all I have is a gift of His grace, without His mercy I am deserving of judgment. It is only when you really see and feel and know that you are worthy of nothing that you can then receive the extraordinary grace which is ‘normal’ in His intent for His people.

It is a natural reality that some sameness can be comforting due to its familiarity especially in the midst of unusual or alien surroundings. When you move somewhere there may be wonderful opportunities available, great new experiences in food options, clothing styles, or décor yet without that ‘normal’ or familiar these may seem uncomfortable, surreal and daunting. If you look at the facile façade or try to explain it bit by bit it seems shallow, lacking in real impact upon one’s life. If you have never left the comfort of home (and that saying is true home is comforting) then you will not be able to identify with what I’m going to share.

We speak of comfort food and familiar food is comforting. We are cheered at seeing a favorite site. We love things and people who we can relate to. On and on it goes so Abba in His infinity mercy and grace extended His hand in comfort, familiarity, relatability and blessing all in the course of three days which stabilized my chaos and reset it to normality. Those of you who really know me know I am kosher with chaos, and do not like structure but that does not mean I don’t like a sense of normal.

My siege mentality said, “the trip to Sacrament is going to be challenging and maybe not worthy it, what if the services are uninspiring (been there, sat through that and refused to wear the T-shirt), what if you are stuck on the side of the road (with Gabe) for hours due to slides”…on and on the siege built a wall. My iron willed self said, “don’t spoil Dave’s time, you know when you get there you can eat and shop in places unavailable here and maybe just maybe the services will be uplifting and inspiring”. Going we had no delays so we made it to Sacramento in time to get Panera’s, which we have not had in seven months. I know a lot of people don’t understand our Panera love but it’s more than good food for us it was a comfort stop after every doctor visit and hospital stay during my lengthy illness. Bread was something I could eat and if you are going to eat bread then Panera’s can’t be beat. They had fireplaces and I was a frozen popsicle since my internal thermostat was not working and outside heat was the only way to keep warm. I could sit in comfort and see life and interact with people in spite of weakness and pain. I watched children throw coins in the fountain and make wishes…Panera was an oasis of comfort for me hence going there brings back all the comforting memories of a very difficult season in my life. It is also a great place to talk to people about Abba’s grace, we have had so many encounters there (too many to name) and this Panera was not disappointing in this area. (I’ve mentioned Lisette in another writing)

The services were fantastic, I needed the freedom of worship without the responsibility of a congregation waiting for you to direct them, the Word was challenging and encouraging. We made new friends, Scott and Susan who were Messianic Jewish missionaries. For whatever reason in this area of Cali many churches are anti-Jewish expression in the church. Our congregation has been great accepting my teaching on Chanukah with great interest, but I miss the freedom of talking and celebrating in the normal way which includes lots of Jewish symbolism. Our conversations with Scott and Susan was so free and so normal having the same heart and Scott blessed me by giving me a Mezuzah. I had given my last one away and had not replaced it.

The weather was great compared to what we had been having so on our next visit to Panera we walked the parking lot and found The Habit, one of the best places to have burgers and fries. As with Panera, The Habit has memories tied to it. The original one is in Santa Barbara and we frequented it a lot. Sitting out on the veranda we had many encounters and opportunities to love people with His grace. Santa Barbara’s State St. is a melting pot of humanity, from homeless to mega rich, students from here and abroad, and many tourist again foreign and domestic. We prayed with all we felt led to, saw healings and met some wonderful people. The Habit fed us physically and allowed us to feed others His grace in word and deed.

We got Papa John’s which for some reason is very hard to find in Cali. I got to go to Barnes and Noble which I order from since being in Eureka but haven’t been in one for nearly a year. Ahh, books, possibilities, dreams and Dave found a book bag he loves-score! (My husband is a bag guy, he loves them all).

I found super deals at Sally’s again no Sally’s around here. Since being here my hair has been a source of grief. The water seems to make it blah so it was a constant look in the mirror and roll my eyes so Sally’s is a boon to my ego. Abba always heaps on the blessing and I was chatting with a lady in one of the services admiring her hair and lamenting mine. She said the sweetest thing, she said that no one would look at my hair because my eyes drew people in close. Wow, I’ve always prayed to have Abba’s eyes full of compassion; one of the best compliments ever.

Each of these outings made life seem normal, not stressful, I felt in my groove of chaos but His ordered chaos and blessing. I could not have planned a trip where so many memory evoking, grace laced places and encounters with people could have been done in such a short time and in a way tailor made for me. I felt reset which allowed me to be renewed. This time of normal activities allowed me to crash the siege wall and say, it’s doable so I don’t have to feel as if I will never enjoy the simple pleasures that make me feel at home. Home is more than where the heart is; it’s where I feel the most at ease and normal. Normal is found in Abba’s blessing and His mercy that no matter the circumstances and situations He makes a way for us.

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