Hi. You know I am very involved with my church. I am one of the founding members. Part of me serving God is to preach at least once a month and lead a Bible study on Zoom. I also share some thoughts once a month during the Wednesday night midweek meditation that our church livestreams on Facebook.
I also read the Bible almost daily. I use two sources, Bible Gateway (they always post a verse of the day) and The Upper Room. I still remember us visiting Nashville and one of Dad’s relatives showing us the Upper Room facility. I was so impressed — the Last Supper carving was amazing — it was cool!
I share all this because I have had a relationship with God most of my life.
I started wanting to know God better when we lived in New Philadelphia, Ohio. We went to a Methodist church as a family. I also remember one summer school session getting introduced to God, Jesus and prayer. I know we made a Jesus bookmark, which I kept in my Bible until it fell apart.
These are good memories that comfort me with the fact that I have always known God — and God has always known me.
For Lent this year, my church is studying the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). The first two blessings always hit me hard. God must know they do, because my daily devotional readings have supported these two blessings.
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matthew 5:3-4)
I love The Message translation of this verse because it opens up a whole new way of hearing these well-known (and in all honesty, well-worn) words that we all grew up hearing the selfsame way until they became a bit singsong for us and we stopped feeling them deeply and internally because the novelty had worn off. (Which is one of the many reasons we do Bible study, to carefully call our attention back to the true power, resonance and meaning of the Word.)
The end of my rope
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule. (Matthew 5:3)
I have felt as if I were at the end of my rope several times in my life. Lately I have been feeling this way due to problems with my legs/knees. My rope is getting very short.
In the past, when I felt this way I would go for walks in the parks, along nature trails. Nature always calms me and helps me center myself and remember that God is with me. With the pain in my knees lately, there isn’t much walking — but one of the benefits of my house being in the suburbs is that I can look out the back door at the forest behind it and relax.
I also use the Bible to help me with those feelings of a short rope. I like Psalm 23: God with me, providing for me and just blessing me in all things. I encourage you to read Psalm 23 again (The Message translation) and feel the power of these thoughts:
- God is taking care of me, I have all I need, I will want for nothing.
- God is there helping me find my direction. The Psalm says God has a shepherd’s crook. This crook, when used by God, will stop me in my tracks of loss to help me know God is with me. It will direct me in the way I should go and comfort me because I know God is always with me.
- Just a touch from God’s crook can comfort my soul. The Psalm goes on to say that nothing — not even Death Valley — is anything to God, who is by my side.
- God provides for my needs: Food, drink, friendships, a listening ear. God is there. Per Verse 6, “God’s beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”
I must admit: How can I stay at the end of my rope if God has taken care of everything? Face it: When we get to the end of our own rope, we should read Psalm 23, take a deep breath and pray. After that, hopefully everything falls into place.
It’s amazing: For the first part of my life I avoided any relationships (you know, with other women) except for God and my family and a few friends. My dark secret — the “sin” of being gay — couldn’t happen if I wasn’t in a relationship.
Yet I knew about God’s love never ending and that there isn’t a gap between me and God even if I am gay — that I am wonderfully and uniquely made in God’s image. Being who I am, whatever that is, is why God gives me the freedom to be me — knowing I am loved by God, unconditionally. This thought by itself sure helps me know my rope can never be too short. God’s rope is infinite in length.
Losing what is dear
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matthew 5:4)
This one takes me back to losing Mom. She and I were close. When I lost her, to me it was like losing that which was most dear. I felt so lost. I loved my times with Mom — shopping, trying on clothes, playing cards. I so missed playing cards as a family. They were such great times. Joking, teasing, smiling — we were just having fun. All those times of fun ended with her death.
I remember that when Mom died, all my friends still had both their parents. I felt so alone, so misunderstood. No one who wasn’t family could comfort me. Let’s be honest, we — you, Dad and me — lost someone very dear to us. We all needed comfort; it was hard. This was the first time I had experienced such a great loss.
By contrast, losing say, a dearly beloved dog (and I say this as a lesbian for whom a furbaby is a family member in a way that is unique to gay people) is nothing compared to the feelings I had when I lost my mother. I was low, oh so low. I went to counseling for a while, just to get my head clear and forward-looking. In some respect, this event was my first step to finding my true self. I sought help to determine who I was.
Almost 30 years later, I can’t say I’m “over” the loss of our parents; I’m not sure that’s a thing. But I’ve felt God’s embrace the whole time. Peace I can find, when I allow God to love me unconditionally. No matter who I am or where I am physically or mentally: God loves me. I truly feel it.
One of the passages I read this week I want to share with you. It gave me comfort to think that I have family beyond blood and am so blessed.
Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic — be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you — bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. (Romans 12:9-18 CEB)
I have lots of “family” in my life. We both do! Some are blood relatives, and others are friends we’ve made over the years. Thank God that when we do lose something (or someone) most dear, we have God providing us with lots of friends and relatives to comfort us. And bingo! Even being at the end of my rope and having lost that which I held most dear reminds me God is there for me, holding me, loving me just as I am.
Love you “kid.”
The longtime Vicar of Education for Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Alyce Keener (she/her) has felt a twofold calling from an early age toward teaching and toward God. Her religious education started in earnest at her first vacation Bible school, which spurred the realization at a very young age of how important God and Jesus were in her life. She began to pray daily and later began studying the Bible in earnest in college, where she became involved with the Navigators, later taking classes at Moody Bible Institute. Born in Ohio, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Illinois, and was active in local churches, serving on a missions committee, helping develop a church library, leading educational programs and directing a young adults program.