Running in Church

I run in church nearly every Sunday. Not out of joy or because the Spirit moves me. No, I run from and not towards a very dear saint who worships with us on a regular basis. Why do I run? Her favorite fragrance overwhelms me, nauseates me and triggers an excruciating headache. I am unable to embrace her fully because I know this fragrance will stick to me for hours and have a toxic effect on the remainder of my day. My running routine has gone on now for months. I began running the very day the perfume made its debut and I’ve been running ever since.

I realize that I have been running from other people as well with very good reason. It seems I am allergic to the stake in the ground opinions that people wear like an overbearing perfume. Oh, we all have them and you know it’s true. I am wondering this very moment about who is running from me and why. We own our pet opinions about what is right, what is wrong, what is fair and what is approved by God. Christians are able to cite chapter and verse to prove our point and we do so with great passion. We seize every conversational moment as an opportunity to pull out the soap box and begin preaching to the captive audience. We will not surrender our opinions to the possibility that we might not know it all quite yet. Instead, we wear them like we wear our favorite fragrance…too much and too often. As one of my coaching friends puts it, “Our opinions smell good to us, and we think everyone should smell just like us”.

The problem with soap-boxing our one size fits all opinions is that the only audience we effectively reach is the one that already agrees with us. Everyone else dashes to freedom at the earliest opportunity.

The Truth is what sets captives free. My opinion is simply the way I have come to think about a thing. It has been formed and molded by experience, people, situations and preferences. It may even have come from my interpretation of God's Word on the matter. Even so, I dare not preach my opinion with the same fervor as I preach the gospel of Christ.

I find a great reminder of what and how I am called to preach in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Paul writes that he was sent “to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”. Human words and opinions are empty wisdom at best – they sound good but have no real power to effect change. The cross of Christ is living Truth and brings with it the power for transformation.

I wonder what difference it would make if we all went private for a season with our opinions. Instead of public forums we could relegate them to journals or offer them up only to trusted friends who would lovingly and truthfully challenge our thinking. If we opened our mouths at all it would be to speak only of the cross of Christ and how it is transforming us with its power. Of course, it occurs to me that if we are being transformed by the cross of Christ, we probably need not announce it. It is clearly visible to those around us that we are both changed and changing.

This line of thought brings me back to my current habit of running in church. If perfume can make me run, how much more so an opinion that is different from my own? Is it possible to overcome my distaste for the thing so I can get to the person? If I am truly a Christ follower then I have no choice but to follow His example and just do it. Here was a man who spent a lifetime reaching for and embracing smelly fishermen, leprous outcasts and perfumed prostitutes. Come to think of it, He did a lot of running in church Himself. The difference is that He chose to run towards and not from.

And now I must face the real issue at hand. What will I do about this problem of running in church? Is it possible for me to embrace the person without having her perfume rub me in the wrong way? It is doubtful. But a little bit of understanding goes a long way. I recently discovered that right before her husband’s death, he presented her with a gift. You guessed it-her new favorite fragrance. It is most likely the thing that connects her to the one she loved the most. She might even hate this fragrance herself…yet she is compelled to wear it faithfully.

And here is the grace of God-the embrace of One who loves us enough to suffer the consequences of loving fragrant (or stinky) people.

Whether it is opinions or lifestyles or perfume that makes us run, I think it is time to change directions. I am not saying that in turning to embrace the person we must embrace the thing that makes us run and take it for our own. After all, the smell of the embrace will fade with time and a few hot showers. What I am saying is that running doesn’t do anything but create more distance.

No more excuses. Today I will choose to embrace with grace. It will cost me to do so. But it can’t cost any more than what I’ve had to pay for running shoes.

Pass the Advil. I’m headed for a headache. But my heart feels better already.

The Hard Questions
· Who makes you run in church (or anywhere else)?
· What causes you to run?
· What risk(s) are you willing to take in changing direction?
· If this person never changes, how committed are you to loving them anyway?
· How does it help to know you that you do not have to become like them to love them?
· What price are you willing to pay to allow the grace of God to flow through your life and embrace the un-embraceable?


Finding a Place Called Happy

As usual my passion for reading has sent me down yet another thinking trail. This morning I am intrigued and haunted once again by something that I've heard a thousand times or more in various ways. An article in Lake Norman Magazine by Jen Aronoff details the story of how Shawna Robinson, NASCAR driver turned designer, has found her happy place. Speaking of this change in Shawna's life direction, a friend quotes "I think she's started to listen to herself inside". And off I go......

I have been trying to listen to my inside self for an entire lifetime. Just about the time I think I have myself figured out something comes along that derails the whole process. I suppose that in reality, like many women, I feel drawn towards something I cannot quite name or frame. Something deep inside is longing for expression...and oh yes, can I make a living this way?

I am nearly supernaturally attracted to books and articles that explain how to discover and live out the passion that resides deep within. My bookshelf groans under the weight of these books, torn magazine pages and journals that testify to my seemingly never ending journey. Among these archives there must surely be a clue as to who I really am at my core and how that core self can live out the purpose for which I was created.

What fascinates me the most about Shawna and people like her is that they have discovered how to do what they are and it's expression is bringing a depth of life satisfaction that is both tangible and visible. Pilgrims, that is exactly the place to which I am drawn.

The revealing thing about all this is that I may have stumbled upon the who of me while reading about the how of others. Turns out I might be closer than I ever imagined to my own happy place. As a Life Coach I invest a lot of time in helping clients listen to the differences between what they are saying and how they are living. My insatiable desire for listening and learning has proven to be a great gift as I weed through unabridged stories in search of what matters most.

One of my favorite pictures of younger me displays this calling even then. I am stretched out on a favorite chair and ottoman, backwards and stomach down with legs crossed and feet in the air. My elbows prop up the skinny arms that hold the book into which my nose is pressed. What am I reading? Who knows or cares. The point is that in this picture I am doing what I am. I am an information gatherer with a passionate love for learning. I do not care about passing a test to prove that I have learned anything. I will have passed the test on the day I use this information to help someone find the happy place, myself included.

Now...if I can only figure out how to market this gift in a way that brings life to others and livelihood to me. Gotta' go now. Barnes and Noble is calling my name. I'll be in the marketing section if you need me! My happy place indeed.


Not the Cinderella

It occurred to me recently that I've spent much of my life not being Cinderella. In spite of many really great opportunities for such moments to occur, the pumpkin did not turn into a carriage, there has been no fairy godmother, no ball to attend with the proper gown and no glass slippers made just for me. But then, I've also not had to deal with a wicked step-mother and her evil daughters or wear rags while sweeping cinders from the fireplace.

Somewhere in life it dawned on me that being Cinderella was not all it was cracked up to be when I heard the story as a little girl. I loved seeing Cindy become a Princess who married the Prince of her dreams. However, I never found the book that described how the rest of her life turned out. Someone should really write that story...because I suspect that it would look much more like the reality that most of us face every day. The car breaks down, children rebel, dinner burns and it rains on my frizzy head. And that's only Monday. Who in the world has time to think about gowns and slippers and princes when trying to tread through the waters of daily crisis?

I suppose within each of us there beats the heart of a Cinderella dreamer. We live for that one shining moment when we are the most beautiful one at the ball, the glass slipper fits, and the prince only has eyes for us. Perfect hair, perfect dress, perfect shoes and perfect man. Does it really ever get any better than a moment like that?

As it turns out the answer is a resounding yes! I've come to realize that my practical wardrobe is exactly what I need to tread water. A gown would only weigh me down - and who needs added weight? Glass slippers would simply not work at all when trying to push a broken down vehicle out of the way. A good hair life would be nice but honestly, who cares about hair when your child is screaming for the first time I hate you.

Come to think of it, not being Cinderella has its benefits. The man I married is not a prince but he treats me like a queen. Our current home is not a castle but we have lovingly christened it "Sanctuary". My wardrobe is not suited for extravagant balls, but it works quite well for chasing grandchildren and wayward pets. I'm really a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl anyway.

Cinderella, I'm not. Happy, I am. Because I've traded in my pumpkin-carriage-rags-to-riches fairy tale for reality. My life is real, it's simple and it works for me. Cinderella had one shining moment. Me? I've got it all....and then some.


The Fleas are Loose

I absolutely love my two sisters-in-law. They are in fact the sisters I never had. Although distance prevents us from visiting often, it seems as though we have never been separated at all when we find time to be together. Last night was a great example of this truth.

We met for a family dinner in honor Amanda's graduation. Amanda belongs to Lisa, my husband's baby sister. The whole evening was a hoot for me. Our conversations dip and dive and loop and tumble. We differ so greatly on politics that it would seem dangerous ground for us. Danger Shmanger. Politician's names and intentional jabs roll off our tongues with little censorship. We never worry about fighting simply because we all have the attention span of tiny little gnats when we are together. If you can wait a nano-second the conversation will buzz off into a different direction altogether.

As usual, the story of the evening came from Diane. Her latest escapade involved a trip to the beach for the reunion of Zach's seventies band The Galaxy Goldrush. I am not making this up. Even though they only played VFDs and VFWs, this group has groupies. Well, only two groupies. But that counts! After all these years and no hit songs, the Galaxy Goldrush has groupies!

But the phrase that will live forever was the one liner Diane delivered while telling about the trip to the emergency room oh my goodness what are we going to do with the dog story. On the way back home, Zack had a medical emergency and they had to stop at the ER. The dog (which they soon realized was sitting in the back seat) got picked up by a friend (and oh yes, one of the groupies came to visit Zack in the hospital). When Diane went to pick up the dog it was covered in fleas. Turns out that the place they were staying had succumbed to an infestation of fleas. Only that's not how Diane described it. Her exact words were the fleas were loose. I can't remember anything else about the story once that line was dropped. It created for me an image of nervously high strung fleas being kept in a corral when suddenly, someone left the gate unlocked and they got loose!

This story probably isn't funny to you at all. That's okay. I'm still laughing just thinking about all the fleas running loose in the world.

My point is this: We all need a Diane in our lives. Someone who will declare to the world "the fleas are loose". The Dianes of the world are the ones who keep us sane by bursting into our insane worlds with rightly timed humor. In doing so, they save us from ourselves. And perhaps they save us from taking anything in this life too seriously.

After all, the fleas are loose. And who knows where they will strike next.


With a Name Like That....

I'm sure my parents meant well when they named me after my grandmother. Or it might have been they couldn't think of a middle name that flowed well with Carolyn. I must say that I am especially relieved they did not follow through on their original plan to name me after both grandmothers...or this blog would be called something like The Life and Times of Lily Fern. Thankfully, they simply lifted the Dare from my grandmother's full name (Lillian Virginia Dare) and deposited it into my life as a middle name.

Until recently, I pretty much ignored my middle name. I even dropped it from my life when I married, opting instead to use my maiden name as my middle name and initial on all official documents. But the name was not willing to be so easily dismissed. In fact, I have come to the realization that most of my life has been filled daily with opportunities to live into the meaning of the name.

Webster's provides two definitions for the word dare: 1) to have sufficient courage and 2) the challenge to perform an action as proof of courage. At my age, I am long past the feeling that I must do anything for the sole purpose of proving myself to anyone. However, I face challenges every day that require me to summon enough courage to keep moving forward or sometimes simply do the next thing that must be done.

Thus the birth of Carolyn's Dare. In this place I will speak of challenges and courage. You may find that much of what I say could be said by anyone, including yourself. I have simply taken up my own dare to say out loud the things that are usually left unsaid. I believe we do not speak up because we fear what others will think. Or could it be we fear the truth about what we ourselves are thinking?

You will not always like what I say, nor will you agree with me. That's wonderful news to me. It means you are thinking. And when you are thinking, you are taking up the challenge to live with courage.

Welcome to Carolyn's Dare.