Why Do You Speak to Them in Parables?

by Nathan Croy

Contrary to popular belief, the parables Jesus used were not designed to solve problems or create more clarity (Mark 4:10-13, John 16:25). They were crafted to encourage others to solve their own problems by engaging their minds in a personal way (Luke 9:44-45).

When Author croypracticing therapy, it’s rarely a good idea to solve someone’s problem for them. Education can be provided on different resources available (this is called case management), but the onus for change and resolution of problems must come from the clients themselves.

To simply provide answers without exploring what has prevented a client from finding their own answers defeats the very purpose of therapy. If I give you the answers, it means you are incapable of figuring them out yourself, are utterly dependent on others to resolve your issues, are ignorant about your situation compared to me, and denied the skill-learning to solve your own problems in the future. However, if time is taken to analyze the origin of the problem and what has prevented resolving it, therapy can move toward empowering, educating, and equipping you to resolve your issues on your own.

The goals of empowering, educating, and equipping people to live a more genuine and authentic life are common to therapy, the ministry of Jesus, and Essential Kenosis (EK). Healthy relationships will affirm these three values.

I’m reminded of the old saying: if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach him to fish, you feed him for life. Even when Christ was handing out fish, it wasn’t about the fish, it was about the way the fish were provided. THAT is the crux of Emmanuel, God with us. There is a message contained within the way God came to be with us. I believe the way (process) in which ministry and evangelism are executed is more important than the what (content). Again, I think the key to understanding this may lie in EK.

In EK, the existence of freewill evidences God’s inability to coerce. This fulfills the first requirement of healthy relationship: Empowering. Some are frightened by the idea God will not force others to his will. For me, it feels like a vote of confidence!

Through gifts of the Spirit, community, and sheer force of will, humanity has accomplished incredible feats. Some of these have been horrible and some have been awe inspiring, but they have been incredible. For God to believe in us is encouraging, especially in times of trial (James 1:2-4).

Evangelicalism, with good intentions, has often assumed others lacked the power to heed the call of the church. This has led to manipulative outreach like offering meals to the homeless, but only after they’ve listened to the preacher. The way of Christ is inviting and this method is not inviting. Invitation is an approach which assumes freedom of response without even the hint of coercion.

There were many instances where Christ healed others without declaring his divinity or by deferring to their requests (John 5:1-13, 18:10, Matthew 20:32). Our desire to convert people to denominations is evidence of hubris and narcissism; this is not the appealing and empowering work of Christ. When the content of Evangelicalism overrules the process of being inviting, we have slipped into a legalism whereby the first commandment is utterly demolished.

The process of Education has been capitol in the evangelical movement. Outreach, ministry, and preaching have successfully spread the Gospel to the four corners. At the same time, I fear the evangelical movement has been more focused on conversion (content) rather than invitation (process).

Evangelicalism tends to consider ministries successful by counting “nickels and noses.” This can lead to outreach unintentionally concentrating on converting people to denominational beliefs rather than to The Way. I would suggest an approach more in line with EK and the welcoming technique reflected in the way Christ ministered.

Evangelicalism runs the risk of converting people to specific denominations (content) rather than being instruments which point to God (process). This fits into the process of EK by not only allowing but encouraging others to wrestle with the issues and come to their own conclusions.

This is NOT moral relativism. Rather, it is a process which affirms our ability to understand and reason with the guidance of God. Otherwise, we would be lost and need moral absolutes. If that were the case, Jesus would have been just like Google: Question | Answer.

Lastly is the goal of Equipping. I don’t think it was just a suggestion when Christ said, “Let those who have ears, hear” (Mark 4:9, Matthew 11:15). Not everyone is equally gifted in hearing, or seeing, or even thinking. We all have deficiencies and gifts in various areas. However, we are called to use the gifts for which we have been equipped.

The grace of God, working through, in, and with us, facilitates our ability to participate in an enticing ministry. When the disciples asked for more faith, Jesus instructed them to use the faith they already had (Luke 17:6). We are called to use our divinely equipped gifts to model God’s love to all his creation. Evangelicalism often, but not in all cases, calls us to use our gifts to further a denominational dogma.

This is a scary process. All humanity seeks stability and assurance that requires no faith. Even the disciples wanted to understand why Jesus insisted on using parables instead of simply telling them exactly what to do (Matthew 13:10). Clearly, God wants to leave some things open to interpretation. Isn’t it nice to know (Philippians 2:13, Ephesians 3:20, Hebrews 13:21, John 5:17) God is empowering, educating, and equipping us to do that very work!

When God’s Plan Falls Apart

by Dr. Catherine Beals

Since I was 12 years old, I believed the first spiritual law that said “God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life.” I believed this in a very literal way and thought that “God’s Plan” was very specific. I thought God orchestrated events in my life to lead to the place beals-author-photoHe wanted us to live, the church He wanted us to attend, and the job He wanted me to have. I believed that God closed doors He didn’t want me to go through and opened the ones He did. I never felt that I was controlled by God. I had a choice whether to go through the doors He opened or not. But when I didn’t get a job, I would rationalize it by saying, “it must not have been God’s will.”

This way of believing worked for my husband and I for many years. It brought us happiness and fulfillment. We have been very blessed by what we see as God’s provision in our lives. We enjoyed giving back to others all that God had given to us through ministry at our church and at the Christian university where I worked. During my 25 year career in education, I had always believed it was God’s plan for my life to go back and work at this Christian university I had graduated from. I believed it was my calling to teach future teachers. I had worked many years to earn the degrees I needed to be qualified to work in higher education. During my first few years working there, I felt I was living not just my calling, but my lifelong dream. I believed I was following God’s plan for my life. Then it began to fall apart.

It is hard to adequately describe the perfect storm of events that occurred in my life all at once. Our university went through a very public conflict over the firing of Dr. Oord. I believed that his firing was unethical on the part of university leadership and was dismayed at how he was treated by the administration and Board of Trustees. It deeply affected me to watch what some call “the machine” of organized religion in action. I saw behaviors on a Christian campus that were devastating to me and caused me to question my faith. It seemed religion was about denominational control, image, exclusion, conformity, power, money and numbers. I saw arrogance and hate, not compassion and tolerance for diversity. I was completely disillusioned with the church.

In addition to all of the other controversy on campus, my department had been greatly downsized. I was working for all new leaders who had not hired me because the team I was originally hired to be a part of had all retired. I was not fitting in well with the new team. They made it clear to me and others that they didn’t see value in my contribution to the team. Some suggested I look for another job. It was demoralizing to be treated in a disrespectful way, especially in what was supposed to be a Christian environment. My colleagues had a very different vision for the future of our department than what I believed about preparing good teachers. I ended up being assigned a role in my department that I had never applied for and didn’t want. I didn’t see any way my role would change for the next several years. I felt called to lead, but didn’t see any way to fulfill that calling at the university. I was incredibly confused. I was so sure that working at this university was God’s plan for my life, yet I was very unhappy and professionally unfulfilled. There were also events going on in my personal life that made dealing with the conflicts at work very difficult. I just didn’t know what to do.

I felt that my only option to find the freedom to be the person and the leader I believed God created me to be was to leave this university that I loved. That broke my heart. I had spent my whole life devoted to this dream – one that I wholeheartedly believed was God’s plan for my life. My entire life was built around my work and ministry at the university. I couldn’t picture what life could be like outside of it. I was scared, confused, and hurt, but I was also angry at the church. I felt the church had betrayed me. I was wondering if I even believed in Christianity anymore. Well meaning people suggested perhaps it was “God’s Plan” for me to leave, but that went against everything I believed in my heart. God’s plan was not making any sense to me. Then, in the words of a Toby Mac song, “love broke through.”

Through reading The Uncontrolling Love of God and hearing Dr. Oord speak, I have come to understand that “God’s plan” for my life is a much larger concept than I previously understood. I now believe that “God’s Plan” is simply to live a life of love. It isn’t a specific script or planned path for my life. I can follow “God’s Plan” in a variety of ways. It is not bound by denominational, cultural, organizational or geographical boundaries.. Oord says, “God relentlessly expresses love in the quest to promote overall well-being.” (p. 161) I realized that God loved me as His unique creation. The Spirit’s plan for me was not to stay in an environment that was not healthy for me. God’s Plan for me was to follow love. Oord says, “God providentially calls all creation toward love and beauty.” (p. 94)

I now have a new job that I love outside of the university. My leadership role in public education allows me to promote the well being of teachers and students every day. I am still living the calling I felt on my heart 20 years ago to teach teachers. I am finding joy in what I call God’s Plan B. I have rebuilt my life, being guided by love for my family, love for my work in the world and love for God. I work with loving people from a variety of religious affiliations who bring out the best in me. Oord says, “We can be God’s partners and co-conspirators by following the Spirit’s lead. God’s collaborative love seeks all who want to work for well-being, which is God’s purpose (Rom 8:28).” (p. 165) By following love and the Spirit’s lead, I was able to find my way through this very painful season of my life.

 

Dr. Catherine Beals  is the Administrator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the Kuna School District in Kuna, Idaho. She is an alumni of Northwest Nazarene University and holds advanced degrees from Boise State University and University of Idaho. She is a busy mom of two teen-agers and has been married to her best friend for almost 29 years. She enjoys spending time in the outdoors with her family, especially at the beach.

A Better Love-the Evolving Shape of Postmodern Theologies

by Tim Burnette

The idea that theology is both imaginative and constructive has been contoured by the late Harvard Divinity School Professor Gordon Kaufman. In his book Theology for a Nuclear Age, Kaufman writes:

“All theology, in its attempt to analyze, criticize, and reconstruct the image/concept of God, is an expression of the continuing activity of the human imagination seeking to create a framework of interpretation which can provide overall orientation for human life.” (p. 26)

I tend to share his sentiments here, but with perhaps a more poststructuralist hermeneutical sensibility than he might have embraced when he first penned those wordsburnette-author in 1985. He proposed this methodology in response to the looming potentiality of a nuclear holocaust, and perhaps in so doing, hit upon a recurring apocalyptic theme that still has relevance in our 21st century context: the need for an imaginative, constructive theological response to the looming threats of our day, including things like the ecological crisis, global poverty, totalitarian political regimes and refugee crises, and the list goes on.

By imaginative, I mean that it is crucial for our theologies to risk the adventure of innovation in conversation with (or perhaps even in the face of) classical interpretations of various doctrines, in light of the enfolding narrative relationship that humanity has had with its great religious traditions. And by constructive, I mean, in embracing a posture that inhabits the radically deconstructive hermeneutical moves of the postmodern era, we must attempt to cataphize out of the inherent apophasis that has seemingly engulfed modern notions of truth. That is, we must give valuable and beauty-full interpretations of reality that correspond with what we continue to observe in disciplines like theoretical physics and work together with those disciplines to craft theologies that speak formative words of life and liberation to a planet in desperate need of a hope for today.

It seems to me that Tom Oord’s work in The Uncontrolling Love of God has succeeded insomuch as it has attempted to do just that: it has given us an imaginative construction of the doctrine of God’s providence through the lens of a non-coercive, kenotic form of love. When I first encountered Tom’s work, I was struck by his ability to build bridges when it came to thinking about God between camps, as he emphasized the primacy of love more than theologians who prioritized other characteristics like God’s holiness, creativity, power, mystery, or judgment. And, as he parsed out his understanding of love, what separated him from even other open and relational theologians was that he proposed that the reality of God’s love is inherently vulnerable as it is essentially kenotic. Whereas many theologians who hold to kenotic forms of theology emphasize God’s self-emptying nature as some kind of onto-mutation into a Christ-Form, Oord has suggested to us that this self-emptying is actually God’s nature.

This idea is both novel and relevant for Christians in the 21st century who are searching for ways to continue onward in the tradition that has been given to them, while not having to divorce themselves from their experience of the actual world they live in. Much of western (especially postmodern neo-reformed and other foundationalist forms of) theology since the Reformation has tended toward constructions of God that force adherents to profess things about God’s nature and activity that have become indefensible in a post WWII culture. The sufferings of many have left us with historically unique questions about the reality of God in the 21st century, and much of theology has moved from questions of existence/non-existence to other alternative discourses surrounding our God-constructions. True to this multiplicitous fashion, Oord promises that his proposition produces:

“A model of providence that includes randomness and regularity, free will and necessity, goodness and evil, and more. This model would emphasize that God loves all creation steadfastly because God’s nature is uncontrolling love.” (pp. 152-153)

Let us be clear here what he is preserving, where he is innovating, and why it matters. Tom has here in his proposal accomplished a few things important to the discipline of theology. Firstly, he has engaged the historical interpretations of the tradition in placing his view in conversation with both Scripture and historical theology. Secondly, he has engaged contemporary scientific views of the world including cosmological randomness, as well as current philosophical notions of creaturely freedom. As he has done this, he has embodied what every theologian should attempt after the end of modernity: transdisciplinarity. He has set his God-talk in a much more expansive setting by engaging other schools of thought, and this type of engagement has no doubt sharpened his thinking as he puts forth his constructive account of God.

He has also innovated by delving deeper into kenotic theological discourse by saying:

“God’s kenotic love logically precedes divine power in the divine nature. This logical priority qualifies how we should think God works in and with creation.” (pp. 162-163)

Whereas many theologies have emphasized certain big “O” qualities like omnipotence or omniscience, Tom has opted for omnibenevolence in light of God’s omnipresence. As is characteristic of most panentheistic theologies, the omnipresent portion of his understanding implies God is ‘down, in and through’ (immanent), not ‘up there and out there somewhere’ (interventional). It is this relationality that has, in Tom’s mind, gotten God off the hook for allowing things like evil, because God’s vulnerability is necessary for the possibility of a true loving relationship with the world. Where I might find my points of difference is beside the point…what we need are more theologians like Tom.

In an era where we are seeing the decline of Christianity in the West and more and more anti and pseudo-intellectual forms of the faith becoming combatant in the public sphere, we now more than ever need fresh, imaginative, constructive ways of translating God for the 21st century. Tom’s proposal of a love-centric, uncontrolling God can give those in search of a more vibrant theological imagination the option of not only a better love, but a transmutable theology attuned to an ever-evolving world.

Tim is a writer, process philosopher, theopoetic, artist, and contemplative working for a more Beauty-full future in the Disciples of Christ in Santa Barbara, CA. T: @timothytalk

The Price of Kenosis

by Lori Wilson

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, has haunted my life with its poignant story of selfless giving. Reading it as a child, I was reduced to tears. Later in life, reading it aloud to my own children was more than I could manage. It became almost a game for us, to see how far IMG_1598into the reading I could get before handing the book off to someone else, someone who didn’t have a lump in their throat too large to read around. And now, as a mother with an empty nest… well, the book gathers dust on a shelf and calls out to my aching heart each time I walk past.

While The Giving Tree may look like a children’s book, it also disguises profound theological reflections. While much might be (and has been) said about the ungrateful boy, the Tree nevertheless presents a powerful image of kenotic love. At great cost to herself, she gives and gives and gives. In the end, her giving brings about the transformation for which she had longed. The book, in this sense, ends well, but not without new layers of grief at each turn of the page.

The Uncontrolling Love of God tells a story of a God who, in many ways, loves like Silverstein’s tree. God gives of God’s self without coercion or control, always with the desire to draw us near. But because, like the boy, we remain free to walk away, God’s work for our transformation doesn’t come with a guarantee of happiness or satisfaction. In fact, deep sorrow is woven into this understanding of God.

We so long for the comfort that everything will work out well, or at the very least that an all-powerful being is behind the curtain, guiding everything for a higher purpose. There is strong emotional incentive to hold onto this classical understanding of providence. But Oord makes a solid case that the traditional model of an all-powerful, controlling God comes at too high a price. At the very least, in light of suffering, it undermines a thoroughgoing belief in a loving God. Given the strong testimony of Scripture and Christian tradition, any doctrine that doesn’t point us to a God who “so loved the world,” who “loved us first,” who in fact “is love,” falls short of the mark. Oord’s model of essential kenosis presents a strong alternative, one which makes better sense of suffering while preserving God’s love as primary.

But this model doesn’t come without a price of its own. If I accept that God persuades but does not coerce, I have to release my view of a God who controls evil and suffering. I have to accept that some things happen outside of God’s will. And then, I have to come to terms with God’s place in the midst of injustice and pain and loss.

There’s some really important theological work out there on these themes (Moltmann & Fiddes come to mind), but what especially has my attention these days is the lived experience of sorrow as a part of kenosis. Silverstein’s tree tries to persuade her boy over and again but each time releases him to the path he has chosen, a path that leads away rather than towards her. As she lets him go, and even showers him with her generosity, she experiences profound loss. In her loneliness, “she is happy… but not really.”

In keeping with this metaphorical picture of kenosis, it doesn’t take long to glimpse the suffering of a God who is essentially characterized by “self-giving, others-empowering love.” The cruciform love of God sometimes takes the shape of profound sorrow, the grief that comes from rejection, from longings denied. The Old Testament prophets describe in stark terms the depth of divine suffering; Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. The Scriptures bear eloquent witness to God’s grief.

If our loving God suffers, so must those of us who follow this God’s path. No longer sheltered by the false comfort that ‘all things happening for a reason,’ we are exposed to the raw grief of God’s will thwarted. We walk the path of a kenotic God only insofar as we, too, accept the burden of a world where things go deeply amiss… a world where God is at work, but God doesn’t always win the day… a world where grief is sometimes the only authentic and faithful response.

Our lived experience tells us that even the most sacrificial love sometimes can’t ‘make it better.’ At one time or another, most of us have confronted the fact that the deepest goodness of love is almost inevitably paired with profound grief. Essential kenosis makes sense of this sad reality. It invites us to walk in the company of the man of sorrows.

This path is not an easy one. Releasing our hold on a God known for power and control comes at no small cost. Much like the tree, we will sometimes find ourselves “happy… but not really.” But, as the tree shows us, this way is nevertheless a beautiful and faithful one. She grieves, to be sure. Yet her tenacious hope transforms the bitterness of disappointment and the crushing pain of loneliness into an ever-deeper love. And so it is with us. As we allow ourselves to grieve, to follow in God’s kenotic footsteps, this sorrow can break open our hearts, too, making room to love still more.

The child of missionary parents, Lori grew up in northwestern Argentina. As an adult, she’s made her home in Grand Rapids and London, and now works as a non-profit consultant based in Colorado. She and her husband enjoy reading, hiking, and traveling with their two adult children.

Credit for the banner photo: “Woman and Grief”, by x1klima, https://www.flickr.com/photos/x1klima/31467682482/in/photostream/. License at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

The Power of Non-Coercive Miracles

by Sarah Lancaster

One of the ‘sticking points’ for many people in thinking about an uncontrolling God is the possibility of miracles. In his book The Uncontrolling Love of God, Oord rightly points out that the definition of a miracle is at the heart of this problem. Two Greek words, lancaster-authorfrequently translated as “miracle,” belong in different semantic fields. Those words are dunamis and sēmeion. Dunamis refers to power or ability, while sēmeion refers to a sign. It seems to me that these two words point to distinct dimensions of what a miracle is.

Most of the questions people have about miracles regard the dunamis dimension of a miracle. Does God have the power or ability to act miraculously in our lives? This question has been especially highlighted since David Hume defined miracles as violations of the laws of nature. Oord addresses Hume’s misleading definition and offers an account of an uncontrolling God’s power to do surprising things to promote well-being.

I would like to address the other, often neglected, dimension of a miracle, namely as sign. I think that the idea of an uncontrolling God has the advantage of drawing our attention to the full scope of the miraculous—signs of God’s love and care for us. To illustrate what I mean, I draw from my own experience of what I consider miraculous healing.

In 2008, I had a stroke caused by violent vomiting brought on by a stress-induced headache. The vomiting produced so much pressure in my throat that my carotid artery dissected. The bleeding from that injury formed a clot that went to my brain and paralyzed and blinded me on my left side. Fortunately, my husband was home, and he found me and acted quickly to get me medical attention. I was able to receive cutting edge treatment to remove the clot, and I recovered quickly and fully. Even the doctors called me a ‘success story.’ Everything about this incident could be explained by the ordinary regularities of the world—the doctor used a method of treatment developed to meet the needs of human body functions. But there was nothing ‘ordinary’ to me about my recovery. I was blind, and now I could see: I was paralyzed, and now I could walk. This experience turned me toward God in overwhelming gratitude. I was grateful, of course, for regained abilities, but I was also grateful for the minds that developed the treatment, for the hands that carried it out, and for my husband’s wisdom and quick action. Most of all, I was grateful for the ways God had worked consistently and regularly through all the things that were involved in my healing.

Although the speed and extent of my healing was surprising to most people, a focus on power alone might cause one to miss the miracle I experienced. One advantage of thinking about God as uncontrolling is that it allows and impels us to look for God in the regular events in our lives. Even when surprising events take place, they should not distract us from noticing the regular ways God provides for us every day. In fact, something miraculous, sign as well as power, will focus our attention on God in such a way that we are able to see God’s involvement in more ways than we usually do.

When new parents talk about the ‘miracle’ of birth, they are talking about the way an ordinary life process means so much more than an operation of what bodies do naturally. It is a sign of hope and love and, for those with the eyes of faith, of God’s blessing. An uncontrolling God is active in ways we often fail to see, and a miracle, whether surprising or not, serves to draw our eyes to see what we otherwise would likely miss. This, too, is a kind of power.

Sarah Heaner Lancaster is professor of theology at Methodist Theological School in Ohio.  She has authored several books, including, Romans a theological commentary in the Belief Series. as well as many articles and chapters in books.

Are Dreams Regular Appointments with the Source of All Wisdom?

by Gloria Coffin

“You should be a movie producer.”

“Must have been something you ate.”

“Stop reading those novels.”

These are comments we often hear when sharing our dreams with others, but I never discount the content of my dreams simply because of their relationship to the external.coffin-author Sure, the baseline for a dream may stem from late night pizza, a science fiction giant anaconda movie or a painful interaction with a friend, but my dreams have always centered my mind, providing direction and wisdom.

Please do not misunderstand. If a dream was about soaring through the air, I didn’t assume it meant I could fly; however, I have been reminded there are ways to rise above what, on the surface, seems impossible terrain.

We are a people of comfort in the certainty of material content. Eventually the juxtaposition of directional thought and related experiences teaches us to respond to God’s messages wafting on the breeze during our waking hours.

“Maybe I should clean the kitchen now,” prepares us for an unexpected visitor later.

“Call Sally,” leads us to discover Sally’s battery died and she needs a ride to an appointment.

“Buy that extra pair of gloves,” becomes providential on our way home from shopping when we pass a homeless person shivering in the cold.

The song on the radio speaking to our pain, the sign on the fence reminding us to call the insurance agent and a phrase repeated three times in one day should not order our lives as if God is in control, directing our every move; however, the transfer of wisdom will inform our options. We begin to pay closer attention to these messages, accepting them as coming from the God of love.

Why couldn’t the same God also use the hours we sleep as an avenue for information to help us cooperate with God’s efforts for good? After all, once we finally lay to rest the responsibilities and concerns of the day, our sleep hours are the most relaxed times our minds have. Perhaps we are most receptive as we sleep.

In Windows of the Soul, Paul Meier, MD and Robert L. Wise, PhD, remove the common fear of opening ourselves to something evil in dream studies. With simple illustrations and advice for recording dreams as soon as we awaken, they include stories from our spiritual ancestors noting biblical truth intentionally revealed, insights God sent for personal guidance, encouragement, protection and motivation.

My father, a logically thinking civil engineer, was my first dream therapist. One night I woke up sobbing and frantically described the dreaded children’s nightmare. I was running as fast as I could with family up ahead and Daddy right behind but too close to the bad guys fiendishly waving their weapons.

“Don’t worry,” my all-time, favorite hero reassured me, “I’m going to outlive all the rest of you!”

On a more recent night, bemused by thoughts of this essay and an unexpected dead end in my ministry journey, I hoped for insight to come in the next eight hours of peaceful slumber. I’m not sure why I am frequently surprised when it happens, but it happened and I was surprised.

In this dream a mother and daughter jogged past our cabin in the woods. They lived so far away I was curious. There had to be a reason they were there. No one simply passes through on their way somewhere else. If you are on “my road,” you either live nearby or you have a specific reason for coming. With a friendly wave, the mom said she’d be back and we would chat about why she was there.

On my list of things to do were errands taking me through several towns, including the one where my jogging friends lived. Their street was a mess. Construction made it impassable. Pulling over and backing up to turn around I began spinning my wheels in a rut. That’s when I saw my friend’s hubby on foot. He told me the family was staying with folks out of town. Grinning, I told him I thought I knew the place!

Half awake I squeezed my eyes shut to recall the musical segue moving me from subconscious to wide awake. Quickly documenting the memory and rereading it, I experienced an epiphany. While I know my dream stories often reflect personal concerns and the musical phrases usually provide insightful direction, I had missed the obvious for decades. Transcribed, the written words were messages I could see, direct communication in print from the God of uncontrolling love.

As the day continued, scattered phrases from the song, Through it All by Andre Crouch, continued to play nonstop in my subconscious, telling me I was not alone.

“I’ve had lots of tears and sorrow,
There’ve been questions for tomorrow,
But I’ve learned to trust in Jesus;
I’ve learned to depend upon God’s Word.”

The verse reminded me of past valleys and storms I had survived just fine. Here was God working for good through a dream which contained words about my life in language I could read and understand.

Over the years, many of my dreams revealed hidden anxieties, relieved unknown tensions and resolved conflicts. If you look closely at the dream about the joggers, road construction, turning around and spinning wheels, you see pieces of my situation. Laugh if you will, but I was convinced there would be more answers the next time I dreamt. After all, the joggers were there for a reason and the mom was coming back to reflect with me later.

We read our Bibles. We pray. We seek out good preaching and educated theologians for many of our questions. Why not also open the window to that peaceful darkened room in our minds where we have designated space and undistracted time to listen to the message God wants to send?

A public speaker, writer/editor, minister and Facebook devotee, Gloria is convinced self-worth, healthy boundaries and universal respect can change the world. She has become an advocate for the marginalized using her voice for the voiceless, offering hope for the hopeless and encouragement for the discouraged.

Nathan on the Beach

by Donna Fiser Ward

Following is an experience I had earlier this year. It illustrates how my prayer life has been impacted by the book The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord. God is present in the current moment everywhere. In an instance of fear of the unknown I was able to Profile Picturecommune with God who is omnipresent. I held on to God for comfort in a situation when God was there with someone I loved, whom I wished I could have been with in that very moment, but I could not.

We had walked through town to a beach in Nassau. Nathan, who is 18 years old and can’t stay long in one place to save his life said, “I’m going to walk to the other edge of the beach.” It looked as if it ended at a stone wall which I could see.  Because  I’m one of those moms who generally always says, “yes,” I did, but I turned around and couldn’t see him anymore.  Fifteen minutes passed before I mentioned to my husband, Ken, one of us really should have gone with him.  After another five minutes passed, I nudged, “One of us needs to go find him.”

I stayed with the towels and our daughter Rachel.   Ken started walking down the beach. Ten minutes later I saw Ken returning without Nathan. There is no terror in the world–no shark, no alien invasion, no maniac with a chainsaw—compared with the fear which rose in my flesh at that moment. Panicked, I spouted, ”Where’s Nathan?”
“I didn’t see him. I came back for my shoes. It is rough walking up around the corner.”

I’ve seen the movies, Taken and Vanished, and I am aware of human trafficking, have contributed to the ministries combating it and my churches have hosted the missionaries who educate about it. Sometimes knowledge can be a curse. “You and Rachel need to stay here. I will be back in a minute,” Ken said when he had shoved his shoes on his feet.

In a few minutes I thought aloud.  “Rachel, maybe you and I need to follow Ken.”

“No. We need to stay here like Ken said, ” Rachel replied. I looked at her and marveled at how much more mature at fifteen she was than I had been at the same age. I could see the look in her eyes, too. She had never seen me like this. For that matter I had never seen me like this, not even when Nathan was three years old and I lost him in a big room at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. My own mother was with me then.

“We’ll find him,” she assured me as we walked around the corner.

That day when Nathan’s little body emerged from some crawlspace, I hugged him. “Mommy didn’t know where you were and I was scared.”

What would we choose to do in this particular moment of terror? I stood in the sand next to Rachel, reached out and grabbed hold of a chain link fence. If it was the hand of God I was grabbing, I must have broken every bone in it squeezing so tightly. I could not think. All I could do was pray over and over again in my mind with varying degrees of intonation, “You know where he is right now and I don’t. You know where he is right now and I don’t.”

I stood there and prayed for what seemed like an eternity until Rachel announced, “Here they come!”

“Where was he?” I asked.

“I caught him heading back,” said Ken.  “When I walked down the first time he was in the bathroom and I didn’t see him.” Of course he was in the bathroom! Who do we have to stop for every hour on a road trip? Nathan! Who do we ban from drinking Mountain Dews in the car? Nathan!

Then my independent soul of a son said, “I don’t see what the big fuss is. I just went for a walk to the end of the beach. Don’t you see it right over there?”

“I’m not going to apologize for being a mom,” I reminded him, along with the usual, “When you are a parent you will understand but, as for this vacation, no one goes anywhere without a partner again for the rest of this trip. In the words of Forest Gump, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.'”

Somewhere on the walk back to the cruise ship my heart rate returned to normal! ““Don’t worry at all then about tomorrow. Tomorrow can take care of itself! One day’s trouble is enough for one day.”—Matthew 6:34.

Donna Fiser Ward is an ordained Elder and pastor in the United Methodist Church serving at The Lighthouse UMC, Inc. in Elizabeth, Indiana.