Walking Among the Dead

Anne Rulo Walking Among the Dead

A little less than a year ago I moved to a sweet little town in Northern Missouri. It is the kind of place where idyllic life still happens. We have (multiple) parades each year that shut down the main road, people raise a hand and say hi when they pass, and the yearly Christmas display at the park makes my childhood heart happy.

In our time here I have had only two complaints. One, I miss Aldi’s. Because…Aldi’s. And two, I wanted someplace to walk. Not on a track or at the park where I felt like a hamster going in circles but something long. And meandering. And away from humanity.

Y’all, I found it. It’s the cemetery.

That’s right. Tucked in behind the First Baptist Church is a huge, very old cemetery with undulating hills, wandering paths, and giant canopied trees. It’s the kind of cemetery you find in historic towns where the tombstones don’t match and some are so old and worn by wind and weather that you can’t read the inscription anymore.

While my children were amusingly distressed that I am walking alone in a cemetery, I find it peaceful. Cemeteries are stories. Stone tributes dot the hillsides, giving names and dates to the human experience. I discover new treasures each time I go. I have been struck by the graves of all the children. Infants with one date listed, having left for Home the same day they arrived. And children who lived only a few years, some with siblings who did the same. Oh, how time and medicine have changed our experience of childbearing.

Today I thanked God for a woman named “Rebeca”. Her stone is uneven, resting slightly askew and was clearly hand carved. Someone had little money but enough heart to mark her name for posterity. I wondered who loved her. And I found a couple whose last name was “Waffle”. I think we would have been friends because you can’t have the last name Waffle and not be fun people.

Young people and old people. Veterans and homemakers. Acre after acre of people who lived their stories. As I rounded the last winding path I had the thought, “They all lived but now here they all are, lying in their graves.”

Morbid right?

And then I laughed. Out loud. It was only one quick giggle but it bubbled up out of nowhere, surprising me. I am certain if anyone heard me I would have sounded like a callous, irreverent fool.

I laughed because as soon as I finished the thought, “…here they all are, lying in their graves…” God interjected, “Except Me!”

Of course! That’s right! He’s not in His grave. He is risen, alive and well, living alongside us every day. While all of our bodies eventually give out, He beat death and is hanging out ready to welcome us Home. It was a funny moment of joy in a place that has known so much sadness. But isn’t it just like God? He owns the original design for turning sorrow into joy.

I’ve been walking among the dead with the One who lives. What a gift.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” Matthew 28:5-6

 

Doing Martha Work with a Mary Heart

marthas-work-marys-heart

Wrote an article over at The Glorious Table last month. Forgot to include it on the blog. Again. Signed, A Work in Progress

Enjoy!

The other morning, I woke up a few minutes before my alarm sounded. In that moment of quiet, I immediately started going through my mental checklist for the day. I considered my schedule and my responsibilities, furiously attempting to figure out where every task fit and how it was going to get done.

It turned out this pre-alarm wake-up call was divinely inspired. While I normally would have jumped out of bed, God instead kept me still long enough to bring something to my attention—a bothersome something.

As I mentally surveyed my listful of tasks, I noticed that not a single one had anything to do with connection with him or with any of the humans in my life. Oh, there were plenty of tasks for humans, things like “fill out son’s field trip form” and “finalize daughter’s ballet outfit.” And others were for Jesus; tasks like “get study material ready” and “buy groceries for community group” would serve his people. But though the list had a whole lot of for, it had no with. Not one part of it would make me pause and really see God. Or really see my family. Or really love anybody very well.

A very gentle but firm thought from God came into my mind: You are never going to live by what’s really important unless you bring me this list first.

I looked in my mind’s eye again and realized he was right. The entire list was also about doing and getting, running and checking, speeding along from one little task to the next.

I had woken up all Martha.

To read the rest of the post follow the link here: The Glorious Table

God Surprised Me with My Husband

Anne Rulo God Surprised Me with My Husband

Today is my wedding anniversary. Thirteen years, two babies, and four towns later, here we find ourselves in that thing we call marriage. With this yearly celebration approaching, I found myself in a reflective spot. However, that reflection was not focused on our thirteen years together. Instead, it has been focused on the years before I met my husband. The years when I would hope and dream about the man I would marry. I have been reflecting…and I have been amused. Because I was way off base about what I needed in a spouse.

When I was young I had a vision of the kind of man I wanted to marry. I never had much in the way of a physical vision, although every guy I ever dated also played college football so apparently I do have a “type.” This was more of a character vision. The man I thought would be a good fit for me was, in all glorious self-centeredness, a lot like me. I wanted a guy who was laid-back, a little silly and definitely spontaneous. I was sure that he needed to be a guy who people labeled as “sweet”, charming, and who was excited about having children. He would be quick to laugh, soft-spoken, gentle and deeply in love with me. Well, at least I got that very last part right.

I’m sharing this with you today not to tout the accolades of my husband (although I do think he is pretty fabulous). Rather, I hope to make a point about the “why” behind God putting folks together. He does not choose them only for marriage. If He did, that would only benefit you and your spouse and rarely is God that singularly focused. Marriage is designed to be a reflection of and ministry for Him and a place for us to grow into our design. So, I suspect He picks out folks who best complement that plan, not our own.

To that end, this guy I ended up with? He’s very little of what I thought I wanted and every bit of what I needed. Thank goodness.

The man God paired me with is intense, pragmatic and practical. He is deeply passionate about developing people. He has little tolerance for surface conversation, great capacity for deep discussion and refuses to meander through life. He is purposeful and intentional to the very fiber of his being and finds no greater joy than seeing people reach their potential. He is strong, capable of managing challenges and confrontation and has to be reminded to smile so that people don’t think he’s grumpy with his buzzed hair and intense eyes. And I’m sure God did this all on purpose…

Because God knew he would be a football coach and we would be a coaching family. The guy I had dreamed up would have been way too casual for this life.

Because God knew I would struggle with post-partum depression and I needed a partner who would say having kids is hard for him too so I didn’t feel so inadequate.

Because God knew I would ask repeatedly for a puppy I was allergic to and I needed someone practical enough to say no. And because our coaching ministry would later move us to a home that didn’t allow pets.

Because God knew we would almost lose a child and we would need strength and the ability to process that experience between us so we could later minister to others.

Because God knew, one day, He would call me to write and I would need someone brave enough and visionary enough to say yes to a dream with no goal or income because he believes in me.

Because. Because He knew. God knew who would be able to draw me effectively toward my own design and who would complement our ministry as a family.

Our marriages are about us and at the same time, they aren’t. They are ultimately about God. They are about the work God is doing in our individual lives and they are about how our marriages fit into the work He is doing in the world around us. No matter if you ended up with the spouse of your dreams, check in with God and see if there are ways you ended up with the spouse of His dreams.

Happy Anniversary my love. I’d choose you as my surprise every single time.

God Doesn’t Get Tired

God Doesn't Get Tired Anne Rulo

I saw a meme the other day…”January was a tough year but we made it.” Ha! Wasn’t that the truth? The start of 2019 felt like one of those running cartoon characters, spinning its wheels in place until it finally gains traction and then “Boom!” takes off like a shot. That is exactly how these first six months have felt and all of a sudden here we are, halfway through 2019. It seems like a good time for reflection.

For some, the first half of this year has been positive. You’ve had some successes and some progress and you are looking forward to finishing the year well. For others, 2019 has kicked you square in the pants. You are wondering how you are going to get through the rest of it. You are tired, overwhelmed and the remainder of the year looms large and menacing. You are feeling beat down, insecure, and the other half seems like it could be all uphill.

So if the rest of 2019 looks a little exhausting, I need you to read this.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:28

We are reading that verse today for two reasons. First, I need you to know that when God is working for you, He can’t wear out. God always has enough energy to fight for you. He sees you. He knows your struggle and understands what you are going through. When your eyes are heavy and your steps are weak He sees with clear eyes and handles your situation with all the strength and understanding needed. He is literally incapable of getting tired when working in your situation, your circumstances, or your battles. He can remain strong when our human strength gives out. The rest of 2019 may throw whatever it wants at you and it will not be too much for Him to handle.

But maybe, even more importantly, I need you to know that you cannot make God tired.

Please read that again.

You cannot be too much for Him.

Our mistakes cannot wear Him out. Our continuing struggles cannot become too much for Him. Our character flaws do not wear on Him the way they can on others and He does not run out of love for us. Even if you feel like you are “too much” or “not enough” for other people, that is never true for Him. He is not an exasperated parent and He is not a disapproving boss. He is not “depletable.” He is God. Creator of the ends of the earth, everlasting, incapable of being made tired or weary. By us, or our circumstances.

So bring it on 2019, let’s finish this thing out. I serve a God who doesn’t wear out and I don’t feel quite so tired now.

“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:26

 

 

 

 

 

For the Ninety-Nine Sheep in the Field

Anne Rulo For the Ninety Nine Sheep in the Field

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” Luke 15:1-6 (NIV)

A few weeks ago in church, we worshipped to “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. It’s an incredible song with an incredible message and for a few minutes, it put me in a warm reflective space. “Isn’t that wonderful?” I thought, focused on myself. I love how He loves me so much to do that for me. And then this thought came like a firebolt through my mind:

“Uh, Anne. You aren’t ‘the one’ anymore. You are the ninety-nine now. You have been for a long time.”

I’m sure glad my husband’s eyes were closed in worship next to me because I am certain the look on my face would have made him question what was going on. The realization was literally a shock. Maybe it shouldn’t be but it was. And it was convicting. And it made me wonder what God had to say to the ninety-nine sheep like me who are already sitting in the fold. What are we supposed to be doing? I didn’t know off hand so I figured I better check the Source. I got back home, sat my frazzled self in front of His Word and read, and listened…and frankly? I got my spiritual butt handed to me.

You guys. This story? The one where I felt all warm and fuzzy about Jesus rescuing His people? He told this story in response to Pharisees and teachers of the law who were being elitist jerks! This was not a story designed to comfort them. This was a story meant to point out that they were creating Christian selection criteria that were not theirs to create. He was telling them it was not their job to set the boundaries on who God chases, who He finds, and who He carries joyfully back on his shoulders. And you know what? We don’t get to have an opinion either. God gets to go after whomever He wants. Period.

Okay, I’m thinking. I’m on board. Of course, I want everyone to know God’s saving love. I’m totally here for it. Team Sheep all the way! But then He hit me with the other side of this parable sandwich. The part where He tells us what we are supposed to be doing when He comes back with “the one.”

We are supposed to rejoice.

That’s our job ninety-nine. “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” No criteria allowed.

Rejoice whether they join your church or not.
Rejoice whether they are a member of your denomination or not.
Rejoice if they worship with drums and lights and fog or with one massive organ.
Rejoice if they get dressed up or wear jeans to church.
Rejoice if they don’t agree with every theological point you do.
Rejoice if you like them as a person or if they irritate you.
Rejoice if they don’t look like you, vote like you, speak like you, or think like you. Rejoice if they do.
Rejoice, because He rescued them and brought them home.

No one in this whole broken human world is without judgment. Without bias. Without the potential to look at someone and be uncomfortable as we see them approaching even if it is on the shoulders of our Savior. If we are to do the job of the ninety-nine and truly rejoice every time He brings someone home we have to do some hard work. We have to ask ourselves hard questions. We have to consider if we have created criteria around our rejoicing. We have to check our hearts and make sure that we are not standing around like the Pharisees and “muttering” about the qualifications we think should be required of the people He chooses. We have to be ready to cheer for every single one He brings our way.

Ninety-nine, we’ve got a job to do. Let’s do it well.

 

Your Mental Health Work is Hard. And Worth It.

Anne Rulo Your Mental Health Work is Hard And Worth It

After last week’s post about Jacob’s limp, I thought it might be helpful to attend the mental health side of living with an injury…injuries that happen to our hearts and minds.

In my training as a therapist, we spent a lot of time talking about the ethics of helping others. Similar to the HIPAA form you are handed at a doctor’s office, a therapist is required to talk you through the potential risks of what you are getting yourself into with mental health treatment. I remember being surprised when I learned that one of the things I needed to share with clients is that counseling may create an increase in mental and emotional pain before things got better. Ugh, I thought. I got into this to help people feel better, not worse. Turns out, that’s not how healing works.

There are a lot of reasons people choose not to attend to mental or emotional health concerns. Many times, this kind of pain comes from “unseen wounds” and thus is it far more tempting (and more possible) to apply the “forget, deny, conceal” approach. We as a people are very good pretenders and expert mask-wearers.

The stigma that may accompany a discussion about our mental and emotional pain can also be more daunting than talking about the results of physical injury. Unlike the cool kid who has the fluorescent cast on his arm that everyone wants to sign, mental health injuries don’t often come with the same welcome opportunity for the telling of your “war story.” Mental health pain often feels less “acceptable” and so we are more likely to keep our stories to ourselves. We worry that the pain of someone knowing our story might be more unbearable than the pain of suffering alone.

Lastly, that mental or emotional healing process is probably going to hurt whether you injured yourself or not. While some habits and hangups are self-inflicted, many others are simply a product of winning the genetic lottery or the result of someone else’s destructive behavior. And you know what? That’s not fair. It never will be. So, if you need to get mad about having to deal with something you didn’t ask for, go right ahead. It’s part of the process. Then you can get down to business.

Addressing a mental or emotional health injury is hard work, just like it is hard work to rehab a physical injury. It often hurts the most at first and there may be times where you want to quit. But just like physical health, eventually, you will begin to see gains. You will have the strength and ability to stretch in ways you did not have before. You will, after some time, have days where you wake up and that “injury” is not the first thing that comes into your mind. You will realize that you are regaining an increased level of functioning. You will recognize that you are healing. And you will celebrate because all the pain and hard work were worth it.

Sometimes we just need someone to say how hard this work can be so that we aren’t blindsided, we aren’t discouraged, and we feel the community in our individual journey.

So to you with that new mental or emotional pain that hurts every time you move, you can do it, you are stronger than you know.

And to you with the old soul injury that you’ve never worked on, you can do it, you are braver than you believe.

And to you who did the work on your mind and your heart years ago but that old thing is flaring up again, you can do it, you are not broken.

And to you with the chronic mental health diagnosis that will remain with you every day, you can do it. You are a hero to yourself and to the others who battle with you and you are worth it.

To each of you. To each of us. Dig deep. Work hard. The present pain is worth the future gains, every time.

 

Will You Limp in Front of Others?

Will You Limp in Front of Others Anne Rulo

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me. ‘The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’” Genesis 32:24-28

My family has hip issues. Clear back in high school I can remember my sisters having hip pain, their joints locking up and the efforts they made to work through the pain to continue their running careers. My Grandmother had a hip replacement as well as my Mom. I suspect a few decades from now, I’ll get my own new hips as well.

For a time I managed to dodge the genetic hip-pain bullet then, 8 years ago, it finally caught up with me. I had been working my first “sit-a-lot” job, got up to walk and my hip locked in pain. Even after all these years as I strengthen and stretch I still have a limp sometimes. The pain will catch me off guard and I’ll smile and grimace, lean to the right, and walk like my Grandmother for a bit until it subsides. It’s a part of the history of who I am, the story that I have.

With all this, you are probably not surprised to learn of my affection for the story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God that resulted in his own lasting hip injury. I love this story for all the obvious reasons. I love what it teaches us about wrestling with God. About being willing to engage in a long, hard battle so you can emerge on the other side with a blessing. It is a story of perseverance that can strengthen us when we are wrestling, growing, trying our best to come out on the other side changed for the better.

And while I appreciate the empowerment angle, it’s actually in the aftermath where I really fall in love with what God did. He left Jacob (now Israel) with a limp. In what initially seems like an unkind end to a long night, God blessed Israel with remembering. That limp served as a constant reminder of the journey he went through with God. And…oh how I love this…that limp also made it so he was unable to keep the story to himself. Every time Israel hobbled along, others would notice his limp, maybe ask what happened, and he would have yet another chance to share his story. To bless others by the telling of his battle and glorify God by sharing how his life was changed. The chance to be real with folks.

While Jacob had to acknowledge what happened to him, what about us? We usually have the choice of whether or not to share our stories. Most of our battles are on the inside or in our past and often we work hard to keep them there. We do not like for people to know we had to wrestle “all night” with God over something. We don’t want them to see the scars left behind from facing hard things. We create false narratives and present something other than the truth because we feel like it protects us, or protects others, or isn’t anyone’s business.

Let me say this gently, but bluntly. Our stories do not belong to us. They belong to God.

Now before you go into vulnerability shock, let me say this. I don’t know what this looks like for you. Being real with other people requires discernment, and prayer, and guidance on who and what is safe to share with other people. The last thing I am doing is suggesting that you share all of who you are with everyone. That’s not sharing, that’s vomiting. However, it may be that there is a part of your story God wants you to share because it is going to help someone draw strength from you and gain the permission to be real and vulnerable because you did it first. It is sometimes by talking about the limp in our own story that we help someone else walk stronger.

My fellow sojourner, it’s a hard thing to get through this life without having to limp a time or two. We may as well walk it out authentically together as we head the same Direction.