Hanging On To Jesus After His Supposed People Bully You.

‘The higher, the more in danger’. The ‘average sensual man’ who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trip sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a ‘lower’ type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety. But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor.

C.S. Lewis, Reflection on the Psalms (New York: Harvest Book, 1964), 28-32.

How have you (if you have) clung to Jesus and his community after supposed Christians have acted the part of robbers on the road to Jericho beating you and leaving you for dead? That happened not too long ago to me, my family, lots of friends, and now I think the number is up to more than fifty people. I write about this wilderness experience in chapter five of my book, A Beautiful Disaster (<click here to order it).   Many have asked me how it is that I am still a Christian. And I’ve had some readers comment that they too have suffered in this way at the hands of supposedly Christian brothers and sisters that act more like the devil than a lover of Jesus and his community.  I’d like to hear from you – how have you learned to forgive? Or maybe you’re still in the process of forgiving. Why haven’t you walked away when betrayed by some of the people of God?


Excerpt from Chapter 5 of A Beautiful Disaster

What happens when sin spreads through a community? I must admit that I have seen not only Jesus but also the devil standing in the midst of community. I’ve experienced the downright diabolical within Jesus’s family. Serpents will always be hissing about in the garden. As a result, we must watch our steps. No matter how many times this sabotage of community happens, I am still horrified when it appears that a fellow believer has morphed into one of Satan’s agents. Coming face-to-face with evil masquerading as Jesus is the vilest of all evils—a soul-scourging experience. No wonder some of us never recover. No wonder some of us abandon the faith or cannot bring ourselves to trust the church and its kind. We’ve seen the devil take a peek out from under his Jesus mask one too many times, and we want nothing to do with him. As Pascal noted, “Men never do evil so completely or cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” So we take flight, running for our lives from community lest we be completely devoured. This is a legitimate effort at self-protection. I used to have a radio program on a Christian radio station. The general manager once told me that churches were the worst groups of people with whom he did business. Too many didn’t pay on time or didn’t pay at all. At the time, his words greatly surprised me. I didn’t have a clue. Now, I’m no longer surprised. I am greatly troubled but not surprised. When I was younger, I thought like a child. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why so many people despised the church; all the church folk I knew were beautiful. But since then, I’ve been on staff at churches and Christian institutions. I’ve met the most beautiful people and tasted life. But, unfortunately, sometimes I’ve been severely tempted to take up permanent residence in disillusionment. I’ve grown up since the days I couldn’t imagine any wickedness within the church, for I’ve seen and heard plenty to sober me up. I’ve seen greed, lust, and vicious power plays cloaked in piety behind the veil of leadership. This reality begs me to shout, “Amen!” in solidarity with a line out of the Woody Allen movie Hannah and Her Sisters: “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he’d throw up.” To me, it is very ironic that, frequently, unbelievers are more adept at spotting Jesus imposters than we are. Despite mounting evidence of wickedness, sometimes we don’t want to believe that our leaders, friends, or even we ourselves could be guilty of wrongdoing. We are blind to our own sin. Why do some of us casually gloss over odious and harmful behavior—why do we excuse sinful behavior in ourselves or our Christian leaders with, “We’re all sinners saved by grace”? More often than not, sometimes without knowing it, we pick and choose who gets a pass for their sin. We are inconsistent in our judgments and confrontations and with whom we choose to turn a blind eye.

Not long ago, I witnessed serpent-like Christians engaging in a full-scale witch hunt. Their sinister behavior almost destroyed the livelihood and Christian hope of an entire community.

[i] Blaise Pascal, Pensees (894), www.gutenberg.org/files/18269/18269-h/18269-h.htm (accessed December 26, 2013).

When We Wonder If Our Lives Matter At All

Several people have commented that they appreciate Chapter 9 of my book, A Beautiful Disaster ( I appreciate their words of affirmation). Chapter 9 is titled, “The God Who Sees Me.” And so I wanted to share some thoughts along those lines.

How do we determine whether our lives matter? By what do we measure success? Do we measure it by the praises of those around us or by our popularity? I don’t think we can measure it by the number of people who continually fawn over us. They could be fawning over us for all of the wrong reasons or fawning over us one day and then calling for our crucifixion the next-like they did to Jesus. And I don’t think we can measure our worth by those who ignore us or reject us–by those who refuse to give us the time of day.

Still, none of us like to feel ignored or invisible, constantly criticized, or rejected. Do you ever wonder if your life really matters? I have wondered that and sometimes I still do.

This piece is for you and for me. I wrote if for the Sunday Refreshments feature of the Litfuse Blog. It is called “Sunday Refreshments: Jesus in the Wilderness of  Our Invisibility.” 

That first night our new, faith sharing facilitator asked our group of about forty to “use one word to describe yourself”. I heard words like ‘tenacious’, ‘honest’, ‘kind’, and ‘passionate’. And yet, I was stunned by the honesty and vulnerable confessions of one of the most beautiful and gentle souls I’ve met in this life—a confession made to what was then a room full of strangers. “Invisible,” she said. “I’ve always felt invisible.”

Another time, my not yet one-year-old daughter and I were sitting in the university cafeteria. Matthew had some sort of intellectual disability. Each day one of his main jobs was to refill the napkin dispensers. This day, my daughter wouldn’t stop staring at him as he approached our table. She had recently developed the habit of staring people down. I think it was her way of studying the world.

She stared at Matthew for longer than usual. And so I stammered out an apology on her behalf as he stopped to converse with us and tickle her chin. I’ll never forget his response to me.

You can read the rest here ( < click on ‘here’).

*****Click to the right on my book cover (or on this link right here) and you can order A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness from Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts & Minds Books. They are independent booksellers that I admire and support. You can also pick it up at Barnes & Noble or order it through Amazon.




Where is God in the death of our dreams?

I am grateful to all of you who are corresponding with me and who are letting me know what strikes you about my book, A Beautiful Disaster. Your insights and correspondence are a gift. We are on this journey together. I am thankful to God that he has redeemed experiences I wouldn’t welcome or wish upon anyone else. No one welcomes disorientation, loneliness, loss, suffering, the death of a dream, or boredom – moments of quiet desperation or those full of sound and fury. But, God can use our God-haunted wilderness experiences. He can redeem them. Although in the middle of such experiences it is the last thing we want to hear and often bad pastoral care to say that to another. It’s hard to think about redemption and resurrection in the midst of our pain and grief and disappointments. It’s only afterward that we might glimpse redemption and resurrection. If not in this life, in the rest of life eternal.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of my book, “The Death of a Dream.” Below the excerpt are some responses to my book and to Chapter 8 in particular.

From A Beautiful Disaster:

“I simply seek to posit that I don’t believe God allows the horrors of living nightmares just to teach us spiritual lessons.

But God does prune those of us who are following Jesus. Jesus says so. Pruning is necessary to keep plants healthy and to keep them from succumbing to diseases. Pruning helps plants grow and gives direction to growth. And pruning helps plants bear more fruit. Likewise, God prunes us to keep us healthy, fruitful, growing, and moving in a certain direction. It’s a direction he has in mind. In John 15:1–2, Jesus tells us, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” The more fruitful we are, the more pruning will occur.

It’s hard to think of the wilderness experience as a pruning experience. But at times it is. Pruning is always painful because it involves loss. It can involve loss of good, luxuriant, and fruitful branches in our lives. When God begins to prune these fruitful branches, we seldom recognize it as pruning. We are aghast that God would mess with something so fruitful, something that brings us joy. His actions hardly ever make sense to us at the time. We may even consider the pruning a punishment or a curse. The pruning experience always reminds me that God’s ways are not our ways. I confess that I sometimes wish my ways were his ways. I really do.”

This is a response to my book from Pastor Mario Alejandre in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can follow him @U2gospel on Twitter. He and a small group are using my book for a book study. He writes:

“I wanted to give you a quick update regarding the book. The response has been ALL positive. I was approached on Sunday by a friend who missed our first class but signed up for it. We got her the book and she sought me out. She comes from a fractured marriage and severe physical challenges: She was beaming. “I feel like I’m reading my story. Except, for me, I was hiding in my closet reading scripture instead of under a bed. I LOVE this book.” My words cannot convey her body language, but let me try: It looked like someone who had been given permission to feel loved in the midst of their own experiences. There was a sense of joy and comfort in knowing others knew what she had experienced.

I just got this update from T: I’ve been bawling. This chapter on the death of a dream is heavy. She talks about having to move when she wanted her kids to grow up and be raised in the community they loved but how God moved them far. She talked about a real loneliness and depression that set in because of it but how she can now see why. 

As for me, I meant what I said about this book feeling like being in a conversation between you, Scripture, the desert fathers/mothers, Nouwen, etc. I find myself feeling haunted and hopeful all at once as I consider God’s presence in our wilderness.” 

Our next class is July 30th.

Click to the right (or on this link right here) and you can order A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness from Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts and Minds Books. They are independent booksellers that I admire and support. You can also pick it up at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Our deaths to self bring life to others

One of the most rewarding things about having my book out in the world is seeing what in it touched another. This is a gift of God from the people of God to me.

So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing snippets of my book as seen through the eyes of others. That is, I’ll be posting what they’ve said means a lot to them. If you read my book and happen to enjoy some portion(s), let me know and I can post your piece. You can leave your favorite pieces in the comment section.

Thank you all for your love and support. May it be returned to  you a hundred fold all in the name of Jesus. 

This portion comes from Jeannie Prinsen over at the little house on the circle blog. I’ll share a snippet of what she shared. You can read the rest here

I deeply appreciate her kind words about me and my newly out book, A Beautiful Disaster, Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness.

Click to the right (or on this link right here) and you can order it from Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts and Minds Books. They are independent booksellers that I admire and support.

From Jeannie’s Blog:

Last month I entered a draw on Micha Boyett’s blog to win a copy of Marlena Graves’ new book A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness, and I won. (This is the third book I’ve won in a draw in the past year!) I am loving this beautiful book. Marlena is a gentle, wise mentor giving encouragement to anyone who is going through difficult times: she shares parts of her own life story, stories from the Bible, and reflections on what she has learned through wilderness experiences. Here is a section from the book that I’m finding particularly meaningful at present:

When we are increasingly patient in the midst of trying circumstances and even in the mundane events of every day, we can rejoice with our Father in heaven and all his angels because it is evident he has provided for us.

Provision in the wilderness may look like death. In our dying, we are as a single kernel of wheat, buried in the ground, dying, and producing many more kernels. In a mysterious way, and for reasons known only to him, God uses our mortification — the thousand little and spectacular deaths we die in this life — as a means of provision for others. Our deaths to self are a means of grace for others and vice versa.


Taking The Long View in Kingdom Work – Oscar Romero

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.