Loving at a Distance

wills20picI guess I should have seen it coming.

Actually, I guess I did but it still was a bit of a shock.

I was written out of the will.

Yep, It was official. I was being cut out of someone’s life in one of the most official ways possible.

What had I done to warrant such an action?

In plain and simple terms, I had stood up for myself. I decided I could no longer pretend everything was ok and that I could continue to have or work toward the relationship this person, my stepfather, desired.

I know that makes me sound particularly cold particularly since my mother died a few years ago and he is now alone. It was that very thing that encouraged me to maintain a relationship with him for the past 4 years.

It was easier before when having a relationship at a distance. The occasional call to Illinois to offer support and an ear wasn’t a huge sacrifice and I could feel like despite our history, that I was honoring my mother in some way by making sure he was being taken care of.. Sure, the calls had their challenges as well – the demands became bigger over time, the push for visits more frequent – but the distance kept things manageable. In October that all changed.

3150376-quotes-about-feeling-hurt-insideNow this man returned to my (and his) home state after a 30 year absence, my buffer zone evaporated and so did my ability to offer support at a distance.

At a distance, I didn’t have to see this man who had abused me, belittled me, and nearly killed me face to face. I could see him as a sad, lonely and struggling elderly person who just wanted to be a part of my life. But having him just a few miles away brought back memories and feelings I thought I had long since cut away from my heart and mind.

I found myself fearing to be in the same room with him for any length of time; becoming anxious every time the phone rang in fear that it may be him and then it was, being gripped with fear because of what he may say or want from me.

And I hated these feelings.

I hated the sense of weakness and powerlessness I felt and was angered by how these feelings not only made me feel like less of a person, but less of a Christian.

How could I as a Christian turn my back on someone in need – someone who was otherwise almost completely alone in this world because of the choices he had made when he was an active alcoholic? How could I purposefully choose to walk away from someone who was trying to show people he was no longer the person they remembered?

Over the past several weeks, I came to realize that even though he was not actively drinking, the person he had been in my memory was still very much a part of who he still is. While he offered an apology, he never actually took responsibility for actions he either remembered or were told to him. And much as I desired to be that amazing person that could be there for my “enemy” on a daily basis,  I understood I had to take a stand and choose my emotional and spiritual health over that of my stepfathers.2100300694-feeling-powerless-and-not-acting-is-like-being-hungry-and-choosing-not-to-eat-naoshad-pochkhanawala

But to say this was a difficult choice is akin to saying that climbing a 14-er here in Colorado is an afternoon stroll.

I wanted to believe that having forgiven my stepfather and mother for the things they had done to me in the past created a new starting place in my heart where I could see them as new beings, free from the pain of my past. For months, I heard the echoes of sermons from my past telling me that Jesus forgives more than we ever could and I am to be like Jesus. Sermons which reminded me that we are called to turn the other cheek when wronged and to go further than even our enemies require of us. If I am going to be a true Christian, am I not called to welcome this person back into my life and allow Jesus to tend to the hurt that comes as a result?

In a word, no.

Jesus doesn’t call us to martyr ourselves in His name any more than He calls us to go lay down on the nearest train tracks to test whether or not He’ll stop the speeding train from running us over. Neither of these things are acts of a loving God.

What Jesus and God do call us to do is to love others. Not just love the people we want to love or that are easy to love, but to love. Period. That in and of itself is the sacrifice God calls each of us to make and it is enough. It’s our humanity that makes us feel the need to do something other than love. We are action oriented. We feel like we have to make grand gestures to prove we have forgiven and moved on but God knows our hearts. If we forgive and choose to love, we are doing God’s will every single time.

I will admit that this piece is unbelievably hard. I want God to allow me to seek revenge for the ways in which I was wronged. I want to others to be able to punish those who wronged them and to feel awesome after we’ve achieved our revenge. But the thing is, as humans, we want to more. We aren’t capable of extending only the perfect amount of retribution for a wrongdoing because our emotions get in the way. We escalate and then the next guy escalates and soon we’re cutting off legs for trespassing. That’s exactly why in Exodus God tells the people we may only seek an eye for an eye. God knows that we are incapable of providing exact judgment that when Jesus came, He removed us from the equation entirely.

God knows exactly how much each of us have been wronged and how much we have wronged others. He alone knows the path we each must walk to rectify our wrongdoings. He will never and has never stopped loving us when we were wronged nor when we were wronging others and He calls us to love in that same selfless way.

And believe it or not, it was this selfless love that allowed me to make the chofind-your-wayice that I did in regards to my stepfather.

What I have come to understand is that proximity does not equal love. I have the right to protect myself emotionally, physically and spiritually. God wants us all to be safe and to make wise decisions in regards to our life. Doing so doesn’t make me less of a person or less of a Christian. To be the Christian woman God calls me to be means loving despite the pain but when necessary loving at a distance; to offer forgiveness, let go of the anger that tethers us to our pain, choose love as the proper replacement of that anger and then walk away…in love.

 

The Physics of Faith

I work for a wonderful organization. It is faith-based and filled with tremendously talented, positive people and I am blessed to be able to get to come to work here on a daily basis. Never was this more clear to me than today when I opened the blog posted by our corporate leader who expressed his enthusiasm for the show The Big Bang Theory specifically and physics more broadly.

I know what you’re thinking. How can learning my leadership likes the same sitcom I do make me feel better about an organization and furthermore, you hate sitcoms and cannot for a second fathom how such a trite 30-minute television show could have anything accurate to say about life let alone leadership or faith?

Well, first, I find it refreshing that a leader is willing to share even silly tidbits about their likes and dislikes so openly. It somehow makes me feel more connected to my leadership when I know that we have a similar sense of humor and outlook. Second, although this is a sitcom about scientists who spend their lives trying to disprove things that could otherwise be associated with faith, I find the fact that they acknowledge that even through dogged determination to the contrary, some things simply cannot be proven and must be taken at face value.

Not being a physicist myself, I had never thought that much of the interplay between life as a whole and physics until I started watching The Big Bang Theory and gaining an additional level of understanding on physics and other sciences was not my goal when I started watching. I was simply looking for something to make me giggle and Sheldon certainly does that.

And while the math presented occasionally is completely beyond my comprehension level, the post from my corporate leadership opened my eyes to the see physics on a much broader scale than just viewing it as a “scientist thing”. I not only believe it says a good deal about both life and leadership, but that it also speaks clearly about faith.

Using a scenario from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, the post I read today discussed  how being a true leader means being able to recognize the force that got things moving in the right direction in the first place and then finding a way to keep that positive force in place. This is, at it’s core, physics. A body in motion stays in motion. Its the stopping that puts all of us at risk.

For example, relationships.

Let’s say you meet a new person. You are mutually attracted to one another but something has to happen for that attraction to develop into something more. Someone has to make the first move and then continual force needs to be placed on the relationship to keep it moving in the right general direction. There will, of course, be starts and stops, but if the desire to move forward is there, i.e., the attraction has not been negated, the relationship can continue to progress.

As humans – and maybe particularly as Americans – we often take our eyes off the thing that got us moving in the right direction in the first place and focus instead on forces that are pulling us in different directions. Logically, if there are positive forces around us allowing us to push toward something that is desired, the are equal and opposite forces pushing us in the other direction. Our job is to not move too closely to those negative forces to allow their power to pull us away from our desired destination.

Unfortunately, more often than not, we do allow those negative forces to pull us away. The seduction of shiny new toys often pulls us away from the older, more tried and true. I mean, truly, staring at the same lump of concrete day after day can be challenging. Looking at the wide open green space in behind us often seems so much more rewarding. Of course, often that space is green because we have already been there and left behind mountains of…umm….fertilizer..that has repaired the damage we left behind and created something beautiful from a distance. Or maybe its green in front of us because we can’t see the boulders that are in our way or the giant  tar pit hidden by the tall grasses we are sure to fall into if we don’t keep our eye on the concrete in front of us.

I know it’s not really a pretty picture, but faith is often like that concrete in front of us. Its not as pretty as the big green fields, doesn’t always look shiny or promise fun and laughter. It’s hard work to keep pushing forward in faith when negative forces are pulling us in another direction. Someone else is in a relationship that appears so much happier than the one we are in or that other company that is courting us away from our current job certainly sounds like heaven compared to the job we’re currently sitting in. Maybe it is. Or maybe we just need to stay the course – keep looking at that concrete wheel for a little while longer until we can get to the destination God has planned for us.

Staying the course is never easy. Just ask Noah…or Abraham…or the Israelites…or Jesus. And sometimes we truly were not meant to. If you’re in an abusive relationship or living in a dangerous situation, staying the course is NOT the right answer for you! But even in those situations when we aren’t supposed to stay the course, the absolute wrong direction is to move backward. Sure, when we move backward, we’re still in motion, but we are losing ground rather than gaining it. The old relationship, job or whatever we think was so much better than where we are now will never actually be there. We have literally moved beyond it and have to keep that forward motion.

Just like in faith.

Once you know who God is, you will always know. Walking in faith will absolutely throw big barriers in your way and you may question the direction or purpose, but in the end, all that we are shown both in physics and in the Word of God is that through steadfast perseverance and forward motion, we will get to where we need to be.  And no, pushing that stinkin concrete will not be fun or easy and certainly won’t get a lot of accolades from those seeking money, power and prestige…but then that’s not the point.

 

Dreams are Children

dreams-3Do you dream? I don’t mean the go to bed at night dreams, but dreams as in what you want in your life or what you want your life to look like? I think all of us have big dreams when we’re young. The world then is a huge place when we’re small and we haven’t yet come to understand that the moon and stars may just be beyond our reach.

Of course, we all grow up and our understanding of the world becomes more complex. Our understanding of our place in the grand scheme of things becomes more complex as well.

When I was very young, I remember dreaming of being a veterinarian (a dream I think many little girls have). I also remember dreaming of being able to sing on national television and hearing people cheer for me. I’m sure there were others, but these are the two that I can actively remember dreaming. I also remember that I wasn’t very old before I learned that dreams don’t always come true…

…and then I stopped dreaming altogether.

Maybe this was because, as a child of an abusive parent, I never felt I was on solid ground; I never felt that the world around me was a safe place to share my wishes and hopes. Family members that were supposed to protect me left me open to abuse or participated in abuse leaving me feeling shattered and empty. I was been beaten down so many times that the idea of working that hard for something I wanted was more than I could fathom and the negative words and actions that came my way on a regular basis convinced me that I neither had the ability to make things happen that were good nor was I a person that was worthy of having dreams come true. I came to think that somehow I had done something horrible – or that I was a horrible person – and that my life would be spent on the sidelines seeing others obtain their most obscure dreams while the ache in my heart would grow bigger with every lost hope.

It took a long time for me to get to a point where I felt that I was good enough as a person to see a dream or two realized; that the negative things around me didn’t need to perpetuate themselves. Some of this came from taking responsibility for the negative energy I was putting out in the universe and realizing that while it may have seemed that I was cursed in some way, the world didn’t really “have it in for me”. But this didn’t happen before I had let a good number of dreams die.

Some of those dreams died quickly and sometimes they died a very slow and painful death and left remnants of themselves behind creating a vortex that seemingly sucked the life out of other the dreams that were left.

I never really understood why the death of a dream could be so profoundly painful until I watched Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

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In this musical, Mr. Sondheim deals with several children’s fables and there are many lessons and truths presented by the individual characters and stories, but the one that stuck with me comes from the witch.

The song, Children Will Listen reminds the listener that the things we say have impact on those around us. Much like the things I heard when I was a child that were hurtful and ended up impacting the dreams – or lack thereof – I had growing up, the words we speak have the power to help or hurt; to feed or to starve.

While this message is powerful in and of itself, the sentence that truly struck me was, “wishes are children”.

Wow. What a profound statement!

The more I thought about this, the more I realized how true this really is.

Dreams are those things that we all hold closest to our hearts. They are a glimmer of a thought on the horizon of our life. When they initially come to us, they may be just a niggling in our brains but they grow with every “what if” and “if only” thought that ventures through. As time goes on, these dreams are a part of us; a ring we desperately want to grasp.

The problem is, dreams are also fragile. Negative words, thoughts and actions chip away at the delicate shell of each dream and cause it to disappear in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, all of that effort; that blood, sweat and tears were for naught.

dreamsWe must treat our dreams as delicately as we treat our children. If we don’t, we risk at best stifling the ability for them to grow and at worst, suffocating them altogether.

Mr. Sondheim also wisely points out that wishes may come true, but they are not free. They cost us our time, our love, our energy, and a bit of our identity. Like children, they are not ours to keep forever. Rather, they must be given away so they can be the true gift they were intended to be.

We must love them, nourish them, encourage them and guide them. In the end, we must also be prepared for them to take on a life of their own to become what they were intended to be. This, as I look back, may actually be what caused my dreams to die and create the large vortex of pain I experienced.

I wanted so desperately to hold on to the dreams that I allowed into my heart that I held on too tightly, never letting the ideas to be spoken aloud or the vision to be seen by others. I was so sure that someone else would crush what I had inside of me that I crushed it first.

I understand so clearly the desire to hold tightly to the things that mean a lot to us; to be able to be there every moment to see the successes – and to be able to take the accolades for those successes – and to also wipe away the evidence failures that will inevitably happen as quickly as possible so nobody can see; so nobody knows that everything isn’t perfect.

The thing is that dreams are not perfect because they are truly a part of us, just like our children. There will be losses and failures but we cannot, as dreamers, stop dreaming out of fear of those losses or wipe them away and pretend they didn’t happen any more than we can pretend a child who no longer is able to be with us physically never existed in the first place. We are all blessed to have our children and our dreams for a time that is not determined by us. This is painful and challenging and often causes us to be angry at the One who gave them to us in the first place. But the thing is that the length of time we have them is not what makes the great. What makes them great is the fact that they exist at all.

If you have dreams you’ve realized, I would love to hear about them! If you, like me, have had to let dreams go, I would love to hear about that as well. How did you move on? What has that done to your faith? Are you still being sucked into the vortex of pain from these losses or have you been able to find your way out of the woods to the sunlight? Reach out to me. Tell me your dreams realized or not. Maybe we can help each other attain new dreams we never thought possible!

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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Can you believe we are already 15 days into the new year? Are you one of the many who made a New Year’s resolution? If so, are you still working on it or not?

Resolutions are funny things. They often focus on the things we don’t like about ourselves and we choose this annual marker to decide to change it. Its not like we couldn’t do it any other time of the year, mind you, but somehow, as the countdown begins and the ball starts to drop, it seems more significant and maybe even more achievable.

Or not.

I personally didn’t make any resolutions and honestly haven’t for quite some time. I have goals and things I want to do more or less of, but I don’t put a title around those items nor do I make some public announcement about it so I can either gloat or, more likely, admit defeat far too soon. I have enough of a struggle with the fear of failure that I don’t need to put myself in a place to more likely than not fail and feel horrible about it.

I have made resoultions in the past, however. I am probably not too different from you in the things I’ve chosen to resolve: lose weight, get into better shape, be better about my daily devotion time, quit smoking, start eating better. Any of those hit home for you?

How about “find the love of my life”?

If you’re single, like I am, this has been one of those things that has passed across my “resolution platter” many times. I have thought things like, “this year, I’m picking a dating site and really working at it until I find someone”, or ” this year, I resolve to be more open to the people around me so I can find that special someone”. Needless to say those resolutions haven’t done well for me in the past and I venture to say they would do no better for me today were I to make them again.

Being single is hard. We live in a world where people expect you to have a partner of some sort. People somehow plan things with couples in mind – dinner parties, cocktail parties, recreational events all seem to be “couple-y” events and on the rare occa151sion a single person does get invited, it – at least for me often has that weird 5th wheel kinda feel about it. Couples gravitate to one another and there the single person sits, alone talking to the wallpaper….or quietly sliding out the door.

While all of these feelings still apply to me and my life, I came to an amazing realization just this morning that has changed the way I view the whole relationship thing.

The relationship thing or couple thing isn’t about love.

I know. This seems completely wrong particularly from a faith standpoint, but hear me out.

We are looking for love with human beings who are flawed and suffering just as we are and each of those individuals are as incapable of providing the kind of long-suffering, non-judgmental love to us as we are to them.  And to make matters worse, we are looking for love to fill something within us that cannot be filled by anything that can be found on this planet.

I hear ya. You’re screaming at the screen saying that love is the be all and end all of human existence! We are created to love! Yes, indeed we are created to love – but I think it looks different than what we have all been trying to find here on this earth.

If you are of Christian faith, you -like I – have been taught that God is love. Therefore, He – and only He – is the very thing that we are seeking, period. The problem with the way we look at love in through our human eyes is that we look for it to be something that we “get”. We think we’ve fallen in love with someone because they give us things. Not necessarily physical objects, though that often happens as well, but more to the point, they make us feel certain things – cared for, comfortable in our own skin, special. When we start to lose those special feelings with someone, it always comes back to how we no longer feel “loved” – the person doesn’t do the sweet, caring things they used to or we feel taken for granted.  Whatever the statement, the bottom line is that we are no longer “getting” what we were getting in the first place.

god-is-love-and-love-is-realBut the thing is that love is not a consumer event. Love is God and God is love. The only way to be “in love” is to have God as a part of our lives; to have Him abide in our hearts so that we can reflect out to others the very definition of who He is. Once we are able to do that, we can then have the communion with others that God intended for us to have and fill our desire for companionship and closeness.

So why am I taking the time to make this point? Well, as I realized this pretty significant nuance about love and its true meaning, I realized that by our focusing on getting something from a human being that is just as flawed as we are, we are putting ourselves in the position to believe that love fails…and if love fails, and God is love, then God fails.

I’m sure you think I’m overthinking this, but think about it for a moment with me.

We meet someone, we fall in “love”, we get married and the marriage doesn’t last. Love failed. And then we go to church and we hear how God is love…but in our lives, love failed. If God is love, and love fails, why would I ever want to put my trust in Him? I don’t know that I would.

But96dd93dffa69719c24c885e5157a58d0 if, as I am suggesting here, that love is God and God is love and that the relationships we have are merely a result of HIS love, not ours, then we can in fact have love that does NOT fail because God does not fail.

Ever.

Today, I challenge  you go to do your Bible and read, as I have done, the verses about love. Notice how they are not about us individually and what we can get from one another but about what we can give to others when we have God abiding in us. Take a verse like 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 and replace the word “love” with “God” and see how it changes the tone and the power of the words. If you do this, I pray that you will be blessed in abundance as a result and that you will share your experiences with me.

 

 

Happy Epiphany!

epiphanyausWe did it! We made it successfully through the holiday season. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it was altogether successful from your point of view, but since we are meeting here, that means we are both breathing and functioning at least to some level, so I would call that successful.

I am, as you may know, a cradle Episcopalian so for me, the actual Christmas season just ended with the celebration of Epiphany – the celebration of the Wise Men following the star to meet the baby Jesus. In my home church, we celebrate this day by having the children tell the Christmas story through a small pageant. Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and angels all tell the story of the birth of Jesus with the help of an eclectic parade of animals including an owl and chicken.

I am always so amazed by the bravery of these kids. Some of these children are just barely walking yet they get up in front of people doing as they are asked without question, without fuss. They are participating for the sheer joy of it even though for many, the words they are speaking have no real meaning. This, to me, is the epitome of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and truly all the named figures of the Bible did. They simply did as they were asked without question. This is true faith and I believe it is the faith that God really wishes for us to experience.

Of course, as we get older, it becomes significantly harder for us to act this way. Even though Nike has made a mint on the phrase Just Do It, how many times do we actually heed that advice?

No, more often than not we allow our mind to get in the way of our heart and we fail to act on nudgings from the Holy Spirit. Instead, we rationalize ourselves right out of experiencing the joy of the holiday. So focused are we on making sure everyone knows that Christmas is more that getting gifts that we destroy the wonder and joy that we were once able to experience without question.

Do you remember?

matthew18_3 Think back to a time in your childhood when you ran down the stairs or out of your room to see the tree and the multitude of brightly colored packages that were scattered around it. Or maybe your Christmas was smaller – there were only one or two packages or even just a stocking with some wonderful treasures to behold. Regardless, when we were little, it was all wonderful. We didn’t know we should be wanting the big expensive toys. We didn’t know that our family members spent hours trying to find ways to make the day special. We were able to experience Christmas in its purest form.

As I think about the people throughout the Christmas season who profess over and over about the finding the “true meaning of Christmas” or keeping Christ in Christmas, I can’t help but think that this childlike wonder is really the true meaning of Christmas.

Yes, Christmas is, for Christians, a time of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, into this world. It is a time of prophesies being fulfilled and God revealing His love for us in a new and wonderful way. All of those things are miraculous and should not be forgotten, but we have worked so hard to make the holiday Religious, Pious, and Spiritual that we have taken all of the celebration and joy from the season.

Matthew 18:3 states that we cannot enter Kingdom of God without becoming like children. While this verse has many applications and interpretations, when applied to Christmas, I find it so very truthful. I’s not about God keeping people out of His kingdom or judgment, but rather understanding that we will never understand or experience the joy of Christmas that God intends for us without becoming childlike in our view of it.

I know. You’re saying we aren’t children any more so how can this possibly happen?

Clearly, we cannot become children again nor can we remove our experiences and history that has tainted the way we look at Christmas. But what we can do is try to remove expectations on ourselves, those around us and the holiday itself and just experience things with fresh eyes the same way a child does; the same way Mary, Joseph and the Wise Men did.

2000+ years ago, Mary and Joseph had no idea that the birth of their child would be during their trek to complete the required census or that they would have to stay in a barn and use a feed trough as a crib. This was all unexpected, frightening and astonishing to them. When a child hears the story of the birth of Jesus for the first time, many of these same feelings arise in his or her heart. They can’t believe a baby would be born in a barn or that people would come from hundreds of miles away to see the newborn baby. We as believers need to watch for those feelings of wonder and astonishment and experience them with those who are just learning. We need to see Christmas through the eyes of children so that we might become children ourselves in the way we view our faith.

Now I know what you’re saying. Christmas is over. Why am I talking about how to experience the joy of Christmas when everything has now been packed away and we have moved on?

Well, the thing is our faith doesn’t end when Christmas does nor should our desire to see our faith through fresh, childlike eyes. Ok, so it’s too late to find that sense of wonder about the birth of Jesus for this year, but it’s not too late to find the faith that will allow you to just act when God calls instead of rationalizing your way out of it. It’s not too late to follow whatever star God has placed in your night sky. It’s not too late to extend the grace, mercy and love that we talk about during the Christmas season to those who desperately need it.

The fact that we all made it through the Christmas season to see another new year is a blessing that should be celebrated. What better way to celebrate than to scrape away the layers of cynicism that age has layered over our hearts and minds and look on the world with fresh, childlike eyes to see the wonders that God is placing before us every single day.

Come join me. Let’s be children again!

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GLORY TO GOD IN THE LOWEST

Sharing this lovely post from my corporate chaplain. It’s okay if the holiday season is difficult. It’s okay if you don’t feel the cheer that you assume everyone feels. Remember the Reason for the Season – Look up and be blessed!

It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth…to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was that while they were there…Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn…Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold an angel of the Lord stood before them… and the glory of the Lord shone around them…and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward all. (Luke: 1-14)

Although most scripture scholars agree that the details of Jesus’ birth are more fancy than fact, it may still be comforting to wrap ourselves in the earthy familiarity of this story. Looking back to the time of Caesar Augustus, Joseph and Mary, the too crowded inn, a child born in a manger, and looking up to see the “glory of God in the highest” can serve to connect us to the spirituality that lies hidden beneath the materiality which so often characterizes Christmas.

But we run the risk of missing the true meaning of Christmas if we only look back but not around, up but not down. The story of Jesus’ birth is nostalgic when understood only as an event in history but it is radical, as it should be, if we realize that we are to give birth to his Spirit here and now. It could be said that divinity is the “D” in our DNA. What we call God and imagine residing in the heavens is the life-force that is born, and breathes in each of us. The celebration of Jesus’ birth is meant to remind us of the dignity/divinity of humanity and of our call to bring light to the darkness that surrounds us, and peace to the people with whom we interact.

It is a fact of life that for many, this season of joy is anything but. Experiences of illness, loss, economic hardship, family dysfunction, and other harsh realities can blur the blessedness of Christmas. As we celebrate this sacred season may we be especially sensitive to those whose bodies, hearts, and souls are broken. For it is in the lost, least, last, and littlest that we come face-to-face with the divine. When we care for and about those for whom there is no room in the inn of our warm homes or at the table of our full feasts, we encounter and give glory to God in the lowest.

Diving In

whatever-you-do-or-dream-you-can-begin-it-boldness-has-genius-and-power-and-magic-in-it17The New Year is rapidly descending upon us and I know that many of us are more than happy to be rid of 2016. This year has brought such strife – political unrest, death of beloved celebrities, economic woes, and on and on. Ah yes, the New Year has to be better, right?

Well, sure, but it isn’t going to happen all by itself.

I was reminded of this as I sat pouting at home on Sunday night, throwing myself a pretty significant pity party.

You see, it was my 50th birthday. A milestone that for many brings lots of hoopla and festivity, but for me, it didn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong. Friends and family all wished me a happy birthday, I am well and employed – all of things not to be taken for granted -but somehow it didn’t feel like “enough”. Even though I have never really done much for my birthday, even though I have learned throughout the years that trying to do something during the holidays is, to say the least, challenging, it still felt lonely and sad knowing there wasn’t a big party waiting for me or a special someone to make a big fuss over my special day.

Oh, woe is me!img_4815

After I was able to drag my 2-year-old-child self out of the kicking and screaming tantrum I was having, I realized that nothing happens in a vacuum and I had created just such a vacuum.

The reality is that most people in my immediate circle had no idea it was my birthday let alone that it was my 50th. I suppose this is a result of a childhood spent feeling like my birthday was more of a burden than a celebration; an inconvenience rather than something to look forward to. So I kept this tidbit of knowledge to myself and would casually toss it out in random conversations hoping against hope that someone would pick up on my desire to have a party and run with it.

Shocker! They didn’t.

Much as I would like for people to know my inmost desires without my saying a word, they simply do not. And unlike the forever popular romantic comedies, there rarely is a best friend or random stranger to provide this information to my loved ones for me. I have to actually open my mouth and express my wishes for people to hear me and act.

This is a difficult lesson for me because I have always been a people pleaser. The daughter of an abusive alcoholic, I have always worked hard to make sure that everyone else is taken care of and put my own needs and wants aside. My motto has always been the less you notice my presence, the less likely it is that I’m going to be hurt. And sure, that keeps new wounds from being inflicted – or at least limits the number significantly, but it also builds a wall so high that I end up feel lonely and slighted when I don’t to be center stage on these momentous occasions.

So what does this have to do with New Years?

Well, as I thought about this last night and this morning, I realized that each one of us has the opportunity not just at dawn of the new year, but every single day to dive in and create the life we want rather than wait for it to happen on its own – which, let’s be honest – means we’ll be waiting for a very, VERY long time.

We have to be willing to look at the life we feel we deserve or want and create a plan of action to obtain it, not just sit idly by and whine about how others are getting the achievements and fun that we want but have never been “lucky enough” to get. Does this mean we have to go through long, tedious hours of goal setting? Not necessarily, but there has to be some active participation on all of our parts for these things to occur.

None of us can change my health, physical abilities or our artistic abilities without making a decision to start lessons or spend more time practicing or working out and then actually acting on that decision.calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions

None of us can start making an impact on children, homelessness, animal rights or whatever the passion is without carving out time to actually get involved somewhere and, as Ghandi stated, be the change we want to see in the world.

And none of us can create healthy, positive friendships that encourage things like birthday parties or support systems for those inevitable times of strife without actually stepping out into the world and start engaging with others in similar positive, loving ways. Sometimes this means reaching out to old friends, sometimes this means finding new friends, and sometimes this means seeking counseling or support to find healthy ways to engage to bring people into our lives that will be the blessings we need.

Going into this New Year and expecting it to be awesome just because it isn’t the current year is a recipe for certain failure. Things have to be put in place so a positive change actually happens. Am I suggesting that I’m joining yet another dating site? No, but I am saying that I am going to make a more focused effort to get out and participate more; to be more engaged in other people’s so they can be more engaged in mine.

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How about you? What changes would you like in your life that you’ve been too fearful of making? The reality is that we only fail by not trying. Simply opening the door to a new challenge is success in and of itself.

I would love to hear what you are planning and maybe we can keep each other encouraged and motivated. Feel free to comment back with your thoughts, hopes and goals. I look forward to reading them all and walking with you every step of the way.

Join me! Dive in and let’s see what this New Year can bring!

 

 

 

Judgment

Judgement Day. That day when the trumpets will resound, the earth will cease to exist the way we know it today, and the Lord will make His way to use on a chariot of white steeds. It’s a day that believers see to equally anticipate and dread and it seems as we get closer to Christmas, the return of Jesus our human mind turns to the concern about what will happen when this actually occurs.

Our church has discussed this topic a good deal during the Advent Season. It makes sense. Here we are a mere 10 days from the celebration of the birth of our Savior and it’s only logical that we talk about what happens next.  I must confess, however, that the more I listened to the messages about this fantastic event, the more I had to wonder if the idea of a judgement is truly a God-inspired thought or the result of the mindset of the Gospel readers.

During my time studying at various biblical and non-biblical schools throughout my life it has been made pretty clear that the disciples, even to the end, had a hard time reconciling the idea of a peaceful savior. They, like us, were looking for a military leader; a King to come and destroy their enemies and put them in a place where they felt honored and respected. They wanted to see those who had been oppressing and enslaving them crushed so they could smirk in cool satisfaction as their cries were finally heard and their prayers answered. Maybe they, again like us, were hoping to see the roles reversed so they could treat their oppressors as abusively as they felt they had been treated.

Of course this is understandable. Of course those who have been enslaved ache for redemption from the horrendous life they have lived but the dividing of good versus bad as described by John in Revelation feels, at least to me, more like a human desire than a Godly vision.

Let’s just take a moment to look at it.

If we as Christians have truly been saved from our sins; if all of our wrongs have been made right do to our faith in Christ; if our hearts have been changed and we, despite daily failures, are striving to serve the One we love and worship (some days more than others, of course), what then will we be judged for on Judgement Day?

Will God be holding court for all of us individually, as represented in the movie Defending Your Life?

If so, then God is just as hypocritical and passive aggressive as our worst enemies.

You may think I’m must being blasphemous, but I truly think the Bible supports me in this.

According to Psalm 103:12, the Lord promises to move our transgressions as far from us as the East is from the West. He’s already forgiven us and forgotten the things we have done.

Well, actually, He knew we would do them before we did them, had already forgiven these actions by the time we asked for forgiveness, and has directed our paths from that point forward so we can be where He wants us to be now. Unlike our human mind, God is actually able to truly forget the evils we have done in the past and does not need to remind us of them. It’s not as if He’s going to show us all of our worst moments and say after each one of them “I forgave that one…and that one…and that one…” My God is not a god who thrives on humiliation nor does He want us to feel guilt for things that have been put in the past.

The God I believe in wants to rejoice with us for being with Him; for making the choices we made so we could learn the lessons we needed to learn. I have already been judged and forgiven. It’s done.

Okay, you say, so maybe He’s judging the non-believers or the murderers or the rapists. He’s judging those who do heinous, unforgiveable acts here on earth.

Well, in theory, I get that. But hasn’t He already done that?

Assuming that He needs to wait until the end times assumes that He lives in the same linear fashion that we do and therefore won’t know the condition of our hearts – our choice for or against faith – until the day we die or the day of His 2nd coming but to believe this flies in the face of who I believe my God to be.

My God already knows the condition of my heart and those around me.

Despite our humanity and all of our sinful actions (and mine have been far too many to count), He knows what we truly believe and what we don’t. He knows each and every choice we will ever make and He knows the end result of our lives. Only He knows what will happen to those who fail to acknowledge Him and I don’t believe that part of that plan is for us to be all standing in one room watching while perhaps those we loved while here on earth are sent away from us for eternity. That would only cause us pain and the Bible says that there is no pain in heaven. Isn’t that one of the things that defines heaven?

Here’s the bottom line…

…at least from my humble perspective.

God has created each of us with the ability to seek Him and become like Him. It is His greatest desire we will seek Him, fall in love with Him, and seek to serve Him in every way we can. Perhaps He gives us all the time we need in this life – and maybe even others (gasp!) – to find our way to the right place. Regardless, I believe that if indeed there is a final day, the Lord will come to us the same way He did before…and the way He told us He would come.

There will not be trumpets blaring or cymbals crashing. There will be no 7 horsemen or destruction of the evils of this world – at least, not by God.

We will not know the day or the moment. He will come as He told us He would throughout the New Testament….like a thief in the night. He will not come to shatter, crush or destroy but to heal, restore and bless.

And this, my friends, is the kind of second coming I can truly rejoice in.

 

 

Through God’s Eyes

glasshalfemptyhalffullAre you a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person? I like to believe I’m a glass half-full person, but at this time of year, I think I become far more of half-empty type the closer it gets to Christmas. There are so many things I think I’m needing and missing that at other times of the year don’t even cross my mind. I blame this on the sappy-sweet storylines of all the Christmas movies. Now don’t get me wrong. As you know, I love Hallmark movies – the sentimentality, the warm-heartedness, and the campiness of these movies. But as you are probably aware, the movies produced by this excellent organization will also acknowledge that there is a problem with these charming tales.

In the world of Hallmark, this time of year has an amazing magic which makes even the most unattainable hopes and wishes come true. Everyone gets exactly what they wish for every single Christmas despite the cost or sacrifice that needed to be made to have this happen, all relationships are not only repaired, but bettered, all money issues solved, and all loneliness eliminated because “that’s what this time of year is all about”.  And yes, there’s also the absolutely perfect dusting of snow that must be present regardless of where the movie takes place because what is Christmas without the perfect snowfall?

perfect-christmasLike it or not, all of us have likely fallen victim to this Hallmark fantasy to some degree or another. We put up the decorations, buy the ugly Christmas sweaters, spend hours shopping for just the right present and feel certain that when we have done all of this just right, we will have bought the right to get all of our hearts desires fulfilled but, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, we do not live in the Hallmark world.

All of the decorations, presents, ugly sweaters and Christmas cheer will not magically make our lives fit into our favorite holiday movie. God doesn’t suddenly become Santa making sure to give all of the “good boys and girls” the gifts they long for and hard as it may be to accept, just because the holiday season appears on the calendar, all of our burdens are not magically lifted from us – not even temporarily. As a matter of fact, the struggles we feel during the ordinary days of the year are often magnified during the holidays.

Maybe this happens because we buy into the images others project about how perfect their holidays are and we assume that we have somehow failed at the whole holiday celebration thing – or maybe even life itself. Or maybe we feel in some way that we are being punished for choices we have made in the past or that we are somehow not worthy to have the same joyful experiences others to do. Maybe we used to have those perfect holidays but the person or people who made it special have died or have been otherwise separated from us and we are left feeling isolated, broken and alone.

sad-holidaysTo be honest, I have struggled with feelings like this through the years. My home was rarely a place of safety let alone joy and since my birthday also falls during this Christmas season, my “special day” was often lumped together with other celebrations or forgotten all together because of the overall stress and busyness of the season. I have longed to find the “perfect person” to spend holidays with and have sought ways to celebrate the holiday that would make me feel the way I think others must be feel because it’s what I’ve seen in all the Hallmark movies but that “perfect holiday feeling” remains elusive – and there’s a good reason for that.

The reality is that the images floating around in my head – and maybe yours, too – about how Christmas and my birthday should be are probably just figments of my imagination – no more real than the snow falling in Tampa at the end of a Christmas movie.

Much as I wish things could be different, life is not nor will it ever be a Hallmark movie. There are no perfect endings or nice, tidy ribbons to tie up loose ends. To make matters worse, none of us know what the future will bring any more than we can go back and change the things of the past. All we can do is choose how to move forward. So what does that mean for Christmas this year and in the years to come?

For me, it means that I have chosen to put away the cynicism that has grown in my heart over the years due to years of unmet, unrealistic expectations about special events and celebrations- and I’m starting with Christmas. To make this happen, I am choosing to try to see Christmas through God’s eyes instead of my own.

What does Christmas look like to God? As I see it, it’s not about the lights or ceremony. It’s about a loving Father watching His only Son being born – rejoicing in birth while simultaneously grieving the path His only Son must take in order to fulfill His perfect plan.

I imagine Jesus at once a newborn taking in the sights and sounds of the cold, star-filled sky while also understanding His purpose for this journey and experiencing fear and sorrow.

I imagine Mary, Joseph, and all those who came to see this miracle in a manger looking on with awe and wonder knowing they had been chosen to be a part of something so much bigger than they and knowing this moment and all to come were completely out of their hands.

10277-christian-christmas-quotesLooking at Christmas through God’s eyes I am reminded that every single one of us was placed here on this planet at a specific time for a specific purpose and that even in the times of heartbreak and loss, we are perfect in our imperfection; loved more fully than we can ever imagine even when we feel the most unlovable and none of this love has to do with how we decorated our homes, what festive clothing we wore, or what presents we purchased for others.

My prayer for each of you during this Christmas season is that you will find a new sense of awe and wonder about Christmas and feel anew the amazing love that God has for each and every one of you which led to His bringing His son here to save us.

Tree of Knowledge

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There is a new Facebook advertisement on television that speaks to the fact that less than half of the globe is connected to the internet and how it is Facebook’s mission to connect the other half of the world. While I can appreciate the technological achievement that is set to bring the 21st century to the rest of the world, I cannot help but feel a pang of jealously for those who remain unattached to the digital world and wonder if they really want to be dragged to where we are.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love many things about technology.

I love the fact that today I can write my silly little thoughts out on this vast inter-web-y thing and maybe someone else will read it and enjoy it.

I love the fact new technology has allowed us to solve crimes that might otherwise have gone perpetually unsolved and has provided us medical solutions that have been used to save the lives of many individuals that otherwise would died.

I love the fact that there are so many people from my past that I have been able to re-connect with and that I have been able to initiate friendships with people who I otherwise would never have known. From that sense, I love connectivity. But as our world has shrunken significantly, there is a “yang” to the “yin” of good things with the internet.

Think back to the time before the internet; to the late ’70’s and ’80’s. Okay, yes, the fashions of these decades should not be discussed nor should at least some of the music  (lets not discuss a good deal of the disco music, shall we?), but let’s focus on our lives in general.

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These were times when kids were still allowed to go out in the neighborhood to play until dark; when the fear of potential injury didn’t keep kids from being kids and experiencing life in ways that seem in hindsight to be more full. A time when neighbors more often than not knew each other and there was more of a sense of community – of caring for and about one another – in the average suburban subdivision. A time when we were far less afraid of the unseen germs flying around in the space around us and inspired about the tremendous wonders the world had to offer us instead of fearful of the incessant “what if’s” of life. A time when innocence was not a dirty word but something to be cherished.

It’s not that there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, but somehow we dealt with these fears differently. The lessons our parents learned from the members of The Greatest Generation were still clinging to the way we looked at the world around us and we had not yet begun to blame everyone around us for the misfortunes of life or to look at one another with such critical, unloving eyes.

Now, as we have become more and more afraid of all that surrounds us, we have locked our doors and entered into worlds that actually doesn’t exist in order to satisfy our human need for relationship.emery-quote

Instead of sitting at a table in the living room to play a game with friends or family we sit facing an electronic gadget to play a game in a world that doesn’t exist against people we have never met and likely never will.

Instead of meeting people in “real life”, hundreds of thousands of people create unrealistic personas for online dating and networking sites because the unending criticisms of the online world makes us all ashamed of who we are both externally and internally. Being online has given people the ability to focus on what may be wrong with someone – the opportunity to look for skeletons in the closet – rather than opening the door to possibilities.

Instead of learning how to engage with one another on a personal level, teenagers today are plagued with loneliness and depression they have not been taught how to work through challenges, find resolution to disagreement, and creatively come up with ways to entertain themselves without structure.

In this space we each feel as though we have the right to say whatever we want to in whatever way we want regardless of how our words may affect others. We point fingers, create division, and encourage violence. The vast capability of computers has given us so much in the way of information and interaction that we have all been driven apart from one other and we are intent on dragging those who have been free from the terror that is the bullying of the online world down the rabbit hole with us.

disconnecting-3I can’t help but think how nice it might be to go to one of the places that has not yet encountered the behemoth of the internet and live in that simplicity again. To live in a place where social media doesn’t drive the decisions of the group; where people do still sit together over a cup of tea or coffee to share stories and laugh with one another without their faces buried in an electronic device; where the idea of “the people’s right to know” doesn’t drive every action and perhaps the idea of grace, humility and respect still permeate the way individuals treat one another.

The more I think about this, the more I see the information we glean from the internet a modern equivalent of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

Think about it. Rather than respecting boundaries put in place by those who do know “all” about given situations, we continually attack boundaries to get to the last tidbit of information on a given situation , shoving microphones into the faces of those who have suffered unbearable tragedies (forgetting, of course, that the political and social leanings of the microphone holder significantly affects the questions asked and the editorial process) just so we have become voyeurs into their grief but are then shocked and offended when other people want to nitpick our lives in the same fashion. We scream for freedom and privacy while crushing the freedom and privacy of everyone that isn’t us.

I don’t begrudge the people who are not yet connected their connectivity. I’m just innocencesuggesting that perhaps forcing this new, wilder, connected world into their otherwise quiet lives may not be the humanitarian effort it’s presented to be. Perhaps more of a humanitarian effort would be to allow these places to remain happily unconnected – living the life that has proven successful for them for generations.

Or maybe that’s just me.