Sacrifice

The red and blue lights created an almost holiday-like atmosphere, but this was no celebration. Despite the holiday decor that surrounded them, miles and miles of rescue vehicles joined with miles and miles of civilians lined the roads today as a firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty was laid to rest today. This is far from a rare event. First responders pay for our safety every single day and every time an outpouring like this passes by me, I weep.

As you might expect, I am crying for the loss of a life and for the family and friends who have been left behind. But I’m also crying with feelings of overwhelming gratitude for those who are willing to offer up their lives every single day to protect the rest of us. 

Now, to be fair, I might be a little biased as I have stepsons who have been or are currently in positions where they are protecting the very liberties we as Americans often take for granted. But honestly, as far back as I can remember, I have ugly-cried when even thinking of –  let alone watched depictions of – average people sacrificing themselves for others.

You would think that as a Christian, this should be an easy concept for me to grasp. After all, I believe in and worship a God who knowingly gave His life for me. But to me, this is so different because this man – and all those like him – was fully human, lacking the Godly wisdom and insight that Christ had. 

This man, and all those in similar situations, knowingly placed his life on the line for the sake of others. There is no enormous paycheck to repay him for this sacrifice, no televised award ceremony or national recognition. He just got up every day to try to make the rest of our Iives’ safer and I find myself shaking my head in wonder. Could I do the same thing? What is it about those who choose that lifestyle that allows them to willingly put themselves in dangerous situations so you and I can live more peacefully?

They aren’t super-human. They all struggle with the same things you and I do – challenges with work, with family, with health. But where their lives differ in that these people see the worst of life every day.  They see the brutality we inflict on one another. They confront the tragedies that for the rest of us, only come about once or maybe twice in a lifetime. 

And then they head home, putting the horrible things they have seen throughout their shift aside, and become an average husbands, wives, parents, brothers and sisters. 

As we as average citizens sit back and view snippets of their lives on YouTube or FaceBook and criticize. We write hateful, horrible things about how this person should have acted  assuming that we, in the same situation, would never have done anything like that. 

And I am simultaneously heartbroken and furious.

To sit on the outside of any situation where one’s life is on the line every moment of every day and decide that we could have/would have done it better is crazy. We have no idea what situation this individual had just left; what horrific thing they may have just seen and are trying to put behind them so they can finish their shift.

 So what’s my point? Why am I on this particular soap-box today?

Well, here’s the thing.

It’s the holiday season. We are all scrambling to try to find the perfect gift or create the perfect experience for our loved ones. Or maybe we are buying an extra gift to put in that Toys for Tots box, feeling good about our small selfless act and maybe secretly hoping someone will have seen us and say something to affirm our action so we can feel even better about being a good person this holiday. 

But on the other side of that box is an officer or a soldier or a firefighter who is delivering those gifts for you but may not be able to provide the same gifts for his or her own family. Or maybe the “job” has been more of a burden on them and they have lost their family and are alone trying to figure out why they are continuing to sacrifice their time, their physical and their psychological health for a community of people that spit at them and judge them. 

These individuals are not God. They do not get the blessing of seeing the end result of their actions and knowing that the grace and mercy that they are offering to those around them will be recognized. They are each of us trying to do the unthinkable and each of them deserves the same level of respect as that man received today in his funeral procession.

So as I get down off my soapbox today, I ask just one thing.

The next time you watch that Facebook cellphone bit and start to jump to a conclusion about the officer’s motives or you’re pulled over for “just going 5 miles over the limit” or are irritated about having to walk out of your office due to a false alarm, stop. 

Stop being critical and start being grateful. When you say “thank you”, mean it and when you have the opportunity, offer them grace and mercy knowing that what they deal with every day is far more than we can ever imagine. 

Most of all, include these men and women who sacrifice their lives for us in your prayers. Lift them up and remember that they are doing the very best they can in unimaginable situations. And for those of you who may be reading this and are a first responder, I offer my deep, heart-felt thank you. I have done nothing to deserve the sacrifice you offer, but I am eternally grateful for it.

May each and every one of you have a safe, blessed holiday season.

A house is just a house

logo_new04-300x300Its a cold and dreary day here today which seems appropriate since I’m feeling a little dreary myself. It’s not that there’s really anything wrong, per se, but I am in a place where I need to make a change in my life that I don’t want to make

I’m going to have to move.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve been in the same place ever since I moved back home and my little apartment has become a cocoon; a safety zone for me that I just don’t feel ready to abandon just yet.

As I sat and thought about it last night, looking at the fairly limited options I have available to  me in this incredibly difficult rental market, I suddenly hearkened back to the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “A House is Not A Home” and began to wonder what exactly does make a home? Is it the furnishings? The location? The song suggests that the house is not a home without that special person there. Does that mean that a house (or apartment) where a single person lives can’t be a home? Does the love I have for my dog mean the same for creating a loving, “homey” space as that between two people?

I would have to vehemently say that a house can be a home regardless of the number of human beings that reside in said building. I have lived alone for nearly 10 years now and absolutely consider my current apartment more than just a set of walls that provide shelter from the elements. My little 800 square feet is a place that I not only feel free to be myself but I where I am comfortable having others in. I have friends there and have broadened my “family” with the people that surround me in the complex. I mean, sure, there are many people with whom I’ve never even nodded hello, but many of the people have become part of my day to day existence and the thought of having to give that up is painful.

Even as I type this, I realize how silly this all sounds. People move all the time and it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, it can be fun! The start of a whole new adventure! I know this…I truly do, and yet, I am still struggling.

Its not just the process of having to find a new place to live that is more within my budget in a part of town I don’t know surrounded by people I don’t know (although that is, honestly, enough to keep me up at night…and has on many occasions lately). More than that, it’s the need to pick up yet again and start over; to find my way by myself one more time; having to start over yet again to develop a feeling of safety and security in a new place.

Safety and security are not things that I have ever had the luxury of taking for granted. While I certainly recognize that I am blessed, having not been not raised nor ever having lived in a war torn nation threatened by bullets and bombs or having ever lived in the inner city surrounded by gang violence and drugs, I have spent much of my life feeling the need to be perpetually “on guard”, ready and waiting for the next threat to appear.

The thing is, that over the last 4 years, I have been able to stabilize my life; to remove those things that were a threat to me in one way or another and I have been able to just rest in the quiet and calm of safety.

And not I have to shake things up all over again.

I have cried, I have run countless numbers on paper and in my head trying to figure out ways to avoid this new reality, and I keep coming back to the same place.

I have to move.

Of course, God had a bit to say about my moping and whining.

He reminded me that much as I hate the idea of moving, this coming move is like the Spring which has just started. It is full of unknowns and uncertainty, but more than that, it is full of promise. The buds on the trees and flowers, which may well freeze over the next day or two, still took the risk to come out and despite their early appearance, their eagerness will not be in vain. The promises of tomorrow don’t go away just because of a little dreariness or down-trodenness.  They are all there waiting with joy and expectation and sometimes the come in the most unusual packages…

…like a little mud and saliva…or the end of a lease.

The bottom line is this. God can us anything to show us his grace, mercy and love. Sometimes its a big, wonderful rainbow of glorious color that is seen by everyone but sometimes its just a little mud and saliva that is wiped on our eyes to clear away our inability to see the things right in front of us. The mud that God is using for me at this moment is my lease.

Maybe I will find a way to stay where I am, or maybe, just maybe, I will find someplace that is so much more than I could have expected. What I have to do is to stop whining about the why’s and what if’s and choose instead to acknowledge the fact that God loves me and has a plan for me that is greater than my blind little eyes can see in their current state. I have to choose to see that a home is a house with GOD in it and the location of that home doesn’t matter.

Where are you in this Spring season? Are you relishing in the joys of the season or complaining (like me) about the changes that come with it? Regardless of your answer, know that God is with you and waiting for you – like me – to make the choice to see Him in it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Destiny

Today is one of those days that I am thrilled to not have anywhere I need to be other than my couch. There is a fire burning in the fireplace, the love of my life (my dog) is snuggled up next to me, and I am watching inch after inch pile up on my patio. It is the perfect day for a writer and I have excitedly been working on my first novel. Huge thing, right? I mean, they say everyone has a novel in them, but this story has been knocking around my brain for years and I thrilled by the opportunity to finally get it out of my head. I can’t help but wonder if anyone will read it when I’m done or will it sit in a drawer, unpublished and unread. I supposed it doesn’t matter any more than a painter having their paintings displayed in a gallery or a wood carver being able to sell their intricate renditions of Audubon images. It is the joy of the medium and the creative process that make it worth doing.

But I still wonder.

And I have more than ample time to wonder because as I type this, I am also madly seeking a way to pay the bills after leaving a horrendous work environment. It seems so unfair that one has to choose to decide between emotional health and financial stability but life isn’t about things being fair and choices always have to be made. Perhaps if I were a different person, I would have made the other choice – the choice to stay and suck it up instead of leave. But then, if I were a different person, perhaps I wouldn’t be in this situation at all.

I’m sure this is just the melancholy of my situation, but looking for work is a soul-crushing experience. Rejection followed by rejection, submissions followed by silence. In a way, this is probably valuable experience for the whole novel submission process, but I am certain that the lesson of resilience and tenacity is one that I have been learning for years and I’m a little tired of the lesson.

I keep wondering what part of this lesson is one that I need to learn better or overcome but am yet to find an answer. Maybe this was a way for God to push me to write more, to look in different directions for work, to reinvent myself or circle back to a me a used to be but have forgotten. According to my numerology report, I am on the cusp of changes that will lead me to the place I have always wanted to be…but then, they always say that, don’t they?

As I look back over my writings for the past few years, it seems that I’ve been here a lot – in this waiting space – waiting for something big to happen, someone new to come into my life, some big epiphany to occur – but I’m still here, waiting. Why is that? Is it that I’m somehow preventing the “big thing” to occur because of feelings of insecurity or unworthiness? Or are the feelings that I have now what everyone experiences and, I for some reason, am just spending too much time focusing on this? Who knows. Maybe all of that is true to some degree.

The thing is, I do believe we each have a destiny; a person that we are all destined to become. We each have a space in our soul that is to be filled with pieces of who we really are, the things that make us feel whole, real and complete. Some people find those things early in life. They find “the one” early in life and build a life with that person that at least appears to be what we all want. I actually know several of these people and for me, they are both inspirational and infuriating. I continually find myself repeating ‘why can’t that be me?” over and over in my mind. But I also know that our individual destinations – physical, spiritual and otherwise – are just that, individual. And what seems to be uniquely interesting about each of us is that we are assume that our destinies are, for lack of a better word, magical. I feel fairly certain that nobody who is reading this would expect their destiny to be that of a homeless person, someone afflicted with disease or mental illness or someone sitting in a jail cell awaiting their death. No, I suspect we all assume that our destinies are beautiful and that those in the situations I listed above simply missed that small branch of the road that would have led them to their true destiny.

Or perhaps the truth is that it’s the process of searching for our destinies that is actually our destiny. Perhaps, as the Buddhists might suggest, the journey is our destiny, not the final result. Maybe what I need to do (aside from finding a job) is to accept that where I am is my destiny and the struggle I am feeling is my inability to accept this and live in the joy of this space. If this is the case, what I need to do now is determine out how to live here, how to quit waiting for that one thing to happen that makes everything feel like it “clicks” and be content in the journey. And if I choose to be content in the journey, does that mean I stop striving for new things or is that part of the journey as well?

The logical answer is, of course, it’s all part of the journey. There is no map, no computer program or code that will let me put in specific criteria and spit out an answer to where I am supposed to live, what I’m supposed to do, who I’m supposed to have in my life. And while that might make things easier, I am glad such a thing doesn’t exist (yet). I will, for better or worse, continue this frustrating journey of job seeking and self-exploration and wait to see where it all leads.

Thanks for coming along on this little piece of my journey.

Armor

Like many of you, I have been sitting at home binge watching show after show, searching for something to take up the enormous amount of time I am spending in the four walls of my apartment. One of the things I saw recently that I really connected to is the movie Bombshell, the story of four dynamic women in the broadcasting industry dealing with harassment. If you have seen it, I’m sure we probably had many of the same feelings with outrage and anger topping that list. But for me, there was a feeling that arose from me that was unexpected and unusual, envy.

Believe me, I know. But let me explain.

I am most assuredly not envious of the harassment that was endured by each of them and I certainly don’t want to ever have that experience. What I do envy, however, is to have someone fight for me; to have someone not only hear the struggles I have or am enduring, but to join me in the battle and be a champion for me so I might actually win the battle.

Instead, like many strong, independent women, I am left to fight alone solidifying feelings of isolation and failure that have already permeated every inch of my being.

I have recently separated from a job where I was gaslighted and the more I tried to reach out and find someone to help me address the situation, the worse the situation became.

For those unfamiliar with the term “gaslighting,” it happens when an individual or team of individuals manipulate and obfuscate to make the target feel off balance and ultimately, humiliate the target to the degree that they are emotionally crushed.

Having been raised to be a strong, independent woman, I fought back. I presented evidence of what I had done, kept records of the harassment I endured, and reached out to those who I thought would have been able to help only to learn that I was an insignificant pawn in a game I was completely unprepared to play let alone win.

At 54 years old, it seems ridiculous to say, but as I watchedBombshell, I found myself yearning for someone to fight for me like the team that these ladies had fighting for them. I have spent my entire life fighting to move an inch forward only to be kicked back 10 feet and I find myself wondering what I did in some past life that I am being punished for now and how much longer I will have to endure the punishment?

There are some of you who are probably saying things like, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “God will never give you more than you can handle,” and while I appreciate your thoughts, I cannot find a place in my heart that agrees with you.

I know that I am an extraordinarily strong individual. I have not only been through a tremendous amount but have overcome more than I ever thought possible. As I’ve said over and over again, my faith has allowed me to lean on God’s strength to become the woman I am today and I am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned. And yes, I know that I am not truly fighting alone during these battles I have encountered. God is always with me and leading the way into battle. I get that, I really do. But this last experience has punctured my armor in such a way I am at a loss for how to rebound. Not only am I questioning what my work capabilities actually are, but I find myself questioning my value as an individual and this infuriates me because I know this is a result of the gaslighting which leads me back to this circular argument in my mind of why didn’t I see this happening, how did I allow this to happen, what is it about me that makes me a target, and how in the world can I get that target off my back?

I wish I could say I’ve found the answers to these questions, but I haven’t. I am instead starting over yet again, hoping to find a way forward that won’t leave me more battered in the end. If any of you have any suggestions as to how to accomplish this- how to repair my shattered armor and become stronger – I am waiting with bated breath for your answers.

What am I going to be when I grow up?

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There is an old saying if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. All I have to say is if this statement is even half true, God must be having a laugh-riot up in heaven watching my life these days.

It’s not enough that the majority of the past year has been spent in lockdown craziness or that our entire society seems to have lost its ever-loving mind, becoming more and more polarized and unwilling to hear – let alone accept – another person’s point of view. No, whatever lunatic life-planner that designed my life from start to finish decided that I needed an incessant gnat of a challenge to a time when a little peace would be ever so welcome.

I am supposed to be entering a time in life where things should be getting easier, I have somehow been transported back to junior high where the mean kids rule, there’s no visible escape route, and whatever I thought my life would look like at this point has completely evaporated

I had so many hopes when I was a kid. I was certain that when I became an adult, I would be able to escape the abusive people in my life and would be doing something meaningful with my life. No, I wasn’t one of those kids who always knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, but I did have dreams and wishes about the future. Maybe I would be the first singing veterinarian/human physician in the state of Colorado or maybe the journalist my mom had hoped I would be maybe a soccer mom with lots of volunteer work to keep me busy. Regardless of the specifics, I felt certain I would be able to overcome, to find a track for my life in which I would not only be successful but fulfilled.

I was wrong.

Instead, at 54 I have worked in numerous roles in a multitude of industries and feeling just as lost as I did when I graduated high school or college. Not only do I wonder what went wrong, but I feel like an absolute failure and wonder how I can ever find a way to make something meaningful out of my life.

To be fair, I have done some things that I have made an impact and that I have truly enjoyed, but I haven’t ever had what anyone would consider a career track. Instead, I have moved from role to role gathering lots of skills and abilities along the way but never ending up in a situation where all the pieces clicked together enough to create even a stepstool, let alone a ladder, to lead me anywhere.

I know I have no one to blame but myself. I am not someone that easily asks for help and thanks things that have happened in my past, the people I do turn to for help turn out to be the abusive, manipulative types that reinforce my feelings of failure and inadequacy proving to myself over and over that I’m not worth anything more than what I have.

As a person of faith, I know that I have been placed here to learn and to grow, not just to fulfill some professional goal or other, and I know that growth is always painful (that’s why they call them ‘growing pains’, after all). I also believe that the God I know is a God of love, not punishment and that He has given me tools to succeed.

While I am somewhat at a loss about is what this loving God has equipped me to do as far as a career or how on earth am I supposed to make my way to this unknown destination, I have realized that I after having had flashbacks to junior high mean girls and bullies, I have now realize I need to find the thing that makes my heart sing and trust that God will show me a way to make that joy pay the bills as well.

Of course, if anyone wants to give me a winning lottery ticket in the meantime, I won’t argue. 😉

Erosion

Isolation is an interesting thing. It is, on the one hand, the space in which one can think, rest, recover and gather strength and on the other, it is the place where that peace can be destroyed, where thoughts can destroy the opportunity for rest and strength is sapped by the feelings of emptiness and loss.

This past year, the pandemic has put nearly all of us in places where we have yearned for some semblance of normality to return only to be bombarded by one piece of negative news upon another. It has begun to feel as though who we are as individuals and as a country has been slowly eroded away like the face of a statue on the shoreline, the never-ending spray of sea and salt washing away the individual features that made us each unique and wonderful.

I am sure that I’m not alone in feeling like that constant battering of sand against my face has worn me down to nothing. Not only has the comfort of normality been removed from our daily lives, but I personally have felt beaten down by the circumstances I have been in. A little less than a year ago, I began a new job hoping that by moving back to something I had been successful at before, I would gain a stronger sense of success and worth; that by going back down a road I had been on before, I would be able to relocate the me that I feel like I lost along the way but whoever that was, she is no longer there and I am here, lost and alone in the middle of a path I no longer recognize.

Perhaps I feel this way because I have been alone for so long, waiting and longing for that to change but unable to find another person with whom I connected well (or at all, honestly, because let’s be real – dating after 50 is challenging at best). Maybe I feel this way because at the time in my life that I would have been focused on figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was more focused on digging myself out of the rubble of abuse and finding a way to create a “me” that looked more like the warrior I knew I was instead of the victim I was told I should be.

Despite what you may think, I am truly proud of the things I have overcome and the person that I have become as a result. I have strength that I know others do not, insights I couldn’t have gathered any way other than being where I’ve been, and skills I’ve obtained through sheer necessity. If I could stand outside of myself and see who I am with a critical eye, I think I might be impressed by who stood in front of me. But as it is, I see failure after failure; brokenness and insecurity where strength and self-worth should be. I am fearful to take that next step forward for fear of another failure but also know that there is no going back.

So where does that leave me?

I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is I am here for a reason. I know there is a God that has placed me here at this time in this situation and that because He is a God of love and omnipotence, that the end is a place of goodness. And I know that, as I’ve said over and over throughout the years, me being here at this time is not really about me but about a greater good which I in my humanity am completely unable to comprehend.

Despite all of this knowledge that God does and will prevail, I am tired. I yearn for a time to feel I am right where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I was created to be doing, and able to share these things with others – maybe even one specific “other”. Maybe that time is just around the corner. Maybe the winds will cease, the erosion will end, and the One who created me will show me that even the formless nothing I have become has meaning and purpose…

…or maybe I’ll just be that eroded lump of rock you step around next time you’re at the shore.

Fearing Happiness

Have any of you ever heard of Cherophobia? It’s the literal fear of happiness. While it sounds crazy, an article in Psychology Today confirms this phobia is not only real, but far more prevalent than one might think (I know, there’s a phobia or disorder for everything these days, right?).

What made me want to write about this today is that not only do I identify with this particular disorder at least to some degree, but thinking about the way this disorder is often exhibited, I not only agree that a large number of people suffer from this to some extent, but that we are teaching our children to have the same fear – and that breaks my heart.

As you would probably expect, Cherophobia is not easy to truly diagnose. There are levels and degrees of this disorder, but at its root, people that suffer from this disorder avoid situations that would make them feel true joy or, if they attend such events, they appear standoffish or disconnected, never allowing themselves to fully participate and ‘run the risk’ of feeling the happiness they either believe others feel or that they think is unavailable to them or that they for some reason do not deserve.

Recently, there was a speaker I had the honor of hearing that addressed this phobia in such a unique way that it forced me to re-examine my own relationship with happiness.

The speaker posed a question which in and of itself was relatively innocuous – how often do you answer a question about the weather, your day, your weekend or your relationship with a qualifier such as it’s good now, but yesterday was awful or it’s pretty good but tomorrow is going to be awful?

I realize this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you look at it overall, it really does seem to be indicative of our overall outlook regarding life. As a society, we seem to think – and are teaching our children – that while something may be perfect now, just wait- it’ll turn to crap again just like we expect it to. Additionally, the prevalence of and media attention on crime, violence, and all things fear-based, happiness is all but obliterated from our emotional vocabulary. Accepting the joy or peace of a given moment is no longer the default, but something we have to consciously decide to do and more often than not, we make the choice to not embrace that emotion because we don’t want to experience the let down when the moment passes.

Now I get it. There is plenty of things in our world to be fearful of and this feeds into our innate need to identify risk and find a way to eliminate it. But the thing is that as our society has become more civilized and safe, the number of things that are truly a risk to the masses have become fewer and fewer but our fight or flight response has made our ability to identify a true risk unreliable and overly sensitive. Moreover, things our ability to tolerate risk or even inconvenience has become so narrow that our responses to things as common as traffic jams suddenly explode into something intolerable and dangerous. We have become perpetually on alert and have taught our children to fear all things different or challenging.

But the thing is by always being on alert for the smallest perceived risk removes the ability to actually embrace a given moment fully. It is literally impossible to fully enjoy the company of others at a party or enjoy the thrill of conquering a challenge if at least half of our mind is focused on the “what if’s” or “could be’s” and as a result, conditioned ourselves keep happiness at arms-length creating an overwhelming number of people to be isolated, depressed, disengaged, and suicidal.

This resonates so clearly within me that I wonder if those around me can hear the ringing. Keeping my distance from happiness was something learned at an early age and something I have mastered throughout my 50+ years. I cannot count the number of memories that I have that include something bad happening directly after I was truly happy creating in my mind a connection between the two. For example, I remember my 16th birthday. It was really the only birthday party I remember having or wanting and I was really excited about having friends come to celebrate with me. I almost never had friends to my house so this was a particularly significant event. But as often happens with alcoholic parents, what is supposed to be fun becomes complicated.

A fun shopping spree for party food and gifts ended in my having to crawl through the window to let everyone in because my mom had locked us all out. I was not only late to my own party, but my friends witnessed my embarrassment and my mothers’ not-so-pleasant response to my frustration. This was followed by the constant need to apologize to my friends for my mom’s erratic behavior as one minute she was laughing and trying to show us her dance moves and the next she was screaming and pulling me up the stairs by my hair the next moment because we had become too loud for her.

Events like this taught me not to hope; to not have positive expectations and more importantly, to not risk being happy because happiness almost always led to the worst punishments. As a result, I made myself “small”.  I found that by keeping myself quiet, keeping my expectations low, and not risking opening the door to something that might actually bring me joy, it was safer for me and those around me. I didn’t have to be reminded that I didn’t deserve the things that other people had in their lives. I was, as I often said, the stray dog begging for scraps under the table. Occasionally you get tossed a piece of filet mignon, sometimes you get kicked in the ribs and shooed away. Either way, you get what you deserve.

Having realized this is what I taught myself to believe, I am working hard to move past my fear of happiness and embrace life, living for the moments of joy rather than living to avoid them. While I can’t say I don’t still find myself back in the same traps, I have finally gotten to the place where I can truly believe that happiness in and of itself is a good thing and something to be sought after. I have to admit that I still have trouble pushing myself to enter into situations where I might be exuberant because I fear what will happen as a result, but I recognize that this is all a process and on the days that I allow myself to be happy, I have won.

I realize that maybe some of this is stuff you have heard from me before, but wanted to reiterate to all of you – and to myself – happiness is not to be feared. Happiness is not a punishment or danger. Happiness is a reflection of love – love expressed from one person to another, from a puppy to a child, from God to each and every one of us. Depriving ourselves of happiness keeps us from embracing the blessings God is giving to us and makes us begin questioning His very existence.

So here is my request for you all.

Beginning today – this week with Valentine’s Day on the horizon and we are bombarded by images of what happiness “should” be – try just once to see the beauty of the day and acknowledge it without qualifying it. Accept that carnation from the child in your life and enjoy the gift as the expression of love that it is instead of just one more thing that you have to throw away when your child isn’t looking. And finally, and most importantly, look up today and acknowledge the happiness that comes from just being able to open your eyes, breathe in and out, and take on a new day, whatever it holds. The more we can live in the small, happy moments, the more those moments will become the focus of our lives and we can all overcome our cherphobia.

Ignorance or Bliss

It’s a New Year and a new decade – time for us all to crack open the shell of our lives and determine what we want them to look like by the end of the year and into the future.

As I think about this coming year, I keep thinking how amazing it would be if we could all truly have a fresh start – to not have the baggage we have gathered over the years follow us in some way or another.

Over the course of the holiday season, I, perhaps like you, watched several movies and such and came across a story that offered just such an opportunity to a pair of twins. The story, Tell Me Who I Am, tells depicts a twin with a brain injury and how his brother deal with reintroducing the injured brother to the story of their past together.  For this particular person, this appeared to be a gift from God as the injured brother had been struggling with mental illness resulting from past abuse so the healthy brother took the opportunity to recreate a completely different past for the two of them; one that including loving, supportive parents and a happy childhood.

This situation presented an opportunity to, at least on the face of it, free both of men from memories neither were able to address previously. The injured man walks blissfully into his new life with no understanding of the devils that lurked around the corner before his accident and for the healthy brother, this felt like the greatest blessing he could offer to his sibling. It also offered the healthy brother the opportunity to pretend he also had that more idealistic life and shut all of the other garbage down deep into his memory bank hopefully to never be dealt with again. Sounds great, right?

Looking in from the outside, it sure seems like it would be ideal to awaken one day with a clean slate, able to look at all of the options in front of me, find what it is that makes my heart sing and be able to follow path that without understanding that perhaps I had followed that particular road earlier in my life but I had become discouraged or perhaps more likely, failed miserably.

The reality is that amnesia or no amnesia, the past cannot simply disappear just because we want it to. There are repercussions – positive and negative – that we are destined to experience due to the choices we have previously made. The things I have done or that others had done to me or around me will affect my future relationships whether or not I remember what actually occurred and I would much rather have all of the necessary information to help me make the best decisions possible rather than go blissfully into a lion’s den without the knowledge that I was going to be eaten alive.

Additionally as much as the “fresh slate” appeals to me, the thought of having to relearn difficult lessons is not appealing at all! Who really wants to go through puberty again or have to relearn that a person you trusted fully was actually the root of all of your problems?

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At least from my perspective, memories – both good and bad – are a gift from God. The information they provide keeps us safe, helps us grow and learn from our experiences, and allows us to relive beautiful moments in our lives. Our job as people of faith – and more broadly, as sentient adults – is to use the knowledge we gain from our experiences to make decisions about people, events, and challenges and as a result, become more merciful, loving and understanding of others.

Unfortunately as I look around at my community and the actions of others, it seems that more and more people are choosing to use their memories to encourage bitterness, anger and retribution instead of more positive options. It seems that we as a society would rather mask our memories with drugs and alcohol or use our memories as weapons against others.

Now look, I get it. It is certainly seems more fulfilling if we can continually point at others actions against us as the reason we aren’t able to do what we should be doing or to choose to forget certain lessons because the knowledge that we gained gets in the way of what we want to do in the moment or alters the image we are trying to create. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t circumstances where conveniently “forgetting” wouldn’t be oh-so-much more appealing than owning up to past failures or embarrassments. But the thing is, neither choosing to forget nor choosing to be bitter and angry about our past does nothing but harm us individually.

As the twins in the movie learned, changing our stories only shuts us off from honest relationship with one another. We either exhaust ourselves emotionally by spending more of our time and energy trying to remember the new, fictitious past, or we are so consumed with self-righteous anger, wallowing in our own pit of despair, that we push others away who wish only to help or heal us. We become isolated, lonely, despondent and unable to resolve the conflict.

As hard as it may be to accept, ignorance, regardless of how appealing it may seem, is not bliss. Even in situations where we may have all the right in the world to be angry and vengeful, our job as people of faith is to look beyond how one’s actions made us feel personally and see how we may have either contributed to the situation or find the lessons in the event and carry those forward. I know it may seem impossible. For those, like the men in the movie, that are victims or horrific abuse and violence, this very thought of not seeking retribution; of moving past the injury seems absolutely asinine…

…and yet, it is what we are called to do.

It is not my place to choose the punishment for others. What is my job is looking at the whole of a situation, finding the ways that I may be responsible for given situations, and then choosing forgiveness, mercy and grace. Choosing to drink myself into oblivion or use drugs to alter what I see as reality doesn’t change the truth and bliss is only found in truth.

Here is my wish for all of us for this New Year.

May we all be willing to seek bliss by changing the lense through which we see our past, find new understanding and acceptance of ourselves and others, and carry the light that is within us to everyone we encounter. Yes, I know none of this is easy, but then, as my dad would have said, nothing worth having comes easy.

Blessings to you all.

Happy New Year!

Warts and All

Being the stepmother of 3 boys, I have often jokingly referred to myself as the “wicked stepmother”. When things with the boys got a little…bumpy (which was pretty frequent, particularly in the beginning) a friend and I would joke that my warts were showing. 

We all have those things in life that bring out parts of ourselves that we aren’t necessarily keen to show everyone. I think that even in the best of situations it’s sometimes helpful to just imagine that our “warts” could be hidden away in a closet somewhere so we could pretend that we are always the sweet, friendly person we want to present to the world.

It would be difficult to find a person that wasn’t trying to cover up some part of themselves. Whether it be a physical thing like a receding hairline, a birthmark, or, if you’re like me, a horrible scar that sends children screaming and crying in the other direction, or something like a learning disability or mental health issue,  all of us expend some of our energy trying to cover up things that are contrary to the image we think is the one that we are supposed to be presenting. 

I suppose it’s possible you are very well adjusted, happy with your appearance and not struggling with any unseen challenges, but I can pretty much guarantee there are things you have done in the past that you just wish everyone would forget. Those poor choices that seem to find their way back into stories over and over again. I have far too many to discuss here, but there was this period of time when I was younger, I went through a period of time that I had new jobs about every 6 – 9 months. Friends and family alike made fun of this job hopping and I was (and honestly, still am) humiliated. I withdrew, afraid to even talk to anyone about what was going on at work for fear of the response I would get. Similarly, up until a few years ago, I would rarely, if ever, try something new when it came to sports or games. In the back of my head, I always heard my mother saying, “if you can’t do it right the first time, don’t do it at all”. I went through decades of my life refusing to put myself in new environments because I didn’t want to embarrass myself or my family. Looking back, I’m sure there were opportunities I should have taken that may have helped me avoid some pretty negative things I ended up going through, but I was, at that time, incapable of seeing past the barriers I had created around the risk involved in trying something new. 

Regardless of how much we may say we want to be seen as the unique individuals we are, we really just want to fit in with those around us. Having something that makes us special is one thing but, but having something that others can use as a source off bullying, quite another. Of course there is a problem because God wants us to be the unique individuals He created us to be. He planned a life for us that is dependent upon those qualities we are often so keen to hide but, at least for me, I have spent a good portion of my I’ve trying to force my square self into that round hole I thought everyone else fit into to seamlessly. 

So why is it so difficult to own our uniqueness? Shouldn’t we be cheering our individuality rather than hiding it? Yes, we should be, but it’s never that easy.

Pride and fear get in the way.

Despite the way most of us cry out to the heaves that we want to be seen for who we are as individuals, we don’t want to stand out. Fitting in makes us feel safe, accepted and protected. School children and adults alike bully those who don’t fit in with what we determine to be “normal” appearance or actions. And yet, the more we poke fun at others for their individuality, the more awful we feel about ourselves because we are smothering our own individuality.

I have spent the past several years working on not just accepting who I am, but breaking down those walls and obstacles I have created to become someone I actually could never be. It hasn’t been an easy journey but there is a woman I know who has been the greatest inspiration to me. 

From outward appearances, it is clear she has physical challenges that she has to deal with. Her legs and arms don’t function the way most of ours do and she struggles to do things most of the rest of us take for granted. In addition, she is subject to chronic pain the likes of which I can only imagine. But rather than grouse or complain about her challenges, this woman not only gets through her day with grace and joy, but she has obtained both a bachelors andmasters degree and has her own business. Sure, she has her down days, as we all do, but she is confident in the perfect imperfection that God desired her to be and I can only hope to be half as comfortable in my own skin some day.

I know what you’re thinking. If God created us in His image, why are we not all perfect? 

I think that’s a great question and one I have thought about a good deal. Here’s what I have come to believe.

If we take the time to look at all the things in this world we consider beautiful – flowers, music, art, etc. – I can guarantee that every piece is unique. There are things in every flower that may be considered a mistake or flaw and every piece of art or musical performance would be the same. The thing is, it is the flaws that make each piece unique and special. The flaws are what make each item Godly and the same is true for us.

God created all of our “warts”, be they things we were born with or things that have come about through life experiences, in order to give us all of the tools we need to handle all of our challenges. And the thing is, though we can’t know how our challenges and the way we handle them affect those around us, God knows and He has it all woven together perfectly. Our job is to use the time we have been given to grow in acceptance of ourselves and those around us, recognizing that “perfection” doesn’t exist in the carbon copy similarities we have always assumed, but in the warts that separate us.

I know words are easy. My prayer for all of us is that we can all take a fresh look at ourselves and see those warts as the unique gifts God designed them to be. Yes, it’s hard and I would venture to guess that none of us will ever be able to rejoice in all of our imperfections, but as we enter into this holiday season, I do pray that we can each find a little more grace to show ourselves, accepting that in God’s perfection, He can only create perfection and we, therefore, are all perfect.

Whatever happened to personal accountabililty?

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I am a huge fan of true crime stuff. I know, it sounds morbid, but I love watching crime procedurals, listening to true crime podcasts, and reading about crime solving in newspapers, books, blogs, etc.. Don’t worry, I’m not a budding serial criminal of any kind. I’m just fascinated by how law enforcement and legal professionals are able to pull together these little bitty clues and solve the seemingly un-solveable crime (I don’t know if un-solveable is a word, but I’m gonna go with it), how advances in science and technology can bring closure to people who have been victimized in some way, and, of course, perpetually amazed at the level of arrogance and stupidity that some of the most prolific criminals exhibit.

All that said, as a stepmother myself, I do feel like I need to make a broad-reaching apology for all mothers, stepmothers, and people acting in the capacity of mothers everywhere. Apparently, for all you Freudian followers out there, it is the super-human powper of mothers to either make or break their children’s future success. And while I do agree that parental nurturing, be that male or female, is an important factor in the psychological health of a child, I also think that there comes a point when each person has to start taking responsibility for their own actions rather than pointing the blame to something that occurred decades earlier.

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely agree there are things in our lives that may always be stumbling blocks. In my own life, I have things that cause me to stumble and fall routinely and yes, I can absolutely say these things are a direct result of my own messed up childhood. That said, I also recognize that there is nobody forcing me to behave in a given way or fall into that particular trap every time I am confronted with it. Actually, in my opinion, quite the opposite is true.

Part of growing up and becoming a functioning adult is developing the ability to recognize how our own actions contribute to the positive or negative outcome of a given event. Unfortunately our society makes it easier and easier to push that responsibility onto others – preferably large, wealthy corporations with deep pockets.

Okay, maybe that was a little snarky, but here’s the thing. The only thing we each have the ability to control – literally the ONLY THING – is ourselves and our actions. We each have the ability to walk away from a fight, choose to do the right thing in a difficult situation, and offer grace and compassion at times when we are confronted.

The problem is that, at least here in the US, we have given ourselves permission to be offened by anything and justify reacting (or overreacting) as we see fit. We have taken the whole concept of identifying the root of our issues completely out of context and allowed ourselves to live as victims, vomiting the results of our own personal childhood demons onto others instead of accepting the responsibility to overcome these burdens and becoming healthier and happier people.

Here’s the thing. We all make mistakes. Even the person raised in the most idyllic of situations has some issue or other that they struggle with. Our jobs is to learn to overcome these issues instead of using them as rationalizations for behaving badly.

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Bottom line is this. Accountability is hard. It means speaking up when you’ve done something wrong and accepting the consequences of your own actions. But if we can all make more of an effort to do this, I bet we would all find that in the absence of the pressure to be “perfect”, the need to point fingers at others may well be reduced or eliminated.

I once had a Buddhist friend of mine say, as I made some snarky comment or another (shocking, I know), each persons journey is their own. It is not my place to change or condemn them for their journey. What this meant to me is that it is my job as a Christian, a human, and as one who has gained some wisdom thanks to age and experience, is to offer assistance when possible, compassion when needed, and grace and love always. If I am able to do these things, I have not only assisted that individual on their path instead of becoming a barrier to it, but I have made my own life better in the process.

What if there’s no heaven?

On the news this morning, I watched as a giant Christmas tree was brought to a local shopping center for raising and decorating. The radio is already playing Christmas music full time, and my choir is fully immersed in preparations for our Christmas concert music. For any of you who have read my blog in the past, you also know that for me, this season is a time of reflection and contemplation on what the year has been and what the future could possibly hold. Not uncommonly, this reflection and contemplation has directed me down some difficult paths.

You see, this year for me is a season of “without”. It’s the first year I will be without my dad.

Granted, he had been living in New York for the past 4 years, but I still knew that I could pick up the phone and talk to him or check on him or even jump on a plane and go visit him. But this year I no longer have that option.

Losing family members, even (or perhaps most especially) furry family members, is remarkably hard. It often feels like the rug of reality has been pulled out from underneath and the whole of our reality is now off-kilter and we hang on waiting for that one final gust of wind to push us over the edge. We become the physical manifestation of that cat in the poster desperately clinging on to the ledge to save ourselves from the final descent. Descent into what, I don’t know, but it feels like wherever it is, it’s terrifying.

If you have ever struggled with depression, I’m sure you can absolutely relate to these feelings of mine. And if you’re like me, the things that are necessary to overcoming the feelings of depression feel as challenging as swimming through one of the La Brea tar pits – not only incredibly difficult, but who wants to even try?? Besides, at least for me, the more I try, the worse things seem to turn out. I end up making mistakes at work, with my finances, with friends and co-workers…you get it.

And yet as awful and pitiful as this may all sound, I do have something to lean on that carries me through these difficult time.

I have faith.

Faith that God created me, that I have a purpose, and that God has never nor will ever leave me to wallow in my desperation.

So why am I struggling?

Because things are different for me this year. I am not surrounded by people of faith, being caught up in the whirlwind that is church and its structure and excitement. Instead, while I am seeking that new place to land, I find that I have not at all lost my faith in God and His place in my life, I am struggling with the way our modern culture paints the picture of God and faith.

I know that for many of us, even the words faith or God are challenging and the idea of actually leaning into these concepts is nearly impossible. There could be a number of reasons for this, but for me this year, I am struggling with the self-centeredness that has become the keystone of Christianity.

If you read my post a couple of weeks ago, you know that I am trying to find a new church and this process has been, to say the least, difficult. I finally realized one of the main reasons for this struggle is that I am tired of the modern focus of “Jesus did this FOR ME” or “God sent his only Son FOR ME”. Worship songs, sermons and Christian culture as a contort themselves to ensure that each person understands that they are reason that Jesus came, died and was resurrected. His ministry was all about saving “me, me, MEEEEE!” The church as a whole so wanted to help people understand that there is a purpose to this life and that our relationship with God is a part of that purpose that it has taken the focus off of God and put it squarely on each one of us. I daresay that we have so distorted who God is and what He has done that He has transformed from a God to be worshipped, respected, and at times feared to be our own personal genie.

I get it, I do. God, being God, is able to focus Himself on me as an individual and on the rest of the entire world at the same time. He does hear our cries, our prayers and our frustrated screams and is able to tend to them all and provide for us all more than we could ever imagine. At the same time, it is His will which has sculpted the past, present and future and we are playing our own individual roles in accomplishing the plan He has created. And it is that tension – that dichotomy – that often leads to feelings of despair depression. How is it possible for us to find our own purpose when it feels more like we are simply puppets in His great design? The idea of having free-will while simultaneously being a part of a great plan is nearly incomprehensible…and yet, it is.

The thing is that God’s plan is about us individually and us collectively. Despite what our current culture wants us to believe, God didn’t create all that is around us merely for our own enjoyment nor for us to do with as we please.

Additionally – and here I may lose you – God hasn’t created a new world in the heavens for us with streets of gold, waterfalls flowing with milk and honey, and a place for us to lie around on the clouds all day, enjoying a life free from trials and tribulations for all eternity. Again, I realize many of you may see this as blasphemy, but the thing is it is our human desire to be free from growth, learning and challenge.

God wants more for us than that.

God created us to live in community with Him but despite our human understanding, this doesn’t mean for us to necessarily be physically in the same place with Him for all eternity. Instead, God wants us to grow and learn, to develop beyond our early understandings and become beings that are a true reflection of Him – beings full of love, generosity, compassion and grace. And even if we were all Gandhi and Mother Theresa rolled into one amazing individual, there is simply no possible way in our brief time on this planet at this time that we can achieve God’s goals for us in the blink of an eye that is human lifetime. God is bigger than this present reality and He created us to be as well.

I hear you. How could I possibly suggest there is no heaven? Heaven is a central theme in the Bible – how can I possibly deny its existence? I clearly have fallen victim to the secular view of who God is and am dangerously close to being – gasp – Buddhist.

Despite how it may sound, I don’t actually deny that “heaven” exists, I just think it looks significantly different than what you and I have not only be been taught, but what we individually want it to look like because in God’s heaven, it isn’t about us – it’s about HIM.

Heaven is about growth, maturing in our faith and our understanding, about truly becoming the individuals God created us to be without the barriers of a linear, narrow existence. After all, we are created in God’s image and God is far from linear.

And that is why, despite my feelings of loss and sadness, I can find joy in this time of struggle. I may not be the life of the party, but I can know that this struggle I feel is part of the growth that God created me to walk through.

The amazing grace of God is a gift that can be shared even as we walk through time of trial. In losing those we’ve loved, we gain empathy and greater capacity to love. In making mistakes and floundering, we gain the strength and wisdom to carry others who fall. And in seeing things in new ways, removing ourselves from the center of it all, we can come to understand that God’s presence is truly all around us creating joy and wonder in even the most challenging moments. All we are called to do in these times of struggle is know God IS. He is all that we need, all we could imagine, and His design of our lives is the very definition of perfection.

If you, like me, are struggling for any reason, I want to know that you are not alone. Ever. You can reach out to me here, you can find a furry critter to absorb your tears, and you can cry out to God, knowing that maybe that street of gold may not really exist, but the true heaven is so much greater and God will get us all there to be in community with Him in ways that are greater than that street of gold.

Peace to you all…