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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Threads

threadsI was blessed recently to share a portion of my story (I say a portion because honestly, whose entire story can fit neatly into a 3-minute time slot?) at my church and I was overwhelmed by the number of people that approached me afterwards to hug me, encourage me, or share a bit of their own story with me. The more I’ve thought about the experience, the more amazed I am about how God weaves us all together into the same tapestry.

As I may have said here before, I truly feel that each of us is a thread in God’s tapestry. Some of our threads are long, some short, but all of our threads have a purpose. Each one of our threads adds not only strength and support, but perhaps more importantly, color and beauty to the image that God is creating. And God does indeed create beauty in all things, through all things.

What’s hard to remember is that what makes something beautiful isn’t perfection. I mean, I know that we look at the super models and such in magazines and see them as “perfect”, but even those who we believe to be the most beautiful have something that mars the “perfection” – a beauty mark, a small crookedness to their smile or some other small flaw that make them unique; special.

Similarly, each of us has places in our lives that are broken; fractured by the storms we have encountered. As you heard in my story, I have plenty of these imperfections, but God has been able to make those places of brokenness part of my unique beauty and He does this by weaving into my life other uniquely beautiful people that have threads which are strong in the places that mine is weak. My job as a person of faith is are to be willing to embrace the people that God allows to cross my path.

Sure, that sounds easy, but its only easy if everyone that is woven into my life makes me happier and more fulfilled. But the reality is that God’s creation is full of people and events that are or have been negative influences in my life – people that have treated me badly, abused me or have been conduits to allow bad things to happen. It’s often difficult to digest, but each of these negative people are as important as the positive people because each of their threads has also been woven into my life for a reason.

One of the reasons He has done this, I have come to understand, is that God needed that person to provide disruption; to shake up the status quo of my life and help me focus on what is truly important – Him.

This is more than little uncomfortable and outside of the scope of what I – or I suspect you – would choose, but then God, being God, knows that if we reside in the status quo for too long, this is where we – or at least I – become stagnant. Sameness is easy. It doesn’t take courage, it doesn’t take strength, and it most certainly doesn’t take faith.

And that’s why God doesn’t allow it in our life for any significant length of time.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was listening to a favorite song of mine called Stars and the Moon. If you have never heard it, I encourage you to search YouTube for it. In this song, the singer speaks of the men who had courted her – the poor dreamers and travelers who had nothing but yearnings and desires bigger than money and fame. They dreamt of being able to give the woman they loved things that would nourish her heart and soul but all she could see was the material things that money and security could buy.

In the end, this woman chose stability and wealth but found that this life meant having a life of stagnation; of never needing to reach for something or seeing something bigger than herself and wanting to strive for it. The magic of imagination and fantasy became a distant memory.

I don’t know about you, but even in the darkest times of my life, I have had dreams and desires. I may not have believed that I could achieve the things that I dreamt of, but I still had the yearnings in my heart. To me, those yearnings are the pieces of God in my heart reminding me that there are greater things for me than what I can see. Those dreams that may seem unreachable – and maybe even are – are the threads of my life that create color and texture. These things are often the bumps in my life that that make my contribution to Gods tapestry exactly what He intended it to be. These are the things I used to hide from others for fear of being judged but I now realize are the very things that make me the uniquely beautiful person I am and despite the pain that these things have often brought to me, I honestly would rather have experienced them than not because it is these things that make me see the beauty that is God.

The Idea of Christmas

blue-christmas-balls-1448214910psqI love the idea of Christmas. The lights, the beautifully decorated homes, the snow gently falling and covering the remaining leaves and grass that has lost its color from the summer leaving a beautiful, crisp whiteness to the world and creating a picture of mystery and expectation. The “joy of the season” is something I ache for, but for me – and for many – the parties, the constant reminders of others happiness like wedding engagements, anniversaries and new babies, and the overall excitement of the Christmas season does nothing more than drive home the fact that those things are not my/our reality.

I’m Christian – this time of year is supposed to be full of wonder, miracles and joy if for no other reason than it’s the time we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. But aside from the time that I get to sing some truly amazing music, those feelings often escape me.

I have thought long and hard about why I struggle so mightily at Christmas. Maybe it’s because my birthday is close to the holiday that my birthday celebrations often get lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s because growing up in an alcoholic home, celebrations often became times filled with anger and fear and I am left with residual anxiety of what may come. Or maybe it’s because of the commercialism that has overtaken the true meaning of the season.

I think in all honestly, at least for me, it is all of these things that combine to make me feel sad, lost and alone with an overall sensation of not being “enough”. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either.

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Social media and neighborhoods alike capitalize on the race for the most grandiose or outlandish décor. Regardless of how beautiful someone’s home may be, whatever was done last year isn’t “enough”. Similarly, party planners struggle to find more unique and spectacular holiday celebrations in an attempt to outdo last years’ events because, for whatever reason, that last party wasn’t “enough”. And gifts? Forget it. Commercial after commercial shout about how we don’t have enough or we are “not enough” without this new car or that new wardrobe or some other new home. We as individuals are never enough without that next big thing.

What makes me feel even sadder is that this same message is often proclaimed just as loudly in the church as it is outside of it. In the one place that I want desperately to feel whole I am reminded time and again that I – just as I am – am not enough.

Ok. I can practically hear you screaming at me through the computer screen now. That’s not what the church says! That’s not what being Christian is about! And while I would agree that this is not what being Christian is about, I would have to say that we, as a body, often talk out of both sides of our mouths on this matter.

On the one side, we say that each and every one of us is precious to God; that He created us each to be unique and beautiful in our own ways. We proudly proclaim, “God loves you!” to anyone who is alone or hurting, encouraging these individuals to remember they aren’t alone; they haven’t been forgotten or abandoned and that they can come just as they are to receive His love, mercy and grace. We seek ways to include everyone in the message of Christmas and send packages all around the globe to ensure nobody feels forgotten at this special time of year. This is all wonderful, but there is another side to this.

The other side is where we as the church perpetuate the commercialism of Christmas by worrying more about whether children have presents under their tree than if they know what the true meaning of Christmas is or worry more about the musical or theatrical spectacle our church is able to present because the church down the street is doing something really grand this year and we want to make sure that what we are is going to be “enough”. Most importantly, to me at least, we are told that despite this lovely season, we as individuals are and will always be sinners, unclean and unworthy.

In other words, not enough.

To me, this message echoes what I have been told from those outside of the church – I can come in, but regardless of what I do or how hard I try, I will never be “enough”; I will never be pretty enough, talented enough, intelligent enough, desirable enough, faith-filled enough, or a good enough Christian. And all of this seems to be magnified during the holiday season as image after image in my mind and around me seem to reflect what I perceive to be others successes. I am left feeling beaten down; defeated.

By now you’re probably wondering just what the point of this article is. Am I doing my best to make you feel as depressed as I sound?vhq8l

Actually, no.

Here’s the thing.

Being sad during the holidays is not something to be ashamed of. It is a reality that many of us face for a wide variety of reasons. Just do a quick Google search on “Christmas sadness” and you will see just how widespread this problem is. Maybe this is a new thing for you or maybe, like me, you struggle a bit every year. Regardless, it is important to know that despite how it may feel, our feelings are not “wrong”. We are not alone and we do not need to cover up our struggle and pretend all is well. Most importantly, we are – all of us – truly “enough” just the way we are even when we don’t feel this is the case.

We do not need to search for that new person, item, job or experience to be “enough”. What makes us “enough” is the real joy of the season – that our Savior was born not to free us from being who we are, but rather born to fill us with a greater understanding of who (and whose) we are and how great that is.

We are each unique individuals created by God to be just who we are. God does not make mistakes and doesn’t compare the way each of us walk through this life hoping and wishing we would be just like our “better” brothers and sisters. Certainly, God created us to experience joy but He didn’t build a specific “Christmas joy” emotion that is either broken or forgotten in those of us that don’t experience this the way we think we should. Instead, He created grace, love and understanding to help us move through these difficult times and help others along the way.

Throughout the years, I have gathered some methods to cope with the “Christmas Blues”. Here are just a few:

  • Set realistic expectations: None of our Christmas celebrations are going to look or feel like a Hallmark movie. Do your best not to go into a situation hoping that this one time it will all live up to the movie in your head.
  • Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside: Remember that we all have masks we put on in public. None of us has any idea what is going on inside someone else at any given moment and just because someone looks like they are having the time of their life doesn’t mean that’s their reality any better than yours.
  • Don’t isolate: It is easy to hide from others when we feel depressed but that isolation only contributes to the feelings of sadness. Do your best to reach out to those around you and, more importantly, be willing to accept their love and care.
  • Attend a Blue Christmas or similar healing service: Many churches offer a “blue Christmas” service which is an opportunity to, through music, prayer and meditation, come for healing and comfort for those struggling during the holiday season. These services are often non-denominational and very easy services to attend regardless of where you are in your faith walk.
  • Be the imperfect perfection you are: None of us is perfect and regardless of how hard you try, this season will not be perfect either. Relax into the imperfection that is being human and living life.6031-christmas-messages

As we enter full force into this Christmas season, I wish you all joy, hope and peace. Mayyou sense God’s presence, know you are His and, despite what the world may indicate, you are truly “enough”. You are enough because God chose to create you. Period.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

God’s Time

g2oriziIt could be my age, but it seems like time is flying more and more quickly these days. It seems like just a moment ago, it was Memorial Day and now the kids are back to school, Labor Day weekend is just a few days away, and the days are getting shorter and cooler. I saw an image on Facebook the other day that said Christmas is only 125 days away. CHRISTMAS, people! Oh, my goodness!!

It’s not just the seasons that are passing by so quickly. Just a year ago, I was struggling with financial challenges and the physical and mental stress that was caused from both my unemployment and the decompression that occurred after working under such tremendous stress for months on end. Thanks to diligent prayer warriors who spoke loudly and clearly to God, I was led to a wonderful job and shortly thereafter, housing that was more affordable and have now been recruited for an opportunity that is, at least on paper, better than anything I could have imagined for myself.

It’s funny how God works, isn’t it? His plan and timing are always perfect and sometimes I have been lucky enough to actually see how the plan has come together.4f723e1f1ce79500f8d579157a2db489-god-is-good-the-good

And then there are the other times.

The times I have prayed for God’s direction and really believed that I have acted in response to that direction only to see the pieces of my life crumbling before me. I have cried out to God in these times, aching for relief from the pain that plagued me only to hear God say to stay the course, or worse, say nothing at all. Did I follow the wrong plan? Does God not really love me after all?

Though I cannot claim to know for certain, I have come to believe that it is at times like that that true faith comes into play. Not during the good times, when His gracious hand is easy to see, but in the times of disaster when everything I had was destroyed and I am left vacant and alone. It is at these times when I hearken back to Rick Warren’s opening sentence to The Purpose Driven Lifeit’s not about [me].

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I have spent my entire Christian walk learning to think of Jesus as our Brother, striving for that personal connection with God that only comes with prayer and time with His Word and being told over and over that God loves me and wants only the very best for me – but how can it be that the very best for me isn’t really about me? I mean, honestly, isn’t my being happy or at least at content about me? Isn’t my ability to make ends meet and live the life I believe God has been directing me to lead about me?

Oddly, the answer is no.

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Kind of depressing, isn’t it?

Well, sure, it can seem that way, and yet, as soon as I can take myself and my selfish desires out of the equation, it suddenly becomes so much easier to see God’s work and rejoice in the glory that is God.

For me, being faithful and trusting in God and His will for me requires that I stop trying to see His plan in a linear format. God’s plan is not linear – it doesn’t move from moment to moment, day to day as my life and perspective does. He is beyond time and space, so big that all things are both already done and being done continually. He created everything as He knew it should be and still placed me in a world where I can make choices about my own life each and every day while His mighty hand moves to still the ripples I create in His plan by my actions. It is both enormously complex and elegantly simple and I am blessed to be a part of it.

But it certainly doesn’t always feel that way.

On those days when I’ve had to watch a loved one die despite fervent prayer, sit back and watch as someone I love makes a choice that will be painful and challenging for them, or when a marriage I worked so hard to save disintegrates despite my efforts to be a good Christian wife, I am left feeling empty and confused, questioning whether I didn’t pray hard enough or if what I truly believed to have been God’s plan for me wasn’t. I question my faith, my ability to discern His voice in my life, and His love for me.

And then I remember. Much as I want my life to be about me, it isn’t. God’s voice and direction in my life serve a greater purpose and I may not ever truly know what that purpose is. My job in this relationship is to simply trust and walk the path He creates. It’s not easy and even when I have made choices I knew were the ones God wanted me to make, I certainly wasn’t saved from suffering as a result. But then, how can I expect not to suffer for God’s direction when Noah, Moses, the disciples and Jesus all suffered to do His will?  It is both humbling and a little embarrassing to even consider that I have asked God to let me forego suffering given what has been done so I can even have this life but I guess that’s the arrogance of a human, right?

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So, what’s the point? Overall, I really want to encourage each and every one of you that despite how we perceive the goodness and love of God, His will is always perfect and His love for us is always genuine. In those dark times when this just doesn’t seem to be the case, remember that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that God placed in your life to walk though challenging times with you. Of course, I know that sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anyone out there – and perhaps you are in a time where there truly isn’t anyone. If this is the case and/or you are lacking the words to pray for discernment and wisdom, I offer these words of prayer. May they be a blessing to you now and in the future.

Heavenly Father, I admit that in times of struggle and challenge, I too often I desire my will above yours. Lord, forgive me for my selfishness and unbelief as I react to this unclear season of life. Jesus, as you yourself desired not your own will but the Father’s will, so let me seek your will for me in boldness and humility. Regardless of direction you have chosen for my life, equip me to truly believe that you are good, you are sovereign, and are a Father who desires only the best blessings for me. Open my eyes to see that what you see as a blessing may not be mirrored in how I perceive it. Lord, by praying “your will be done,” I surrender in trust and obedience.

 

 

Breadcrumbs

trail-of-breadcrumbs1Once upon a time, there was a little girl who, like Hansel and Gretel (and, as Stephen Sondheim pointed out, really all of the famous fairy tale characters), was lost in a wood. It was a dark, dank and bleak place and she longed to find her way home. Had things gone the way she had planned, she would already have been home but instead, she found herself sitting on the damp ground trying to figure out just what had gone wrong.

It was her own fault, really.

Sure, she had started out on this little excursion with her eyes and heart fully open and aware of potential risks, but she was excited for the new possibilities that awaited her. Being a girl who had read a seen a lot and knew that things didn’t always work out, she also took necessary precautions should things go awry. This was, after all, a new path – a new direction – so it was possible she could get lost along the way so she filled her pockets with bits of bread to drop along the path believing these would lead her back to where she started.

In hindsight, the outcome was pretty predictable. I mean, it was bread crumbs, for goodness sake! What was she thinking?

As you would expect, what didn’t get carried away in the wind was quickly gobbled up by birds and squirrels or maybe hidden away in nearby trees for later consumption and by the time she realized this was the case, she was completely unable to even begin determining which direction would take her back to where she started. The starting point, though not necessarily perfect, was at least familiar and would put her in a place to feel re-grounded and able to make a new plan.

What the little girl didn’t realize is that even if her breadcrumbs had remained and she couldn’t have followed the same path back the way she had originally come because the home she had left would not have been the same. Nothing is once we leave and come back.

I know that by now you have all figured out this little story is about me. I am the little girl lost in the woods and what has put me here is my oh-so-wise decision recently to dive head first back into the dating world right after making the major life change of moving into a new house with 4 other people.

I know. Probably not my wisest decision and I know you will be shocked to hear the relationship didn’t pan out.

Perhaps it was a timing thing. We probably couldn’t have started the relationship at a worse time for his business and I certainly was going through changes in my life, but regardless of the reasons, the chapter closed all too soon and here I was, left in the middle of the wood.

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe things with the relationship turned out the way they did because I had left the breadcrumbs to find my way. Would the outcome have been different if I hadn’t tried to give myself an “escape”?

While it is in my nature to try to assume responsibility for just about anything that goes wrong, I would have to say that in this case, regardless of my attempt to make the relationship failure all about things I did or didn’t do, I realized that the breadcrumbs were far from the end of the relationship. They were, in fact, a gift much like the seeds that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 13.

Now I realize those of you theologians out there are balking, screaming at the screen that the purpose of that message wasn’t about my personal love life but about the planting of seeds of faith and the subsequent harvest of believers. I get that. I really do. But as I listened to a sermon on this passage recently I felt God telling me there was an additional meaning much closer to my heart and circumstance.

As I listened, God spoke to my heart telling me that those breadcrumbs I left for myself were never to have been used to find my way back to where I had been because I was no longer the same person I had been when I started the journey even though the journey itself was relatively short.

The crumbs, you see, were really just little pieces of myself – good and bad – that were left on the trail. They were memories, feelings and expressions that I was able to unbury from my heart and leave behind, no longer needed for my journey.

Of course, I didn’t get this for a while. I can be stubborn and obstinate (no comments from the peanut gallery on that, please). For days – even weeks – I found myself trying to find those pieces and seeking desperately for ways to gather every little crumb back up and allow it be part of me gain. Even as I type this, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but how many times have we tried to keep everything just as it is because even though we know it’s not healthy, at least it’s comfortable?

But God didn’t allow that for me this time. I had grown and shed those things and God was going to ensure that those things were carried away further away from the deeper into the wood I went. That journey into the woods was a call from God to follow Him and grow and, as we all know, growth comes at a cost. We do not find new mountaintops of faith nor new joys in life without some pain.

And this process was indeed painful, but as painful as it was, God knew I was ready. The crumbs I had left behind were no longer useful to protect me or define me and with God’s grace, they may perhaps land in new, more fertile ground where they could one day become part of a testimony or ministry that is associated with me but not part of me.

Advanced Directive Panic

AloneBlocksforWebThere is nothing like sitting through an explanation of Advanced Directives and then staring at the document itself in an attempt to complete it with the name or names of those who should be contacted should my life be suddenly and irrevocably put at risk to drive home the realities of both my own fragile mortality and my current single-hood and parental status.

Let me back up a bit and provide a little explanation of this little form for those of you who may not be familiar.

An Advanced Directive is a document that provides health care facilities guidance about whether you would wish to be provided life-sustaining procedures or artificial nutrition and hydration should you be faced with a terminal condition or “persistent vegetative state”.

Yep, it’s a cheery little topic, isn’t it? Well, we spent several days holding in person training and discussions about this form over the past week or so in my office. I am part of the administrative team that puts these things together for my office so I get to participate many times (aren’t I lucky?). It is a very important document and being that I work with a healthcare facility, it is something that our employees deal with every day. We are all too well aware of the importance of having an Advanced Directive in place when things for a patient are truly about as bad as they can be.

So why do I bring up such a delightful topic of conversation on what is otherwise most likely a beautiful Colorado summer day?

Well, here’s the thing. While I understand the need for this type of documentation, as a single person, it does a number on my heart and mind. When faced with this form as well as the idea of a will, I am suddenly keenly aware that it is just me. No kids, no spouse. Just me. Oh, sure, if I had things that were worth giving away in a will, I could find friends and relatives to give them to, but when it comes to life and death, to whom do I turn to make decisions that honor both who I am and where my faith is? It is a decision that is certainly not something to be taken lightly and one which has made me look closely at my life’s decisions.04-lonliness-passionate.jpg

As I’ve said a number of times before, I am, for the most part, a happy single person. I have done the marriage thing – twice – and failed miserably both times so this has been a clear choice for me for that past 10 years and I am glad of that choice.

Single-hood has many pluses. For example, as a single person, I am able to control a good deal of the stress that is in my life which is important for my mental, spiritual and physical health. I don’t have to worry about when I come and go, what I have for dinner, or worry about someone thinking it’s odd that I want to make my dog the center of my social world (ok, maybe this is a little odd, but I’m allowed an oddity or two, aren’t I?).

But as I sat in the Advanced Directive course, I suddenly realized just how alone that choice for single-hood has made me.

If I were to have a severe accident, who in my life would be able to make that life or death decision on my behalf? Sure, the Advanced Directive is supposed to alleviate the “in the moment” crisis, but someone has to sign as my medical power of attorney. Who knows me well enough to know what I would want or need? Now, I know that the immediate response is my family, right? I mean, my dad is still alive as is my stepmother, my sister and my brother. But the reality is that though they are a part of my life, they don’t really know me all that well. My parents have moved out-of-state as has my sister and even though we call and email occasionally, we all live – and always have lived – very different lives. My brother doesn’t live far from me but the relationship with him is very much the same. I don’t begrudge any of them the state of our relationships – they are what they are for reasons far too complex to try to delve into here – but it certainly gave me pause staring at that legal document. And all of this was driven that much further home for me during a recent sermon on Matthew 10:34-39.

You see, much of what is different between my family members and I is faith. While my parents and siblings would likely profess to being Christian, the idea of being involved in church, studying the Word, prayer, and other acts of faith are not only not on their radar, but have been causes for minor mockery to large arguments.

In a very real sense, I am the man whose foes are of his own household. In fact, as I was growing up, the stronger my faith, the worse my relationship with members of my family. Now I realize that I am not living in Biblical times. I do not rely on my family to provide a home, monetary stability and the ability to participate in social and civic events. I am not shunned for my single, childless state, but it is at times like this that the difference between those with a family and those without becomes a much starker contrast.

Here I am at 50 with no children of my own, no spouse, no close family members. This is difficult enough when it comes to financial matters but somewhat paralyzing when it comes to life and death matters.

The reality is nobody wants to die alone or know that the fate of their lives may be in the hands of someone who has not real connection to them. We want that Hollywood emergency room scene where the family comes running in to spend even a moment with a loved one who may not make it. But if you’re me, who is it that will come running?

I don’t doubt that God will be with me every step of the way and He will provide His angels for me, but the knowledge of His presence doesn’t ease the sense of loneliness when I struggle with a health condition or a waning bank account.

I don’t say these things to invoke pity or sympathy, but to remind both myself and all of you that these are the things that many in our congregation face. Many of us are spouseless, childless or have strained or nonexistent relationships with family. We are, for all intents and purposes, the widows and orphans Jesus speaks of and it is for us that churches are supposed to exist.

In church, widows and orphans are given a sense of community; we are able to find people who are caring, loving, and willing to take on burdens far beyond those that others would. But as a congregation we cannot do that if we do not make ourselves available. Standing in the common area before or after church doesn’t create that community. What does create community is trying to understand what burdens being single may cause or what trials strife amongst family members can create. Community is seeing the individual for who they are and where they are.

Feel Lonely Wallpaper That feeling i

Perhaps there are others around you that have chosen to be single or are isolated from their families. Reach out. Pray with them or for them. Offer to have that elderly gentleman seated all alone in the restaurant a seat at your family table. Sit with the one who found out that life has changed forever in the blink of an eye. Most of all, remember to be the arms of Christ to others. In the grand scheme of things, this is all we are really called to do – to love one another by showing one another God’s love.

Now….who wants to sign my advanced directive??? 😉

Looking In From the Outside

It probably would have been nothing to anyone else. Just words, sounds…something somebody else was involved in and had no personal bearing whatsoever.

But not for me.

For me, it was a return to a past I’ve tried hard to put behind me; a return to feelings, thoughts and experiences that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy; a return to thoughts about myself that I have fought tooth and nail to destroy.

And all I did was walk outside my door.

On a recent, hot summer night I walked to my car to go to the grocery store and I’d heard it.

The shouts.

The cries and whimpers.

The undeniable sound of someone being hit and someone else pursuing them

I was paralyzed.

Do I do something for this person I don’t know?

I heard my mind tell me to get involved but my heart to stay away. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just a quick argument and it will end.

And yet, an hour later, when I’d returned from the store, it was still going on

I felt my mind shutting down, trying to create the safe space in which I had lived for so long in preparation for the battle to come to me.

It was probably the wrong decision, but I turned away. I went inside and tried to pretend I hadn’t heard what I did or at least convince myself it was nothing. I told nobody and worked with every ounce of strength in me to pretend that the evening was normal and for all intents and purposes it was.

Except that my whole body shook and I couldn’t sleep that night. I started blankly at the television hoping a silly comedy would take me someplace else. When that didn’t happen, I picked up my book – the one place I could always escape when I was young, but even that failed to help turn off the echoes I my head. No, I couldn’t hear the fight anymore, but that didn’t mean anything. In my mind, I was right back where I had been so many times before.

The next morning brought bright sunshine and no sign of any damage. Anyone else would never have known there had been shouts, screams, and beatings going on and I was able to start moving toward believing it was a one time thing.

But then I came home from work only to be confronted by the same sounds only louder, more aggressive this time. I couldn’t turn away; I couldn’t pretend it was nothing because in that moment, I was the neighbor across the street from my mothers house growing up; I was that person walking along the canal that turned a blind eye to the screams and cries I heard because it wasn’t my business.

I couldn’t do it.

The police were called.

But for me, the drama  wasn’t over.

You see, I have moved back to the neighborhood where a majority of the abuse in my life occurred and while I have been able to move past those things through the years, being confronted by those unforgettable sounds in the same place opened a window to look at those same actions from a new perspective.

I had hoped that, were I to be given a chance to do this in my adulthood, I would have been more successful in seeing things more objectively but, at least on these evenings, this was not the case.

As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, watching the police talk to the couple to decide what needed to be done, I felt connected to the abused person. On the one hand, I could feel the sense of relief knowing she had the opportunity to get away and find someplace safe, But on the other hand, I felt the sense of fear this woman may be feeling about the potential repercussions she would face when they returned to the home, which she most certainly would.

I also felt unsubstantiated fear for myself. Would the abuser know that it was me that put these things in motion? Would he come after me next? I suddenly saw myself walking the way I did in my childhood – head down, eyes seeing only the concrete in hopes that I could make myself as inconspicuous as possible.

Over the course of several days, in many ways I returned to who I was as an abused child. The sense of shame for who I was, the things I have done and have been done to me, and the way those things have undeniably altered who I am was almost unbearable. I felt myself retreating even further, rebuilding walls I had worked so hard to tear down.

The thing is, I know that I am safe. My neighborhood has no power over me and being there has, as I’ve said before, brought some level of healing to old wounds. But being able to see these actions from the outside also opened my eyes to how what these things may have looked like to the neighbors that surrounded me as a child.

Were they equally horrified or did they pretend not to hear?

Did they cry for me or assume it was nothing?

I sincerely hope that they were not as affected as I was – that they were not thrown into a tail spin that affected work, personal relationships and sleep just because they heard violent argument after violent argument.

But I also cannot help but wonder for the millionth time in my life why they didn’t do anything to help. There were no knocks on the door from kind neighbors or police; there were no teachers reaching out to social services nor were there friends’ parents reaching out to offer support or refuge.

And it made me hurt all over again.

To feel alone and worthless.

Now before you go getting all up in arms about the fact that God was there and He is the reason I survived, believe me, I am aware. I know for a fact that He is the reason I have been able to become the woman I am; that I was able to live and not become a lifelong victim and for this I am more grateful than I can express.

But even with this knowledge, I can say for certainty that have no desire to look in from the outside at any more of the experiences that created me. Some things are best left unexamined from that perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

The Blessings of Storms

colorado springAh, Spring-time in the Rockies. While it can be beautiful, the best way to really describe it can often be more like a glimpse of Mother Nature as a schizophrenic as opposed to the picture postcard you see on the travel channel. Just this past few weeks, we have had 80 degree days followed immediately by rain, enormous (baseball-sized) hail and inches of snow. But blink your eyes and it’s as if that none of it ever actually happened.

As odd as it sounds, that is one of the reasons I truly love living here and seeing how quickly this state can move through being sun-washed to white-washed and back again. After watching the weather here for the past few days I can honestly say that any sense of instability I may have felt about my life or the lives of those around me was suddenly put into stark contrast with the instability that Mother Nature is able to create and I feel remarkably peaceful as a result.

It’s funny. Had I have guessed, I would have fully expected the crazy weather would make me feel more disrupted; more anxious about the significant changes I’ve had to make to my life in the last few weeks and I guess at some level that was the case, but what was more pervasive was the sense of peace that came with the knowledge that even the biggest storms will pass and soon any damage that may have resulted will be erased either with repairs or new growth. As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think that this was precisely why God created the seasons and weather for us – to provide us with tangible reminders that all things – good and bad – have a beginning and an end and we are called to rely on God to carry us through all of it.

Way back at the beginning of our time here on this earth (at least as far as the human presence is concerned), the Garden of Eden was a place without storms. There was no rain, no wind, no disruption from the peace and tranquility I think we all imagine when we think of paradise. But despite how wonderful that sounds, God knew this peace had to change in order for us to be able to develop loving relationships with Him; to be able to understand who He is and to grow in our love for Him because of this understanding.

So God planted the tree of knowledge knowing full well that Adam and Eve would eat from it and that their actions would set into motion significant changes in the world as it had existed. The land now needed to be watered with rain, the soil, worked harder to produce the same fruits, and the ability for women to bring forth life from their wombs became painful and challenging.

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Being the self-centered types we all tend to be, this all sounds and feels really cruel. Why are we being punished for something we had nothing to do with in the first place? How can I, in one breath, say my God is truly loving and in the next say my God calls me to lose in order to gain? I know it may sound crazy, but that the fact that we do lose is what allows us the greater opportunity to gain beyond our wildest imaginations.

I know I’ve said similar things many times in this blog but I was reminded of this as I spent the last couple of months coming to terms with having to uproot the cozy little life that I had created for myself. Though Mother Nature was relatively calm at the time (at least until the day I was supposed to move), I felt the shifting of the seasons; the change that had to be made even though I didn’t feel ready or willing. I had to lose the sense of security I had put into place for myself with my apartment and all and step out of the boat, so to speak, to see what God had in mind for me instead.

I tried to stop the storm.

Believe me I did.

I whined, I moped, I cried out in despair. You probably remember this from my recent posts. Yet try as I might to change God’s plan, He didn’t stop the storm nor did he make it easier. Instead, He carried me through the storm so I could see Him to move in ways that otherwise would not have been possible.

Now, just a few short weeks after what seemed like a tremendous upheaval, I can see the storm in the distance and you know what?

It’s beautiful!

From where I stand now, the clouds are a glorious pink and white that reminds me of a newborn babe. The threat I had felt is gone, and in its place I have blessings I had been praying for – aching for – rising up and surrounding me with joy.

And, of course, the joy is coming from the most unexpected places.

Like returning to the neighborhood where I grew up.

When I first found the place I have moved into, the idea of returning here terrified me. How could I go back to the area where some of my worst nightmares occurred? What could God possibly want me to do there?

The answer is heal and grow.

God has used this return to bring to mind good memories, helping me to remember that not all my time there was frightening or difficult. I walk the canal that runs behind my old home and remember seeing my dog chase the sprinkler there and the laughter that came from watching that not only for me, but also for those who were walking the canal way back then. I see homes of friends who lived there way back when and remember the friendships and good times we had.

And for those memories that are more difficult, God has been using this time to provide a healing balm to the wounds which are still there, slightly less raw and painful, but still very much a part of my personal landscape of memories. God has helped me to feel His peace and comfort opened my eyes and heart to see that even the worst storms of our lives can be healed with His presence and the gift of time.

Equally important – or perhaps more so – God has brought new people into my life that despite their relatively short tenure in my life, are proving to be significant and powerful additions to my community. I truly feel these people are the gifts at the end of my rainbow and I am overwhelmed by the beautiful addition they are making to my life.bryant-mcgill-storms-life-stronger-3s7g

So here I am, akin to a 3rd-rate meteorologist who just a few weeks ago had predicted the “storm of the century” around the impending changes to my life and now, looking out my window I see only a small little rain shower (If I had been that bad meteorologist, people would have stocked up on bread and milk for NOTHING!).

Mother Nature may still be proving herself to be more than a tad schizophrenic (I say with little sarcasm as I watch the snow fly outside my window on May 19th), but I know that even her craziness will not derail the goodness that God is able to bring through the storms in my life. I only hope that the next time they come, I remember that these are the pathways to His blessings.

 

Faith and Doubt

path up the mountainPoet Theodore Roethke once wrote, “Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley” (thank you, MakeItUltra, for reminding of this wonderful quote). This quote is so close to my heart – particularly at this time when I am embarking on a new part of my journey, moving to a new home. It’s funny that only a few weeks ago I was feeling virtually crippled from fear at the thought of having to find a new place to live. So many people from my church and social media, not to mention my coworkers and friends, extended thoughts and prayers my way and I truly felt the love of every one of these people as I sought a new home.

To put all of your minds at ease, yes I have found a new home and yes, it was definitely a “God” thing. It is around the corner from where I grew up so I know the neighborhood well, it is closer to home and to church, and the home owner is a true blessing. Sure, there are things I’m going to have to get used to (sharing the house with people I don’t know, sharing a shower for the first time in 10 years, etc.) but overall, it was clear to me that God has this plan in place and all I had to do was show up to the party.

Of course, as those of you who read my last post can attest, I spent a good deal of time in the valley, unable to see that path up the mountain and honestly, a little unwilling to look for it. I was whining, kicking and screaming about the fact that things were not working out the way I had expected them to; the way I thought would be right. All of the signs I thought I was seeing didn’t point me in the direction I expected them too and I was not pleased.

But that’s the thing about God and His mercy and grace. He knows that those times when we can’t see the path are the times we need a little extra intervention a sign, a reminder of His presence, a voice of reason. Just like the disciple Thomas, we need evidence before we can believe and rather than judge us or condemn us because of it, He provides exactly what we need.

Poor Thomas. As the speaker at my church stated this past Sunday, all he did was come late to the party of Jesus’ return to the disciples after His resurrection and he has been condemned for his lack of faith ever since. This past Sunday, as I heard the story read for umpteenth time, I couldn’t help but shake my head and giggle to myself about how challenging Thomas was. I mean, seriously. How many miracles had he personally witnessed? And how many prophesies had he seen brought to fruition in his time with Christ? Yet, here he was, doubting yet again; struggling with understanding who Jesus really was and what had really happened. Certainly if you or I would have been disciples, we would have gotten it, right?

No, probably not. I venture to say that at least I, if not all of you, would have been as “doubting” as Thomas, if not more. And the thing is, Thomas neither wanted nor was provided anything more than what the other disciples had received from Jesus earlier. John 20:20 clearly states that Jesus showed his hands, feet and sides to the disciples when He appeared to them. The only difference that I can see is that Thomas stated out loud he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the Jesus’ wounds. But since the Lord knows our hearts and minds who’s to say that Jesus showed the other disciples His wounds because their disbelief was just as clear to him because of the looks in their eyes or their mannerisms? Why is it only Thomas who is called out for doubting?

The thing is we are all “Doubting Thomases”. We want to see proof before we actually take that leap of faith; to see that big neon sign in front of us telling us what direction we’re supposed to turn before we actually turn. We want to make sure that we speak exactly the right words in a given prayer to ensure that the outcome we are seeking will come to fruition. Do a quick Google search or walk into any bookstore and you will find listing after listing offering that secret prayer recipe that will virtually ensure God gives you what we want when you want it. We may truly be believers in Christ and God, we fail miserably at acting in faith. Each of us is at one time or another can be found standing in that valley Roethke wrote about and screaming about the path that is supposed to be there, but isn’t. And what makes it even more of a challenge is that even when our prayers have clearly been answered, we (or at least I) tend to fall right back into doubting. Maybe it’s because doubting is easier than taking a stand of faith. If I doubt, I don’t have to worry about those who don’t believe challenging my position on something or worry that they might treat me differently (or, gasp! Not like me) because I believe differently than they do.

Doubting not only leaves the door open just enough to allow us to fall in with everyone else, but it also gives us an out if things don’t pan out the way we anticipated. If I doubt – even a little – and God’s answer takes longer than I want or is different from what I wanted, I can always dismiss that by saying I never believed He was real or that He answers my prayers anyway. In other words, doubt is at its base level, selfish…

… and very, very human.

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God fully expects us to doubt. It’s all part of the growing and maturing process that we are here on this planet to do. God’s hope and desire for us is that we will, at some point, be able to see beyond the doubt. I don’t know about you, but I am only able to do that with some things but I do pray that as I continue to mature in my faith, I will be able to be the “blessed who believe without seeing” for more than just one or two things in my life. Until that time, I will rest in the comfort of knowing God will provide whatever I need to believe – even the perfect house at the perfect time.

Risen….AGAIN

1-1-1-1-He-is-RisenThe Lord Has Risen!

The Lord Has Risen, Indeed, Alleluia!

That was the call and response heard over and over again at my church and many others around the globe this past week for Easter. In my church, our priest was pretty gung-ho about making sure that those words were as engrained in our hearts and minds as possible by the time we left services so I believe made that call and response at least 20 times in each service.

But then, these words should be shouted from the rooftops over and over, shouldn’t they? After all, we as Christians believe in a God who is not dead but is alive with us each and every day because of the joyous blessing of His rising from the dead and defeating the enemy. His death also gives us each the ability to be resurrected from our “dead”, sinful selves when we choose to walk with Him.

But I often wonder if we as Christians do a disservice to ourselves and our non-believing friends and associates when we stop with the Resurrection. We proclaim over and over that our God is alive and risen from the dead and as a result, we, too, will rise from the dead on the last day…

…but that doesn’t mean that we have already been resurrected nor does it mean that we, like Christ, only need that one miraculous act.

I know. You’re getting ready to fight me on this so let me explain a bit.

First, lets start with Jesus.

Jesus was and is God. Always was and always will be. He came to earth in the form of man, but while He experienced the struggles and pain of being man, He didn’t fail; He didn’t sin. He only needed to die and be resurrected once because He was and is perfect.

We, however are not.

While we are created in God’s image, we have been nor will we ever be perfect . Because of this, our “resurrection” needs to a continual process, not a once and done type of prospect. Sure, we will die a physical death and the resurrection from that death will only occur once, but we need to die to our mortal, sinful natures over and over and OVER again. Our lusts, our greed, our selfishness and self-absorbed lifestyle all return, they don’t suddenly get whisked away from us when we choose to follow Christ. If anything, they become more firmly entrenched as part of our personality and we have to work that much harder to die to them and be resurrected again as a more Christ-like person. It’s an ongoing process – at least it is for me. Let’s take my recent bout of self-pity as an example.

As you may have read recently, I had come to the difficult decision to move away from my lovely little apartment and make some significant life changes to put myself in a better financial position. I was not happy about this new reality and have been kicking and whining about it for several weeks now. Whining to just about anyone who would listen.

Why do I have to move?stopwhining

Why can’t I make more money?

Why do I have to always be struggling?

Poor, poor, pitiful me.

Honestly, I was sick of hearing it so I can only imagine how sick of it those around me were. For any of you who have had to struggle through my temper tantrum about this, I truly apologize.

I finally realized that I had to die to the selfishness that I was feeling; to turn away from feeling sorry for myself for not being able to find the perfect, pretty little apartment I saw myself in with all of the bells and whistles I currently have – or more – allowing me to seamlessly move from one place to another, saving me money but not forcing me to make any other life adjustments.

I was clearly delusional and Sunday morning in the middle of the second service I suddenly saw just how much of a temper tantrum I had been throwing and how many of the Lords’ blessings I had been choosing to turn a blind eye to. I needed to be “resurrected” from this death spiral of self-pity and see the numerous blessings that were being put right smack-dab in front of me.

For example, about a year ago I left a much higher-paying position because of the extreme stress it caused and the health problems I developed as a result. God blessed me with a wonderful job I have a wonderful job which allows me to do work that I am good at for people who I truly enjoy and that appreciate me for what I am able to do in an organization that is nurturing, positive and relatively stress-free.

Also, because of this great job, I have the ABILITY to put a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back. I am not in danger, I am not starving and I am not living hand to mouth. I may be living squarely in the paycheck to paycheck segment of society but that can be said for many of the people I know so I can clearly not in them minority.

But let me tell you – that is certainly neither how it looked or felt these past several weeks. I felt distraught, unable to have the life that is being portrayed in all the pretty pictures on-line and in my head. I listened to the whining of others around me and absorbed their negativity into my own thoughts. I became like the Israelites, constantly being given what I asked for and then complaining it wasn’t what I wanted.

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And it is for this reason that I, and I believe most likely you as well, need to be continually “resurrected”. I need to die to these little (or big) failings and come back to the Lord again and again for forgiveness, guidance and direction. Most importantly, I cannot for a minute either as though this is not the case because to do so provides all of the ammunition any non-believer would ever need to throw in my face as evidence against my loving, living God. Just because I believe in God and am saved by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, does not mean that I am on equal footing with Him. I am still living a human, mortal life and will continue to have the same issues that anyone else does. What makes life different as a Christian is that I have the ability to be raised over and over from my failures and hopefully learn how to make each fall a little smaller or each climb up from my fall a little faster.

I hope that as you read this, you have been both blessed by Jesus’ Resurrection and encouraged by the thought that we all can be resurrected from our own small deaths each and every day.

Worse Than Speed Dating

Speed DatingI know it’s hard to believe, but I have found something that is actually worse than speed dating.

It’s worse than any of the numerous dating sites I’ve dabbled on in the last ten years.

Honestly, it could be one of the worst things I’ve had to do…well…ever.

What could be so bad?

Apartment hunting.

I know. You think I’m crazy, but let me just give you a taste of  how the last several weeks have gone for me and maybe you’ll agree.

For those of you that have read my most recent post, you know that I have made the very painful decision to move to put myself in a better financial situation. Now, let me say that when I was in my 20’s, moving wasn’t a big deal. It was kind of exciting – finding a new place to live, seeing what’s out there, and then picking up and doing it all over again if I didn’t like the space.

But I’m old(er) now and I am not relishing the idea of packing, let alone the backbreaking moving of my furniture and things over a weekend. If I had the money, I would JUMP at the chance to hire someone to come do it all for me while I sipped Mai Tai’s poolside.

But this is not to be.

So here I am, just a mere 20 days out from having to relocate and I have been madly scrambling to find a new home for myself and my dog. Being the technologically savvy person that I am, I jumped right into the online apartment finding sites and set up alerts for apartments that fit my criteria (cheap and dog friendly) and the race was ON!

I diligently researched property after property analyzing the drive times, amenities that I was probably going to never use, looked at demographics, crime rates and location appeal. I created a huge spreadsheet of what I liked and why, broke it down by area of town, and got ready to march right into the perfect place.

I scheduled a day off from work, made a list of the properties that looked to be just about perfect, and set off to find my new home!

Now let me just reiterate that I have seen these properties ON LINE. They have beautiful websites, lovely pictures and their marketing teams have done a stellar job of writing enticing descriptions that make people want to come reside on their property…

..and then you get there.manhole

Yep, just like the dreaded dating sites, the pictures from the website have been photo-shopped to within an inch of their lives. Flowers and landscaping have been added, floor plans “adjusted” to be more attractive and spacious, and I swear the “communal” areas are just architectural renderings of what the space “could someday look like” if someone actually took the time to do the work.

Ok. Maybe a couple of the communal areas looked essentially the same, but there was little to no resemblance to anything else.

But I was not going to be dissuaded! I had a task at hand and, dang it! I was going to accomplish it!

Honestly, I would have preferred to have been speed dating. At least there I could sit still, let potential suitors come to me, and I could numb the disappointment with a nice glass of wine.

Sigh.

Don’t think it could possible be that bad? Oh, you poor, unsuspecting soul. Let me give you just a snapshot.

Property number one: Located just a couple of miles from where I grew up, this little gem had probably last seen an exterior paint job somewhere in the  mid ’80’s. The fencing was collapsing, the balconies looked as if they could fall off the face of the building at anytime, and did I mention that I passed not only a drug deal but a drug arrest on my way TO the property itself?

Forging ahead!

Property number two: Interior hallways that reek of an interesting combination of both Indian food and marijuana. The carpets are falling apart under my feet as we walk to the apartment itself, and the electronic dead bolt, knowing how bad the interior is, doesn’t even want to let anyone in. It finally, with a very loud moan, let us enter to see the dingy, run-down space it was hiding. Metal bi-fold closet doors from the 70’s, popcorn paint covering up untold years of grime, and despite the fresh coat of paint and carpet, the ever-present permeation of the exterior odor. I was supposed to be in awe over the view of the mountains which were visible….just past the equally hideous exteriors of the properties other buildings and flat roofs.

I could go on, but let me end all of our pain with this little summary:

If these apartments were men on a speed-dating session, the apartments I visited would have looked a great deal like this:mullet-man-flexing-muscles1

or maybe this:

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Now I’m sure both of these individuals are fine human beings but that doesn’t mean that I want to be associated with them on a daily basis…including living where I might run into them every day.

Ok. So there were a couple of options that weren’t quite that bad, but all in all, as I continue to look for the next place to lay my head for the foreseeable future, I have come to the conclusion that those people who have the tiny house on wheels may not have such a bad idea. Ok, sure, I’d have to clean my own sewage, but honestly, I’m not sure that would be significantly worse than some of the options I’ve found.glass1

Here’s to hoping the next batch of site visits goes better.