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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

calm the child

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.

 

 

 

 

Satan Made Me Do It

the_devil_made_me_do_it_300_300_90I had never met him. In fact, as far as I am aware, I had never seen him before so it was odd that the sight of this individual would have such a profound impact on me. But as I watched him that day, just sitting and swinging his legs like a small child on a very large chair, my heart broke for him and I ached to be able to reach out to him and let him know he was not alone; that whatever was happening in his life at that time was not worth the path that he was contemplating.

There was certainly nothing I could do for him. I was trapped on the other side of a computer screen and the seemingly endless 3 minutes or so of video I was watching had already happened. This man – this poor soul – had jumped to his death off the top of a building in downtown Denver while professionals tried to reason with him and others couldn’t tear their eyes away from the disaster that was impending.

I don’t know what caused the person to video the event. Some part of me was angry that he or she chose to do so. What if this man has family that will come across this video time and again to remind them of the horrible end of their loved one’s life? Did he or she have no compassion for the people that were involved?

In hindsight, I get it. It is our human nature to be unable to turn away from such events. We are captivated by the drama and need for whatever reason to see the events to their end. After all, there was likely nothing the person filming could do to prevent the end result but some part of me even now is angry and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to find the root of that anger.

I have come to realized that part of my anger is still with the person who chose to film such an intimate and horrible event; to put it on the internet so that it would be something people would laugh about and gossip about over and over again. I suppose for me, it is not in my being to decide to turn on the video recorder on my phone to capture the worst moments of a persons life. That’s one reason I decided a long time ago that though I loved to write, I could never become a journalist. My need to know and reflect out to others the things that happen around me does not go so far as encompass the need to rip open wounds over and over again, degrading others pain to entertainment for the masses. I realize that definitely makes me a minority in our culture. After all, for the most part, we are a culture of that thrives on the expl95a8e04a0b0eb94c9eaef9a25985714coitation of others suffering for either our own personal agenda or political motivations. We want to push the envelope; force others to see things the way we see them regardless of the pain or discomfort it may cause. Gone are the days when being sensitive to another took precedence over getting the story out. Why is this?

I actually feel I have an answer for this and it is this answer that is the larger part of my anger about the suicide of this unknown man lies.

It’s all Satan’s fault.

No, seriously.

It’s not that Satan makes us do things that we otherwise wouldn’t do or that we are incapable of making choices for ourselves, but rather that Satan has the uncanny ability to place in front of us the one thing that we truly need or desire and convince us that his way of getting to that item or destination is so much easier and better than whatever we believe God may have in store for us. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take this season of Lent as an example.

During a recent sermon at my church, our congregation was reminded that during Lent, we are perhaps more tempted by things in our lives than at any other time during the year. Those things that we identify as being a distraction for us or that we may have an unhealthy appetite for us suddenly become the primary item in our feeds on social media, the center of office discussions, and the ever present niggling in our brain as we sit at home. Like Adam and Eve at the time of the “fall” believe that we are somehow missing out on something greater; that somehow the piece of chocolate given to you during Lent is 100 times better than the piece you had the Tuesday before Lent began. Or that somehow during Lent, you will miss out on the greatest newsfeed EVER on Facebook – that things will be said or revealed that you will never know about and your life will be forever changed because of it.

Way4d58fbd5a250b4a1e543b6060012b368 back in the garden of Eden, the serpent planted a seed of doubt that Eve, Adam, and ultimately each of us carry with us – the seed of doubt. Each day we question whether God is truly giving us all the good things that He could.  Surely, if God were the real, loving God that I am told He is, I would be able to eat that apple and there would be no consequences. He just doesn’t want to share all of the goodness there is with me. Surely if God were truly giving me all of the blessings He promised, I wouldn’t have to work so hard or suffer. Surely if I were the child of a loving God, I would feel happiness every moment of every day.

Even if you don’t think these things every day (though if you’re like me, some form of these statements comes to mind all the time), the seed of doubt against God has been planted and as a result, each of us starts to look for something else. We look to the charismatic speakers who promise our lives will be easier if we only do “x”. We are lured away by the suggestion of quick fixes and fast money; of the ultimate “high”, the most amazing sex, or the ability to do what we want when we want without cost. We are, after all, free beings – God gave us freedom of choice so we could find these easier, faster solutions, right?

Wrong.

Those shiny new toys – the get rich quick schemes, the instant weight loss products, the promise of fame and fortune – all of these things are given to us by Satan to lure us away from the true light in our life; to distract us from the One that can carry us through the challenging times and give us a life that is fulfilling, not empty. And it is because of those shiny new toys that some of us end up sitting on the top of a tall building, leaping to our death. We finally get to the end of the tunnel that we have been lured down and see the destruction our selfish, self-serving acts have caused and we aren’t able to find a way back out. Or get to the middle of the road, realize how lost we truly are and hear Satan tell us that God would never take us back now, we’ve fallen too far.

The reality is that God will always welcome us back with open arms and a joyful heart. He isn’t counting the errors we have made or withholding from us the joys of this world so He can have something to lure us to the next destination of our journey. We all find this hard to believe because if it were us, we would do that to some extent or another.

But we aren’t God.

God is the one waiting to catch us when we fall. Even that poor soul on the top of the 7eff21787b1de4552b6ed5c8152dddbfbuilding was God’s child and God wept when his son chose that end to the live he had been given. My prayer for each one of you who so kindly read these words is that whatever negative thoughts the world has convinced you to think about yourself or your life that you will turn away from the empty (but alluring) promises that Satan has been whispering in your ears and turn instead to honesty that is with God alone. And please, please! If you feel you are near to stepping off the edge, reach out. Someone – me, your family, friends, a church, the stranger on the street – SOMEONE is there to catch you. Don’t let Satan win.

Boundaries

single-awareness-day-memesWhew! We all survived “Single Awareness Day”! Now I don’t have to worry about that one for another full year. Anybody else thrilled about this?!?!?

Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, I really enjoy being single and I realize that my being single is very much my own choice. But there are days (like Valentine’s Day) where it is harder to be contentedly single than others.

Sure, I could – and have – joined online dating sites and gotten involved in organizations that might get me around people I could date but for the most part, I choose not to do these things (at least not do them with much dedication or fervor) because I, like many others I suspect, find these possibilities distasteful and challenging.

One of my primary reasons for not liking these options is that for me, setting appropriate boundaries to let in people that are good for me and keep away those who are not is a constant burden I am very much aware of. While I have learned much on this issue, I still prefer to err on the side of tighter boundaries than looser. For those of you who may have read my last blog post, you may more clearly understand that setting boundaries makes me question a good deal about myself. Am I good person by keeping others out? Am I acting too rashly by doing this? Who am I to say this isn’t a good person for me? Whoever said I deserved better than this anyway?

As an abuse survivor, boundaries were never something I learned. Until just about a decadestock-vector-personal-boundaries-word-cloud-concept-vector-illustration-402659938 ago, I didn’t know that the inappropriate things that people said or did to me were, in fact, inappropriate. I had been “taught” I deserved to be treated badly; to be treated with disrespect and anger. This was so ingrained in me that when opportunities arose in which I might actually be treated well, I quickly went the other way. I simply didn’t know how to react when people treated me the way I should be or wanted to be. I even went so far as to put myself in situations that would virtually guarantee negative things just to prove to myself that this was all I was worthy of. I have now learned to place appropriate boundaries in my relationships, but it was not an easy road to get to where I am now.

Boundaries as a whole a difficult. I’m sure when some of you read the title of this post, you assumed I was going to be writing about the very controversial wall that President Trump is worked to have put in place. The thing is, just like that wall, putting up too strong of a barrier can be as destructive as not putting up one at all. I recently read an article where the argument about the wall wasn’t that President Trump wanted to erect it, but that it is to be thick and solid. From a security standpoint, having something you can’t see through is dangerous! Whether it be a military operation or a single mom at home, one needs to be able to see the potential enemies in order to be able to respond correctly. How can I possibly protect myself if I am unable to see what is coming at me and where exactly it is coming from?

I know this is you-teach-people-how-to-treat-yougoing to shock you, but I had to learn this the hard way.

When I learned that I needed boundaries in place I erected solid steel walls that surrounded my heart. Sure, they kept me from making poor choices in regards to relationships, but their impenetrability was so firm I was left feeling more alone and broken than I had been before. At least before, I had people in my life, even if they treated me badly. Additionally, the thickness and impenetrability of the wall kept me from truly seeing those who meant me harm clearly and then react appropriately. I found myself being blindsided over and over again and being at a complete loss as to why.

What I finally realized much, much later was that the boundaries I had erected not only kept out the “bad guys”, but they kept out all that was good as well. Most importantly, those thick, steel walls kept God out.

I not only couldn’t truly feel God’s love, I couldn’t hear Him providing me counsel and guidance. God couldn’t get to me and I couldn’t get to Him. My unconscious belief that I was unworthy and unlovable kept even a single ray of His light from getting either out or in even though I was, even at that time, working hard to be the best Christian woman I could be.

It took painstaking hours of therapy, prayer, and the passing of time to help me to see what toll these boundaries had taken. And then came the hard work of figuring out how to tear down these wall while still leaving a healthy boundary in place.

I started with a single piece. Just enough of a piece to let the light in and warm my heart an spirit. Soon, I was able to start cutting bigger and larger holes in my fortress of steel. The sharp, unevbronze-color-stainless-steel-aluminum-laser-cuten edges slowly created a beautiful design that could more accurately reflect my newfound security. Sure, there were still very sharp edges that would take a long time to soften, but the steel became art; beautiful images of who I was and who I was becoming. More importantly, it became less of a barrier from my life than an addition to my life.

I – like all of us – needed then and continue to need boundaries to keep us in line with Gods will for our lives. Our job as Christians is to understand what those boundaries are supposed to look like rather than let our human nature make that determination.

As humans, we tend to be “all or nothing” individuals. If someone believes just like we do, they’re in and if they don’t, we create stronger and stronger barriers between the two sides hoping against hope that none of their “other” thinking leaks through. But God didn’t just place like-minded people on His planet and He didn’t instruct us to just love those who are like us. God told us to love one another and then gave us His Word and His presence in prayer time to understand how we are to both love them and be safe emotionally, physically and spiritually.

One of the ways we can best create boundaries is to look to God’s creation for inspiration. Trees, shrubs and water are all part of God’s world that create boundaries but what they all have in common is that they are all flexible like trees. Our boundaries should be the same. They should be able to sway with the winds of our lives, be pushed aside to accommodate temporary shifts, or be low enough that bridges can be placed to allow a safe crossing.

Boundaries should also be built in such a way that they can change. Different seasons of our lives will bring different people, different opinions, and different feelings and this is all okay! With God’s help, we can use those seasonal changes to readdress who we have in our lives and why. As we enter into this Lenten season, perhaps now is a time for all of us to reassess the boundaries we currently have in place and to ask God if we need to make some changes. Are some of the boundaries you have in place giving you the ability to pass judgment on others because they act or believe in ways you don’t like? Or is your lack of a boundary with a given individual putting you in a situation you shouldn’t be? I cannot be the one to tell you one way or the other. All of our paths in this life are different and therefore, all of our boundaries need to be different to accommodate that.

If you are like me and putting up boundaries is difficult, I ask you to consider a couple of things that may be helpful.

First, make sure that any boundary you are setting is done with love as the focus, not fear. As I said previously, loving at a safe distance is still acting as Christ called us to. Being able to understand the difference and act accordingly reflects more Christian maturity than either choosing not to love at all or allowing problematic situations to arise or continue.

f9ffbcf73e0a7f25d66461385ee7f18fSecond, if setting healthy boundaries either at home, in the workplace, church, school or wherever you happen to spend time, seek the counsel of others that you trust. Others can often open our eyes to see things we might otherwise choose to be blind to. If you are unable to identify someone you trust to sit and pray with you on these issues, please reach out. I will work with you to find resources to help. No, we don’t know each other personally but we are all in this boat together! It would be my honor and blessing to help you.

Regardless of where you are in this boundary walk, I pray that you keep them well tended and in place because once they are there we can all make healthy choices about relationships and actions that may actually make “Single Awareness Day” less difficult.

 

 

Loving at a Distance

wills20picI guess I should have seen it coming.

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

I was written out of the will.

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

What had I done to warrant such an action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I hated these feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

In a word, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Physics of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

Just like in faith.

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

 

Dreams are Children

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

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

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

…and then I stopped dreaming altogether.

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

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

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

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

into-the-woods

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

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

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

Wow. What a profound statement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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