Expectations

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Father’s Day was just a week ago and all week long I’ve been thinking about my dad and dad’s in general. I know. I’m behind. I should have been thinking about this the week before Father’s Day, but Ce la vie.

Anyway…back to my point.

I’ve been thinking about fathers and the impact they have on our lives. For me, as I’ve said in previous blogs, I am a daddy’s girl. While I didn’t live with my dad for a good part of my childhood, he has always had this almost superhero status in my eyes. Sure, some of that may have been the fact that he was well over 6′ tall and filled doorways, but even now that he’s 84 and his stature has decreased with time and gravity, he still has the same general status in my mind.

It’s not that all of my memories about my dad are good ones, but despite the ups and downs of our relationship I always felt that he had the ability to help me find my way through challenging situations.

These situations, of course, have looked significantly throughout the years. When I was little, that meant finding his finger to help me cross the road or climb the curb or using his feet to guide me as we danced at his wedding to my stepmom. As a teenager, that meant helping me to figure out that the retread tire I was driving on was losing its rubber or opening his wallet to help me go to the movies or put gas in my car. As an adult, this often has come by way of insight and wisdom gleaned from his years of success.fathers-day-gift-ideas

As I think about these memories with my dad, they all include the same thing – me reaching my hand out – physically or metaphorically – to receive help in one way or another. Maybe my request for help was just through words, but the end result is the same – I reach out and there is help provided.

But there’s a catch.

The help I received was not always what I wanted it to be, but rather, what was in my best interests as far as my dad was able to determine for me at that time.

My relationship with my Heavenly Father is the same. Regardless of my need or how I express that need, when I reach my hands out He places what I need. Again, what is placed in my hands is not always what I want it to be, but it is what I most need it to be. More importantly, unlike my earthly father, God can see the entirety of my existence here and knows fully what is in my best interest not just for now, but farther into the future than I could ever imagine.

During the homily at my church last week, this particular point was addressed clearly and poignantly.

communion-in-handAs an Episcopalian, I go to the alter every week to receive communion. I kneel and extend my empty hands to the priest for a small wafer and wine meant to remind me of the sacrifice that God has made for me in the gift of His Son. Now, for those of you who have never had a communion wafer and wine, let me assure you the wafer is no a sugar cookie and the wine is most definitely not going to be found on the top of any wine connoisseurs list of excellence. But, of course, this is not their purpose.

When I am given the wafer and wine, I am reminded of the gift I have been given through my salvation; I am reminded of the sacrifice that Jesus made for me so I can have the opportunity to learn to love and to serve. These are the things that I need.

Furthermore, just like when I extended my hand to my dad asking for gas money or keys to the car, when I go to the alter to receive communion every week, I must extend my empty hands to receive the gifts being presented.

Why is it important that my hands are empty?

First, I have nothing to offer that is sufficient to receive what God has to give me.- the gift of love, mercy, and grace. No money, no personal sacrifice, nothing can pay for these things.

Second, my hands empty because that is the only way I can truly receive what is placed there. If I came to the alter with my hands full of other things, I couldn’t take what was being offered to me. It’s like having my arms full of grocery bags and needing to use my house key to open the door. Whatever I have in my hands has to be put down so do can accomplish what needs to be done.

Every time each one of us comes to our Heavenly Father, we must remember to empty our hands of all the stuff that is so often there – our worries, our anger, our sadness, our disappointment, and most importantly, our expectations.quotation-sri-chinmoy-peace-expectation-expectations-meetville-quotes-82246

Now I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t we supposed to go to God with the expectation that He is going to provide for us?

Yes, absolutely.

But the only expectation that we should carry in our hearts when approach Him is that He will provide what we need to accomplish His will for us. As I’ve said before, God is not a genie in a bottle granting our every wish. Additionally, God is not the reflection of some people’s earthly fathers. He is not abusive, He is not distant, and most importantly, He is not absent. He never has been and he never will be.

We must empty our hearts and minds of the expectations of what will be given to us based on our perception of reality. The solution to our current need or want is often not at all what we would imagine for ourselves – good or bad.

What God gives us will always be greater than our greater hope and desire. All we need to do is reach out our hand and wait.

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Celebrating Dependence

25085-thinkstockphotos-478624257-1200w-tnI cannot believe it is already the beginning of July! Seems like we just celebrated Mother’s Day and now it’s time bring on the fireworks and barbecues!

I am a huge fan of fireworks and the celebration of our country. If there is really such a thing as past lives, I swear I must have been a soldier or somehow tied to the military because the patriotic songs and spirit that comes with 4th of July celebrations always makes my heart swell and my eyes leak. I believe that we as a nation have much to be thankful for and rejoice in but it is also important for us to remember that neither freedom nor independence is something that comes without cost.  As I think about this upcoming holiday I can’t help but be reminded that thousands have sacrificed their lives and continue to sacrifice so that I may have the freedom to even type this post and I am forever in their debt.

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We are a fiercely independent nation. Not only are we not ruled or tied to another nation, but we are independent in the way we live, work and raise our children. That sense of independence – being able to reach for and obtain a dream – is what has made America great. Unfortunately, as I look around our amazing country, I see that focus has been slowly been replaced a focus on “self”. Success is no longer about a scrappy immigrant coming to our nation and building a successful business with the sweat of his brow and the support of his faith and family, but about pushing, shoving, and climbing that ladder of success regardless of the cost to anyone else. The “I don’t need anyone to get what I want” mentality has been molded and formed to perfection over the past 240 years and I don’t expect this to change any time soon.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t see independence itself as a bad thing. I mean, I’m fairly certain nobody reading this would be a surprised to hear that I am a fiercely independent person. I grew up as a latch-key kid (for those of you too young to know what that is, it meant that I was home alone after school due to working parents) and quickly learned how to fend for myself regardless of the situation.   To me, the skills I learned growing up the way I did helped me to be more creative and adaptable. They have also helped me get through some extremely difficult personal times.

When my ex-husband and I separated 10 years ago, I was left with literally nothing – no
job, no money, no home, and virtually no support system. My independent spirit helped me find ways to dig myself out while my faith strengthened me.  I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and claw my way back out of the hole I found myself in. The sense of accomplishment I felgodlywomant when I found myself on the other side of that challenge was greater than perhaps any other I have felt before or since.  I literally praise God for it every day.

Needless to say, I am forever grateful for my independent nature. But there seems to be a growing problem with the way we personally identify with independence today and this has created a crisis of faith that has affected the entire nation.

By definition, independence means that one is free from “the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others,”(dictionary.com). Taken literally, this very definition removes the authority of God from our lives making each of us the center of our own little universes. As I look at our society today, it seems clear to me that this is the image of independence and freedom that we have been rapidly moving toward.

No longer do we as a country or as individuals long to be controlled by rules, mores, or (heaven forbid) religious ideology. We want to be able to not only believe what we want to but also to have the “freedom” to abuse those who do not think the same way or join the battle we have chosen for the moment. Our nation is so fiercely focused on individual freedom and independence that we have effectively created a nation of 300 million individual countries.

Sound ideal or terrifying?

To me, it sounds not only terrifying, but heartbreaking.

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God did not create us to be independent but dependent on Him and His guidelines for our lives. We are made to be in communion with one another – leaning on each other, loving each other, and learning from each other so that we can all grow in faith and community and thus glorify the God that placed us here. Instead, we have returned ourselves to the slavery from which God released us.

I know. You’re saying “I’m not a slave! I’m free! I can make my own decisions, do what I want and live the life I want!” While that all sounds wonderful, I don’t believe this is true.

We are now enslaved not by physical chains, but by the chains of pride, greed, and selfishness and we are so weighed down by these chains that we often can’t even see that this ever-increasing charge toward independence has left tremendous carnage in its wake.

Our own identities have become so beaten down by the charge that we are often no longer able to recognize ourselves. We reach for others but the chains we have created are so large and convoluted they have become like barricades around us keeping not only our friends and family from us, but God. Our self-focus has made us each feel isolated and alone.

We have achieved true “independence” and we are ruined because of it.

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If you find yourself in this carnage, please know that you are not alone. God has not lost sight of you. He is there to minister to you, to release you from your chains, and to bring you to true freedom that can only be found in Him. The best part is, you don’t have to do this alone.  Instead, you, like me, can move back toward dependence.

Dependence on one another to carry us toward the goals we have on the horizon and on the wisdom of God to show us if these goals are His.

Dependence on our community to stand together in times of distress and the faith to know that even in the darkest times, God is with us and will provide a lamp for our feet through His Word, His disciples and His grace and mercy.

As you get ready to celebrate the birth of our nation, I sincerely hope that you will also celebrate a return to God-dependence and break free from the chains we have all created. If you feel you have nobody to walk with you through this jouney, reach out to me and let’s walk it together.

The Heartbeat of a City

tmp_1335_7-10-2013_114834_There is a heartbeat of any place where people congregate. It’s an internal rhythm that can not only be felt, but can be see in the movement of its cars and people; slower in rural areas, faster and more energetic in cities. I know this isn’t a new concept but I was reminded of it as I sat in an office on the 16th street mall in Denver looking down on those ant-like skitterings of humans and vehicles making their way through their busy – or not so busy – day.

The never-ending buzz of activity I could see from above took me back to my younger years when I worked downtown and experiences this energy for the first time but the energy had changed. Back then, the city had a freshness; a newness that reminded me that I was starting my life fresh. All of the hopes and dreams in my mind were yet to be either realized or shattered and I felt that in the mirrored-finish of the skyscrapers that surrounded me as well as the brand new pedestrian mall that ran through the center of the city.

The beat of Denver is different now than it was then. The state-of-the-art shopping complex was once the center of that pedestrian mall now houses offices (like the one I was sitting in ), a university and pizza joint. What was once a vibrant working and shopping community has more reminders of  the homelessness that is so pervasive in our country and the dichotomy of rich and poor seems less stark as the oil and gas industry has recently taken a hit and other successful businesses in town are working harder and leaner to get to the same place they were back then.

In a way it saddens me. I love my city and I love the memories of those “hay days” from the 80’s, but Denver, like many cities, has gone through some pretty significant growing pains as it has tried to overcome  its “cow-town”reputation. While the sidewalks don’t roll up at 10pm on week-nights anymore, Denver hasn’t quite found its way to becoming the great metropolitan center of the Southwest.

Don’t get me wrong. Denver, has a great deal to offer! But Denver, at least for me, will always have a sense of naivety that is more commonly found in smaller areas. I love that despite the growing pains it has suffered, Denver is working hard to overcome its past and present burdens and struggles.  It is works to keep the sense of history that exists here while building something new that will be great now and in the future.

Funny. That’s just what we are doing as Christians and members of other faith communities, isn’t it?

Each of us has growing pains as we move into our faith. We all start out fresh and “shiny”, thinking we have it all figured out and are ready to take on the world with our big dreams and bigger imaginations but in the blink of an eye, the ground shifts beneath us and those dreams crack or maybe even break. We falter, our identity as Christians and as individuals and we are left standing there like empty storefronts on a forgotten city block – holding the space that was once our glory but now is just a shell, a reminder of our failure. We begin to wonder who we really are if we aren’t the person we imagined ourselves to be in our “glory days”.

1932-storefront_3231The joy of being both human and a member of a faith community is just like the excitement of being in the middle of a city that is being revitalized. Like that city, we have the ability to recreate ourselves; to take what was once there and recreate it into something not just newer, but better. Who we were before only adds dimension to who will choose to be tomorrow. But just like those who are looking at the shattered windows and graffitied walls of the city, we have to make a choice to change and accept that the choice will take work.

The choice to change is a scary one. It takes risk, it takes strength, and it takes faith. I know this now more than I did before as I recently walked away from a job that was causing me physical and emotional distress. I had to choose to believe I was worth the risk, to believe that I had the strength to stand up and take the leap, and to have the faith that God will provide a way through.

Believe me, I didn’t take this step lightly or easily. I literally spent days sitting at my computer and crying, trying to figure out what I needed to do and being overwhelmed by the risks that were ahead.

In the end, though, I came to one very clear realization. I was, for lack of a better phrase, being called to step out in faith. To take a new journey of revitalization.

I could have declined, chosen the easier path of staying put, but for this, this was not an option. Not only would the stress kill me, but I would become a human representation of one of the ghost towns that litter that mountains of Colorado. I would become an empty shell of who I was created to be.

Instead I have chosen to do the hard work – to gut much of the structure of my current life and re-imagine what my life could be.

I have to admit that I am terrified.

What if I fail? What if I run our of money before my next job arrives? What if I completely misunderstood what God was telling me because it was what I wanted to hear?

Believe me, these thoughts plague my mind more frequently than I care to admit, but I am choosing to take a “city planner” view of my situation.

Like Denver, my life still has pretty good bones, as it were. I have good skills, a strong faith, and a good group of people around me that are helping me to look to the future rather than worry about the moment.construction denver

As I sat in the office in the 16th street office, I see myself in the cranes and construction sites around the city. I am like my beloved city. I will come out of this stronger, newer, and more in tune with who I am supposed to be rather than who someone else said I should be so many years ago.

What about you? Are you being revitalized like I am or have you already been through this process and can see the other side? Or maybe you chose to stay put and see that staying there has revitalized you in other ways. Whatever your story, I would love to hear it.

In the meantime, I’d better get back to building.

 

 

Poem From Capulet

A wonderful, thought provoking poem.

Serena Joy Sinclair

I wrote this poem as an assignment my freshman year of high school, but I find it applicable today as it is based off the feud between the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet. Today we still pass down our biases and prejudices to our children and keep these wars and acts of terror going. I don’t have children, but I hope when I do that I am not the one responsible for teaching them hate.

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Not Even a Slap on the Wrist

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

This disturbing and heartbreaking sentence is one I am sure many of us have read over and over again this week as we learned of the sentencing of Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, was convicted on 3 counts of felony sexual assault for sexually molesting a woman with whom he attended a college party.

While it was unanimously agreed by a jury that Mr. Turner forced himself on this unsuspecting and unconscious woman, the judge in the case only sentenced to 6 months in county jail, probation, and mandatory registration as a sexual offender.

6 months. 2 months’ time for each felony.

Not even a slap on the wrist.

Surely there must be extenuating circumstances, right?

Of course there were.

Brock Turner, as it turned out, is a swimmer of some esteem and the judge was concerned that a stricter sentence might negatively impact the young man’s future.

Interesting.

The judge, Aaron Persky, was concerned about the young man’s future but not the future of the victimized woman.

How did we get to this place where we care more about the rights of a person who may potentially be a successful athlete than we do about the people who are victimized along the way?

Sadly, this is a dirty little secret that has been in and out of the media for decades but one which no significant strides have been made for betterment of the situation.

In a survey of over 150,000 students at 27 universities it was discovered that nearly 1 in 4 female students are victims of sexual assault or misconduct.

That’s one in every four students.

I can only wonder how many of you reading this article today – male or female – would identify as being one of those victimized students.

The question becomes, then, why is this such a prevalent problem? Why do not more of those victimized persons come forward so we can change the dynamic?

Just ask Brock Turner’s victim.

As this woman so painfully learned, in a court of law the victim not only has to relive the experience he or she was forced to endure once before and likely has every waking hour since, but must also have every minute action of that given day dissected on the stand to allow the defense the opportunity to find potential proof that the person “asked for” the assault or misconduct.

We do not treat the victims of these assaults with compassion or grace, but rather treat them as science experiments – poking and prodding their actions and inactions trying to find the one place of weakness that can account for the actions of the accused. Perhaps it was what she wore or the way she was dancing. Maybe, as in this case, both parties had too much to drink or there were drugs involved. Maybe the victim’s memory is faulty and he or she actually did give consent but is now too embarrassed to say so.

It seems we will look for anything to remove the blame of sexual assault from the accused and place it on the victim. Why is this?

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that at some level, sexuality and intimacy are still issues that are forbidden as topics of discussion particularly in faith circles. Perhaps it’s because the actions themselves are so horrendous to imagine that we immediately seek to find some reason this occurred rather than come to terms with the fact that someone consciously chose to shatter another persons sense of self in such a drastic manner. Or perhaps at some level we as a society are still so tied to our patriarchal roots that we feel that men are innately aggressive and therefore these actions can be somewhat understood.

I personally don’t understand any of those “perhapses”.

Sexuality and intimacy are discussed throughout the Bible. They are one of the most significant gifts God has given to His people and they are to be treasured. To be still tied to the Victorian ideal that sex is dirty and therefore not to be discussed sets us up for victimization. Also, at a very basic level, assuming that sex is dirty presupposes that God was wrong to give it to us and is therefore fallible and not God at all.

To believe that sexual assault and rape are too awful to think about or deal with is, in this day and age particularly, ridiculous. We are faced with bloodied bodies and horrendous imagery nearly every where we turn our eyes these days. Yes, rape and sexual assault are not (always) murder, but to put these actions at a level different from murder indicates that they are removed from our life as human beings, not a part of it. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Sexuality and our ability to express and enjoy it is one of the things that makes us truly human.

I would agree that we are still  quite tied to our patriarchal roots, but that does not mean that we should accept aggressive and animalistic behaviors from men just because they are men any more than we should accept women being victims of rape or assault just because they are women. To suggest otherwise means that we are truly no more intelligent or morally responsible than the average dog or monkey. God created us to be more than the animals – above the animals. We have the ability to think beyond our animalistic instincts regardless of our roots.

So if none of these things are true, what is it that we have going on around us that allows for celebrities and athletes alike to be treated as more than just mortal?

To me, I think it’s because celebrities and athletes of today have become the golden calves of ancient time.

We are desperately seeking something greater than ourselves to make sense of the trials of our lives but rather than turning our eyes to God through prayer and study of His word, we are furiously making idols of anyone we think does something greater than what we think we are able to do. By doing this, we not only make for ourselves false idols, but we diminish ourselves in our own eyes. No longer are we important; no longer are we something of value. The lesser our own value, the easier it is to dismiss the things that are done to us which would otherwise be recognized as heinous.

Our job as Christians and members of other faith communities is to remember our own value in God’s eyes and help others to recognize their own value as well so we as a community can be the people God put us here to be.

I know. It sounds like it should be so simple but is in reality nearly impossible because in reality, what I’m saying is we have to acknowledge that no one person here on earth is greater or lesser than another. The homeless person on the street corner is just as valuable a person as the President of the United States; your favorite movie actor or actress is no more valuable a person than you are; Brock Turner’s victim is no less worthy of grace and mercy than Mr. Turner.

And that’s where we have the problem.

In our human eyes, we place everyone in different categories; on different levels of worth. But as Christians, we are called to see everyone the same way that God sees them. Each and every one of us was created by God and each and every one of us is loved by God equally. More importantly, we are all created by God so we all belong to the same family.

If we remember that we are all part of the same family, our hearts will break for both the perpetrator of a crime as well as the victim and we will work to provide healing for both members of the family because it’s important to the overall health of the family.

We don’t let the Brock Turner of our family off the hook for the things he did because of his excellence as an athlete or scholar or businessman or whatever. We help him take responsibility for them and love him through the process of making amends.

We don’t blame the victim and disregard her pain. We circle with love and help her move through the pain so she can let go of her anger and bitterness and come out the other side healed and at peace.

Now I know that this all sounds impossible and honestly, it is, particularly in this day and age. But here’s what I would like to believe.

If each one of us starts loving the people around us like God loves us, then perhaps there will be less brokenness around us. If we each respond to brokenness with grace and mercy, perhaps we can help heal the wounds that were created by another’s actions.

And if we each remember that God placed nobody – man or woman – above the other than perhaps we can begin to treat one another with the equality and respect we all deserve.