Warts and All

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride and fear get in the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happened to personal accountabililty?

https://emedcert.com/blog/house-quotes-motivational-posters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

questtype.com

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

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

What if there’s no heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have faith.

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

So why am I struggling?

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

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

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

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

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

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

God wants more for us than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to you all…