Isolation is an interesting thing. It is, on the one hand, the space in which one can think, rest, recover and gather strength and on the other, it is the place where that peace can be destroyed, where thoughts can destroy the opportunity for rest and strength is sapped by the feelings of emptiness and loss.
This past year, the pandemic has put nearly all of us in places where we have yearned for some semblance of normality to return only to be bombarded by one piece of negative news upon another. It has begun to feel as though who we are as individuals and as a country has been slowly eroded away like the face of a statue on the shoreline, the never-ending spray of sea and salt washing away the individual features that made us each unique and wonderful.
I am sure that I’m not alone in feeling like that constant battering of sand against my face has worn me down to nothing. Not only has the comfort of normality been removed from our daily lives, but I personally have felt beaten down by the circumstances I have been in. A little less than a year ago, I began a new job hoping that by moving back to something I had been successful at before, I would gain a stronger sense of success and worth; that by going back down a road I had been on before, I would be able to relocate the me that I feel like I lost along the way but whoever that was, she is no longer there and I am here, lost and alone in the middle of a path I no longer recognize.
Perhaps I feel this way because I have been alone for so long, waiting and longing for that to change but unable to find another person with whom I connected well (or at all, honestly, because let’s be real – dating after 50 is challenging at best). Maybe I feel this way because at the time in my life that I would have been focused on figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was more focused on digging myself out of the rubble of abuse and finding a way to create a “me” that looked more like the warrior I knew I was instead of the victim I was told I should be.
Despite what you may think, I am truly proud of the things I have overcome and the person that I have become as a result. I have strength that I know others do not, insights I couldn’t have gathered any way other than being where I’ve been, and skills I’ve obtained through sheer necessity. If I could stand outside of myself and see who I am with a critical eye, I think I might be impressed by who stood in front of me. But as it is, I see failure after failure; brokenness and insecurity where strength and self-worth should be. I am fearful to take that next step forward for fear of another failure but also know that there is no going back.
So where does that leave me?
I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is I am here for a reason. I know there is a God that has placed me here at this time in this situation and that because He is a God of love and omnipotence, that the end is a place of goodness. And I know that, as I’ve said over and over throughout the years, me being here at this time is not really about me but about a greater good which I in my humanity am completely unable to comprehend.
Despite all of this knowledge that God does and will prevail, I am tired. I yearn for a time to feel I am right where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I was created to be doing, and able to share these things with others – maybe even one specific “other”. Maybe that time is just around the corner. Maybe the winds will cease, the erosion will end, and the One who created me will show me that even the formless nothing I have become has meaning and purpose…
…or maybe I’ll just be that eroded lump of rock you step around next time you’re at the shore.
Have any of you ever heard of Cherophobia? It’s the literal fear of happiness. While it sounds crazy, an article in Psychology Today confirms this phobia is not only real, but far more prevalent than one might think (I know, there’s a phobia or disorder for everything these days, right?).
What made me want to write about this today is that not only do I identify with this particular disorder at least to some degree, but thinking about the way this disorder is often exhibited, I not only agree that a large number of people suffer from this to some extent, but that we are teaching our children to have the same fear – and that breaks my heart.
As you would probably expect, Cherophobia is not easy to truly diagnose. There are levels and degrees of this disorder, but at its root, people that suffer from this disorder avoid situations that would make them feel true joy or, if they attend such events, they appear standoffish or disconnected, never allowing themselves to fully participate and ‘run the risk’ of feeling the happiness they either believe others feel or that they think is unavailable to them or that they for some reason do not deserve.
Recently, there was a speaker I had the honor of hearing that addressed this phobia in such a unique way that it forced me to re-examine my own relationship with happiness.
The speaker posed a question which in and of itself was relatively innocuous – how often do you answer a question about the weather, your day, your weekend or your relationship with a qualifier such as it’s good now, but yesterday was awful or it’s pretty good but tomorrow is going to be awful?
I realize this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you look at it overall, it really does seem to be indicative of our overall outlook regarding life. As a society, we seem to think – and are teaching our children – that while something may be perfect now, just wait- it’ll turn to crap again just like we expect it to. Additionally, the prevalence of and media attention on crime, violence, and all things fear-based, happiness is all but obliterated from our emotional vocabulary. Accepting the joy or peace of a given moment is no longer the default, but something we have to consciously decide to do and more often than not, we make the choice to not embrace that emotion because we don’t want to experience the let down when the moment passes.
Now I get it. There is plenty of things in our world to be fearful of and this feeds into our innate need to identify risk and find a way to eliminate it. But the thing is that as our society has become more civilized and safe, the number of things that are truly a risk to the masses have become fewer and fewer but our fight or flight response has made our ability to identify a true risk unreliable and overly sensitive. Moreover, things our ability to tolerate risk or even inconvenience has become so narrow that our responses to things as common as traffic jams suddenly explode into something intolerable and dangerous. We have become perpetually on alert and have taught our children to fear all things different or challenging.
But the thing is by always being on alert for the smallest perceived risk removes the ability to actually embrace a given moment fully. It is literally impossible to fully enjoy the company of others at a party or enjoy the thrill of conquering a challenge if at least half of our mind is focused on the “what if’s” or “could be’s” and as a result, conditioned ourselves keep happiness at arms-length creating an overwhelming number of people to be isolated, depressed, disengaged, and suicidal.
This resonates so clearly within me that I wonder if those around me can hear the ringing. Keeping my distance from happiness was something learned at an early age and something I have mastered throughout my 50+ years. I cannot count the number of memories that I have that include something bad happening directly after I was truly happy creating in my mind a connection between the two. For example, I remember my 16th birthday. It was really the only birthday party I remember having or wanting and I was really excited about having friends come to celebrate with me. I almost never had friends to my house so this was a particularly significant event. But as often happens with alcoholic parents, what is supposed to be fun becomes complicated.
A fun shopping spree for party food and gifts ended in my having to crawl through the window to let everyone in because my mom had locked us all out. I was not only late to my own party, but my friends witnessed my embarrassment and my mothers’ not-so-pleasant response to my frustration. This was followed by the constant need to apologize to my friends for my mom’s erratic behavior as one minute she was laughing and trying to show us her dance moves and the next she was screaming and pulling me up the stairs by my hair the next moment because we had become too loud for her.
Events like this taught me not to hope; to not have positive expectations and more importantly, to not risk being happy because happiness almost always led to the worst punishments. As a result, I made myself “small”. I found that by keeping myself quiet, keeping my expectations low, and not risking opening the door to something that might actually bring me joy, it was safer for me and those around me. I didn’t have to be reminded that I didn’t deserve the things that other people had in their lives. I was, as I often said, the stray dog begging for scraps under the table. Occasionally you get tossed a piece of filet mignon, sometimes you get kicked in the ribs and shooed away. Either way, you get what you deserve.
Having realized this is what I taught myself to believe, I am working hard to move past my fear of happiness and embrace life, living for the moments of joy rather than living to avoid them. While I can’t say I don’t still find myself back in the same traps, I have finally gotten to the place where I can truly believe that happiness in and of itself is a good thing and something to be sought after. I have to admit that I still have trouble pushing myself to enter into situations where I might be exuberant because I fear what will happen as a result, but I recognize that this is all a process and on the days that I allow myself to be happy, I have won.
I realize that maybe some of this is stuff you have heard from me before, but wanted to reiterate to all of you – and to myself – happiness is not to be feared. Happiness is not a punishment or danger. Happiness is a reflection of love – love expressed from one person to another, from a puppy to a child, from God to each and every one of us. Depriving ourselves of happiness keeps us from embracing the blessings God is giving to us and makes us begin questioning His very existence.
So here is my request for you all.
Beginning today – this week with Valentine’s Day on the horizon and we are bombarded by images of what happiness “should” be – try just once to see the beauty of the day and acknowledge it without qualifying it. Accept that carnation from the child in your life and enjoy the gift as the expression of love that it is instead of just one more thing that you have to throw away when your child isn’t looking. And finally, and most importantly, look up today and acknowledge the happiness that comes from just being able to open your eyes, breathe in and out, and take on a new day, whatever it holds. The more we can live in the small, happy moments, the more those moments will become the focus of our lives and we can all overcome our cherphobia.
It’s a New Year and a new decade – time for us all to crack open the shell of our lives and determine what we want them to look like by the end of the year and into the future.
As I think about this coming year, I keep thinking how amazing it would be if we could all truly have a fresh start – to not have the baggage we have gathered over the years follow us in some way or another.
Over the course of the holiday season, I, perhaps like you, watched several movies and such and came across a story that offered just such an opportunity to a pair of twins. The story, Tell Me Who I Am, tells depicts a twin with a brain injury and how his brother deal with reintroducing the injured brother to the story of their past together. For this particular person, this appeared to be a gift from God as the injured brother had been struggling with mental illness resulting from past abuse so the healthy brother took the opportunity to recreate a completely different past for the two of them; one that including loving, supportive parents and a happy childhood.
This situation presented an opportunity to, at least on the face of it, free both of men from memories neither were able to address previously. The injured man walks blissfully into his new life with no understanding of the devils that lurked around the corner before his accident and for the healthy brother, this felt like the greatest blessing he could offer to his sibling. It also offered the healthy brother the opportunity to pretend he also had that more idealistic life and shut all of the other garbage down deep into his memory bank hopefully to never be dealt with again. Sounds great, right?
Looking in from the outside, it sure seems like it would be ideal to awaken one day with a clean slate, able to look at all of the options in front of me, find what it is that makes my heart sing and be able to follow path that without understanding that perhaps I had followed that particular road earlier in my life but I had become discouraged or perhaps more likely, failed miserably.
The reality is that amnesia or no amnesia, the past cannot simply disappear just because we want it to. There are repercussions – positive and negative – that we are destined to experience due to the choices we have previously made. The things I have done or that others had done to me or around me will affect my future relationships whether or not I remember what actually occurred and I would much rather have all of the necessary information to help me make the best decisions possible rather than go blissfully into a lion’s den without the knowledge that I was going to be eaten alive.
Additionally as much as the “fresh slate” appeals to me, the thought of having to relearn difficult lessons is not appealing at all! Who really wants to go through puberty again or have to relearn that a person you trusted fully was actually the root of all of your problems?
At least from my perspective, memories – both good and bad – are a gift from God. The information they provide keeps us safe, helps us grow and learn from our experiences, and allows us to relive beautiful moments in our lives. Our job as people of faith – and more broadly, as sentient adults – is to use the knowledge we gain from our experiences to make decisions about people, events, and challenges and as a result, become more merciful, loving and understanding of others.
Unfortunately as I look around at my community and the actions of others, it seems that more and more people are choosing to use their memories to encourage bitterness, anger and retribution instead of more positive options. It seems that we as a society would rather mask our memories with drugs and alcohol or use our memories as weapons against others.
Now look, I get it. It is certainly seems more fulfilling if we can continually point at others actions against us as the reason we aren’t able to do what we should be doing or to choose to forget certain lessons because the knowledge that we gained gets in the way of what we want to do in the moment or alters the image we are trying to create. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t circumstances where conveniently “forgetting” wouldn’t be oh-so-much more appealing than owning up to past failures or embarrassments. But the thing is, neither choosing to forget nor choosing to be bitter and angry about our past does nothing but harm us individually.
As the twins in the movie learned, changing our stories only shuts us off from honest relationship with one another. We either exhaust ourselves emotionally by spending more of our time and energy trying to remember the new, fictitious past, or we are so consumed with self-righteous anger, wallowing in our own pit of despair, that we push others away who wish only to help or heal us. We become isolated, lonely, despondent and unable to resolve the conflict.
As hard as it may be to accept, ignorance, regardless of how appealing it may seem, is not bliss. Even in situations where we may have all the right in the world to be angry and vengeful, our job as people of faith is to look beyond how one’s actions made us feel personally and see how we may have either contributed to the situation or find the lessons in the event and carry those forward. I know it may seem impossible. For those, like the men in the movie, that are victims or horrific abuse and violence, this very thought of not seeking retribution; of moving past the injury seems absolutely asinine…
…and yet, it is what we are called to do.
It is not my place to choose the punishment for others. What is my job is looking at the whole of a situation, finding the ways that I may be responsible for given situations, and then choosing forgiveness, mercy and grace. Choosing to drink myself into oblivion or use drugs to alter what I see as reality doesn’t change the truth and bliss is only found in truth.
Here is my wish for all of us for this New Year.
May we all be willing to seek bliss by changing the lense through which we see our past, find new understanding and acceptance of ourselves and others, and carry the light that is within us to everyone we encounter. Yes, I know none of this is easy, but then, as my dad would have said, nothing worth having comes easy.
The red and blue lights created an almost holiday-like atmosphere, but this was no celebration. Despite the holiday decor that surrounded them, miles and miles of rescue vehicles joined with miles and miles of civilians lined the roads today as a firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty was laid to rest today. This is far from a rare event. First responders pay for our safety every single day and every time an outpouring like this passes by me, I weep.
As you might expect, I am crying for the loss of a life and for the family and friends who have been left behind. But I’m also crying with feelings of overwhelming gratitude for those who are willing to offer up their lives every single day to protect the rest of us.
Now, to be fair, I might be a little biased as I have stepsons who have been or are currently in positions where they are protecting the very liberties we as Americans often take for granted. But honestly, as far back as I can remember, I have ugly-cried when even thinking of – let alone watched depictions of – average people sacrificing themselves for others.
You would think that as a Christian, this should be an easy concept for me to grasp. After all, I believe in and worship a God who knowingly gave His life for me. But to me, this is so different because this man – and all those like him – was fully human, lacking the Godly wisdom and insight that Christ had.
This man, and all those in similar situations, knowingly placed his life on the line for the sake of others. There is no enormous paycheck to repay him for this sacrifice, no televised award ceremony or national recognition. He just got up every day to try to make the rest of our Iives’ safer and I find myself shaking my head in wonder. Could I do the same thing? What is it about those who choose that lifestyle that allows them to willingly put themselves in dangerous situations so you and I can live more peacefully?
They aren’t super-human. They all struggle with the same things you and I do – challenges with work, with family, with health. But where their lives differ in that these people see the worst of life every day. They see the brutality we inflict on one another. They confront the tragedies that for the rest of us, only come about once or maybe twice in a lifetime.
And then they head home, putting the horrible things they have seen throughout their shift aside, and become an average husbands, wives, parents, brothers and sisters.
As we as average citizens sit back and view snippets of their lives on YouTube or FaceBook and criticize. We write hateful, horrible things about how this person should have acted assuming that we, in the same situation, would never have done anything like that.
And I am simultaneously heartbroken and furious.
To sit on the outside of any situation where one’s life is on the line every moment of every day and decide that we could have/would have done it better is crazy. We have no idea what situation this individual had just left; what horrific thing they may have just seen and are trying to put behind them so they can finish their shift.
So what’s my point? Why am I on this particular soap-box today?
Well, here’s the thing.
It’s the holiday season. We are all scrambling to try to find the perfect gift or create the perfect experience for our loved ones. Or maybe we are buying an extra gift to put in that Toys for Tots box, feeling good about our small selfless act and maybe secretly hoping someone will have seen us and say something to affirm our action so we can feel even better about being a good person this holiday.
But on the other side of that box is an officer or a soldier or a firefighter who is delivering those gifts for you but may not be able to provide the same gifts for his or her own family. Or maybe the “job” has been more of a burden on them and they have lost their family and are alone trying to figure out why they are continuing to sacrifice their time, their physical and their psychological health for a community of people that spit at them and judge them.
These individuals are not God. They do not get the blessing of seeing the end result of their actions and knowing that the grace and mercy that they are offering to those around them will be recognized. They are each of us trying to do the unthinkable and each of them deserves the same level of respect as that man received today in his funeral procession.
So as I get down off my soapbox today, I ask just one thing.
The next time you watch that Facebook cellphone bit and start to jump to a conclusion about the officer’s motives or you’re pulled over for “just going 5 miles over the limit” or are irritated about having to walk out of your office due to a false alarm, stop.
Stop being critical and start being grateful. When you say “thank you”, mean it and when you have the opportunity, offer them grace and mercy knowing that what they deal with every day is far more than we can ever imagine.
Most of all, include these men and women who sacrifice their lives for us in your prayers. Lift them up and remember that they are doing the very best they can in unimaginable situations. And for those of you who may be reading this and are a first responder, I offer my deep, heart-felt thank you. I have done nothing to deserve the sacrifice you offer, but I am eternally grateful for it.
May each and every one of you have a safe, blessed holiday season.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
It’s October and with Halloween just around the corner, it feels like an appropriate time to bring my blog back from the dead. Thank you to those who have come back to read even in the absence of new posts.
So many things that have happened in the last several months. Many of the things that have been staples in my life are now gone. After losing my beloved dog, Lexy, a year ago, my dad followed just a few months later and the community with whom I would typically look for consolation and support is now also gone as I have found it necessary to look for a new church home.
I don’t know about you, but looking for a church is one of my least favorite things to do. I would almost (almost being the key phrase here) rather go to the dentist for major dental work than have to map out new churches to try. I have yet to find the recipe for finding a group of people with whom you feel a sense of community while simultaneously feel spiritually fed and challenged.
Part of the problem, at least for me, is that places of worship tend to be very “cliquey”. Now, I certainly understand the phenomenon of like-minded people finding one another. After all, that’s what a congregation is, isn’t it? A group of people who gather together to proclaim their belief in the same deity/dieties and who enjoy expressing these beliefs in the same way? This is how I see it, at least, and I don’t find any wrong with this in general. As a person who is an “extroverted introvert”, I absolutely want to find a community of people that make me feel as comfortable as possible when I walk in the door because, dang it, it’s hard to walk in the door all alone!
But the interesting thing about using a sense of comfort as the divining rod of church choice is that we simultaneously make the decision that those in the other groups or churches are “doing it wrong” – or at least not as “right” as we are. The group of people we worship with helps to mold the perspective we on faith as a whole – who God is, what God does, and what we as individuals are called to do under the umbrella of faith. Is that how we are supposed to choose our faith community? What do miss when we do this? It seems to me that by selecting our faith family this way, we quietly draw lines in the sand and define faith based on personal preferences, not theological truth.
Though I cannot guarantee this is the case with everyone, I would venture that many of us define God and faith through the eyes of legalism. We end up feeling good about ourselves and what we are doing “in Faith” because our community is doing everything the same way so we must be doing it right. We feel better about ourselves and the way we behave when compared to what those “other people” do and slowly but surely we become like some people in the Bible that we really don’t want to be associated with…
I know. That’s a really inflammatory – if not heretical – statement, but hear me out.
When I reflect on the traits that I consider to be the defining characteristics of the Pharisees, I think of things such as self-righteousness and judgmentalism (no, it’s not be a word, but I like it so I’m going with it).
Mostly, I think of individuals who primarily seek to find only the wrong in others’ lives as opposed to accepting those around them as individual masterpieces God created. To me, the Pharisees’ primary goals were to ensure all around them knew they were the most learned, most perfect, and most chosen of all.
And as I look around at my own actions and those I encounter both in the houses of worship I have visited and just around me in general, I see those same traits oozing out of all of us. No, we aren’t literally crucifying people for committing what we consider to be heinous crimes, but I would suggest that we do crucify one another symbolically by choosing actions, behaviors, personality types and even careers that we feel are contrary to the narrow view of God and faith that we currently identify with. We do this by cherry-picking Bible passages that support what we want God to be saying and then using those passages as weapons, condemning others actions and, when possible, destroying the life they had that we find so atrocious. We are deciding for ourselves that one action is more deplorable to God than another because we find it personally offensive or contrary to the way we personally interpret the motivation behind the behavior and then use varied interpretations of His Word as the weapon to prove our point.
Now before you all start frantically typing angry messages to me, let me say this. Yes, I do believe that the Bible is God’s Word. I believe that He gave His Word to us via chosen messengers and that through those Words, He has provided us a clear example of how to live a life that is loving and grace-filled. What gets in the way is our desire to be “right”; to be the one that uniquely understands God better, worships Him more fully, forgives more freely. We all want to be God’s chosen and we will often do whatever it takes for us to feel as though we are accomplishing that goal.
Let me be clear. I don’t think that wanting to be God’s chosen is a bad thing. My heart aches to hear God say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). I long to know that when I depart this world, those who knew me will be able to say that I loved well and lived as God would have wanted me to despite my multitudes of failures. But one of the things that I think is crucial is that we all must find a way to understand that our desires are really no different than those of the Pharisees. They were learned men of the Torah who desired to ensure that all people within their area of influence were living as they had been taught and therefore believed the laws indicated they should be so that God would be pleased with them. In their fanaticism to accomplish their goals, they went to the extreme and while we can point and condemn, we are just as likely to do this as they were and in many cases, we already are.
In the end, I think it comes down to this.
Nothing about God is as simple as the black and white definitions we want to create. There is no right or wrong when it comes to a denomination or a church, congregation or stand-alone group. All there is an instruction from God to love one another. If we can do this, we can break down the cliques that exist and open our hearts and minds to see the world more like God sees it and in so doing, create a community that truly honors Him.
In the meantime, I guess l’ll continue to look for a community that looks more like me.
Summer has come and gone in what seems like less than a blink of an eye and we are once again embarking on an autumn full of new activities, homework, busy-ness that permeates nearly every moment of our lives. I often find myself wondering if we choose to fill our days with so much stuff because we are hoping to outrun the tragedies and burdens that seemingly encircle us more and more closely with every passing moment. From mass shootings to natural disasters; from kidnapped children to murdered college students, it all feels as though evil has indeed overtaken every inch of the world.
And yet I know this is not the case.
How can I possibly state this, you ask? In all seriousness, the media coverage shows us all day after day what a disaster our world has become. It seems not just irrational, but nearly insane, to think that evil isn’t winning. And in all honesty, if I were to merely look at the headlines or look into the eyes of those around me who have lost loved ones so tragically, I could agree with you.
But I see more than the headlines.
I find myself turning my eyes from the grief-stricken ones in front of me to the sky, knowing that despite what the media says, my God is still in control. And I can say this with absolute certainty because even in times of grief and mourning so profound words cannot be uttered, eyes still turn heavenward.
Take, for example, Mollie Tibbits, the young woman found murdered just last week. Despite the tragic circumstances of her passing, her friends and family are supporting one another, loving each other through this, and offering prayers, memories and reminders of the beauty that is still around them. While there is understandable anger and overwhelming grief, the family has also thanked God for giving them the gift of being able to find Mollie and to so quickly find answers to at least a few of their questions. This community has circled together, supporting and loving the family that had brought the accused young man to their community and has chosen to see the blessing in the fact that Mollie is with God.
This young woman’s tragic end has made an impact on our country as whole by giving over 34 thousand people a way to connect via The Mollie Movement and giving them tangible ways to show love and support to people in the state of Iowa and around the country.
Yes, I know. This is just one incident. There are hundreds of thousands of people every moment of every day who are dealing with significant tragedy – loved ones who went missing and have never been found, significant acts of violence that have destroyed lives even though physical bodies survived, and on and on. In all of these instances, something happened in the blink of an eye that changed not just an individuals’ world forever, but the lives of all that intersect with that person and nothing can be done to change return things to their previous state…
…And yet God is there for each and every one of these people at every moment.
Now I get it. From a human perspective, it all seems so unfair. We cannot wrap our minds around why such things can possibly happen if there is a loving God in the heavens let alone in our midst. But as I’ve said over and over again, this life isn’t about us individually.
At least as I see it, our job here on earth is to learn to be God for those around us. That means learning the difficult things like having to be the hands and feet for him during a tragedy, learning to be voice of compassion to one who is struggling even when you don’t understand the struggle, and perhaps most difficult of all, reflecting the grace and mercy of God to those who cause tragic events to occur in the first place. I know this sounds impossible and if we choose to keep our eyes focused downward, it will never happen.
But if we choose instead to look to the heavens and remember that God sent His son to show us how to do just that, it can be done. The hardest part is to remember that even those we consider to be the worst of humanity were still created by God.
And God is always good. All the time.
God is entirely perfect, entirely good, entirely loving and entirely omnipotent. He has created a world in which we can come to love him and trust Him despite the trials and pains of this world. Faith would not be faith were we not faced with challenges too large to comprehend. We wouldn’t have needed Jesus to be a living example of how to live in God’s image by walking this earth if our time were wasn’t going to be difficult. And Jesus wouldn’t have had to die a terrible and painful death if we didn’t need to be shown that our plans and our goals for our lives and the lives of others cannot fulfill God’s perfect plan.
The bottom line is this. None of us know what piece of the tapestry we are called to complete. We do not know what choices we will make that will cause significant ripple effects on the lives of those around us. And none of us know when our faith will be tested by circumstances beyond our control. What God wants each of us to know – what He cries to us from the heavens in every circumstance – is that He is in control and that if we just turn our eyes to Him, He will create goodness out of every moment, the good and the horrible.
That was the understatement of the year, right? I mean, sure, it has big rewards, but not without significant cost and I, personally, was not prepared for the cost.
For those who may not be aware, nearly 20 years ago, I prayed that God would bring me a husband and children….but I wasn’t specific enough and God, having the sense of humor that He does, blessed me with both at once.
Ok. Maybe that was just my making a choice and not really listening all that well, but regardless I married a man with 3 boys who all lived with us full time for the entirety of our marriage (in hindsight, there are times I truly wonder how much of a blessing the marriage itself was, but that’s a topic for another day) and while I truly do love these boys as much as I possibly can, there are times that wonder how in heavens name they turned out the way they did and I somehow managed not to just beat them upside the head with a 2×4 to knock some sense into them.
I’m kidding, of course. I would never hurt any of them, but I can honestly state that only children have the unique ability to cause such exquisite pain that I find myself wondering if it would be less painful to inflict myself with a million paper cuts and pour fresh salt and lemon juice in them for an hour.
What makes me think about such lovely thoughts on such a pretty summer day? Well as I sit here I am reflecting on the struggles my youngest is experiencing and creating.
He is a wonderful, tender-hearted kid who suffers from pretty severe ADHD and depression. These two things have been a tremendous challenge for him as he tries both positive and negative means to control the impulses and depression that drive him, make him feel like he’s crawling out of his own skin and keep him longing for some unknown source of happiness and peace e has yet to find.
And therein lays the root of the struggle he is currently experiencing.
At this time, he is choosing to act on some things that have the potential to have lasting effects on his personal relationships and lifestyle. Despite how much he tries, he typically sets himself up to fail and cannot force him to make better choices, act more responsibly, or choose not to have instant gratification in a given situation.
I love him dearly and want to be able to do whatever I can for him, but as I look at the life he is leading at the ripe old age of 26, my heart breaks for these choices because it feels to me that they continue to distance him from the life I had believe God wants him to live.
And then I remember that God is God, not me.
Only God knows what His plan is for the son that is currently struggling or the other two, for that matter.
Only God knows what His plan is for any of us and I can virtually guarantee that His plan doesn’t match the one we have in our heads.
We all want our kids all to be happy, healthy, successful, and overall the very best people they can possibly be. But God’s plan is bigger than our mortal minds can comprehend and because of that, not all of our children (let alone each of us) will have the opportunity to live the lives we desperately long for them to lead. As a matter of fact, some of us and some of our kids are going to end up doing some pretty awful things and make some really terrible decisions and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.
And each of these actions fit perfectly into God’s plan.
And that feels more than a little unfair.
Why is it that God places these tiny beings in our live, grow, love and develop into unique, amazing people only to have send this wonderful little human in a direction so far from what we had envisioned and thought He had promised?
Weren’t we the ones that spent sleepless nights nursing them through illnesses or laboring for endless hours at the kitchen table on one homework project after another? Weren’t we the ones championing them on through sports activities, relationship woes, and decisions that either were or at least felt life altering? Of course we were…
…and so was God.
As painful as it has been for me to realize, I have come to understand that for every moment I have spent worrying about my kids – this one perhaps a little more than the others – God has watched him go through it twice; once when He created Him and saw the life He created laid out before Him and the second time, as He witnessed this child actually make the expected errors.
And here’s the particularly difficult part.
The fact is that because God created this boy just the way he is and knew exactly what choices he would make as he walked through this life means that God blessed this life as it was. Not some better version of it or some idealistic view of what my sons’ life could be, but just as it is, warts and all.
And, as the Bible said, it was good.
Ok. You’re right.
The Bible didn’t say that about my child specifically, but in my view, that is in fact what God said about all of our children because God is a perfect God. He is all knowing and all loving and because he is God, He doesn’t make mistakes nor change His mind. So following this logic, the decisions my son is making are working together for God’s plan for him and those he will influence and it will turn out just the way God intended. My job, as his stepmother and as a faithful believer in God, is to trust His will is perfect, even if it’s not what I want.
God is not nor will He ever be a vending machine for our wishes. And much as we want to think otherwise, this world and all that is in it doesn’t really revolve around each of us individually. In all honestly, this little tidbit has really been eating at me these past few months as I listen to people talk about how God has done x,y, and z for them because He loves them. Why does that bother me? Because those statements make our faith in God about us not about Him. And these little sentences are the gateways to failures in faith because when things go awry, we can’t believe that the same God who has done all of these things for us individually would think to do something that doesn’t make us happy.
From my little corner of the world, this is one of the reasons Christians fall away from their faith and those we want to lead to the faith do not follow. What they see is when we pray for something specific and it doesn’t come true, it must mean that God is not all loving or that there is something inherently unloving about me.
And this is entirely incorrect,
The plan God has created is better than the one we have in our heads and this plan means we will not have everything we want nor will our lives be what we think they be or maybe what we think we (or other people) deserve. Our lives will only be perfect in the perspective of the truly perfect, loving God.
So as parents, aunts, uncles, and all other family members and friends, we are called to sit back and watch as those we love make stupid mistakes and love them anyway. We cry out in pain as those we love are unjustly treated or even killed and we must trust that our loving, omnipotent God is still in control and despite how much it hurts or angers us, He is still perfect.
And if, by chance, you are in a similar situation as I am and you are angrily reading this thinking clearly I don’t understand the pain you are currently enduring and could not possibly know what you have and are going to have to deal with, you are right. I am not for the most infinitesimal moments suggesting that I do…