Threads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Idea of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, not enough.

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

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

Actually, no.

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Merry Christmas.

 

God’s Time

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

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

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

And then there are the other times.

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

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

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

Oddly, the answer is no.

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Kind of depressing, isn’t it?

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

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

But it certainly doesn’t always feel that way.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Risen….AGAIN

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

The Lord Has Risen, Indeed, Alleluia!

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

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

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

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

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

First, lets start with Jesus.

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

We, however are not.

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

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

Why do I have to move?stopwhining

Why can’t I make more money?

Why do I have to always be struggling?

Poor, poor, pitiful me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Loving at a Distance

wills20picI guess I should have seen it coming.

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

I was written out of the will.

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

What had I done to warrant such an action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I hated these feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

In a word, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Physics of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

Just like in faith.

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

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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Can you believe we are already 15 days into the new year? Are you one of the many who made a New Year’s resolution? If so, are you still working on it or not?

Resolutions are funny things. They often focus on the things we don’t like about ourselves and we choose this annual marker to decide to change it. Its not like we couldn’t do it any other time of the year, mind you, but somehow, as the countdown begins and the ball starts to drop, it seems more significant and maybe even more achievable.

Or not.

I personally didn’t make any resolutions and honestly haven’t for quite some time. I have goals and things I want to do more or less of, but I don’t put a title around those items nor do I make some public announcement about it so I can either gloat or, more likely, admit defeat far too soon. I have enough of a struggle with the fear of failure that I don’t need to put myself in a place to more likely than not fail and feel horrible about it.

I have made resoultions in the past, however. I am probably not too different from you in the things I’ve chosen to resolve: lose weight, get into better shape, be better about my daily devotion time, quit smoking, start eating better. Any of those hit home for you?

How about “find the love of my life”?

If you’re single, like I am, this has been one of those things that has passed across my “resolution platter” many times. I have thought things like, “this year, I’m picking a dating site and really working at it until I find someone”, or ” this year, I resolve to be more open to the people around me so I can find that special someone”. Needless to say those resolutions haven’t done well for me in the past and I venture to say they would do no better for me today were I to make them again.

Being single is hard. We live in a world where people expect you to have a partner of some sort. People somehow plan things with couples in mind – dinner parties, cocktail parties, recreational events all seem to be “couple-y” events and on the rare occa151sion a single person does get invited, it – at least for me often has that weird 5th wheel kinda feel about it. Couples gravitate to one another and there the single person sits, alone talking to the wallpaper….or quietly sliding out the door.

While all of these feelings still apply to me and my life, I came to an amazing realization just this morning that has changed the way I view the whole relationship thing.

The relationship thing or couple thing isn’t about love.

I know. This seems completely wrong particularly from a faith standpoint, but hear me out.

We are looking for love with human beings who are flawed and suffering just as we are and each of those individuals are as incapable of providing the kind of long-suffering, non-judgmental love to us as we are to them.  And to make matters worse, we are looking for love to fill something within us that cannot be filled by anything that can be found on this planet.

I hear ya. You’re screaming at the screen saying that love is the be all and end all of human existence! We are created to love! Yes, indeed we are created to love – but I think it looks different than what we have all been trying to find here on this earth.

If you are of Christian faith, you -like I – have been taught that God is love. Therefore, He – and only He – is the very thing that we are seeking, period. The problem with the way we look at love in through our human eyes is that we look for it to be something that we “get”. We think we’ve fallen in love with someone because they give us things. Not necessarily physical objects, though that often happens as well, but more to the point, they make us feel certain things – cared for, comfortable in our own skin, special. When we start to lose those special feelings with someone, it always comes back to how we no longer feel “loved” – the person doesn’t do the sweet, caring things they used to or we feel taken for granted.  Whatever the statement, the bottom line is that we are no longer “getting” what we were getting in the first place.

god-is-love-and-love-is-realBut the thing is that love is not a consumer event. Love is God and God is love. The only way to be “in love” is to have God as a part of our lives; to have Him abide in our hearts so that we can reflect out to others the very definition of who He is. Once we are able to do that, we can then have the communion with others that God intended for us to have and fill our desire for companionship and closeness.

So why am I taking the time to make this point? Well, as I realized this pretty significant nuance about love and its true meaning, I realized that by our focusing on getting something from a human being that is just as flawed as we are, we are putting ourselves in the position to believe that love fails…and if love fails, and God is love, then God fails.

I’m sure you think I’m overthinking this, but think about it for a moment with me.

We meet someone, we fall in “love”, we get married and the marriage doesn’t last. Love failed. And then we go to church and we hear how God is love…but in our lives, love failed. If God is love, and love fails, why would I ever want to put my trust in Him? I don’t know that I would.

But96dd93dffa69719c24c885e5157a58d0 if, as I am suggesting here, that love is God and God is love and that the relationships we have are merely a result of HIS love, not ours, then we can in fact have love that does NOT fail because God does not fail.

Ever.

Today, I challenge  you go to do your Bible and read, as I have done, the verses about love. Notice how they are not about us individually and what we can get from one another but about what we can give to others when we have God abiding in us. Take a verse like 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 and replace the word “love” with “God” and see how it changes the tone and the power of the words. If you do this, I pray that you will be blessed in abundance as a result and that you will share your experiences with me.

 

 

Happy Epiphany!

epiphanyausWe did it! We made it successfully through the holiday season. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it was altogether successful from your point of view, but since we are meeting here, that means we are both breathing and functioning at least to some level, so I would call that successful.

I am, as you may know, a cradle Episcopalian so for me, the actual Christmas season just ended with the celebration of Epiphany – the celebration of the Wise Men following the star to meet the baby Jesus. In my home church, we celebrate this day by having the children tell the Christmas story through a small pageant. Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and angels all tell the story of the birth of Jesus with the help of an eclectic parade of animals including an owl and chicken.

I am always so amazed by the bravery of these kids. Some of these children are just barely walking yet they get up in front of people doing as they are asked without question, without fuss. They are participating for the sheer joy of it even though for many, the words they are speaking have no real meaning. This, to me, is the epitome of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and truly all the named figures of the Bible did. They simply did as they were asked without question. This is true faith and I believe it is the faith that God really wishes for us to experience.

Of course, as we get older, it becomes significantly harder for us to act this way. Even though Nike has made a mint on the phrase Just Do It, how many times do we actually heed that advice?

No, more often than not we allow our mind to get in the way of our heart and we fail to act on nudgings from the Holy Spirit. Instead, we rationalize ourselves right out of experiencing the joy of the holiday. So focused are we on making sure everyone knows that Christmas is more that getting gifts that we destroy the wonder and joy that we were once able to experience without question.

Do you remember?

matthew18_3 Think back to a time in your childhood when you ran down the stairs or out of your room to see the tree and the multitude of brightly colored packages that were scattered around it. Or maybe your Christmas was smaller – there were only one or two packages or even just a stocking with some wonderful treasures to behold. Regardless, when we were little, it was all wonderful. We didn’t know we should be wanting the big expensive toys. We didn’t know that our family members spent hours trying to find ways to make the day special. We were able to experience Christmas in its purest form.

As I think about the people throughout the Christmas season who profess over and over about the finding the “true meaning of Christmas” or keeping Christ in Christmas, I can’t help but think that this childlike wonder is really the true meaning of Christmas.

Yes, Christmas is, for Christians, a time of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, into this world. It is a time of prophesies being fulfilled and God revealing His love for us in a new and wonderful way. All of those things are miraculous and should not be forgotten, but we have worked so hard to make the holiday Religious, Pious, and Spiritual that we have taken all of the celebration and joy from the season.

Matthew 18:3 states that we cannot enter Kingdom of God without becoming like children. While this verse has many applications and interpretations, when applied to Christmas, I find it so very truthful. I’s not about God keeping people out of His kingdom or judgment, but rather understanding that we will never understand or experience the joy of Christmas that God intends for us without becoming childlike in our view of it.

I know. You’re saying we aren’t children any more so how can this possibly happen?

Clearly, we cannot become children again nor can we remove our experiences and history that has tainted the way we look at Christmas. But what we can do is try to remove expectations on ourselves, those around us and the holiday itself and just experience things with fresh eyes the same way a child does; the same way Mary, Joseph and the Wise Men did.

2000+ years ago, Mary and Joseph had no idea that the birth of their child would be during their trek to complete the required census or that they would have to stay in a barn and use a feed trough as a crib. This was all unexpected, frightening and astonishing to them. When a child hears the story of the birth of Jesus for the first time, many of these same feelings arise in his or her heart. They can’t believe a baby would be born in a barn or that people would come from hundreds of miles away to see the newborn baby. We as believers need to watch for those feelings of wonder and astonishment and experience them with those who are just learning. We need to see Christmas through the eyes of children so that we might become children ourselves in the way we view our faith.

Now I know what you’re saying. Christmas is over. Why am I talking about how to experience the joy of Christmas when everything has now been packed away and we have moved on?

Well, the thing is our faith doesn’t end when Christmas does nor should our desire to see our faith through fresh, childlike eyes. Ok, so it’s too late to find that sense of wonder about the birth of Jesus for this year, but it’s not too late to find the faith that will allow you to just act when God calls instead of rationalizing your way out of it. It’s not too late to follow whatever star God has placed in your night sky. It’s not too late to extend the grace, mercy and love that we talk about during the Christmas season to those who desperately need it.

The fact that we all made it through the Christmas season to see another new year is a blessing that should be celebrated. What better way to celebrate than to scrape away the layers of cynicism that age has layered over our hearts and minds and look on the world with fresh, childlike eyes to see the wonders that God is placing before us every single day.

Come join me. Let’s be children again!

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GLORY TO GOD IN THE LOWEST

Sharing this lovely post from my corporate chaplain. It’s okay if the holiday season is difficult. It’s okay if you don’t feel the cheer that you assume everyone feels. Remember the Reason for the Season – Look up and be blessed!

It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth…to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was that while they were there…Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn…Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold an angel of the Lord stood before them… and the glory of the Lord shone around them…and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward all. (Luke: 1-14)

Although most scripture scholars agree that the details of Jesus’ birth are more fancy than fact, it may still be comforting to wrap ourselves in the earthy familiarity of this story. Looking back to the time of Caesar Augustus, Joseph and Mary, the too crowded inn, a child born in a manger, and looking up to see the “glory of God in the highest” can serve to connect us to the spirituality that lies hidden beneath the materiality which so often characterizes Christmas.

But we run the risk of missing the true meaning of Christmas if we only look back but not around, up but not down. The story of Jesus’ birth is nostalgic when understood only as an event in history but it is radical, as it should be, if we realize that we are to give birth to his Spirit here and now. It could be said that divinity is the “D” in our DNA. What we call God and imagine residing in the heavens is the life-force that is born, and breathes in each of us. The celebration of Jesus’ birth is meant to remind us of the dignity/divinity of humanity and of our call to bring light to the darkness that surrounds us, and peace to the people with whom we interact.

It is a fact of life that for many, this season of joy is anything but. Experiences of illness, loss, economic hardship, family dysfunction, and other harsh realities can blur the blessedness of Christmas. As we celebrate this sacred season may we be especially sensitive to those whose bodies, hearts, and souls are broken. For it is in the lost, least, last, and littlest that we come face-to-face with the divine. When we care for and about those for whom there is no room in the inn of our warm homes or at the table of our full feasts, we encounter and give glory to God in the lowest.