Looking In From the Outside

It probably would have been nothing to anyone else. Just words, sounds…something somebody else was involved in and had no personal bearing whatsoever.

But not for me.

For me, it was a return to a past I’ve tried hard to put behind me; a return to feelings, thoughts and experiences that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy; a return to thoughts about myself that I have fought tooth and nail to destroy.

And all I did was walk outside my door.

On a recent, hot summer night I walked to my car to go to the grocery store and I’d heard it.

The shouts.

The cries and whimpers.

The undeniable sound of someone being hit and someone else pursuing them

I was paralyzed.

Do I do something for this person I don’t know?

I heard my mind tell me to get involved but my heart to stay away. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just a quick argument and it will end.

And yet, an hour later, when I’d returned from the store, it was still going on

I felt my mind shutting down, trying to create the safe space in which I had lived for so long in preparation for the battle to come to me.

It was probably the wrong decision, but I turned away. I went inside and tried to pretend I hadn’t heard what I did or at least convince myself it was nothing. I told nobody and worked with every ounce of strength in me to pretend that the evening was normal and for all intents and purposes it was.

Except that my whole body shook and I couldn’t sleep that night. I started blankly at the television hoping a silly comedy would take me someplace else. When that didn’t happen, I picked up my book – the one place I could always escape when I was young, but even that failed to help turn off the echoes I my head. No, I couldn’t hear the fight anymore, but that didn’t mean anything. In my mind, I was right back where I had been so many times before.

The next morning brought bright sunshine and no sign of any damage. Anyone else would never have known there had been shouts, screams, and beatings going on and I was able to start moving toward believing it was a one time thing.

But then I came home from work only to be confronted by the same sounds only louder, more aggressive this time. I couldn’t turn away; I couldn’t pretend it was nothing because in that moment, I was the neighbor across the street from my mothers house growing up; I was that person walking along the canal that turned a blind eye to the screams and cries I heard because it wasn’t my business.

I couldn’t do it.

The police were called.

But for me, the drama  wasn’t over.

You see, I have moved back to the neighborhood where a majority of the abuse in my life occurred and while I have been able to move past those things through the years, being confronted by those unforgettable sounds in the same place opened a window to look at those same actions from a new perspective.

I had hoped that, were I to be given a chance to do this in my adulthood, I would have been more successful in seeing things more objectively but, at least on these evenings, this was not the case.

As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, watching the police talk to the couple to decide what needed to be done, I felt connected to the abused person. On the one hand, I could feel the sense of relief knowing she had the opportunity to get away and find someplace safe, But on the other hand, I felt the sense of fear this woman may be feeling about the potential repercussions she would face when they returned to the home, which she most certainly would.

I also felt unsubstantiated fear for myself. Would the abuser know that it was me that put these things in motion? Would he come after me next? I suddenly saw myself walking the way I did in my childhood – head down, eyes seeing only the concrete in hopes that I could make myself as inconspicuous as possible.

Over the course of several days, in many ways I returned to who I was as an abused child. The sense of shame for who I was, the things I have done and have been done to me, and the way those things have undeniably altered who I am was almost unbearable. I felt myself retreating even further, rebuilding walls I had worked so hard to tear down.

The thing is, I know that I am safe. My neighborhood has no power over me and being there has, as I’ve said before, brought some level of healing to old wounds. But being able to see these actions from the outside also opened my eyes to how what these things may have looked like to the neighbors that surrounded me as a child.

Were they equally horrified or did they pretend not to hear?

Did they cry for me or assume it was nothing?

I sincerely hope that they were not as affected as I was – that they were not thrown into a tail spin that affected work, personal relationships and sleep just because they heard violent argument after violent argument.

But I also cannot help but wonder for the millionth time in my life why they didn’t do anything to help. There were no knocks on the door from kind neighbors or police; there were no teachers reaching out to social services nor were there friends’ parents reaching out to offer support or refuge.

And it made me hurt all over again.

To feel alone and worthless.

Now before you go getting all up in arms about the fact that God was there and He is the reason I survived, believe me, I am aware. I know for a fact that He is the reason I have been able to become the woman I am; that I was able to live and not become a lifelong victim and for this I am more grateful than I can express.

But even with this knowledge, I can say for certainty that have no desire to look in from the outside at any more of the experiences that created me. Some things are best left unexamined from that perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

The Blessings of Storms

colorado springAh, Spring-time in the Rockies. While it can be beautiful, the best way to really describe it can often be more like a glimpse of Mother Nature as a schizophrenic as opposed to the picture postcard you see on the travel channel. Just this past few weeks, we have had 80 degree days followed immediately by rain, enormous (baseball-sized) hail and inches of snow. But blink your eyes and it’s as if that none of it ever actually happened.

As odd as it sounds, that is one of the reasons I truly love living here and seeing how quickly this state can move through being sun-washed to white-washed and back again. After watching the weather here for the past few days I can honestly say that any sense of instability I may have felt about my life or the lives of those around me was suddenly put into stark contrast with the instability that Mother Nature is able to create and I feel remarkably peaceful as a result.

It’s funny. Had I have guessed, I would have fully expected the crazy weather would make me feel more disrupted; more anxious about the significant changes I’ve had to make to my life in the last few weeks and I guess at some level that was the case, but what was more pervasive was the sense of peace that came with the knowledge that even the biggest storms will pass and soon any damage that may have resulted will be erased either with repairs or new growth. As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think that this was precisely why God created the seasons and weather for us – to provide us with tangible reminders that all things – good and bad – have a beginning and an end and we are called to rely on God to carry us through all of it.

Way back at the beginning of our time here on this earth (at least as far as the human presence is concerned), the Garden of Eden was a place without storms. There was no rain, no wind, no disruption from the peace and tranquility I think we all imagine when we think of paradise. But despite how wonderful that sounds, God knew this peace had to change in order for us to be able to develop loving relationships with Him; to be able to understand who He is and to grow in our love for Him because of this understanding.

So God planted the tree of knowledge knowing full well that Adam and Eve would eat from it and that their actions would set into motion significant changes in the world as it had existed. The land now needed to be watered with rain, the soil, worked harder to produce the same fruits, and the ability for women to bring forth life from their wombs became painful and challenging.

calm the child

Being the self-centered types we all tend to be, this all sounds and feels really cruel. Why are we being punished for something we had nothing to do with in the first place? How can I, in one breath, say my God is truly loving and in the next say my God calls me to lose in order to gain? I know it may sound crazy, but that the fact that we do lose is what allows us the greater opportunity to gain beyond our wildest imaginations.

I know I’ve said similar things many times in this blog but I was reminded of this as I spent the last couple of months coming to terms with having to uproot the cozy little life that I had created for myself. Though Mother Nature was relatively calm at the time (at least until the day I was supposed to move), I felt the shifting of the seasons; the change that had to be made even though I didn’t feel ready or willing. I had to lose the sense of security I had put into place for myself with my apartment and all and step out of the boat, so to speak, to see what God had in mind for me instead.

I tried to stop the storm.

Believe me I did.

I whined, I moped, I cried out in despair. You probably remember this from my recent posts. Yet try as I might to change God’s plan, He didn’t stop the storm nor did he make it easier. Instead, He carried me through the storm so I could see Him to move in ways that otherwise would not have been possible.

Now, just a few short weeks after what seemed like a tremendous upheaval, I can see the storm in the distance and you know what?

It’s beautiful!

From where I stand now, the clouds are a glorious pink and white that reminds me of a newborn babe. The threat I had felt is gone, and in its place I have blessings I had been praying for – aching for – rising up and surrounding me with joy.

And, of course, the joy is coming from the most unexpected places.

Like returning to the neighborhood where I grew up.

When I first found the place I have moved into, the idea of returning here terrified me. How could I go back to the area where some of my worst nightmares occurred? What could God possibly want me to do there?

The answer is heal and grow.

God has used this return to bring to mind good memories, helping me to remember that not all my time there was frightening or difficult. I walk the canal that runs behind my old home and remember seeing my dog chase the sprinkler there and the laughter that came from watching that not only for me, but also for those who were walking the canal way back then. I see homes of friends who lived there way back when and remember the friendships and good times we had.

And for those memories that are more difficult, God has been using this time to provide a healing balm to the wounds which are still there, slightly less raw and painful, but still very much a part of my personal landscape of memories. God has helped me to feel His peace and comfort opened my eyes and heart to see that even the worst storms of our lives can be healed with His presence and the gift of time.

Equally important – or perhaps more so – God has brought new people into my life that despite their relatively short tenure in my life, are proving to be significant and powerful additions to my community. I truly feel these people are the gifts at the end of my rainbow and I am overwhelmed by the beautiful addition they are making to my life.bryant-mcgill-storms-life-stronger-3s7g

So here I am, akin to a 3rd-rate meteorologist who just a few weeks ago had predicted the “storm of the century” around the impending changes to my life and now, looking out my window I see only a small little rain shower (If I had been that bad meteorologist, people would have stocked up on bread and milk for NOTHING!).

Mother Nature may still be proving herself to be more than a tad schizophrenic (I say with little sarcasm as I watch the snow fly outside my window on May 19th), but I know that even her craziness will not derail the goodness that God is able to bring through the storms in my life. I only hope that the next time they come, I remember that these are the pathways to His blessings.

 

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.

logo_-onair_resurrection_57778_302_140307200731

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.

A house is just a house

logo_new04-300x300Its a cold and dreary day here today which seems appropriate since I’m feeling a little dreary myself. It’s not that there’s really anything wrong, per se, but I am in a place where I need to make a change in my life that I don’t want to make

I’m going to have to move.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve been in the same place ever since I moved back home and my little apartment has become a cocoon; a safety zone for me that I just don’t feel ready to abandon just yet.

As I sat and thought about it last night, looking at the fairly limited options I have available to  me in this incredibly difficult rental market, I suddenly hearkened back to the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “A House is Not A Home” and began to wonder what exactly does make a home? Is it the furnishings? The location? The song suggests that the house is not a home without that special person there. Does that mean that a house (or apartment) where a single person lives can’t be a home? Does the love I have for my dog mean the same for creating a loving, “homey” space as that between two people?

I would have to vehemently say that a house can be a home regardless of the number of human beings that reside in said building. I have lived alone for nearly 10 years now and absolutely consider my current apartment more than just a set of walls that provide shelter from the elements. My little 800 square feet is a place that I not only feel free to be myself but I where I am comfortable having others in. I have friends there and have broadened my “family” with the people that surround me in the complex. I mean, sure, there are many people with whom I’ve never even nodded hello, but many of the people have become part of my day to day existence and the thought of having to give that up is painful.

Even as I type this, I realize how silly this all sounds. People move all the time and it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, it can be fun! The start of a whole new adventure! I know this…I truly do, and yet, I am still struggling.

Its not just the process of having to find a new place to live that is more within my budget in a part of town I don’t know surrounded by people I don’t know (although that is, honestly, enough to keep me up at night…and has on many occasions lately). More than that, it’s the need to pick up yet again and start over; to find my way by myself one more time; having to start over yet again to develop a feeling of safety and security in a new place.

Safety and security are not things that I have ever had the luxury of taking for granted. While I certainly recognize that I am blessed, having not been not raised nor ever having lived in a war torn nation threatened by bullets and bombs or having ever lived in the inner city surrounded by gang violence and drugs, I have spent much of my life feeling the need to be perpetually “on guard”, ready and waiting for the next threat to appear.

The thing is, that over the last 4 years, I have been able to stabilize my life; to remove those things that were a threat to me in one way or another and I have been able to just rest in the quiet and calm of safety.

And not I have to shake things up all over again.

I have cried, I have run countless numbers on paper and in my head trying to figure out ways to avoid this new reality, and I keep coming back to the same place.

I have to move.

Of course, God had a bit to say about my moping and whining.

He reminded me that much as I hate the idea of moving, this coming move is like the Spring which has just started. It is full of unknowns and uncertainty, but more than that, it is full of promise. The buds on the trees and flowers, which may well freeze over the next day or two, still took the risk to come out and despite their early appearance, their eagerness will not be in vain. The promises of tomorrow don’t go away just because of a little dreariness or down-trodenness.  They are all there waiting with joy and expectation and sometimes the come in the most unusual packages…

…like a little mud and saliva…or the end of a lease.

The bottom line is this. God can us anything to show us his grace, mercy and love. Sometimes its a big, wonderful rainbow of glorious color that is seen by everyone but sometimes its just a little mud and saliva that is wiped on our eyes to clear away our inability to see the things right in front of us. The mud that God is using for me at this moment is my lease.

Maybe I will find a way to stay where I am, or maybe, just maybe, I will find someplace that is so much more than I could have expected. What I have to do is to stop whining about the why’s and what if’s and choose instead to acknowledge the fact that God loves me and has a plan for me that is greater than my blind little eyes can see in their current state. I have to choose to see that a home is a house with GOD in it and the location of that home doesn’t matter.

Where are you in this Spring season? Are you relishing in the joys of the season or complaining (like me) about the changes that come with it? Regardless of your answer, know that God is with you and waiting for you – like me – to make the choice to see Him in it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Satan Made Me Do It

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all Satan’s fault.

No, seriously.

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

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

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

But we aren’t God.

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

Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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?

new-year-628x363-ts-76766036

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.

 

 

Judgment

Judgement Day. That day when the trumpets will resound, the earth will cease to exist the way we know it today, and the Lord will make His way to use on a chariot of white steeds. It’s a day that believers see to equally anticipate and dread and it seems as we get closer to Christmas, the return of Jesus our human mind turns to the concern about what will happen when this actually occurs.

Our church has discussed this topic a good deal during the Advent Season. It makes sense. Here we are a mere 10 days from the celebration of the birth of our Savior and it’s only logical that we talk about what happens next.  I must confess, however, that the more I listened to the messages about this fantastic event, the more I had to wonder if the idea of a judgement is truly a God-inspired thought or the result of the mindset of the Gospel readers.

During my time studying at various biblical and non-biblical schools throughout my life it has been made pretty clear that the disciples, even to the end, had a hard time reconciling the idea of a peaceful savior. They, like us, were looking for a military leader; a King to come and destroy their enemies and put them in a place where they felt honored and respected. They wanted to see those who had been oppressing and enslaving them crushed so they could smirk in cool satisfaction as their cries were finally heard and their prayers answered. Maybe they, again like us, were hoping to see the roles reversed so they could treat their oppressors as abusively as they felt they had been treated.

Of course this is understandable. Of course those who have been enslaved ache for redemption from the horrendous life they have lived but the dividing of good versus bad as described by John in Revelation feels, at least to me, more like a human desire than a Godly vision.

Let’s just take a moment to look at it.

If we as Christians have truly been saved from our sins; if all of our wrongs have been made right do to our faith in Christ; if our hearts have been changed and we, despite daily failures, are striving to serve the One we love and worship (some days more than others, of course), what then will we be judged for on Judgement Day?

Will God be holding court for all of us individually, as represented in the movie Defending Your Life?

If so, then God is just as hypocritical and passive aggressive as our worst enemies.

You may think I’m must being blasphemous, but I truly think the Bible supports me in this.

According to Psalm 103:12, the Lord promises to move our transgressions as far from us as the East is from the West. He’s already forgiven us and forgotten the things we have done.

Well, actually, He knew we would do them before we did them, had already forgiven these actions by the time we asked for forgiveness, and has directed our paths from that point forward so we can be where He wants us to be now. Unlike our human mind, God is actually able to truly forget the evils we have done in the past and does not need to remind us of them. It’s not as if He’s going to show us all of our worst moments and say after each one of them “I forgave that one…and that one…and that one…” My God is not a god who thrives on humiliation nor does He want us to feel guilt for things that have been put in the past.

The God I believe in wants to rejoice with us for being with Him; for making the choices we made so we could learn the lessons we needed to learn. I have already been judged and forgiven. It’s done.

Okay, you say, so maybe He’s judging the non-believers or the murderers or the rapists. He’s judging those who do heinous, unforgiveable acts here on earth.

Well, in theory, I get that. But hasn’t He already done that?

Assuming that He needs to wait until the end times assumes that He lives in the same linear fashion that we do and therefore won’t know the condition of our hearts – our choice for or against faith – until the day we die or the day of His 2nd coming but to believe this flies in the face of who I believe my God to be.

My God already knows the condition of my heart and those around me.

Despite our humanity and all of our sinful actions (and mine have been far too many to count), He knows what we truly believe and what we don’t. He knows each and every choice we will ever make and He knows the end result of our lives. Only He knows what will happen to those who fail to acknowledge Him and I don’t believe that part of that plan is for us to be all standing in one room watching while perhaps those we loved while here on earth are sent away from us for eternity. That would only cause us pain and the Bible says that there is no pain in heaven. Isn’t that one of the things that defines heaven?

Here’s the bottom line…

…at least from my humble perspective.

God has created each of us with the ability to seek Him and become like Him. It is His greatest desire we will seek Him, fall in love with Him, and seek to serve Him in every way we can. Perhaps He gives us all the time we need in this life – and maybe even others (gasp!) – to find our way to the right place. Regardless, I believe that if indeed there is a final day, the Lord will come to us the same way He did before…and the way He told us He would come.

There will not be trumpets blaring or cymbals crashing. There will be no 7 horsemen or destruction of the evils of this world – at least, not by God.

We will not know the day or the moment. He will come as He told us He would throughout the New Testament….like a thief in the night. He will not come to shatter, crush or destroy but to heal, restore and bless.

And this, my friends, is the kind of second coming I can truly rejoice in.

 

 

Through God’s Eyes

glasshalfemptyhalffullAre you a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person? I like to believe I’m a glass half-full person, but at this time of year, I think I become far more of half-empty type the closer it gets to Christmas. There are so many things I think I’m needing and missing that at other times of the year don’t even cross my mind. I blame this on the sappy-sweet storylines of all the Christmas movies. Now don’t get me wrong. As you know, I love Hallmark movies – the sentimentality, the warm-heartedness, and the campiness of these movies. But as you are probably aware, the movies produced by this excellent organization will also acknowledge that there is a problem with these charming tales.

In the world of Hallmark, this time of year has an amazing magic which makes even the most unattainable hopes and wishes come true. Everyone gets exactly what they wish for every single Christmas despite the cost or sacrifice that needed to be made to have this happen, all relationships are not only repaired, but bettered, all money issues solved, and all loneliness eliminated because “that’s what this time of year is all about”.  And yes, there’s also the absolutely perfect dusting of snow that must be present regardless of where the movie takes place because what is Christmas without the perfect snowfall?

perfect-christmasLike it or not, all of us have likely fallen victim to this Hallmark fantasy to some degree or another. We put up the decorations, buy the ugly Christmas sweaters, spend hours shopping for just the right present and feel certain that when we have done all of this just right, we will have bought the right to get all of our hearts desires fulfilled but, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, we do not live in the Hallmark world.

All of the decorations, presents, ugly sweaters and Christmas cheer will not magically make our lives fit into our favorite holiday movie. God doesn’t suddenly become Santa making sure to give all of the “good boys and girls” the gifts they long for and hard as it may be to accept, just because the holiday season appears on the calendar, all of our burdens are not magically lifted from us – not even temporarily. As a matter of fact, the struggles we feel during the ordinary days of the year are often magnified during the holidays.

Maybe this happens because we buy into the images others project about how perfect their holidays are and we assume that we have somehow failed at the whole holiday celebration thing – or maybe even life itself. Or maybe we feel in some way that we are being punished for choices we have made in the past or that we are somehow not worthy to have the same joyful experiences others to do. Maybe we used to have those perfect holidays but the person or people who made it special have died or have been otherwise separated from us and we are left feeling isolated, broken and alone.

sad-holidaysTo be honest, I have struggled with feelings like this through the years. My home was rarely a place of safety let alone joy and since my birthday also falls during this Christmas season, my “special day” was often lumped together with other celebrations or forgotten all together because of the overall stress and busyness of the season. I have longed to find the “perfect person” to spend holidays with and have sought ways to celebrate the holiday that would make me feel the way I think others must be feel because it’s what I’ve seen in all the Hallmark movies but that “perfect holiday feeling” remains elusive – and there’s a good reason for that.

The reality is that the images floating around in my head – and maybe yours, too – about how Christmas and my birthday should be are probably just figments of my imagination – no more real than the snow falling in Tampa at the end of a Christmas movie.

Much as I wish things could be different, life is not nor will it ever be a Hallmark movie. There are no perfect endings or nice, tidy ribbons to tie up loose ends. To make matters worse, none of us know what the future will bring any more than we can go back and change the things of the past. All we can do is choose how to move forward. So what does that mean for Christmas this year and in the years to come?

For me, it means that I have chosen to put away the cynicism that has grown in my heart over the years due to years of unmet, unrealistic expectations about special events and celebrations- and I’m starting with Christmas. To make this happen, I am choosing to try to see Christmas through God’s eyes instead of my own.

What does Christmas look like to God? As I see it, it’s not about the lights or ceremony. It’s about a loving Father watching His only Son being born – rejoicing in birth while simultaneously grieving the path His only Son must take in order to fulfill His perfect plan.

I imagine Jesus at once a newborn taking in the sights and sounds of the cold, star-filled sky while also understanding His purpose for this journey and experiencing fear and sorrow.

I imagine Mary, Joseph, and all those who came to see this miracle in a manger looking on with awe and wonder knowing they had been chosen to be a part of something so much bigger than they and knowing this moment and all to come were completely out of their hands.

10277-christian-christmas-quotesLooking at Christmas through God’s eyes I am reminded that every single one of us was placed here on this planet at a specific time for a specific purpose and that even in the times of heartbreak and loss, we are perfect in our imperfection; loved more fully than we can ever imagine even when we feel the most unlovable and none of this love has to do with how we decorated our homes, what festive clothing we wore, or what presents we purchased for others.

My prayer for each of you during this Christmas season is that you will find a new sense of awe and wonder about Christmas and feel anew the amazing love that God has for each and every one of you which led to His bringing His son here to save us.