Definitions

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As a writer – or at least a person that attempts to write on occasion – I love words. I am in awe of the fact that one simple sentence can make someone’s heart dance and just as quickly shatter an illusion. I find inspiration in individual words and the way their meaning can undulate like a wave depending on its context.

About a year ago, I wrote a post talking about the meaning of the word “home”. Circumstances in my life had required me to move to a shared house and the definition I had created in my heart and mind for “home” didn’t fit this new circumstance. I was angry and hurt about where life – and God – had led me. While I didn’t blame God for where I was, I did feel confused about why I couldn’t finally rest in the definition of home that I had; why my life had to, yet again, be sent into upheaval like a game of 52 card pickup. I didn’t know where I was going to find the strength to yet again move forward.

Now here I am, a full year later, and the definition of the word “home” has changed again.

I have been lucky enough to find a new place that to lay my head at night and over the past three months, have worked hard to create a space that is an image of me now, not who I have been in the past or who I may be in the future. As lovely as this has been, it has also been a difficult process for me because for nearly 10 years, home always meant the place where my adoring dog was. The actual building or what the building housed didn’t matter. What mattered was that whatever door I walked into, my baby girl was there to greet me.

But now she’s gone.

And now, here I am in beautiful new place – a place she never even stepped a little white-tipped paw in – and I see her everywhere.  I yearn for her to be at the door to greet me when I come back from work, I still turn to give her a piece of cheese when I made a sandwich, and I find myself wondering where she is or how her day is when I’m away. Her loss has broken my heart, but it has also done something else.

It has allowed me the chance to redefine what home looks like just for me. For the first time in my life, I am not worrying that someone else is going to dislike my choice of décor or that there isn’t a place to house knickknacks or heirlooms. I am not wondering what things I need to arrange to make it easier for my girl to get around nor do I have to worry about the bunnies that reside outside my door being chased or barked at all day long. No, this was not what I had planned or desired, but it is what God has given me for this time in my life and I have chosen to embrace it.

The thing that I have found as I work through this grief is that I – and I believe all of us – are often not willing to allow the meaning of the words and the importance they hold in our lives to change as they need to in order to adapt to our every growing and changing lives. We like things the way they have always been and spend a good deal of time and energy fighting the changes that come our way to help us grow.

Recently, I have seen this play out clearly and painfully with some friends of mine who are going through some similar “growth opportunities” where they, too, are having to redefine some words for themselves – words like family and love. In some situations, this is because of the blessings of marriage or children, but in some situations, this is because the current definition of what family or love looks like no longer fits the reality of the situation in front of them and they are angry, frustrated, and sad.

I get it. I really do. We go into situations with an idea of what they will look like only to be disappointed with the fact that our expectations weren’t met. We start a new job with an idea that the people we will be working with will be great only to find out that we don’t mesh well with them and struggle. We go into a new friendship thinking our new friend feels the same way we do about issues we feel strongly about only to find out they have very different views and we are forced to decide whether or not we are willing to accept those differences.

Or we get married and believe that marriage looks a certain way and that the person we married will either always be the same or that we will grow and change in the same directions as do they do because, after all, isn’t that what married couples do?

But that isn’t the case. The definitions of the words marriage and love must change with time but just because we accept this intellectually doesn’t mean that we don’t fight hard against the reality of the situation. We fight the need to allow the definitions we have created in our hearts and minds for these words – these relationships – to change with time.

How many times have you heard or said my spouse/friend/significant other isn’t the person they used to be? And how many times, when you’re expressing this thought, are you absolutely devastated or infuriated by that reality? It happens to me all the time and since I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, I assume it happens to you as well. The way I see it, this happens because we haven’t allowed our definition of who that person is – their role in our lives and the word we have attached to the emotions we have for that person to change. We want them to be who we imagined them to be from the get go. But that can’t ever actually be the case.

All people and all relationships must be able to change and grow and we, as loving, faith-filled people, must grow and change along with them. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily change in the same direction that they do, but it does mean that we allow ourselves to see beyond our own desires and needs and move in a direction that is unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable.

Here’s the bottom line.

Life is full of change – good and bad. Our jobs as members of this society and this faith community is to must allow the words that we use to frame experiences and relationships grow and change instead of putting them all in a big, black, margin-indented book and assume that they will forever be the same. God did not create us to live in a vacuum so despite the pain change can cause, we must trust that His plan for those changes is greater than the pain. We must allow those nearest to us to define themselves – their thoughts, needs and desires – as fluidly for us as we want them to allow us to for them.  In so doing we allow the individual words used to describe a person and relationship to as unique as they are. Sure, there are only a few words in the English language that express what we refer to as love, but if we are gracious with the people around us, we will see that each use of that same word will reflect the specific qualities of the individual to which it is attached.

So as I spend this summer redefining “home” for myself, I pray that you also can find ways to redefine important words and phrases for yourself with the full understanding that these definitions, too, will change.

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The vulnerability conversation

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http://consciousmagazine.co/many-tenets-wholeheartedness-core-vulnerability-worthiness/

I was recently preparing to lead a book discussion on the topic of vulnerability. Being vulnerable is a challenging thing. In many ways, we are often taught that to be vulnerable means to be weak which his quite literally the opposite of what being vulnerable truly is. In order to be vulnerable, one must expose the soft underbelly of their soul for others to see. In many ways, being vulnerable is the strongest thing we can do as humans and as Christians. While I was doing my research for the lesson I found a number of wonderful devotions, articles and videos on the topic leading me to understand that this is a topic that we all struggle with on many levels.

The book discussion made me reflect on the fact that I have often been asked how I am able to be so vulnerable in my writings and have to confess that the question takes me by surprise. When I write, I rarely consider the idea of being or not being vulnerable. As a writer, actor or musician (all things I dabble in to one extent or another), vulnerability must be part of what is offered. If I am not open and honest, exposing myself emotionally in my art, how can I expect to touch those receive my artistic offering? So I write, I sing, I act…offering myself to various audiences in hopes that what I have placed in front of them is a blessing in some form or fashion.

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https://everydaypowerblog.com/brene-brown-quotes/

I am a very open person, willing to discuss very difficult topics and open my old wounds should that action be able to help others…and yet as I reflect on the things I have opened up about, there are many things I am less willing – or not willing –  to express in any way. What makes the difference? Well, for one thing, we as a society have developed a more compassionate skin about some things more than others. There are some items that were previously taboo for discussion that now, when discussed or exposed, are things that others are able to be empathetic and supportive about rather than judgmental. For example, things like the #metoo movement make having been harassed almost like being a member of a club – something that bonds people like me to one another providing support and understanding where previously there may been none.

But then there are the other things.

These are the things that, when I awaken in the middle of the night, get my mind wound up and keep me from sleeping through the night; the things that have shaped me enough to know they have made an impact in who I am and how I relate to the world around me and I am unable to keep from wondering if I would be as acceptable to those around me should those little items be exposed for general knowledge.

It’s not that I’ve done anything horrific. To be honest, all of the things that I hide behind the “non-public” side of my wall of vulnerability are things that I would easily forgive in others but for me, they feel unacceptable; unforgiveable. Some are embarrassing, some are hard lessons that caused growth and change, but nothing is really more than that. So why am I so unable to share these things?

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https://quotefancy.com/quote/914506/T-S-Eliot-Survival-is-your-strength-not-your-shame

Shame is, of course, is the anchor that locks those things in my heart and mind. It has this uncanny ability to magnify actions and words making them out to be gigantic monsters in my life rather than the itty bitty dust bunnies they probably are. I’m sure you are all familiar with how that works. Something happens – big or small – and suddenly you’re not able to face the people that witnessed the action or your relationships are forever altered (at least in your mind) because of that action. What makes it worse, at least for me, is that whenever that little event is mentioned by someone trying to offer grace and compassion about it, all I can do is beat myself up just a little more about it.

But shame is also not the only reason for my two-faced vulnerability wall.

The other reason is the way others respond to vulnerability.

You see, when someone tells a story that is challenging or difficult, it is the start of a conversation and stories that are vulnerable in nature often makes those who are listening feel anxious or uncomfortable. We all want to say that our first reaction to such a story would be one of compassion and love, but I would suggest that more often than not, our first reaction is to wonder how they got themselves into that situation in the first place or wonder how they could have done “x” and then, depending on the situation, the most common responses are to either judge the individual for the action to which they confessed or try to find a way to “fix” the problem. Now those initial reactions can be hidden from view in if they take place via social media, but in person, that is not the case.

In person, the individual who has courageously decided to take that step and tell their story sees the entire emotional response play out across the faces of those listening even if nothing is actually said. They see the shock, the anger, the disbelief, the judgment. It plays out right in front of them and suddenly a new level of strength is needed – strength to deal with the repercussions of openness. And unfortunately in my life, and I’m sure many of yours as well, when I have been able to be strong enough to be vulnerable about a situation or action, the response has been anything but supportive. The “why would you ever” statements are almost equally balanced with the “if you would have only done this…”, statements that lead me to feel that I have failed not only for being in whatever situation I had spoken of, but not being smart enough or tough enough or quick enough to respond the way others feel I should.

The thing is that I don’t share my stories to have someone try to “fix” me or to create a situation where I can be humiliated again due to the judgment of others. I choose to be vulnerable to open the doors to things that are painful in life and let others know they are not alone in their suffering. But despite this desire, I have realized that there are things others are not ready to hear; not ready to be forced to come to terms with in others. For this reason, I have created my dual-sided vulnerability wall because in the end, I am not trying to make others uncomfortable, but to invite healing both for myself and for others. If my choosing to be vulnerable about an event in my life creates more strife for both me and the people hearing it, I am not doing what I set out to do.

So is there a point to all of this ranting? You will be happy to know that yes, there is…and here it is.

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http://emilysquotes.com/he-who-does-not-understand-your-silence-will-probably-not-understand-your-words/

Vulnerability is a two-way street and it requires equal amounts of risk from both sides. It requires the storyteller to expose those tender places in their hearts and souls and it requires the listener to graciously accept this offering for what it is – a show of strength and healing – and not try to judge or fix it. Additionally, it requires that the person opening their heart do so after significant prayer and discernment to ensure that what is being exposed doesn’t place an unusually heavy burden on those who will listen. Finally, it requires that both parties – the giver and the receiver – be gracious toward one another recognizing the difficulty of the situation on both sides of the coin.  It is here at this place of graciousness that we can truly express the love of God and be the reflection of His mercy and grace rather than a reflection of the ugliness that surrounds us all.
 

Spring Cleaning

pexels-photo-413707.jpegSpring has sprung in Colorado. I know this because our daily weather forecasts contain nearly equal measure of rain forecasts as snow, and on any given day there is a significant likelihood of seeing Dorothy and Toto fly by carried by one of our 80mph wind gusts.

When I was a kid, Spring always meant cleaning – tackling all those chores that nobody ever really wanted to do like cleaning the windows, the garage, the baseboards, and, my least favorite job, finding some way to eliminate the cobwebs that had taken up residence in every nook and cranny when nobody was looking.

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Though I’ve only lived in my new apartment a few weeks, I found myself attending to this very task a few days ago. But this time, it wasn’t true physical cobwebs I was attending to, mental cobwebs to creep into my mind and spirit over the past few months allowing their presence to significantly alter the way I’ve been able to perceive God and both his presence in my life and His blessings around me.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t see that God has sent many blessings over the past few months and I have certainly been able to rejoice in them. For example, a mere 9 months ago, I was less than a paycheck away from being homeless despite having moved to a home shared by several other people. God heard my cries and sent a fantastic career opportunity my way and my financial situation changed literally overnight. I met some terrific people in a wonderful, creative new environment, and I even met someone who I thought might be a lovely addition to my life for the future.

But in the deepest, darkest corners of my mind, silky, sticky strands of cobwebs had already begun accumulating. Each thread contained feelings of doubt and self-loathing and as the shininess of the new job and relationship began to dull I began feeling familiar feelings of insecurity – what if I oversold myself on this job and I can’t do what they want? What if I’m not good enough, insightful or intelligent enough to be an asset and they end my contract? The cobwebs grew faster and faster and started growing in more corners of my life. I felt less and less like an asset and more like an inconvenience in other people’s lives. The “relationship” started to falter as this person echoed my first husbands feelings of me, telling me that while he enjoyed spending time with me in the solitude of his home, being seen in public together was unacceptable; I was unacceptable.

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Each one of these thoughts created thicker and thicker webs that covered any sense of how much I am loved and cherished by God. As life happened around me and things got a little harder, the webs encompassed every inch of my heart and mind. By the time I lost my beloved dog to cancer, I was completely incapable of seeing good in my life. While I was still completely capable of seeing the good elsewhere – seeing the blessings in other people’s lives and see God in even the darkest world events, when it came to me – my house – the opaque threads completely covered the windows of my heart. For me, getting up and putting one foot in front of the other was truly all I could do. I was making it, but just barely. The cobwebs of negativity had thoroughly skewed my world.

And yet…

And yet God’s light continued to shine, reaching out to penetrate those deep, dark corners of my mind and finally His light shone on one of those webs, reflecting back to me and opening the eyes of my heart to see the damage they had done in my heart and mind. Because of his persistent love for me, I was finally able to see that it was time to do a little work in my spirit.

So, for me, Spring cleaning has begun. I have started wiping each silky, sticky thread from their temporary residence letting each swipe carry away the confusion and obscurity they have created over the past few months. As I clean them away, I can feel the peace of the Holy Sprit come through the newly cleared areas, blowing away that which doesn’t belong in my heart and leaving behind clean, fresh, open places in my heart for God to fill. I cannot say this is an easy task for me. You know how it is when you clean cobwebs – they stick to everything, desperately trying to stay where they want to be. Their tenacity is sometimes stronger than mine and they are able to either stay where they were or cling in another place making the next “cleaning session” harder that its predecessor. Harder not only because I have to return again to places that I thought had been cleaned before but are still covered with web, but also because those webs have attached themselves to my heart and, wrong as it may be, extracting the negativity they represent means looking more closely at those in my life that have helped to create their presence and perhaps extracting those people from my life as well. Like with any deep cleaning project, I have awakened the next day feeling battered and sore, but better for the effort because I know that in the end, God is faithful and because of His faithfulness, I am able to continue with the task of becoming “cobweb free”.

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Perhaps you, like me, are in the process of cleaning out the cobwebs of your life. Or maybe you have not yet begun but know this is a task that must be tackled. If this resonates with you, I pray for the strength to either begin or continue the journey and for the knowledge that God is there, shining His light on the places that need attention so we can make way for a fresh indwelling of His presence in our heart. For those of you who have already completed this hard work, please pray for those who are in the process. This journey is a challenging one, but with the prayerful support of our community, each and every one of us can complete it.

 

 

 

 

“Used to Be” Me

0034For some unknown reason, every now and then I lose my sanity and choose to dive into the online dating scene. I’m not really sure what it is that sparks this craziness other than probably boredom and a bit of loneliness, but I can tell you it doesn’t take long to remember precisely why I never do it for long. Just in case you haven’t had the “pleasure” of this experience, let me see if I can sum it up for you.

Online dating is a tedious process wherein you must choose potential suitors from an enormous database of individuals. You search through images and profiles to find those you find attractive in some form or fashion, chat briefly online, exchange information, talk and or meet in person and then decide if you wish to move forward.

Oh, sure. It sounds innocuous enough except that, as with any online interaction, the reality of who a person is doesn’t necessarily equal who they present themselves to be in the virtual realm. The old adage “you can be whomever you want to be online” is absolutely true. Between decades old pictures and accounts stolen from others in order to be used by some Russian or Algerian prince who is “only trying to give you his millions”, the prospects become pretty…well…disheartening.

To be fair, though, dating through any avenue is difficult. It is inevitable that our own insecurities cause us to create “alternate” realities of who we are either in the way we look, act, or feel about certain things. Sometimes, we even completely mask who we are in hopes that our failures won’t become clear to those around us and then we end up losing our true identities in the process.

The song She Used to Be Mine, from the musical Waitress¸ speaks eloquently to this dilemma and it was in these lyrics that I found some truth about myself and my faith.

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I am, as the song says, imperfect. I am broken, hard on myself, emotionally messy, and have been known – perhaps more often than not – to be lonely. Life hasn’t given me what I had hoped for and there have been many times in my life that I neither recognized – nor much cared for – the person who stared back at me from the mirror.

For much of my life, I allowed the words that were thrown at me by others, the circumstances I found myself in, and the way others treated me to determine who I was and what my life would be. Life was, as Sara Bareilles so beautifully wrote, carved out for me and I chose to believe that reality rather than to risk the insecurity of changing it.

But during a recent online chat with a potential beau, I realized that had all changed. That is more of the “used to be” me than the current me. Not because something miraculous happened, but because of the persistent indwelling of the Holy Spirit which slowly eroded the false identity that the world created and opened up a clearer understanding of the life that God had created for me.

As the Holy Spirits presence in my soul has grown, I have become more willing and able to make bolder choices; to stand up to those who bruised and abused me or to walk away from those for whom standing up would be misconstrued or destructive. I learned how to fight for myself, to recognize my strengths, to hear God’s still small voice guide me and not question it, and to accept that my unique brokenness and messiness has been molded into a beautiful masterpiece.

Ok. I know what you’re wondering. What in the world does all of this have to do with online dating?

I am so glad you asked.

You see, the thing with online dating – and I suppose dating and life in general – is that we are all marketing ourselves; painting a picture of ourselves to others to try achieve a desired reaction, i.e., getting a date. But as I chatted with a man who wanted a “proof of life” photo to prove that I was in fact the person I represented myself to be, I realized for the first time that I am at home with who I am. All of the mess, all of the insecurities, my aging self, and my brokenness has all been blended together to create a person that is uniquely Gods and I don’t need to be bullied or coerced into being something less than that.this-is-me

Because of the things I have seen and been through, God has given me the ability to be truly empathetic to others. I can not only put myself in their shoes, but truly feel the aches that they feel so that as a Stephen’s Minister, I can walk with them through their challenges and struggles.

Because of the mercies and graces I have been shown, I am able grant these same mercies to those around me and to see a God that is bigger and more wonderful than our society often likes to portray. I can rejoice in the fact that His perfect will is sometimes painful to us individually but is wholly loving and just.

And because of the trials God has carried me through, I can be proud of the strong woman God has created me to be and know that the perfect people I need and desire to have in my life will be added when the time is right – in God’s perfect time, not mine. In the meantime, I am strong enough, good enough, and “reckless, just enough” to be the capable, independent woman I am and that being this woman is not a negative thing.

As I reflect back on the off and on relationship I have had with online dating, I am grateful that I no longer feel the need to actually “market myself” – to craft a profile that will attract a certain type of individual in hopes that he might be “the one”. Instead, I feel comfortable showing this online world who I truly am without fear of not being “good enough”. There is a fire in my eyes that God has placed there and that fire will not only attract the right person to my life, but will be the fuel that enables me to continue developing into even more of a beautiful “mess” than I already am.

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.

 

 

Breadcrumbs

trail-of-breadcrumbs1Once upon a time, there was a little girl who, like Hansel and Gretel (and, as Stephen Sondheim pointed out, really all of the famous fairy tale characters), was lost in a wood. It was a dark, dank and bleak place and she longed to find her way home. Had things gone the way she had planned, she would already have been home but instead, she found herself sitting on the damp ground trying to figure out just what had gone wrong.

It was her own fault, really.

Sure, she had started out on this little excursion with her eyes and heart fully open and aware of potential risks, but she was excited for the new possibilities that awaited her. Being a girl who had read a seen a lot and knew that things didn’t always work out, she also took necessary precautions should things go awry. This was, after all, a new path – a new direction – so it was possible she could get lost along the way so she filled her pockets with bits of bread to drop along the path believing these would lead her back to where she started.

In hindsight, the outcome was pretty predictable. I mean, it was bread crumbs, for goodness sake! What was she thinking?

As you would expect, what didn’t get carried away in the wind was quickly gobbled up by birds and squirrels or maybe hidden away in nearby trees for later consumption and by the time she realized this was the case, she was completely unable to even begin determining which direction would take her back to where she started. The starting point, though not necessarily perfect, was at least familiar and would put her in a place to feel re-grounded and able to make a new plan.

What the little girl didn’t realize is that even if her breadcrumbs had remained and she couldn’t have followed the same path back the way she had originally come because the home she had left would not have been the same. Nothing is once we leave and come back.

I know that by now you have all figured out this little story is about me. I am the little girl lost in the woods and what has put me here is my oh-so-wise decision recently to dive head first back into the dating world right after making the major life change of moving into a new house with 4 other people.

I know. Probably not my wisest decision and I know you will be shocked to hear the relationship didn’t pan out.

Perhaps it was a timing thing. We probably couldn’t have started the relationship at a worse time for his business and I certainly was going through changes in my life, but regardless of the reasons, the chapter closed all too soon and here I was, left in the middle of the wood.

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe things with the relationship turned out the way they did because I had left the breadcrumbs to find my way. Would the outcome have been different if I hadn’t tried to give myself an “escape”?

While it is in my nature to try to assume responsibility for just about anything that goes wrong, I would have to say that in this case, regardless of my attempt to make the relationship failure all about things I did or didn’t do, I realized that the breadcrumbs were far from the end of the relationship. They were, in fact, a gift much like the seeds that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 13.

Now I realize those of you theologians out there are balking, screaming at the screen that the purpose of that message wasn’t about my personal love life but about the planting of seeds of faith and the subsequent harvest of believers. I get that. I really do. But as I listened to a sermon on this passage recently I felt God telling me there was an additional meaning much closer to my heart and circumstance.

As I listened, God spoke to my heart telling me that those breadcrumbs I left for myself were never to have been used to find my way back to where I had been because I was no longer the same person I had been when I started the journey even though the journey itself was relatively short.

The crumbs, you see, were really just little pieces of myself – good and bad – that were left on the trail. They were memories, feelings and expressions that I was able to unbury from my heart and leave behind, no longer needed for my journey.

Of course, I didn’t get this for a while. I can be stubborn and obstinate (no comments from the peanut gallery on that, please). For days – even weeks – I found myself trying to find those pieces and seeking desperately for ways to gather every little crumb back up and allow it be part of me gain. Even as I type this, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but how many times have we tried to keep everything just as it is because even though we know it’s not healthy, at least it’s comfortable?

But God didn’t allow that for me this time. I had grown and shed those things and God was going to ensure that those things were carried away further away from the deeper into the wood I went. That journey into the woods was a call from God to follow Him and grow and, as we all know, growth comes at a cost. We do not find new mountaintops of faith nor new joys in life without some pain.

And this process was indeed painful, but as painful as it was, God knew I was ready. The crumbs I had left behind were no longer useful to protect me or define me and with God’s grace, they may perhaps land in new, more fertile ground where they could one day become part of a testimony or ministry that is associated with me but not part of me.

Advanced Directive Panic

AloneBlocksforWebThere is nothing like sitting through an explanation of Advanced Directives and then staring at the document itself in an attempt to complete it with the name or names of those who should be contacted should my life be suddenly and irrevocably put at risk to drive home the realities of both my own fragile mortality and my current single-hood and parental status.

Let me back up a bit and provide a little explanation of this little form for those of you who may not be familiar.

An Advanced Directive is a document that provides health care facilities guidance about whether you would wish to be provided life-sustaining procedures or artificial nutrition and hydration should you be faced with a terminal condition or “persistent vegetative state”.

Yep, it’s a cheery little topic, isn’t it? Well, we spent several days holding in person training and discussions about this form over the past week or so in my office. I am part of the administrative team that puts these things together for my office so I get to participate many times (aren’t I lucky?). It is a very important document and being that I work with a healthcare facility, it is something that our employees deal with every day. We are all too well aware of the importance of having an Advanced Directive in place when things for a patient are truly about as bad as they can be.

So why do I bring up such a delightful topic of conversation on what is otherwise most likely a beautiful Colorado summer day?

Well, here’s the thing. While I understand the need for this type of documentation, as a single person, it does a number on my heart and mind. When faced with this form as well as the idea of a will, I am suddenly keenly aware that it is just me. No kids, no spouse. Just me. Oh, sure, if I had things that were worth giving away in a will, I could find friends and relatives to give them to, but when it comes to life and death, to whom do I turn to make decisions that honor both who I am and where my faith is? It is a decision that is certainly not something to be taken lightly and one which has made me look closely at my life’s decisions.04-lonliness-passionate.jpg

As I’ve said a number of times before, I am, for the most part, a happy single person. I have done the marriage thing – twice – and failed miserably both times so this has been a clear choice for me for that past 10 years and I am glad of that choice.

Single-hood has many pluses. For example, as a single person, I am able to control a good deal of the stress that is in my life which is important for my mental, spiritual and physical health. I don’t have to worry about when I come and go, what I have for dinner, or worry about someone thinking it’s odd that I want to make my dog the center of my social world (ok, maybe this is a little odd, but I’m allowed an oddity or two, aren’t I?).

But as I sat in the Advanced Directive course, I suddenly realized just how alone that choice for single-hood has made me.

If I were to have a severe accident, who in my life would be able to make that life or death decision on my behalf? Sure, the Advanced Directive is supposed to alleviate the “in the moment” crisis, but someone has to sign as my medical power of attorney. Who knows me well enough to know what I would want or need? Now, I know that the immediate response is my family, right? I mean, my dad is still alive as is my stepmother, my sister and my brother. But the reality is that though they are a part of my life, they don’t really know me all that well. My parents have moved out-of-state as has my sister and even though we call and email occasionally, we all live – and always have lived – very different lives. My brother doesn’t live far from me but the relationship with him is very much the same. I don’t begrudge any of them the state of our relationships – they are what they are for reasons far too complex to try to delve into here – but it certainly gave me pause staring at that legal document. And all of this was driven that much further home for me during a recent sermon on Matthew 10:34-39.

You see, much of what is different between my family members and I is faith. While my parents and siblings would likely profess to being Christian, the idea of being involved in church, studying the Word, prayer, and other acts of faith are not only not on their radar, but have been causes for minor mockery to large arguments.

In a very real sense, I am the man whose foes are of his own household. In fact, as I was growing up, the stronger my faith, the worse my relationship with members of my family. Now I realize that I am not living in Biblical times. I do not rely on my family to provide a home, monetary stability and the ability to participate in social and civic events. I am not shunned for my single, childless state, but it is at times like this that the difference between those with a family and those without becomes a much starker contrast.

Here I am at 50 with no children of my own, no spouse, no close family members. This is difficult enough when it comes to financial matters but somewhat paralyzing when it comes to life and death matters.

The reality is nobody wants to die alone or know that the fate of their lives may be in the hands of someone who has not real connection to them. We want that Hollywood emergency room scene where the family comes running in to spend even a moment with a loved one who may not make it. But if you’re me, who is it that will come running?

I don’t doubt that God will be with me every step of the way and He will provide His angels for me, but the knowledge of His presence doesn’t ease the sense of loneliness when I struggle with a health condition or a waning bank account.

I don’t say these things to invoke pity or sympathy, but to remind both myself and all of you that these are the things that many in our congregation face. Many of us are spouseless, childless or have strained or nonexistent relationships with family. We are, for all intents and purposes, the widows and orphans Jesus speaks of and it is for us that churches are supposed to exist.

In church, widows and orphans are given a sense of community; we are able to find people who are caring, loving, and willing to take on burdens far beyond those that others would. But as a congregation we cannot do that if we do not make ourselves available. Standing in the common area before or after church doesn’t create that community. What does create community is trying to understand what burdens being single may cause or what trials strife amongst family members can create. Community is seeing the individual for who they are and where they are.

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Perhaps there are others around you that have chosen to be single or are isolated from their families. Reach out. Pray with them or for them. Offer to have that elderly gentleman seated all alone in the restaurant a seat at your family table. Sit with the one who found out that life has changed forever in the blink of an eye. Most of all, remember to be the arms of Christ to others. In the grand scheme of things, this is all we are really called to do – to love one another by showing one another God’s love.

Now….who wants to sign my advanced directive??? 😉

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.

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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.