What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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

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

Or not.

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

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

How about “find the love of my life”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever.

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

 

 

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.

Bump in the Night

hide-under-bedThe crash from the apartment upstairs shook my ceiling and bolted me awake, heart thumping and sheet clutched to my chest.

The clock on my bedside table read 2:27 A.M.

I sat in the dark trying to slow my heart and sharpen my ears to listen to new sounds, new indications of what was going on above me. Was there an argument? A break in? My mind immediately went to the worst scenarios and started planning for how to assist.

A voice raised and I heard another bang!

My breathing became more shallow to try to make sure my presence wasn’t heard. Silly, of course, since I was one floor down and there no indication anyone was concerned about either disturbing me let alone worried if I heard their activity.

As I closed my eyes and waited, I heard raised voices…

…and then laughter.

All is well. Just some 20-somethings screwing around after a night at the clubs.

And yet, for me, sleep would likely not come for the rest of the night. I was awake with my demons again. Sure, I would likely doze for the next few hours, but my “spidey” senses had been sparked into action.

Now I realize my childhood was not the stuff of horror stories. I wasn’t raised in the inner city, leery of gunshots and drug dealers at every corner. Nor was I beaten so severely I was hospitalized for my injuries or worse yet, forced to live with broken bones to hide the abuse. Compared to that, my life was idyllic, and yet to this day I suffer from PTSD issues stemming from nights like this when the loud bangs led to screaming, throwing of drink tumblers shattered against the wall, glass shards embedded in the wall for years to come and me, cowering in my bedroom praying that the battles outside of my door would stay there.

Sometimes these things ended as quickly as they began. Drunken voices trailed off down the hall as my mother and stepfather made their way to the bedroom to sleep off some of the bourbon from the day. But sometimes the rage came through my door, dragging me from my bed to take care of some forgotten chore or another. Rarer still, but even more frightening,the door would open quietly, softly, the figure of a man – someone my mother trusted and confided in –  would enter to create nightmares in a completely different way.

ptsd-cloudTo this day, despite the years of therapy and work, raised voices make my heart stop in fear. I know in my head that a raised voice doesn’t lead to crisis; that some people just talk loudly out of necessity or habit, but in my heart still resides that irrational place; that basic instinct that has been honed by the fight or flight response over the years and is not convinced the danger has passed. Part of the reason is that despite all of this work, I still managed to marry two me who, in their own ways, helped reinforce those feelings of fear and trepidation. Though I managed to escape the place where my nightmares began, I spent years finding others who would use manipulation, lies and emotional abuse to keep me off balance.

So here I am, a blogger professing faith and confidence in the Lord and in His grace and mercy still haunted by decades-old memories that still have power over me in moments like this. Why is this? Shouldn’t I, as a person of faith, feel secure in the grace, mercy and power of my Lord? Certainly those who don’t believe think that should be the case.

I understand. I have fought this battle for a long time and have heard many atheists angrily shout their belief that the fact that these things happened to me in the first place was absolute proof that there is no god; that a loving god, like the one I profess to believe in, would not allow his children to suffer.

Perhaps they’re right.

But I don’t think so.

As the news blatantly proclaims every moment of every day, nobody is saved from suffering. From the youngest to the oldest of us, the headlines scream the horrible things men and women are able to do to one another out of greed, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or pure evil. But the thing is, God never said that we wouldn’t suffer. Even Jesus, who lived a sinless life and was God had to suffer. He suffered temptation, starvation and dehydration for 40 days in the desert, suffered criticism and anguish throughout his ministry, suffered the loss of friends and family due to illness, injury and abandonment, and then suffered untold fear, pain and physical pain at the end of His life. Jesus came to this earth so that He could experience sufferings from our human perspective in order to give us a true representation that with faith, all suffering could be conquered, not that with faith we would be saved from suffering.

See the difference there?

 

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Faith provides each one of us the ability to call upon the Lord and receive His peace in times of fear and strive.  Even in those dark nights when I am awakened by every day sounds that remind me of not-so-ordinary circumstances, my prayers for peace are answered without question.

Perhaps more significantly, unlike some people that may shame us for our fears and insecurities urging us to “get over it” or “move on”, God doesn’t mock  or shame us for being afraid of the things in our lives that we find challenging. In my life, God doesn’t ignore my cries for peace due to my inability to dismiss those noises for the innocent things that they are. He loves me, understands my fear and walks with me through it.

This, my friends, is just a tiny glimpse into the peace Jesus promised His believers; the peace that passes all understanding.

God doesn’t need to know why we need comfort because He isn’t going to try to explain away our feelings of distress or shame us out of expressing it. Our God readily provides peace to us not only because He already knows what our struggles are, but also because He doesn’t need to know why. We ask and He provides.

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Even more importantly, God also gives us the courage to head into the fearful circumstances of our lives. He is that still small voice in our heads and hearts that tells us that we can move forward despite the seemingly insurmountable odds. He does not promise we will always win because the reality is that we won’t. What He does promise is that when we reach out in faith and ask, He will provide the peace in our heart to acknowledge the fear, the courage and strength of character to try despite the understanding that we may fail, and the ability to reach out in faith when there is no visible rope to grab on to.

Here’s to hoping that if you, like me, have demons that go bump in the night, you, too, have the faith to reach out for peace and courage.

Wrong

photoI have to give a shout out to my favorite work out community, Daily Burn 365, for spurring this post. If you need workout inspiration, need a community to hold you accountable or simply try something new, I highly recommend giving them a try!

One of the things I love about Daily Burn 365 is that it is so much more than just an online trainer shouting out directions to get me to sweat and get stronger. It’s a holistic approach to health that creates a space that is accepting of who each person is and where they are right now. There is not judgement, just encouragement and that encouragement comes not only through the trainers, but through the discussions that are held after each workout that help members focus on how to make each day better – how to be healthier, happier, and have more blessings each day.

The discussion this morning was about the need to change our internal dialogues that have developed as a result of our past; how the judgments of others have colored the way we view ourselves. The trainer for the day had spoke to how she needed o change her body image after years of ballet training. For her, despite the fact that I’m sure she was a beautiful dancer and highly skilled, she was unable to do a number of the things that she desired to do because she was too big. She took the criticism of her size (which I’m certain she could do nothing about since there is literally nothing you can do about growth) and heard it as a condemnation of who she was as a person.What she heard every time she was told she couldn’t do something was that she as a person was “wrong”.

Wow! Did that ring true for me!wrong-advice

I don’t know about you, but the word “wrong” heavily affects me. Every time someone says or alludes to me being wrong -regardless of the reason – I feel my shoulders suddenly weighed down to by the gravity of the word; like the word itself is a grain of sand that I have saved like a precious stone and carried with since childhood and now all of those grains have grown to be something the size of the Sahara desert that I drag behind me on a daily basis.

No wonder my shoulders are sore!

One of the things that I have noticed about this word is that it doesn’t actually have to have been said for me to feel it’s weight. For example, being an actress, I attend audition after audition and am plagued by rejection. It’s just the nature of the business. When a director doesn’t choose me for a part, I know in my head that the reason I wasn’t chosen could be because I didn’t look the way he or she imagines that character to look or I didn’t have the chemistry with the other actors that he or she is desiring. From a logical standpoint, not being chosen for a part almost never has anything to do with me as a person, but what I feel is it that it has everything in the world to do with me. I’m not pretty enough, talented enough, too old, too short, too…too….anything. I’m just overall wrong as a person and I am crushed by the weight of those grains of sand again and again.

im-right-youre-wrong_1370Now I can’t say this definitively, but I am feel fairly certain I am not alone in the way this word affects me. I believe this because we all become defensive when told we are wrong. We find excuses for why something happened or how some event came about or why we believe the way we do. The word “wrong” has become personal definition rather than just being an objective statement of a fact about something external from you and I.

I think the reason for this actually comes from the way we use that word. Maybe its because of our laziness when we speak to one another, but somewhere along the line we stopped saying things like “you’ve done this problem incorrectly” or “I don’t believe the same thing you do about this” and simplified it to “you’re wrong”. While it may seem to say the same thing, the indication to the other person is significantly different. Being told I did a math problem incorrectly means that this is a fixable problem; it doesn’t say anything about me personally. To say I am “wrong” indicates that I as a person am wrong and there is nothing I can do about that; I am stupid, incapable, not fixable.

While you may be reading this and thinking that I clearly overthink things and need some serious psychological help, let me throw this out there for you to think about.

 

The race issues in our country stemmed from a group of individuals deciding that a darker color of skin was “wrong” and therefore those persons could be treated as less than human.tumblr_m503jcc8fn1qcnmcao1_500

The sexual orientation issue is very much the same. One group of people points at another and aggressively states that what another person feels about themselves – their very identity as a person – is wrong.

We even do this with faith. One group decides that another’s beliefs are wrong and therefore the people who believe those things are also wrong and need to be at best, changed and at worst, eliminated.

 

 

The thing is that God doesn’t do “wrong”. God is perfect and can create nothing less than perfection. I as a human have the ability to make incorrect decisions about my life (as I have proven over and over again), but I was created by a perfect God so I was made “right”; I am who God wants me to be. As a child of God, I need to believe the same for each and every person around me. I may not understand why God made an individual the way they are or why their beliefs are what they are, but it isn’t for me to say they are “wrong”. Being different doesn’t mean being wrong. God created an entire universe full of different things and none of them are “wrong”.

And neither are we.

27musicAs I walked away from my workout this morning, I challenged myself to do something and I would like to challenge you with the same.

I have challenged myself to remove the phrase “you’re wrong” from my vocabulary. Instead, when I’m getting ready to say those words, I want to stop and assess what it is I’m really trying to say and speak those words instead. Do I think someone made an incorrect decision? Was a task done incorrectly? Whatever it is, I am challenging myself to be more specific in my words so that what I say to someone is not that they as an individual are “wrong”. They are not – you are not – and neither am I.

 

 

The Spider and the Fly

c41b5c273bOne of the benefits of having a great deal of time on my hands over the past few months is that in between the endless adjustments of resume’s and cover letters I have been able to read book after book. Now I would love to tell you I’m reading high-brow, intellectual texts but such is not the case. I love fiction- the ability to get carried away by a story and characters with all of my trials forgotten and my brain working overtime through the endless possibilities in any given story.

Recently, I was reading a book that questioned the idea of what normality is. Told from the eyes of a teenager, this book pointed out that we as individuals often look at others’ lives to determine if we are “normal” or not. There are images of what a “normal” family is supposed to be, a “normal” boy, girl or adult is supposed to be…it’s all very subjective and confusing. I can honestly say that I have looked at myself in the mirror more times than I can count and wondered if I’m normal or not.

bsqttuaicaekxqgThe fact of the matters is, as Morticia Adams said, what’s normal for the spider is chaos for the fly. The concept of normal is relative – relative to our own experiences, our own desires and our own belief systems. Having lived in a number of different places, I have seen “normal” vary significantly from coast to coast, state to state, and even neighborhood to neighborhood.

The thing that crossed my mind when I was reading was that while all of us see normality as something different than the person right next to us, we fail to recognize this reality and therefore use our personal definition of normal to judge – and often prejudge – others and we use these judgements as the basis to discriminate. Take the struggles of the LGBT community. They are often plagued by taunts from conservative religious persons ridiculing them due to their “abnormal” actions or appearances. As a society, we tend to place individuals into a box labeled “normal” or “abnormal” and then work diligently to ensure those in the “abnormal” box stay far away from us. Oh sure, we say it’s for our own safety, for the protection of our loved ones, or to make the other person feel more comfortable, but in the end, it just makes it easier for us to aim our assaults.

Since it seems to be the conservative realm of individuals that prescribe what is normal and what isn’t as far as our individual actions go, it only makes sense to look at the Bible and see if there is a description of what “normal” is.

Nope.

There are many references to how a believer is responsible for their own actions, but no description – detailed or not – of what a “normal” person looks like.

And I think there is an excellent reason for this.

God’s word doesn’t provide a definition of normal because there is no such thing as normal and this is because an extraordinary God is incapable of creating something that would be considered “normal” or “run of the mill”.quote-you-and-i-were-created-by-god-to-be-so-much-more-than-normal-following-the-crowd-is-tim-tebow-46-92-57

The God I believe in is extraordinary and all that He creates is equally extraordinary. All of our individual flaws, experiences and tragedies mold us into the unique being that God desires. The things that challenge us throughout our lives are what make us even more special to our Lord.

So does this mean that we can all behave in whatever way we want and there are no social norms we have to comply with?

As much as it may seem like perfection to say we can all behave the way we want to because that’s who God has created us to be, this isn’t true, either. See, while God didn’t provide a recipe for “normal” for us individually, He did prescribe a way in which we as a society are supposed to treat one another and it’s really the simplest recipe there is – and also the most difficult.

Love one another.  619e458d8da052464efca82f58c2c4ac

That’s it.

Our job as individuals is to love one another regardless of their race, creed, sexual orientation, or their definition of what normal is. “Normal” is indeed different in different neighborhoods, states, communities, countries and cultures – and THAT’S OK! If we simply love one another for who each of us are, whatever changes that are needed will be made because God will work within our hearts and minds to change us.

As I look around at the battles that are being fought today and have been fought for generations, it all boils down to the selfish desire to make others into reflections of ourselves. But the thing is none of this is about us individually. All that exists was created by God and is for His purpose, not ours.

It isn’t my job or anyone else’s to say that my idea of “normal” behavior and lifestyle is better or “more right” than sonormal-quotes-2meone else’s. This means that when I encounter, say, an Aboriginal tribe living off the land as they have for generations, it isn’t my job as a Christian to change the way they live – force them to put on Americanized clothing, start building houses that look more like what I expect them to look like and start acting more like me so that they can fit within my definition of normal. My job is to love them as they are – meet them where they are just as Jesus did for me – and allow Jesus to work within both that group of people and ME to change our hearts in the way that He desires.
So the next time you’re looking at another person or culture and thinking about how terribly abnormal they are, remember this. It isn’t our job to make everyone else the fly in our world of spiders. My normal is not your normal and we have God to thank for the blessings that arise from those differences.

 

Enough

iamenough-brenc3a9-brown-largeThe Olympics have recently finished and I have finally gotten back to feeling a little less like the worst athlete on the planet. I mean, seriously. Where do these amazing people come from? I couldn’t qualify for an Olympic event unless the sport was Olympic power napping or procrastination. I tell ya, if those were events, I would ROCK!

It’s funny, isn’t it? Even with elite athletes like those amazing men and women there are those who returned home feeling as though their accomplishments were “not enough”.  While I can’t imagine how painful it would be to qualify for an international event of such esteem and then not bring home a medal, the mere fact that one qualified should feel like a success, right?

But it doesn’t. Living in a world where nearly everything is competitive, it seems that we have to always be striving to be more than what we are; that we must be challenging ourselves to be “enough” and sadly, our faith doesn’t relieve any of that pressure.

As Christians, we are told from the time we are babies that we are sinners and therefore “not enough” by ourselves; we are unworthy to be loved by the God who created us. The mere act of being born has made us unworthy and there is nothing we personally can do individually to fix this. We must rely on a Savior, Jesus Christ, to cover up our sinful nature; remove our sins from God’s sight so He will willingly admit us to His kingdom.

Now I know I am supposed to feel amazed and in awe of the fact that God’s only Son chose to die a horrible death so that my relationship with His Father can be healed and maybe it’s just me, but this doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy. Maybe that’s because I bring a lot of baggage with me to this whole being “enough” issue.

As a survivor of abuse, I often felt that being me was so “not enough” that I was really unworthy of better treatment from others. I was so convinced of this that I frequently put myself in situations that were abusive because I felt that was all I deserved. I had thought that attending church would make this better because church is where you find God and God is Good and God is Love.

But, at least for me, this was not the case. While the church didn’t tell me I deserved to be abused, it did say – and does still say – that I am not enough all by myself to be welcomed into God’s kingdom. I have to be more; different; changed. Now, while I understand the purpose of the message is to get people to turn away from doing things that are harmful to themselves and to the community, for a person like me, this just solidifies the internal belief that I and people like me are not enough. We never have been and we never will be.

And then it struck me.635936613667970449-1699337088_music-good-enough

This morning as I was walking and praying, I was reminded of some wisdom that I both read recently and has been shared with me in other ways in the recent past.

I am good enough just as I am because I am as God made me. Period. Am I perfect? Nope, never will be but then that’s not the point of my existence here. God placed me here to learn and grow in my likeness of Him, but because I am created by Him – in His image – I am good just as the rest of this earth and the beings on it are good.

Now before you get upset that and rant about how I sin and therefore make myself less worthy, let me stop you. I fully accept that I fail on a daily basis and am absolutely responsible for my own actions. God does not protect me from the consequences of my poor decisions but rather provides me with the ability to learn from these actions and make better decisions in the future. Additionally, God already knew that I would make these poor choices at the time I was sent down to this lovely planet. As I have said before, I do not believe that there is anything I have done – or you have done – that God didn’t foresee. The Bible says in Genesis 1 that God created the world and all that is in it and it was good. Period. Not it was good until; not it was good, but…nope. God created the world and all that was in it and it was GOOD.

Now, since I believe that God is good and because of His goodness He literally cannot create anything that is bad, that means that you, me, all of us are good just by being who we are. We may make bad decisions, we may do stupid things, but we are all good and therefore we are enough.

So where did this idea come from that we had to be saved?

Man.

Well, ok, Satan started it, Adam jumped on board, and we’ve been in this never-ending pointing of fingers since. The point is that God didn’t need to send Jesus to die for my sins because when I was created, I was already forgiven. God already knew what my life was going to be, how I was going to live it, and what impact it would have on others. The same is true of each and every one of us.

I truly believe that God sent Jesus not because we aren’t “enough” as we are, but for two entirely different reasons.

One, Jesus came so that each of us can forgive ourselves and continue forward on the path that we were created to be on rather than spend time feeling guilty for bad decisions. Second, Jesus came to remind each of us that we all fail in order to curb the need to point out everyone else’s failures as being bigger or worse than our own in order to make ourselves feel more worthy.

We as human beings strive to feel better by making others around us feel worse and God knew this would be a failure of our independent nature and therefore sent Jesus – and the numerous prophets prior to Him – to remind us that none of us are superior to one another.

enoughHere is the bottom line.

We all have the same pluses and minuses on our scorecard but in the end, we were all created by a kind, loving God who’s mercy, love and grace are always enough and created us to be enough just as we are.

We need Jesus because we to remember this life isn’t about us.

We need Jesus because we need to remember that being enough doesn’t mean we don’t need to learn and grow.

We need Jesus because our time on this earth is not about becoming “good enough” but about being a piece of God here on this planet at this time for His purpose.

 

Aspen Trees

aspen_trees6I am a Colorado girl and as such, I love my Aspen trees. The delicate rustle of their leaves in the breeze somehow speaks to my very soul and this time of year, I anxiously await their beautiful gold colors as they cover the mountainside in prelude to snow.

One of the interesting things about Aspen is that each colony – regardless of its size – is a “clonal” colony. In other words, all of the trees in a given colony are identical in their characteristics and share the same root system. It’s a community that survives because of the nourishment of the whole.

I thought about this the other day when a friend and I were talking about the fact that there are 10 dreams that nearly all of us have at one time or another: dreams like falling, being chased, being unprepared for a test or exam of some sort and appearing naked in an inappropriate place. Somehow, though we are all raised differently, live in different parts of the world, and are raised to believe sometimes entirely different things, we are interconnected in our dreams.

So why is it that when it comes to faith, we ignore our interconnection and start putting up barriers?quote-all-human-beings-are-interconnected-one-with-all-other-elements-in-creation-henry-reed-152084

As communities of faith, we are supposed to survive by creating a “colony” – a group of people who support one another, nourish one another, and grow together for generations. On the face of it, this the exactly what we have done, but the divisions that we have created both within the Christian community and outside of it are not.

For those of us that attend church on a somewhat regular basis, we tend to migrate to a place where our ideologies and philosophies aren’t really tested or stretched. Sure, every now and then a little wrench will get thrown into the works, but for the most part, I have noticed that our churches become little “clonal colony” of their own; each of us comfortable with the teaching and beliefs of those around us and disconnecting ourselves from those who think and act differently. The Episcopalian church may sit next to the Methodist Church and they may even get along, but throw in a Unitarian Church? OMG – let the theological warfare begin!

I know. It’s human nature for us to seek like-minded people and congregate with them. I get it, but I don’t think it’s either right or God’s desire for us.

As a Christian, I am horrified by the way we have allowed our perception of what God wants to create this air of superiority that has helped to build the anti-Christian and atheist movements growing around us.What would happen if we all reached outside of our little colony and connected with that colony next to us that thinks things just slightly – or even significantly –  differently? What if we really stretched and connected our root system to the synagogue around the corner or the Buddhist temple down the street?

Eee-gads! Not that!

How could we possibly integrate with “those” people that don’t think anything like we do?

quote-in-this-interconnected-universe-every-improvement-we-make-in-our-private-world-improves-david-r-hawkins-103-36-89
Well, maybe I’m crazy here, but didn’t God create each of them as well?  And if we believe that God is good and that all of God’s creation is good, then it only follows that those who believe differently than we do are just as loved and just as good as we are just like oak trees, pine trees and maple trees are just as wonderful as the aspen trees that paint my horizon.

The thing is, I do believe that Jesus is my Savior, but to me, that is MY path – the path God created for me at this time in this life. That doesn’t mean that it is the only path; the right path for all of His creation.

My God is a big God that can – and has – created a huge universe and an earth that is covered with more varieties of living things than we could ever hope to glimpse in our short time here. I think it’s silly to think that God’s creativity ended when it came to faith and how to find Him.

We are not aspen trees. God has created us to be unique but has also interconnected us in ways known and unknown. As humans, it is our gift to be able to reach across our “colonies” and share our uniqueness; to plant next to one another and grow beside one another creating communities that are unique, beautiful, and supportive of one another.

aspen-roots-1

Stuck

I want to thank BEGINTOBELIEVE for sparking this post for me. It resonated so clearly in me that I found the desire to speak to this same topic myself. Please check out the original post for additional information!

 

welly-boots-stuck-in-the-mudIf you read my last post, you know that my incessant whining about this current situation spurred my dear cousin to send me the book, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero, is certainly not your typical Christian self-help book. The concepts the author speaks of provide a very different world view than my less world-view Episcopal theology teaches, but for those who, like me, have struggled with low self-esteem, it speaks to my soul and has provided many wonderful nuggets of wisdom for takeaway.

One of these key nuggets for me was the reminder that God created me to be me. This doesn’t mean that I was created to be someone that I am not right now but could be if I hold my tongue right and say just the right prayer at just the right time. It doesn’t mean that I was created by God to be one thing and I screwed it up by making the wrong decisions and now I’m being punished.

God created me to be who I am knowing the circumstances I would encounter and the choices I would make. Sure, I have certainly made bad decisions and have had to suffer the consequences of those decisions. I also certainly have things I need to learn, experiences I need to go through, and changes that will need to be made in my life, but these are all opportunities to continue becoming the person God created me to be.

Did you catch that?999439e0ee372652827e62c47341512c

I am now exactly who God knew I would be at this point in time. My job at this point is to continue to allow God to show me His will for me and to continue to trust His will is perfect for my life.

This is not an easy prospect. At this point in time, I am scared. I worry about making my rent, paying my bills and what I will do if those things cannot be accomplished. I think about the day that I was blessed enough to volunteer at Metro Caring and wonder if the next person to make an appointment for food and assistance there will need to be me. I cry out to God wondering what it is that I need to be doing differently and wishing this part of journey would be easier.

I know that my current burden is not the worst thing that anyone could imagine. There are so many of you who are probably struggling with things much more life and death I nature and I’m sure you can agree that the easy thing would be to return to that place of being “stuck”; to curl up on my couch and just quit trying. As a Christian, it is my job and joy (and yours) to remember that there are steps I can take to move forward and not get lost on my journey toward becoming more of who God wants me to be. But sometimes that very prospect is enough to cause the stuck feeling to start all over again. Where is the stinking “Start” button!?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have found a few nuggets both in the above mentioned book and through other studies that might be helpful that I’d like to share:

  • STOP: Realize that despite where we are now, what’s done is done. It doesn’t do any of us any good to spend our time playing the “if only” or “what if” game. Yes, it’s only human to wonder how things could have been but the sooner we can move past that and accept things as they are the better!
  • MAKE ROOM: Get all of those emotions out of your heart and head and grieve the situation. Whatever the pain or struggle may be, cry, scream, rant and rave about it. Let it all out and make room for the good stuff to move in.
  • MAKE CONNECTIONS: Spend time with people who encourage, love and support you. Much as we like to think we are self-sufficient and can do this all on our own, we need one another and the sooner we can remember that, the sooner we can get moving again.
  • MAKE THE EFFORT: Make intentional efforts to get better. For me, I have reached out to people I know that can help me with the job hunt and can also just commiserate with me when the going is tough. Whatever it is you need – emotional support, training, spiritual direction or more practical assistance, take steps to help yourself.
  • MAKE TIME TO LISTEN: Whether it’s to our peers who can give us direction about what may have gotten us here in the first place, the doctors or care staff that can provide direction in getting healthy, or that still small voice that we hear but sometimes ignore, listen and remember. God sends His message to us in many forms. Be diligent in listening and then prayerfully consider each message to make sure you have discerned what God intends for you.
  • KNOW GOD IS WITH YOU: We are not alone in our struggles. Despite how it may feel, God does not abandon us in our times of struggle. He is with us and will give us the strength we need to walk the road we are on.

295eb217f04113075fbd1f4f74451fccGetting and staying stuck steals our joy, robs us of your potential and deceives us into thinking that life won’t ever be any different than it is at this moment. But God didn’t create us to be stuck. He provides the way for us through all of our struggles and strife and provides His word for us as a reminder that He is there to help. This doesn’t mean that the struggle is going to end as soon as you read this or read these scriptures or tomorrow when you wake up. What is does mean is that God knows the pain each and every one of us would suffer, he weeps and aches with us, and most importantly, He provided a way through. Reach up and grab that life ring!

Philippians 1:6, 2, Philippians 2:13, Romans 8:28-30, Psalm 138:8, 1 Peter 5:10.

Low Hanging Fruit

lamentations-dribhave been “adulting” this week!

Yes, I know that “adulting” is not a word nor a verb, but I feel very “adult” this week.

I finally got a call to do some temp work at a firm in the downtown area and have not only gotten myself up, showered, dressed and out the door, but managed the public transportation system and spend time in an office with real people all day!

It’s funny the things you forget about when you haven’t worked in an office for a while.

I forgot that “getting to” wear jeans on Friday is something people look forward to all week.

I forgot that there are a vast number of people who have absolutely no idea there are others on the sidewalk with them at any given moment and that, even if they did remember this, they don’t really care.

And I forgot that the snippets of conversation you hear walking through an office or sitting on the train can provide huge insights and reminders into our lives as a whole.

For example, I was reminded that we human beings are seemingly hardwired to want something other than that which is immediately in front of us; something other that “low hanging fruit” that God has graciously place in our line of sight.

Think about it. You look in the fridge for something to eat and you typically want something – ANYTHING – other than what is readily available. Or for people like me who love coffee, somehow the office coffee is simply never good enough even though it would probably taste just fine if it were presented to us at a restaurant. For some reason, the fact that things are “free” are often seen as lesser; something unworthy or undesirable.

Reading an article in Today’s Christian Woman magazine I was also reminded that this same phenomenon applies to age in general and the aging process as a whole.

Remember being little and every time someone would ask you how old you are, you would age up? If you were 5, you would say you were “almost 6” or “5 and a half”. Pre-teen years brought longing for driver’s licenses and then once we had the ability to drive, we couldn’t wait to get to 21 – to be able to drink (legally) and be considered an actual adult.

When we’re young, the physical changes that come with getting older are welcomed. We relished growing taller, looking older, being seen as “mature”.

But somewhere that all changed. Being young suddenly became what we were striving for and spending more and more time and money on achieving.

So what is it that makes us so dissatisfied with the things around us? Why do we always want something other than what God has so graciously given us?

Some would say its “the devil”- that whole “the devil made me do it” thing. In other words, its our sinful nature that makes us unhappy with what we have. After all, the devil -via the snake – convinced Adam and Eve there was more to be had than all the wonders that God had provided in the entire Garden. Surely without the Devil’s taunting, Adam and Eve would have lived in blissful ignorance to the “dark side”, right?

I don’t think so.

God placed that tree (as far as we know) smack dab in the middle of the garden  so Adam and Eve saw it every day. They walked by it, God told them about it, and at some point, their curiosity got the better of them and they allowed the words from the Devil to influence them and their actions.

But – at least the way I view it – this was not a surprise in any way to God. He created Adam and Eve as well as each of us with curious minds and the ability to learn and grow emotionally and spiritually so we could see all of the wonders of the world He created, but to then be able to learn that all of it is useless without Him.

God created us with bodies and minds that change. I don’t believe, as some suggest, that this was done as a punishment for sin, but to keep us always learning and growing in understanding of the world around us.

As we gain wisdom and insight into things through age and experience, our world  becomes bigger. God allows us to grow older physically and mentally so that the ability to experience something new or different never goes away – we always have the ability to see things as new each day. To me, this is part of the mercies that the writer of Lamentations speaks of.  It’s not just that we get another day to try to do things well or better than yesterday, but that we get to see things in light of understanding that we have gained through experience.

But here is the challenging thing – at least for me. Growing older also means looking older – and in our society, this is definitely frowned upon. Women, in particular, are pressured to continue to be fit and maintain a hair color that is something other than the silver that time otherwise presents us with. I, for one, spend a good deal of time and energy working to keep my outward appearance as close to my younger self as possible. While parts of that are good (keeping my body a strong and healthy honors God and His creation of me), there is a point at which it becomes more about vanity and less about health.

The same is true in regards to that low hanging fruit I mentioned earlier. God places those things where we can easily get to them not just to make it easy for us, but to remind us that He will provide every single day. Some days the things that He has provided are indeed hard to get to. We have to reach higher, fight harder to get them. God, in His wisdom, knows that we tire of the fight – that we can only make that hard push for so long before we collapse –  so He provides us with the opportunity to enjoy gifts that are easy to find and reach.

So where is the line? How do we know which of the low hanging fruits we should take and which of the more difficult ones I should reach for?

This is where the gifts of the Spirit come in – wisdom and discernment. The Spirit will lead us in the direction we need to go if we ask and then obey. For example, I may really prefer to go to Starbucks for coffee on my way to my temporary job, but that soft little voice in my heart reminds me that there is coffee at my disposal where I am going. I don’t need to spend that $6 for the super special coffee when the free coffee will feed me equally well.

And while I may want desperately to give into the desire to rid myself of the fine lines and wrinkles I see or go get that boob job so my breasts will stay where God put them in the first place, dang it, I can listen to that still soft voice and know that those lines and wrinkles represent the lessons I fought hard to learn and the wisdom I gained as a result; I can know that the force of gravity that pulls my breasts in directions I wish they wouldn’t go is molding me and changing me to be physically more of  who God envisions me to be.

I cannot lie and say his means I am suddenly going to let my hair go gray or slow down my exercise routine. For better or worse, these are vanities I am unable and unwilling to relinquish for now. But what it does mean is that I am going to work harder to acknowledge and rejoice in the mercies God provides every day; to see the low hanging fruits for the blessings they are and not dismiss them for something I think I want or believe are better than what I see immediately in front of me.

See? I am becoming an adult after all!