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??? 😉

Satan Made Me Do It

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all Satan’s fault.

No, seriously.

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

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

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

But we aren’t God.

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

Loving at a Distance

wills20picI guess I should have seen it coming.

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

I was written out of the will.

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

What had I done to warrant such an action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I hated these feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

In a word, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Finding Thin Places

istock_000013602538mediumKierkegaard once stated that life is best understood backward but must be experienced forward. I think this may be particularly true about travel. While I am not “globe trotter” by any definition, I can say that as I look back on the places I have been blessed enough to visit, it is clear to me that those places that left an indelible mark on my heart – those places I long to return to and hold a special place in my memory – are places where I felt inspired and at peace; where I felt as though the hold this planet had on me was not as strong as the connection I had to the home waiting for me in eternity. Such places, it turns out, have been identified for years and are known by the Celtics as “thin places”: places where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine.

Finding ourselves in these thin places does not necessarily lead to life-changing spiritual breakthroughs, whatever that may look like, but they can disorient us; confuse us. We can find ourselves jolted out of old ways of seeing the world and more readily accept the world as God sees it.

I believe many of us seek these “thin place” experiences over and over once we have experienced them and are often disappointed when we can’t find them again. We go back to the same place at the same time of year and day but somehow, it’s just not the same. The connection to something beyond us has disappeared and we can easily become disappointed with God as a result.

Thinking about these times of wonder and disappointments, I find myself wondering what is it that truly creates those amazing moments? Is it truly the place? Is it a rip in the fabric of time that is only visible at exactly the right time in the right place?

To me, I think that these moments occur not because of the physical location or time, but because of the condition of our heart at that moment; that we find these thin places in times when we are thoroughly focused on God and His will for us instead of being distracted by our personal wants and needs. I would go so far as to say that the “thin places” are times when we land on that narrow road that Christians and others of faith are called to walk upon.

bible-verse-matthew-714-for-the-gate-is-narrow-and-the-way-is-hard-that-leads-to-life-2013

That road is, as you have probably come to know, very difficult to find let alone stay on.

I personally imagine this road to be almost as narrow as a tightrope; a place we need to truly focus in order to stay balanced upon it and a place where, more often than not, we simply stumble upon rather than encounter purposefully. The forces of materialism and selfishness pull us from side to side and we tilt, stumble and often fall. But occasionally all the pieces fit together and we find ourselves centered, focused on God and His path for us.

We’re able to do this when we love as He does; love one another without boundaries, accepting all of the people God places in our lives for the individuals He created them to be regardless of their thoughts, beliefs, words or actions; when we love them despite how challenging they may be from our human, selfish and judgmental perspective.  When we have those moments of truly loving those around us, the desire to get stuff or reach for the next rung on the ladder falls away and the distance between heaven and earth narrows.

Finding ourselves in those thin places is a gift to us from God; an intimate reminder that there is a purpose to our time here and a connection with Him that is both eternal and can be glimpsed here on earth. But as I mentioned previously, the harder we try to find these thin places, the more elusive they will likely become because our focus becomes skewed because we are no longer simply focused on God and finding ourselves in this special place, but focused on the experience. The thin place becomes more of a consumer event – a “what can I get out of it” time – rather than what it was originally – a “God thing.”

The thing we each need to remember – or at least I need to remember – is that in order to narrow the gap between heaven and earth, we have to focus purely on God and His will for each moment of our lives.

This is, to say the least, challenging.heels1-418284

We are fed a non-stop barrage of the things we “need” to be truly happy. It seems that no matter where you look, we are told our lives are empty, unfulfilling and a disappointment to us and those around us. We get caught up in the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of having to make more money to buy the right stuff to fit in with the right people and live in the right place. It’s not just exhausting, but it is truly a never-ending process. The reality is there will always be someone else who makes more or has something that looks really cool or that lives in a house that is what we consider to be the epitome of success and continuing to focus on the things we don’t have not only takes our eyes away from God, it furthers the frustration, bitterness and anger that is so pervasive in our world today.

As people of faith, we need to remember to change our focus from the material to the ethereal. When we do this, we may indeed find ourselves in one of those special “thin places” more frequently, but even if we only find these places once or twice in our lifetime, working to separate ourselves from the worldly negativity and focus on reflecting God’s perfect love to those around us will keep the memory of these times alive and help us find balance in the more difficult moments in life.

thin-places-graphic

We Have A Choice

0c990678e5433d22f334f4ac921c1e98Wow! That escalated quickly, right?

This election season was so full of hatred and vitriol that was spewed back and forth, it’s no wonder our entire nation seems to be suffering from PTSD in its wake.

As we all know, however, the end of the election did nothing to actually stem the hatred, but rather has given fuel to it. Marches, riots and random beatings are rampant. What is odd – at least to me – is the side that professes to want peace and unity is the side that is promoting and engaging in the violence. This is not only contrary to everything they profess to believe in, but is doing nothing to solve the problem.

The more information I get about the election itself, the more disheartened I am by the entire thing. I am shocked that this outrage exists when only 51% of registered voters actually participated in the election.

I am heartbroken by the level of anger and hatred that is continuing on my Facebook feed by members of the losing party even though their chosen candidate has been nothing but gracious in her concession speeches and posts.

Perhaps most of all, I am saddened by the fact that the information that people are a information-quotes-2majority of people participating in this violent behavior are basing their actions on the things they read on the internet and the sound bites they have been given by the media – an entity that is far from unbiased and fair in it’s depiction of any of the candidates that participated in this election.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the media thrives on fear. They seek out the frightening and horrifying items that happen around us rather than those things that are positive and loving. They incite fear of our neighbors, our leaders, and our country as a whole. I’m sure there are many of you who are shouting at the screen now, angrily saying that the news provides information that we need to know to keep ourselves safe and protected from the horrific world around us. I get it. I’m all for information, but all information must be vetted. We must understand the biases of the given source and do our own research to understand fully what is happening rather than taking the 30-second tidbits of information that are given to us from others.

The problem isn’t that we aren’t intelligent or learned enough to vet the information given to us, but rather that the information given to us is so targeted to enhance our fears that we become paralyzed by fear, unable to do our research because we are afraid of what we will find.

e4c1c4cdbf06a1e74a77ee18e6b48b88The reality is that fear, not hatred, is the opposite of love. Fear drove Adam and Eve to hide from God in the garden of Eden and fear drives us each into hiding from one another because, ironically, hiding makes us feel safer. As I watch the coverage and read about the outcries of those angry about the election results, all I hear are fears of what may come with the new presidency. We don’t actually know what will happen, but are acting out in fear of what could possibly happen – fear of losing healthcare, fear of losing freedoms, fear of losing money, fear of being seen differently or being treated differently because of who we are.

But we have a choice to act differently.

We could – and are called, as members of faith – to choose to act in love instead.

05-22-15-better-together-love-drives-out-the-fear-in-your-relationships_miniChoosing to act in love toward one another doesn’t mean that we think the same way or that the differences we have are wiped clean. It just means that we allow God to direct our actions instead of allowing our human nature to get in the way.

Scripture tells us that love bears ALL things and that we are called to love ALL people. Neither of these statements means that we are to love only those things and people we like and believe in. Anyone can do that. We as members of faith communities – Christian and otherwise  – are called to love even those with whom we significant issue.

Let me give you a “for example.”

Recently, a member of my family moved back to town. He is a person that abused me sexually, verbally, and physically. There are many in my life that told me I should have nothing to do with him; that I should not even be speaking to him let alone have a relationship with him. I get it. I really do. Loving this person is painful and challenging. Spending time with him brings back memories I don’t wish to recall. It would definitely be easier for me to slam that door and nail it shut so I never have to go down that path again, but the thing is that in order to be the person God desires me to be, I don’t really have that option.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are strict boundaries and safety nets that are in place and need to remain. Being loving doesn’t mean I put myself in harm’s way, but if I am to be a truly Godly woman, I am called to love this person and all persons who God places in my path not because of who they are or who I am but because of who GOD is.

information-quotes-2Loving those around us is not a consumer event. It’s not about what each of us gets as a result of the activity. To truly love someone the way God intends us to means that we don’t get the luxury of keeping score or holding back because it feels better or is more convenient. We as people of faith must be willing to stand as witnesses and participants in loving the way God intends us to love because we are the only ones who can show others the way to peace and the way to joy.

The bottom line is this. God is love. Period. Not God is love except….or God is love but….no. God is love. End of sentence.

In this time of uncertainty and change, being God to our hurting world is even more important that it has ever been.

Love must be at the center of all of our actions if we are to move forward. We can’t say, “yeah, but look at what he/she said or did! How can I love them?” That is not love.

Love is being merciful and generous despite what the other person said or did. This is how God is able to love us despite the despicable things we say and do and it is this unconditional love that we are called to show one another.

quote-should-i-worship-him-from-fear-of-hell-may-i-be-cast-into-it-should-i-serve-him-from-sadhu-sundar-singh-53-28-50

Lessons from Lexy

today-showWe have a society that seems to believe that the elderly and infirm have nothing to show us or give to us. That’s why I was so touched by a recent story posted on my Facebook timeline about a young girl who befriended an elderly man in the grocery store. It seems this little sprite has a heart for elderly people and she wants to “love ‘em all up before they is died.” I think this girl and my dog, Lexy, are cut from the same cloth.

Found shivering and cold under a pallet in the woods of South Carolina, this pitiful little ball of black fluff has grown to become the kindest, most gentle creature I have ever known. She is not aggressive, hyper or needy. She adores people and cats but is a little leery of other dogs. I used to think this was odd, but as I watched her the other day, I realized that Lexy has a higher “calling” than being just an average dog. She is here to give love and care to those who need it most.

I know. You think I’m making this up, but those who have seen her in action will attest.

We take nearly daily walks around a beautiful dog park here in Colorado. While other dogs chase each other and play, Lexy follows closely beside me happily completing her daily constitutional while enjoying the sights and smells of one of her favorite places on earth. Okay, sure, there’s the occasional swim or chasing of a stick, but otherwise, she follows me, waiting for the time she is needed…

…and the times come nearly every day.lexy

Sometimes it’s the cry of a baby. Lexy hears it and immediately starts toward the sound to find the baby and comfort it. She’ll lick its feet, nuzzle its face, and do whatever she can to help.

Sometimes it’s an elderly person who is a seated alone on a bench. She’ll walk up calmly and “ask” to be petted, licking their thin, soft skin and leaning against their legs.

Just the other day, it was a young man with physical and mental challenges that was being pushed in his wheelchair around the park. When Lexy saw him, she immediately trotted to his side, nuzzled his hand and then sat beside him and waited. She wasn’t looking for food or someone to throw a ball. She wanted to just sit near him and spend time.

Similarly, when my parents lived here, she would do this same thing for them anytime she had the chance to stay at “camp”. Anytime my dad got up to go out of the room, Lexy would walk behind him always keeping a safe distance, but seemingly staying close enough to “help” should he fall. At night, she would diligently watch over my dad and stepmom, moving from room to room to make sure they each were okay, and then taking post in the living room to watch for any unknown critters that needed to be guarded against.

As I read the story on the little girl today I realized what a precious gem both she and my dog are. In a time when people are spending millions of dollars a year to try to achieve “agelessness”and those with physical and mental challenges are still struggling to find a place, there are old souls – human and canine alike – who feel drawn to bridge that gap and let each of these people know they are precious and loved; that they are as much a part of the tapestry of this world as everyone else and those of us who don’t recognize that are missing out on some of life’s biggest blessings.

I know I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know or haven’t already heard. People of faith in particular often have generous hearts and are willing to see beyond age and disability, but just in case, let me share some of things Lexy would tell you if she had thumbs and could type.

  • The older someone is, the more love they deserve: Don’t rush by because they move slowly and don’t stop listening because they already told you that story. Walk with them anyway, listen to them anyway.
  • Those with disabilities see the world differently. Learn from them: Being dependent upon a wheelchair, unable to speak clearly because of a stutter, or being stared at because muscles act on their own accord is challenging enough. Don’t dismiss the person because of the difficulty. Instead, see how much they do despite the struggle. If they can’t speak, sit with them and wait. They will teach you lessons if you only pay attention.
  • Be caring and gentle always: Old age and physical challenges are exhausting. Don’t add to the frustration by demanding they respond to you in your time or in your preferred method. Be adaptable and accepting.
  • Love them until…: I know it sounds daunting, but loving someone doesn’t mean that, like the little girl in the story above, you need to make another person a member of your family (although you certainly could!). Sometimes your time with this person is only a few moments. Offer them the love a dog would show – unconditional and genuine – for the moment they are a part of your world. I guarantee this will make your life and theirs far better.

 

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.