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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

Hard to Say Goodbye

13667727_10206694363826567_1814928283392333504_oThe blue lights of the sanctuary covered the back wall and reflected off the horns that were scattered across the stage. Trumpets, coronets and flugelhorns all caught the light and reflected it out to the seats below creating an atmosphere that was at once soothing and sad, much like the jazz that my friend had played on them.

I was walking in to say my goodbyes along with several hundred other people, all of whom were touched in some way by this man.

His death was unexpected and heartbreaking. He was a grandfather, husband, brother and father – all of the things one would expect of a man of a certain age – and yet he was so much more.

As a musician, he challenged everyone he played with to be better; to be more than they were before the set started. As a man of faith, he carried with him a sense of peace and joy that exuded through every part of his being and showered down on those he came into contact with. I don’t doubt that he had days of uncertainty and struggle, but during the brief time I was blessed to know him, I never saw a glimpse of that. As the song from then musical Wicked says, I have been changed by knowing him.

because I knew you

It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? Even at times when the goodbye isn’t necessarily permanent, the very word seems to stick in our heart like a barb. It isn’t supposed to be like this, our heart cries! My time with this person was supposed to be longer! I never got the chance to say thank you or I’m sorry or whatever it is we so desperately want to say when the option no longer exists.

As I listened to the sermon during this somber event, the pastor of the church indicated that God didn’t intend for us to say goodbye; that our need to do so only exists because of the fall of man in the garden. While this may not be a popular opinion, I beg to differ.

I don’t, as I’ve said in the past, believe that God makes mistakes. Therefore, it only logically follows that God absolutely created us to feel loss and ache at the departure of people and things we love. To me, to believe otherwise means that God neither foresaw Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit nor planned for the repercussions thereafter. For me, my God is bigger than that. He knew before He created a single microorganism that we would fail. Actually, to me, He created us to do so because the bigger plan was dependent upon our human curiosity to overtake our desire to obey.

Sounds contrary to probably everything you have ever been taught, but follow me on this for a moment.

Without failure, we would never learn that we need God. We would mindlessly follow, devoid of passion or conviction. The God I believe in wants so much more for us than that.

 

I believe that God created the ability for us to sin so we would learn to turn to Him; that he created the ability to stumble so we would feel the security of being carried; the ability to mourn losses great and small so that we could know the full breadth of love.

Love is bigger than happiness and joy. It aches with yearning, cries out with pain, and sobs uncontrollably for endings. The ability to feel these things is what makes love such a unique and complex emotion and is the one thing that makes us truly a part of God.

At times like this – the death of a friend or loved one – it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a gift, but it truly is.

Without the depths of despair that loss brings we would never fully realize the heights of bliss that are also part of our emotional spectrum.

Perhaps more importantly, without the stillness that comes with loss we would never come to experience the excitement of renewal. If nothing ever left our lives, there would be no need for us to reach out for something new – a new hobby,  a new friend, a new life experience. The life that God envisioned for us would not exist.

Maybe it seems odd to say, but I would absolutely choose the life of emotional ups and downs over a life of status quo. It seems to me that God created me to be able to feel these things so I could know Him more fully; so I could more fully grasp the extent of His love for me and the purpose He has for my life.

shelby quote

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of sadistic god would want me to suffer?

The thing is, it’s not that He wants us to suffer per se, but  that He wants us to realize that through these experiences we can grow to be so much more that who we were before them. Oh sure, we can choose to wallow in self-pity for the rest of out lives, or we can change.

As I thought about how this particular death was calling me to change, I took a moment to look around the sanctuary all of the various people who had been affected by this person – and it hit me.

I desire to make a difference the way my friend did. No, I’m not going to take up brass instruments and try to teach or try to replicate his life. That would just be silly and I would be an utter failure. But what I am going to do is make a conscious effort to be that person that makes others feel welcome and comfortable; to be that person that creates a sense of peace and laughter.

On the day of my first gig with the band I met this wonderful man in, I was nervous and felt uncertain of my ability to carry the role I had been given. This man not only told me at every opportunity that I was doing a great job, but caught my eye to do silly things like use his horn as a dancing snake making me laugh and relax. This is the piece of my friend I want to carry forward.

Thanks to my friend, I am going to work harder to reflect the characteristics of God to others so they can feel His presence in their lives, even when they don’t realize that’s what they feel.

I only hope that when I meet him in heaven, he will be able to see the change he made in me and the way I was able to carry the torch for him.

 

The Silent Treatment

lyingtongue
sidcreationblog.blogspot.com

 

Have you ever been given the silent treatment? It’s infuriating, isn’t it? Somehow the fact that this one person that you desperately want to communicate with is choosing not to say a word becomes the most powerful thing on the planet. I, for one, will yell, beg, do just about anything to get the silence to stop.

 

As I look around at our flags which have been flying at half-staff now for weeks on end,I can’t help but wonder if this silent treatment wouldn’t be the most effective thing we could do to staunch the bloodletting.

What if we gave the voice of the media outlets to those who are doing good things for our nation rather than offensive or destructive things? What would happen to our sense of community if we painted our news feeds with pictures of neighbors helping neighbors instead of turning against one another; of religious organizations banding together for the benefit of those in need instead of focusing on the pieces that cause divisiveness; of children playing together without concern of race, creed or color?

As a person of faith, I am called to be “give the silent treatment” rather than speak words that are offensive or divisive. While this is incredibly hard to do in this era of instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, we need to get back to the old adage of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” instead of our current mindset.

Not every idea that comes to our mind is worthy to be verbalized. Rather than being 99c3c8be28568604fa2262088459404amindless puppets responding to images and videos taken out of context to incite, we could – and should – stop for a moment and think. We need to remember that words hurt. I, for one, continue to hear the words spoken to me and about me that were cruel and hurtful and I have to consciously stop and remind myself that those words do not define me.

What does define me (more so some days than others) is my faith and the way I represent my faith on a daily basis. Given the immediacy and permanence of our digital culture today, I can’t think of a stronger way to reflect my faith than to monitor the words that both come out of my mouth and that are placed on this global network for all to see.

The Bible has over 50 verses that relate to the power of words and our need to monitor our tongue. After all, it was the serpent’s words which convinced Eve to take that fateful bite of fruit and Eve’s words to Adam which convinced him to join in the fun.

1cc2c26105a375b0b5855765c24cd53bThe Bible reminds its readers over and over that the words of our enemies may taste sweet in our mouths but will poison and destroy us. If you think this isn’t true, just think back to Hitler and the rise of the 3rd Reich.

In a time when the German people were struggling, Hitler began speaking words of hatred about those who were successful feeding into fears and bigotries that the people were struggling against. His words tasted sweet. They provided a direction for anger, resentment and hatred; they added unnecessary fuel to the fire of dissension that had been created at the end of World War I and as a result, the steamroller that was Hitler’s 3rd Reich became unstoppable.

This same thing is well on the way to occurring here in our country. Fuel is being added by political organizations, civil organizations and the average John and Jane on the street who feel they have been ignored for too long. Their individual pain and suffering is being fed by the vile onslaught that is social and mainstream media and soon we, too, will have an unstoppable machine which I fear will not only destroy our nation, but the world as we know it.

Pretty deep, I know.

164d9af7b699de5b529fd3173c9f817bBut here’s the thing.

We as members of a faith community – ANY faith community – have the ability to stop it.

By giving the silent treatment to the campaigns of violence and hatred that surround us, we can starve the fire of its fuel. By holding our own tongues – keeping ourselves from being reactionary and repeating information we have not researched nor fully understand, we can start throwing tiny buckets of water on the fires to keep them from merging together to become greater than they already are.

In doing this, we are giving hatred and prejudice the silent treatment.

Want to take it one step further?

If we, as members of faith, return to filling our hearts and minds with ALL of God’s word, not just those individual verses or portions of verses we believe give credence to our feelings of superiority, we can extinguish the fires that have been overtaking our nation.

I know. It sounds trite and silly, but the reality is that the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us is fed by the words we hear and repeat.

Thd55816ea42f4dff6a30c46310e39ef31ink about all of those self-help guru’s out there. What is typically the number one thing they will tell the average person who is seeking to improve their own life? Change the monologue that plays out in your head on a daily basis.

So here is my challenge to you (and me) for the next week.

Replace the words of anger and frustration with words of love and affirmation. Start with the internal monologue that we all struggle with. Instead of calling yourself an idiot for forgetting to turn off the coffee pot before you left for work (a phrase I use on myself more often than I care to admit), encourage yourself for the innumerable things you remember on a daily basis. Instead of getting immersed in the office politics about who did what to whom, divert the discussion to something positive – the beautiful weather, the funny video you saw of that adorable puppy or the undeniable joy of a baby’s laughter. Instead of getting into political and social arguments with people on Facebook and Twitter, hide the negative posts from your feed or disconnect altogether for a time.

I’m not even going to pretend that this will be easy. It wo64ab240fe4e54cc423487597eddb8963n’t. Saying only positive things tends to make people uncomfortable and abruptly end what appear to be stimulating conversations, but in the end, this is what we as individuals and as a society need.

If we can make giving those negative thoughts and feelings the silent treatment  our priority, the positive will start to take over and suddenly what seemed impossible is now possible.

 

 

Celebrating Dependence

25085-thinkstockphotos-478624257-1200w-tnI cannot believe it is already the beginning of July! Seems like we just celebrated Mother’s Day and now it’s time bring on the fireworks and barbecues!

I am a huge fan of fireworks and the celebration of our country. If there is really such a thing as past lives, I swear I must have been a soldier or somehow tied to the military because the patriotic songs and spirit that comes with 4th of July celebrations always makes my heart swell and my eyes leak. I believe that we as a nation have much to be thankful for and rejoice in but it is also important for us to remember that neither freedom nor independence is something that comes without cost.  As I think about this upcoming holiday I can’t help but be reminded that thousands have sacrificed their lives and continue to sacrifice so that I may have the freedom to even type this post and I am forever in their debt.

omaha-cemetary-22

We are a fiercely independent nation. Not only are we not ruled or tied to another nation, but we are independent in the way we live, work and raise our children. That sense of independence – being able to reach for and obtain a dream – is what has made America great. Unfortunately, as I look around our amazing country, I see that focus has been slowly been replaced a focus on “self”. Success is no longer about a scrappy immigrant coming to our nation and building a successful business with the sweat of his brow and the support of his faith and family, but about pushing, shoving, and climbing that ladder of success regardless of the cost to anyone else. The “I don’t need anyone to get what I want” mentality has been molded and formed to perfection over the past 240 years and I don’t expect this to change any time soon.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t see independence itself as a bad thing. I mean, I’m fairly certain nobody reading this would be a surprised to hear that I am a fiercely independent person. I grew up as a latch-key kid (for those of you too young to know what that is, it meant that I was home alone after school due to working parents) and quickly learned how to fend for myself regardless of the situation.   To me, the skills I learned growing up the way I did helped me to be more creative and adaptable. They have also helped me get through some extremely difficult personal times.

When my ex-husband and I separated 10 years ago, I was left with literally nothing – no
job, no money, no home, and virtually no support system. My independent spirit helped me find ways to dig myself out while my faith strengthened me.  I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and claw my way back out of the hole I found myself in. The sense of accomplishment I felgodlywomant when I found myself on the other side of that challenge was greater than perhaps any other I have felt before or since.  I literally praise God for it every day.

Needless to say, I am forever grateful for my independent nature. But there seems to be a growing problem with the way we personally identify with independence today and this has created a crisis of faith that has affected the entire nation.

By definition, independence means that one is free from “the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others,”(dictionary.com). Taken literally, this very definition removes the authority of God from our lives making each of us the center of our own little universes. As I look at our society today, it seems clear to me that this is the image of independence and freedom that we have been rapidly moving toward.

No longer do we as a country or as individuals long to be controlled by rules, mores, or (heaven forbid) religious ideology. We want to be able to not only believe what we want to but also to have the “freedom” to abuse those who do not think the same way or join the battle we have chosen for the moment. Our nation is so fiercely focused on individual freedom and independence that we have effectively created a nation of 300 million individual countries.

Sound ideal or terrifying?

To me, it sounds not only terrifying, but heartbreaking.

e60b95d2808f38272966617552fc640d

God did not create us to be independent but dependent on Him and His guidelines for our lives. We are made to be in communion with one another – leaning on each other, loving each other, and learning from each other so that we can all grow in faith and community and thus glorify the God that placed us here. Instead, we have returned ourselves to the slavery from which God released us.

I know. You’re saying “I’m not a slave! I’m free! I can make my own decisions, do what I want and live the life I want!” While that all sounds wonderful, I don’t believe this is true.

We are now enslaved not by physical chains, but by the chains of pride, greed, and selfishness and we are so weighed down by these chains that we often can’t even see that this ever-increasing charge toward independence has left tremendous carnage in its wake.

Our own identities have become so beaten down by the charge that we are often no longer able to recognize ourselves. We reach for others but the chains we have created are so large and convoluted they have become like barricades around us keeping not only our friends and family from us, but God. Our self-focus has made us each feel isolated and alone.

We have achieved true “independence” and we are ruined because of it.

0e059098fb66fc80f2ad4b863aa4bb5a

If you find yourself in this carnage, please know that you are not alone. God has not lost sight of you. He is there to minister to you, to release you from your chains, and to bring you to true freedom that can only be found in Him. The best part is, you don’t have to do this alone.  Instead, you, like me, can move back toward dependence.

Dependence on one another to carry us toward the goals we have on the horizon and on the wisdom of God to show us if these goals are His.

Dependence on our community to stand together in times of distress and the faith to know that even in the darkest times, God is with us and will provide a lamp for our feet through His Word, His disciples and His grace and mercy.

As you get ready to celebrate the birth of our nation, I sincerely hope that you will also celebrate a return to God-dependence and break free from the chains we have all created. If you feel you have nobody to walk with you through this jouney, reach out to me and let’s walk it together.

Not Even a Slap on the Wrist

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

This disturbing and heartbreaking sentence is one I am sure many of us have read over and over again this week as we learned of the sentencing of Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, was convicted on 3 counts of felony sexual assault for sexually molesting a woman with whom he attended a college party.

While it was unanimously agreed by a jury that Mr. Turner forced himself on this unsuspecting and unconscious woman, the judge in the case only sentenced to 6 months in county jail, probation, and mandatory registration as a sexual offender.

6 months. 2 months’ time for each felony.

Not even a slap on the wrist.

Surely there must be extenuating circumstances, right?

Of course there were.

Brock Turner, as it turned out, is a swimmer of some esteem and the judge was concerned that a stricter sentence might negatively impact the young man’s future.

Interesting.

The judge, Aaron Persky, was concerned about the young man’s future but not the future of the victimized woman.

How did we get to this place where we care more about the rights of a person who may potentially be a successful athlete than we do about the people who are victimized along the way?

Sadly, this is a dirty little secret that has been in and out of the media for decades but one which no significant strides have been made for betterment of the situation.

In a survey of over 150,000 students at 27 universities it was discovered that nearly 1 in 4 female students are victims of sexual assault or misconduct.

That’s one in every four students.

I can only wonder how many of you reading this article today – male or female – would identify as being one of those victimized students.

The question becomes, then, why is this such a prevalent problem? Why do not more of those victimized persons come forward so we can change the dynamic?

Just ask Brock Turner’s victim.

As this woman so painfully learned, in a court of law the victim not only has to relive the experience he or she was forced to endure once before and likely has every waking hour since, but must also have every minute action of that given day dissected on the stand to allow the defense the opportunity to find potential proof that the person “asked for” the assault or misconduct.

We do not treat the victims of these assaults with compassion or grace, but rather treat them as science experiments – poking and prodding their actions and inactions trying to find the one place of weakness that can account for the actions of the accused. Perhaps it was what she wore or the way she was dancing. Maybe, as in this case, both parties had too much to drink or there were drugs involved. Maybe the victim’s memory is faulty and he or she actually did give consent but is now too embarrassed to say so.

It seems we will look for anything to remove the blame of sexual assault from the accused and place it on the victim. Why is this?

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that at some level, sexuality and intimacy are still issues that are forbidden as topics of discussion particularly in faith circles. Perhaps it’s because the actions themselves are so horrendous to imagine that we immediately seek to find some reason this occurred rather than come to terms with the fact that someone consciously chose to shatter another persons sense of self in such a drastic manner. Or perhaps at some level we as a society are still so tied to our patriarchal roots that we feel that men are innately aggressive and therefore these actions can be somewhat understood.

I personally don’t understand any of those “perhapses”.

Sexuality and intimacy are discussed throughout the Bible. They are one of the most significant gifts God has given to His people and they are to be treasured. To be still tied to the Victorian ideal that sex is dirty and therefore not to be discussed sets us up for victimization. Also, at a very basic level, assuming that sex is dirty presupposes that God was wrong to give it to us and is therefore fallible and not God at all.

To believe that sexual assault and rape are too awful to think about or deal with is, in this day and age particularly, ridiculous. We are faced with bloodied bodies and horrendous imagery nearly every where we turn our eyes these days. Yes, rape and sexual assault are not (always) murder, but to put these actions at a level different from murder indicates that they are removed from our life as human beings, not a part of it. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Sexuality and our ability to express and enjoy it is one of the things that makes us truly human.

I would agree that we are still  quite tied to our patriarchal roots, but that does not mean that we should accept aggressive and animalistic behaviors from men just because they are men any more than we should accept women being victims of rape or assault just because they are women. To suggest otherwise means that we are truly no more intelligent or morally responsible than the average dog or monkey. God created us to be more than the animals – above the animals. We have the ability to think beyond our animalistic instincts regardless of our roots.

So if none of these things are true, what is it that we have going on around us that allows for celebrities and athletes alike to be treated as more than just mortal?

To me, I think it’s because celebrities and athletes of today have become the golden calves of ancient time.

We are desperately seeking something greater than ourselves to make sense of the trials of our lives but rather than turning our eyes to God through prayer and study of His word, we are furiously making idols of anyone we think does something greater than what we think we are able to do. By doing this, we not only make for ourselves false idols, but we diminish ourselves in our own eyes. No longer are we important; no longer are we something of value. The lesser our own value, the easier it is to dismiss the things that are done to us which would otherwise be recognized as heinous.

Our job as Christians and members of other faith communities is to remember our own value in God’s eyes and help others to recognize their own value as well so we as a community can be the people God put us here to be.

I know. It sounds like it should be so simple but is in reality nearly impossible because in reality, what I’m saying is we have to acknowledge that no one person here on earth is greater or lesser than another. The homeless person on the street corner is just as valuable a person as the President of the United States; your favorite movie actor or actress is no more valuable a person than you are; Brock Turner’s victim is no less worthy of grace and mercy than Mr. Turner.

And that’s where we have the problem.

In our human eyes, we place everyone in different categories; on different levels of worth. But as Christians, we are called to see everyone the same way that God sees them. Each and every one of us was created by God and each and every one of us is loved by God equally. More importantly, we are all created by God so we all belong to the same family.

If we remember that we are all part of the same family, our hearts will break for both the perpetrator of a crime as well as the victim and we will work to provide healing for both members of the family because it’s important to the overall health of the family.

We don’t let the Brock Turner of our family off the hook for the things he did because of his excellence as an athlete or scholar or businessman or whatever. We help him take responsibility for them and love him through the process of making amends.

We don’t blame the victim and disregard her pain. We circle with love and help her move through the pain so she can let go of her anger and bitterness and come out the other side healed and at peace.

Now I know that this all sounds impossible and honestly, it is, particularly in this day and age. But here’s what I would like to believe.

If each one of us starts loving the people around us like God loves us, then perhaps there will be less brokenness around us. If we each respond to brokenness with grace and mercy, perhaps we can help heal the wounds that were created by another’s actions.

And if we each remember that God placed nobody – man or woman – above the other than perhaps we can begin to treat one another with the equality and respect we all deserve.

 

Hide and Seek with God

christian-singer-sandi-pattyI had the wonderful privilege of attending a Sandi Patty concert last night for the very first time. It is her farewell tour and I knew I would regret not attending so I got 2 tickets and brought a friend from church me to see what I knew would be a wonderful concert.

I have always felt a kinship with Ms. Patty. I remember clearly the very first time I heard her sing. A college friend brought me a cassette recording of her first concert and as she told her story of learning how to play piano with the red and white John Thompson books, I giggled, smiling and nodding at the memory. As she spoke of beginning to sing after realizing her piano skills were somewhat lacking, my heart warmed as I felt that I, too, had failed in the expectations there. And as she spoke of wanting to be Karen Carpenter,I laughed out loud at the images of me singing into my hairbrush and dreaming of being the one singing on the Johnny Carson show on late night television.

The more Ms. Patty spoke,the closer I felt with her. I even day dreamed that perhaps we were somehow family – that my birth parents were part of her wonderful family and they would find me one day and bring me into the fold so I could be a part of her amazing ministry.

Sandi Patty’s musical legacy is astonishing. With over 40 Dove (Christian Music) Awards, you would never guess that she at one time was ostracized from the Christian musical community.

But she was.

As Ms. Patty spoke about the failure of her marriage and the subsequent fallout, my heart broke for her and her family…

…and I found another sense of kinship.

You see, I too failed at marriage (twice) and I, too, received judgement and criticism from those from whom I had hoped to receive support. Clearly, my divorce was not national news and it didn’t put a tremendously successful career on pause while I recovered, but one of the significant results was the same.

Ms. Patty spoke of going to church one day and hiding on the back corner of the pew not wanting anyone to recognize her, see her or interact with her. She was hiding from everyone and everything including God. Somewhere in her mind, maybe she thought, “if only I tuck myself far enough into the corner of my mind, nobody will see me sitting here in plain sight.” She spoke of this as she relayed a story of her 2 1/2 year old grandchild who plays hide and seek and “hides” essentially in the middle of the room. The child doesn’t want to be hidden from those he loves, he simply wants the joy of being found – of having someone love him enough and care enough about him to want him in their presence. hide-and-seek

Often, however, our pain keeps us from wanting to be in anyone’s presence. We are so focused on our own issues, we truly do want to hide in the deepest, darkest hold imaginable and just wait for the world to pass us by.

As I listened to this story, I couldn’t help feel an immediate connection to the way I felt in the days and months leading up to and immediately after my separation from my 2nd husband.

Though I was recovering from several surgeries on my head and struggling with severe depression, I tried to attend church when I could but found myself desperately trying to make myself invisible sitting in the pew. I wore black, I hung my head and found myself absolutely unable to respond to anyone with anything greater than a nod of my head and a weak smile. I truly didn’t want to be seen let alone found.

Looking back, I know that I probably hurt many people who were trying to reach out – trying to find a way to help, but I was absolutely unable to see that light from where my heart and soul were hiding. As an aside, if any reading this post were there during that time, let me just take time moment to truly apologize to you for any pain I caused you. I know you were trying to help. I was just unable to accept it.

What made it so much more difficult is that I was living in this terrible dichotomy of time and space. On the one hand, I  ached for someone to find me. I wanted friends and family to be able to read my mind somehow and understand how much I was struggling and for them to be able to look inside my heart and see the pain there and find a way to help. I wanted God to reach down and pluck me out of the midst of this pain and put me somewhere else just so I didn’t have to go through this one more second.

On the other hand, I wasCloak-1991 so ashamed that I was failing yet again that I didn’t want anyone to acknowledge my presence at all. I would have been thrilled if the cloak of invisibility from the Harry Potter books was an actuality so I could have hidden myself beneath its spellbound presence and been able to drink in the presence of God from the music, the scripture and the sermon while being able to be completely unseen by anyone including God.

I was, as  Ms Patty stated last night, playing hide and seek with God.

I wanted to stand in the middle of the room and pretend I couldn’t be seen and to have God find me in the depths of my despair and pull me out. To place me in His lap and console me.

Looking back, I realize that God had done this but I was so full of self-loathing and depression I simply couldn’t see it. I also realize now that even holding me in His lap to console me would not in any way mean that I  wouldn’t have gone through the things that were ahead of me.

Like all of us, I was tasked with walking through the mess that I had helped to create. This was not avoidable and the lessons would not come easy, but as the book of Galatians reminded me then and still does today, the end rewards are only seen when we persevere.

Now, I am far from Super Woman and I was most definitely tired during the season of my life, but I can say that I didn’t give up. I fought hard to make it to where I am today. I am no longer hiding from God, but I am continually shouting to Him to come find me.

Come find me in my joy and celebrate with me.

Come find me in my loneliness and hold my hand as I walk through this.

Come find me as I move into a new season of my life and see where it leads.

Now, more than ever, I want to be found. I want to be that 2 1/2 year old standing in the middle of the room crying out to God “Come find me”, secure in knowledge that He knows exactly where I am at all times and He will always long to have me in His presence.

Sandi Patty’s tour is entitled Forever Grateful, a way for her to express her gratefulness both to her audience as they have traveled the last few decades with her as to God as He has allowed her to travel all I havethis road. But I wish to say this to Ms. Patty:

I am forever grateful to her for showing me that being who I am – that precocious little girl who wanted to be Karen Carpenter – is ok; that being a divorced woman is ok; and that being able to lift my voice in song in praise of my Lord is not only acceptable,but reflection of my love to the One who created the fallible human that I am.

Yes, Ms. Patty, I, too am forever grateful.