Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ch-ch-changes

Church is different now.
I'm not wrestling a car seat or a diaper bag.  I'm not making up a bottle or filling a sippy cup. I don't have a bag filled with quiet toys, books and snacks.  I don't race the clock to get myself and three other females ready for church...the race that started early the night before with baths and locating everything from tights to wipes.

Church is different now.
I am not helping anyone buckle into their carseat, booster seat or regular seat.  No projectiles fly through the air endangering my life or my sanity during the commute to church.  Nobody is touching anyone in a way that forces me to issue a reminder to, "Keep our hands to ourselves, please."  No one is ignoring that to cause a stir.

Church is different now.
I am not standing outside of a classroom worried that my girl/girls will cry and need to be rescued.  I am not crying in a different empty classroom because life is so hard that Hubby and I had a big fight- over something silly or enormous- and I am wondering if coming to church is worth all the fuss.  I am not going into my class late hoping that something God inspired will minister to me in such a way that I am thankful for all the hoops I had to jump through to get there.  I am no longer desperately wishing someone will find me worthy of friendship.  I am no longer pretending to have all my crap together so someone might give me the precious words I long so desperately to hear: "You are a good mom!"

Church is different now.
I am not protecting a communion plate or offering plate form little curious hands.  I am not cringing every time my little ones are disruptive, immediately aware of all the looks-be they smiling or otherwise.  I am not being reassured in the foyer by Carl Keller that baby noises are music to his ears followed by a big bear hug that makes my heart swell with love.

Church is different now.
I hear all the words of the service. I am not wrestling a small person through a sermon that seems terribly long that day.  I smile at the babies and children around me.  I sit there amazed by all the people who have blessed me so much in my twenty plus years at my married church home.  I marvel at the lives that have touched mine-for good or bad.  I consider the people who have come and stayed.  I remember the people who have come and gone.  I am saddened for me for the ones who have gone on to Glory...ecstatic for them.  I grieve the loss of members who moved on over this thing or that.  My heart aches over scandals and preferences that birthed amputations to our church body.

Church is different now.
I am awestruck that my marriage remains strong while other marriages I envied have crumbled and fallen apart.  I am blessed and amazed to have made so many connections and friendships within the walls of this blessed place.  I am humbled by the relationships and mentoring from people here.  I am delighted by the way they have tolerated my shortcomings and loved me enough that I changed for the better in so many ways.  I am honored to have been able to pass that precious gift of acceptance on to other folks.

Church is different now.
But it is so much the same.  Church is a soft place to fall when life pulls the rug out from under me and laughs.  Church is a family that loves me when I mess up.  Church loves me when I am surly and snippy because I didn't get MY WAY.  Church loves me when I am prideful and arrogant because I was, so obviously, right.  Church loves me when I am so far off track that I can't even see the track anymore.  Church loves me when I am stubborn and don't wanna be there.  Church loves me when I overflow with love, mercy and compassion.  Church loves me when I am as dried up as the bones in Ezekiel.

Thank you, Preacher, for reminding me that church is the bride of Christ. You can't be close to Christ for very long if you mistreat and neglect HIS BRIDE, His beautiful and glorious bride who is perfect not because of her actions but because of the blood of Christ...just like me.  Praise be to God.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

My Testimony

I don't remember a time in my life when I did not know Jesus.  I have always felt like He was my best friend: an attached, invisible friend.  So, when I was doing well, He was right there, smiling proudly. When I was not doing the right things though, He was so sad and disappointed.  Every Sunday of my childhood, when the altar call came, it was all I could do to keep from going forward.  From Pass Me Not to Just As I Am, I was miserable.  Finally, at age eleven, I broke.  I answered the call.  I became a REAL believer and a few months later, I was baptized.  It was a wonderful feeling, until the guilt returned.  I was constantly disappointed with the fact that I simply could not be good.  I was becoming a young woman and I had a crude sense of humor.  I just could not make all the right decisions.  It was so daunting.  Each Sunday came with an extra dose of guilt as those invitation songs were a constant reminder of my inadequacies.

Eventually, my strong conviction that I would never be 'good enough' won out and I began to live a life of duplicity.  I still tried really hard to be a good person, but I didn't really hold back too much from 'having fun'.  I've listened to stories of people who never went to church until they were grown, heard the gospel, became a Christian and their whole world changed.  When compared to my life of sinful rebellion, as a CHRISTIAN, it makes me feel pretty awful.

Even today, I struggle with thinking that I can never measure up.  And honestly, I can't.  That is something I can only achieve through the blood of Christ.  Additionally, I can't just skate through life on grace, using it as a license to sin.  As a Christian, I am called to do better. I make choices for my life that align with the teachings of Christ.  I am to be set apart, not judgmental. What right do I, a sinner, have to judge another?  Relationship with God is what people need, not judgement. I aspire to loving and forgiving the most unlovable.  It is not an easy walk.  I get tripped up, sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose-I allow my sinful nature to take the wheel.  Does this make me an insincere hypocrite?  No.  It makes me a normal human being.  The love of God is supernatural.  I cannot do it on my own.  Only when my eyes are fixed on Him can I walk on the water.  Only when my eyes are focused on HIM and his amazing powers of transformational love, am I attractional.  My goal is to attract people to Christ because of who HE is, and how that makes me a better person.  If it is all about me- I will only attract doubters who will see all of my flaws magnified.  The good news is Christ, not my perfection.  The good news is that through the filter of the blood of Christ, God sees me as pure...As I  WILL BE, eternally, not as I am now.

This brings me to my 'drug' of choice.  The drug responsible for most every sin in my life: GUILT.  It looms over me by day and night, in good times or bad.  It is more faithful than the famous geyser. For many years it pushed me far away from God's people.  In fact, I'm not sure I would have even defined myself as a believer-but I was.  Deep into the deepest pit of shame, I still belonged to God and He would not allow me to stay there.  It isn't actually guilt that was the sin, but then again, it was.

My guilt tells me many lies, but the biggest lie is that deep down, I am not really a Christian. The panic that says maybe the blood of Christ can't cover sins as blatant and destructive as mine. The next lie is that I am a bad person.  If people could see my heart and the fact that sometimes I am not sincere, they not only wouldn't like me, I would be exposed as the terrible person I am. Hypocrisy is a word never far from my lips as I try to do the next right thing without feeling like the biggest phony ever.  Like most lies from the enemy, they are convincing.  Which comes first, the guilt or the sin?  For me, they tend to travel together.  Like a drunk and his designated driver, they are partners in crime.

My guilt told me that I was so worthless, I had better settle for any attention I could get.  So when a well-respected man in the community sought me out for an inappropriate relationship, I was flattered.  I welcomed his advances and felt worth.  Forget the fact that I was only 12 years old, my guilt talked me into being a woman of worth-desired by an older man. I knew it was wrong, but it was irresistible. He groomed me, seduced me, told me how special I was.  When I was around 17, he 'encouraged' me to be his affair.   For a time, this relationship defined me as 'not good enough'/'too good' for normal relationships.  I was too old and mature to settle for guys my age, or maybe just too damaged.  Either way, I sought after men that were unavailable.  I believed in my own powers of persuasion.  This led to a whole series of relationships that left me broken and jaded.  I not only did not believe I deserved happiness, I wasn't sure it was even a real thing.  I relied on men, especially older men, to validate me.  As long as I could attract a man, I was worth something.  And yet, I had also made the decision that most men were like animals and weren't deserving of anything lasting.  It left me empty inside and created a cavernous desire to be loved.

When I met my husband, something shifted in me.  He was different.  He was someone I could love, that would love me back.  Our relationship grew to a conclusion I could never imagine.  Marriage? Could I, damaged and broken as I was, possibly get married?  Would it last?  I told him all of my deepest darkest secrets in an effort to send him running for the hills.  He told me his.  Neither of us ran.  Surely God was in this?  We have now been married 21 years and I have to say that, YES, God was definitely in it!  Two broken people began a life together.  Did that cure us?  No, we became even more broken.  I was so insecure and freaked out because of my past.  He was so insecure and freaked out because of his past AND my past.  And then two years later, we had two beautiful baby girls within a year of each other.  Four years later, another baby girl added. Broken on steroids.  Our marriage has not been easy. Wounded people wound people.  We both have some battle scars for the ways we wounded each other.  But we also have the victory that is our marriage.  The best marriage ever?   No, but a committed and loving relationship that we both strive to protect? YES!

As I peel back the layers of my soul like an onion, the next hurdle to overcome is what I call my 'insulation'.  I was a bit stocky growing up, not fat-but definitely thicker than a lot of the other kids-especially my sisters.  It is what made my 12 year old self appear more womanly than it should have.  I was curvalicious.  Being labeled fat soon had me believing that I was. I also lived with quite a bit of verbal abuse that always equated my weight as my worth. Thin equaled beautiful.  Fat was gross and a reason to be ridiculed. Believing that I was fat soon had me treating myself accordingly and has developed into a life-long obsession with food.  Food is my friend.  How does guilt play a role here?  Not feeling any self worth is a direct by-product of bad guilt.  I should point out that normal guilt is healthy-you commit a wrong, guilt ensues, you seek to right the wrong.  Sinful guilt is straight from the bowels of hell.  It convinces you that you will never be good, so why try? I firmly believe it is the root of all addictions:  I am already bad, it won't make me worse.  I have nothing else.  I like this and it makes me feel comforted. I love this comfort thing, I don't want to stop.  I can't stop.  I am addicted therefore I am bad.  I am bad therefore there is no hope.  There is no hope, why even try?  This thinking explains drug use, alcohol addiction, food addiction, co-dependent behavior, cutting, anorexia and even affairs.  In recovery, it is appropriately dubbed, stinking thinking.

So why am I addicted to food?  This fat on my body is an insulator.  It makes it safe to be around men and women.  A chubby girl who is bubbly and flirty isn't a threat to anyone.  Also, I'm funny.  Both of these things are insulators in life.  They are highly adaptable coping mechanisms to keep my inner self guarded.  The only people I let in are the ones who have proven worthy.  Does this mean I am fake?  Quite the contrary, after the jokes fade, I am so real and serious that it is also a bit of an insulator.  Truth and bluntness are my third layer of insulation.  It has been a struggle to keep my biting sarcasm at bay.  I am thankful for a loving church family and excellent Christian friends to teach me to be funny without being caustic.  The root of my humor has a dark side that will chew you up and spit you out...and the dark side also has cookies, so of course, that's always tempting.  So, after 21 years of marriage and a much closer walk with God, I value myself for all the right reasons now.  My husband is my spouse and my love, not my validation.  I am who God says I am. AND, God has been very faithful to me, He has changed who I am-reversed those tendencies to look to men to validate me.  But, the food thing? It lingers.

As my girls have grown older, our marriage has grown to be very strong.  So have our individual addictions.  We both still live with them and we manage them well.  We are works in progress.  We are trying desperately to live up to the example of Christ.  Sometimes, Christ shows through in us so beautifully through our broken places.  We celebrate those times.  Other times, our flesh is mighty. Our girls know the full extent of our lack of perfect...I don't sugar coat any of our struggles.  I also don't broadcast them to the world. (Anymore, Lol. Praise the Lord!)  We have never claimed to be perfect Christians, perfect parents or perfect people.  We are broken by life, healed by Christ and growing stronger in our faith every day.  I am humbled by HIS grace and mercy daily.  I live for the day I give up dancing with guilt and emerge victorious.  Sometimes, Ican feel VICTORY so strong, it is like a presence I can touch.  Writing this down makes it feel like I am ready to go into battle...just for today.  Just for today, I can admit that I have a problem that has become unmanageable.  One day at a time.







Friday, October 30, 2015

Pensive...

Today, I'm doing a lot of reflecting.  I just had a long and drawn out debate with my daughter on the book of faces.  She thinks that everything boils down to racism.  I do not agree.  But I am so glad to see her being passionate about changing the world.  It's refreshing, really.  We get our passionate sparks for social justice ignited.  Sometimes they catch fire and spread and we truly effect change.  More often though, our sparks fizzle and maybe even go out. 

This leads me to the subject of the day: overthinking.  I'm an overthinker.  There are many links on social media connecting overthinking and depression. Some of those links lead me to places that are not good places for me to dwell.  I have had a couple of battles with depression.  I really could not give words even now to what that was like.  I could not begin to describe it or define it or even tell you why it happened.  I don't begin to speculate about what someone else's depression looks like.  I wouldn't debate whether medication is a necessary thing for anyone else-that is ultimately a very personal thing best worked out by doctor and patient.  Close friends and family are often helpful to gain perspective when perspective is lost-but an outsider has no business supposing.

One topic I do want to cover is this:  People who think deeply are more likely to suffer from depression.  Those of us who over-think and over-analyze have trouble fitting in sometimes.  Things cause us pain that others don't even bother to consider.  Ever heard any of the following phrases: "You think too much.", "You analyze everything.", or "I like you better when you are funny."  If so, we are brain cousins.

For instance, there is a health kick sweeping the nation.  I KNOW with all of my heart that it is something that has to happen. However, most of the industries left in this country are not the 'good for us' variety.  If we return to our humble beginnings, what happens to all the jobs?  If everyone gives up soda, what happens to coke jobs?  That's a ripple everyone will feel.  There are thousands of industries that support the soda industry.  The same with Wal-mart.  There are companies that employ 20-30 people who are paid well and their main and sometimes only customer is Wal-mart.  So, I cannot embrace the fad of returning to our roots because we really can't go back.  We are smarter as a society-but we no longer know how to survive.  My grandpa had generations of farming knowledge and that is why he was good at it.  He was used to working hard in the heat.  Hubby and I put out a garden every year and we are mostly embarrassed by how obvious it is that we neither like it or possess garden mojo of any kind.  If our family relied upon that garden to eat, we would surely perish.

See what I did there?  My mind goes from thinking I need to give up sodas to my family perishing from our inability to garden.  I can ripple effect things to death, because I THINK.  What saves me from the doom of my mind?  Joy and hope; two of the most beautiful words in the English language.  Two words that for me are synonymous with one big word-GOD.  You see, my thinker knows that we didn't just all end up here from nothing for nothing.  I KNOW I am created by a creator because I also create.  And just like that, the anxious, knotted stomach eases a little.  I don't have to keep the world spinning, someone bigger that me is in charge.  I do what I can to make the world a better place.  I love, work, think, write, learn, teach, and enjoy life to the fullest because there is something better ahead.  I don't know what it is, but I know it is truth.

God helps me stay balanced.  He keeps me stable.  The times in my life when I lost hope and joy were times when I doubted Him.  I got stressed out about not knowing what my next step was and overthinking all the things that could happen.  In a world full of conflict, scandal, and unrest, I am so glad to be leaning on something everlasting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mercy

Originally published at my new gig.  http://www.backrowonline.com/devotionals/drop-your-stone

John 8:3-11 is one of my favorite references to the teachings of Christ in the Bible.  What basically happens is that a whole group of Pharisees come to Jesus with a woman who is actually caught in the act of adultery.  The penalty, for her at least, was to be stoned to death.  They asked, "What shall we do with her?" Jesus answered that one who had not sinned should cast the first stone.  All of her accusers vanished.

Why is this my favorite teaching?  It reminds me.  Reminds me that I deserve punishment, but I am forgiven.  It reminds me not to be quick to stone someone else for their sins.  The message of Christ is mercy.  God is love and God is mercy. It is HIS WILL that NONE should perish.

Okay, so there is the scripture.  What does it mean?  Sometimes, I think we learn scripture, can quote it even...but it never actually sinks into our hearts.  I'm asking you to let those things sink in your heart. 
  • Let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone.
  • His mercies are new every morning.
  • Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.
  • God's will is that NONE should perish.
I consider these my Christian guidelines, along with the MAJOR command: Love your neighbor as yourself.  So, now, a real life application for me.  Our church has some turmoil right now.  There are a couple of marriages on the rocks.  In addition to that, there is at least some suspicion of sketchy behavior on the part of one or more of those folk.  Because I am human, I've been very speculative.  I've observed things I don't like.  I've inferred things here and there.  I've engaged in some venting from time to time.  I've tried actively to be an encourager to all parties...but I have my leanings.  I don't really know the truth and I know full well that any truth in this matter will come with a bias.  It is largely none of my business, and yet it is effecting change in my church that isn't good.  What am I supposed to do?  Even with the person/persons I feel is wrong?  What did Jesus do with the adulteress woman?  HE GENTLY RESTORED HER.  Restored her, gently.  I don't want that to be the answer.  When I am wronged, I want to shout it from the rooftops.  I want all the world to know of my injustice!  IT ISN'T FAIR.  Someone should publicly confess.  We need to find out what happened and fix it.  And then I read through my guidelines again.

Perhaps then, my role is not to be the investigator that solves the crime or finds the guilty party.  Perhaps, my role is more of a supporting one, allowing God to do the heart work.  To gently and lovingly remind myself and others that none of us is without sin.  To remind a person who has jumped into the deep end of sin that God has a calling for them.  That no matter how far they roam, the mercies of God will not run out.  Otherwise, I'm just another Pharisee calling for the stoning of a sinner that could just as easily be me.  I choose grace.  I choose mercy.  I choose God's will that none should perish.  Above all else, I really want to love people as much as I love myself and I want a gentle restoration...not a demand of repentance or banishment.  Love and mercy are powerful tools, let's use them to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Parenting IS Hard

So, I skipped church today.  I sit here writing this, fully dressed for church.  Hair done, make-up(I don't really wear a lot but what little I do wear is there.), ready for a day with my peeps.  But, I couldn't do it.  I fought with my youngest on the way in. We had unkind words...mostly mine. I brought us home and I just.could.not.  I literally could. not. even.  My oldest took herself and her sisters.  Erik is at another church.  I feel overwhelmed.

My cup overfloweth with blessings. And stress.  My kids are growing up and I am no longer in control in any way. When your kids are young, there is this illusion that you are in control.  You determine leave times. destinations, wardrobes, bedtimes and a whole other host of things that make your existence one that is of your own creation and overall, very pleasant.  Kids mostly do what they are told and life is pretty sweet.

Fast forward to the present...I am not in control.  AND, it kind of feels like no one else is either.  I know that ultimately, God is in control.  BUT, the DEVIL is in the details.  I know he seeks to devour and destroy.  I know my family is not an exception.  I know he is happy I stayed home today.  There are just times when I can't do it.  When 'one more thing' is one thing too many.

So, I sit here this morning.  Putting it into words how this 'kids growing up' thing is hard.  I have loved being a mother.  I have poured my heart and soul into my kids.  I have tried to live like I know God wants me to.  I have been talking to them about the really important stuff: sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships, spirituality, etc-all of their lives.  There wasn't THE TALK, there was always just open dialogue.  This is still true.  I've tried to be an example.  I've tried to break the chain of generational sins.  I've tried to do the very best that I know how.

As I write this, all I can think is: Was it enough?  Was I too busy? Was I so focused on giving my kids what I didn't get that I missed giving them what THEY really needed?  Have I damaged them? Am I a good mom?  Will my children rise up and call me blessed?  God gives me new mercies every morning...but do my children?  Do I give them new mercies?  Have I smothered them?  Have I given them room to move, grow and become who God needs them to be?

The ultimate question: Have I been a good mom to them?  I assume it haunts every mother, it haunts me.  I obsess on it daily.  It pummels me from too many directions.  I secretly need validation from everyone, anyone, Dr. Phil.  It is surely a tool of the devil.  He loves it when I question things.  He loves my fear and pounces on my weaknesses.  He loves pride almost as much as humiliation.  He firmly plants himself in both.

My conclusions?  I am not good enough.  I will never be enough.  I can't save my children.  That is what Jesus died to be. (Hat tip Sara Matheny...this TRUTH I cling to!) I am perfectly flawed.  The kind of flawed that, no doubt, has done some damage to my kids.  Hopefully, some counseling, growing up and introspection will get them over it.  However, I have done the very best I could.  Like my mother before me did the best she could.  One day, if they decide to, my kids will also do the best they can with their own kids.  We are not striving for perfection.  We are striving for loving, feeling, compassionate offspring that try to find their own way in their own way. Erik and I were the very best parents we knew how to be.  We took our personal examples, examples around us and we muddled through.  Muddled.  It's the best word.  We didn't know exactly what to do and we still don't.  BUT, we LOVE our kids.  We love them so much that it hurts to the bone.  We are brought to tears by their successes and failures, by our successes and failures.  We are brought to tears by their possible futures...the good and bad things we contrive in our heads.  We are brought to tears by the thought that they could move on and be okay without us.  We are brought to tears by the thought that they could rely on us too much and not be independent.  We are brought to tears by the fact that they...ARE GROWING UP.

It all seems a little too much.  Too fast, too soon, too emotional, too scary, too real, too happy, too exciting...really too much.

And so this Father's Day, I sit in my quiet house and TRUST.  I trust that God has a plan for each one of the people in my family. I TRUST that it might not always look like I want it to and that won't make it bad.  I TRUST that God will prepare me, has in fact, already prepared me for whatever our future holds.  I am blessed to be part of the journey of the four people I share space with in this home.  Please, God, help me to remember it is a blessing.  AND, I am not in control.  GOD IS IN CONTROL, not me.  My job is to LOVE MYSELF and LOVE OTHERS.

Having children has changed me so much for the better.  I can't even imagine life without them.  God gives such wonderful gifts that make us better people.  Thank you, God, for the blessing of being called Mom by Erika, Kayla and Lilly.  Thank you, God, for giving me Erik to share life and this wild roller coaster ride of parenting with.  Life is good, even when it is hard and I feel overwhelmed by everything.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Love is...

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

New International Version (NIV)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


Love is patient: eats last, gives others the 'good one', bites her tongue and makes an appropriate response not the one that pops into her head, allows other people to make their own mistakes even when she desperately wants to give advice, allows someone in front of her in traffic, doesn't make a fuss when someone runs late.

Love is kind: pays a compliment to a total stranger because her hair DOES look good, gives a friend some money when she loses her job, goes to weddings and funerals if at all possible because they matter, says thank you, sends cards for no reason, gives gifts-sometimes anonymously, makes food for people, notices good behavior of children and tells the parent, overlooks bad behavior of other people's children unless it is a 'biggie' and even then treads lightly onto that slippery slope, loves children utterly and completely because someday they will be grown-ups.

It does not envy:  everyone has blessings and curses-I trust in a God that knows more what we need than we do.

It does not boast: lives life in such a way that others think well of her and compliment her-saying it herself will always sound empty and never fulfills.

It is not proud: we are all sinners in need of a savior...not a lot to be proud of.

It does not dishonor others:  If her success comes as a result of someone else losing theirs-it isn't really success, walks away from gossip-gossip is any words that allow someone else to be not thought well of, fully realizes that words and actions have much power and uses them for good, overlooks the faults of others because she realizes she is not without faults.

It is not self-seeking: seeks only Godly glory, isn't trying to do anything more than mimic Christ.

It is not easily angered:
It keeps no record of wrongs:
 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth:  
 It always protects:
Love always trusts:
Love always hopes:
Love always perseveres.

All you need is love is not an oversimplification.  Love is not simple.  It is so hard, we need God to even be able to do it.  Love is supernatural.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Day

My first Mother's Day without my mom is now completed.  It was a hard day.  Everything made me think of her.  As I take comfort in the things in my home that used to be hers, it is a daily reminder that she is gone.  The loss is felt deep within my soul but I would not wish her back here for anything.  While I know that this was a difficult day for all she left behind, I know that she had the best Mother's Day ever.  I know that she was with her mother, the mother she had not seen since she was 8 years old.  I know that she is happy in the arms of God.

Lots of people question the existence of God.  I have certainly questioned it in my life.  I am thankful that my heart was open enough to see the very real and personal evidences that allow me to be comforted forever by a personal knowledge of God.  On this earth, I am but a vapor.  I will live my life and this physical body will one day be snuffed out.  My soul and the very essence of who I am, though, will live throughout eternity.  I will spend Mother's Day with my mom again.  AND, we won't struggle to get along or fight or bicker.  We will both be healed of our physical afflictions and the broken places of our hearts and we will commune with God.