Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality

A Divine Sheering

We make countless appointments without giving a second thought about how it will fit into the divine plan for the universe. We act as if we are making them because the time slot and day of the week is convenient for us. Thank goodness that even though we make random choices without considering God whatsoever, He still sticks to the plan. Luckily, we still get to be a part of it. I was reminded of this yesterday when I showed up for my appointment to get my very long, grown out (and gray-laced) hair colored.

I settled myself in my swively little chair and spun myself around (because yes, I am like a 3 yr. old). I hadn’t noticed that there was only one other client in the salon besides me. As I spun around, I froze when I saw it: the back of her head was splotchy, a smattering of long brown tendrils, intermixed with sections of bare, smooth scalp. The clippers were already sliding up one side and down the other. I didn’t speak. Or I couldn’t speak, maybe. I remembered vividly the day I lost my blond (dread) locks. I think a weed eater might have been more efficient than the clippers at that juncture. As you may know, I had a TON of hair, long and thick. It never had a chance to get thin and sparse and blotchy because a cocktail of Leukemia Chemo and being intubated and heavily drugged up in ICU did the job for me in only one week. We tried to pour an entire bottle of conditioner on it to detangle and brush it out, but it was too little too late. But enough about my sad hair loss story (thank you for obliging my trip down memory/leukemia lane)…

I waited until the job was done before I spoke up. While I was waiting I had pulled up a lovely picture of me; cue-ball bald. When she turned her chair to face the mirror, to see herself for the first time as the stereotypical cancer patient, I asked her if she would mind if I showed her something. At her nod, I showed her my photo and said, “this was me three years ago.” Then we both burst into tears and hugged a lot longer than one usually hugs a complete stranger. We spent time talking about cancer and how it came and how mine had gone and we believed hers will too.

It was a sentimental and sacred experience. A “God-thing” as I like to call it. One that I think she needed and I know I needed. Because, and this is really my point of telling you this, I absolutely cling to what I have read in recovery literature, “that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have-the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.” I write about this a lot. In fact, it’s the very reason I started writing and keep writing. If we cannot use our excruciating experiences, crappy circumstances or our struggles and successes with battling the chronic plagues of the hearth (fear, anger, resentment, jealousy, etc.), it’s all for naught. Some choose to shrivel up and wallow in self-pity and despair and bitterness. I have seen it and been tempted to go there. But what I have found, is that the alternative for the shriveling and wallowing, though it may not be easy, is to shed some light in the dark tunnel of someone else’s battle with the same.

That’s how God redeems the trauma. The illness. The divorce. The death. The addiction. The rebellion.

Some of you have come out of the dark into the light. So shine the light of hope on others who can’t yet see it. And you both will be blessed.

Some of you, maybe the majority of you, live your days like an Alaskan in December, with about 6 hours of daylight and the rest if the time in sheer blackness. You have glimmers of hope here and there, but are keenly aware that even though the sun peeks out on occasion, the darkness is daunting and certain. And yet, even when the bright side of life is fleeting for now, you at least get intermittent relief from the clouds cover. Don’t believe the lie that you have to wait until “summer” to share your strength and hope you have occasionally experienced, even during your personal cold, harsh “winter”.

God has comforted me in my turmoil. In my cancer days for sure, but also in the before and after. As you may have noted, life is tough, always. God comforts me in my affliction so that I in turn can comfort someone else. He helps me learn from my circumstances so that I can say, “you’re not the only one and there is hope” to those who are suffering.

“When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light.” -Oswald Chambers

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Cancer, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Relationships

EVERYTHING

The church I go to has a Word: Everyone. Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcome. Everyone matters to God and to the church. There are no exceptions (which, I guess the word Everyone implies…). I love that theme, that reminder. As I was thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that my blog has a similar theme. If our churches theme is Everyone, my writing theme is Everything. In the past I wrote about how my blog was about “Nothing”, sort of like the sitcom Seinfeld. In reality, though, both my blog and Seinfeld are about both: Nothing and Everything simultaneously. They address and poke fun and bring to our attention the commonality amount humans. There are everyday events that often go unnoticed but when pointed out, are mutually hilarious and sometimes painful.

I write about Nothing (my insightful blog about “Squirrels” comes to mind) to highlight how, if we are paying attention, we can grow and learn from Everything. Nothing has to be wasted, even the crappy crap (repeated for emphasis), if we can embrace the bigger picture. If we maintain perspective when we are tempted to lose it.

This week I should have everything completed on my end for getting my book published. I have been working on this strenuously for the past few weeks, editing, re-wording, defining my audience, my keywords and my overall message. See if you relate to any of the key words I listed: cancer, leukemia, disease, anxiety, fear, control, spirituality, faith, addiction, recovery, shame. Maybe just a couple? But when it comes right down to it, there is one key word that is over-arching message that I want people to hear-HOPE. Amidst all the “yuck”, there is relief.

A personal, intimate connection with God is the relief and solution to all that is bent and broken in and around us. And let’s face it, if we aren’t broken yet, most of us are at least bent. The other day I heard the 90s song “Bent”  and sincerely could not stop feeling a deep sadness most of the day. The chorus is the cry of so many people: “Can you help me? I’m bent. I’m so scared that I’ll never get put back together.” A version of that plea is found in Psalm 22:11,14: “God, do not be far off, for trouble is near! I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” On any given day, someone I know, often me, is uttering these desperate words.

I write to bring light to these dark places. I have been through  just a couple things that lend some credibility to this practice. This choice. And it’s a brave choice, should I choose to make it; to see God’s goodness in Everything. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens is good. It means that I can find the beauty in the bad. I can spot heroism in the horror. I can celebrate unity in spite of the ugliness. It isn’t easy and it isn’t natural. It takes a lot of work, at first. But eventually it becomes your default setting. You have to rewire how you think so it matches how God thinks.

And let me also say, though it might sound selfish at first, that I do this primarily for me. When I do it so that I can have peace and find rest in my deepest parts, it doesn’t matter how other people respond or react or behave. If I can learn from Everything, then those things are irrelevant. This frees me to react and respond and behave in a way I can live with and be proud of. I can live with the hope of healing, even when I am broken, disjointed and bent.

A “mantra’ is a “word or group of words believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers.” It is traditionally repeated in one’s mind to aid concentration on a particular belief one wishes to focus on. I would encourage you to use this verse as a mantra as you go about your daily trials/tasks/chores/responsibilities/decisions/relationships/celebrations/victories:

“In God we live and move and have our Being.”

Or,  say it more like a prayer to Him;
“In You I live and move and have my Being”.

Choose to see God, to find Hope, in Everything.

 

 

Addiction, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

No more games

I am finally ready to admit it out loud: we are not a game playing family. There. It’s out there. For years we have tried to be game players. When my kids were younger we really tried to make this a fun family activity, even though we knew from the get-go that it would ultimately end in crying and blaming and possibly throwing of tiny little game pieces- and that was just from the parents! 😜 As a whole, none of us Get any enjoyment fromplaying board games. For a few years we humored the grandparents and played games like Uno or Kings in the Corner, but even that has died out recently. I myself don’t really hate cards, but you can only play so many games of solitaire. You really need more than one person to participate for any other type of game to be successful.

So, it’s official. We don’t like games. But I have to tell you that despite my disdain for games, I find myself inadvertently participating in certain games without even realizing I am playing. Usually it is happens when I disagree with someone else’s behavior or ideas or choices. Instead of letting them figure things out for themselves, I roll the dice when I stick my nose in their business and try to control or change the outcome. And even though I claim to be a “non-gamer”, I try to impose my will on them and force them to play my game by my rules. This is received with a resistance that is similar to what happens when I have tried to make my kids play board games when they’d rather be doing anything else.

Then, and this is where the real danger comes in, there are the games I get sucked into playing by those who love to play certain kinds of games.When someone wants to argue with me or provoke me and get a reaction out of me, I often find myself playing with them, even after I have declared myself to be game-free. Here’s what it looks like: Someone tries to engage me in something that really has nothing to do with me. Or they try to provoke me and get a reaction out of me or prove that I am wrong about something. I tell them I don’t want to argue about it, but continue to engage, discuss it or defend myself.

When I do this it’s like telling someone I don’t want to play catch. They ignore me and throw me the ball anyway. I catch it, throw it back, and repeat that I don’t want to play their game. This continues over and over until I realize, I am playing. The only way to let them know I am not playing is to let the ball roll past me the next time they throw it. Just like you can’t play tug-o-war unless you both people pick up the rope, you can’t have an argument unless more than one person is actively engaged in it. If I refuse to play, the game is over quickly.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you never have reasonable conversations or disagreements with people. That’s part of life. I am talking about the times where it is truly not even about you or someone is acting selfish, hateful, irrational, angry, resentful, stubborn, arrogant or affected by substances that might make a mature discussion impossible. You can choose not to play. You can detach with love, separating yourself emotionally and spiritually from the other person. You don’t have to own their emotions or take responsibility for the fact that they have them (even if they insist you are the cause). And most importantly, you don’t have to “win.” Because you can’t.

A helpful response that I have heard suggested is to pleasantly say, “you may be right”, and walk away. That doesn’t mean they are right or that you think they are, but it acknowledges that the feelings and thoughts they are having are real for them. It gives them dignity, and often, that is all they were looking for in the first place. I have also heard it said that “most people don’t necessarily want to have their own way, they just want to have their own way considered.”

You have mostly likely heard the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In this case, the “things” we cannot change are other people and how they think or feel. The “thing” we can change is ourselves and whether or not we get involved in the unhealthy games that others try to rope us in to playing.

God, today, give us the courage to focus on ourselves and make the choice to not catch that ball or pick up that rope.

 

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Cancer, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

“Goals”

At first glance, how I spent my day yesterday (bleeding over into today) might might appear like laziness or procrastination. And trust me, my skills are stellar in those two areas. In the past, I would have been all over this opportunity to get things in order and get back to regular life. Kill off the Christmas tree once and for all and vacuum up the tiny pine needles strewn about the house, after falling off of family member’s socks. Christmas is over and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. We have had extra visitors in our house (and at this point, my very own 21 college-student-home-on-break, qualifies as a visitor) since before December 25th. And as much as I do love it, no routine, lots of people and opinions and plans can make me a little ticky after awhile. Yesterday was a prime opportunity to get the house cleaned up and back to normal. All the kids were sleeping, relatives were gone and husband was reading in another room of the house. I had the perfect window.

But then I read something that caused me to do it differently this year. I chose to squelch my urge to organize and engage in what the author called a holy “afterglow”, this space between the crazy of Christmas and the celebration of the New Year. It reminds me of the Recovery saying that has benefited me often (when I slow down long enough to do it): Pause. Pray. Proceed. The idea is that when you are tempted to act, usually rashly or emotionally, you play it different. Instead of barreling ahead with that angry phone call, posting a passive aggressive snippet on Facebook, or letting your words fly out your mouth without caution or control or compassion, you Pause. You Pray and invite God into it. And then you proceed (hopefully on to something more productive or healing for everyone).

This is a practice that is not only useful for the biggies, but for every attitude or thought or word that crosses our consciousness, all day, everyday. Today, I am using it as a guide as I reflect on last year and prepare for the year to come. In dozens of ways, i failed to accomplish my physical, emotional and spiritual goals. I truly wish I could say I ended this year a little more advanced in these areas. My standards for myself tend to be a bit high. But regardless of the little progress I did make, I am left wanting more. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. God has designed us to move forward. But, In the past, I would make very specific goals that were based on the hype and energy of the promise of a new year, only to abandon most of them and feel like a loser for doing so by February.

Today I am different. Maybe it’s from the battle with disease of Leukemia. Or the family disease of addiction seeking to steal, kill and destroy our family. Or leaving a church family after 20 years. Or losing many many relationships with people I thought were my forever friends. Or my son going off to college and my two teenagers getting their driver’s license. Not maybe. Probably. But those are just a handful of hard times that changed me. There are also countless blessings that have contributed to this “different” in me. Maybe it’s the new friends God has brought me as a result of Leukemia and addiction and having to find a new church family. Or maybe it’s from the snuffing out of old habits and thought patterns that don’t serve me anymore. Or maybe it’s because I am finally convinced that God, in His infinite wisdom about what I need verses what I want, can be trusted with my future.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there’s a thing wrong with setting goals for yourself. Or with reflecting on ways we could have done it better in the past. But don’t hang your hat there. I can learn from my past and be prepared for the future. But ultimately I need to live a little bit longer in the Pause. Look back, look ahead, but don’t forget to Pray and invite God in before you Proceed. What I have found, and why my goals are a little more in flex than they used to be, is that what God has planned for my future will most likely look drastically different than my personal, calculated plans. I can remind myself of His faithfulness when I reflect on all the ways He took care of me even when life didn’t seem to cooperate last year. If am open, I can learn and grow and flourish this coming year, especially when I let God lead me, as opposed to the other way around.

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace

Let your light so shine

It’s that time of year again. Time to pull out my Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, Christmas Devotional (read my blog “Painter of light” from December 2015 to refresh your memory on his story). I have been reading this every year for about 25 years. Sometimes I lose steam after Christmas, and even though the book takes me all the way up to the New Year, I often stop reading it after December 25th. This year I decided to start at the end to see what I have been missing all these years.

It’s fitting for the Painter of Light to end his book with some insights from Matthew 5:14-16. If you remember the children’s Sunday School song “This little light of mine (I’m gonna let it shine)”, this is where it comes from. It says,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

…no pressure. Just be a beacon of God’s love for all to see. Let the way you live your life, by how you love and forgive and serve your friends and family and enemies, illuminate the lives of others so that they are compelled to turn to God in worship. Right…easier said than done. What about the days where am tired and overwhelmed and stressed out so I snap at my kids, tailgate the slow-poke in front of me and post something passive aggressive about my nemesis on facebook? The reality is that I am a work in process. My light “so shines” sometimes, and at others it barely peeking out, like the thin line of the sun right before it sets in the west. Kinkade points out that he thinks “that’s exactly why many people end up hiding their lights under a basket. Who feels equal to the task of lighting the world?”

To illustrate his point, he talks about lamps, and how they can be made out of pretty much anything. As long as the guts of it can produce electricity and have a place to screw in a bulb, you can make a lamp out of a cowboy boot, a vase, a typewriter, a coffee-pot, or even a worn out, beat-up, thrown in the dumpster lamp that used to work marvelously. When you read stories from the Bible, it’s crystal clear that God is able and most-likely apt to turn the most unlikely people into sources of light. He mentions leaders like Moses (a murderer), Jospeh (a brat brother who was thrown into a pit by his own brothers), and David (a mere boy and later, an adulterer and also a murderer). And then there’s me and you. Need I say more?

If this is true, then how do we go about shining despite our inadequacies? I think the key is a recovery principle I hear often: acceptance is that answer to all our problems. We have to accept the hard, sad fact; we are inadequate. As Kinkade says, “we have to realize that we’re not the ones doing the shining. We’re merely the lamp base, an earthen vessel that has been rewired to shine. Our job is to stay plugged in to the light and to let it flow through us, not to gleam under our own power.”

One way our light “so shines” is when we accept with thanks the gift of who we are. Instead of wishing we were different or better at certain things, we can be grateful for what is in our hand. What we have to work with. Accepting ourselves where we are at can be a hard decision for a lot of us. Many of us struggle with chronic pain, chronic relapse, chronic worry/fear, or chronic sin patterns. W can’t fathom how, or why, God would want to rewire us to be useful for Him in any way. Wouldn’t he rather just buy a brand new lamp thats cleaned up and pretty?

As I read this devotional, I do it with a less naive spirit than I used to. In case you don’t recall, Thomas Kinkade died of a drug overdose several years ago. Every entry I read causes me to reflect on what he might have been battling in his head at the time. Here’s the painful quote an article posted about his death at age 54 on April 6, 2012: “Who could have imagined that behind so many contented visions of peace, harmony and nauseating goodness lay just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity, fueled by those ever-ready stooges, Valium and alcohol?”

“Just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity.”  But even though that’s how it ended, it isn’t the end of his influence in the world. That wasn’t the only part of his story. His mistakes are not the only thing he brought to this world. I am still reading his words, millions of people still hang his inspiring paintings, ones painted as representations of what Thomas longed for. What we all long for. To bring light to this dark world. We just have to believe that our story is more than the sum of our failures and shortcomings. Our job is to stay plugged in to God, the Source of all light, and let Him use us in spite of them.

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

My drug of choice

Just based on principle, I probably shouldn’t be writing right now. But I feel like the only way to clear my head is to reason things out on “paper” so I don’t go insane. Sauturdays are hard for me be cause there is no routine. No agenda. And my family seems to be fine with that. But I am not. I have a hard time relaxing and put expectations on myself, which often spill over and soak my family, to be productive.

Productivity is my drug of choice. I can be held captive by it and render myself immobilized if I don’t engage in it. Once I get a hit from it, I can feel the tension leave and the relief come. I am acutely aware of it on this cold, windy Saturday morning. I have no obligations and have ample time to read and write and relax with my coffee. And yet, on the way to my spot on the sofa, I felt the overwhelming pull to “get a few things done”. I did all the dishes while the coffee brewed (because God forbid I waste time simply waiting). Then I scurried from counter-top to counter-top, picking up stray objects and trying to figure out where they belong. After I got my coffee, I headed to the living room and decided I could quickly sort through the videos, DVDs and books stored in the TV stand. About an hour after I set out to read and pray I was finally situated. I sat there, books in lap, coffee in hand, feeling like I had earned the right to finally just “be”.

I don’t know when this mindset took over my thinking. I remember talking to one of my teachers when I was in high school about his summer plans. He said that he made it a point to do one productive thing each day of his summer break. At the time, that seemed very noble and wise. So apparently my productivity addiction had not kicked in yet. Now, I think, “ONE thing?!?! Really? If I am not feeling productive most of my day I feel like I am failing.” Even when I am relaxing, I don’t feel very relaxed. I was watching TV in bed last night. TV. Bed. Both relaxing by nature. But at one point I realized I was tense and my shoulders were raised up and tight. I just seem to have trouble letting myself do something “unproductive” and enjoy it. I am not bragging either. That’s not a good character trait to have. No one likes to be uptight. No one likes to be around people who are uptight.

I think a lot of this dependence I have on being productive stems from a false belief that I adopted somewhere along the way in my faith journey. I am still unlearning the notion that somehow my good behavior my accomplishments and my responsible choices are what God is looking for from me. While those things can’t be thrown out the window entirely, they are not the basis for being in right standing with God. He alone does that for me. I have spent many years learning how to think differently. Obviously, the transformation process is slow. One step forward, two steps back.

Today, I am determined to try to relax and be present when I have the opportunity to do so, rather than feel like I should be doing something different like clean or sort or work. I am getting ready to run errands with my teenage daughter (and what, I ask , could be more relaxing than that!? 😜). I have a lot to do around the house ( tasks I have made up to feel productive) but instead, I am going to ride with her and practice being present. Practice being grateful that she invited me. Practice being “unproductive” and being OK with it. I think it’s exactly what God wants from me.

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Cancer, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Relationships

Timing is everything

“The waiting is hardest part.” -Tom Petty (1950-2017)

It feels like it’s been a long time since I wrote last. Which is interesteing to me since I have been reflecting on the concept of “time and timing” over the past few days. These thoughts on timing came to me in a very profound and illuminating way as I sat on my couch…admiring my fingernails. They are rockin’ right now! They are long and strong and borderline dangerous to myself and others. But, this hasn’t been the case for the past two years. I think it was the chemo that caused my nails to be flimsy and splitting. They hardly grew at all, but if they did, they would soon peel or break. The perplexing thing is, I haven’t even been doing anything to remedy that problem. And all of a sudden, they are back to normal. It’s like my body finally got rid of whatever was in me that was causing them to shatter. Nothing profound, it was simply “time”.

Since then, everything I read seems to point me to time and timing. The longer I live, the more aware I am that so much of life is all about timing. Which is unfortunate, because I want what I want and I usually want it right now. I want to work out and be in shape by tomorrow or at least by the weekend. I want to read a self-help book and be organized, efficient and succcessful by the time I finish chapter one. And those are the simple wants. I also want to pray for the people I am worried or stressed about and see results in a reasonable amount of time (I like to be fair and give God a few weeks). I try my best to understand why some people seem to get “better” quicker than others. Whether it’s from cancer or mental illness or addiction or any kind of stronghold. The big question for me seems to be “how long, Oh Lord?”.

There is a saying in Recovery Programs that has a good answer for those who lament not arriving in the Program sooner. Someone new thinks of all the years they suffered alone, without any tools or people who understood their pain. An old-timer will tell them,  “you got here right on time.” Because timing is everything. If you show up before your soul is reading and willing to hear and receive help, it will fall on deaf ears. I think it’s this way in all of life, really. The Bible uses a couple phrases that indicate that there is a time for everything (not only from the populace song from Ecclesiastes and John Lennon telling us there is a time be born, a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal, etc.). One is “the fullness of time” and the other is “for such a time as this”. Both imply that there are certain events and attitudes that have to be established before something can happen. Until all the pieces are in place, the results won’t come.

We have such limited knowledge and access to what those pieces look like. They are an accumulation of interactions, relationships, behaviors and choices of thousands of people. We are interwoven with one another in ways we will never know, yet will still be effected by. The ripples run far and wide.

This is helpful for me to remember because, as I said, I like to see some progress. I hate waiting (check out a previous blog on how i am a terrible Waiter). I read something the other day (because, of course, God gave me about 4 different readings that all addressed “time”. He is funny like that!) where the author said, “How often I still find myself impatient with the pace of life.  But today, when things don’t happen according to my schedule, I can accept that there may be a reason…I can keep in mind that waiting time does have to mean wasted time. Even times of stillness have lessons to teach me…I can accept the pace of change today, knowing it will bring both times of active involvement and periods of quiet waiting.”

My need to be in control severely hinders me from being a better Waiter. I want to control how other people change, how my circumstances change, how I change and most importantly at what rate it all happens. My need for immediate gratification doesn’t help either. “Now” is one of my favorite words.

An expert from Streams in the Desert says it this way: “Waiting on him exercises your gift of grace and tests your faith. Therefore, continue to wait in hope, for though the promise may linger, it will never come too late”. When I try to rush results or manipulate circumstances to go my way or on my agenda, I show complete lack of trust in God’s plan and demonstrate and exaggerated view of my own. Today I will let God set the pace.

But I trust in you, O lord; I say “you are my God, my times are in your hands.”
Psalm 31:14,15

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

God knows and sees: Good news or bad?

I love it when a good blog comes together. Well, whether or not it’s good is yet to be seen, but the topic itself is solid. Believe it or not, every once in a while I am at a loss about what to write. If there’s anything I have learned in this writing journey is that forcing a solution is a bad idea. If it doesn’t flow out of me in about 40 minutes from beginning to end with divine inspiration kicking it off, it ain’t gonna happen. I have actually had a Psalm in my head for a week or so and this morning, something else I read gave me a nugget of truth to help me integrate it into everyday living in a way I didn’t expect. First, Let’s take a look at Psalm 139.

Are you familiar with it? I think you might be. It contains that very popular verse that says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” But those verses are at the very end of another 22 verses in which David, the author, is expressing his gratitude and awe of how intimately God knows him. Knows us. It begins by listing all the ways in which God is familiar and involved with us. God searches us and knows us. He knows when we sit and rise. He understands our thoughts and scrutinizes us while awake and asleep. He nows what we will say before it comes out of our mouth. Whether I walk in the light of heaven or dwell in the depths of hell, He is there. Always there. Seems like good news, right?

The reading I was referring to is from Oswald Chambers and it acted as a springboard to talk a bit about the verses above: “Is it not penetrating to realize that God knows where we live, and the kennels we crawl into! He will hunt us up like a lightning flash! No human being knows human beings as God does.”

My first reaction to Psalm 139 when I read it a couple of weeks ago, was “Amazing. I love that I serve a God who knows me through and through and loves every single part of me.” But that was on a good day. Or a good moment. When my thoughts were somewhat God-focused and I was sitting on the couch in an empty house. I was glad He could sense my love and appreciation for all He is in my life. But what about when my kids and husband come home and start requiring things from me? Or when the lady at the grocery store is rude? Or when someone challenges me or insults me or, God forbid, doesn’t appreciate me?! Do I really want a God who knows all my thoughts or words that are getting ready to spill out of my mouth? That makes me squirm a bit.

And that’s when it hit me; our level of comfort about having a God who knows what we are thinking and how we are behaving at all times depends on the our understanding of God. I have been re-working this for a few years now. I used to get worked up about AA calling God “the God of our understanding”, until I realized that we all worship the God of our understanding. We all have influences and life experiences that we have allowed to shape our interpretation of God. And if we have  somehow concluded that God loves us Best when we behave or that He is keeping an eye on us so He can catch us being bad, then the idea of Him knowing every part of us is not a gift; it’s a threat.

I have had to come to a new understanding of God over the past few years. One that fits into the God presented in scripture as loving, serving, kind, patient, merciful, gracious, forgiving and understanding of humans because He once was one. I didn’t redefine who He actually is, I redefined my understanding of who I had imagined He was. My understanding at that time was based on flawed thinking and emotional reactions to formative relationships and events that had taken place throughout my life. I had to come to a place of understanding God as One who knows when I sit and stand and where I walk and sleep and what I think and feel and what I am about to say…and loves me anyway. All the time. No matter what.

If your God, the God of your understanding is anything outside the realm of pure love and grace, from Him and for others, I encourage you to search for a new god. Somewhere along the line you have lost sight of this Being that formed you and knows you and cherishes you to your core.

“I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Thy works, And this my soul knows very well.”

Psalm 139:14

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

Peaceful Protest: Part 2 (Aka “The little red dress”)

About that dress…that red and pink dress I mentioned I was wearing while trying to remain low-profile as an observer at a protest last weekend…

I love that dress. I bought it at a second hand store to take with me on my trip to Paris a few months ago. It’s colorful and sassy and very French. Also, impossible to miss. I stood on the sidewalk, against the fenced parking lot as the protesters stood and began to make their way to another part of town. Another place to sit and repeat their message. The crowd consisted mostly of African Americans who, as I explained in my last blog, are “tired” and want the city to know it. It was a somber processional and I was reflecting on what I had just witnessed, when I realized someone was talking to me. An African American woman, about 20 years younger than me was passing by. And in the most unlikely of situations she says with a chipper tone and a smile, “Cute Dress!”. I replied in kind, “Thanks!”.

For several days I thought about the conclusion of this historic event. I knew it meant something but I wasn’t’ sure what. I even implored an explanation from my husband. His answer was good, but it wasn’t my answer. It took me a few days of reflecting and revisiting to figure out what that interaction meant to me. It’s a Recovery Principle that came to my mind: “Look for the similarities, not the differences.”

What does that mean exactly? It means that even in the middle of a protest, where emotions are high and differences are highlighted and on display, we can find a common ground. It means two girls can come together because of something as simple as Fashion Appreciation. In a world where uniqueness and doing things that set us apart in order to get attention, make money or rebel seems to rule, there is still a deeper desire for us to relate to one another. To find ways we are the same. As hard as we work to be different, our souls long to be connected and included.

It reminded me of a analogy outlined in the big book of AA. It’s a story about a great ocean liner sinking and how the passengers, “from steerage to Captain’s table”, rejoiced together upon being rescued. The author talks about how, within the Fellowship of AA, there is great diversity in regard to religion, race, occupation, and social, economical and political status. That they are a people who “normally would not mix” were it not for a common peril. And most importantly, a common solution.

This is the root of why I write. First and foremost, I try to remind us that, as fellow life-travelers, we also have a common Solution. Remember my mantra from the first 3 of the 12 Steps? “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him.” Also, I hope to aid us in seeing where we are the same rather than feeling like we are the “only one”. I believe, that at our core of cores, we are more alike than we are different. Regardless of the diversities mentioned above, we all have felt the pangs and haunting of betrayal, hurt, unforgiveness, shame, and failure. We all long for belonging, acceptance, unconditional love, tolerance, kindness, patience, grace and understanding.

We are all doing the best we can at any given time. It’s time to be gracious with ourselves and others. We are all suffering from the common malady of being broken humans in a broken world. It’s time to show love and tolerance to people who don’t think exactly like we do. There are people all around us who are currently in grave and unfathomable pain. It’s time to assume that anyone you meet, especially those who are behaving poorly or reacting rudely, could be in such a place. As Oswald Chambers puts it, “there is always one fact more in every man’s case that, if you knew it, you would suspend judgment.”

It’s time to stop focusing on differences and the the things that keep us separate, and begin to open ourselves up the possibility that we are actually more alike than we ever imagined. And if it needs to start with acknowledging a little red dress at protest, so be it.

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

“Goodwill Ranting”

Let’s talk about our feelings. Or, at least my feelings. I really am not good at identifying feelings. I have been through hours of therapy over the years and one of the biggest take-aways has been that I am terrible at addressing, accepting, identifying, acknowledging and sharing my feelings. I am really good at expressing my thoughts and opinions, but apparently, those aren’t the same thing. I am not lying when I tell you that I actually have a list I printed off a website (something like “Feelings for Dummies”) so I could peruse a list of feelings and check them off if I was experiencing them. Like Multiple Choice. So, now that I have laid the foundation for my entry today, let us continue…

Warning: this blog may be a bit “all over the place”, but that seems appropriate since we are talking about Feelings. Let me start by telling you about some of my history of not feeling or at least feeling emotions that are mis-labeled.

I remember having a conversation with my husband years ago about how angry I was at some friends. I was fired up and indignant about being left out of information I felt everyone else knew but me. I was ready to just move on and do life without any friends at all. Who needs em’!? My husband listened patiently for a bit and then said something like,” is it possible that your feelings are just hurt and that makes you sad?” And just like that, I burst into tears. He was right, I was sad and wounded. Anger just felt like a powerful way to express myself. Those other kinds of emotions feel vulnerable and that is extremely hard for me.

Next: When I had Leukemia and didn’t’ know it yet, there were several symptoms that were unexplainable. No one, including me, could put a finger on anything that might lead to a diagnosis or solution. I was tormented with possible scenarios. I was aware of myself enough to know that life had thrown our family some pretty big curve balls over the past couple of years and that I was barely coping with them. One symptom of my stress was that I didn’t feel anything at all. No highs. No lows. No joy, anger, relief, sadness, fear. It was all the same: numbness. I began to believe that maybe the permanent lump in my throat was a cluster of emotions that were “stuck” in me. That my many other symptoms were my bodies way of cluing me in that I had some junk that needed to be brought to the surface. I’d stuffed it down so long, it was logical to me that it would start manifesting itself physically. Unfortunately, it was actually Leukemia, but the other conclusion still makes sense to me.

Though I am getting better at identifying my emotions, mostly due to 12 Step recovery principles, I still struggle identifying, dealing with and accepting my emotions. I was reminded of this in full color when I was in California helping my college student get settled. More specifically, I was kicked in the teeth with the realization that I had been stuffing some significant feelings about him being 21, not needing me, living in an apartment and probably (and hopefully) never living at home again. And here’s the main problem with not dealing with your emotions as they come; they tend to sneak up and surprise you when you are not expecting them. Something cracks the dam and they come gushing out sideways in the middle of Goodwill over a $9.00 lamp and a $3.00 picture frame. You act like a lunatic because you chose to “deal with it later” when you felt that sadness and fear and concern come on you during the summer. But today is the “later” and you have dozens of emotions that are spinning in you like a tornado. And the damage is the same; random and powerful.

While I was in California, when circumstances were threatening to overwhelm me, a wise friend said “sometimes you just have to do your job. You can set your emotions on the shelf for a bit. They can come out later for a visit. But they can’t visit right now.” That was a very helpful perspective that got me through the next few hours of crucial decisions I had to make. But as I thought more about it, I said to her, “the problem for me is that I tend to forget to invite them to come for a visit so they just pop in and surprise me when I least expect it!” Like, in the middle of Goodwill, for pete’s sake.

As I sat to write this morning I prayed and asked God what exactly He wanted me to say. I was floundering a bit between a few struggles I have been having that I wanted to get out of my head. And, as usual, He showed me. I was leaning towards writing about this “Feelings” crap, but wasn’t convinced that’s what He had in mind. I turned to the reading for this date in my Recovery book and I started to cry. Here is what one of the paragraphs said:

“…I have learned that feelings aren’t shortcomings. The true nature of my problem was my stubborn refusal to acknowledge feelings, to accept them, and to let them go. I have very little power over what feelings arise, but what I chaos to do about them is my responsibility. Today I can accept my feelings, share about them with others, recognize that they are feelings, not facts, and then let them go.”

God gave me feelings and the ability, with His help, to handle each of them. Sequestering them on a shelf or shoving them deep down in my soul only leaves me susceptible to surprise visits. It’s ever so much easier to deal with my feelings one at a time. Maybe you struggle with this too. Let me know if you need my list of emotions for dummies and join me in doing the work of identifying, accepting and letting go of your feelings before they do what mine did last week. Trust me, it’s not pretty.

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