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.

 

 

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

FOCUS!

I have a lot to do today. A lot of odds and ends; phone calls and appointments to make, follow ups on work and school activities, straightening after a weekend of ignoring household duties. All these duties are causing me to feel a bit flustered in my head and frozen on the couch, unable to sort everything out and make a go of any of it. From past experience (read: from doing it the wrong way over and over until I learned a bit of a lesson) I know that my day would continue on like this unless I pause and pray and “get God in there.” So I forced myself to pick up some books and start reading, getting out of my head and listening to what God might have to say to me.

I read a couple entries in my usual books and then one in a book I started reading again after a 14 year respite. It’s called “Jesus Life coach” by Laura Beth Jones. Every chapter starts off with the phrase, “With Jesus as your Life Coach you will…”. On this particular day’s reading it said that I would “Keep My Focus.” Well, that would certainly be helpful on this fine, snowy, scatter-brained Monday morning. Jones is a motivational writer and speaker, so she her main point is about finding that one thing that keeps you going and eliminating all distractions that prevent you from staying on task and being successful.  She uses Jesus’ laser-like focus on his mission, ya know, to save the planet, as motivation for us to also stay focused on what we are called to do or be in this life.

I am not arguing with her, since most organizations sink or swim based on knowing what there one thing is. But as a woman who is, at best, average at most endeavors, I have always struggled to identify my one thing. I am the quintessential “Jackof-all-trades, master of none.”

But then…

I moved on to my next reading by author Sarah Young, who writes using God’s words to us from scripture. And I kid you not-this was her opening sentence for January 29th: KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON ME (caps all hers)…let the goal of this day be to bring every thought captive to me…I will guard you and keep you in constant peace as you focus your mind on me.”

Bless God’s heart. He knows I don’t have it in me to read between the lines today. He had to repeat himself and capitalize it. Lucky for me, and maybe you, I didn’t miss the point. At least this was the point I believe he was making for me: His will for me and for my life IS the “one thing.” It overrides every other venture, goal or practice.

Think back on your life thus far. You have had gone down multiple paths that took large amounts of your time and energy and passion. Most of them were probably very good things. But we are, by nature, continuously changing and morphing. What used to light your fire just doesn’t do it for you anymore. That’s ok. It’s meant to be that way. So to hang your sign on any one door is unreasonable. There’s an ebb and flow to life that needs to be leaned in to.

There is only one constant. One over-arching awareness that must influence our every thought: God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. It must infiltrate every nook and cranny of our lives. Sometimes we have to discern His will for us in some pretty serious ways. But what I have found is that most days I just have to live out his will for me in all the tiny, seemingly insignificant encounters of my day. How did I react to the snippy sales clerk? Did I let that rude driver steal my serenity? Did my car breaking down cause me to question God’s love for me? And what about in our relationships?  Did I respond with compassion toward my discouraged teenager? Did I reach out to the friend who lost her job? Her husband? Her identity? Did I make a phone call to someone I know who is depressed or discouraged?

In the midst of all my muddled striving to make a big difference in this world, my consistent focus on God and seeking his will for me must be crystal clear.  What I accomplish in this world is significant, but also temporary and fleeting. My primary purpose, my one thing,  is to let God’s Will for me totally dominate (rule, govern, direct, be in the driver’s seat, be at the helm of, rule the roost, wear the pants 😉).<<
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Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

The secret

Almost 2,000 years ago, a guy named Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether in plenty or in want.” One might ask, how hard could his life have been in 62AD? The guy wasn’t married and didn’t have kids (need I say more?). He wasn’t slandered on social media or demeaned in the tabloids. However, a bit of history tells us he did endure a few minor inconveniences. During his short time of ministry, after God intervened and transformed him from a murderer to a missionary, he was flogged, imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned and shipwrecked (most of them on more than one occasion). He was in danger from “rivers, bandits, his own countrymen and religious leaders.” He often went without food, sleep, water and clothing. Oh, and then there’s the anxiety from trying to spread the good news of God’s love to a people who he used to persecute and kill for believing that very thing. OK-I guess his trials and stressors might “win” over mine.

But somehow, Paul was able to find the secret to being content in all these circumstances. He credits two beliefs; 1) that he can do all things through Him, God, who give him strength and 2) he trusts that God will meet all his needs according to his glorious riches in Jesus. What amazing faith and assurance he had!

Still, I have to be honest with you about something. Even though I say I believe what Paul believes, those two “secrets” I mentioned above, I don’t alway live like I do. I don’t act as if I really believe those words for myself. In fact, here’s the reality of what I think much of the time:

I don’t want God to take care of me so I can be OK no matter what my circumstances,
I want him to make my circumstances OK so I can easily take care of myself.

That’s pretty embarrassing to say out loud. I really wish I was better than that. But my humanness and desire to be comfortable and happy and for everyone around me to behave and flourish, really gets in the way of trusting God no matter what. Being content no matter what. It’s scary when I realize that mostly I just want God to orchestrate my life so I don’t need Him so much. I mean, wouldn’t that be easier for Him anyway? He has a lot of people to help, after all. Would it be so hard to just set me on a comfortable cruising speed and let me manage things myself?

Trying to wrap this up seems a little redundant. It’s not like we haven’t figured out what must be done. There is no new information. Life is good. And sometimes it’s not. End of story. I can either complain about the times times that are “not” or turn to God for strength to get through them, trusting that He will meet all my needs according to his glorious riches. I can forget about Him when circumstances are good or I can acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God. I can choose to live with a grateful heart.

Whether my circumstances are pleasant or pressing, depending on God and staying in tight communication with Him are the only solutions that help me tap in to Paul’s “secret” to contentment.

 

 

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.

 

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

Surefire weight-loss plan

Let’s get straight to the point. Today, I feel heavy. But not nearly as heavy as I did yesterday. I am referring to excess weight, but not the fat kind; the heart kind. I was feeling overwhelmed with obsessive thoughts about everything and everyone in my life that I can’t control. Worry and fear and a healthy dose of self-pity were paralyzing me. I couldn’t muster one positive thought or tap into even a tiny a nugget of hope. I read and prayed furiously, looking for something, anything, that might give me some relief from the despair that was consuming me.

Like I said, I am a bit lighter today. After a morning of asking God for help, he showed me, or reminded me, of a song. This memory was triggered by an entry by Sarah Young in my daily reading:

God says to us “Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self- pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus, you are lightened. Heaviness is not of my kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.”

This message was sorely needed for me, but it’s a message I know in my head already. It wasn’t enough just to know the truth. I had to practice something different. And that “different” was revealed to me when I brought up the words to a song from my past: Garments of Praise.

The chorus begins:  Put on the garment of praise, for the spirit of heaviness.

As I began to explore what that might mean for me, what promise I could cling to so I could lighten up, I began the process of shedding the weight. I thought about writing it down as soon as it occurred to me what I needed to do. But then, I decided to actually do it so I could give some evidence of success (clearly, I still had my doubts about whether this simple plan would help at all). So what did I do? I stopped. I stopped praying for God to help or fix all the things/people that I wanted him to change/improve/empower, and I intentionally fixed my gaze on Him. I began by putting on the Garment of Praise song (Robin Marks) and sang with all my heart (the end of it has sort of an Irish jig feel, so you can even do a bit of River-dancing/clogging if you’re in decent shape!). The song has words that helped me express my desire to be comforted and refreshed and healed:

Make these broken weary bones
Rise to dance again
Wet this dry and thirsty land
With a river
Lord our eyes are fixed on you
We are waiting
For your garland of grace
As we praise your name

But it’s very hard to praise someone, namely God, when you are consumed with yourself. Throughout the Bible, praise is often is associated with sacrifice. If that seems weird to you, let me explain. Psalm 116:17 says “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord” and Hebrews 13:15 says “…let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Many times, I don’t feel like praising God because the pain or sorrow or hurt is so intense. These feelings require me to make a sacrifice. Sacrifice means, as author Terry Law puts it, “doing something you don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing. It’s giving up your own desires for the benefit of someone else.” And in this case, when I give God my sacrifice of praise, I choose to focus on 2 things: 1) His attributes. His power, love, compassion, grace, guidance, etc. 2) His track record. His history of how he has been good and faithful and shown up for you in countless, priceless ways. I believe that even if you are still skeptical of or even angry with God, you will have some stories to recount if you think hard enough.

I sacrificed what I felt like doing (worrying, fretting, trying to fix manage and control) and instead, fixed my mind, and voice, on who He is and what he has already done for me. It’s the difference between listening to a sad breakup song about lost love vs a song expressing the power of love and the excitement and energy that comes from being in that relationship.

There are several ways to praise/worship God. I like to sing, so that’s the main way that I engage in it. God doesn’t really care if you can hold a pitch though, so even if you can’t, don’t let that stop you! I also like to read various Psalms and adopt those words to help direct my thoughts. If you aren’t much for reading or singing, try writing down a gratitude list about who he is: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, kind, gracious, radical, extravagant. He is our rescuer, our provider, our savior, our voice of truth. Or maybe make a list of all the ways he has shown up for you in the past. Review the successes and times where you chose to trust and turn things over to him. Note how much better they turned out than when you tried to depend on your own self-sufficiency.

I have been practicing a variety of all these since yesterday. Today is not perfect, but my heart is in better shape than it was yesterday. And for the record, nothing has changed in my circumstances. The adjustment has been where I am choosing to put my energy. Instead of wasting it on trying to control the uncontrollable (i.e. Trying to do God’s job for Him), I am making the sacrifice of praise in the ways laid out above.

In a society of chronic dieting, I think this might prove to be the best rapid “weight-loss” plan on the market. Care to trade a garment of praise for that spirit of heaviness? Could you stand to shed a few?

Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Trust

“…Yet”

So. It’s been 5 days since January 1st. Is it fair to say that many of us have fallen off the Resolution Wagon? Have you already failed, if not miserably, to keep your New Year’s goals? I think it’s a strong possibility. You can thank me later for bringing it up, since you were already beating yourself up for your lack of will-power and discipline. 😜 I am actually here to help you deal, with a bit of grace and truth, with the fact that you might be struggling.

If you have already cheated on your diet, skipped your workout, spent outside your budget, smoked, drank, binged or watched inappropriate stuff on-line, don’t give up. If you had determined to hold your temper, not gossip, not judge others, cut back on the nagging, correct your “tone” or be mindful of your go-to negative attitude, but have already been engaging in those unattractive behaviors, relax. I read a great post from a friend the other day that said, “I will not try to the boil the ocean (or have all my goals met by Friday).” Awareness that you need to change is the first step towards success. Everything after that is a stepping stone, even if it’s an ugly one. The only way to truly fail is to stop stepping.

I have been reading bits and pieces of a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol S. Deck, Ph.D.). It categorizes people into two groups: people with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. In a nutshell, the difference between the two types can be summarized by one word: yet (my word, not the authors). Someone with a fixed mindset forgets to integrate that word in their life. The believe they are defined by their failures and accomplishments and often live believing that the world is out to get them, they will never amount to anything, they never get a break, and they can never learn that skill, subject or life lesson. They get stuck where they are at and see little use in contining to implement change or growth or learn from their mistakes in order to become their better self. A person with a growth mindset keeps stepping, even when they fall short or fall off the wagon. They believe that even though they have made mistakes or failed or life has dealt them some terrible cirucmstances, that there is still hope. They believe that they aren’t smart yet or patient yet or more disciplined yet. When they don’t know the answers they figure them out. They invest in learning.  A person with a fixed mindset says things to themselves like; “I am stupid.” “What’s the use in trying?” “Everyone’s better than me.” “I’m a total failure.”

What kind of mindset do you currently have? If you are pretty certain you have a fixed mindset, take it from a growth mindset person that believing in the yet is possible. Instead of living in your failures and letting them define or immobilize you, use them to identify where you need to learn or grow in order to get where it is you want to go. Remember that you just aren’t there yet.

Let’s face it, we are never going to be anything more than human. Failure and mistakes are inevitable. We are fallible. And even though some of us seem to pull of some extradonriary things, we are mostly ordinary. I had a friend that balked at the statement often heard from the pulpit, “God wants to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.” This really seemed to bother her. She said, “who in the world wants to be ordinary?” I get it. But here’s the harsh reality; most of us aren’t even ordinary. We are down right weird and crazy and broken and generally messed up. It would feel pretty nice to be ordinary, but alas, I have too many character defects, hangups and selfish habits to pretend to be in that category. But, because I adopt a growth mindset, I am pretty ok with that. I know that this life is a long journey and progress is slow and steady at some times, fast a furious at others and a slippery landslide backwards at still others. But I never just set up camp, pitch my tent and make s’mores. You have to keep moving.

I love how Sarah Young summarizes what Jesus says to us through his Word:

I may infuse you with a dream that seems far beyond your reach. You know that in yourself you cannot achieve such a goal. Thus begins your journey of profound reliance on Me. It is a faith-walk, taken one step at a time, leaning on me as much as you need. This is not a path of continual success but of multiple failures. However, each failure is followed by a growth spurt, nourished by increased reliance on Me.

God is not finished with you yet. Your job is to trust Him and continue to be open to new ways to grow and learn. Just because your Resolutions haven’t been followed perfectly doesn’t mean you should throw them out and try again next year. Try again now. Try again tomorrow. Some days you will fail and some days you will flourish. But it all counts if you are willing to learn and do it different next time. Let God set your pace. His timing is always perfect. Chances are that “by next year at this time” you will not have achieved exactly what you set out to do. Don’t sweat it. Just do the work and don’t give up before the miracle happens. Whether it’s next week or month or 5 years from now.

Your new word for this year: yet.<<
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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.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, grace, Trust

“Though the doors were locked…”

By now, some of you have read enough of my blogs to understand my unique daily reading plan. I could market said plan as “Rabbit Trail Reading Plan” or “ADD Reading Plan”, both catering to busy, scattered, impatient and focus-challenged individuals who are doing the best they can to grow up mentally, spiritually and emotionally. At any rate, here’s how it looks for me. I read approximately 4 different books each morning. Each one has a daily entry that is shorter than most of my blog posts I write. While I am reading I underline like crazy. I look up words I don’t understand or intrigue me. And I look up any references to bible verses that are highlighted. When I look those verses up, I truly love it if I have already underlined them in my bible (as if I were going to receive a prize or somthing).  I also read what comes before and after those verses  and occasionally end up reading a few chapters or other verses I have underlined around it. All that to segway into telling you about what I read the other day. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Just a brief description of what’s going on in John 20:26; You have probably heard the descriptor of someone who is skeptical or leary about something as being a “doubting Thomas”. This passage is where that phrase comes from. After Jesus was killed and came back from the dead, he appeared to a few of his disciples. Poor Thomas. He wasn’t there. So they told him about it and a paraphrase of what he said went something like “What-ever dudes. I’ll tell you what; I have heard these rumors already and seen the posts on Instagram. You know they can make anything look real with photoshop, right? But until I see him with my own eyes and touch the holes where they nailed him to that cross, I’m not buying it.” A week goes by and the disciples, including Thomas this time, are chillin’ in someone’s living room.

“And though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.”

And though the doors were locked…”. That’s the part that made me stop. Made me sob, actually. Because that is the God I believe in. Too often we picture Jesus as standing at the door of our hearts and knocking patiently. Wondering if we are home, hating to bother us with his measly gift of, um, forgiveness of sin and eternal life. This image probably comes from frequently abused verse about “behold, I stand at the door and knock” that is often used to entice someone to turn their life over to the care of God. Spoiler alert, that verse was writtent to a church full of Christians that needed to get it’s act together. It wasn’t about the heart of an individual who hadn’t met up with the wonder of God yet.

The God I believe in and am abandoned to, is not like a door to door salesman or a person who walks and knocks on neighborhood doors getting signatures to support his political agenda. He isn’t politely tapping while I hide behind the curtain, peaking out the window, hoping he gives up soon and moves on.

He’s a God who pursues. He knows we are home and He isn’t leaving until we open the door. He knows what He offers is not only free (to us, not at all to Him) but the best gift we could ever receive. His grace and love and mercy are indeed priceless. Too often we are resistant to letting Him in. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid. Sometimes it’s because we are selfish and want to live by our own Will. Sometimes, I think much of the time, it’s because we think we are not worthy of the gift. That we have screwed up too often and in ways that seem irreparable.

The God I believe in, not to frighten you, is one who will find a way in even though the doors are locked. He will go through a window or jimmy the dead-bolt or come down the chimney. He is what the English poet Francis Thompson called “The Hound of Heaven”. “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so God follows the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.” And even though, for a plethora of reasons, we try to hide and run and lose this Hound, He follows after, “unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.” (J.F.X. O’Conor)

You see, like a lover who knows without a doubt that you are destined to be together, God will passionately and fervently pursue you. You can run and hide and curse and reject, but those are hurdles He can handle. He is not hunting you down to punish or shame you. He is coming to bring the love, acceptance, peace and joy your have been looking for in other things or other people.

Dear friend-I hope you can feel my two hands on your cheeks as I hold your face close to mine and tell you with a tender and emphatic whisper-“though your doors are locked, He will find a way in. And that’s not a threat, it’s a beautiful promise.”

 

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Trash Talk

Our city has a pre-Christmas tradition. Since 1989 an event called the “Festival of Trees” takes place at the fairgrounds. Various local companies decorate (or hire someone to decorate) an artificial tree, and other companies purchase it for an exorbitant amounts of money which is then donated to a local hospital. There is always a theme. Some follow it and some don’t. But there is always one common thread, extravagance. Sometimes, the trees are so elaborate and over-the-top that you can’t even see the branches. We have been attending this as a family for the past 18 years, since our first-born was able to enjoy it. And though the themes change from year to year, there is one consistent reaction that have without fail. I want to go home and throw out all my Christmas decorations and start over.

Compared to the creativity and newness and modern decor displayed at the Festival of Trees, my house looks like a 2nd grade craft project gone bad. It looks like Christmas bomb went off, and most of the items are pushing 20+ years old. Let’s just take a little inventory as I sit in my living room. My chairs are adorned with two pillows that my mother-in-law cross-stiched (which I love, but are not exactly current decor). Moving around the room I see children’s Christmas books (belonging to my kids but also my husband and I from our childhood), 2 wooden Santas painted by my aunt in the 90’s, a stuffed stocking ornament I apparently thought I could handle making as a sewing-challenged college student, Holiday CD’s (with nothing to play them on), and then there’s the best one. Blocks of wood painted by yours truly that spell out N.O.E.L on one side and with snowmen painted on the other. They are unique because in my first house, the posts to my 4 poster bed were too tall for the ceiling (possibly because my first “house” was a trailer in married-student housing 🙂 ), so my husband’s grandparents and I carefully sawed off the ends to make it fit. I hated to throw them away, so I repurposed them.

In short, I compare my hodge-podge, dated and home-made decor to the glamour and sparkle and innovative decor of the Festival of Trees. But in the end, as I sit in my cozy living room surrounded by all this, I have to say that I love my house at Christmas. I really do. And by now I am sure you can see where I am going with all of this. Comparing myself to other people has always been a point of contention with me and God. I can quickly get caught in the trap of wishing I were someone different. Wishing my gifts were different. Or my circumstances were better and easier. Or that my kids were as successful as their kids seem to be. Or that I was as good of a writer or singer as that girl. Or that my thighs were as thin as hers. And those are just the ways I am discontent outwardly. There’s also the temptation to be dissatisfied with my innards. Hard on myself for my character defects and jealous that so-and-so doesn’t’ seem to battle with doubt or impatience or anxiety or fear.

But when I sit and read and pray and really listen to the voice of truth, I hear God whispering to me sweetly, that talk like that is trash. It is not from Him. His words to me is that he cherishes me for exactly who I am at this very moment. Sure, there might be some junk he might like to purge eventually, but as sit before Him right this very minute, I am valuable. I am valuable even though my decor is not sparkly or modern or expensive or well-placed. Even though most of me is more like my ornaments, made of felt and glue and popsicle sticks or Disney/Star Wars figures with missing or super-glued on arms, He loves me. He cherishes me. He does not wish I was someone different or more put-together. He would pay, and has paid, an exorbitant amount for this broken, aging, mis-matched soul. This is the very good news the angels brought at the first Christmas. And it is the very good news I bring to you, sweet friend, today. He loves you for exactly who you are and where you are as you sit and read this right now. Do you hear me? Right now.