Faith/Spirituality, fear, Patience/waiting, resentment

Waiting for Christmas (to be over?)

We are in the Advent season. In this case, Advent is a religious term meaning “expectant waiting”, in case you have heard that term your whole life and are embarrassed to admit that you don’t know what that actually means. Specifically, it refers to the days of December leading up to Christmas. I love how author Jan Richardson eloquently puts it; “Advent is a dance set to the rhythm of waiting.”

As I read about Advent last week, I was a taken aback by my reaction. It went something like “Oh I’m waiting alright. Waiting for Christmas to be over!”. Maybe it’s because I am the slightest bit tired of the work required to redecorate my entire house for a month’s enjoyment. And maybe it’s a tiny bit about the fact that my kids are teenagers now and doing the usual Christmas tradition activities are a chore to them ( Looking at lights with mom and dad? Boring. Going to Festival of trees? Yawn. Frosting sugar cookies? Laborious. Hanging Christmas ornaments? Tedious.) It’s also possible that the past few Christmas’s haven’t gone swimmingly and my expectations for this time of year aren’t necessarily as hopeful as I wish they were at Christmas. Sometimes I feel like I am just holding my breath, tying to “make it through” without incident or trauma (like Leukemia, for example…).

Maybe you have a similar something going on. When kids are little and excited it can be contagious. It definitely helps distract from what our hearts tend to reflect on during the holidays. The Christmas season, like no other season, definitely embodies the words of the famous Christmas carol, “the hopes and fears of all the years” that circle and weigh and even haunt us. Our expectations are either through the roof (I mean, after all, look around at all these happy people going to parties and spending extravagantly and baking cookies with and for their friends and family) or they are in the pit (Christmas means disappointment, poor behavior from relatives, relational strain, or painful memories of the year our parent lost a job or we lost a parent or our parents split up, or or or…) . Nothing ignites our fear (what if this Christmas isn’t like those of Christmas past? Or what if it is?) and confounds our hopes (should we dare to hope for joy, celebration, or the feelings of “Christmas spirit?) like the ringing in of the first Christmas song in the department store the day after Thanksgiving. It has begun. How much longer before it can be over?

Even though many of us or “waiting for Christmas to be over”, most of us don’t really want to live that way. We long to have that childlike anticipation about Santa coming or what’s inside that weird-shaped box under the tree. I don’t know if it’s really possibly for us to recapture that kind of enthusiasm, but I do believe that with a little, or large, tweak in our attitude and approach to Christmas, we can learn to enjoy it in a fresh way this year. And I am talking mostly to myself…

So here’s one thought…let’s take the words of “Oh little town of Bethlehem” one step further. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” It is my belief, though clearly I struggle keeping it at the forefront of my life, that God came in human flesh at Christmas to fulfill my hopes and squelch my fears. Because he came, I can dare to hope. Hope for a different future, hope for a softer spirit, hope for a fresh start, hope for new patterns of living that produce a life I can embrace and cherish. And I can give him my fear. He came to cast out our fear of the future and also our fears created by the failures and damage done by us or to us in our past.

This doesn’t have to be a season we merely endure so we can get on with the new year. This can be a season of healing and gratitude if we take the time to remember what the gift of Christmas truly is: God in flesh. Who fills everything in every way. Advent, the waiting, can be a time to suspend all that is ordinary and bleak, and hover over the truth of what we can expect with confidence this Christmas: that God didn’t just enter our world as a baby on that first Christmas, he stayed. God is with is. Immanuel. And he is in the business of making us whole and feel wholly loved. Giving us hope, and casting out fear.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, identity, insecurity, resentment, Serenity, Trust

My “past-life”

In my “past-life”, August was always an exciting month. For many years our church was a part of being a host site for the annual Global Leadership Summit. A couple of those years I was able to travel and attend the live event in Chicago that was simulcast around the world. The energy of thousands of leaders in one place was electric and exhilarating! It was right up my motivational alley. Over the years, I have heard speakers like Rick Warren, John Maxwell, Seth Godin and even Bono! World changers and influencers of the highest caliber. When I wok up this morning, I felt a bit nostalgic, and then sad, and upon further reflection (with a few tears and extensive reading/meditation), grateful.

I haven’t been a part of these Summits or of the church world as I used to know it for about 6 years now. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, in his book Falling Upward, takes the reader on a journey “to give us understanding of how the heartbreaks, disappointments, and first loves of life are actually the stepping stones to the spiritual joys that the second half of life has in store for us.” I believe this because I have lived this. Not just in the ways my “outer” world changed: losing a church family support system virtually over-night, waging war on addiction in our family system, down-sizing my home by half, and entering the work force full-time after 10 years of stay-at-home-mom employment. Oh, and at about the time I was able to accept and embrace this “new normal”, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. No need to expand on the ramifications of that

I am not telling you those things to try to get sympathy. I am telling you because as I have reflected on the “me” I was in the “first-half” of my life and the “me” I am now, I know without question that my soul is stronger, more peaceful, more aware of God’s plan in the world, more compassionate, and most definitely less judgmental, self-grandiose, ego driven and “works” oriented. I am learning to live content with where I am at, both physically ( my body, my house, my city, my job, etc.) and spiritually (my soul-level components that will forever need morphing and tweaking, for as long as I live). And I know that this way of living, a new and better way, has come to me through the “necessary sufferings” of failure, sin, disease, and great and heavy loss.

Even though I would never choose to re-live those circumstances and situations that rooted out the character defects and instilled in me a new and different valuation model for success, I also don’t wish them away or resent them. I know that I know that I know that they are the very tools used chip away all that I didn’t need to get to the shape and splendor of what was underneath. The real and true Me.

I haven’t “arrived”. Don’t get me wrong. And, lest you think I am bragging about this “transformation”, please refer to previous blogs where I confess to such insanities as resenting an entire town because someone who hurt me lives there and how I have had to refrain from running mean people down with my car. 😡😜 This change certainly didn’t happen over night. It has taken me years to make any noticeable progress. There is much more whittling that needs to be done. I haven’t payed my “disaster dues” so that it will now be smooth sailing from here on out. But like I said, the Me of my “past-life”, which is still a valuable me and was exactly where I was supposed to be at the time, looks very different than the Me of today, at least from the inside out. If you knew me before, you may or may not see the difference, depending on how close we were then and are now.

That Leadership Summit really takes me back to the days when I thrived on thriving. The more excitement and rubbing shoulders with important people and having connections with influential leaders the better. I wanted to be part of that world so badly. I desperately longed for and prayed for and expected God to do “big things” through me. My dreams and goals were huge and I carried a lot of unrest and fear and frenzy about whether those things would ever actually happen. How could I go on if they didn’t? I didn’t want to fail God by just being “average” or “ordinary”. That was for spiritual sissies!

Well, as luck, and fate, and Life would have it, my world flipped upside down and Hallelujah-I don’t have to live that way anymore. In the after-life of the after-math, I don’t worry about being enough for God or others. I know God accepts and loves me where I am and that gives me the perspective to care less about being enough for others. I prefer to serve special ed pre-schoolers or visit one-on-one with someone battling the diseases of addiction or cancer or plagues of the heart. I don’t care if my friends are influential or rich or in shape. I look for friends who are honest and authentic and full of faith but I also love to be available to extend God’s grace to those who are angry with God and people and can’t seem to get themselves together. Really, whoever God puts before me from day to day. Whether it’s a Soul-Selfie reading where people are complimentary and kind or with a client who is grouchy and difficult and rude. My only job is to keep my side of the street clean and serve whoever comes my way.

As a result of how God and I have worked through and walked through heartache, loss, betrayal, change (oh, so much change), trials, and a literal near-death experience, I can look back with fondness and gratitude for where I am today. For who I am today. Pain and sorrow can either make you bitter or better. With God’s help and grace, I chose, and choose, better.

My hope and prayer is that, today, you will choose better too.

Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness, grace, Relationships, resentment

Turbo resentments

I am a spontaneous person. That is sometimes good. Sometimes not so good. When I write, it is a little of both. As a general rule, I sit on my couch in the morning, praying and reading and listening to what God is directing me to write about. It is usually more than obvious. Once in awhile I have ideas as I am going through the rest of my day. I have a notebook that I grab and jot down the basics and save it for a future date. Then, when I experience that topic in some way, I go to my notes, pull it up and expand on it. Today is one of those days. My notes were written down awhile ago, but yesterday, a conversation with a friend brought it to my mind so I feel like the time has come to put it on “paper”. I am pretty sure it’s just a coincidence that most of the topics I have “saved for a later date” are ones that involve embarrassing stories about how I think or what I have said or done in the past…

It will come as no surprise to you that I struggle on occasion with resentments and forgiveness. I may have mentioned it once or twice in previous blogs. But about a month ago, I discovered a special, new kind of resentment. I have even coined a name for it: Turbo Resentment. Let me tell you about how I realized I harbored a couple of them.

I am a realtor, so I was driving through a small town showing houses. There happen to be a few people from this town who I have felt especially hurt and betrayed by. I have done quite a bit of work to forgive them and release my anger regarding the events that happened. I truly though I was doing ok with this. I hadn’t thought about any of it for a long time, until I drove through their town. Near there houses. Past places we used to go together. It all came flooding in and I had this very rational thought: “I hate this town.” Yep. The whole town. I pray you don’t live there. I was ready to write off the whole community based on the pain I felt just driving through it. I called my husband, because even though I felt wound up, I also found it semi-comical that was holding onto to so much unforgiveness that I was incorporating an entire town in the offenses. I told him about how I was feeling and that I was aware it was pretty messed up. And then, I saw the car. There is a certain car that one of those offenders drives that when I see one, I think, “I truly hate red hyundais” (that’s actually the kind of car I drive-the name of the actual car has been changed for obvious reasons). I called my husband back and told him that by the way, I also hate this type of car. He told me that I may have a problem. I concur.

These are a couple examples of Turbo Resentments. Do you have any of your own, or am I the only weirdo out there? Have you ever avoided a restaurant because that’s where so and so works or where you used to go together before they hurt you? So much of what we experience is wound up in other people. Either good memories or bad ones can be connected to everyday objects, sounds or smells (see blog on “Smells ring bells”). Do you feel angry when you hear that certain song, reminding you of how a relationship that was significant ended in betrayal? Do you hate a particular cologne or perfume because a friend who became your enemy wore it? Do you transfer your disgust to perfect strangers when they exhibit the same character defects as your ex?

Our strong and usually unreasonable reaction to neutral people, places and things is a sign that we might not be as “free” as we thought we were. Maybe we only think we have forgiven because we aren’t in regular contact with them. We think we are fine until we start sweating and feel our heart rate rise when we are triggered by something random that takes us back to the source of the pain. We realize there are clearly remnants, the sludge of the grudge, lurking in our hearts. Even though you, and I, don’t recognize on a regular basis, it effects our serenity. Our ability to be free. To move forward in peace with ourselves and with others.

I have said this before but it bears repeating, “forgiveness is no favor. We do it for no one but ourselves.” If we want to be free of bitterness and underlying anger, we have to forgive fully. Root it all out. I truly believe that it is not an option to hate people. It is a complete anti-god state of mind. I never allow my kids to say hate about anyone. i barely let them say it about food or the like. That’s how much I hate the word hate. But, somehow I have let myself off the hook about hating towns and cars. That somehow seems acceptable. But lets face it, we all know it’s just a cover up for hating the actual people. It’s just not OK with me to hate people, so I hate where they live and what they drive instead. Somehow, I don’t think God sees them as all that different, and my heart still suffers from the same angst.

Living with resentments is hard enough. Harmful enough. Detrimental enough. But if you aren’t feeling the freedom that comes with forgiving those you feel hurt by, maybe you are nursing some Turbo Resentments. Take a look at that today. Maybe it’s never occurred to you that you are still in bondage them.

Don’t hate me (or my city or my car) for bringing this to your attention 😉