Faith

From Darkness to Light

‘Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.’ 1 Corinthians 15:58

I don’t know about you, but, I suspect that, like me and many others I know, you might be tired. I mean mentally, emotionally, and physically fatigued. With everything going on in the world around us, that alone is enough to bring on the fatigue.

Just when things were on the verge of or starting to open up from the restrictions of the pandemic, there’s a spike cases and hospitalizations. Now things are tightening down again, as Oregon enters it’s 14th week of sheltering in and wearing masks. As a result of these pandemic related things, the national and local economies have been increasingly depressed with businesses closing (small business the most) and people losing their jobs, and the national unemployment at the highest it’s been since 1940. The protests for Black Lives Matter are entering their fourth week, having just passed Juneteenth, the celebration of the Emancipation of the slaves. Not to mention the victories and losses for our LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors. Plus, the Presidential election cycle and the polarized politicization of both the pandemic and the BLM movement.

It’s overwhelming and absolutely exhausting. Then you add in whatever is happening for you and your loved ones, as well as how these national events are affecting you on an individual level.

So, there’s a lot of confusion. There’s a ton of conflicting information and even more conflicting opinions. The focus of the news and the media is sensationalized and focused on the painful and negative. There’s very little constructive dialogue and there seems to be a constant, false dichotomy of “us vs. them” everywhere you turn.What do we do with all of this? How do we get some relief, some clarity? How do we get some rest, other than avoiding the media and becoming turtles withdrawing into our shells? How do we decide where to place our focus?

The passage that the verse above comes from is Paul speaking about Jesus and all that he did for us to have life and to look forward to. He’s offering us a foundational reason to keep moving forward and to keep doing good in this world, even when what is good seems to have gone on vacation. Even though the issues and things around us may seem too big and too much for each of us as individuals to make a difference in, anything we do to bring the light of Jesus and God’s love into the lives of the people around us is not in vain.

‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. ‘ Galatians 6:10

But, before we can do any of that, before we have anything to give, we have to allow ourselves a chance to rest, recharge, and fill up on that light and love ourselves.

‘“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”’ Matthew 11:28-30

Now is the time for rest, recharge, and renewal, so that we can reenter the world’s arena and face the things around us with hope and love to share.

‘Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.’ Philippians 4:8-9

It is imperative that we look for the good in the midst of the bad. It’s there. Look for the stories of those who are giving of themselves, the stories of the peacemakers, the stories of those who are offering comfort, and even those who are offering happy and joyful things in the midst of the sorrow and the tragedy. Many may argue that now is not the time for levity and laughter. I would argue that now, more than ever, is the time for us to take a break and seek these things out.

‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. ‘ Proverbs 17:22

If we don’t take a break from the darkness around us and seek the light, our soul dies bit by bit and our spirits become broken. That’s no way for anyone to live. That’s not the legacy that Jesus left us. He left us God’s Spirit to live in us, so that our spirits can live and thrive, and that so we can share that life with those around us.Take a break. Get some rest. Find a reason to smile and laugh. Then, take that out with you and reenter the fray so you can help others to have a break, take a rest, and have cause to laugh and smile.

What to do with the grief of others

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. ~ Romans 12:15 HCSB

How can we show up in the midst of pain and grief for our marginalized siblings in the world around us, when we have no idea what to do or say to them and what we CAN do feels futile in the face of the vitriol and intentional ignorance? How do we not wind up making our sense of ineffectiveness and futility more important than their experiences of violence and suffering?

The answer is to BE with them in their grief. Acknowledge and validate their anger. Learn why they fear the things we don’t. Share and celebrate the things and people they celebrate. Be willing to set aside your “stuff” to show them they and their “stuff” matters. In other words, treat them the way you want to be treated.

It may be challenging to look away from our own issues, circumstances, and experiences in order to look and see those of others, much less step into their world and be with them. But, it’s very much worth the effort to do so. We also have guidance on how to do this.

‘He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. ‘ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 HCSB

How do we receive comfort from God? Sometimes it’s an internal sense of peace or a lifting of the spirit, maybe a lessening of the pressure on our chest or the lessening of the restriction of our throat. Maybe it’s through a song, a poem, a meaningful writing, or piece of scripture. Perhaps a video or show. However, there are times when it is another person and their words, actions, or just them being present with us which contributes to the feeling of being comforted. Those are the things we can do and share, if they are something the person grieving is in a place to receive.

‘The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord ’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him. ‘ Isaiah 61:1-3 HCSB

Jesus came to do these things, show us how to do these things, and teach us to do these things so we can share and demonstrate the love he shared and demonstrated to us. This is how we can learn and know how to show up in the midst of the pain and grief, anger and fear, our marginalized and brutalized brothers and sisters experience.

Fight for the Oppressed

‘Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy. ‘ ~ Proverbs 31:8-9 HCSB

There is no way to avoid the fact that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are dispossessed, oppressed, and in need of justice, along with economic and social equity. We also know (or are coming to realize) the realities of white privilege, which is, ultimately, at the root of systemic and institutionalized racism in our nation.

The verse quoted above is the advice of a mother to her son, the king, the ruler of the people and the highest authority in the land.

‘It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine or for rulers to desire beer. Otherwise, they will drink, forget what is decreed, and pervert justice for all the oppressed. ‘ Proverbs 31:4-5 HCSB

We have been witness to, perhaps even complicit in, the perverted justice of the oppressed by the way we have supported or allowed the “rulers,” the people in power in our country – whether they be police or politicians corporate heads – the billionaires and millionaires, to manipulate, dictate, and enforce the laws and the tenets of Constitutional rights. Over the past week, especially the past few days, we have seen the evidence of this perversion of justice by the man who would be king, if he could.

‘“But woe to you Pharisees! You give a tenth of mint, rue, and every kind of herb, and you bypass justice and love for God. These things you should have done without neglecting the others.’ Luke 11:42 HCSB

As Jesus followers we have to be careful to ensure we are not placing things above people. Yes, we are to take care of things and steward them responsibly. That’s just what we’re supposed to be doing in the course of daily living. However, we are called to go above and beyond that and make justice for people, a form of loving God, a priority.

So, how do we do that?

Some of us have little to give in terms of material wealth and possessions. Some of us have compromised physical and/or mental health to be able to engage in “active” ways. Some of us are overwhelmed with the daily responsibilities and obligations we experience. Some of us are fighting for our own survival in ways we may not have shared with others.

In these instances, it may feel like we have little to nothing to offer. The truth is, we each have something to offer and something we can do.

First, we can educate ourselves. Research BIPOC writers and authors, filmmakers and educators. Find their books, blogs, movies, and classes.

Second, we can speak out and up on whatever platform we have, whether it’s on social media or in conversations with others.

Third, we can shop and eat at BIPOC owned businesses in support of their communities.

Fourth, volunteer. Whether it’s to make phone calls, write letters, sign petitions, or even provide office support, even if it’s only for an hour a week, it matters.

As always, we can pray. Pray for justice, equity, and protection of our BIPOC brothers and sisters. Pray for justice. Pray for the community, governmental, and corporate leaders to make the changes in themselves and in their areas of influence.

Here are some places to start:

 

Book Reading list

Netflix Anti-racism Movie Calendar

Netflix movies for anitracism

Legacy

‘Round and ‘round she goes
Freewheeling and spinning
Bouncing from thought to thought
From one thing to another

Up is down, down is up
Good is bad, bad is good
Riding the exhilarating waves
Crawling through the dark valleys

Always looking to be “fixed”
Always wanting a “fixer”
Needing control
Living in chaos
Dying in love

Her life is mine, as well
My children can attest
I fought like mad
Lashing out, relentlessly

Life on the edge
The art of the con
The good apprentice
Crumpled and abandoned

Obsessive plans
Frenzied achievement
Burned out
Crashed hard

Time and again
Rinse and repeat
Cycles within cycles
Antagonist and victim

The mind forgets
The body remembers
In the midst of anger
In the midst of turmoil
Conflicted life

Lost momentum
Lost joy
Lost hope
Lost self
Unmoored

Immovable mountains
Crashing and clashing
Awakened in conflict
Change begun

Spiritual awakening
Fortuitous convergence
Extraordinary and mundane
Unforeseen support
Asked, offered, given

Long and winding
Road of an epic journey
My strength is my weakness
Renewed and redeemed
Bridging the past and the present

From mother to daughter
Connecting the generations
A new future written
Shaped by what was
Walking into what will be

UBC 4/20 Day 11: Be the Church

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‘“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.’ ~ Revelation 2:19, NLT

God sees us and knows us. In times such as we are in now, God sees how we love each other and those in the world around us. God sees the faith we have, which enables us to get up and move another day in this world of worry, fear, and chaos. God sees the many ways we serve each other and others we encounter, whether in person (from 6 feet away) or virtually. God sees how we patiently deal with the difficulties we encounter in our isolation or during the times we must expose ourselves to others who may not be following the safety protocols in place. Finally, God sees how, despite our falling short and missing the mark in these things, we still do our best to get better at doing all these things.

If you’re anything like me, you know exactly when you’ve acted out of emotions and attitudes other than love. Maybe you think the worry, fear, anxiety, anger, and a myriad of other feelings mean your faith is lacking. Perhaps, you think there’s more you could and should be doing for others during this time of struggle that we and most around us are experiencing. Possibly cabin fever is setting in and the irritability with those you’re sheltered in with feels like it’s rising minute by minute, day by day. “Oh,” we might think to ourselves, “I’m kind of sucking at this thing called life right now,” because of these things.

Good news friends, we’re actually not failing. If we are considering these things, it means that we want to do better. We want to be better. We are making an effort, however minor it might feel, to grow and improve in all these ways. God sees this and knows this about us and that matters as much as when we get it right.

God is walking through this time with us. Maybe he’s carrying us because we can’t take another step forward, for whatever reason. The Holy Spirit is with us throughout it all teaching us and encouraging us. Jesus is with us, guiding our way, showing us how to do the things that matter most on this journey. We are not alone.

The Anchor Prayer
I rest in faith, trusting Father
I walk by faith, following Jesus.
I hear in faith, obeying Spirit.
In You I remain.

This is how we grow in our ability to see, hear, and know God in deeper ways. This is how we put one foot in front of the other and do the things which need to be done. This is how we grow into the people we are being called to be: people of love, faithfulness, service, and patience. This is how we “be the church.”

UBC 4/20 Day 6: Living

Reaching out, all I grasp is air.
Seeking what is not there.
Feeling the edges of despair.
Apathy says, “I don’t care.”

Opening my eyes, I see nothing.
Looking for one special thing.
Wanting a reason to sing.
Hope says, “Wait for spring.”

Walking into the void,
Fear being destroyed
I’m no longer paranoid.
Faith says, “Life’s to be enjoyed.”

Listening in the emptiness.
Hearing my inner distress.
I sense love’s caress.
“You are mine,” Divinity says.

lem 04/2020

UBC 4/20 Day 4: Sitting on Pins and Needles

Waiting.

Waiting is one of the most difficult things to do, I believe.

I got a phone call on Thursday from the gentleman I had interviewed with the day before. The gist of the conversation was that I was only waiting to be hired until they found the right placement for me. He said they had a couple of positions. One is full-time, but, it requires working on Sunday. The other one is part-time, 24 hours a week, but, it gives me Sundays off. I haven’t really been employed for seven and a half years, unless you count my recent and very short stint as an H & R Block Tax Preparer – which I don’t. Since I’m incredibly out of shape, physically and in terms of being mentally focused for eight hours a day, part-time is probably best. Starting off slow and working my way up seems to be the prudent course of action.

After that phone call, I was explaining the details to my friend, who I’ve been sheltering in with. She gave me an incredulous look when I told her I was turning a full-time position down because I wanted to keep my Sundays because that’s the primary day I connect with the people in my faith community. She proceeded to tell me that while the bible has a place where it says to keep the Sabbath holy, there’s also a place where it talks about gleaning and healing being done on the Sabbath. In other words, even though attending church on Sunday may be sacred and holy, it’s still permissible to do what needs to be done.

First off, for a lot of reasons, I happen to believe the actual, biblical day of Sabbath rest is Saturday. I won’t go into why I believe that, I just do. For years my faith community met on Saturdays. However, for a variety of reasons, we moved our service to Sunday nights. The structure of those nights is a key reason I don’t want to give up my Sundays. Even though in our current reality we can’t meet in person, we are using technology to ensure we stay connected with one another and worship together. Prior to this time of social distancing, we spent about three hours or so worhshipping, learning, eating, and talking together, as well as praying for each other.

Secondly, I’ve volunteered weekly to support the worship team and helped to set up the building for the service. That’s probably the most consistent thing I’ve done and the only real structure I’ve had in my life since 2012. Now that we’re doing virtual church, I’m participating in ways that support the new way we have to do things. So, I still have structure and routine in my life on this day. It’s a touchstone for me in a world upended on itself.

These two things mean that holding space on Sundays isn’t a mandatory religious routine dictated by the evangelical interpretation of biblical scripture. It is an act of self-care and a very important way of me taking care of my mental health. It gives me structure, routine, and connection to a supportive community of people who know and care about me, whom I care about and want to deepen my relationships with.

I tried to explain this to my friend. I don’t think she gets it. I suspet that she doesn’t completely approve. However, that’s her stuff, not mine and I’m grateful that I’ve reached this point in my recovery process that I don’t feel the need to keep explaining myself in an effort to get her understanding and approval. I know she loves me and cares about me even if I don’t make choices that align with her opinions.

So, I don’t have to feel like I’m walking on eggshells with her while I’m sitting on pins and needles trying to wait patiently to hear about the job.

UBC 4/20, Day 3: Enough

Yesterday, I ended the post stating that “Enough is enough. I am enough.” I want to share a little bit more about that and where I have been learning the truth of it, even if I haven’t fully internalized it, yet. Truthfully, due to the effects of “trauma brain” (not to be confused with Traumatic Brain Injury), I may never fully internalize this truth that I am enough. However, I can make choices and decisions about my life according to it. After all, feelings aren’t facts and facts aren’t changed by what we feel.

This past Sunday, the speaker at our Zoom church gathering shared her experience of visiting Rwanda for the first time and seeing one of the churches where the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 took place. It was a place of great betrayal, profound fear, deep sorrow, and mass murder. She spoke of the sights and smells and the horror and grief she felt walking through the church and seeing light streaming through all the bullet holes, as well as when she visited the mass grave behind the church. Then, she told us of the signs of new life in the literal life of young children from a school, not far from the church, and their laughter and joy of life.

Where is God in this?

Here’s what I believe: God doesn’t forget, push away, or hide from horror and sorrow, but, he gives it purpose and always brings renewal and new life, even if it doesn’t change or fix what has already happened.

He doesn’t cause the horror, but is in it with us. He doesn’t cause pain and suffering to demonstrate a truth about him, but he does reveal himself in it, through it, and after it.

Why is this an important belief of mine and how do I make decisions in my life with this belief in mind?

Six and a half years ago, just a month or so before the events that completely upended and changed the trajectory of my life, my pastor taught on the Five Declarations of Gratitude. Through this teaching, I really began believing that God is enough, therefore, I am enough…even in the midst of the bad things, the hard things, the painfully unimaginable things.

Here’s my interpretation of those Five Declarations of Gratitude:

The people around me are enough. I’m not only going through the painful and difficult times with God, I’m also going through it with others, and that is enough. I’m grateful for that.

The time I have is enough. I have this moment, with breath, consciousness, all my senses, and all I need to move through this moment. The next moment takes care of itself whether I’m worrying about too much or too little time. I’m grateful for this moment.

The same is true for what I have… scarcity and the fear of it comes from past experience and the potential of it in the future. Discomfort, perhaps pain, may happen, but, in this moment, I have what I need to get to the next one. This may not always be true, but, for now it is and I can be grateful for that.

I made it to this point. I have experiences, good and bad, which I’ve learned and grown through, skills I’ve gained, gifts I’ve been given, and the abilities to do what I can for myself and others. Regardless of the old tapes that tell me otherwise, I can get through this moment because I am enough. I can be grateful for myself and who I am today.

Above everything, God is enough because he’s in it and going through it with me. He was there in my past, I can count on him to be there in my future. Without him, NONE of those other things could ever be enough. For this, I am grateful.

So, knowing through scripture and experience how God takes what was to inform and redeem and get me through what is now, and knowing that on the other side He brings renewal and restores life, gives me the hope and will to take one more breath and one more step. Even in the midst of these times of uncertainty and fear throughout our world.

It’s that time again! April 2020 Ultimate Blog Challenge

First, let me start by saying, “This is NOT another pandemic blogging projecct.” When I first signed up for this month’s challenge, I was asked what my goal was. My response was to state that I want to write 30 posts that have nothing directly to do with the pandemic. I may refer to it, but, I won’t be discussing the politics of it, the projections, or a daily accounting of my time spent “sheltering in.” What I write about may not wind up being as interesting or light-hearted as it could be in this time of stress and fear. But, it is intended to be a different thing altogether.

Now that we have that out of the way, you may be wondering, “Lillian, what ARE your 30 blog posts going to be about, then?” The answer is, “I don’t know for sure.” Sounds strange, I know. However, I’m not a planner. Never have been. I’ve tried. Lord knows I’ve tried. I just don’t have it in me. Every time I create a plan, it falls through. You know the old adage, right? “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” Let’s just say that I tickle his funny bone whenever I attempt to make a plan.

What I do know is that there could be poetry or short stories. You might run into something like a devotional, refering to biblical scripture. However, it will likely be a combination of me processing my mental health stuff or discussing mental health stuff. It also might be a record, of sorts, about my search for employment and, hopefully, me adjusting to a job. For the moment, though, let me introduce myself, for those who don’t know me or who need a quick catch up.

I’m a 50 year old mom and grandma. My children are currently 11, 26, and 33. My grandchildren (by the 26 year old) are currently 6, 5, 2, and due in two weeks. The 11 year old experiences the world through the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. Due to her behavioral issues and my mental health issues, I recently had her go live with her father. I have all kinds of feels about that and some of that subject may show up this month. My 26 year old daughter is pregnant with baby #4. Her family of five, soon to be six, are living in my tiny 2 bedroom apartment, along with a dog and a cat. Anecdotes and feels about things related to that may also appear here. As for my 33 year old, he’s married and living with his wife, doing his own thing. There will proably be little reference to him, unless it relates to our history.

I also live with a bipolar brain that has been shaped by trauma. So, I have diagnoses of Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, Depression, and Binge Eating Disorder. I just started weekly therapy with a trauma therapist. I was blessed with a gift of 6 – 12 months of this therapy by my faith community, otherwise known as “church.” So, there could be a LOT of me processing through my mental health challenges this month.

I haven’t been employed for a little over seven and half years, except for a recent, very brief stint with H & R Block. I took their income tax preparation course last fall, and barely survived it. I also took a three month Peer Support Specialist class, followed by a 10 week Peer Wellness Specialist class, which I completed on Friday, March 13th. The last day I worked at H & R Block was March 16th. I have to obtain my Peer Wellness Specialist Certification through the OHA – Oregon Health Authority before I can actually get a job doing that work. Right now the OHA is pretty occupied and they already took 3 – 6 months to process those applications before the current health crisis. In the meantime, I need an income. So, I applied for a grocery store position, thinking it would be a good bridge job while I go through the hurry up and wait process. But they decided to “pursue other applicants.”

On Monday I applied for a Direct Care position in a mental health group home situation with the community behavioral health organization I took my Peer training through and have been receiving services with for almost a year. The next day, yesterday, they did a phone interview with me. I have a video interview with them today. Wish me luck.

This month promises to be quite the journey, or at least the first chapter of this new book in my life. I’m happy to have the company while it gets written. Thank you for joining me.

Blocked

I feel like my brain went on vacation and forgot to take me with it. There’s just a hodgepodge of feelings, thoughts, and experiences from the past several weeks, swirling in my psyche. I didn’t really know what or how to write about it. So, I started where I was and followed where it led.


When my mind is blank
and my vision dim;
my heart is heavy
and my soul is grim.

When my words are lost
and my mouth silent;
my lungs are empty
and feelings are violent.

Avoid and evade
the sorrow and pain.
Numb the body
Disconnect the brain.

This half life
I do not want.
Yet, in this moment
my will is daunt.

The tank is empty.
The drive is gone.
It’s time to rest
and wait the dawn.

Open the heart
and clear the mind;
heal the soul
and mend the blind.

Love lives in me,
a spiritual well
I forget to drink,
my thirst to quell.

Reach deep within
Touch the eternal
Connect with love
Fraternal

Grasp the vine
In him abide
Mind, heart, soul
Full life betide.