Jesus

What if…?

Yesterday’s guest speaker spoke about sabbath, rest. She and I had talked earlier in the week about the subject, since I was the one leading last night’s discussion. Our conversation has been on my mind ever since.

After our conversation, I went to my R.E.S.T. group therapy class. I don’t actually know what that acronym stands for. I just know it’s a class about Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I find it coincidentally interesting that immediately after a discussion of “rest” as part of faith practice I would attend a class titled “REST.”

In class we talked about seeking happiness inducing experiences as part of managing our mental health issues. I think the two go hand in hand: rest and pleasure.

Rest means different things to different people and things which bring pleasure to one person are not the same as what brings pleasure to another.

What we, as Christians do know is that the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath, at least according to Mark 2:27.

Another name for The Most High, The Almighty, The Lord, God is Abba or Father.

Now, if you’ve experienced the trauma of religious abuse or an abusive or neglectful relationship with your own father, this will be difficult, painful, or impossible to relate to, which is totally understandable and reasonable. I’m not trying to force feed my beliefs or faith on anyone. I’m simply saying what it means to me. You have free will and get to decide for yourself. No judgment. All are welcome here.

I never had a relationship with my own father. Nor has my life ever afforded me much of a sense of safety, an ability to rest, or experiences of delight. I didn’t grow up attending church, and I have had religion used against me and to manipulate me. It’s taken me a long time and a LOT of mental health healing to get here.

So, I find myself contemplating what it means to be a child of God, resting in his arms, and taking delight in him.

What if our hearts’ true desires are to be known completely and loved unconditionally? What if being fully known and wholly loved is our refuge and our shelter? What if what allows us to rest and let go of the tension, worry, and fear is a sense of safety? What if being rested opens our senses to be able to experience delight? What if this is what it means to become “as a little child?”

What if we could believe that God lives in us? What if we believed God is love? What if we believed God encompasses time and eternity?

Would all of this mean that we have constant access to God, who can fill us with love, offer safety, shelter, and rest, who can enable us to experience delight in the eternity of each moment in time…even in the midst of all the trials and pain?

What if…?

30 Day Writing Challenge – Days 8 & 9: Learning to Soar

Day 8 – What’s next?
Day 9 – How would your life be different if you were intentional about ___________?

I sat and considered, “What next?”
I was baffled and confused,
directionless and faltering.
Then, life happened
and I stopped thinking about it.

“Rolling with the punches;”
Taking life “one day at a time;”
Living “step by step,” and
“Putting one foot in front of the other,”
have been my mantras for survival.

Guess what? I have survived…my past, my life.
I’m good at surviving, but I am beyond just that.
I’m past these mantras. They’ve served me well.
They hinder me, now. They’re holding me back.
It’s time to learn new rhythms, new words.

What if I take a risk and choose to do
something more than get by?
What if I “step up and step out” and
“grab for the brass ring;”
“live each day by choice, not by chance?

How will my life be different if I
go beyond being “comfortably numb,”
adopt new mantras to live by, and
develop a, “new attitude?”
How can I affect a “change for the better?”

I can’t do this alone and, thankfully, I’m not.
The source of all life, light, and love resides in me.
What if I “seek first” to “watch, fight, and pray?”
What if I anchor myself throughout each day to
rest, walk, and hear by faith, mindful in each moment?

I will find new purpose, faith, and courage.
I will move through the self-doubt and fear.
I will head in a new direction, gaining
confidence along the way.
I will learn to “soar above the waves.”

©️2019 lem

Writing Prompt: Photo Challenge

In the midst of the stars
His hands with the scars

Encompass the world
Father’s breath, His Word

Our best gift from above
Holds us with greatest love

Whether you think it true
His healing love is for you

The Power of Belief: What do you believe? What do I believe?

Heavenly Minded Earthly Good

There is a difference between what you know, what you want to believe, and what you actually do believe. The stormy, swirling grey area in between those three things is probably where I’ve spent the majority of my adult life.

Recently, I have come to the conclusion that having the knowledge and information does not necessarily imbue those facts with belief. The opposite is also, quite painfully at times, true – facts and knowledge do not have to be present for belief to exist. This is probably the seemingly ever widening chasm between people who ascribe to a spiritual belief system and those who are adamantly athiestic.

Apathy Fuels Athiesm

Apathy Fuels Athiesm

Recently my friend and pastor, Marc Alan Shelske, posted a writing prompt based on this article, Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity. As I read through the article, I found myself identifying on a deeply personal level with the stories of the young Athiests in the article. Like many of them, I had attended church, however briefly and sporadically, in my youth. Like them, the superficial lessons of childhood didn’t transition well into my teen and young adult years and by the time I was in my early 20’s, I was adamantly opposed to religion, church attendance, and being evangelized – so much so that I even was skeptical and resistant to the most earnest and sincere of secular marketing and networking efforts and attempts. I turned into a modern, female version of Frank Sinatra, determined to do it and have things, “My Way.”

The thing that I came to understand and believe about myself, very early on, was that I wasn’t enough. Despite my intelligence, my ambition, and the potential that I thought I had, which others seemed to also see, I wasn’t enough. Or, to be more accurate, I was too much. I was too overwhelmed with an inability to handle my own thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses to stress, obstacles, other people’s stuff, and the consequences of my own wrong choices. No matter how hard I danced, regardless of how much information and knowledge I accumulated, in spite of learning correct and appropriate behavior, I just continued making one wrong choice after another, for all the right, and wrong, reasons, digging myself ever and ever deeper into depression, despair, isolation, and dysfunction.

Religious platitudes only alienated me and triggered shame, anger, and denial. Spiritual and Secular attitudes of judgment and superiority just put me on the defensive and caused me to isolate, withdraw, and keep moving in search of compassion instead of pity, guidance instead of rules, acceptance instead of criticism, validation instead of being constantly questioned and told how misguided, mistaken, and misaligned I was.

Somehow, somewhere, in the midst of it all, the childhood refrain that “Jesus loves me,” and that:

Jesus Loves The Little Children

Jesus calls the children dear,

“Come to me and never fear,

For I love the little children of the world;

I will take you by the hand,

Lead you to the better land,

For I love the little children of the world.”

Refrain

Jesus loves the little children,

All the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white,

All are precious in His sight,

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

reached through all the chaos, conflict, confusion, and pain inside of me and outside to keep me coming back, like a stray cat needing care but too sketchy to trust touch, time after time.

Last weekend, Marc taught on the book of Ephesians and what “church” means. Check it out on YouTube. As I was sitting there and listening to what he was saying, I was reminded that someone once taught that the early Christian church of believers didn’t have an understanding or belief in what we now accept as part and parcel of Christianity – the eternal afterlife of heaven and hell. I could be wrong, but I personally believe more in the Eastern Orthodox take on it, “The Eastern Orthodox church teaches that heaven and hell are being in God’s presence[38][39]which is being with God and seeing God, and that there no such place as where God is not, nor is hell taught in the East as separation from God.[40] One expression of the Eastern teaching is that hell and heaven are being in God’s presence, as this presence is punishment and paradise depending on the person’s spiritual state in that presence.[38][41] For one who hates God, to be in the presence of God eternally would be the gravest suffering.[42][43][44].”

This belief, my own life experiences, and the teaching from Marc, leads me to believe that walking out my belief in God and Jesus, means that each moment, of each day, I do my best to operate out of the knowledge and belief in grace, love, compassion, empathy, hope, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in spite of, and sometimes even because of, things that are painful, hurtful, heinous, unjust, criminal, and devastating. Especially in response to those whose words, actions, thoughts, and beliefs drive those things. I have been such a person and if I have received all those things, I must do my very best to offer the gifts I have received.

Offering prayer is nice, but being present, engaged, invested, and even sacrificing personal comfort and desire for the sake of another’s need speaks louder than me chosing to debate whether someone else’s beliefs are right or wrong as compared to my own.

Faith, Belonging, and Community

It is no secret that I have struggled with being in relationship and community with others. I have struggled with myself, God, my family of origin, my children, friends, co-workers, acquaintances. Relationships have never been my strong suit.

It has been a lifelong struggle to feel like I belonged somewhere, anywhere.

The primary relationship I had with my mother was difficult and detached. I now understand that it was her own attachment and depression issues that created the emotional and psychological distance between us. Being disconnected from my mother, not having my father, continually moving and changing schools every year or two, and then no longer having any relationship with my mother and being under the guardianship of my uncle whose relationship skills and relationships with all of us around him were impaired and dysfunctional, meant that from a very early age and going all the way through adolescence, there was no relational tether to any one person or community that taught me I belonged.

I became the girl who tried too hard, stood too close, interrupted, talked too much, always had the answer, reacted too easily, and eventually acted out my pain by either getting too physical or using my words and intellect to establish dominance and superiority. When the going got tough, I got going and let go of the people who should have and could have been my strongest supporters because I believed that no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I tried – rescuing, fixing, having the answers, being the problem solver – it was never going to be enough to fit in. I didn’t fit in with the rebels and screw-ups because I wanted to do good and be better. I didn’t fit in with the achievers and winners because I was too guarded and unable to believe in my own worth and value.

I’ve spent the last 20+ years trying to be accepted, be loved, and be included. All the while, the things I tried to make it happen just fell short and I pushed away and let go of those who wanted to be there for me. I chased after the relationships with those who I thought would accept me because of the value I could be to them. Meanwhile, the critical relationships with my children and other family members were neglected and damaged in ways similar to how mine had been damaged by the adults in charge of me. None of whom were any more available or capable emotionally and psychologically than I have been.

The ENTIRE time, there has been One who has chased me down in so many ways, with so many faces, time, after time, after time to convey to me that I am loved, I am known, I am accepted, I am understood, and I belong.

Marc Shelske, the pastor of Bridge City Community Church, has been doing a teaching series on Ephesians and I have had the privilege of being present the past two weeks to hear his insights in person. Thankfully, when I need to revisit and recall what was shared, these messages can be found on the Bridge City Media YouTube channel.

Last week he talked about the fact that Zombies are biblical concepts and not just a current entertainment trend. It was very enlightening and a good reminder of things I’ve known intellectually, but never internalized on a personal level. This was the “before” picture of how I have operated with my lack of personal understanding and acceptance of God’s grace and mercy for me, in my life.

He continued the conversation this week and spoke about the “after” picture. What he described was exactly what has been happening inside of me, in my life, and in my relationships over the course of the past year and a half or so.

“As we get closer to God, we have the capacity to get closer to other people.” ~ Marc Schelske, 5/18/13, Bridge City Community Church

I was “saved” when I was 8 years old. I’ve been being “saved” my whole life. I’ll be 44 next month and I’m just now internalizing that being “saved” isn’t about not doing wrong or doing good, but it’s about God’s absolute acceptance and love for me because I am His creation, and that creation is not static, but an ongoing work of art, displaying and revealing the character and nature of God, the artist.

As I have allowed these realizations and understandings to sink into my being, without me having to work and strive through my own efforts, God has been closer to me, naturally and organically. As I have grown in my ability to just accept that God is with me and present in every aspect of my life, no matter what, my ability to connect and reconnect in relationship with others has been improving.

I started with the internet and the online communities available here in the blogosphere and on Facebook, with people who didn’t know me or my past who I felt safe exposing my self and my truths to. Slowly, others who have known me and shown me they care and want to be in relationship with me have gotten to know this part of my identity.

The lines are now blurred and I am fully engaged in supportive online communities which include people I see and engage with in person, in significant and meaningful ways. It is also increasing my connection to others who sincerely care, accept, and include me as part of their community, simply because I accept that I belong, I AM because GOD IS.

Pre-forgiveness: Continuing the conversation

A few days ago, I posted a SUPER long post about forgiveness in response to a writing prompt from my friend, Marc Schelske. Later he requested I respond to the post he had written, “OK, I admit it. I hate forgiveness too,” as a result of responses he had received regarding his original post, Does the church hate forgiveness? (Like Jonah).

He talked about things, which I think we all struggle with, Christian or non. Things like holding onto woundedness and the need to have the offending party “pay the price” or “feel the pain” for the original offense.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve spent a lot of my life caught up in that kind of thinking.

As a teenager, having “lost” my mom when I was twelve years old and being in my uncle’s custody, a lot of things that shouldn’t have happened did and a lot of things that should have happened didn’t. I was made to be responsible for and exposed to things that a young teenager should be insulated and sheltered from, in an ideal world.

I wanted out. I wanted away from my “white trash” beginnings and the dysfunction of weird, convoluted relationships, alcohol and substance use and abuse. I wanted to have a life where I didn’t have to move every year or two and try to integrate into a new school with new kids. I wanted to be involved on the flag team, the gymnastics team, and the dance team. I wanted him to show up and care, to fill out the forms, attend the events, and offer me support and encouragement for the things that meant something to me.

He wasn’t able to do those things, for a lot of reasons I couldn’t see or understand.

I watched him pursue and engage in toxic and co-dependent relationships with bent, broken, and damaged people while neglecting his responsibilities to me and to my baby cousin. I watched my grandmother take responsibility for us when she wasn’t well enough to do so. For a brief period of time, which felt like forever to my 15/16 year old self, I handled parenting and life responsibilities, which were his, because he was absent. Yet, when he showed up, I was subject to his authority.

It was bewildering, infuriating, and absolutely unfair. I desperately wanted to graduate from high school, get my college degree, and leave everyone and everything I was going through far, far behind me.

Instead, I wound up running away from home at 16 and became a mom at 17. Then I had a second child when I was 24.

I repeated all of the same patterns and made similar choices that passed on the damage I had experienced to my children. All the while I held onto the stories of what I had gone through with all the resentment, bitterness, judgment and unforgiveness which had become imedded in my heart, mind, and soul.

I watched myself say and do things that wounded and harmed people I loved with all my heart and I fought as hard as I could, trying to change the direction of our lives. Church, counseling, education, and 12 Step Recovery processes (secular and faith-based). None of it ever seemed to change what I was doing or what I was experiencing.

When my son was about fifteen years old, he chose to move out of my home because of how overwhelmingly dysfunctional and painful it had become. I saw myself and my uncle and the things that had transpired between us. It was then I realized, the harm he’d done had happened because he, himself had been wounded and damaged, and that he did not know any better than I did how to make the changes that needed to be made.

In the last eleven years, I have learned to do two things, partly as a result of the 12 Steps:

Make-life-easier-assume

1. AIM – Assume Innocent Motive: Whenever someone, anyone, says or does something that affects me in a painful and destructive manner, I think over all the times I have done the same, without ill intent but just because I was too screwed up to do different. I know that, most of the time, whatever it is that has been done was not intended to cause me harm. Yes it still hurts, but it helps me to let go of the false belief that their choices and behavior are about me.

SEEK-FIRST-TO-UNDERSTAND

2. Understanding. By seeking to understand who the other person is, where they are coming from, and the things that are informing and driving their behavior, I am able to let go of expectations for them to be other than who they are.

Finally, it has taken me the better part of the last 17 months to work through a lot of deeply rooted guilt, shame, bitterness, and resentment. It has been a long and arduous journey to truly believe and receive in the forgiveness of God through Jesus. Until I could internalize that, I was filled with self-hatred and unforgiveness of myself.

What Jesus did on the cross, the plan that God set in motion from the foundation of the world was a supreme act of Pre-Forgiveness. Once I understood that, I began to choose, in advance, that whatever pain and suffering I experienced at the hand of others, especially those I love, I was going to forgive and let go of. I love them. I want them in my life. I want them to know that, no matter what, I am not going to forsake or abandon them as I have done before. I am going to be with them in all ways, the way Jesus promised to be with me, with us, always.

Meditation: God Can

20130203-182812.jpg

Last month, I addressed the first of the Twelve Steps: Admitting powerlessness and the recognition that life is out of control when practicing addiction and habits, rehearsing and replaying hurts, and staying stuck in hang-ups. For me this meant I had to recognize my powerlessness over the loved ones in my life and how they relate to one another, or if they decide to relate at all. I had to accept that the fibromyalgia and depression are physiological factors I am unable to ignore or wish away. I even had to open my eyes and understanding to realize there is still another layer to my personal brand of insanity which alternates with the depression as a mild form of mania, and it has effects I have refused to see or acknowledge, until recently.

This much powerlessness, and the admission of it, can feel overwhelming and hopeless. However, it is only the first step in a journey that leads to living a life energized with hope.

The Twelve Step program(s) do not prescribe or dictate who or what Higher Power those of us seeking hope and an end to our endless cycling of addiction, compulsive behaviors, and destructive relationships with ourselves and others are to seek and follow. Merely that we admit and recognize that there is a Power Greater than ourselves able to do what we have not, restore us to sanity.

For myself, that Higher Power does come from my cultural setting and my initial understanding, as a child, that Jesus loves me and God has the whole world in His hands. However, I also believe that God is bigger than the boxes of various religions and that He/She/It chooses when, how, and in what form to connect and relate to people.

That being said, I have struggled, a lot, over the years, with my faith and practice in believing or trusting God in my life. I am definitely one of those people who tends to lean on their own understanding, focusing on the storms of life, and immersing myself in the worries, fears, and frustrations of the circumstances in my life and conditions of daily living. For a long time I felt guilty for those things. I kept hearing messages that implied or outright stated that I was willfully choosing to thwart God’s will and presence in my life by giving into these aspects of my inner nature and personality. Now, I’m coming to understand that God understands and accepts these things in me and that He knows my struggles, doubts, and fears. He is carrying me through all of these things in my life.

He is an ever present source of strength, courage, and inspiration. Even when I can’t see, feel, or hear Him, He is here with me. My inability to perceive His presence does not mean He is absent. My inclination to forget His character of love and instead to believe the lies and doubts, which are based on my interactions with other people and my own unstable emotions and imperfect thoughts, doesn’t mean that He is unstable, imperfect, or untrustworthy.

“To receive my Peace, you must change your grasping, controlling stance to one of openness and trust. The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My hand . . . You will never run out of things to worry about, but you can choose to trust Me no matter what.” ~ Jesus Calling, p. 38

I lived a life of hopelessness in the midst of being overwhelmed with the pain and fatigue of the depression and fibromyalgia. It was a hopeless existence to think I would be able to control and manipulate the people in my life into accepting and loving me or each other. Being stuck in the unresolved sorrow of the troubles and trials of my early life and how I kept cycling through the uncontrollable highs and lows of thought and emotion without being able to exert control over my own spikes and dips made it easier to despair than hope.

Yet, hope, is not a feeling. Hope, like Love, an action, a decision, and a characteristic of God, whose presence is inside of me as much as any of the other things which have been in control of my mind and my life.

The revelation I have had is this: pain, misery, despair, and all the negative, evil things that exist inside of my mind and in this world cannot and will not overcome hope. Hope keeps me believing that life is worth living, despite the pain and fatigue. Hope keeps me moving forward, even after I have traveled in circles and wound up back in the same places I’ve visited and lived before. Hope is more powerful than a wish, because Hope is an action, a choice, and a decision. Hope is part of the character of God and that means it is part of my character as well.

I now move from powerlessness into hope. I believe a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.

Entering the kingdom of God

I am not a theologian. I have not attended doctrinal classes, been educated in a specific religious institution, and did not grow up in a church community or in a family with a religious heritage. I have attended and participated in a large number of church communities from various denominations over the course of the past two and a half decades. Within each of these communities and denominations there may have been different sets of traditions, expectation, doctrines and norms, but at the center of each of them was Jesus, the Christ.

Every one of them taught, in one way or another that God is Love, Jesus is God, and God so loved the world that Jesus came, allowed himself to be sacrificed, and went back to be with God as a means to allow us flawed, broken, and wounded humans a chance to be reconciled with God. That the character and nature of God as exemplified in Jesus is Love.

We have all this pain and suffering in our lives and in our world. We have all these experience where hatred and evil action cause devastation of people and communities. Many times these things are done by people claiming the name of God, Jesus, or Allah. I’ll let you in on a little secret. The same God of the Jews, is the same God of the Muslims, is the same God of the Christians. Father Abraham, who started out as Abram was promised a son. When it didn’t happen within a reasonable and believable way, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who was Sarai, took matters into her own hands and following the laws and customs of the land in that time, had her slave, Hagar, get pregnant as a surrogate. After the fact, Sarah regretted her decision because of how it altered her relationship with Hagar, Hagar’s relationship with Abraham, and Sarah’s thoughts and feelings about it all. She treated Hagar horribly and as a result Hagar ran away with her son Ishmael and was going to let them both die in the desert. God came to her and made her a promise as well. So, both Isaac and Ishmael are son’s of God’s promise. They were half brothers and it is their lines that became the Jewish and Islamic genetic lines. Jesus, the Christ was born of Isaac’s line, so he’s also related to Ishmael’s lines. Christians are adopted into Isaac’s line, so we are all one big unhappy family fighting each other for a father’s love, when the father has enough love for us all.

We take unloving action out of a desperate need to feel and believe that we are loved because we have gotten our perception and definition of love from other, damaged human beings with distorted definitions of what love is. The problem isn’t God’s nature or character, the problem is our characters and natures have been so altered that we can’t trust or believe in that nature. We try to limit God the way we have limited ourselves and others. We put boxes and labels on Him and on His love because we have been labeled and put into boxes ourselves.

I used to believe that I had to know the why of everything and have the “right” answer. I still automatically tend to think and react as though I am the one responsible to “fix” the problem and have the answer. I have felt like a liar and a fraud when I “knew” what the answer was and what the “right” thing to do was and for whatever reason did the wrong thing anyway. As humans, that tends to be how we think things work. We attach things like approval, agreement, tolerance, bias, right and wrong to love. We don’t understand and accept that love is unconditional.

Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was “at hand,” meaning the kingdom of God is present in the here and now, not just as an unattainable, undefined, mysterious thing that happens after we die. Rich men would have a hard time entering the kingdom, because their possessions become more important than doing what it takes to show love to others. It is a narrow and limited path that only a few will enter because too many choose their own sense of right, wrong and judgment of others over loving unconditionally.

Entering the kingdom of God is as simple and difficult as choosing to love others unconditionally, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and what they’ve done. The only way to do that is to believe and trust that is the way God loves us. There is nothing separating us from God’s love, for His love is unconditional. Our beliefs and perceptions that we are separated are lies that we tell ourselves and have heard from others. The thing that prevents us from experiencing that love is that we falsely think that the love is tainted or doesn’t exist.

One of the photo platitudes that is so popular on Facebook came through my newstream today.

Don’t allow your wounds to turn you into a person you are not.

I realized that I have been actively working to turn this around and that I am working to regain the me I was meant to be after allowing my wounds to turn me into a person I don’t like.

If God loves me, then I should love me. If I can love me, then I can love you. I can love you because God loves me. This is the kingdom of God. Will you enter it with me?