Wile E. Coyote, Simon Peter & Me: A Christmas Story

[Note: This is a long one! And it’s not for everyone; in fact, it may only be for my own edification. Just know that while this post may appear to be a snapshot of discouragement, it’s actually about the ashes from which I anticipate beauty. To paraphrase Rumi, this is my descent from which I plan to rise.]

If you grew up in the Warner Brothers generation, your first physics lesson probably came from Wile E. Coyote. You are not bound by the law of gravity unless and until you look down. Then you crash. Simon Peter combined this lesson with a more powerful – and  authentic – lesson in faith when he took Jesus’s invitation to step out of the boat and walk on water in the midst of a raging and terrifying sea storm. Gravity is a bear if you take your eyes off the One who created the earth & its natural laws and start to look around. Then you get wet.

And me? For as long as I can remember, I believed that I was holding my world in balance, everything held in place by two other laws: The law of motion and the law of cause & effect.  If I did this, then this would happen, and as long as everything kept moving along, everything was fine. I truly believed I could keep myself safe by maintaining careful control over everything.

I need that!

  • Say the right things and be seen as bright, competent & clever; always offer to help, and I’d be liked.
  • Keep all the bills paid on time and in full because that’s what responsible grown-ups do.
  • Make sure the family has food to eat, and they stay healthy and happy.
  • Work harder than everyone else at work and be rewarded with respect, raises, better opportunities and preference.
  • Above all…Don’t make a mistake!

However, I’ve been in the process of having any of the identification or security I thought I had ripped and stripped away from me.

Old Hag by TurnerMohan on DeviantArtTo be brutally honest, I am a 55 year old woman who stands 5′ 1″ and weighs about 225 lbs. Both of my knees are in great pain, so I waddle. I also lose my balance easily, so my gait is unsure and cautious. When I’m tired, excited or frustrated, my speech is slurred. My left shoulder, being dislocated, fails to fill out my clothes the way it once did, so it’s not unusual for my shirt to be nearly falling off my shoulder. I seldom notice my bra strap showing because I’m busy trying to stay focused and on task. The hair on the top of my head is so thin that there’s as much skin showing as there is hair, but I finally gave up wearing wigs because they insinuated a deeper shame than my thin hair did. And in the last few months, I’ve lost two crowns – both of which are right up front.

I am not attractive to look at. And some days I feel a deep sympathy for anyone who has to look at me. (Not really, but pretty much.) I’ve given up my driver’s license in the best interest of everyone because my brain and body don’t work they used to.

I wonder what people see when they look at me. Do they see a woman who’s had too much to drink staggering through the store? Or perhaps a “special needs” woman who needs to hold someone’s hand? I’m confident they don’t see an intelligent, clever woman whose wit puts others at ease and makes them laugh. I’m sure they don’t see a woman in pain who’s absolutely terrified of falling. I do know they no longer see a woman who is quick to flash a wide open smile at a total stranger because it just bubbles up out of her spirit.

I’ve whined, complained and explained so much of this in previous posts. It would be simple enough to say I have been a big baby, but in all fairness I don’t think I’m all that different than most people. In the past 12 months, I’ve dealt with a lot of unknowns that, quite frankly, I can’t even Google. If I can’t Google it, I can’t research it. If I can’t research it (for at least 36 days in a row until 2 am each day), I can’t understand it. If I can’t understand it, I can’t control it. And if I can’t control it, I am vulnerable. 

I can’t bear to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a sure opening for pain, fear and discomfort. And I am no match for pain, fear and discomfort. This last year has changed me more than any other year.

So now, I have to reset my idea of who I am. Who is LaRonda now?

Festival oder eine Person zu erinnern oder um zu akzeptieren @ 宁馨 郁金香 éI know the answer is that I am a beloved child of El Roi, the God who sees me. I know I am loved by a Father who is merciful and gracious and who longs to bless me for his glory. I know that when my Father looks at me, he doesn’t see a short, fat, toothless woman who can’t walk straight; he sees the child he formed in my crazy mother’s womb, a child he chose before I could choose him, a child who now stands before him covered in the purifying, sacrificial blood of his son, Jesus Christ, redeemed and his.

That should be enough, shouldn’t it?   

But it’s not. What I know and what I feel are often mutually exclusive. I need to feel affirmation, appreciation and affection.

I can’t be the only one who didn’t get those things from their family or had them kept away from them as a means of punishment and control or had them horribly perverted.

I can’t be the only one who bartered herself for attention or affection, hoping to be “picked” by anyone, even if it was closing time at the bar and I was the last girl standing, feeling like the last kid left to be picked for a miserable game of dodgeball. Again.

I can’t be the only one who wanted a baby, thinking that if no one could love her, she’d give birth to someone who would love her – because that child wouldn’t know any better – for a few years at least.

At 32 years old, I was still hoping for a man who would keep me. I wasn’t delusional enough to expect love. I would be content with someone who would just help me make sure my needs and the needs of my daughter were met – shelter, food, clothing and – eventually – wifi. In turn, I would do a good job of making sure we had groceries in the fridge, all the bills were taken care of, and I didn’t embarrass him among the people he knew. That’s when God gave me John. And since God always seemed to know what he was doing, then I figured John would keep me, and I would secure my position by doing for him everything that needed to be done.

For 22 years, I’d genuinely thought that was the arrangement. Then God’s renovation project came along. I came to the end of 2019 worn down and tired, as was John. Everything we thought we had – decent insurance, acceptable health, enough money at the end of the month, a secure relationship – all fell away bit by bit. 

Just after the middle of December, our “Night before Christmas” looked like this:

  • My husband had a $55 bonus and some rebates from Menards.
  • His weekly paycheck was half of what we were expecting because he didn’t get paid for Thanksgiving after all.
  • I didn’t know if I was even getting a bonus.
  • We had no savings account.
  • We had no credit left, and we couldn’t have afforded higher or additional payments even if we did.
  • We had already advanced our checking reserve in full.
  • And we hadn’t gotten anything for our daughters yet.

This is EXACTLY how I feel sometimes_ Why is creativity so exhausting_I was looking at our balance and the carefully maintained Excel spreadsheet that listed our bills, due dates, monthly payments due and balances (you thought I was kidding about control, huh?). When there was no reconciliation to be found, I turned everything off.

In utter defeat, I turned to John and admitted, “I can’t.”

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t do anything. I can’t pay this bill. I can’t find a way to get the money to pay it. I can’t tell you how we’re going to buy anything you can’t get with $55 cash and Menards rebates to give to our girls for Christmas. By the way, Santa’s off the payroll so you’re getting nothing, and all I want for Christmas is some Xanax.”

I’d like to say a Christmas miracle happened that night as the miserly old neighbor drove 12 miles in the moonlit snow on a sled that was full of food and gifts for our starving family, but it’s not true:

  • Our neighbor is just next door, so it would have been silly for him to drive 12 miles simply for the sake of a good story. 
  • It wasn’t snowing – which was uncharacteristic of southern Minnesota.
  • The only thing our neighbor has ever blessed us with is the excess leaves that Mother Nature (that’s what we call his trusty leaf blower) happened to leave in our yard. A yard with no tree. 
  • We were far from starving, unless not having enough dip for the chips counted.
  • Our daughters are 18 and 27 years old. They each have their own jobs and can buy what they want for themselves. As could we, and we had; hence, some of our debt.
  • None of us even needed anything!

So now that it’s too late for me to say, “Long story, short”, follow me down the spiral  recap (because I obviously like bullet-pointed lists):

  • Big changes in 2019
  • History of low self-esteem with a crumbling facade
  • Hopelessly low expectations of a marriage
  • Dismal pre-Christmas/year-end
  • I CAN’T!
  • Wile E. Coyote and Simon Peter

So…the laws of nature! Wile E. Coyote looked down and fell. Peter looked around and began to sink. And I made the mistake of looking in. I’d counted and recounted all the things that had gone wrong that year ad nauseum! I was terrified of losing what little grip or control I had on things. And I crumbled.

The Whaa-ambulance came to a sudden, screeching stop at year’s end, and everything that wasn’t tied down was hurled forward into the new year. In the stress of the mess, I questioned everything – my life, my job, my marriage. I looked to find what had gone so wrong – so I could make sure it never happened again. After sorting through the debris, labeling and cross-referencing it, I came to this irrefutable (and most obvious to me, of course),  conclusion: It was clearly my husband’s fault. What a relief it was to be able to finally wrap up this mystery and pit a big bow on it in time for Christmas. 

I’d gone to a lot of effort to create a nice family letter, and I’d asked him to do one simple thing – just address the envelopes. But he didn’t do that. I don’t know how our marriage had lasted as long as it had because I obviously couldn’t rely on him to do anything I asked. Ever! Furthermore, if he didn’t want to help me, we each may as well go to our own metaphorical corners and JUST EAT WORMS!! (Except it was nastier – a lot more Dr. Phil than SNL.)

But I submit that there may have been a Christmas miracle in there after all.

After the curtain closed on my personal drama, I sat down with my husband. I explained to him that I didn’t think I had ever asked for much from him and that all I’d ever expected from him was to keep me, not walk away from me, and meet the most basic of my needs – like addressing 10 envelopes! Then I asked him what he had expected from our marriage. John simply said, “I just wanted someone who would love me.”

I thought that was a pretty stupid thing to say! Hadn’t I taken care of him? 

I had, actually. If it needed to be paid, organized, remembered or resolved, I had probably been the one to take care of it. I’d handled the lion’s share of anything done in the kitchen. To be fair, I cannot take credit for any cleaning! But God revealed to me over the next few days that the one thing I hadn’t done is love my husband. John had given me what he needed – love – yet he was so afraid of not meeting my standards and he had a such a stronghold of anxiety that he wasn’t as confident as I was at doing. And I needed some doing. What’s more, I realized that every single day that John had told me he loved me over the past 22 years, those three words had been lost in translation because I really didn’t understand love for the sake of love.

It’s time for some changes, I think. It’s time to let go of so many of the beliefs I adopted early in life, beliefs that once served as strong survival skills but have been keeping me from enjoying what’s been mine all along. I am lovable and loved – by my husband, my two daughters, my friends and a gracious Father. It’s time to take comfort and joy in that love. No more keeping score.

Buh-Bye!

Saturday Night Live had a skit back in 2010 that left most people hating a single phrase: the oh-so-irritating “buh-bye”. And no one made those two syllables sound more obnoxious than David Spade. It’s almost as if this was the line he was born to say. As passengers disembarked the plane, each received the same insincere, just-keep-moving “buh-bye.” And that, my friends, is exactly what I have to say to 2019. I can’t wait for it to be over! I’m worn, overwhelmed, exhausted, broke, and so completely ready to be done with this year.

I’ve been ready for 2019 to be over since January 4th, when I totaled our car in an against-all-odds single-car accident – on an in-town, two-lane highway 20 minutes before 8:00 am on a work day. By the time Maggie got her driver’s license in October, I was more than happy to surrender my license.

I was ready for it to be over in February when we had to replace our furnace. 

I was ready for it to be over since the end of March when I fractured the glenoid fossa in my shoulder and it dislocated about 4 days later. For a couple of reasons, the specialist I saw said it really can’t be fixed, which means it is permanently dislocated.

But just as I was beginning to think some very mean person had signed us up for some twisted version of the Fruit of the Month Club, we stopped having big monthly issues. All that was left were the “regular” financial, medical, vocational and emotional things. I’d like to say things got better, but that’s not quite the same as things not getting worse. Here in Minnesota, they like to say, “It could be worse.” I don’t recall accepting that as a challenge.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, you have a year I can’t wait to say “buh-bye” to.

It’s probably too late to warn you that this isn’t a warm, fuzzy holiday post. However, it’s an honest post. It’s really not my intention to whine. (Trust me! If I wanted to whine, this would be a much longer post.) I’m writing this because I’ve had the nagging sense that I failed or have been foolish.

I’d felt so bold and certain when I wrote that I am no longer the child of my mother, but rather the child of my heavenly Father. Since that post, I’ve been wondering who I think I am to say anything encouraging. I’ve felt especially powerless and hopeless about my chronic pain, which is honestly pretty exhausting because it never goes away. And yet I keep trying to do the things I did before the chronic pain. Like Job, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering WHY? Haven’t I had enough to deal with? Why can’t I get a damn break?! Or am I really as undeserving of mercy, grace, and goodness like I’d believed I was most of my life?

It would be so easy to think I’ve been foolish and pathetic to believe I could have a happy life. Was I that stupid school girl who was so gullible as to believe that the cute guy really wanted to take her to the dance, while his friends laughed and she sat alone at home in the dress she’d begged her mother to buy?

Or had I failed? Had I done something wrong? I’m not always the most sensitive person. I can be judgemental. And I know I can have an ugly heart sometimes. But am I really that bad? I try! I try to make sure everything gets done, that the bills get paid, that every customer I help gets good service. I try so hard to be good, but it never seems to matter or make a difference.

I’m beginning to think that my deepest wound, my greatest fear, is learning – not thinking, but discovering – that I’m insignificant, unworthy of anything good and definitively unlovable. 

This scares me because it leaves me with two possibilities:

  1. This is true and there’s nothing different for me to expect.
  2. This is not true and I’m lowering my standards to make things more palatable for my sense of self.

Neither is very exciting.

Yet, as I sat pouting and kicking at the collateral damage of this year, I wondered what I could possibly have to say that could encourage someone else. Then last night after ripping out some paragraphs better suited for other posts, I found this:

Please don’t let it overwhelm you. I promise God is with you. You don’t see him working. You do not get how a loving God could allow you to be where you are, but you’re alive because he loves you. You will come out blessed, stronger and able to help others.

Don’t quit. Pick your head up. God is with you.

How about that? God is with me. As in Immanuel – “God with us.” Hmmm.

So maybe it isn’t about all the problems I have, or even how they seem to pile up. Maybe it has more to do with what I do when they pile up. Do I sit there in a mess that could show up on, frankly, anyone’s front step? Or do I continue to hope against all hope that God is real, that he does love me and he does want to hold me close to him as a child? Do I just sit where I am, or do I hold my hand out in the faith that someone will reach out to take my hand in theirs and pull me into their arms – but not in a creepy way that tells you that it’s too late to worry if you left the door unlocked.

Some, including myself, will think I’m a whiner. Others, also including myself, may recognize the childlike fear of being unwanted. And it really is an all-or-nothing, this-or-that deal, isn’t it? Either God is who his word says he is and there is hope and love to be had, or God is just another Wizard of Oz. That’s the choice I have to make next year. Which still gives me a few hours to wallow in self-pity.

I want so desperately to be loved by a God about whom things like this are said:

KnowGod_Facebook_BlogPostIf I can be convicted of my justification with a God who loves me enough to sacrifice his only son in order for me to be made righteous through his blood, then I will do all I can to convince every other aching person out there that they are not unlovable, that there is a good Father who loves them the way they were always intended to be loved, but weren’t.

That would be nice way to end 2020.

 

 

 

A NEW THING

I have always had a passion for sharing what I knew and what I thought. Anytime, anywhere. Usually without invitation. And that seemed to be a problem for my teachers. All of my teachers. From First Grade through my senior year of high school. (I don’t think anyone noticed in Kindergarten because none of us had much self-control then.) But I still have the quarterly report cards that pointed out, “LaRonda talks too much in class.” When this came up in a conversation with a college professor, she said, “Well…we don’t have report cards in college.”

The thing is, I was never talking about how ugly I thought Heather’s dress was or how I couldn’t decide if I wanted to marry Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garret. I was almost always making comments on the lesson the teacher was teaching us – at that precise moment, unfortunately.

Equally unfortunate is the fact that the teachers never seemed to understand that. They seem to have thought I was talking about silly girl things and simply being a distracting nuisance when, in fact, I was only being a distracting nuisance. I’m realizing now that it was my way of learning and actually actively engaging in my education. It was how I learned best, and I had the grades to prove it. I just didn’t realize that no one else in the room worked that way, and I was making education and educating harder for them.

But because everyone believed the problem was that I talked too much in class, that became a source of shame and insecurity for me. To this day, my husband and I will go home after a Bible study, and I’ll say to him, “I talked too much again, didn’t I?” Sometimes I feel enough shame that tears come to my eyes (just as they are now by simply mentioning it).

What I’m getting at is this: I have an inherent passion to share my thoughts, and back in 2011 I thought blogging would be a great way to do that. If no one cared to know what I thought, they simply didn’t need to read what I wrote. But I had no direction, no substantial focus, so I quit.

Then in 2018, Maggie thought it would be fun to do a dual blog in which we would follow up each Bible study with her take on it as a daughter/teen, and I would share my thoughts as a mother/”mature” woman. I thought that sounded exciting, so the next Sunday night I blew off the dust on my old blog site and wrote down my thoughts on the Bible study. I kept waiting for Maggie to join me as I continued to find things to write about. I’m still waiting.

Eventually, I decided to change the name of my blog since I was obviously going to write about what I was learning about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. I’d finally found a direction, a substantial focus. However, I have recently felt “committed” to “righteous writing”, and I’m no preacher. I’ve also learned that I absolutely treasure feedback because that’s when a conversation can begin. (I’m not foolish enough to suggest that there’s no emotional satisfaction, too. I enjoy encouraging comments, and I’m grateful I don’t have enough followers to say mean things. And I doubt there are many who don’t feel the same need for acceptance and fear of rejection.) One day, I hope I can genuinely say, “All glory goes to he who gave me this gift. None of it is me.”

Which brings me to this post. I have a story to tell. We all do. I’ve long thought that my story was about the pain I felt growing up with a mentally ill mother who was often quite cruel; the difficulty I had in my 20’s trying to meet so many unmet needs in a healthy way – and failing miserably; the challenge of acting “normal” in a world that had no idea that I only understood over-achievement to avoid being punished, all the while feeling inherently defective and unlovable; and taking 16 years to believe that my husband and children loved me “just because” and weren’t going to suddenly tell me they were just trying to be nice all these years, but the truth is they never loved me.

Most important, it took me this long to learn that my Father is nothing like my mother. And that is what I believe my story is. My story is God’s story; I’m simply a character in a story that reveals his nature.

I’m equally aware that I’m not the only one out here who has been abused, misused and lied to about who they are. Even the best-intentioned parents will manage to smudge God’s picture of who his children are. I also know there are others who have survived against the odds – literally. Some of us have experienced things that most of us couldn’t conceive or process even if we knew the story; and we’ll seldom hear the story. In fact, you’d be surprised at who you work with who’s grown up in truly damaging homes. Some of them may even be the friends you think you know. Chances are, they work very hard to make sure you never discover their secret.

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But the only story I can tell is my own. And perhaps someone can see that they’re not alone, their abuse and misuse was not their fault, their Father loves them very much, they are enough and they are lovable. I’m not talking Stuart Smalley stuff. (Yes. Yes, that is former Minnesota Senator, Al Franken, on Saturday Night Live. My state also elected Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura as governor, so…). No, I’m talking about discovering who we were born to be and finally living like the child of God that we are, rather than the child of                      _     we were told we were.

bloomingTo be honest, it’s scary for me to consider being vulnerable; but for the most part, those readers – who are fortunately small in number right now – will either not read what I write or will likely be very gracious. Those readers who are part of my church family and only think they know me, well…I don’t know what to tell ya! 🙂 Those readers who I know peripherally, I guess a more intimate introduction is imminent, huh? (I love a good alliteration!) Just understand that this has nothing to do with getting pity. Although there’s still some pain when someone accidentally and unknowingly bumps into an old wound that hasn’t quite healed or has very recently been re-injured, I know I’m loved and safe now. This is intended to be a story of healing – how and from what God is healing me.

I guess we’ll see what happens! By the way, the other thing my mother read on every single report card was “She is not living up to her potential.” Perhaps I can do something about that. I may be over 50, but some of my teachers also said I was just a late bloomer.

BUT WHY?

Very little is more frustrating than doing something simply for the sake of doing it. Many years ago, I attended a friend’s baby shower. I took my gift to the gift table and handed it to the gift table manager. She was quick to point out that the accompanying card didn’t have my friend’s name on it and suggest that I do that. Since there was only one mother-to-be at the shower, I hadn’t expected this social construct to be important. But in order for the gift table manager to have a fulfilling purpose beyond receiving and strategically stacking gifts, checking envelopes for names to add some value to an otherwise so-so responsibility. Or maybe she just really, really believed names should be on envelopes!

Sometimes, traditions get passed from one generation to the next. You know the story of the young mother asking her mother why she was always sure to cut off each end of the ham for dinner. Her mother didn’t really know why, so she asked her grandmother, who settled the matter saying, “Because none of my pans were big enough to hold a full ham.”

Simon Sinek examines this kind of thinking in this 5-minute short-cut version of Start With Why. And, yes, he focuses on business training, but when he says:

SINEK - WHY

When we look at it this way, our church families are challenged to determine why we do what we do.

It’s so tempting to look at mega churches and feel a twinge of jealousy when our own small parking lot and pew seats remain sparsely filled. What do we do when popular churches offer spectacles more electrifying than Hamilton and all the members are on their feet in a deafening praise, while we have a generation of grandparents and great-grandparents, a smattering of young families, and teens with a very short attention span?

The harvest Jesus talked about is still out there, always out there, until God gives the nod to Jesus that it’s end-game time. So…

whay-church-should-be-e1561400496199.jpgWhy do we have church? Why do we open the doors, call for volunteers and pay for building maintenance? Why do we have coffee and doughnuts available? Why do we congregate and sing together? Why do our pastors prepare a new sermon every week and our boards get together to plan?

Why? We aren’t a business. The offering isn’t a cover charge.

Why did the field workers who got hired late in the day get paid as much as the workers who put in a full, grueling day? Because there was still work to be done. It absolutely must be done because we’re running out of time!

People are finding comfort from the wrong things. People are living one day after another without knowing how very loved they are by the one Father that will never leave them or forsake them. People are dying without salvation.

Certainly, there is plenty of work to be done before the sun sets. There are people who need to be loved into salvation.

WHAT IF CHURCH

What if all we ever have are the members of our small church to be the hands and feet of God? Here’s what I see in my church family:

  • A generation with years of faith-building trials, heartache, blessings and wisdom that can only come from a long life. A generation that will not be here forever. Their hearts are soft enough to be pierced by the word of God; but their confidence in a good God is heard in their fervent prayers and felt by their gentle hands.
  • A generation of young parents who have chosen to raise their children to trust God, appreciate Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit, and love others. Their young ones won’t be young as long as we think they’ll be. Soon, they’ll be…
  • Our youth, the ones who will elect the people who will determine the legislation that affect all of us. They’ll create and run business that will set standards of trust and transparency. They will be the thermostat for their community, their state, their country. They are the ones to whom we will entrust the harvest we don’t have the time to finish.

I think we need to know why we do church. I think we need to determine if we need to keep putting a name on a card when it can only go to one person. Maybe we need to figure out why we keep cutting the ends off our hams. There are far too many souls out there waiting to be loved into the kingdom of God for us to be wasting our resources on anything that doesn’t help get them there.

COME HOME

I ended my last post with “You are so loved!” I tell my family that often. They give me so much joy that I could never not love them. But this morning, after I’d texted my teenage daughter that she was ‘so loved’, Holy Spirit nudged me and said, “So are you. You and the rest of the world are so loved that God gave his only son, that whoever believes in the son will not perish but will have everlasting life. We are all so loved by our Father. He wants everyone to just come home where they belong! He already has a place at the table with our name on it.

That’s a pretty decent WHY!

Let’s pray that as fishers of men, we are as able to pull in a net bulging to the point of breaking as we are to trust Christ to tell us where to throw the net out and that we’re willing to throw it out at his word no matter how many times we’ve already tried or how tired we are.

And remember…you are so loved!

 

 

 

 

 

OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

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Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.

LET’S BE HONEST

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I’m beginning to think that whoever came up with the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was never required to put that confidence to the test. In fact, I’d be willing to bet they knew the guy who first said, “Buck up, little camper!”

Don’t get me wrong. I know adversity can lead to great strength. The Bible is full of examples of that – Paul, Job, Joseph. Tough lives created tough guys. And historically, some of our greatest entrepreneurs, leaders and athletes have risen from the ashes of adversity. I’m confident that each of us have that same potential. I know we each have that opportunity.

However, I also believe that life can really kick you in the butt and wear you down to nothing first. But the nice thing about being that low is that there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Very few successful people are transparent about the times they were down for the count; the moments right before they started to get back up.

One of my favorite quotes about being knocked down is from J. K. Rowling:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

As I’ve mentioned before here and there, I belong to two wonderful Facebook groups. One is for survivors of C/PTSD and the other is for survivors of Aortic Dissections. More and more, the line between the two – one emotional and psychological, the other primarily physical – is beginning to blur for me.

I have one friend who survived necrotizing faciitis (flesh-eating disease) and another who survived a staph infection that was so rare his doctor told the intern to not even bother taking notes on it because they’d probably never see it again. When I gave birth to my first daughter at 28 weeks gestation, weighing one-and-a-half pounds, measuring 13 inches, I stayed at a Ronald McDonald House, where families were staying to be close to their very sick children. Some knew their child was going to die. Others were hoping their child would live. Watch the news and you’ll witness people losing everything they have to natural disasters.

And…?

And I’ve come to the conclusion that there are whole lot of us out here who have been through “stuff”!

And I’m noticing some common denominators:

We’re dealing with something that happened to us. Most fiction is about man vs. man or man vs. nature. Sometimes, what happens is a result of our own sequence of choices, although for the sake of this post I’m not going to address that.

We didn’t ask for it to happen to us. So whether you’ve faced the possibility that you’ll lose your life to cancer or had a fender bender with a rotten driver; whether you’ve lost a child or lost your job; spent most of your life under the dehumanizing  abuse of a  parent or been treated as “less than” because of your size, your gender or the amount of pigmentation in your skin, no one asked if you’d be OK with it. And yet, like the family whose home and all their belongings have been destroyed by a tornado, it’s left to you to clear the debris.

We think we’re alone. Either shame or misinformation has isolated us into thinking no one would understand. And you’d be partially right. If you’ve been raped, not even another rape victim can understand how you translated and processed your own violation. If your spouse tells you they think you’re unlovable, no one else has the same life as you to enable them to truly empathize with your sense of unlovability. (It’s a word now.)

And, finally, we aren’t handed manuals or PowerPoint presentations to tell us what to do next. You, my friend, are on your own. Your friends, family and therapists can support you, but ultimately the true work is up to you.

Now there are plenty of scriptures to address everything I just said, and a few sermons that could be preached about challenges. And, yes, I will insist that God loves us and will never leave us or forsake us. I know that I can cast all my care on Him because He loves me. I believe He will make a way when there seems to be no way. And I am confident that he is able “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) However, since this post is already around 1,000 words long, I’ll save these for other posts.

Today, the thing I want you to understand is this: None of us are the only ones and we are not c553a748a7656e370d73d8dab054b6f0alone! I may not have gone through what my friend Jeff endured, but I’ve had my own “stuff”. You may not have had a mother who punished you by not acknowledging your existence for 2-3 days like I did, but I know you’ve had your own “stuff”. Can we agree on that much? Can we be compassionate and patient with each other without judging who’s had the worst “stuff”?

So if someone tells you that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” don’t feel bad if you think it’s hot air. Don’t let those words shame you into thinking you should be doing better than you are doing. We may become strong from our trials, but I don’t believe that God is sitting on a heavenly throne passing out painful things and saying, “Yeah, give it to him. He can take it.” I think those statements, while being well meaning, actually invalidate your pain.

When I started this blog, I wanted to share things that would give others a sort of permission to embrace their own challenges and pain, as well as to provide some encouragement and validation. I’ve come to believe that one of the things people need to move on or move through their struggle is to have someone look at you and say, “I see you! What you went through was rough. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. But it can be better than this.”

It’s time we shared our stories.5734bd36c0aa8d7f59f5d6e7cc395e25

 

JANIS IAN, VEGGIETALES & EPHESIANS

I have a teenaged daughter who is becoming an amazing young woman. It seems like she’s constantly changing. She reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (Except she’s not becoming a man. Just so we’re clear on that! This isn’t “that blog.” 🙂 )

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AT SEVENTEEN – JANIS IAN

Some of the struggles Maggie has are so much like those I had at her age – you know, the Janis Ian kind; other struggles are unique to her generation. For example, I didn’t have to worry about how people from all over the world might judge my words or my looks or my choices on social media. I had enough trouble with the people in my school, in my neighborhood.  Then, again, I had to wait for America’s Top 40 so I could press Play and Record at just the right time in order to tape my favorite song. I had to buy an entire album to get my favorite song, and she has iTunes! (The struggle was real then, too.)

Growing up, Maggie’s favorite video was VeggieTales’ Jonah. She loved the idea that the God she was getting to know for herself was the God of second chances. And she understood that those second chances were not only for her, but for everyone else, too. This taught her mercy for others, as well as grace for herself.

 

It also taught her that second chances were unlimited with God. All He asks is that we repent. Ideally, repentance would be a one-time thing. I say I’m sorry and promise to change my ways – forever. But it seldom works that way, does it? We ask forgiveness again because we originally didn’t do it with the right heart.

Or maybe we didn’t really understand what it was that we needed forgiveness for – for getting caught, for making someone mad, or because we have a deeper matter that keeps pushing the wrong behavior to the surface. Or maybe there are some deeply founded beliefs that keep us returning to the same behavior; thoughts that need to be addressed before change can occur. Or maybe we didn’t really fathom how important the matter was to God. In any event, it seems we could easily exhaust God’s grace. And yet we don’t.

I think that’s the nature of repentance – co9ec67cd3ebeb832c3e7dfdef617888ffnstantly starting over and moving forward but with a new mindset. Again. And again. And yet again.

Now, it would be nice to sit back and enjoy God’s grace for ourselves while we remembered – again and again and yet again – all the grievances we suffered at the hands of others, right? Not so fast!

As Paul wrote: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6

This is more than Rodney King’s plea that we “all just get along.” (Google it.) As Christians, we are a part of one body and one Spirit. It’s imperative that we get along, or nothing will get done! And because we’re a part of one body and one Spirit, this isn’t just about us and we’re not in this alone. Essentially, we’re children of God – princes and princesses. We need to straighten our crowns, adjust our attitudes and act like it. (Doesn’t leave a lot of room for being offended, does it?)

Will it be easy? Considering that the third word in the first verse is “prisoner”, I wouldn’t count on it – at  least not until we fully fathom that we are a prisoner to Him who loves and is love, again and again and again.

But wait! There’s more. Paul goes on to say that the ultimate goal of our life in Christ, as one body and one Spirit comes down to this: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (14-16)

We will not always be that awkward, insecure, shy 17-year-old. We will become wise and strong and loving! Can we be honest with others when they hurt us? Yes. But with love instead of bitterness. Because of Christ, we are better than we are without Him.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (29-32)

Now, there wasn’t an asterisk by this verse, so apparently social media wasn’t a concern then. All I can say is that whatever method they used for communication gave them much more opportunity to carefully consider their words than keyboarding does today. Even those stupid “footballs” that my classmates fashioned their notes into mandated more time for reconsideration than we have now. And we often wrote “Do not show to anyone” on the outside of it.

Paul later tells us that we will be armed with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17), allowing us to divide the righteous from the unrighteous. But a sword isn’t something you let a child play with. It’s a piece of the armor of God that should be wielded with training and responsibility. And I think there will be plenty of times that we’ll be called to put the sword at our side and extend an empty hand in greeting to show there is no threat to another. No threat, because we have forgiven as we’ve been forgiven and shown compassion as we’ve been shown compassion by our Father through the sacrificial death of His Son.

Things have changed a lot since I was Maggie’s age, but we can be assured that God never changes. His word is steadfast. His expectations of us are solid. His love for us is never-ending. We are part of the mighty body of Christ, designed to do amazing things for the kingdom of God. And I am excited to see what our children grow up to do for Him!

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GUESS WHO?

Have you ever played Guess Who? It’s a two-player game where players ask yes or no questions to isolate a hidden character. You might ask if your opponent’s character is male or female, blond or brunette, wears glasses or not. You get the idea. Essentially, the questions help you eliminate which of the characters your opponent’s person is not in order to determine who the person is. The first player to guess the other player’s hidden character wins.

This last year has simply been the most recent in my search for who I really am. I believe this is something most, if not all, of us do throughout our lives. As our roles, interests, and needs change, we evolve and our very identities change as we age. We become physically, mentally and emotionally more capable as we mature from baby to child to adolescent to teen to young adult to mature adult. We adopt and abandon roles as our lives change – friend, sibling, child, partner, parent, employee, coworker, Christian, voter, consumer, neighbor. And yet, all the while we maintain a core image of ourselves.

It’s that core image that I’ve struggled with the most. This year, I’ve been pre-occupied with who I am in Christ,  who I am as a child of God. It’s as a child of God that I want to grow and thrive. As a child of my mother, there are so many ways in which I simply didn’t grow or thrive; although, I had successes in spite of the way I was raised and sometimes because of how I was raised. There’s a lot to reconcile between the two lineages. One tolerated me, the other treasures me. One held me in disdain, the other holds me in the palm of His hand. One denied me affection, the other sacrificed His Son for me. Two very different caregivers; two very different identities for myself.

So I reviewed the lists of verses that declared who I was as a child of God and meditated on them, reminding myself of them when my heart needed reminding, when my mind suggested I was “less than.” But on the heels of each reminder was a quiet but pernicious doubt.3868d1bcf797b5ee2b985299be4794e9

‘Yeah, but….’

I realized that who my mother had told me I was had become a foundational certainty for me. And it wasn’t just what I’d accepted from her. I’d selectively held onto a lot from the kids who picked me last at play, the boys who showed no interest in dating me, the coworkers who didn’t invite me to join the group for lunch, the people on the street who seemed to look right through me. All of them verified my deepest belief about myself. I was unlovable. While there were those who thought I was smart, funny, sweet, dependable, or talented, I was more convinced that I wasn’t really worthy of attention or affection.  I was convinced of a reality that no amount of kindness could crack. And no amount of scriptural affirmation was going to completely convince me otherwise.

296D57B8-6681-406C-82DD-E8A9B00BD724Then I thought, what if I stopped trying to believe the truth of who I am and started disbelieving the lies of who I am not? What if I started with my conception – the point at which God knitted me in my mother’s womb and created a plan for me? I thought about the rows of babies that shared the nursery at the hospital where I was born and considered that each one had been born just the way God had designed them, which was good. Then we each went home to our respective families, where we were raised by ordinary men and women who were just doing the best they could with what they had. Some of us ended up nurtured and some of us ended up challenged. It’s just that simple.

It ultimately becomes our own responsibility to determine how we want to stand in the world, what we want to stand for, what we want to stand up for. And at some point, we become accountable for our own choices, our own identities. That’s when knowing who we are not becomes every bit as important as knowing who we are. Many of us are children of God, but we’re living without conviction of our heritage, without the fullness of our inheritance, falling short of our ordained potential.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tell us, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

We can’t don the new clothes God gives us over the old clothes that have worn thin and have developed a stench. The stench eventually leaks through the fabric. We need to strip ourselves of the old before we can put on the new. We need to be cleansed by the sacrificial blood of Christ in order to be wholly clean. Who are you not, and perhaps have never been, or haven’t been since you chose to change? Are you not selfish, alone, tongue-tied, absent-minded, usc04eb15ce15b1aeb817f35a814166545eless, stupid, unattractive, worthless, boring, clumsy, insensitive, broken, talentless? Are you no longer a liar, an adulterer, a thief, a gossip, a using addict or alcoholic?

Today is a new day. We are a new creations!

God has a good plan for us. Satan has a plan for us, too. The plan we bring to fruition depends upon who we believe, who we let define us, who we choose to follow. We can be victims or victors. We can stay bitter, or we can become better. We can hold onto the lies or move forward into a new life. We can choose to disbelieve the lies the enemy has told us and hold on for dear life to the promises of He who is the Author and Finisher of our story.

So never let someone judge you by the chapter they walked in on. You’ve turned the page and begun a new chapter. Your character is still in development and your story isn’t over yet. But I’ll give you one spoiler alert: As a child of God, you’re on the winning side!

LOVE IS….

In the early months of my marriage, about 21 years ago now, I remember sitting on the front step of the house we were renting. I’d just moved to a town I’d only seen once, relocating my 4-year-old daughter and myself from Kansas to Minnesota. John and I had known each other all of nine months before we married. All our communication had been by phone and letters. We’d been a few years away from the internet and email, much less cell phones.

But as I sat on the front step that day, I had something that I really needed to talk to God about. He already knew what was on my heart because it was always there, just below the surface of my bravado, my fear, my anxiety. “God,” I said, “I don’t know how to love.”

I know I thought I loved my husband – at least as much as I knew how to. And I loved my daughter – as much as I knew how to. But the truth was that I was primarily grateful that John wanted to marry me, to keep me when no one else had. And I treasured my daughter, but I wasn’t sure I loved her the way other parents loved their children because I could be very impatient with her and sometimes cold to her if I was angry with her.

I grew up with a very conditional, controlling mother who managed my step-father, my half-brother and myself with fear. It would be kind to say she was simply a poor example of how a wife should treat her husband; a mother, her children. I knew from her example what I didn’t want to be, but the only option it often left me with was a glorified ideal of a woman I was not equipped to be. And so…my dilemma posed to God that day.

But He answered me immediately and surely: “That’s why I gave you John.” Those words sunk deep into my heart, and I’ve never forgotten them – even on the days when I thought God’s gift of John was a punishment or misunderstanding because John had done something to disappoint me, anger me or hurt me – which happens. Everyone will disappoint us, anger us or hurt us eventually. They’re only human, just as we are.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what God assured me. John has been gentle, kind, patient and – most certainly – long-suffering, to the tune of 21 years. He’s shown me how to love my family and friends. But I’ve also been thinking about God’s love for us. So often I’ve read 1 Corinthians 13 from the perspective of the one who is supposed to love others. As I spend more time in the Word, though, I realize that this is a description of God Himself.

Our heavenly Father is so patient with us. He meets us where we are and really expects so little of us. He waits and waits for us to be ready, always the gentleman. We make the same mistakes repeatedly, and just as often He forgives and forgets them. When you look at the parables that demonstrate His love for us, He is the father of the prodigal son who runs after the boy as soon as he sees him; he doesn’t wait for the boy to reach him. He’s the woman who searches desperately for the lost coin as if it’s the only one she has and celebrates with her friends when she finds it.

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We see His love when Peter steps out of the boat and starts to sink when he looks at the waves in dread. When Peter calls out for help, Jesus doesn’t say, “Hold on. I’ll be right there.” He doesn’t tell the other disciples to help Peter. The distance between Jesus and Peter is a breath when Christ reaches out to pull him out of the water.

We may feel like we’ve strayed from God and have to make our way back to Him. We don’t! I am confident that if, at any time, we turn to call to Him, we will be startled to see Him a breath away, waiting for us. Yes, we need to repent, but we don’t have to wait. And we don’t have to beg and grovel to get in His good graces again. We don’t have to “prove” our authenticity to Him.

I don’t think God wants our self-deprecation. After all, He sacrificed His only 139ab36c5c3c1e05a202db0a7c66fc5cSon to free us from that sort of behavior. God wants our heart and the obedience that comes from loving Him with all our heart, all our soul and with all our strength (Luke 10:27). So if you think you need to clean yourself up first, forget it. You can’t do it yourself, and Christ has already done the work for you. If you think you have any reason at all to wait to reconcile yourself to God – or to accept Him as your God, Christ as your Lord and Savior – you don’t. Do it now. He’s right there, waiting for you with His arms ready to embrace you – again and again and again. That’s love!