A C(h)ain Reaction

Most of us are very familiar with the term “chain reaction,” where one thing leads to another and then on to another.  Well, this past week I experienced something I am now calling “the Cain reaction.”  No that is not a typo, and yes I will explain!  I didn’t see it coming, but it totally changed my perspective, and I just had to share it with you!

Most people of faith (and some who are not) have heard the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, and if you ask them about it, you’ll probably hear a synopsis that goes something like this:  Well, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  They both offered sacrifices to God, and God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s.  So, Cain got angry and took his brother out to a field to murder him.  When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked that famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  It’s not a story we often talk about, but this past week, there was a chain reaction that led me ultimately back to this story, and everything about it changed for me.

 Lately, it feels like life has been knocking me down and then kicking me while I’m down there. I keep getting back up, but it’s exhausting doing it over and over. I am positive some of you can relate!  As person of faith, you’d think that I’d be stronger when the rough seasons of life hit, but being a believer does not prevent me from sometimes crumbling under the weight of this world.  Just because we are children of God, doesn’t mean we are immune to anger, depression, sadness or frustration.  Just because we know we CAN have peace and strength in the midst of difficult times, doesn’t mean we actually lean on it.  Just because the Bible tells us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we cave and say, “I just can’t handle anymore!”  That’s what happened to me last week.  Then a series of events took place that I need to share with you.

shutterstock_566571199It all started when someone, who knows what I’ve been going through in recent months, unexpectedly came to me and said she had been reading a devotional and a verse jumped out at her that she felt needed to be shared with me.  The verse was John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  As a result, this friend made me a pendant on which she stamped “John 16:33.”  Because I was so touched by the gesture, I read that verse over and over.  It is a familiar verse, but all my life, I’ve focused on the last part of it, the part where Jesus says we will have trouble but that He has overcome it.  THIS time, I couldn’t get past the first comment, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” I just kept thinking about the fact that Jesus thought it was so important to remind His followers of why He had continually shared all He did with them.  It’s like He was saying to ME, “Look, there’s a reason I’ve told you all I have about life, it’s troubles and how to navigate it.”   That thought pushed the chain reaction into full swing, because it prompted me to pick up my Bible so I could remember the things He had “told me” in His word.  This time though, instead of turning to the many familiar passages of encouragement and promises, I returned to something I hadn’t finished reading almost three months ago – Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel.

I don’t think anything happens by accident; I never have, but sometimes I am totally amazed to look back on my path and see all the things that had to come together in order for me to experience something or have a change in my perspective.  I think we have become so cynical and/or oblivious that we no longer take the time to pause and see the interconnectedness of events in our lives.  I’m not talking about major steps, though sometimes it can be, but rather the little things that go unnoticed that end up leading us to a conclusion or decision that has an impact on us.

shutterstock_152320880So what was this epiphany I had when I read the verses telling the story of Cain and Abel?  Well, I used to think of Cain as just a terrible person, an evil man who got jealous of his brother and killed him in cold blood.  Not only that, but then he had the audacity to make a smart-a** comment to God Himself (Gen 4:9)!  I’m not excusing anything Cain did, but I want to share a different perspective.   Here were two brothers, one was a shepherd and the other was a farmer.  When it came time to give an offering to God, it was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb.  So, Abel provided an offering according to what God had requested, but Cain decided he would give something different.  Cain decided it would be better if he sacrificed the best that HE had to God.  It’s most likely that his intent was honorable, and that he thought surely it would touch God more if he sacrificed the best of his crops instead of asking his brother for a lamb to sacrifice, while giving up nothing himself.  It wasn’t that he was being a disobedient jerk, but rather that he felt like God would be more pleased if he gave Him the absolute best of all he had.  He was trying to honor God his way instead of simply doing what God asked.  Unfortunately, he was wrong, and when God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s, it made him angry, depressed and dejected.  Wouldn’t YOU be?

How many times have I done exactly what Cain did, and tried to serve God my way instead of His?  How many times have I given up things that He never asked of me?  It’s great when our heart is in the right place, and our motives are good, but we’ve all had situations in life where the end result still went sideways!  At times, the same thing happens when it comes to our service to our Heavenly Father.  We offer up what we think will make Him happy, instead of doing what He has already told us will make Him rejoice.  Modern religion and churches are filled with people with good intentions, trying to serve God in ways they have reasoned will be pleasing to Him, but ultimately missing the mark completely.  Many of us have become so self-focused on what we are doing for God that we can no longer hear how He asked us to do it.

shutterstock_137269457Ok, so back to Cain…  In my memory of this story, I somehow forgot that God actually talked to him twice, the first was BEFORE he killed his brother.  Gen 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  God loved Cain and knew he was upset, so He took a moment to remind him of something really important:  We have an enemy and it isn’t our families, friends, coworkers, church members or anyone else; it is something bigger.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the power of darkness.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober-minded because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.   Cain’s emotions got the best of him and God knew it, so He basically said, “Look, if you simply do what I ask instead of what you think I want, you’ll have joy.  But if you lose focus and start trying to do things your way, sin is crouching down waiting to pounce on you.  It wants to take you down! It wants you!  If you let your anger and sadness take over, it is going to lead you down a path that will destroy you. You’ve got to learn how to let it go.”  God stepped in when He saw Cain upset and tried to help him regain his focus.

After God spoke to Cain, Gen 4:8, simply says that Cain “told his brother.”  What do you think that conversation was like?  I can see Cain venting to Abel about what happened and what God had said to him.  “Abel, I gave God the BEST of what I had and He didn’t even care!  And then do you know what He said to me??”  I can hear Cain going on about it and then Abel responding with something like, “Well, He’s right.  I know you think it was your best, but it’s not what He asked for.”  Cain was probably looking for an ally in his brother, someone to agree with him that God was unfair and mean.  When that didn’t happen, Cain fell into a fit of rage and killed his brother.  Cain didn’t purposely take Abel out to a field to murder him because he was jealous, it simply happened as a crime of passion.  Even the Bible says it just happened, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up and killed his brother” (Gen 4:8).

On Wednesday last week, I was so angry at God for not doing things the way it originally LOOKED like He would.  I was distraught and felt like God was dangling carrots in front of me just to yank them back.  I told my dearest friend, “I just feel like I’m trying to do what God wants me to do, and He just keeps kicking me in the teeth!”  It’s so hard to stay focused when it feels like God has let you down.  It’s hard to not get sad and depressed when you thought you could see the path ahead only to find it collapse in front of you.  I wasn’t just angry; I was angry at God for having a different plan and not just accepting the one I had laid out. After all, I was giving up my best!   In that moment, my best friend lovingly reminded me of the truth of God’s word, and I knew she was right, even though my heart was crushed.

shutterstock_134516501As I sat in my chair the next morning, blown away by what God had just revealed to me, I said out loud, “Oh my God, I am CAIN!”   I realized my frustration that God’s plan was not what I thought it should be caused me to allow the enemy to leap from his crouching and pounce all over me.  And then I heard God speak to my heart the same thing he told Cain that day so long ago: “I have a plan, and if you will just trust me and follow it, everything will work out.  But if you let this disappointment you feel, as a result of me not doing things your way, just keep eating at you, it’s going to destroy you.  You’ve got to let it go and trust me.”  Talk about being humbled by something…God’s same words to Cain in his crisis of faith thousands of years ago became the same words He said to me in mine.  And just like Cain, I had a choice to make in how I moved forward, but instead of holding onto my anger as he did, I chose to unclench my hands and let it go.

It is amazing how God works and weaves so many little things together to shift our perspective.  He paints with brushstrokes we often don’t understand in order to create beautiful paintings we couldn’t even imagine.   He promised to work all things out for our ultimate good, but it’s hard for us to understand that when we are looking at a single stroke of His brush.

I guess sometimes we all need is a little “c(h)ain” reaction.

Blessings!

Letting Go Instead Of Holding On

Tonight I am having a hard time getting my thoughts to “gel.”  There are pieces of creativity, phrases, melodies, images that are passing through my mind but none of them seem to rest long enough for me to make sense of them.  It’s like trying to catch the wind and hold it in your hands.  You can’t hold it; you can only feel it, and those two things are very different.  Holding something and feeling something require different things.  One requires energy and activity, while the other simply requires a willingness to be open.   One is achieved through effort and endurance, while the other is achieved through being still and present.   I know it may seem like I’m just rambling, but tonight, I feel a little entitled to do so.

It seems lately my life has been filled with different aspects of death and grief.  Some of it has been people I know who have lost loved ones.  Some of it has been the loss of people in my own world or people who have been seriously ill.  Today I attended the funeral of a cousin-in-law that I never met.  In doing so, I got to meet the rest of that branch of the family tree and immediately felt a connection to them.  I sat in the service, moved to tears both for the beauty of her life and the loss I felt in never having known her personally.   It made me remember all the losses I’ve had over the course of my own life.

shutterstock_3066153After the service, I went to another cemetery to pay my respects to someone I loved very dearly.  I hadn’t gone to this particular grave because it is quite a distance from my home, and I’m not one to hang out in cemeteries.  After all, burial places hold nothing more than the earthly shell of the people we love.  Today I was not too far from the final resting place of my loved one’s remains, so I felt compelled to make the trip.  Upon my arrival at the mausoleum, I searched and searched but to no avail.  I finally asked for help from the cemetery in locating my loved one.  It took much longer than I expected, and then the response hit me like a ton of bricks.  My loved one’s remains had been placed in a community crypt without any identification to the outside world.  It bothered me.  It sat in my heart like a lead weight as I stood in front of the unmarked crypt.  It hurt, and I struggled deeply with trying to square what I believe about death with what I was feeling at the moment.  That isn’t always an easy thing to do.

We all lose people we love at one point or another.  We feel the sting of death and the pain that comes with being separated from the physical presence of the ones we love.  We attend funerals and memorial services to honor their lives, and then we each find our own ways of navigating through the subsequent grief process.  I have found, no matter what the process looks like for each of us, there is one common thing we experience:  the struggle between holding on and letting go.  It seems to be an ebb and flow, but even after many years, we find ourselves still faced with moments of trying to decide when to hold on and when to let go.  When we lose someone we love, our instinct is to hold on.  We hold onto physical items such as clothing, gifts or other items that he/she touched, or things that smell like them.  Our longing for that person to still be with us makes us grasp at whatever we can to keep them here in some way.  We don’t just hold on, we cling.  We sometimes hold so tightly that our knuckles turn white and we lose feeling in our hands, and yet we still can’t find the strength to let go.  Letting go seems like it will only magnify our loss, and we will be left with nothing at all.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to hold on, but we must remember there are some things that just can’t be held.

Letting go usually comes with a sense of fear and apprehension for some people.  When we lose something, we naturally want to hold tighter to what we have left.  If we lose money, we tend to get tighter with what we have because it feels like if we don’t, we might lose it all.  We can become so hyper-focused on protecting our “stash” that we can no longer enjoy our lives.  The same is true with losing a loved one to death.  If we become so hyper-focused on protecting what remains of their lives here, we can become crippled and no longer enjoy our own lives.  Letting go is a process that occurs in stages, but we have to be careful to not mistake what it means to “let go.”  Letting go does NOT mean forgetting; It means loosening your grip.  Open ArmsRemember what I said about the wind in the opening paragraph?  You can feel it but you cannot hold it.  Think about standing somewhere beautiful and suddenly a perfect breeze comes blowing through.  You have two choices:  You can start grasping like crazy, trying to capture it in your hands, or you can stand still and experience its touch completely.   If your focus is on trying to hold it, all you will feel is the lack of being able to do so.  You will grasp tighter and quicker, but all you will feel is the emptiness of your own hands.  However, if you focus on standing still and opening your hands, you will feel nothing but the breeze itself.  Letting go is what enables you to feel!  Letting go is what enables you to remember.  Letting go is what frees you to be present.

Today was difficult, and the unexpected situation in which I found myself made it extremely difficult to keep from tightening my grasp after many years of loosening it.  The pain, anger, disgust and sadness that I felt standing in the corner of an empty mausoleum overcame me and brought me literally to my knees.  It crippled me physically and emotionally in a single moment.  I felt lost.  I suddenly felt like I had no footing.  Everything inside me was screaming as it was the day my loved one actually died, and I found myself unable to walk away from that spot.  My emotional hands closed tightly, and all I could do was sob.  And then I remembered what I believe.  I remembered what I know to be true, and slowly I started reconnecting the dots until I could pull myself away physically from that spot.  I stood with my hand on the wall and prayed.  I stood and talked to my loved one.  I knelt and kissed the wall of the tomb in which the remains were sealed, and then I walked out a different door because it was the only way I could make myself leave.

And then something wonderful happened.  I got my shorts out of the car and went back into the restroom inside the mausoleum to change out of my suit and into my comfy clothes for traveling back home.  I forgot to grab my other shoes, so I had to walk out in my shorts, athletic shirt and black knee high trouser socks.I had taken off my dress heels because I didn’t want to look THAT stupid, but I had to laugh at what I looked like.    All I needed was some sandals to complete my “old man” outfit.  I started for the exit, but then thought of how much my loved one would have found my appearance to be hysterical, so I turned and ran back into the mausoleum, into the hallway of the unmarked crypt.  I waited until the security guard walked away from the area and then leapt around, danced and laughed right there in that hallway.  I then whispered out loud, “I knew you’d get a kick out of that so that one is for you!  I love you. ” To some, that may seem inappropriate or even ridiculous, but for me, it was a reminder of the difference between holding on and letting go.

Loss of any kind is never easy, whether through death or some other means.  It is painful, and we scramble to protect whatever we have left.  But loss does not have to cripple us forever, and death is not the end.  Yes, it is excruciating at times.  It can be debilitating in those moments it hits us so hard we can hardly breathe, let alone function.  Grief does not have a timetable, and sometimes it jumps up and grabs us unexpectedly.  And when it does, we need to just step back, be still and open our hands instead of closing them into fists.  If it hurts, let it hurt.  If tears come, let them fall.  Whatever it is you feel, just take a breath and be still.  Open the hands of your spirit so that you can be touched, instead of grasping tightly to what you cannot contain.  Because in the end, the best way we can keep our loved ones with us is to let them go.

Blessings!

Get Out Of Other People’s Closets And Open Your Own

I recently read a Facebook post from someone I knew from church when I was younger.  We didn’t attend the same church, but we attended church camp and youth events together, and ran in pretty much the same circles.  It was a beautiful post from a beautiful person with a genuine heart for God.  Brandon Beene is my friend and I wish so much that we had gotten to know each other even better when we were younger because we share some very common struggles.   Another of Brandon’s friends shared the entirety of his post on his blog, and it was so impactful that I put a link to it at the bottom of this page because it’s worth reading, especially if you grew up in church.

Something that Brandon talked about in his post was the way he was bullied growing up, much of it coming from the fact he was not a masculine guy.  What Brandon doesn’t realize about me (or hasn’t until he reads this) is that I experienced many of the same things.  Maybe some weren’t to the same degree because I didn’t get beat up physically, but I got beat up in every other way.  shutterstock_184639775The bullying and teasing and humiliation I felt drove me to the point of standing on the edge of a bridge,  picking which car I was going to jump in front of in case the fall itself didn’t kill me.  I understand Brandon better than he probably could have ever dreamed.  We’ve shared very eerie similarities on the opposite side of the same issue.  First of all, I couldn’t agree more with what Brandon said.  His comments about love and what it should be are spot on.  I’ve often written about what love really is and what it means to truly love others.  I’ve written about what God’s love really looks like and how greatly we can affect this world if we would strive to love as God loves.  The problem with loving that way is that it often bothers or even offends most “religious” people today.  It also doesn’t sit well with people who are not religious but who consider themselves to be superior because of their own moral compass.   The interesting thing is that our problems are an epidemic that only genuine love itself can resolve.

Most of the people who are around me know I’ve never been a girly girl.  I don’t like cooking or sewing.  I don’t like pink.  I hate dolls.  I didn’t like to read love stories.  I didn’t like to watch sappy movies.  I liked watching the creature from the black lagoon, and my favorite author was Edgar Allan Poe.  I burned bugs with magnifying glasses.  I spent all my time outside playing football with the boys.   I participated in all kinds of sports and was good at them.   I even cried when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to play football in high school, because girls weren’t allowed on the team.  I got teased all the time because I was scrawny and gangly, and hadn’t developed physically.  I hate dresses.  I never wore them unless I was forced to.  There were some pastors I encountered that insisted women wear dresses or skirts, and all I could think was how miserable it made me in church.  When I was a kid, probably about 6 or 7, I told a friend at church that I actually WAS a boy.  She pretty much believed it until the day she told me to prove it, and of course I couldn’t and had to pony up to the truth.  My opinion of girls was that they weren’t strong.   They were concerned with makeup, hair, nails and shopping.  Blech!

I got teased and was the brunt of a lot of jokes.  I suffered privately and tried to find other tomboys with which to hang out.  I liked being rough and tumble.  I am glad that in this day and age, it is more acceptable for girls to be that way, but it wasn’t so in my generation.   I even got teased in my family for not cooking or not knowing how to cook.  The truth is that I can cook when I try, and the things I have cooked have turned out well, but I still don’t enjoy it. I go shopping, but I don’t like it.  Another thing Brandon mentioned was that he didn’t really like sports or know the rules of all the different types of sports and I thought, “I know the rules of all the different sports.  Heck, I even know the rules to curling!”  I love sports.  I watch them and play them, and would much rather hang out with a bunch of guys watching a game and having a great time than sitting around the kitchen table with the girls talking about “girly” things.

shutterstock_200320292Brandon also revealed in his post how he was called gay on many occasions and had to endure many times when he was called a fag or faggot.  It was painful to read his experiences.  While I do think that men and boys can be much harsher outwardly than girls with that kind of name-calling, the truth is girls are just as mean and brutal; they just do it behind your back.  Where Brandon had to deal with people calling him those names, I had to deal with the looks and snickering that people thought I didn’t see. I certainly felt the awkwardness of being excluded because I wasn’t a “normal” girl.  I got teased unmercifully for wanting to hunt with all of my cousins and uncles.  I didn’t get called gay or “dike” to my face, but I found out later it was going on all the time behind my back.  I even had an experience where I was called into my school counselor’s office because a friend (who I trusted completely and considered to be one of my closest friends) told a teacher that I was a lesbian.  I’m sure it came from the fact I wrote very expressive poems and writings all the time and shared them with the people I loved.  I loved everyone.  It didn’t matter if it was men or women, or from which walk of life they came.  Unfortunately, that was unacceptable to the people around me.

I would often write how I felt about my friends and my mother even warned me to be careful about what I said to people or wrote to people because they would start to think I was lesbian.  I ignored it and you know what?  It happened.  I really struggled in high school.  I think everyone does.  We struggle with figuring out our true selves.  We struggle with who we are and who we think we should be, and that struggle is made so much worse when we don’t fit the mold of what our family, friends, or religion thinks we should be.  We get sideways glances.  We get rejected.  I had one friend in high school who always understood me as much as anyone possibly could at that age.  She knew that I was just emotional and expressive and was not a girly girl…and she didn’t care one single bit!  I liked to dress odd and funny.  I was a little bit of everything and never really fit into one particular group.  But the rumors apparently continued, and have throughout my life.  Even now, I manage an exceptional team of people on the job and have been successful professionally.  One day a few years ago, we were sitting at the end of a meeting just visiting a bit, and I made a comment about being such a girly-girl and my team all laughed because they all knew I was the opposite.  The newest member of the team made the comment, “Oh, you don’t wanna know what I thought when I first met you.”  She went on to say she thought I was gay.  When I asked why, she said, “ I don’t know.  You just seemed that way.  You are always in a suit and the way you walk….”  I just laughed it off because the truth is I LOVE suits.  I wear them continually and I don’t carry myself in an extremely feminine manner.  I walk heavy.   I’m not one to sit around and say, “Oooooh…aaaah” when babies come into the office.  This woman told me it wasn’t until she saw me with my husband that she realized differently.  She said anyone who sees me with him would know I wasn’t gay.  But me by myself?  Apparently I still give it off.  And you know what?  I’m ok with that.  I had to get to the point where I didn’t care what anyone else thought or I would have to remain captive to their opinions forever.

shutterstock_266832950Brandon mentioned how he didn’t have a gender identity crisis.  I will echo that statement.  I didn’t/don’t have a gender identity issue.  I had a comfort issue.  I was uncomfortable because I didn’t fit in.  When I was small, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, but as I got older, I realized how rejected and judged I was by others.  I knew I was a girl but I didn’t like anything girls liked.  I never owned a Barbie.  To this day, I hate them.  I walk into something girly and just cringe.  I can’t stand baby showers or wedding showers.  I feel like a man when it comes to those things because I have the same reactions to them.  I’d rather do pretty much anything than spend hours at them. Over the years, I’ve had countless people tell me they thought I was a lesbian.  Of course, they never divulged that impression until they had known me a while and figured out I’m just me, that I’m just quirky…but it still hurt.  Feeling like you don’t fit in is one of the worst feelings in the world, and it can drive you to some very dark places.  When you add on top of everything else that I have a form of bipolar disorder, you can see how my brain chemistry issues complicated things for me.  It made me highly creative and highly connected and intense, but this world doesn’t understand that.

I mentioned earlier that I was constantly the brunt of jokes about my lack of traditional femininity.  It was a struggle when I tried to square what society expected me to be vs. who God created me to be.  It was so difficult that when a member of our high school choir touched me in  very inappropriate ways as we sat waiting to go on stage for a performances, I was frozen and didn’t know what to do because the wounded side of me thought, “Well maybe I am ok as a girl because at least I’m not unattractive to him.”  The vast majority of my boyfriends were guys who liked to hang out.  They weren’t terribly romantic and I was fine with it!  I liked to do the kind of stuff they liked to do.  I eventually married someone who is a man’s man but who loves me because I’m not such a girly-girl. He is the perfect partner for me because he loves me exactly as I am and actually embraces it.  He is a gift from God, himself.

I have friends of all walks of life, including friends who are openly gay or lesbian…and I love them dearly.  I love them because God created me to love people – all people – passionately…because HE loves them passionately.  I don’t have to agree with their politics, religion or choices in order to love and appreciate them.  It has nothing to do with that.  It has to do with loving people exactly where they are.  And maybe I’m even more passionate about that fact because it felt like it happened so rarely in my life.

shutterstock_153650339The truth is that God made me this way for a reason.  When Brandon said God doesn’t make mistakes, I couldn’t agree more.  I have said that for most of my life but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized God wired me this way for a reason because there are certain people out there that I can touch as a result.  As a matter of fact, there are some people out there that only we can touch because of who we are and the experiences of our specific individual lives.  We can reach people that others would have a hard time connecting with because they can’t understand their situation or personality.   I’m different.  I’ve always been different.  I’ve also been ridiculed and mocked for it.  I’ve been called all kinds of names for it.  I’ve almost died for it.   On the outside I may have looked like a fun, carefree, and well-liked person, but in my heart I struggled with many of the same things as Brandon did.  It is time for us to get over our fears and live exactly as we are created to be!  Stop judging each other.  Stop labeling each other.  Stop bullying people who aren’t like you and call it something else.  It doesn’t matter how we try to rationalize our behavior, it is still wrong.  Don’t say you are a Christian and then spend your time making the people around you feel less than you.  God doesn’t do that.  Jesus didn’t do that while here on earth, and He certainly doesn’t expect us to do it either!

It’s time to be who God called us to be, not who our parents, friends, bosses or churches are trying to call us to be.  I teach this to my Sunday school class all the time.  The things you like, you like for a reason.  The things that don’t interest you, don’t interest you for a reason.  God created us with our likes and dislikes because it’s those likes and dislikes that connect us with others in different ways.

So I’ll close with something that came up for me when Brandon said he can relate to the struggle of Caitlyn Jenner feeling like an outcast.  I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine any man wanting to give it up to become a woman and everything that is supposed to come with it.”  But I can sure identify with the same things about it with which Brandon identifies.  I can identify with hiding mental health issues.  I can identify with hiding suicidal tendencies or attempts.  I can identify with struggling to just be who we are and let God sort it out because NONE of us have a right to stomp on someone else.  Let me just add that Chaz Bono encountered a lot of the same things even though he wasn’t as well-known in his life as Chastity as Caitlyn Jenner was in his life as Bruce.  I could better identify with her struggles because they were closer to mine.  If I were a child today, raised in a more liberal home, I would be “pegged” as having a gender identity issue.  And  if I continually said that I was a boy or wanted to be one, I guess I could more easily become one.  But you know what would be a million times better than labeling a child (or adult) as having a gender identity issue?  It would be saying, “It’s ok that you don’t like all that girly (or boyish) stuff.  It’s ok that you want to do what you like to do.”  Maybe we should sit down with our kids, as well as with our adults who are still struggling and say, “It’s ok to not fit into what our society has defined you to be.  You just be who you were created to be because God loves you just exactly as you are.”

shutterstock_219355915It’s scary to think of how far left of center we have become.  We’ve started labeling people as one thing or another instead of looking within and seeing them as they are.  We have actually started crippling each other by embracing the new politically correct labels instead of dropping the labels all together.   It used to be a shame to be called gay, where now it is embraced by society.  Now it is a shame to be called other things.  In some circles it is a shame to be called a Christian.  It doesn’t matter what era of time we look at, there are always people who did not fit in, who were bullied and mistreated because of their differences.   Society and humanity is cruel because we are continually looking for labels to put people into boxes where we can look down on them and feel better about ourselves.  What an absolute contrast to what God does and what He has asked us to do.  We need to drop the labels and embrace each other.  It doesn’t always mean we will agree, but love goes so much deeper than differences.   It would be so much better if we just simply loved each other.  I realize with an imperfect world and imperfect people it will probably never be that way, but we can hope.  And we can, through the telling of our stories, change the individuals who can eventually change the world.

Blessings!

Brandon Beene Facebook Post

Michael Robison Blog of Brandon’s Post

When Is “Enough” Enough?

shutterstock_236380858Today I stopped at the post office to drop off a tray of mail, and I pulled up next to a very joyful, elderly gentlemen that was parked in a handicapped spot.  He was trying to get back into his car, which required getting his walker collapsed and into the backseat before he could get in himself.   I acknowledged him and asked if he needed assistance, but he just smiled and said he didn’t.  When I came back out from dropping off the mail, he hadn’t progressed very far in what he was doing, though he was still as joyful as he was when I walked in.  As I got into my car, I couldn’t help but think, “How blessed am I that I am able to walk to my car, get in and drive here and then carry in a tray full of mail and drop it off without missing a beat?”  Even with all my own aches and pains, I go about most daily tasks without even giving them a second thought.

It seems we get so caught up in the things that are wrong with us, or the things we need to change, that we forget about all the things that are right and don’t need to change at all.  We forget about the things in us that are perfect.  Yes, I said perfect.  We all have things about us that are exactly as God created them to be, and we need to embrace those things instead of taking them for granted.  I am not a perfect person.  I may not do anything perfectly, but as a child of God, I am already perfect in His eyes.  I am perfect in His eyes because when He looks at me, He sees me through the blood of Jesus Christ, and every time I fail at something or do something wrong, it is covered with that blood.  God sees me as who He created me perfectly to be.  I see myself as who I am with all of my failures and imperfections, and I think, “If I could just try harder, people would appreciate me more.  If I could just be better, people would love me more.  If I could just not mess up…if I could just be ‘enough,’ everything in my life would be grand.”

I spent most of my life feeling like whatever I did, or whoever I am, was/is just not quite enough.  I was raised with the perspective that if you have the ability to do something, you should do it, and if you are going to do something, then you should always do it to the best of your ability.  That is a very good way of approaching life, but the portion that was never really taught or emphasized was the price you pay when that mindset goes to the extreme.  shutterstock_228054031For me it was never about materialistic things (possessions or money), and it still isn’t, but the mindset is still manifested in other ways.  I heard somebody tell a story about speaking with a very rich friend and he asked this friend, “How much is enough?”  The gentleman responded, “Just a little bit more. “  That sticks with me.  When working for a company, how much is enough effort?  When is it enough?  My answer has always been, “Just a little bit more.”  How much will you give before it is enough?  My answer has been, “I need to do just a little bit more because I have the ability to work more or give more.”   Remember, I have always believed that  if you have the ability and you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability – to the maximum of your ability.  I have a lot of interests and things in which I engage.  I’m driven to do every single one of them to the “best of my ability.”  Luckily I’m fairly intelligent and creative, and I am able to juggle a lot of things at once (and I have done so over the course of my life).  I think if I CAN do all of these things and excel at them, then I SHOULD do them, because anything short of that is not enough.  Anything short of that means I’m failing.  It means I’m average and I don’t want to be average.  I want to be excellent.

People say I’m competitive, and I am.  But what most of them have never understood is it isn’t so much that I’m competitive with them; it’s that I’m competitive with myself.  If I know I have the ability to be the best or to be first, then I am upset if I’m not.  It’s not because someone else was first or deserved it; I’m upset because I failed when I knew I could have succeeded.  That’s a really hard expectation to live up to in life.  We put such extreme pressure on ourselves to succeed and be the best in everything we do or every time we touch something, that when we aren’t perfect, we see it as an abject failure.  The truth is we aren’t a failure, we are simply human.  It doesn’t matter that we may have things for which we have superb and sometimes unbelievably amazing skills.  There will still be times that we do not reach our full potential when we engage in them.  That doesn’t mean we failed!

shutterstock_219355915Doing things to the best of our ability (in the sense to which I am referring), comes with a price.  We need to start talking more about that price because it is often extremely high.  I’ve paid that price at times in my life because it seemed less costly than feeling upset or distraught when I think someone is disappointed in me.   I’ve paid that price at times because everything in me screams, “You have the ability to not disappoint them!”  It’s interesting how nothing in me ever screams, “They have unrealistic expectations!”  Nothing in me screams, “YOU have unrealistic expectations of yourself!”   Just because I can, doesn’t always mean I should.   Just because I can, doesn’t mean it’s the best for me.  Doing everything I CAN to the  best of my ability will drain me, wear me out, and eventually destroy me.  It will do the same to you.  I’m not saying we should be lazy or careless, but we look at anything short of perfection or giving more than we have as exactly those things.  And most of us don’t want to be seen that way.

So when is it enough?  I am certain I’m not the only one who struggles with the fact that “enough” always seems just barely out of reach.  It’s like I can touch it with my fingertips, but I can’t grab it.  As a result, I am often filled with anxiety, guilt, disappointment and even a feeling that I should be punished because I haven’t lived up to my potential.  Doing everything you can to the best of your ability shouldn’t mean doing it better than everyone else.  Most people would say they agree with that statement, but when you watch them, you often see people who are actually not content with the level of their ability.   Maybe it is better stated this way:  Do things to the best of you.  You need to be the best you in all ways – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  And the best “me” is the one that is healthy, peaceful and without continual stress, anxiety and emotional upheaval.   Living under the pressure of those latter traits is not an abundant life.  God said, “I came that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Most of us say we want that, but maybe we really don’t.  Maybe I want everyone else’s approval more than I want an abundant life.  Maybe I want to live up to unrealistic expectations more than I want to live an abundant life, because doing so makes me feel superhuman. We (I) think the busier we are, the more valuable we are, but an abundant life isn’t frantic.  It also isn’t draining.  On the contrary, it is fulfilling.  An abundant life isn’t about being enough or doing enough.  It isn’t about trying to be enough;  it is in knowing you already are!  It is knowing that God already loves you completely – even as you are.  You don’t  have to (and can’t) do anything to earn it.  You can’t do anything to make Him love you more.   Your choices certainly determine your level of peace and blessings in life, but they aren’t going to make God love you anymore than He already does, because you are already “enough” in His eyes.  We need to stop trying to be and do enough.  The apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).  Contentment is peaceful.  It is not stressful.  It does not put such mental and physical stress on your body and mind that you cave in upon  yourself…because eventually you will  and it will come out somewhere.

shutterstock_227837773When is enough “enough?”  It is enough right now.  And when you start to struggle with the expectations of others, or more importantly of yourself, you need to step back and say, “I am a child of God, and in His eyes, through the blood of His Son, I am perfect…and I am enough.”  If I could step back and live contented with the knowledge and understanding that I am enough, then  it won’t matter what anyone else thinks of me or what they think my choices should be.  As long as I am following what I know God would have me to do, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  And if stepping back and simply doing what I am called to do causes loss in my life, then so be it…because letting go of the perspective that “enough” is “just a little bit more,” will free up space for us to grab and hold to those thing that make us realize we are more than enough.  Letting go of those things that are draining us (as scary or unsettling as that may seem), will free us from doing things to the best of our ability and leave it up to God to do things through us to the best of His.

Blessings!

You Are Loved…Accept It!

shutterstock_134516501It has been said that we live in moments, not in days and I believe that is true.  Actually I believe we live in even shorter spans of times…in breaths and heartbeats.  Each one is a gift we can never get back.  The same is true for the ones we love.  Most of us know we are not promised another moment in life but we often forget that those we love are not promised another moment either.  If we could remember that fact, we might find ourselves more willing to tell others we love them.  For some, perhaps they would learn to accept love and care without being so uncomfortable.

There are some people in my world who mean more to me than they can possibly understand.  Oh, I try to tell/show them (quite often…much to the dismay of some of them) how much I love and care about them but they only see the tip of the iceberg.  It’s always been this way, and I guess I’ve always been a little overly expressive, but the truth is I have always been keenly aware that our next breath is not promised to us.  As a result, I usually honor the internal drive to express to those around me just how much they mean to me.  Sometimes it comes through a deep and meaningful discussion and sometimes it is just a really sappy (but sincere) comment out of nowhere.  Yes, I am compelled to say or do what I say or do…and I do not say or do anything I do not mean from the depths of my soul.

I have found that most people are uncomfortable with true expressions of the heart.  The most common reaction I have seen to an open and honest expression of love is to laugh or become dismissive.  I realize it is not directed at me (or whoever happened to express something to someone), but it comes from a place of either not knowing how to respond or a place of feeling unworthy of that expression.

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Some people have been so criticized over the course of their lives that they refuse to believe someone could see their gifts or their beauty.  They even doubt the sincerity of someone who tells them they are gifted or beautiful because they just can’t see themselves that way.  They develop a way of living that even keeps them shielded from the truth…especially when it is positive.  Most people (with the exception of the selfish or narcissistic) are not comfortable with being told how much they are loved or gifted because they have been taught that it is arrogant to believe it.  Even saying “thank you” becomes an arrogant act in that mindset.  After all, if you say “thank you,” then you are agreeing with whatever was said…and that isn’t polite.  How terrible it is that we have warped something as pure as the expression of the heart and turned it into something to be laughed at, dismissed or even feared.

It is a fact that loss is an inevitable part of life.  There is going to come a time for all of us when we are separated from someone we love.  It is too late, after someone is gone, to tell them how much they mean to you.  It’s too late to hug them.  It’s too late to see them smile when you open your heart to them.  But what if you DO open yourself up to others and express yourself honestly and openly?  Will you be laughed at and dismissed for doing so?  From my experience, I will tell you it is a probability, but don’t let it stop you.  Be fearless!  Love genuinely from the depths of your heart and soul and don’t be afraid to express it.

shutterstock_57395806In my life, I have been hurt and burned by more people than I can count.  I have been laughed at and teased for being so expressive.  I have been looked at strangely because I refuse to give up on people even when they have walked away.  I have been ridiculed for being too vulnerable with those I love.  I have been rejected by some because I refuse to reserve my love and care for only those who were deemed “acceptable.”  I have been punished for reaching out to those who were perceived as stealing my time or energy.  Believe me, I have been wounded by every negative arrow that can be hurled at someone for loving deeply and expressing that love…and do you know what it taught me?  It taught me that the love we give can also heal us.  Otherwise, I would have been dead from those wounds long ago.

The truth is I will never be able to fully express to those I love just how much they mean to me.  There are no words that truly convey my gratitude for those who have loved and accepted me without condition.  So forgive me if I am unable to keep myself from trying to find the words to express the depth of love, care and connection I feel for those around me.  Forgive me for struggling to keep it locked inside when I feel compelled to tell you that you are beautiful, intelligent, talented, kind, compassionate, loving or any one of a thousand other things that YOU don’t believe about yourself.  Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t make it untrue.  Maybe you need to see yourself through my eyes for a moment.

shutterstock_158268758And the next time I tell you you’re amazing, just say “thank you.”  I promise it doesn’t make you selfish.

Blessings!

“Out Of the Closet” Isn’t Always What You Think

I recently shared some personal information about myself with my family and, subsequently, with the rest of my friends. It was something that up until now just wasn’t openly discussed. There have been a few people in my family with whom I talked about it in the past and I have had some amazing friends who have known and supported me for many years. Unfortunately because the stigma attached to mental health and brain chemistry issues is so great, it is a subject that required careful silence. My revelation: I have lived with bipolar disorder my entire life and was officially diagnosed in April 1994.

shutterstock_93702475We all have things in our respective “closets” that we are afraid of revealing. We are afraid it will so drastically change our world that we would rather live in hiding than risk upsetting what we already have. We are worried our families will struggle with the corners of our reality. We worry we will lose respect of the people in our professional lives. We fear that society will suddenly frame us in a different light and begin to judge us solely within that frame. WHY then would we ever want to come out into the light and fully show ourselves? Why would we want to open the door to areas within us that may cause people to walk away?

I have a faithful friend who, when I shared the news of my revealing with her, responded with a note filled with beautiful words. In it, she said something that resonated deeply within me. “Being open does not give other people power over you. It gives you power over you.” There exists such a wonderful truth in that statement. Coming out into the light of your truth will liberate and empower you. It will give you the ability to breathe more deeply because you aren’t constantly wasting your energy trying to shove things further into the dark. It will also allow you to more clearly recognize those beautiful people in your life who truly accept and love you as you are. It is not easy to come out of the closets in our lives, no matter what those particular closets might be. There is an endless list of things you might be hiding but there is one solution to it all. Turn on the light and throw open the door. Walk bravely out into the open and look around. You just may find there are many of your friends and family who embrace you in all your uniqueness. You already have the key. The question is whether or not you will use it.

shutterstock_110895386“Coming out” is a term that applies to much more than simply the one thing with which we commonly hear it associated. Revealing our true selves is a process of steps. We first show our truth to one or two people (or maybe even a few) that we know we can trust completely. We lean on them and use their support and acceptance to help us grow stronger. Then we begin to carefully unravel the layers of our selves to others in our world. We may come out to friends but not to our coworkers. We may come out to coworkers but not our families. We may come out to our families but not to others. It just depends on the situations in which we find ourselves. You see, there IS risk in revealing the things in our lives that we (or we assume others) consider to be unattractive, embarrassing or negative and it is not always appropriate to run wildly into the open shouting our truths. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we cannot help but do so but we must remember there are also consequences we may face as a result. If I had revealed the truth of my bipolar brain chemistry in my professional world years ago, it would have become an albatross from which I might not have been able to escape. My position (and my particular division) was one that was not conducive to such revelations. My successes would have been eclipsed by the glaring judgments of many of my colleagues which would have undermined my ability to continue to be viewed as productive and successful. It is sometimes a difficult dance to maintain and the sad thing is it is a dance you will dance alone. The same holds true for any other realm (family, friends, etc). Depending on what your closet holds, you may find yourself dancing alone in the midst, trying to find a balance between revealing and surviving.

I have been overwhelmed by the positive and encouraging responses of the people in my life and am grateful beyond belief but there are still areas that have not been fully breached. It is a process but I will take it as it comes. For now, it is an unspeakable feeling of liberation and I am excited to see what God is doing and what path He is clearing before me.

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Often times, we THINK we are ready to walk the path before us but we continue to be faced with obstacle after obstacle. They are not here by chance. They are here to help us come to the place where we begin to see that the only requirement to being all we are created to be is to let go of who everyone else thinks we are. When we relinquish our need to always be in control, we will find there is a much greater power than ourselves clearing the path at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way. Honesty, truth, kindness and love…these are the great purifiers in our lives and refiners of our paths. Trust yourself. Embrace the truth and let the rest fall where it may. It is the only way to truly live.

Blessings!

To help fight the stigma of brain disorders, please visit any of the following links:

Living Through the Wounds

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of living where you are, in spite of the wounds you have caused or how you may have been wounded by others.  I’ve talked before about how important it is for us not to hide.  It is so important that we show ourselves.  It is the only way to combat the isolation that drives most of us to the brink of insanity.  Don’t be afraid of your wounds.  We are all wounded in some way and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you.

I keep coming back to a bible story in Mark 5:1-19 that really touched me a few years ago.  There was a possessed man who was living among the tombs.  The people of the town he called “home” had rejected, ostracized and thrown him out to fend for himself.  He had become violent, crazy and frightening to the “normal” people of the town.  They had even put him in cuffs and chained him but he was so out of his head that he had broken them.  shutterstock_71090605They didn’t want him, so here he was living out in the tombs…naked and totally out of his mind.  He cried out and even cut himself trying to get relief.  Nothing helped.  Nothing worked.  So Jesus comes through and heals him by casting out his demons into a bunch of pigs that ended up killing themselves.  When the people saw this man sitting there dressed and in his right mind, it actually scared them!  They were not convinced the change in him was real.  The man‘s reaction to this amazing event is totally understandable.  He was SO incredibly thankful for his restoration that all he wanted to do was to go with Jesus, to follow Him wherever He went and to serve Him.  His motives were pure!  We would applaud His desire to go with Jesus but the story tells us Jesus told him No and to instead go home and tell others what had happened to him.  For most, the story ends there but I see so much more.

You see, it’s easier for us to be different or become a better version of ourselves if we go somewhere that people don’t know us or our history.  We can choose what to share with them from our past and paint a prettier picture of who we are.  shutterstock_76320961It’s easier to start over somewhere else not only because we are with people we haven’t wounded, but also with people who haven’t wounded us.  Restoration of our selves is easy because it is between us and God.  Restoration of our relationships or influence is much more difficult because it involves others.  When Jesus told this man to go home, it was to a much different situation than comes to mind for most of us.  If it was me, I might not be happy about having to stay where I am but I have a good life, friends and family here.  Going home for this man, to HIS situation, would have been much more difficult.  He was going to have to be with people who had wounded him and thrown him away.   He was going to have to face people he had wounded or scared.  He would have to face things HE had done and said – some he might remember and some he might not.  Why would anyone even listen to him when he proclaimed what God had done for him and how his life had changed?  Why would they believe him?  The truth is they probably wouldn’t!  It might take years to overcome his past because these people KNEW him!!

It’s much easier for us to go to people we don’t know than to those who know us and have seen our faults.  BUT to live where we are – through the difficulties – is where we have the most influence in the long run.  When people who know us or have seen us at our worst finally see the change in our lives and understand that we have truly changed, then it is different.  It has a much deeper impact than if they simply heard stories of where or how we used to be and how we came out of it.  Just like this man, it may take a long time, yes – even years, for people to finally see us as we are instead of how we used to be.  shutterstock_93000241Some may never be able to let go of their old visions of us but it doesn’t matter.  We cannot force them to open their eyes but it is still up to us to live where we are planted.  It isn’t always easy, especially when there are wounds involved (ours or the ones we may have inflicted on others) but if you really want to change the world, start with yourself.  And then be willing to humbly stand strong even if it takes a while for the world around you to finally see things differently too.  Be humble.  Be honest.  Be open.  Be forgiving.  Be you…and trust that sometimes perspectives can only be changed with time.  

Blessings! 

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(Here is the text of the story from the book of Mark:  “They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”  “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.  11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.  14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.  18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”)