24 To Life

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This may be a strange way to start this post, but recently I saw a television show that chronicled the last 24 hours of freedom for people who had been sentenced to years in prison.  It not only evoked several different emotions, but it also caused some discussions about what you would do if you knew you were going to prison tomorrow.   After the show was over, I didn’t think much more about it until a few days ago.

shutterstock_342646817Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the spiritual battles we face in this life.  At times, I really struggle to hang onto my faith when the enemy continually tries to get me to doubt what I know to be true about God and His nature toward us as His children.  I mean, I know the right things to say and even think, but it is so easy to get caught up in fear, frustration, sadness and a host of other emotions when we are faced with life’s difficulties.  Even the apostle Paul shared his struggle with the battle between our human nature and our spiritual one.  He said, “What I want to do, I don’t do, but what I hate, that’s what I do.  I don’t do the good I want to do, but I do the bad that I don’t want to do, and then keep on doing it.”  Man, he sounds a a lot like me.  Paul explains that it is his sin nature that causes such a problem because once we are saved, we know what we should do, but we often struggle to follow through with it.  Not only that, we struggle what to think, which then causes confusion in our emotions as well.  It’s easy to see why we are so often tangled up within ourselves, walking the line between fear and faith or doubt and trust.

I’ve come to realize that every battle in life is a “spiritual battle.”  Every difficult circumstance I’ve faced has always come back to my perspective on my circumstances.  Whether it was physical pain/illness, financial, professional or relationship issues, the true battle comes not in something I can see or touch, but in my mind where I struggle with confusion and doubt about what to do or how to feel.  Our battles are spiritual!  We have an enemy, and you can call him whatever you want, but God has assured us he is the enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 tell us “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  Ephesians 6:10-17 tells us about the armor we need to put on in order to fight and defeat the spiritual enemy.  Even Jesus, Himself, had to battle spiritually with Satan and his influence/temptations.  (Matt 4:1-11).  There are so many scriptures that talk about the battle between us and sin, or us and the enemy.  So yes, we are at war with the evil influences and tactics of our enemy in this world, but why is he so relentless?  Well, to answer that in a more contemporary terms, he is living in the stage of his existence that is 24 to life.

shutterstock_234987922Our enemy KNOWS his eventual fate.  The judgement and sentence has been declared and sealed!  Revelation chapter 20 describes exactly what awaits him.  He knows how it all ends, and yet he still has his last 24 hours of freedom before it all comes to pass.  He cannot run or hide from his fate, so he is determined to wreak as much havoc as he possibly can until that time.  He is continually trying to keep the unsaved from believing in Christ, but his greater successes come in trying to keep saved children of God from living the abundant life God has promised to us.  I will always believe that Satan’s greatest accomplishments come within churches full of believers.  God has promised to reveal himself to ALL men (Titus 2:11), so Satan can’t keep someone from the reach of God.  He has a much better chance at getting Christians to fall away from the truth than preventing someone from hearing, seeing, or knowing it.  Satan loves to blind people.  He loves to turn believers into unbelievers.  2 Corinthians tells us that he blinds the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.  I think we’ve done a huge disservice in taking this as referring to only those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior.  Yes, Satan can blind the unsaved so that it is harder for their hearts and minds to be opened, but he does NOT have the power to keep God from reaching them.  GOD IS ALL POWERFUL!  So then we have to look at that verse a little differently.

We, as people of faith, are often “unbelievers.”  We read the truth and know all the right words to say, but do we actually LIVE what we know is true?  Do we trust God in all circumstances or do we spend our time in worry and fear?  Do we forgive others, even if they don’t ask us, or do we hold grudges?  Do we let our ethical or moral standards fall in those times there is something we want?  Do we love others regardless of race, creed, religion, etc. or do we put conditions on our love?  Do we stand in the midst of life’s storms and get frustrated and angry, or do we put one foot in front of the other and follow wherever God wants us to walk, because HE knows what is best for us (Romans 8:28)?  This world is full of Christian Atheists who have accepted Christ as Savior, but then never live the abundant life He has promised because we let Satan blind US!  We become the “unbelievers!”  It doesn’t mean we are no longer saved or no longer God’s children, it simply means we have stopped believing what He says.

I have struggled with anxiety my entire life.  I have also struggled with physical issues since I was 18 months old that have been debilitating at times.  I worry.  I am afraid of something bad happening to people I love.  I struggle to hold onto peace in my heart during times of trouble, though most people wouldn’t know it.  Like many of you, I have learned to stand strong externally during difficult times but am often reduced to a fearful, frustrated heap that is full of doubt when no one is looking.  Thankfully, as I have studied and prayed more, God has continually revealed more of His character and how He interacts with us.  Being able to secure His word in my heart has changed me, not because someone preached it to me or even from simply reading it, but because I have sought to deepen my personal relationship with him as my “Abba Father.”  Abba is more than a pop group or musical!  “Abba” is the equivalent of our term “Daddy.”  shutterstock_419104021My relationship with God has shifted from a good relationship to an intimately personal one.  As a result, I have learned to relax IN HIM instead of relaxing because of Him.   There is a huge difference between knowing all the right verses and knowing Him.  There is a difference between seeing Him as a loving entity who can help you and recognizing Him as a Dad – as your “Abba Father.”

So back to the enemy for a moment…  He wants nothing more than for you, as a believer, to not believe.  He wants nothing more than to blind you so that you forget who you are and who your “Dad” is.  He is scrambling in this world because he knows he cannot win, and he cannot unseal his fate.  He is angry at God and wants to hurt him, but the only way he can hurt God is by distracting us and causing us to doubt the truth.  Satan’s fate is coming like a freight train. He knows it, but as long as he is still free and walking the earth, he is going to do everything in his power to destroy God’s reputation and steal our peace, joy and strength.  If he can keep us tied up in knots, then no one will ask us for the reason we have hope because we won’t look like we have hope!  When you realize that Satan is living HIS 24 to life right now, it can give you a whole new perspective on why he is so relentless.  His time is limited, and he has to mess up everything he can while he still has time.  He is DESPERATE!

Beginning to see the enemy as a powerful adversary, but also a desperate one, helps me understand why he refuses to give up the fight.  It explains why he keeps coming at me, trying to scare and frustrate me as I walk this journey of life.  He’s throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but I have the power IN CHRIST to stand strong and keep my peace and joy.  I have the ability to be content.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)  Those “things” aren’t material.  All through Philippians chapter 4, Paul was talking about attitudes and perspectives.  I CAN think on the good things mentioned in verse 8.  I CAN rejoice in the Lord always – in ALL circumstances.  I CAN stop worrying and being anxious.  I CAN have peace.  These “things” are not easy.  These “things” take continual reminding and refreshing in our hearts or we fall back into the abyss of fear and doubt.  THESE are the “things” I can do through Christ who strengthens me!

shutterstock_542670394I’ll leave you with this last thought: We are also living in our own 24 to life period.  We all have a finite number of years on this earth.  Once those years are gone, we lose our opportunity to reflect the love and nature of our Father in Heaven to those here on this earth.  We lose the chance to make things right with the people in our lives.  We lose the chance to leave a positive mark on our own little corner of the world.  I don’t know about you, but I want the people who know me to look at me and say, “She is her Father’s daughter.”  I want people to see His nature in me because I love and forgive.  I want them to see someone who struggles with worry and fear but who also steps back and remembers the truth so that I have peace and contentment.  I am living 24 to life.  Though that “life” means eternity of peace and joy in Heaven, I want my “24” down here on Earth to not only be abundant for me in all ways, but to be an abundant encouragement and strength to everyone around me.  I pray that for myself, and I pray that for all of you too.

Blessings!

The Red Sea Or The Jordan River?

Sometimes you just don’t know what to do or when to do it.  Lately, it seems I keep finding myself in that position.  My grandpa used to say, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  I know exactly what he meant.  I personally do not believe we should make decisions just for the sake of change.  I believe we need to have that pull from within and not be guided simply by emotion.  We need to listen to that still, small voice that whispers to us which way we should turn.  Waiting on direction is good, but this isn’t really about the act of waiting.  This is about the way in which we wait, and in the way God brings us through (or out of) very difficult and distressing situations.

Life is just hard sometimes.  We all go through stages where we don’t see a way out of situations that are draining us of our joy and peace.  It might be a relationship, a job, financial difficulties, our health or a host of other things.  No matter the source, we just can’t see a way out, and sometimes the “light at the end of the tunnel” really IS a train.  As a person of faith, I truly believe that God can make a way through any circumstance, no matter how dire it may appear.  After all, there is one account after another where He did exactly that for his people.  Sometimes they were grand deliverances and sometimes they were quiet, but what came to mind for me today were two specific stories of God parting the literal waters for His people to cross over.  Two miraculous times, and yet there is something very different about HOW He did it.  This is where I find myself these days: wondering if I am standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.

shutterstock_154498460Most of you have at least heard of the story in Exodus 14 of the people of Israel being trapped in front of the Red Sea with no way out.  There was impassible terrain on both sides, they were being pursued from behind by Pharaoh’s army, and there was a sea in front of them.  Death and destruction seemed certain, but God had actually led them there with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  They didn’t end up there by accident; God purposely and unmistakably led them.   They were exactly where He wanted them to be, with no options of escape by their own power.  He did it because He wanted them to see HIS power and deliverance in a way they could not deny.  They were scared.  They were probably terrified when they looked up and saw the army charging toward them.  Moses told them to stand still and they would see the salvation of the Lord.  Then he reiterated that they just needed to be still because the Lord would fight for them. (Exodus 14:13-14)  God told Moses to stretch out his staff over the sea, and the waters would divide.  Moses did what he was told, and God divided the waters.  The people crossed over on TOTALLY DRY ground!  Amazing, right?!  There was no way out, but then a way miraculously opened up before them to be delivered from certain death.

None of us want to be faced with situations that seem like they will destroy us.  We don’t want to be in a place where we have to trust God to make a way.  We don’t want to have to wait and trust Him to deliver us in those times.  We just want out!  So we complain and grumble (just like the Israelites) about how God doesn’t see what we are forced to endure or, even worse, that He sees our struggles and doesn’t care!  I have experienced occasions where I had no way out, but God opened up a path for me that I couldn’t have opened for myself.  When it happens, it is thrilling!  It is a mind-blowing experience that restores and strengthens my faith.  It reminds me that nothing is impossible, and that God will always provide direction and make a way, even when it isn’t on my timetable.

Lately, I have been feeling pretty defeated in some areas of my life.  Sometimes I am discouraged, and sometimes I am downright overwhelmed and depressed.  Like many of us, I try to wait until I finally see the ocean part so I can walk through on dry ground to the other side.  I believe God will impress on my heart the direction(s) I am supposed to take, and I am convinced He will make a way.  So I stand and  watch.  The wind blows and the waves churn, and I watch.  I look behind me and see the enemies closing, but I hold to my faith and trust there will be a way.  I watch, but I have learned something very valuable along the way: Sometimes God doesn’t part the sea; He parts the river.  Let me explain…

shutterstock_303650477I mentioned there were TWO times where God parted literal waters to make a way for His people.  The first was the Red Sea, but the other was Jordan River.  The people of Israel were still journeying along the path God was directing them, carrying the Ark of the Covenant (Joshua chpt 3).  They arrived at the edge of the Jordan River, and there was no way for them to cross.  This was the time of year the river ran so high and swiftly that it would overrun its banks.  It was a rushing, flooding river!  God instructed Joshua that when the people come to the brink of the flowing waters of the Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark were to “stand still IN the Jordan.”  Joshua passed the message along, and they did as they were told.  As a result, the waters parted, and the people passed across on DRY GROUND! Sound familiar?  Wait until God tells you to do otherwise and He will make the way clear.  There is a glaring similarity in these two events: God’s direction was to “stand still” and He would provide a way.  On the other hand, there is also a glaring difference.  At the Red Sea, the people were to stand still and watch God open the path ahead. The sea parted before anyone stepped into it.    At the Jordan River, the men were told to stand still IN the Jordan first and then God would open the path. The waters didn’t part until AFTER they stepped in.

So back to my life (and probably some of yours).  I look around me, and most of the time I think “when and how can I get out of this?”  I am often exhausted, stressed and sometimes even afraid.  Sometimes I am angry, not only that God hasn’t delivered me from my circumstances, but that He actually LED me to a place where I can’t see any way out on my own power.  We all find ourselves in places like this where we are completely stuck.  It wears on us.  It wears on me, but then my faith kicks in, and I remember that God is always leading me.  Sometimes He leads me to wait, and sometimes He leads me to walk forward.  He IS leading.  The question is:  Am I actually following?

Many of us are “leaders” in one way or another.  We have positions in our jobs, churches and homes that require us to step up and lead.  Many people, however, do not see themselves as anything but a follower.  They have no desire to lead (in the traditional sense) or be responsible for others.  Neither of these types of people are better than the other, but for those who fall into the latter group, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t struggle with control issues.  The reality is that the vast majority of humanity desires (and pursues) the ability to control their own lives and their own journeys.  We may not want to lead others, but we do want to be able to direct our own paths.  Let me put it this way:  We want freedom.  We want to choose what we do and when we do it.  We don’t want to feel trapped or stuck in any area of our lives, and, too often, we view waiting as being stuck.  Waiting goes against our nature when things aren’t going well.  We are hard-wired to do something, or make something happen, and have come to view anything less as laziness.  We overestimate our intelligence (no matter how high or low your IQ may be) and set off in a direction based on a list of pros and cons.  We think through our options and make what we believe is the best decision.  In those rare occasions that we find ourselves temporarily without options, we may wait, but we do not do it gracefully.  As people of faith, we want to be delivered and for God to clear the path ahead the minute we face the ocean or the raging rivers of our lives.  We want to walk through on dry ground, but we cannot do that unless we first stand still.

shutterstock_86702158Standing still isn’t easy.  Waiting for God to open doors and paths in our lives isn’t easy, but knowing where we are supposed to stand still is an even tougher dilemma for us.  Are we (am I) standing at the edge of the sea or the raging river?  How do I know if I am waiting on God to move, or if God is waiting on me to step into the water first?   Are we at a standoff of faith?  Am I misinterpreting my role in this journey?  Questions flood our minds when we are struggling.  We question why God isn’t opening the path before us or why He doesn’t seem to be moving.  We strain our eyes for signs of where we are supposed to go or what we are supposed to do.  Do we wait or do we leap?  My friends, God is not the author of confusion! (1 Cor 14:33)  He is continually leading us in all different ways – some are obvious and some are subtle, but all are powerful if we are willing to follow.  God may drop a sign as obvious as a pillar of fire or cloud in front of you and say “follow that,” or you may have to rely simply on His words.  You may be led to a dead end and told to stand still on the banks of the ocean and wait, or you may be told to step INTO the waters first and wait for them to part.  I think most of us probably prefer waiting for the path to open before we embark upon it.  We like to see it before we walk it.  There are some, however, who actually prefer jumping into the river first and then seeing the path emerge.

I’ve been at the “Red Sea” before.  The stress of looking around and seeing no way out, while an enemy is barreling down on you to destroy you, is overwhelming.  There is an urgency and survival nature that kicks in and creates panic.  “GET ME OUT, I’M GONNA DIE!”  Standing still, feeling like a sitting duck, is terribly difficult in those moments.  We are in fight or flight mode, and being still is contrary to everything in us because time is not on our side.  That is precisely why God tells us to stand still at those moments.  We need to stop and quit freaking out over what is happening.  We need to stand still and remember God led us to this place for a reason, and if we will stand still at that point, we will see the “salvation of the Lord.”  Take a breath.  You followed unmistakable direction in good faith, and God just needs you to calm down and let Him do the heavy lifting.  Be still and let Him show you the way.

shutterstock_224938534The “Jordan River” brings a total different type of stress.  I’ve been there too.  There isn’t the same urgency of survival that happens at the “Red Sea.”  You aren’t trapped and no one is actively pursuing you to destroy you.  You are simply lacking direction.  It isn’t hard for us to stand still in these times because the status quo can be an addictive drug.  When there isn’t an urgent threat, it’s easy to just stick with what you know, but we find ourselves in situations where we are driven to fear, depression, and anxiety.  We know God has the ability to deliver us, but we can see different options or paths for that to happen.  As a result, we become paralyzed because we don’t want to give up what we have if God hasn’t shown us the path yet.  We don’t make the leap because we fear we will be worse off than we are now.  “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” right?  So we give up joy, peace and contentment for the sake of stability and safety.  The stress of the Jordan doesn’t come from having to calm yourself to be still in the face of a charging enemy; it comes from having to get the courage to let go of safety and stability FIRST and then wait for God to reveal the path.  Let me add one other thought here.  God told them to step into the raging flood waters and THEN to stand still.  He didn’t tell them to step in and keep walking.  Our tendency at the Jordan is to say, “I know God wants me to step into the river and He will show me the way.”  What we forget is the very next step after leaving the safety of dry land, is to stand still in the unknown.  The fear and anxiety that comes with the Jordan comes from letting go of a sure thing and seemingly risking everything.  It comes in doing making the leap and then having to calm yourself as the flood waters rush around you.  It comes in trying to stand while the force of your circumstances are trying to pull you under.  Instead of asking God “Why did you bring me here to be destroyed,” we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?!”  We start questioning if we did the right thing, because destruction seems certain as a result of our decision.  We experience the elation of courage, only to be hit with the panic of survival.  We step in, but when the way isn’t immediately made clear, we step back out and wonder why we still don’t see a path.  That isn’t God’s fault; it’s ours.

So the question remains – Am I, or are we, at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.  To answer that question, you need to look at where you’ve been.

  • Have you been following God’s direction with a certainty in your heart that it is Him, only to find yourself in a place where it seems there is no way out? Are you frantic and worried?  If so, take a breath.  Remind God of His promises to take care of you (Deut 31:6; Matt 6:26-34).  Calm yourself and stand still and watch what God is about to do.  You will be walking on dry ground soon,  and the circumstances that were chasing you down to destroy you will be drowned in the sea behind you.
  • On the other hand, have you been following God as he leads you to where He wants you to be, only to find yourself faced with a barrier or circumstance that confuses you? Is there something in your way that is causing you to look at other options, thinking you must have misinterpreted God’s leading up to this point?  Are you stressed or anxious, but leaning instead on safety and stability, settling for less than what you know God has for you?  If so, take heart!  Remind yourself that God is not the author of confusion, and He is simply waiting for you to move forward and step into the water with confidence – even without knowing for sure the outcome at that point.  Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it isn’t where you are supposed to be.  The waters may be pulling at you once you step in but stand still and watch what God is about to do.  (2 Cor 4:8-9 – 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed)  You, too, will soon be walking on dry ground, safely and with clear direction.

shutterstock_270894053No matter where you find yourself today, standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan, don’t panic.  God is with you, leading you forward.   He isn’t holding His will behind His back and making you play a game to try and figure it out.  If you truly want direction, and are in fellowship with your Father, then He will reveal it to you.  You may still be asking, “But how do I know?”  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”   Notice the little word in the middle – “all.  That little word leaves no room for creating your own directions or forging your own path.  Are you the master of your destiny?  Yes, absolutely.  You have complete freedom of choice to live your life how you choose.  You can go it alone, bumping into walls, frustrated and always seeking direction, or you can acknowledge God in ALL your ways and He will provide the direction for which you are seeking.  If you want to know which way to go, then get humble, surrender your will to His in every area, and then listen to that still, small voice within.  He has promised He will lead us; we simply need to be willing to stand still first, and then follow where He leads.

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

To Cheat Or Not To Cheat

shutterstock_200740298To cheat or not to cheat?  That is actually NOT the question!   With the end of the football season, comes a story that has had many people talking about the Patriots and football air pressure.   I think most of us would say that cheating is bad.  Cheating in a relationship is wrong.  Cheating on a test is wrong.  Cheating in a football game or other sporting event is wrong, and yet we have situations come up like this one with the Patriots last week where there seems to be a gray area.  Things become gray due to the opinions of people.  There is always “he said-she said” in any questionable situation, but the bottom line is there are rules.  There are guidelines, and if they’re broken, it’s wrong and there should be consequences.  I realize in “deflate-gate,” many people have come out (even in the NFL) and said every team does these kinds of things.  People have even discussed that the rule should be changed because it’s stupid and no one really abides by it.  They say it doesn’t matter because everybody bends it.  If the rules say that something has to be a certain way, then you don’t have the liberty to simply choose to arbitrarily change it on your own.

Is it ever right to do the wrong thing?  That question has been asked many times before.  We like to pick and choose when it’s ok to do the wrong thing, but that doesn’t actually make it ok.  We say it’s alright to steal if you are starving, but it isn’t.  Would most of us do it?  Yes.  Does that make it right?  No.  It really is black and white, even though we use our reasoning to turn it gray.   So why is this football story so huge?  Is it because the Patriots are one of the most disliked teams in the country (according to a recent poll)?  Probably.   Is it because people are irritated over the fact they ran up the score or are arrogant?   Possibly.   But does holding someone accountable to the stated rules make you a poor sport or sore loser?  No.   So then why is this such a big deal?  There are people starving all over the world.  We have people starving in our own country!  There are human rights issues all over the world.   We have a government that is out of control.  So how is THIS such a big story?   I think it speaks to something in many of us.

shutterstock_234987922Most of us have this thing about fairness and justice.  WE WANT JUSTICE!  Of course, we only want justice when it affects the other team or person.   We only want justice when it isn’t for something we have done.  When we mess up or do something wrong, or make a less than wise decision, we want mercy and forgiveness.  We want understanding and compassion from others, yet all too often we aren’t willing to give it.  So when we get stirred up over something someone else has done (or is doing), sometimes we have to step back and ask ourselves why and consider the place internally from where it is coming.

When I look at the Patriots, although they may be one of the most disliked NFL teams, they are also one of the best.   They have skilled players who work together well.  They have achieved greatness in many areas as a team and so has Tom Brady as an individual.  They’ve been on top and they are on top again.  There’s something interesting about being on top:  the higher you climb, the bigger target you become.   When you’re good at something, you are going to be viewed with more scrutiny.  When you rise up, you must inevitably dodge the shots being taken at you.   And whether that’s right or wrong, or good or bad, it does remain a fact.  When you stand up and say “I’m going to lead,” or you step up and make yourself visible, you better be ready because things are going to happen.  My grandpa used to always say, “You can’t keep people from saying negative things about you, but you can make them liars.”  In other words, there are always people who are going to talk about you, and I will assure you if you are in a position of leadership, popularity or notoriety, people ARE going to criticize you.  They may all have different reasons for trying to knock you down, and whether or not it’s fair for you to be held to a different standard, you are.  WE are.  You don’t have the luxury of always doing the things that others are able to do.  There are things they can get away with for which you would be held accountable.

shutterstock_209920357So back to “deflate-gate” for a moment:  The Patriots are accomplished, winning and visible, and as a result they need to pay attention to details and do the right things even if no one else is.  As far as the pressure in the footballs, there should be no question at all.   You know what the rules are; abide by them.  Put yourselves and your team above reproach as much as possible, with the understanding that you are still going to get scrutinized over things.  The same thing holds true for us.  It’s hard to say you’re sorry when you’re not wrong.  It’s difficult to have to constantly evaluate things and say to yourself, “This is the situation, and if I do it the right way, it’s going to take me longer.  It’s going to cost me more in one way or another.  What should I do?”  It may wear on you over time, but that’s the choice you constantly have to make, because when you don’t, the smallest indiscretions will rise up in your world and become much bigger stories or scandals.  You can look to the right or left and you can watch people gossip, lie, cheat, steal, tear other people down, be manipulative, not care, not love others, not be a good neighbor and countless other things, but it doesn’t matter what they do.  It doesn’t matter because WE are called to love, care and forgive.  What does the Bible say is required of us?  “He has shown you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.”  (Micah 6:8)  In Ecclesiastes 12:13 we are told, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  We are to stand up for what is right, not in everybody else’s life, but in our own.   It is really easy to sit in judgment when someone else has done something wrong, but if you want to sit in judgment, then judge yourself.  We all like to look out the window but rarely want to look in the mirror.  Rest assured, none of us are perfect, and we all have things we should be working on.  But if you are going to hold true and stand up strong for something, just know you are going to be hit with a firestorm at one point or another.

shutterstock_228213685It can be really discouraging watching other people act like sharks during feeding time.  You can’t help but wonder, “What are they gonna get theirs?  When are they going to finally get in trouble?”  But that’s not your problem, and it’s not mine.  Quite frankly it shouldn’t even be our concern as people of faith.  God has promised to take care of us and meet all our needs, if we will simply focus on Him.  Instead of spending our time being so concerned about what should or shouldn’t happen to someone else, we should spend it making sure we are doing the right things.  Remember, the higher you go, and the harder you try to do what’s right with pure motives from a genuine heart, the more the sharks are going to try and feed.  The more you are going to be peppered with questions about rules that everybody else seems to bend.   The problem is, if you stoop down and decide to bend or break the rules, it will inevitably be YOU that is caught, because they certainly aren’t going to turn on each other.

So I hope the recent events cause us to reflect on these things and remember we are called to be different.  As people of faith, we are called to come up higher, but we should never do so unequipped. We need to make sure our armor is on and our shield of faith is lifted high, because often the battle really does come down to you and God, not against the world, but against yourself.  You can’t keep people from talking about you, but you have complete control over whether or not what they say is the truth.  Stand up and be strong.  Lean for support on those God has brought to your life that are of the same mindset and spirit.  Nobody ever said it was going to be an easy road, but we do know it is a victorious one.

Blessings!

A Special Request

shutterstock_176623409Sometimes life can really throw us curveballs…and these days I often feel like I am definitely having trouble with the curve!  We all have times when it seems as if the challenges keeps pouring down over our heads to the point we truly think we might drown. When these times hit us, it is easy to lose sight in the storms and start thinking there’s just no way we can make it through.  We get frustrated, overwhelmed or just downright depressed.  Even if we try to keep ourselves going in public, we privately find it hard to even catch a breath.  Trouble and challenges find us no matter how much we try to avoid them.  We can certainly make ourselves vulnerable to more difficulties through our choices, but sometimes all the things we see as difficulties are really a chance for us to grow.  Yeah, I know.  I don’t like the fact that’s the truth either!

Many of you have read my most recent book titled “How We Said Goodbye.”  Though it was the story of the journey I made with my friend Annette, in it I also shared the circumstances surrounding my dear friend Sandy and how cancer reared its ugly head in her world a couple of years ago.  It has been an amazing journey with all kinds of treatments since that time, but she has done better than I think most of us expected.  With each new round of treatments there was potential for all kinds of negative and debilitating effects and yet she sailed through with relatively minor issues.  It has been an unspeakable blessing to have seen the progress she has made over the past couple of years.  In January, Sandy was pronounced to be “radiologically” cancer free.  You can imagine the excitement we all felt at such great news after such a difficult journey!  And then it happened….

Sandy had a scan in April that revealed recurrence of her cancer that is necessitating yet another, potentially very extensive, surgery.  In addition to the surgery, the doctors will be performing an IORT procedure (Intra-Operative Radiation Therapy) while she is in the operating room.  It is an amazing procedure where they are able to move vital organs aside while the surgical wound is still open and pinpoint the radiation therapy directly on the site of the cancer.  This may turn out to be a great help to her prognosis.  We are certainly hoping so.

d sandyBecause Sandy really hates the limelight, I realize I might get slapped by her for what I’m about to say, but right now she has no control over my fingers so…here I go.  Anyone who knows Sandy or has been around her at all over the past couple of years will tell you she really is one “tough old broad!”  I’ve always known and seen what an amazingly strong person she is, but this journey has proved just how right I was.  But with Sandy, it’s more than just strength…it’s grace.  I’m not saying she doesn’t have moments now and then when things get to her, but to listen to her talk, she has a faith that surpasses that of what most of us claim to have – especially in times of trouble.  She may be human, but she continually looks at the blessings her Heavenly Father has given to her or provided for her during this very difficult time instead of looking at all the things she has to deal with.  It isn’t platitudes or clichés; it is a palpable, authentic trust and gratitude for God’s  love and care for her and her family.  She doesn’t wear rose-colored glasses and she knows exactly what she has been (and is) up against, but she truly lives what she believes…even when she thinks she is caving just a little bit.

Sandy and her family are a family of true faith.  She and her husband (who happens to be a Pastor) have raised their four daughters with great love.  They’ve not had to use words to teach their children (or those around them) what it means to live according to God’s word because they’ve taught them (and us) through their actions.  It is this very rational, logical faith and trust in God that is continuing to sustain them now just as it always has.  To me, that is a beautiful example of what it means to have peace in the midst of the storm.

shutterstock_192108185So speaking of storms and the ones raging around me right now, I suppose it’s time for me to take note of all the blessings in my own life instead of getting so distracted by the wind and waves that seem like they will overtake me.  If Sandy can raise the sails in her storm and harness the wind, I can certainly do better at doing the same in my own.   And as she approaches surgery this Friday, May 23rd at 7:30 a.m., I am asking those of you who are willing, to join us in prayer for Sandy, her family and her medical team (Dr. Nakakura, Dr. Gottschalk and their staff).   Anything is possible and we choose to believe that our Father truly is working things out for His glory and our ultimate good.  The short path is not always what we want to travel, but the reality is we can all breathe easier knowing we are resting in the palm of His hand.

Blessings…and thank you.

A Path or a Pile of Bricks?

shutterstock_15701413I recently came across the following quote: “Sometimes in life you have to choose between two paths; other times all you get is a pile of bricks, and the path you build is up to you.”  After the past couple of months of trying to decide which way to go, it certainly feels like there has been nothing but ton after ton of bricks piled up in front of me.

So often in life we come to times of decision and tend to think it is an “either or” option, even when there may be other options available.  It is natural for us to go through a process of elimination until we are left with two choices, and then try to figure out which is best…or in some cases, which is the lesser of two evils.  Most of us were raised to make decisions by looking at our options, weighing the pros and cons and then choosing the one that will bring the best results.  I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with this approach, as sometimes it can help immensely to take emotion out of it and “count the cost” of the journey on which we consider embarking.   Counting is not always bad and reasoning is not always wrong, but when we limit ourselves to only those paths that have already presented themselves to us or have been sanctioned by the people around us (whether family, friends, churches, or coworkers), then we have lost something very valuable in the midst.

shutterstock_32845126Life is not always black and white, and sometimes it can get a little messy.   We may experience unrest that causes us to feel compelled to make a change.  We may feel like the only way to gain our balance is to do something different, so we start looking for our “options.”  When we start down this path, we must be careful because it usually involves relying on our human reasoning and rationale.  Our human reasoning is often tainted greatly by our emotions.  When faced with a decision, we often choose the path that “feels” better.  We often choose the most lucrative path or the one that seems to be more logical.  We don’t often choose to stay on a path that may be temporarily uncomfortable because we don’t like pain or discomfort.  We get angry, frustrated, disheartened or even depressed about our current situation and start looking for a way out of it.  When we start looking for a way out, we naturally look for which path we should choose.

But what if it’s not about “choosing” a path but building one?

What if we took the mountain of bricks in front of us and build a path with them rather than looking for a way around them or how to remove them?  What if we started building instead of walking?  What if we put on our figurative headphones and listened to the music of that still small voice within instead of the overwhelming cacophony of noise that comes from everyone around us?  What if the bricks in front of us aren’t obstacles at all, but the exact materials we need in order to accomplish things greater than we could have imagined?

shutterstock_113875279It is so easy to get lost in the circumstances of life.  Sometimes we get hurt or disappointed.  Sometimes we feel unappreciated or mistreated.  Sometimes we get so disillusioned with things we previously had confidence in that it rattles us to the core.  Every negative experience or uncomfortable situation is another brick tossed in front of us.  When we find ourselves in these times, as I have been lately, it is so important to go back to what you know to be true and hold on to those things.  Get back to your guiding principles and let your heart and spirit settle for a bit before you go charging out onto a path that may or may not be best for you.  Maybe you (or I, in this case) need to see our difficulties not as something to work around but to work with.  Maybe we need to see all the many things that are going “wrong” in our lives as the bricks we need in order to build a road that leads us to places we could not reach any other way.

Life is complex and we are constantly presented with circumstances (or people) that test our faith and resolve.  We are faced with situations that leave us reeling, and we feel as though we just can’t take any more.  We get wounded to a point where we think we will not recover.  Lately I have questioned almost everything in my own life and have decided it is time to stop looking for a path to choose, but to build one.  It is time to follow where I am called, no matter where it leads.  It is time to take the bricks that for months have seemed to be piled everywhere and start fitting them together in whatever manner God leads me to place them.  It is a new kind of art, a new kind of creativity.

shutterstock_104872121So if you are wondering which way to go or are struggling with decisions in life, take heart.  If you are truly seeking clarity, you will find it.  If you truly want to know which way to go, you must first be willing to go.  When your heart is finally willing, and you are ready to give up your own reasoning and trust God for the results, one of two things will happen:  Either it will become clear which path to take, or you will suddenly see your pile of “bricks” as the exact stones you need to forge the path to exactly where you are called to be.

Blessings!

Revelation and Fragility

Lately I’ve been immersed in a process of revelation.  I just completed writing a book that details the journey I took with my best friend, Annette, over the years as she eventually lost her battle with brain cancer.  It has been an intense and emotional process and one that has put in me yet another position of vulnerability and revelation.  Doing anything creative opens us up for all kinds of judgments (and even ridicule).  When we reveal the truth of our journeys, and the truth of what we experience and feel, the risks are so great that we often shrink back behind the veil of what we think we should look like to the world around us.

Throughout the process of writing and editing the book, I was taken to new places of reflection and realization.  At times it was a painful process as I stripped away the final layers of my protective covering, but it reminded me of how beautiful life truly is when we are wiling to risk judgment for revelation.  Annette and I trusted each other and refused to let society dictate to us how we would treat each other or express our love and care for each other.  As a result, we risked all kinds of ridicule and misperceptions but we didn’t care because we found something that far surpassed the fear of rejection and ridicule:  the strength of being understood and loved without condition. 

Love maskThe revealing of ourselves is often a painful experience.  Whether it is due to the revelation of traits we are not proud of or simply the revelation of our emotions in their most raw state, the result often brings us pain.  We don’t like to be vulnerable, and we don’t like our relationships to get out of balance between give and take…or revelation and reticence.  Even in our most difficult emotional moments, it is often hard to let down our guard or know that we need to reach out to someone who we know loves and cares about us.  We would rather curl up into a corner by ourselves and bear our burdens alone instead of “troubling” someone else with our struggles or let them see us in our fragile state.  Not only that, we don’t want to BE fragile with someone else because it opens us up to more hurt if we are not embraced in our fragility, or worse, judged for it. 

Recently I had the amazing blessing of being able to help someone I love get through a difficult time.  Interestingly, it happened at a time when I was struggling with my own internal issues, but the moment she became vulnerable, nothing could have stopped me from being there to support her.  All the things I was struggling with suddenly paled in comparison to the love and care I felt for another person.  It was an honor to have someone lay their heart in my hands for a short while and to be trusted to not injure it.  It was humbling to be allowed to care for someone who needed to be cared for in that moment.  lost and aloneAnd it was beautiful to see the openness and vulnerability of another’s spirit – even if it was something they would have fought to hide under normal circumstances.  It strengthened and comforted me far more than any strength or comfort I provided for her.  It was as a result of this experience that I remembered why honesty matters so much in our relationships and in our lives.   It reminded me why I had been willing to pour intimate details of my life into a book for all to read.  It whispered to me, “Without revelation and fragility you will never experience true acceptance and strength.”

Helping HandsIt was that experience that gave me courage to keep moving forward in the midst of my own struggles.  It strengthened me to know life is full of relationships that help us grow and it made me proud of my own revelations I shared within the book I just finished.  It reduced my fears of being judged or rejected for the exposure of my own heart.  Revealing ourselves, or becoming openly fragile for a while, allows us the opportunity to see love manifested in the ways someone else cares for us.  But beyond that, it also allows us the opportunity to strengthen those same people in ways we can’t even understand.  We need to stop being so worried about those who will reject us if we reveal our true selves and focus on those who embrace us more purely and love us because we reveal our true selves.  And as I say that, I can’t help but think, “Annette would be so proud.”

 Blessings!