The Little Blue Sock

shutterstock_65088625.jpgOver 70 years ago, my mom was just a sweet, little 5-yr old girl living in a small town in California.  She’d been hearing her friends talk about Santa Clause in December, and how if you hang a stocking on your fireplace, Santa Clause would fill it with candy and toys if you had been good.  My grandparents weren’t raised with the standard traditions of Christmas being all that important, but my mom certainly didn’t know it.  Mom didn’t have a stocking, nor had she ever heard of Santa Clause.  They didn’t even have a fireplace in their small house, but on that Christmas Eve she took one of her light blue socks and taped it to her door in hopes that Santa would show up. On Christmas morning, she got up, excited to see what she had received.  She ran to where the sock was hanging and it was still there…untouched and empty.  Her little heart was crushed and she thought maybe she wasn’t good enough, or maybe her friends had lied to her. 

After Christmas, Mom took a ride with her dad (my “Pop” that I adored), and he asked her if she liked what she had gotten for Christmas.  It was then then she told him about the sock.  As they talked, eventually the subject of the Easter Bunny came up and Mom asked Pop, “Do you think the bunny will leave me candy if I have a basket?”  Pop replied, “I think he will.”  That Easter season, Mom put out her basket, and when she woke up the next morning, her basket contained a package of Heath bars.  Her heart knew, even at that young age, that Pop made sure she wasn’t disappointed again.

img_4890-edit.jpgFast forward to Christmas in our family this year.  My mom is now living with my husband and I, and my Dad is living in a memory care facility.  This is our first Christmas on this new journey, and it has brought many logistical and emotional changes.  I’ve woken up at my parents’ house for Christmas my entire life.  Even as adults, we spent the night with them.   This year, I woke up with my husband in our house, the one we now all share together.  It felt strange not packing up on Christmas Eve to go to my parents’ house for the night.  I knew my Christmas morning would feel different too.  Mom, for the past 30 years or so, woke us all up at 5:00 am by loudly playing The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole.  It’s impossible for me to hear the opening of that song without memories of those mornings flooding my mind.  Our traditions have now been changed not by choice, but by our circumstances.

Traditions, no matter how strong, are always vulnerable to life circumstances or personalities of those who’ve been a part of them.  Some things in life can’t be exactly the same, but they can still be beautiful.  It all depends on whether or not we are willing to open our hearts to new experiences or are able to let go of past ones we wish we could keep forever.  Believe it or not, we have the ability to adjust and adapt in ways we never thought possible. As a matter of fact, some of our greatest revelations are the things we see when we are forced into searching for new ways of doing things.  It is easy to get comfortable and go on auto-pilot when it comes to certain aspects of life.  Familiarity can bring great comfort, but it can also cause you to not even consider what else might be just as (or even more) amazing.

mom blue sockSo, this year, in the midst of the glaring changes to the early part of my Christmas morning, I decided to do something different. I thought about my 5-year old mother and took a light blue sock, filled it with a little toy, a few pieces of candy, and yes, a Heath bar.  I taped it very quietly to the door of my mom’s room and started playing The Christmas Song on my phone that I had laid against her doorway.  As I stood hiding in the morning darkness, listening for the sound of Mom taking that sock off the door, I couldn’t help but think about how there are always opportunities for creating beautiful moments, no matter if they’ve been going on for generations, or whether it’s the very first time it’s happened.  I peeked around the corner of my mom’s room and said, “Merry Christmas.”  There sat my mom on the edge of her bed, laughing and crying at the same time.  So, we sat on the bed together in the faint glow of daybreak, reminiscing about her childhood, “Pop,” our family, and how anything can be redeemed, even if it takes 70 years.  It was my greatest gift this year.

Christmas Day may be behind us, but the gifts that remain are those experiences we shared with family and friends, or even others along the way.  It is the opening of our hearts, listening to each other and loving each other through the difficult times that reminds us we are not alone.  In life, as with Christmas, we need to look for the beauty outside our traditions as well as within them.  Sometimes it is through the changes we didn’t expect in life that we find the changes that make life more beautiful.

Live with your heart open, and when you get the chance along the way, always take time to fill someone else’s little blue sock.

Blessings!

Focus On What You Already Have

Christmas is upon us, and here I am sitting on the floor, late at night, with only the glow of the Christmas tree lights and the screen of my laptop illuminating the room.  It is quiet in my home, yet somehow music keeps rolling through my head.  It isn’t a song of the season, but rather the melodic cadence of a lifetime.  Maybe it’s the glow of the trees, or the silence around me, but moments like this have a way of pulling my gaze away from the noise and pace of everyday life and bringing my focus back to what really matters.

shutterstock_344854976As we continue through a season that is supposed to be filled with joy and love, I look around and see stress and frustration on the faces of people around me.  Drivers are out of control with anger; shoppers are pushing and shoving each other; some people are going into debt trying to meet their (or others’) expectations of gift-giving.  There are also some who are living with great losses and challenges that cause all the standard holiday activities to simply disappear into the background.  In a season that is so often labeled as “magical,” it becomes easy to feel everything but a sense of wonder.   Busyness and activity has a way of doing that before we even realize it.

I had a hard time this year thinking of things to put on my wish list for Christmas.  I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing for which I had a great desire.  It’s not that I have everything I want materially; it’s just that I found myself incredibly content for the first time in a long time.  Somehow in the midst of my incredibly difficult and distressing year filled with loss and change, I realized what I valued had shifted.  It was only when I sat staring at an empty Christmas list that I even recognized it.

It’s so easy to spend our lives focusing on what we don’t have or what we’ve lost.  This year my husband’s parents passed away just five days apart, and my own dad’s dementia escalated to the point where he had to move into a memory care community.  It was devastating for us all, and my mom had to sell their house to ensure dad could stay in his new community as long as possible, as most memory care facilities aren’t covered by insurance (don’t get me started on that).  Mom moved in with me and my husband, and we’ve been adjusting to our new rhythm as best we can.   Loss after loss, grief after grief with no end in sight.  Have you just ever had that kind of year?  If so, then you understand how quickly our perspective changes. All we see is loss, because loss is all that is visible to us.  Everywhere we look there is more grief and pain, more difficult circumstances, and more that is slipping (or has slipped) between our fingers.  It is a natural reaction, but it doesn’t remove the negative effect it can have on our lives.

shutterstock_711300070Dementia has a way of turning everything upside down.  One of the things I love about Teepa Snow, and her organization (www.teepasnow.com ), is that she continually stresses the importance of looking at what someone still has, instead of what they’ve lost.  Build and foster your relationship based on things they are still able to do instead of what you wish they could still do.  When you focus on the abilities someone still possesses, it frees you from the stress that comes from your skewed expectations.  You can expect all day long that your loved one with dementia still has the abilities they’ve always had, but you will just be frustrated and your relationship with that person will suffer.  It’s about living in the moment, taking them where they are and creating beautiful experiences for you both.  I can’t help but think how that concept applies in so many other ways in life.  When we try to build or foster relationships while continually focusing on what the other person has lost or is lacking, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment.  We will never be satisfied, because we will always be seeing the holes instead of the substance.  We keep trying to work with what isn’t there instead of what is.  What a frustrating endeavor, and even more so when the relationship we are struggling with is the one with ourselves.  It is impossible to build or maintain that internal relationship when we see nothing but what we’ve lost or can’t do anymore.   We can’t build a relationship with ourselves with that perspective, because it will always be skewed and will never be fulfilling.  From a spiritual standpoint, it becomes so easy to start blaming God when things haven’t gone right in our world, or at least what we think is “right,” and then our relationship with Him suffers also.  It’s a slippery slope for sure.

So many people talk about the art of letting go, and there is definitely something incredible about releasing things that hold you back.  But what about the art of holding on?  We spend a lot of time trying to identify our obstacles instead of our strengths.  We focus on what we need to purge from our lives instead of what we already have that needs to be fostered.  I remember a comedian once said about the Bible, “Everyone thinks the Bible is a book of don’ts, but it’s really a book of do-s.  And if we’d spend our time doing the do-s, we wouldn’t have time to do the don’ts.”  I heard that over 30 years ago, and it still sticks with me today just as strongly, because it also applies to how we look at ourselves and others.  If we would spend our time fostering (or appreciating) what we already have, it doesn’t leave much time or energy to focus on what we are lacking in skills, abilities, or even material possessions.  Ask yourself these questions: What do I have to work with? Do I have a special ability or skill?  Am I good at something?  What are those things?  If you ask people to name something they are good at, many (if not most) of them will say they don’t know.  Why?  Because we don’t stop to look at what we have; we look at what we don’t.  We see what we wish we were, wish we had, or wish we could do.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, become more skilled, get an education or go after something new.  And I’m certainly not saying you can’t change.  This year has been full of huge changes for me internally, and believe me, it is always possible to change.  It’s possible to be freed from things that chained you in the past, but you also need to focus on what you already possess.  Search your heart deeply for a moment, you know what they are.  They are those things you have forgotten as the cares of this world continually try to distract you from seeing your gifts.

Image-1Dealing with someone who has dementia has brought so many lessons for dealing with life in general.  When someone has dementia, you have to meet them where they are in order to develop and maintain a relationship with them.  My dad isn’t who he used to be, and yet he is still exactly who he always was.  I just have to find those things that he can still do and live in that place with him.  This relationship is not exactly as I wished or hoped it would be at this stage in both our lives, but it can still be something amazing.  Embracing, celebrating and being thankful for all he can still do, allows me to be open to riding this roller coaster with him instead of watching him ride alone.  It allows me to live life with him now, in this moment, instead of continually seeing nothing but what has faded into the fabric of our journey.  If we want to fully live, we must live in the NOW.

Work with what you have.  Meet people where they are.  Meet YOURSELF where you are.  There are so many other abilities you may have, but those are above and beyond the fact you have been gifted with life itself.  Even the ability to breathe and communicate are gifts.  Trust me, you can always do something and then work from there.  If you will start seeing and nurturing what you already have, you’ll be amazed at what else will suddenly appear.  When you are willing to meet a dementia patient where they are, and work with what they have, it’s AMAZING how that tightly closed shell opens up to reveal the pearls within.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  If we could just do that with ourselves, what greatness might we unlock?  What goals might we achieve?  What dreams might come true if we will just stop jumping ahead (or backwards) and look at what we’ve lost and simply develop what we still have?

shutterstock_341963009So as we celebrate this Christmas that is upon us, let us first remember the greatest gift God gave us by coming to earth to sacrifice Himself so we can have eternal life.  But let us also remember He didn’t have much from a material standpoint, but He always worked with what He had.  When He called others to join Him, He worked with what they had and compelled them to do the same.  Let us celebrate not just the life of Christ, but the life He wants for each of us.  He’s gifted every single one of us with abilities, even when we feel we don’t have anything on which we can build.  Stop for a moment.  Look within and stop focusing on what you’ve lost or wish you had.  Look deeply and start recognizing all you still have, every single thing you have or are able to do is a gift.  No matter your circumstances or what you might see as your deficiencies, you have way more “gifts” than you can imagine.

To quote the Grinch, “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Merry Christmas and may you all be blessed with moments in which to live a lifetime!

Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) moving in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

Mothering Is More Than You Think

shutterstock_600936479Mother’s Day is once again upon us, and with it comes all sorts of emotions for all kinds of people.  Some are celebrating their wonderful moms, while others are mourning the loss of their mother, and still others may be cringing at the memory of a mother who wasn’t there for them.  Some women are relishing their own role as a mother, while others are just trying to make it through a day that reminds them only of the void that comes with never having been able to have children of their own, or worse, having lost one to miscarriages or other tragedies.  My point is this day can be beautiful and wonderful, or it could bring heartache and pain, and no matter where you or I fall on that spectrum, we all have to walk through this day somehow.

Family is such an important part of our society.  Our families shape us and often mold us into the adults we become.  If we are blessed to have been raised in a family where love and faith were a continual thread, it is easy to forget that there are those who have not shared our same experiences.  While we might have great memories upon which to reflect, there are others who are doing everything they can to not remember their own.   Such is the complicated nature of family relationships, and such is the complicated nature for so many women when it comes to motherhood.

Most of you know that my husband, and I were not able to have children of our own.  We looked into all the other possibilities, but none of them worked out for us.   Over time, the grief of our situation shifted and morphed, as it does with any other type of grief.  Not only that, but this year is the first Mother’s Day my husband and I have shared where one of our mother’s is no longer with us.  My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who never met a stranger or gave up on anyone.  She loved unconditionally and losing her has changed the palette of feelings that we share individually and as a family at this time of year.

IMG_0469This year, in spite of all of life’s challenges and the complications that can come with this day for so many women (and men), there is something different on my heart and mind. This year, I am thanking God not only for my own godly mother who raised me in deep love and faith, or the children in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to influence in one way or another, but I am also thanking God for the three children my husband and I sponsor through Compassion International.  It’s been a number of years now, and although it took a while to become comfortable with our communications back and forth, we have settled into beautiful relationships with three children who live across the world from us.  We have watched them grow, and have been blessed to be able to support, encourage and be connected to these kids and their families, and I am unspeakably grateful as I reflect on it today.

Mother’s Day is a day that we set aside to honor first our own mothers, and then all mothers.  As Prince Harry recently said after the birth of his first child, “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension!”   What women go through to bring new human beings into this world really IS beyond comprehension to those of us who have not experienced it, male or female!  That being said, it takes far more to make a true “mother” than just giving birth.  It involves a deep and lasting love, a sacrificial love that seeks the well-being of her children first, even when it demands more than she thinks she can give.  It is about understanding the responsibility you have to raise and nurture the human beings God has entrusted to your care.  It is about being there.  It’s putting your phone down and listening to them.  It involves so much more, but you get my point.

shutterstock_723877837When you consider what it truly means to “mother” another human being, you are able to step back and see a broader group of women than you might have before.  All the characteristics, traits and actions that make a woman a true mother, are the same ones that make us all mothers to the world around us.  I’m not discounting mothers in any way, in fact, I am doing the exact opposite.  I am elevating the aspects of mothers that we all celebrate on this day each year.  We celebrate the love and care.  We celebrate the sacrifices.  We celebrate these amazing women who took their jobs seriously and refused to give up even when their children may have disappointed them or caused them pain.  These are the things we celebrate, and as people of faith, THIS is how we are supposed to love the world!

I mentioned earlier about the children my husband and I have sponsored for a number of years.  Although I did not give birth to them, nor are we raising them, I love them with all my heart and feel a great responsibility toward them.  My heart desires the very best for them.   I cheer their accomplishments and share in their difficulties and sorrows.  I worry when I hear of events going on in their countries, cities or villages.  They are embedded into my heart, and I am so grateful to have yet another area to channel that mothering gene God put in my heart.   I have found Compassion International to be an incredible organization with which to partner, and I could not be more blessed to have three beautiful children to love and care for as a result of their efforts.

shutterstock_1257354151So on this Mother’s Day, by all means, honor your mother and the other women in your lives that are worthy of that honor.  Thank God for all the women who mothered you throughout the course of your life.  Honor them by doing the same for others around you.  Don’t reserve your nurturing just for your children, but also for those children without mothers, and for adults who are wounded and hurting.  Over and over again, Jesus tells us to love one another.  He tells us that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  He tells us to go the extra mile when we don’t have to do so (Matt 5:41).  He tells us to love our enemies (Matt 4:43-48).  Jesus made it perfectly clear that we are commanded to love!  He told us,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)

Reach out to this world full of struggling people.  Nurture them, love them, and never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.  After all, isn’t that what mothering is all about?

Happy Mother’s Day and blessings to you all!

Compassion International – Sponsor a child

Sacred Prejudice

shutterstock_790179607A few years ago, I had an experience at a church association meeting that was so egregious that I was compelled to write about it.  If you haven’t read that post, it’s worth the read.  (The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians).  There is something about the ignorance of some people that continues to amaze me.  A preacher I spoke with recently said the greatest thing I’d heard in a while, “In my experience I have found that ignorance coupled with arrogance, is a dangerous combination.”  It was one of the most refreshing things I’d heard in a while, because he was right.  There are so many churches out there dying because of that very destructive combination.  It’s sad, but it’s also true.

I’ve been in church my entire life, and in those 52 years, I have seen and experienced a lot of things.  There have been things I’ve disagreed with along the way, but nothing that has been a deal-breaker in my faith.  It may be a personal choice of music or teaching styles, or it may be the preference of one program or another, but those struggles are going to happen no matter if you are in a church or some other kind of volunteer group.  It’s just part of the journey.  I even had a pastor who was so totally against women wearing pants to church (which was nothing but a preference), that I wore dresses the entire time I served in the church with him.  If you know me at all, you know how much I HATE dresses!  My point is that there are a lot of preferential things that can be worked around if you have a willing heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have wondered why so many people are running from older, conservative churches, even though some of them are teaching the truth of God’s word.  Some observers would say it’s because people want a more entertaining experience, or a less convicting one.  Some would suppose it’s because people want to have less accountability. Others would claim it’s because no one wants to be humble and submit to God’s way of thinking.  Any or all of those could be true, but I believe the reason people are leaving is the product of ignorance coupled with arrogance.  Honestly, so many churches have become better Pharisees than the Pharisees of Bible times.  I can’t help but think of how Jesus viewed (and continually rebuked) the views and practices of the Pharisees.  They were judgmental, arrogant and hypocritical.  They were so caught up in their “righteousness,” that they totally missed who Jesus is and what He taught.

As a woman, I am at a disadvantage in the eyes of some churches and pastors.  It doesn’t put me at a disadvantage with God, but there are still pastors and churches out there that see women as less than equal to men.  The Bible shows over and over God does not hold that opinion of women, but rather He has honored and used women in all kinds of important roles over the course of time.  I do believe that God made men and women differently and created us with certain skills and abilities that are fitting for the roles we often fill.  We are different creatures, but that doesn’t make women less intelligent or valuable than our male counterparts. shutterstock_737645134 I once had a pastor tell me that the reason Eve was deceived instead of Adam was because the serpent knew that women were totally susceptible to believing a lie.  Basically, that she was an easy mark, so-to-speak, which is why she was deceived and Adam was not.  In so many words, he said that Satan figured he had a better chance with her because she was a woman, and the fact he was successful in deceiving her proved his point was true.  This pastor went on to say that the reason women “as a class of humanity” are more susceptible to deception than men, is because it is part of our “innate female psyche.”  By nature, Eve was not equipped to make the kind of decisions that the serpent presented to her, because she was not capable of weighing objective facts and coming to an appropriate decision.   Although this pastor did state that there were exceptions to the fact that women make decisions based on a value system rather than on objective facts, he also stated these stereotypes are backed up by scripture AND scientific data (like the Meyers Briggs test).  Whether you are a man or a woman, I imagine you are scratching your head right about now.  Trust me, it didn’t sit well with me at the time either, but I later realized no amount of discussion or rebuttal could ever change the heart of that pastor.  Only God can do that, and it is for God alone to handle.

My point in sharing this particular experience with you is to illustrate, in leaps and bounds, the principle I mentioned in the beginning of this post regarding ignorance and arrogance.   Mankind has a way of taking God’s principles and perverting them.  Churches love to pick and choose when a verse should be interpreted literally versus when its cultural significance needs to be taken into account (practices and customs that cause certain passages to be read differently today).  As human beings, we are selfish by nature, which means we often develop our own opinions and then try to use God’s word to justify our perspectives.  Let’s be honest, if you want to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or bigoted, you can absolutely pull single verses out of context in the Bible to substantiate or even support your position.  You can write paper after paper or present arguments in favor of your positions, but in the process, you leave out the very most important thing God commands us to do: Love.

shutterstock_305140991The Bible tells us that in Christ, we are all the same (Galatians 3:28).  Of course, we all fulfill different roles in life, and God calls us all to individual places of service for which He also equips us.  Having different traits, backgrounds, or abilities should not divide us.  God sees us the same, even though we are each unique in so many ways.  Different is not worse.  Different is not less.  Different does not give us license, as people of faith, to look down on anyone or consider them to be less than we are.  Yes, there are many things God tells us to refrain from or be mindful of, but He reveals to us in Proverbs 6:16-19 the seven things He actually hates:

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

Take another look at that list and tell me what you see.  There is a pattern revealed of what bothers God so much that He actually “hates” it.  It is the selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited, aggressive, deceitful nature of people.  He commands us, as HIS representatives, to reflect His nature.  He commands us to love as He loves.  In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus tells us exactly what He expects from us.  The religious elite had been trying to debate Him or trip Him up on what He was teaching.  One sect (the Sadducees) had already failed in their attempt, so another sect (the Pharisees) took a shot at it also.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    

shutterstock_1020186199What a contrast to what so many churches and leaders have become these days.  Jesus doesn’t say to love your neighbors unless he/she is of a different race or religion.  He doesn’t say to love your neighbor as long as he/she isn’t a homosexual or because he/she gossips, drinks or acts in other ways that seem contrary to God’s word.  He doesn’t give us permission to not love anyone, because He didn’t exclude anyone from His love.  He so deeply loved every single person, even those who hated and abused Him, that He was willing to die for them…for us.  Yes, there are many behaviors and activities in which He doesn’t want us to engage, but I find it interesting that what God chose to list, through His inspired word, as things He truly hates are those behaviors that reveal our pride, arrogance, and ignorance.  He is concerned with our hearts and our character.  We are all sinners, and if we try to hide behind our church buildings or cover up our prejudiced opinions of others being beneath us, then we have not only failed in the two commandments that Jesus declared hold up every other directive, but we have displayed the very behaviors that God hates.   After all, the only antidote for prejudice is humility.

So, I’ll close with the question I was pondering earlier:  Why are so many people leaving Bible-teaching churches?   Because it doesn’t matter how true your teaching is to God’s word if you aren’t willing to actually live it.   There are amazing groups of people out there who are truly focused on serving God by loving, forgiving, caring and teaching as He did.  Find them, join them and be open to what God is doing in your life.  Love the unlovable, forgive freely, but be wary of those who refuse to see their ignorance because of their arrogance.  Bitterness is sure to follow.

Blessings.

Misplaced Responsibility

shutterstock_670207864How many times have you found yourself overwhelmed and burned out?  If you are like me, it’s probably been more than once!  I say all the time that we get thrown into so many circumstances in life and even if there are a lot of good things (by our definition), the amount of activity just seems to keep increasing, and it totally wears us out.   That’s where I find myself now, and I’m sure many of you can relate.

So how do you know when the candle you’ve been burning at both ends is about to disappear?  Well, first there are the obvious clinical signs like:

  • Exhaustion – physical and/or emotional
  • Physical health issues – headaches, dizziness, chest pains, illness, etc.
  • Mental health issues – anxiety, depression, anger or hopelessness
  • Forgetfulness or having trouble concentrating
  • Apathy
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of productivity, poor performance or feeling like you never accomplish anything
  • Pessimism or cynicism
  • Isolation

Although I have been here before, this time around has brought some enlightening revelations that I just had to share.

I will not go into all the many things that are wearing me out these days, but suffice it to say I am being hit from all sides in all kinds of different ways.  I have found myself in my car, heading to someplace I have responsibilities (work, church or home), sobbing and telling God, “I can’t do this anymore!”  It is simply overwhelming.  No one wants to live with a constant barrage of difficult circumstances, and yet when I look around me, it seems like so many of us are in that place most of the time.  So I started wondering what I am taking on that is not my responsibility, and this is where my thoughts had to unravel a little so that they could come back together more appropriately.

shutterstock_143745571I was raised with a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.  I have always tried to be the best at what I do, but more importantly I have tried to love and serve God and others in every way possible.  I’ve been active in church all my life, worked successfully at my job, and had all kinds of other interests and activities.  My point is that I am not one to sit on the sidelines, and it is important for me to feel like what I am doing makes a difference for others.  That all sounds great, until I began to realize my positive drive becomes warped when my sense of responsibility gets skewed.

Many of us take on far more responsibility than necessary for certain things in life.  I realize there are also a lot of people who take NO responsibility for anything which makes the rest of us feel as though it is our job to pick up the slack.  After all, if we don’t do it, who will?  There is some truth in that question, but we need to be careful that we aren’t falling in love with being the “doer” or getting our fulfillment from being superhuman (or thinking we are).  I admit fully I have been in that exact cycle at times in my own life.  It feels good to get all kinds of stuff done!  It feels good to help everyone.  It feels good to plan and execute events, etc., but lately there have been a few situations that have brought to my attention the fact I have started mistaking my desire for my responsibility.   That, my friends, is a dangerous mindset, because it means burnout is already upon us or barreling toward us at a high rate of speed!  I mentioned that I have been wondering what I’ve taken on that is not my responsibility.  What am I doing to myself that is adding to my own burnout these days?  The answer is that I have been taking on misplaced responsibilities.

We all have areas where we have to rely on a leader of some kind.   (I use the term “leader” loosely, as many so-called leaders do not actually lead.)  In our jobs, we have Supervisors/Owners.  In our churches we have Pastors.  In volunteer work we have Executive Directors.  You get where I’m going with this.  The problem is when leaders don’t actually LEAD, everything starts falling apart.  Even Proverbs 29:18 warns us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”   There are countless examples of organizations, churches or companies that have died off because of a lack of leadership.  When that happens, people try to find all kinds of reasons for the failure of a company, church or even a family, when the truth is there was no leadership!  shutterstock_383113444When leaders become so engrossed in themselves, or so detached from the people they are supposedly serving, there is chaos.  That chaos may not always manifest in external ways, but internally it leaves people feeling alone and without support or direction.  That’s when you see informal leaders appear, and often those people are not always operating with the best intentions; sometimes they are seeking control.  I will add though, sometimes there are also very good people who are simply trying to step up and keep things going in the absence of appropriately placed leadership.  When leaders don’t lead, it begins a vicious cycle that only stops when the he or she takes a hard look in the mirror and changes, or you get a new leader.  Aside from one of those two things, “the people perish.”  Do you know whose responsibility it is to lead?  THE LEADER’S!

So back to the revelation about responsibility and burnout that struck me so hard it changed my thinking.  I realized that although the good I have been trying to do in certain areas of life has been sincere and from a heart of love, there was/is an extra element of compensating for what I perceive to be a lack of leadership.  I’ve been here before, but this time it was like God opened up the sky and shined a huge light right down on this perception.  You see, there are some areas in life where you can only do so much.  We should always do what God calls us to do and let Him handle the results, but when there is no life or passion in those around you, people are perishing.  There is no amount of effort you or I can put into an organization of any kind that will effectively substitute for a lack of leadership from the person who holds the official position of leader, regardless of the title by which it is called.  And if it IS possible for us to keep holding things together when a leader won’t lead, then we have much bigger problems than lifelessness or a lack of passion.

It is a hard thing to realize, no matter how much we love or care about our jobs, churches, volunteer work, etc., there is no amount of effort we can put in that will substitute for leadership.  I’m not saying we can’t step up and be leaders in some of these areas, but when THE leader won’t (or can’t) step up and fulfill their responsibilities, our efforts will so often result in a burnout that scorches us at the very core.  It not only burns us out, it changes what was intended for good into something that is unhealthy for us.  We can only keep pressing on when we realize that some things are not our responsibility.

For a person of faith, God is my ultimate leader and guide.  It is my responsibility to follow where He leads and do what He calls me to do.  The rest is up to Him.  What we do in life is important; there’s no question about that, but how we do it is even more important.  When I start feeling like everything rests on my shoulders, I have misplaced my focus and energy.  And when that happens, the fire within starts to suffocate and burnout is inevitable.  I have had the opportunity to lead others in many different endeavors and situations, and it is a responsibility I take very seriously.  I know what it is like to wither under a lack of leadership, and I know that God can do amazing things when we simply submit to Him and let Him do the heavy lifting.

So today I am struggling with the fact that I can’t fix some things that are broken.  I’m struggling with the possibility of what God might be doing or how/where He is moving because it is unknown to me, even though He sees what I cannot.  I am exhausted and discouraged by the path I have been walking and the lack of passion I see in others that I cannot ignite.   It is my responsibility and my honor to pray for the people in leadership that affect me.  It is my responsibility to love others and to forgive without judgment or condemnation.  It is my responsibility to follow, unashamedly, wherever God leads.  It is my responsibility to be and act as I am called to be and act.  I will continue to ignite passion wherever God calls me to be a light, but it is time to let go of the responsibilities that He has placed on someone else.shutterstock_82458775

It is my prayer that we will all take a deep breath and remember not everything is our responsibility.  It’s time to stop trying to make up for what is lacking in others and step back to refocus.  Without vision, the people perish.  A lack of leadership can be scary, discouraging, frustrating and depressing, but thank God He has promised to lead and guide us no matter our circumstances.   He is a God of passion not apathy, so if you are a leader, then lead!  And if your leaders are not leading, then seek God’s direction on the path ahead.  If we are seeking Him, He will make it clear.

Blessings!

Time For A “Face” Lift

shutterstock_351834119Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance.  We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside.   We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites.  Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other).  My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin.  Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth.  I choose to be very engaged, just not online.

These days, there is turmoil all around us.  For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones.  Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement.  I have news for you: It has always been this way!   We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened.  We think the consequences are greater.  Guess what?  Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things.  And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed.  From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different.  They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world!  We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events.  We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate.  shutterstock_516722350That’s part of what is wrong with instant news.  Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted.  We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out.  On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.

We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity.  We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something.  We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think.  There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion.  It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment.  We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate.  Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees.  It’s true in our government as well as our own lives.  It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.

Online we lose so much of what makes us human.  We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous.  It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye.  It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen.  There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently.  As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us.  Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects.  Think of it this way:  If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly.  Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different.  We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport.  We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us.  We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices.  And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions.  shutterstock_74446510We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves.  We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals.  We are bullies.  We are arrogant and insensitive asses.  We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against.  We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there.  We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us.  But it is.  It wears on us until we finally crack.  I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself.  “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong!  I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.

The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book.  We see photos but not each other.  We’ve become social voyeurs.  Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result.  We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time.  Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant.  Why?  Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too.  The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true.  People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?”  The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched.  And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering.  We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives.  It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming.  I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club.  I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way.  Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating.   And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.

shutterstock_57395806So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society.  Our “real” lives are in turmoil.  We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others.  We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who  comes out “looking good.”  We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them.    We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem.  Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem.  We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware.  In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.

I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope!  We actually can change, but we first have to want to change.   There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager.  The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”  We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things.  It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions.  It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity.   shutterstock_290171423We are ALL humans.  We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded.  Instead, let us hold each other close in heart.  Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down.  Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same.  Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Blessings!