Friday, December 31, 2010
Tragedy on New Year's Eve...
it is it a tragedy?
It was when we first found out. We cried together, held each other, wondered: why would God do this?
We decided... God didn't do this. Not purposelessly, anyway.
We surrendered ourselves to the Lord. We surrendered the outcome to the Lord.
But we were angry. We were confused. What were we to do in the meantime? Do we really end the year like this? Puffy eyes, tired bodies, weary souls.
We prayed. We talked. We continued to surrender. We cried some more. We wailed.
We said that God sees ahead of us. Days, weeks, months, years. He knows the outcome. Maybe if X happened, Y wouldn't happen. Who knows. Maybe this is why this happened. How could we claim to know the mind of God?
I had put on our local Christian radio station, 102.5FM to help us through... and the following song came on:
"While I'm Waiting" by John Waller
The song, which you really should listen to and read the lyrics to, says that the person will be praying, worshiping, serving, loving, etc., while he or she is waiting.
And that's just what we are going to do. We will continue to pray, be God's good servants, while we wait to hear the final outcome.
After the song was finished, we both had a smile on our face.
"Did you think that two hours ago, when we first found out, that we'd be smiling at this very moment?" he asked.
"No," I shook my head. "This would have destroyed our evening not too long ago. But now we are determined not to spend New Year's Eve caught in a web of sorrow and destitution. We will praise God and be thankful for everything He has given us."
And so I wish you a very Happy New Year. Know we are celebrating as well.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Hello! I am excited to share with you a book I received for the holidays, "Faith and Will: Weathering the Storms in Our Spiritual Lives" by Julia Cameron. Yes, the same Julia Cameron who is the best-selling author of the mega-hit, "The Artist's Way" and other books on creativity. She also has a strong faith in God and has several Christian-inspired books to her credit. This is one of them.
Let me quote from page 33, regarding God's closeness in our lives:
It is difficult to imagine exactly how intimate with us God really is. We can titter and say, 'God invented sex.' God did invent sex. Also bowel movements and menstrual cycles. Not just the far-flung canopy of stars but our tendency to hang-nails. God knows our business. God does not suffer, as we do, from conventional denial. God knows if we are broke or soon to be broke. God knows if we are fighting a drink or contemplating an illicit affair. God is on to us. This is not comfortable. But who said God was intended to be comfortable? We have no proof that God ever intended comfortable to be part of the deal. Job was not comfortable. Jacob, wrestling all night with the angel of the Lord, was not comfortable. Mary, in her heartbreak over her son, was not comfortable, and who was more beloved than Mary, the Mother? Comfort may not be a part of God's equation. We may be being brought to something better than comfort. Perhaps to dignity, to grace, to a sense of resilience."
Isn't that the truth! When I thought of religious people, I thought of people having easy lives, having easy times, talking and laughing in prayer. I wasn't sure if it was for me because I was used to suffering. Where was my place in religion? After all, I was raised in psychology, in the therapist's chair. Now that I am a religious person, I see that as wonderful and joyful it is to be a Christian, it is also heartachingly difficult.
To trust with that much abandon? Um, can we say scary? Letting go of control over my life continues to be the most challenging aspect of my faith. I was raised with the notion that you create your own reality; you have the power to change your present and future by hashing things out with family, past ghosts, delving into digging around your childhood with a flashlight and bringing the skeletons to life. Dealing with them head on. I'm not saying all this is wrong, but I did not have any companion during this journey of self-hood. I thought only I could do it. Well, me and the therapist at the time. I thought using anyone else was a weakness. And now, here I am expected to release my fears and hopes and dreams and successes and failures to God? It baffles me.
Yet I do it. Because I know that inviting God in my life to walk with me during my life is one of the best things - no is THE best thing I have ever done. And I'm learning what Julia Cameron wrote: that God does not always give us the comfortable option. Oh, He loves us, He wants us to prosper and be happy and good, but we have our own free will and sometimes the best answer is not always the most comfortable one.
A prayer we ask for now might not be in our best interests and God knows what lies down the road. He has Forever-Vision. He is taking care of us. So when we pray for X, we might have to settle for Y, and yet... most of the time, we see that Y was so much more preferable.
Think about how close you let God be to you. Do you keep Him in the sky, beyond the clouds? Or is he in the book beside your bed? Or in your glasses? Or is He the lotion you put on your body after a shower? Or is He in the eyes of your spouse? Perhaps he is in all of those places.
I challenge you... I dare you to let Him in as close as possible. When you pray, don't just think of him as "our Father, who art in Heaven" (though that is a most powerful prayer), but right there next to you in the car, driving with you to work. Cameron is right. He is in your business.
And trust me. You want that. You need that.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
It is two days after Christmas. But as Pastor said Sunday morning, that does not mean we have to stop celebrating the birth of Christ or stop imparting our love and generosity onto the world.
My first Christmas as a believer was beyond monumental. I had holy experiences with my family, with God, Himself, and with my church. One of the moments I will never forget is when we had communion at Christmas Eve service. We did it by tincture (dipping the wafer into the goblet of wine and then partaking in the wafer - to save time and resources) and as I approached the goblet after Pastor had placed the wafer in my cupped hands, I dipped it in slowly, watching the deep red liquid soak into the light wafer...and, inside, I felt generations doing this. People all over the world doing this. It felt very relevant, very real, very symbolic. I have very specific feelings about holy communion, but I will go into that in a later blog entry. Suffice it to say, this communion was a holy one, indeed.
The other holy experience during the Christmas season was when we each lit our individual candles and sang "Silent Night" a Capella. I had done this at numerous churches before this, but for some reason it touched a nerve with me and I immediately began to softly cry. My husband could hear the quiver of my voice and he stepped closer and put his arm around me. No doubt, he thought I was thinking about my mother and missing her - and I was - but these tears were out of humility and awe. Here I was: in God's house, MY church that I will grow up in (for I do see myself as, still, a child in the faith) and I felt unworthy. I felt humbled. I looked around at the pure beauty and was overtaken with gratitude. To think of my "old life" without Christ made me shudder. No wonder I've faltered and flailed through life all this time. I did not have plant spiritual roots. I had no One to hold onto.
I experienced other Christmas "miracles," like my son becoming especially snuggly at Sunday morning service, going to a nearby town's Christmas concert which included a rock-inspired musical story of the Nativity (my four year old performed his first air guitar), working on the poem I wrote for my eldest and my husband collaborating with me on it while he did graphics.
There were challenges and hiccups, too. Times when husband and I were not in good communication and defenses rose up or tempers flared. My father and his wife came up on Sunday and he and I have a definite strained relationship so that was stressful. It was good to see him, though. As you know from previous entries, I'm working on the whole forgiveness thing.
The two younger kids became whiny and irritable at times (well, of course), but husband and I found ourselves reacting in kind, which was not what we wanted to do.
And then the end of Christmas. In days of old, I would sit on the edge of Sunday night, after the holiday, and groan because I either had to go to work the next day or resume regular life and that I bemoaned. I did not realize, then, that I could take the miracle and joy of Christ's birth with me wherever I went - every day. All the razzle-dazzle of the lights, tree, family, presents, got to me in the past and created expectations that were almost always not met and I would feel let-down afterward. This year, I just expected God's presence and I had a wonderful Christmas and even was ready to return to work today.
I received a special present which I will mention now. I had picked out a few dove necklaces online and had shown them to husband in hopes that he would get one for me for Christmas. I felt I needed to wear a dove to show my Christianity instead of a cross. I'm not sure why, maybe because I thought the cross too violent a symbol (as you can see, more advanced Christians, I have a long way to go in understanding the cross and the symbolism. I know it is an ultimately joyful symbol pointing to Jesus' resurrection, but I still see him nailed to it, in agony and pain) to wear. Well, husband said he was sorry, but he didn't get it for me when I asked him. I said that was okay; I would buy it for myself. And I had decided, silently, on the one I wanted. The one with the dove filled with abalone (a beautiful precious stone). I did not tell him this. I accepted that he did not get it for me.
Well, while opening gifts, I took the CD-shaped gift from beneath the tree. On the front of the CD it read, "Bet you think this is a CD." Inside, it read on the left side, "Well, it's not!" and in the CD case was my necklace! The dove filled with abalone! Oh, I cried joyful tears. I don't mean to idolize a piece of jewelry and "use" that as a talisman, of sorts, to stay connected with God...but that's just what I do. I have certain items that connect me with important things and people in my life. The necklace is BEAUTIFUL. I now proudly wear it every day.
So now is that in-between time where Christmas has ended and we are waiting for the New Year. But remember: Christ has not ended. He has just begun. I wish to celebrate Him every day.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I admit. I've been angry lately. Grumpy. Defensive. I've prayed and prayed for God to soften my heart and allow me to be a better mother, not to resent giving my time away instead of hoarding it for reading or writing (all noble things to do, mind you).
The girls and I are home today (ages 12 and almost-7), the youngest boy (4) is at day care. I'm off work from now until Monday. This is a perfect opportunity for me to bond with the girls.
Oh, says one side of me, there is so much to do! My mother-in-law is being driven to our house tonight by my husband and I want the messy house to be beautiful. I have to cook dinner for six and I have a very low cooking ability. I want to enjoy the day and feel festive, but I feel so grumpy.
I realize, though, that this is my little girl-me pouting that it can't be how it used to be. She's especially mourning the loss of her beloved mother four years ago. Little girl-self, don't you realize now that you are a Christian, that your mother is at her happiest with God, in His holy light and love?
I guess I'm still trying to accept that part. Being happy for her that she is with Him, in His holy embrace. I actually want to be in HER embrace.
Being a Christian is hard, sometimes.
I've learned that prayers are always heard, but not always answered, or not always answered in the "time" you'd like it to be. God has a plan and it might take you years to realize that your prayer has been answered - probably in a bigger and better way than initially imagined, or perhaps in a different direction.
I prayed for a soul-fulfilling job for years. I never realized I'd be where I am, helping people with disabilities.
But back to Christmas, I feel the devil's pull on my heels...
be angry...be ungrateful...be selfish....these kids are taking time away from you... you are disappointing your husband... isolate... just you and the cat...miss your mom...she's not here...
Even my dreams have been fraught with nightmares about swearing and yelling at Mom, being abused by my stepfather, kitties being hurt...all my usual fears...and plagues.
But I had a turn-around this morning. Maybe it was the sunlight through the fog as I drove my son to day care. Maybe it was getting a mocha at my favorite cafe, maybe it was deciding not to go back to sleep but to stay up and be grateful for the sun-lit-foggy morning and get things done today.
I can enlist the girls' help with cleaning, cooking (cookies will be included), and I will play with them too. I will let my little-girl loose and allow her to really play. She needs that so much.
I look at our beautiful house and our beautiful tree; I think about our beautiful family, near and far, and am so grateful. My cup overfloweth.
No, the Grinch will not steal me away. I'm made of stronger stuff.
And to you? I wish you blessing up on blessing of devoted time with your family, pets, loved ones. Remember to not worship presents, trees, or stockings. Instead, remember the reason for the season: Christ being born and promising redemption.
I'll check back, hopefully tomorrow, with an update of how today went.
Merry Christmas Eve to Eve!
Saturday, December 18, 2010
He gets little of what is wrong with us, except to say that we are on the constant defensive with each other. We expect an argument with every phone call. And he says, “we have to promise not to call each other names.” I think, when did I call you a name? But I keep my mouth shut, let him talk, let him say he will never call me a name again and that is what matters in the end. I tell him I will do everything I can to make this work.
I try to explain to him that this is all a pattern. Some time ago, our relationship splintered and we harbored anger and resentment and expected bombs to go off on the other side of the telephone. He says I bring up the past too much; I say he recreates the past too much.
At the end of the day, what matters? Psychology? Patterns? Old wounds? How will I/we ever move on if I don’t forgive and accept that he can never be the father I need – then or now? I must accept who he is and love him for who he is now.
There is mourning that has to go on. My question is this: when do the black sheets come off the mirrors? When do the curtains part to let the light in? When is it safe? Is it ever safe?
God wants us to have relationships. That was the center of Jesus’ life. He spread the Good News to the people and they celebrated (once they believed). Jesus was surrounded by his disciples and friends. Community is important; relationships are important. God did not intend us to be alone. He even created Eve out of Adam’s rib, saying that man should not be alone.
And now we have today’s relationships, which can be cloudy, murky, and overlapping in healthy and unhealthy threads. What compass do we have to go by to tell us which relationships are good and which aren’t?
I think it’s pretty apparent that He said to honor thy mother and father. So those relationships ought to be good ones. Oh, but so often, they aren’t, are they? But when it comes to friends and circles of friends outside those friends, all the layers of relationships you have, how do you navigate life’s storms and celebrations?
My answer is: look to Jesus. More and more, I am looking to Jesus. He certainly felt persecuted and wow – look at my father and my relationship. I have felt that way, too. And what did Jesus do? He forgave them. If they were not going to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit then that was their choice. Ah, Jesus was the first to teach us that we can’t change people. He offered the Truth and the Light and if they did not accept it, he walked on to the next town to preach to the next community of people.
So keep walking. Surround yourself with like hearts and minds and celebrate often. Let go of grievances and love each other.
On friendship and devotion, Ruth saying to Noemi: “Where you go I will go, where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Returning to earthy fathers. How am I to move on? I have never been good at moving on, having been in therapy for so long and constantly rehashing old wounds for the supposed betterment of my mental health. I think I need to love my father as Jesus loved people. I need to accept my dad’s limitations and love him anyway. And as far as that unconditional love that every little girl and woman longs for, well, I will look to God the Father for that. Only He can fill that place in a person’s soul, that God-shaped hole in the heart."Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck."
Thursday, December 16, 2010
And a day is over as a new day begins. I'm home sick today from work. Hubby and I have some stomach parasite. Maybe I'm taking the metaphor a little too literally, but I feel a parasite of hate is in me, concerning my father. Surely, God has used the biggest example He could find to test me on forgiveness. There are people in my life who I ought to forgive:
the ex-wife for her damaging ways
the Catholic former friend who judged me and my husband and acted very un-Christian-like
my step-father for marrying another woman after my mother died and behind my back, at that
and then my father.
God, couldn't You have started with someone easier? This is a lifetime of forgiving I have to do. These wounds go way back.
And yet...I see the image of Christ on the cross, nails in His palms. That wound had gone way back, in the sense that He knew about it from the very beginning. And He forgave.
"Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'"
I wrote an email to my father directly after our phone call last night. I prayed on what to write and I think I did a fair job at doing so. I respected him and told him I was not a know-it-all. He had called me all these names and if he polled my family and friends here where I live (he lives a state away), he would know that they do not think me selfish, an idiot, etc. I told him I would pray for Grace to enter our hearts and for us to think twice about what we said to each other.
I have no control over how he takes this email. It is the first time I have said I will pray for us. He might think that silly, as he does not have a relationship with God. He might not understand.
The soldiers and violent onlookers at Jesus on the cross didn't have a relationship with God. They didn't understand. He looked down upon them and forgave them. He gave them mercy.
My father is not in my immediate life. And, yes, that is sad. After my mother died in 2006, we grew closer for a while, but then our bitter words and defenses went back up and soon every phone call was fraught with intimidation tactics from him and victim tendencies from me. If I were to truly look at my life as I live it, I see:
my adoring, exceptional husband
my three beautiful step-children
my blessing of a job which, as it turns out, is a very Christian job and that I love
my cozy cat
and my deep friendships with various women and mentors in my life
I do not have to exile my father from my life, but I must remember that he does not see what I see, does not hear what I hear, does not live what I live. And the same goes for me. I am not smack-dab in the middle of his life.
It's sad, if you think about it. I wanted my "daddy" to be more loving, more accepting, prouder. But God gave me this man as a father for a reason. And now I must realize our limitations and forgive him. For he does not know what he does.
Oh, Lord, I want to fight that. Of course he knows what he does!
Be still, I hear. Take care of that parasite in your tummy. Learn Grace and Forgiveness at your own pace, but do learn it.
"Bear with each other and forgive any grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Oh please, I need some Bible verses on forgiveness. On the way bitter and ugly words hurt the soul.
Yes, honor thy mother and father. Oh, I have honored my dear, departed mother. I honor her every day. My father, on the other hand...that's more difficult. And I am ever-so-guilty.
We do not mesh well. We get along for a few months at a time and then something happens and one of us says something and then the other gets defensive, angry, and usually he jabs me with insults.
As a child, he criticized every little thing he did. If I were to twirl around as a little girl and say, "am I lovely?" he'd tell me my shoes were on the wrong feet.
Oh, I know he loves me. I know he does. And I love him.
But tell me. Please, Lord, tell me. How can I not feel the jabs when he calls me:
and that has been within the last 2 years. Nevermind my lifetime.
Oh Mom, I miss you and how you could explain this man to me.
Heavenly Father, I yearn for my earthly father to know You. To feel Your love the way I do. To know that I am a good person. To know me as an adult. My father just thinks I'm a screw-up. And I'm NOT.
Oh, Lord, I just want to break down and cry and have a temper tantrum. How dare he say those things to me! How dare he belittle me and whittle me down from a branch on a luscious tree to the smallest slice of a stick.
Lord, be with me. Walk with me as my father cannot. Soften his heart and have us both think twice before we use such words.
He is one of the biggest things that can make me sin. Sin as in harboring anger... even... sometimes... hatred. Wanting revenge. Wanting to jab him back with biting words.
Lord, forgive me and forgive this long road of entangled strife. Give us new life.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
he already embodied this song.
"Lead Me" by Sanctus Real
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Joseph: the father of the Son of God. How do we wrap our minds around that? Surely, we cannot forget about Joseph. What a man he must have been.
"And Joseph said, why me? I'm just a simple man of trade." - "A Strange Way to Save the World" by 4Him
I think Joseph was a "chosen one," too. God chose Mary, of course, but He must have chosen Joseph as well. A boy needs a father, a father in the flesh, even the Savior of the world. Jesus was with Joseph for at least twelve years of his life, correct? Learning the trade of carpentry. I'm sure Joseph was a good earthly father for Jesus. "A Strange Way to Save the World" makes me wonder what Joseph really thought about this miracle. Did he feel inferior to God? No, I doubt that. I'm sure his faith was steadfast and true. He must have felt humbled. Can you imagine if you were a sort of "adopted" parent of the Son of God?
And Mary...can you imagine if you were the mother of Jesus? There are two songs that capture Mary's feelings (what we imagine them to be) beautifully:
"Breath of Heaven" by Amy Grant
"Mary Did You Know" sung here by Clay Aiken
I don't mean for this to sound un-Christian, or like I deify every child, but I think Mary and Joseph's "letting go" of their child, Jesus, is, in a way, akin to all parents letting go of their own children as they make their way into the world. Granted, not every child is the Son of God or destined to make such a mark, but every child is special, in my opinion.
And so I think if parents, especially, watch these videos and listen to the lyrics, they can have a clear understanding of what it must have been like to be Mary and Joseph, respectively.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..." 1 Peter 3:15
While feeling exuberant joy over my new faith journey, finding God in my heart along with His forgiveness and compassion, I am constantly reminded how uncomfortable I feel sharing my journey with my friends who don't follow the Christian path.
There is a brilliant author, Stormie Omartian (author of the book linked in the first post and author of many other Christian books), who also wrote the book, Praying God's Will for Your Life, which is slowly seeping into my soul and having me answer difficult faith questions.
Like Ms. Omartian, I dabbled in New Age practices. She called them "things of the occult" and while that word gives me a sour taste in my mouth, I suppose, according to God's law, I was practicing the occult. She said she had to give up all doings and place both (not just one) feet on God's path.
What does that mean to me? It's certainly frightening. A certain part of my identity is wrapped up in believing in reincarnation. How do I reconcile the two beliefs? In Christianity, from what I understand thus far, when you die, you spirit is lifted to Heaven and there you reside in eternal life and happiness with the Lord. I ask: do the spirits just stay there? What is the point of the spirit going into a new body, as I believed? In my former views, I would say to learn in that life what you couldn't or didn't learn in the previous life. But where is God in all of that, I ask now? The two beliefs don't compliment each other as I yearn for them to do. As Ms. Omartian says, you can't have one foot outside of God and one foot in God.
See? I have many things to figure out. I have a friend who is Catholic (a relatively new Catholic) who has done a good deal of judging my marriage, husband, and family. I won't go into details, but, to me, she is not coming from a very Christ-like place. I must decide if I should stand up and defend my faith, as it says in 1 Peter 3:15, or to separate myself from her because...perhaps she takes me away from the God I know and love. Read this correctly: separate not because she is Catholic, but because she is so condemning and judgmental of me.
Speaking of the possibility of forgiveness, there is the story of my stepfather who married his ex-wife after my mother died, a mere six months before my wedding in their very own house and never told me until I found out by happenstance. He did not speak to me for nearly six months and then only because we were stuck at a relative's wedding together. I feel anger, yes. The little girl in me is angry that he remarried his ex-wife and yet I understand how he craved company after the devastating loss of my mother. I am angry because he did not respect me enough to tell me and did not answer my letters that I sent, beseeching him to contact me during those six months of silence.
We are in intermittent contact now and the ball is in my court to contact him so that we can get together and talk. My fear is that he will not own up to any of his mistakes and that he'll invalidate my feelings. I have a hard time standing up for myself. I have a hard time defending myself because I was constantly told I was wrong, wrong, wrong, as a child.
And so we are back full-circle to the beginning of this entry: standing in my faith, even to naysayers, and feeling confident. Talking the talk and walking the walk. I have not provided a link to The Dove Chronicles, publicly, because part - a big part of me - is nervous what my New Age-y friends will think. Yes, I've always been worried about what others think of me. Do you read how I put a caveat on most every strong opinion? I'm scared of what others might think.
But look at the word, "others." Others: those outside myself, even outside of God. I want to only be concerned with what God thinks of me. Am I being a good Christian? Am I being Christ-like: loving, compassionate, kind, forgiving? What does Jesus think of me?
I want those to be my only concerns. I can only hope my non-Christian friends respect my new way and hopefully they are happy I am happy. Because I am happier and more whole than I have ever been. I am still putting pieces together, asking myself questions and seeking out the answers, but I do feel full of joy and gratitude, even in my place of not knowing everything.
So I'll end this entry with a prayer for me and, if it applies, for you too:
Heavenly Father, I pray that You infuse me (us) with the power of Your Word. Let me (us) stand in Your light and feel confident and at peace. Let no one shake my (our) beliefs and, if they do, let me (us) respond with love, kindness, non judgment, and gentle certainty. Discussion is okay, but I (we) cannot let anyone bully me (us) into questioning my (our) beliefs. When called upon to defend my (our) faith, let me (us) be filled with the Holy Spirit which strengthens and fortifies me (us). Help me (us) answer questions that come along as I (we) walk this path. Let me (us) find a home with You, Lord. Amen.