Enough?

I hesitated before deciding on this topic for today. Who likes admitting they don’t think they’re enough. I don’t, and I’m sure y’all don’t either.  My Lenten devotional was what convinced me. It suggested that today’s fast should be a “tidy faith.” We should doubt and question all we need to, and our faith would be stronger for it. It made sense to me, and since my courage has been growing, I’m going to write it all out no matter who might like or dislike it.

A long time ago, I left the church, and I left my faith. Oh, I said I didn’t. I said I was still a Christian, but for the most part, God wasn’t spoken of in my home except in our homeschooling curriculum when we began homeschooling. With what I thought of as my own strength, we moved through such things as death, moving, illness, hospital stays, moving again, and a miscarriage. Drastic changes, to be sure.

But then, I found my faith again, and I found the church I attend now. I’ve written about this before. In the almost seven years though since I found my faith again, I’ve wondered about something. I’ve wondered if I was enough in God’s eyes. I know, clearly, the things I’m not enough of. Not pretty enough. Not wealthy enough. Not with my spouse enough. Not Christian enough. (I wasn’t raised in the church.) Not knowledgeable enough about the Bible. Not in the “in crowd” enough. Not good enough to pray out loud. Not good enough to teach. Not good enough to serve. (At least not in the places where my gifts lie.)

Now, these haven’t happened all of the time. There have been seasons for each where I’ve been enough, and some where I haven’t. I’ve been tempted to walk away during the times when it hasn’t been enough because, as I’ve already said, who likes feeling like they’re not enough. It was especially difficult when I started thinking if just my presence was good enough which made me want to ask this question. Is just my presence in a church to worship enough? Does God value my worship enough for me to come to church even though I might feel lonely for the presence of other people in my life? Does God value me enough as a daughter to value my worship?

I know He does now, and I will never let others take away His love again.  That is how much my faith and my relationship with my Lord and Savior means to me. I’ve prayed, studied Scripture, and just talked to God more in the past almost seven years than I have in a long time. The growth I’ve experienced has re-established my faith in ways I didn’t expect. God has been there for me countless times.

But, there is that pesky thing called “meeting together as a church body.” God wants us to do this, and it’s called for in Scripture. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” So, meeting together to worship. The times when I’ve felt the most lonely and wondered whether my presence was enough. I could easily give up corporate worship. In fact, there are times I feel closer to God when it’s just Him and me. I don’t feel the judgment of other people for not being enough, and it’s calm and peaceful in my heart and mind.

God called me to corporate worship though, and I want to acknowledge and fulfill His call on my life. So, even though I may never “do” another thing for God or serve Him in the church in any capacity or even be acknowledged during a service, I am enough because God says I’m enough. Worshiping Him with my presence is enough.

God bless you all!

Lent as “Sojourn”

I started something new today on Ash Wednesday. A book called 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole focusing on the 40 days leading up to Easter. I’ve never done anything like this before for the time of Lent. In fact, I’ve never really gone through the whole period of Lent thinking about Jesus and His journey to the cross. Last year, I did read a devotional, but I started it late and with everything going on, I don’t think my focus was fully on it.

Not this year though. I have an insatiable hunger to know my Savior better. To know what it really meant and means for Jesus to go to the cross for me. This desire does not mean I will be doing activities in the church all of the time though I will do some activities. It does not mean I will adopt the attitude of being better than anyone else. I am the “worst of sinners” as Paul says in I Timothy 1:15. What it does mean is Jesus will be the focal point of my thoughts every day, and I will make a point of spending time with Him every day. Now, it might be argued I should be doing that all of the time, and I admit it. It’s true. But, Lent is giving me an opportunity to let the world dim and let Jesus be first. I plan on taking that opportunity.

So, Day 1. It was an introduction like one might expect for a book like this. It talked about the practice and history of Lent and of fasting. There was one thing that intrigued me though, and that’s what I want to focus on today. “Lent as sojourn.”

Usually, when I start something like this, I consider it a project. It’s a natural thing to do. All of my writing endeavors are projects, things I want to do my best to complete. Last year, I even blogged through a devotional wanting to prove to myself I could write every day for 100 days.

But, this is different. I don’t want to be keeping track of how often I’m reading or writing in the journal part of the book. I don’t want to measure my “success” by whether I spend enough time with Jesus. And today’s entry focused on that. “Lent as sojourn.” The author defines sojourn as a “temporary stay at a place.” “And a “stay” is about presence, not productivity.” (pg. 3, 40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole) I want to be present during this experience. To stay with my Savior as I get closer to Him.

I might not write or post about every day in the book, but I wanted to record what I was doing so I could remember what I was thinking and feeling on March 6, 2019, at the beginning of Lent.

I want to end this by quoting Psalm 51:17 which represents what I want to take away from Lent this year. “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

God bless you all!

The In-Between Place

Creak! The exit gate from my complex begins to open. Creak! It opens slowly, not usually at the pace I’d like it to open. Creak! It finally opens all the way, and I’m able to leave my apartment complex with my car. I always have to take a deep breath while I’m waiting for the gate to open. My impatience to be on my way can disrupt my peace of mind if I let it, and it has on any number of occasions. Just like waiting in general, to be honest.

I started thinking about this the other day when I met a young couple about to have their first child. We did all the normal chit-chat expected of people meeting for the first time. Then, the wife said something that I think is fairly normal of people in this life situation. She said, of their impending birth, “I guess we’re going to be adults now. We finished our conversation, and the couple walked off. I was left thunderstruck though I know it was a normal kind of thing to say. But, did that mean my own children weren’t adults at the ages of 19 and 22? Did that mean single young adults or married young adults who don’t have children weren’t really adults? I know there are many young people who are living at home longer and who are putting off getting married, but…really? Why do we say our young people don’t have the capability  of being responsible or contributing to society before they are married or have families. It made me mad, and I’m neither sad or childless. Then, it got me to thinking of the in-between place my sons and I are both in right now, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

So, the in-between place. It’s like when I have to wait for the gate to open. There’s nothing to do, but wait. But, I think there’s a way to flourish in the waiting without hurrying to the next phase. My older son and his girlfriend get it. He graduates from college this May, but she has a few more years to go so they’re gonna wait until she finishes. My son knows he needs to start working and making money. They also know they’re not ready to be married yet. I don’t know about you, but that sounds responsible to me.

My younger son doesn’t have a regular girlfriend yet, but he also knows he’s not ready. He needs to prepare for his career and make his faith his own. But he’s responsible too. Does everything he’s asked, takes care of his classes and his part-time job, and is a genuine pleasure to be around. Yes, he and his brother play video games, but it’s certainly not all of the time, and it’s after all of their other responsibilities have been fulfilled.

I’ve already talked about my waiting place and how I’m  doing things to establish the next phase of my life so I won’t go into that further. But, I do want to ask a question. Do churches recognize this as a time where young people can flourish and have responsibilities? (beyond working with the youth group or having a college/singles ministry within the church) If the church is large enough, they might have a college and/or a singles ministry which can give young people opportunities to minister.

But, in general, I don’t think churches recognize this. Their college students were just their kids a short time ago, and it’s hard for people to get out of that mindset. When these students still have parents within the church, it’s even harder. I believe that’s why many young people leave the churches of their youth. So, they can be seen as adults.

This in-between place though shouldn’t be a dead and stagnant time for young people in their churches. It should be a time when students and single people are given increasing responsibilities in the church and taught about leadership. They should be mentored by others and able to flourish. That was the experience I had in college and as a single person, and I pray that happens for my own sons.

As I end, I ask you to think about this untapped potential in our churches. These young people want to change the world, and we have the opportunity to tap this energy for Christ. Because, they will find a place to expend it. If not the church, then where?

Have a great day, everyone!

 

Qualified to Follow and to Serve Jesus

I’ve been thinking about this recently, and my thoughts began to coalesce after listening to yesterday’s sermon. I asked myself a question. Have I ever felt like I needed to be qualified to follow Jesus or to serve Him? I think we’ve all asked ourselves that question, and if we’re honest,  the answer would be yes. We think we need to be qualified to serve Him, and many of us think we’re not qualified at all. I know that at times I’ve felt unqualified to do either so I want to address those questions today.

First, there is the decision to follow Jesus. I remember reading John 3:16-17 as a teenager. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God loved me despite what I had done. God had sacrificed His Son for me! For a person who didn’t think she was worthwhile as a teen, that was an amazing revelation. What I didn’t understand until later was that this decision wouldn’t make me perfect, at least while I was still in this world.

I still did bad things, but now I had someone to talk to about it and to ask for forgiveness. But, as I think about my life in the years since then, I realize there have been many times I’ve felt unqualified to have this faith of mine and to follow my Lord and Savior. How could Jesus love me when i couldn’t stop messing up? Did I really believe what I said I believed? I felt like I needed to volunteer for every activity at church to make myself worthy. It didn’t help that everyone else was able to keep their imperfections hidden while mine were out there in glaring color. I didn’t understand that sin would be my constant companion until this earthly life was over, but that God would give me the strength to live like He wanted me to live.

And there it is. We can’t do this life and walk this faith road by ourselves. I think many times we look at the people in Scripture whose lives were changed by God and think that God can never change our lives to the point of being worthy of Him. But, He does! He calls the humble and the broken. He calls those who know they are sinners. He calls us all to be His church. I liked what my pastor had to say. “The only qualification to follow Jesus is to realize you’re not qualified.” (Garry Brantley)

I loved what he said, and it is so true. As I progressed past  thinking about following Jesus to wanting to serve Him though, I wondered if it still applied. Do we need to be qualified to serve Him in our churches, in our workplaces, in our homes? I believe it should apply. We should be able to serve God and share our faith with abandon and with the Holy Spirit permeating every part of our being. Does it happen that way though? A lot of times, it doesn’t. People don’t think they’re worthy to serve in particular positions. I’ve heard comments like “I don’t know why they would want me,” and “I’m not good enough.” I’ve seen women steered one way and young people steered another. People are pushed into categories, and damage is done to faith. They don’t ever see how they can be good enough to serve because they can see all their faults and no one else’s.

Is this fixable? Can we ever get to the point of being open to whatever God wants us to do and depending on the power of the Holy Spirit to be the church in a dark world that so desperately needs to see Jesus’ love. I believe so. I really do. I believe the answer lies in the quote I shared earlier. We don’t need to be qualified to follow Jesus or to serve Him. Our hearts just need to be laid bare and open to His leading. Praying for all of as we seek His leading!

God bless you all!

My Journey with Chronic Illness

This is the story I’ve never written down, much less published, because it’s not really my story. It’s my husband’s. But, it became my story when we met in 1992, and it has continued to be my story in our almost twenty-five years of marriage. Today is the first time I’ve written it all down because…it needs to be heard.

First, there are illnesses that, dare I say, are “fashionable” to talk about. How many ads we have seen for medicines that treat heart disease or multiple kinds of cancers? I would say many. I understand this. There are many people who suffer and who have died from these diseases. But, if we have lived any length of time, we know there are many more diseases than just these two. My husband has dealt with one of these for most of his adult life. Crohn’s Disease. I’m going to define this disease, and its cousin, ulcerative colitis, because they are so similar, and the drugs used to treat them are similar. First, Crohn’s Disease—a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. Now, ulcerative colitis—a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. As you can see, they are similar, only having a one or two-word difference in their definitions. In fact, we later found out that my husband’s diagnosis was indeterminate between the two.

But, back to the diseases themselves. They are both bowel diseases. Diseases that affect elimination. Who wants to talk about that? There are many people though who suffer—1.6 million with 6 to 15 new cases per 100,000 people diagnosed each year. And there is no cure. Yes, there are drugs that can control it. Yes, there are surgeries that can help. But, all of these have life changing consequences. I know this because I’ve lived it.

Anyway, when I met my husband in 1992, he was recovering from a surgery. I was struck by his kind manner, his twinkling brown eyes, and his sense of humor. The rest only became relevant as we started dating. The times he couldn’t go anywhere because of the pain. The shame he felt when he had an accident. The constant hunger from the steroids he took. And so many more side effects from the medications and effects from the disease itself. We had good times though. Times when he was in remission and we could be normal. He asked me to marry him almost eight months later. I suppose as a 27-year-old, I should have known what I was facing, but I loved him and wanted to marry him. We married almost thirteen months after he proposed.

When I turned thirty the following year, we started to consider having a child. He had managed to come off his medications, and the doctors said it would be the best time to try. He had been on them for so long though, the odds weren’t high we would be able to conceive—one of the side effects of the medications I spoke of earlier. We beat them though. Or maybe I should say God had a hand in it. 😉 I got pregnant and at the end of 1996, we had our first son.

The first days of new parenthood were wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating, and every superlative adjective in-between. But, as we moved several months into our son’s first year, my husband had a flare and came out of remission. I can hardly describe the pain. I know it was excruciating. There was so much he wanted to do, but couldn’t. They tried several combinations of the meds. They did a colonoscopy to see where the lesions were. But, nothing helped. My husband was stoic. He worked as much as he could. He didn’t want it said of him that he complained too much of not feeling well. That was something one of his family members did constantly. Finally, though, he couldn’t work anymore. Something had to be done. The doctor decided on surgery, and we met with a surgeon. They were going to open him up and see how much damage there was. A temporary colostomy might have to be done, but he was optimistic it could be reversed. I particularly remember the surgeon asking what his pain level was. He said it was a four or five on a scale of ten. (This would come into play later.)

The following day he went into surgery. I was anticipating a surgery of no more than two hours so when it passed that time, I got nervous. One of the nurses in the operating room called out to the waiting room. The damage was more extensive than they had thought. (This surgeon later said to my husband he wouldn’t wait to take him back to surgery again. Turns out he has a very high pain tolerance.) They didn’t know how long it would be. The surgeon came out over six hours later. Something bad had happened. The damage to his colon and rectum had been extensive. They had removed both and put in an ileostomy. He had coded on the table, and they had restarted his heart. My heart almost stopped. Here I was an almost 32-year-old woman with an almost 1-year-old son, and I had come this close to being a widow. Of course, I was grateful they had saved him, but at that moment, I didn’t realize how permanent and life-changing this would be for him in the years to come.

He went home from the hospital a week later, and our adjustments began. He had received counsel from an ostomy nurse about what to expect, but a lot of the adjustments were going to involve him seeing what worked and what didn’t. Here is the definition. “An ileostomy is an opening in the belly (abdominal wall) that’s made during surgery. The end of the ileum (The lowest part of the small intestine) is brought through this opening to form a stoma, usually on the lower right side of the abdomen.” (Source, cancer.org) I won’t get any more detailed than that. Just know that it was a permanent change in body image for him and a change that both of us would need to walk through. We went to one support group meeting, but weren’t able to gain a whole lot of insight since we were the only ones there who weren’t retired and who had a young child at home. After that, he got most of his information from the Internet.

Not only were we dealing with physical adjustments, we were also dealing with mental and emotional adjustments. This path was hard, and there was no one in our lives we could really talk with about it. No one who understood when I came to a church function alone. So much depression and shame. Why couldn’t our lives be normal? We could see our abnormal clearly. Did anyone else have an abnormal?

Things gradually evened out though. We had our second son, and our abnormal became normal. Life was good. But, in the first years of the twenty-first century, my husband started having problems with the ostomy. He had to go to the hospital again. What? I thought we were done with the hospital. Turns out we weren’t. In fact, there have been many hospital stays over the past nineteen years. 2001. 2003. 2005. 2010. 2015. 2016. All of these stays didn’t directly involve the ostomy, but I had to wonder if some of them involved his destroyed immune system. Because that was the other life-changing thing the doctor had told us to expect. He had been on the meds for his Crohn’s for so long; he would more than likely catch everything that came down the pike. He did. If there was something going around at his office, he would usually be the first one to catch it.

In the midst of all this, we moved. Several times. Employers have a hard time understanding the reality of a chronic illness and everything that comes with it. He was able to gain valuable experience with each position though which was a plus. But, we still had very few people in our lives we could trust with our “abnormal” normal. We had left the church, and I felt so far away from God.

Finally, we moved to our current state and found our current church. I’ve written about this before. It took us a long time to trust this community, and at times, I still don’t. We’ve been on the recipient end of help instead of the giving end, and it’s made us feel unworthy. How could we not? The shame involved. The low times. The hard times.  We had been shunned by former churches, and I keep feeling the other shoe is about to drop here. We’ve even chosen not to do certain things because we don’t feel capable. Listen, we know in our head that God does love us unconditionally, but the heart is another story. It can be very hard to live into, and it’s even harder to not think we won’t be shunned again. But, I do my best each and every day to live into the grace of God and not in shame and loathing from Satan.

We’re on the other end of raising our children now as I’ve written about before. My husband is in a stable job that is a good fit, and we’re hopeful he’ll be able to stay there until he retires. I’m in a place where I can write, and we’re in a place where we can contribute. It is my hope, by laying my heart bare, that people can have a greater understanding of our story and why we react the way we do as we live our “abnormal” normal.

Have a great day, everyone!

 

The Most Important Kind of Love

I shouldn’t have worried about this week’s topic. With Valentine’s Day coming this Thursday, it was obvious what I was going to write about. Wait a minute! Valentine’s Day is this Thursday? It is, so if you have a romantic partner, you’d better get busy on finding a gift. But, for a Christian, there are more kinds of love besides romantic love, and that’s what I want to discuss today–what those kinds of love are and how we fail at expressing them.

We are all familiar with the first kind of love, and it’s the easiest one to express. It’s also the main reason people get each other gifts for Valentine’s Day. What is it? It’s romantic love, of course, or eros which is the Greek word for sensual or romantic love. People who are dating or married usually don’t have a problem expressing this kind of love. Whether by saying the spoken words, getting each other gifts, having children, or doing things for the other person, it’s the most accepted kind of love in the world and in the church. People don’t find it at all odd when spouses or dating partners express their love for each other. It’s accepted.

This love is followed closely by storge love which is Greek for love within the family. Love between parents and their children or love between siblings. People also consider this a natural kind of love. It’s not considered odd to hear parental love expressed for children or siblings expressing love for each other either in the world or in the church. In fact, in the church, there are more programs for married people and children for all ages because that is the defunct normal.

I’m going to define the next two types of love separately though I believe they are interrelated to a certain extent in how we fail to express them. First, there is philia love. Philia is a Greek term which explains the powerful emotional bond seen in deep friendships. Jesus said this love would identify his followers. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I struggled with this a little bit because, of course, I don’t have deep emotional bonds with everyone. But still, Jesus wants us to have love for our fellow humans and have care, respect, and compassion for people in need. In simple terms, love them. But, can I do that by myself? Maybe, we should go to the next kind of love for the answer.

The final love is agape love. It’s perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure. It represents God’s immeasurable and incomparable love for humankind. It is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when he died on the cross for us and was resurrected. It is the kind of love we receive when we receive the Holy Spirit upon our profession of faith. It is the kind of love that shows we are His disciples.

Now, I come to the point where I think we, the church, have failed at expressing this love both in words and in actions. Love is a verb. It needs to be said, and it needs to be done. I listened to a speaker this past weekend who said we needed to be expressing love to the people around us. She said it would feel odd at first to tell someone we liked them a lot (I think she thought using the word love would be too strange.), but it was something Jesus wanted us to do. I understood the feeling strange part, but it convicted me too. We should be able to express love to each other and not think we have to qualify it. Sister to sister. Brother to brother. Brother to sister (who are not romantically involved). Sister to brother (who are not romantically involved). I think women in the church have an easier time doing this than men, but it’s important, and it’s what Jesus wants us to do. I believe expressing agape love in word and in deed will take the love of Jesus to where it needs to go, and maybe, just maybe, will change our world for the better. So, I issue you a challenge as I end. Tell at least three people who are not your spouse or your family that you love them this week. I truly think you will be glad you did.

May God bless you all today!

 

The Power of the Holy Spirit

I started this post yesterday with a particular title, but then completely blanked on the first words I wanted to say. Has that ever happened to you? Anyway, I decided to start working on it again this morning and see where the words took me. I say all this to tell you that the title might change before I’m done.

So, the Holy Spirit. How much do we really understand when we talk about the Holy Spirit? Oh, we nod at all the correct places when the topic comes up. We hold up our hands in praise of what we think are all the members of the Trinity. But, do we really understand what the Holy Spirit is supposed to do in our lives? I don’t think we do, and I’m including myself in that number.

This came up last week when I felt a prompting to do something. It isn’t my purpose to gain praise for anything I did so I’m going to be intentionally vague about the details. Anyway, I felt this prompting from what could only be the Holy Spirit saying this was something I needed to do. Did I do it right away with no thinking involved? No, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t. I asked myself could I do it. Did I have enough time, enough money? Was I doing it from the right motives? These questions took very little time to answer in my head, but it was time not spent trusting God completely. I finally decided I could do it, but wanted to make sure I stayed anonymous. People helped with that, and by the time I was done, I had received a tremendous blessing.

But, I wondered why I had resisted. Was my trust in God’s provision so little that I didn’t think He could provide for my needs and for the thing he wanted me to do? My trust wavered in this instance. I’ve had promptings like this before and not responded at all so I’ve had some growth in this area. But, still, total trust eludes me, and I don’t like that. I want to have total trust in what the Lord is doing in my life.

I put some more thought into it. Is the reason I don’t listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit because of times when my own needs haven’t been met? There have been times in my life when that hasn’t happened. I’ve suffered, and no one was there. I lost my trust and my faith, and it took awhile before it came back. Or do I have trouble hearing the promptings of the Holy Spirit because I don’t want to give up control? I think that’s big for a lot of us, and we limit the power of the Holy Spirit when we’re unwilling to give up that control.

I’ve been working on this for awhile–regaining my faith and my trust in God and in other people. Sometimes, it’s easier to say I trust in God than in other people, but I know God wants me to have both so I’ve worked on both.

I’ve also worked on being more conscious of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life which led to last week’s events. Two things are helping with this. The first is a book I’m reading by Sheila Walsh called It’s Okay Not to be Okay. It’s helped me to realize that God doesn’t want us to put shields around our hearts. He is okay with however we come to Him. There is a quote from the book I’m planning to have framed because God used it to speak directly on this topic to me. Here it is.

“We’re not supposed to have enough. We’re supposed to bring what we have, our clearly not enough to Jesus, and ask Him to meet us where we are.” Sheila Walsh, It’s Okay Not to be Okay

The other thing happened yesterday during church. Because my heart is opening and my trust and faith are growing a little more each day, an opening was made for a sermon to touch me. (Yes, that does happen sometimes. Lol, GB) My pastor started a series on the Holy Spirit, and it brought some things into focus for me. We are not enough. We will never be enough like Ms. Walsh says in the quote I shared. We don’t have control. We only think we do, and we buy into the illusion we do. There’s a funny thing about that. I love to read mystery books and find out who did whatever was done, but I think I should know everything about God and the Trinity. I know now it doesn’t work that way.

It’s time for me to embrace the mystery in my relationship with God just like I embrace it in what I read and what I write. It’s time for me to freely trust and freely live in the generosity of God’s Kingdom which includes the Holy Spirit. It’s time for me to trust in what God has given me through the Holy Spirit. I’m looking forward to learning more about the power of the Holy Spirit in the weeks to come.

Have a great day, everyone!

A Continuing Conversation

I saw this quote in my writing inspiration book last week, and it got me to thinking about my goals for blogging. Then, my thoughts expanded to include what I think we all hope for from a conversation. First, let me share the quote by Andrew Sullivan. “A blog is in many ways a continuing conversation.” Mr. Sullivan was one of the first mainstream journalists to experiment with this form of writing almost twenty years ago and soon had a large following on his blog. He was able to have a continuing conversation with his followers through the comments and was able to receive almost instantaneous feedback on his work.

Now, it’s almost twenty years later, and there are many, many more blogs. Some of them have large followings and some, not so much. I fall into the latter category. Barely 100 followers, and maybe a couple hundred more who access the link through my Facebook and Twitter. Actually, there’s no way to know exactly how many can access my blog link on social media. I’ve had some comments over the years I’ve been writing these posts, but nothing that would say it was wildly popular. I’m not complaining though. Having this space has given me the opportunity to practice my writing in public, work through some things from my past, work through some faith questions, have some good conversations, and meet some neat people. It has shown me that I can do this writing thing and that I can be consistent with it.

Reading this quote though has brought to mind all of the conversations I’ve had on this blog, on the Internet, and in real life. Have I done my best to ensure those conversations can be continuing? Have I been flexible enough to agree to disagree or have I wanted to be proven right each and every time–rigid enough where someone felt like they had to walk away from a relationship? I’ve fallen on both sides. We all have. In an effort to change how I interact with people, I haven’t talked about the most divisive items in our society for a long time–race, poverty, politics, abortion, immigration, any issue that could be divisive. What good does it do to scream about something when I can spend my time and energy loving the people in my life the way Jesus wants me to?

But, I think Jesus would want us to talk about the hard stuff. The stuff that keeps us from having relationships. The stuff we use to climb the judging pedestal because it hasn’t happened to us. The stuff that is too different from our norm.

Like abortion, for example. I think abortion is wrong. It is killing a child who has never had the chance to life. But, I know people who have had abortions, and I have no way of knowing the factors that led them to their decision. So, I refuse to judge. Jesus loves the woman who had an abortion just as much as He loves the rest of us.

And, what about poverty? So many things factor into being poor. Race, unemployment, gender, country of birth, mental illness. Those of us who are more fortunate just turn a blind eye to the less fortunate and argue about the politics of it all. I remember the times my husband has been unemployed and thinking constantly that people were judging us. Judging eyes seemed to be everywhere.

Isn’t that why we need a continuing conversation? To acknowledge the hard stuff. To practice grace with the people Jesus loves as much as He loves us. To listen, really listen, to the person with an opposing view and not think how we’re going to reply the whole time. Over the past few years, I have worked on opening my heart to new and different viewpoints and to trying new things. I haven’t been perfect, but I have felt my heart getting softer and more in tune with this faith I practice. May we all be willing to have continuing conversations full of grace and love!

Have a great day, everyone!

 

Called on Purpose

It took me awhile to wrap my head around the theme my church has for this year. It’s not that I don’t understand what Jesus is calling Christians to do. The Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20 states it plainly. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I also understand the Scriptures my pastor used yesterday, one section of which showed how people were amazed by Jesus and how He found favor with God’s people and then, how people were amazed by the apostles and the wonders and signs they performed. I especially liked the Scripture from Acts which described the first century church. From Acts 2:42-47, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I’ve always thought the ideal time for the church was when it was first formed. Now though, it is over two thousand years later, and we need to know what God wants for the church in the 21st century. For many years, I considered myself inadequate for God’s calling. I would look at Scriptures like the ones in Titus 2 and tell myself I looked nothing like the women in those Scriptures. I didn’t consider myself a good role model. (still don’t) My interests didn’t lie with anything  having to do with the home. I felt inadequate with the way God made me. There was no way God could have called me for anything on purpose. Not as a follower and especially not as any kind of leader. I loved Jesus, but I didn’t feel like I was any good at anything.

I had to go through that tension to know God made me the way I am for a point and a purpose. He is calling me to show His love in a way that is different from the person on my right and the person on my left. God is calling for me to be a part of a faith family, but He is also calling for me to use the gifts He has given me whether it is in my church or in the world. So, my called on purpose will look different from everyone else’s except for the overarching theme of showing God’s love.

What will that look like for me during the next few months? I’m still planning some things, but I’ve also got some things on my calendar. I’m going to participate in a 5-K walk to end cancer. This is a first for me as an adult. I never thought I would be in good enough shape to participate in a run or a walk, but things have changed since I made physical activity a priority. I’m also going to an anime convention with my son and husband next month. I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with one of my son’s passions. And finally, I’m going to a writing workshop which is one of my passions. These things don’t even count the times my husband and I will be serving a meal at my son’s campus ministry in the next few weeks.

I look at all the things I wrote in the previous paragraph, and a point is becoming clearer to me. These are all events in my community and not in my church.  Maybe, that is what “called on purpose” really means. 🙂

Have a great day, everyone!

The “True” Definition of Success

Before I go into today’s story, let me issue all the usual disclaimers. Yes, I know there is not one true definition of success. What I write today is my opinion and no one else’s. Success can be gained with the world’s values or with religious values. I could literally talk with twenty people and get twenty different definitions of success. But, today I want to share my own thoughts of success and what it took to get me here.

It begins with my pre-adolescence, a TV show, and an actress and ends many years later with a journey to meet said actress and a realization that, for me, the only “true” way to be successful is to invest in other people like Jesus did. Y’all, adolescence was not kind to me. I was chubby, nerdy, and bullied by other people. I was as far away from being in the “in crowd” in middle school as you could possibly get. I wasn’t interested in boys, and I wasn’t interested in make-up either. I think, even back then, I knew my value wasn’t tied up in those artificial things. I was more interested in the things that mattered and in the world around me. In science fiction and action-adventure. In changing the world around me. But, those things at that time were not the things young girls were interested in. So, I longed for the role model I didn’t have at home.  I had not become a Christian yet so the closest thing I had to role models were my teachers at school and the characters in the books I read.

Enter the TV show and the actress. I was ten the year The Bionic Woman premiered. Watching the first episode, I was spell-bound. Here was a woman on television who was doing all of the things I dreamed of doing. Yes, some of it was cheesy. Yes, some of it reflected the time it was shown in. But, all in all, Jaime Sommers (the main character) taught me that what was important was the content of your character and not what you looked like. Those were important lessons for me to learn between the ages of ten and twelve and even later when I faced constant criticism for what I looked like and for not following the crowd. I admired Lindsay Wagner, the actress who played Jaime, so much and even had a poster of her on the wall of my room for a time.

Fast forward to many, many years later. I was an adult and a Christian who was married and had two children who were teenagers. Adults had poured into me as a new Christian, a teenager, and a young adult. I had learned about the best  and worst things the world had to offer, and it seemed like I had experienced all of them. Now, I’m not trying to say I was perfect. I was far from it. I could be as selfish as the most worldly or the most Christian among us. I had lived a good portion of my life. That year I had the opportunity to go to something called Dragon Con. Many actors, writers, and artists make appearances there. Some are well-known, and others are not. I had recently come back to writing, and as a science fiction, fantasy loving wanna-be author, it was the place to be. Finding out Lindsay Wagner was on the guest list sealed the deal.

So, off to Atlanta I went. At this point, as an adult woman in her 40’s, I knew that actors and the characters they portray were different people. I knew there was a chance that Lindsay Wagner wouldn’t be anything like the character she portrayed all those years ago. But, I also knew I had to say thank you for what she had meant to me. I spent the weekend going to writing workshops, seeing other actors I was interested in, and soaking up the whole experience. I noticed that some of the professionals were more approachable than others and some had very inflated egos. (It cost more money to see them.) Finally, it was time to see Lindsay Wagner. I was so nervous as I stood in line because she was my childhood hero. Finally, I got to the front of the line. She was so kind and very aware of the role model she had been. I said what I wanted to say and received my autograph and picture. It was an amazing experience and showed me that some people were aware of how they influenced others and acted accordingly.

It has been over five years since that experience. Tumultuous years. Years where the American public has become deeply divided. Years where we all have become more selfish. Years where I’ve been sure nothing would ever go right again. But, these years  have also been years where I’ve become part of an interracial church family. Years where I’ve made a deliberate focus to talk to people others wouldn’t talk to. Years where I’ve done my best to use words Jesus would want me to use. I haven’t been successful all of the time. There are people who would testify to this. Human nature and life have knocked me down again and again.

Most importantly though, I’ve worked through a lot of the garbage from my own past. My growth and experiences through this work have brought me to the point I stated at the beginning of this post. The “truest” success people can have is the success of investing in and ministering to other people. In other words, truly listening and being happy for the other people in your life. But, it’s the hardest kind of success to achieve. In fact, I know only a handful of people who are like this in my own life. People who are heart friends. People who don’t let prejudice get in the way. People who are not concerned  with cliques or what the “rules” are in their interactions with other people. People who share joy.

I am a work in progress in this area. There are days when I am at my most selfish and wonder why the “trappings” (money, achievement) of success don’t come to my family. Then, there are days when one of the maintenance guys at my apartment complex corners me and wants to talk about his Christmas because I had talked to him before. There are days when I think no one notices my presence and days when I get a comment or two saying how my writing has touched them. I’ve said my word for this year is “believe”, but perhaps I should add two words to it. Authentic and joy. That’s how I want to live. As someone with authentic joy. Not as the world defines it , but as my faith defines it. For those of us who are Christians, I believe this is the way Jesus wants us to live. And for all of us, it can bring us to the place where we know character counts in how we live. Thankful for all the heroes in my life and for the people who have invested in my life!

Have a great day, everyone!