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!

Sacrifice

I sit here on this Christmas Eve wondering what sacrifice really means. Wondering how it truly feels to put the interests of someone else above your own. Wondering how God felt when He sent Jesus to be our Savior. It’s an abstract concept to some. They’ve never seen anyone sacrifice for them. They’ve never been taught to sacrifice for others. But, even if the lessons have been taught, understanding what God did for us at Christmas and at Easter can be hard even for the most giving of us. We think we have to do something to earn the grace spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” We can’t see this grace so it’s hard to be conscious of it. 

But, we can see other people who claim to be believers. Should we expect to see sacrifice from them? Should we expect them to demonstrate Jesus’ words from John 13:34-35? “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.” If people could see this love and willingness to sacrifice in us, it would be easier to see the love God has for us. It would be concrete. But, do they? Do they see this love and willingness to sacrifice in us? Sad to say, more often than not, they don’t. They see people in the church who are just as selfish as people who are not in the church. They see things like the prosperity gospel taught. They see us, and they see nothing different from the world around them.

In case you’re wondering, I count myself in that total. I can be just as selfish as the person who has rejected Jesus or the person who has never heard of Him. I reflect His love imperfectly, if at all. And it’s made me wonder what sacrifice really means. I wonder a lot if you haven’t figured it out already. 🙂 As a writer, the words I write and the words I read have an impact on my life. They help me to understand things that my brain alone has trouble understanding. It’s how I understand the world. Even the TV shows I watch can have this effect if I’ve already been wondering about something. 

With that being said, I want to tell you a story about a TV show that brought me to a deeper understanding of sacrifice. It wasn’t a Christian show, but it still had the same effect. Let me set the stage. I am a fan of science fiction. It shows me a world of  possibilities different from what I see in real life. Anyway, in the last few weeks,  I’ve been watching the most recent season of a particular show which features a group of people who have traveled back in time to save the world. They want to prevent their future from ever happening. Now, they weren’t altruistic all of the time. They did things for their own benefit to protect those they had come to love. They were imperfect just like those of us who are believers, and they had to go through many difficulties in the episodes I watched including death. In the last two episodes, one character was killed because he had prevented a nuclear explosion, and another was killed because she was trying to prevent the bad guys from getting the information inside her head. (Yes, this is the kind of TV I like to watch. 🙂 ) I’m guessing you probably realize the team was in turmoil at this point. Then, the leader of the team said something that has stuck with me through several viewings of the final episode. He had the opportunity to go further back in time to hopefully correct some of the mistakes they had made. When one of the other characters expressed doubts he could do so, he said, “Well, maybe I can give the years back to someone else.” His statement nagged me for a bit, and I had to watch the episode again to get it, like I said. He was willing to live the years again so other people could be happy with no benefit to him. It’s the truest example of sacrifice I had even seen on television. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know those were all scripted words. But, wow! Those characters showed sacrifice to me. From the man who reached for nuclear material without a second thought to the woman who shot herself in the head so the bad guys wouldn’t win to the man who went further back in time, they were all representative of sacrifice to me. I had to think about what this meant in my own life and with my own faith. 

I came up with some things I want to share. For me, sacrifice is standing in the background and letting someone else serve. Sacrifice is accepting you may not matter to some people and loving them anyway. Sacrifice is knowing what you do might not matter until you are gone, but doing it anyway. Sacrifice is being the person you are, the person God made, and only focusing on what He wants and no one else. Sacrifice is accepting His call no matter where it may take you. Sacrifice is giving everything you are to the one who made you. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? 

Merry Christmas! 

Christmas and December Birthdays

It’s a week until Christmas Eve. Some of us might be about to put up our Christmas decorations and embark on a frantic week of shopping, baking, wrapping, and traveling while others of us have had our decorations up for weeks. We are drinking hot cocoa at night and listening to Christmas music having finished the Christmas shopping weeks before. I know people at all ends of the spectrum. 

In my home, we’ve done it differently each year. Right now, I am looking at a decorated home with many presents under the tree. There’s more left to wrap and just a few small things left to get. I don’t feel rushed, and I’m grateful. I’ve been able to focus on Jesus and the meaning of the season as well as listen to Christmas music. 

But, there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel like Christmas is about to come until after tomorrow. It’s been that way for almost twenty-two years. Let me explain. When I was growing up, more effort had to be put in to planning my birthday parties because, you guessed it, I had a December birthday. And, inevitably, one or more of my friends couldn’t come to my parties over the years because they were going to some Christmas event. I resented that when I was younger, but not so much now, and I’m not complaining now. That’s just how it was. I did learn the importance of one historical event during my growing-up years because of my birthday, and it led to a fascination with anything related to World War 2. Now, when someone asks about my birthday, I tell them I’m a Pearl Harbor baby. If they know their history, they know when my birthday is. 😉 

I say all this to give you background for the next part of the story. When I found out twenty-two years ago that my first child would be born close to Christmas, I decided I would make a point of celebrating his birthday each year and making sure he knew how special he was to me. The years have passed quickly. He will graduate from college in May and start his own life. There is no way I can tell you how proud I am of him. We’ll go out tomorrow night for dinner, have birthday cake, and have him open presents. Celebrate the anniversary of his birth. The conversation among others might be all about Christmas, but there are other important things to celebrate in my home. 

Now, after tomorrow, my focus will be solely on Christmas and the “reason for the season.” (This phrase is almost trite now, but I try to take each word and put meaning and thought behind it when I say it.) I’ve often wondered if God has a problem with my divided focus during the season. Of course, everyone in my family acknowledges the importance of the birth and death of Jesus. It’s part of the faith we all hold, after all. But, it’s important to me that my son doesn’t feel forgotten on his birthday, and, if I’m being honest, I don’t like feeling forgotten on my birthday either. Fortunately, over the years, I have had many friends who have made sure I haven’t felt forgotten on my birthday. My family has also done a good job of making me feel loved. My husband likes to say that he remembers our son and I so well, we forget his birthday at the beginning of January.  Not this year though. He’s just as special as the rest of us. 😉 

But, back to my question. Is God upset with my divided focus during the Christmas season? I don’t think so. My son and I and many more of his children are born during this month. We are all made in His image just like the people born in the other eleven months of the year. And, He loves us all. He loved us enough to send His Son Jesus all those years ago to be born and to die for us. I wrestle with this every day. How could someone love me that much? My heart would be broken if I had to watch my son die like Jesus died. But, he did that for me and for all of you. That’s why I don’t think God minds my divided focus. Because, you see, love doesn’t divide. Love multiplies. May you know the multiplying nature of Jesus’ love during this Christmas season! 

God bless you! 

Inspiration–God-Style

Over twelve years ago now, I met a special lady  online at a homeschool website. Her name was Betty. At first, I had cautious conversations with her and the other ladies on the website. I had just begun homeschooling, and they all sounded so accomplished. I wasn’t sure I would ever do as well as they seemed to have done. She and the other ladies must have talked me down a dozen times during my first year. They were always there on my screen with a word of encouragement. It might seem funny to you, considering someone a friend who could only be seen on a computer screen, but we were all doing something that was considered out of the norm. 

As the years passed, I noticed something different about Betty. She always pointed to Jesus in whatever conversation she was having. And, she took it further than being just a name on a screen. When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly in 2009, she took the lead in having cards and flowers sent, and she called me. I don’t remember how long we talked that day, but our conversation showed her heart, and it left me strength (God’s strength, I know now.) to keep going through the first days of my grief.  Betty was doing all of this while helping her husband fight cancer. She showed up for me then, and I will always be grateful. 

Sadly, the end of the following year saw her husband go to be with Jesus. She showed such amazing strength encouraging all of us–her online friends and her friends in real life. That time though turned out to be a time of tumult for both of us. For me, it was my husband’s surgery and subsequent loss of his job while I was still homeschooling. For her, it was the church not showing up when she was widowed. It still hurts me when I consider those words. How could someone not show up for such an amazing and gentle Christian? But, that is not really for me to consider as it is part of her story and not mine. 

While she was still going through her tumult the following year, she showed up for me again. We had gone out west so my husband could look for work, and we needed a place of respite for a few days. She provided her home, and she wasn’t even there. She had her son let us in, and those few days of rest encouraged all of us.  They took us to the following week when my husband received a job offer on our son’s twelfth birthday to go to Alabama. So, we drove back east to a new city and a new state to begin a new life. 

In the seven years since, a lot has happened to the both of us. I have finished homeschooling both of my sons through high school with one of them almost being done with college. Her children are all grown now as well. There have been job losses and hospital stays for my husband. She had one as well and had to learn to walk again. She also married again to a wonderful man. They’ve lived in two different states. 

Those are the facts, but what I want to talk about now is how she has inspired me. Like I said earlier, she points to Jesus with everything she does. Jesus, not a church.  She’s done what God has told her to do even when people in churches have told her it was impossible. She’s started a ministry to those in the adult entertainment industry, the “least of these” talked about in Scripture. She and her teammates go into the clubs to show the people there the love of Jesus, period. The name of the ministry is Xpose Hope. (https://xposehope.com/), and I would love it if you would explore the website and donate if God so leads you. I’ve also set up a Facebook fundraiser that lasts until the end of this week (https://www.facebook.com/donate/323209931601991/) if you want to go that route. She is reaching people, and she is loving people. People who would not go into a church building otherwise. And with all that, she inspires me. 

Now, I think I know Betty well enough to know she would be humbled by what I’ve written and would still point to Jesus regardless. But, I think you need to know why she specifically inspires me. As I’ve tried to figure out the question of ‘What comes next?’, I’ve felt God calling me to write. So, I’ve written. I’ve written stories, essays, and blog posts. I’m working on a book. It’s not as directly involved with people as Betty’s ministry is, but I’ve worked on getting better at what God has called me to do. My writing hasn’t received a lot of attention yet. I don’t think it’s been well understood. People still look at me oddly when I mention what I’m doing with my post homeschooling life, and it’s a lonely feeling. I’m going against the grain in many ways especially at church. But, I know Betty understands it, and that is why she inspires me. She has encouraged me with my writing, and she has encouraged me with other things I’ve felt called to do. She’s even encouraged me to do things with my callings pointing to Jesus and not to wait until a church says it’s okay. 

All of these things about her life have pointed me to Jesus and have inspired me at the same time. It brought me to an understanding yesterday morning too. Not everyone will understand what God has called me to do. Why should they? It’s my calling not theirs. So, I asked God for peace and not to feel lonely as I continue to consider the question of ‘What comes next?’, and I thanked God for the people He’s put in my life like Betty. 

Praying that God will give us all an idea of His calling and people to encourage us like Betty encourages me. 

God’s blessings on you all today! 

The Gospel is the Great Equalizer

With the turning of the calendar to December, my thoughts have turned to the birth of Jesus and to what the Gospel means to all of us. Let me explain. We all have a tendency to sit in judgment of other people. Jesus knew this full well and spoke of it in the Sermon of the Mount. From Matthew 7:1-5, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

So, why do I quote these Scriptures today in a post about Christmas at the beginning of December? Bear with me. All will become clear.

Anyway, if you’re in the United States, I’m sure you’re familiar with the migrant situation on the southern border especially with the group that is in Tijuana, Mexico at this time. If you’re in a different country, you might very well be familiar with immigrant situations in your own country–whether legal or illegal. Today though, I don’t want to politicize the discussion. I want to instead examine some of our thinking about the situation and whether the fear of someone or something different makes us recoil in finding solutions.

First, have you ever wondered about the people who say, ‘Why don’t they just immigrate legally?” (in regards to illegal immigrants) The attitude I sense in all of those statements is one of superiority. (I did it the right way. Why can’t you do it the right way?) To me that sounds like an attitude of judgment–something that Jesus tells us not to do in the Scripture I quoted earlier. It’s also why I won’t make those kind of statements online myself. God is calling me to treat the people I come in contact with, either in real like or online life, kindly so I do my best not to become involved in contentious political discussions.

But, then there’s the other side. The other side which says it’s okay to disobey laws no matter what. The one who doesn’t want to change the laws because it really isn’t interested in being compassionate. It just wants to create a situation which will make the first side look bad. Politics–it is the topic that makes me say, ‘Jesus, please come now,’ more than any other.

There’s another side though that I feel like I can speak to somewhat since my trip to Honduras last summer. There are people there who want to make their country a country they’re proud to live in. I met some of them, and I was conscious of how wealthy I was compared to them  even though I’m paying for two children in college now. They have a commitment to their faith I know I’m lacking, and they treat each other better than many people I know in the United States, at least the ones I met do. Of course, they’re not perfect, and I’m not trying to claim they are. They have a more conscious awareness of their need for a Savior which would benefit all of us to witness.

I say all this today to come back to the title of my post. The Gospel is the great equalizer. Whether poor or rich, white or black, migrant or citizen, we all have the need for a Savior–for Jesus. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on. None of the other things I’ve said matter either. We have all sinned, and we all need Jesus. My hope going forward is that we can remember this and treat the people in our lives like Jesus would have us treat them.

God bless you all!

What Prevents Us from Turning Cynical?–Questions to Consider–Part 5

I didn’t think I would be asking this question the week after Thanksgiving, but several things brought it to mind, and I thought I would address them in today’s post. I do need to make it clear though that I did have a good Thanksgiving. This is just a culmination of something that happened over the holiday and questions I’ve been considering over the last few weeks.

What does prevent us from turning cynical? Is it violence on Thanksgiving Day? Yes, my city had a mall shooting that evening. People were hurt and killed, and many people’s lives were disrupted including people close to my son. I keep thinking of a line at another store which prevented another person from walking back into that mall when the shootings were happening. That was a “praise God” moment for us, but I think of the people’s lives that were disrupted. Of people who are no longer here. Of people who were injured or scared. And it brings me back to God. Why did He let this happen? There are no answers, of course, and I am tempted to let my heart turn hard and cynical. Of course, I could be honest and say let my heart turn harder and more cynical.

What about people who are told they’re not wanted in churches? I couldn’t imagine this happening, but it has happened to a friend of mine who runs a ministry to the “least of these” in another city. She was told flat-out that the people she was bringing to church were not welcome. It hurt my heart so much to hear this. I asked, ‘Why God?’ Aren’t we supposed to welcome all people to church and share about Jesus’ love? And my heart turned harder and more cynical.

Finally, what about the people who are closest to you? I tried a few weeks ago to protect one of them from overworking himself in the church. He’s on a sabbatical now, but I’m wondering if that was the right thing to do. God is convicting my heart we should all be willing to serve Him, and I do agree with that.  But, at what cost? Health? Family? Marriage? All of it? I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. Should we still love the people who refuse to serve because they’re afraid they’ll be overworked? My heart says yes to that question, but then it turns harder and more cynical towards those who won’t help and who won’t give leaving the work to the 5-10% of the membership who will. I count myself, to my shame, in that first group right now. Between the times I’ve failed, the times where my help wasn’t needed, and the times where I’ve just felt overlooked, I’ve become confused about what my role in the church is supposed to be.

Of course, none of the situations I’ve mentioned can prevent you from turning cynical. In fact, I’ve become more cynical with each one. But, I was recently looking at the You Version plans, and I saw one entitled Beating Cynicism. It intrigued me which is why I started it on Saturday. And I learned that my heart had hardened. Hardened to almost where it could be shattered. My attempts to protect because of fear were not what God wanted for me. He wants me to serve with hope. He wants the people I love the most to serve with hope. I thought I had moved past the situations that had hurt me so badly, but I just pushed them into a box never to be dealt with again.

Isn’t that what we do in the church? We don’t talk about the hurts and pretend that everything is okay. Sometimes we move on to other relationships or other churches. I don’t think God wants that for us either. But, what does He want? What does He want us to have the courage to do?

I believe it starts with one of the prayers included with the devotions. “Dear God, I admit it. I have stopped hoping, stopped believing, and stopped trusting. But, you haven’t. And because you haven’t, I don’t want to stay the way I am. Give me the courage to hope again, trust again, and believe again. Amen.” Because, I do want my heart to be soft again. I want to be able to say I can trust people as well as trusting my Lord and Savior. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our Lord and Savior. I’m saying I don’t want to go into a situation always thinking that the other person is going to let me down.

So, can I ask a favor of those of you who are believers? Can we offer each other encouragement instead of judgment? Can we let each other cry when we are in pain? Can we try to understand instead of condemn? Can we be the community Jesus wants us to be instead of pretending? I promise I will try, and I hope you do too.

God bless you all!

 

What is Sin Nature? – Questions to Consider – Part 3

As I’ve mentioned before, topics come to me in a multitude of ways. I can read them in a book, hear them in a conversation, see them in the outdoors or in a store, or the words just appear in my head. Today’s topic for my “questions to consider” series came down two of those paths. The first one was from my writing inspiration book. The prompt was “So many people are selfish, greedy, and unfriendly…” I’ve already lived enough life to know this is a true statement. And it can be discouraging when I do my best to be kind, and it’s not reciprocated. The other path was two words appearing in my head–sin nature. I’d already been thinking of the depravity in today’s world with the shootings in Pennsylvania and with all of the divisive and rhetoric that is so prevalent especially with tomorrow’s elections in the United States. It makes me wonder how God puts up with us. It also brought me to today’s question–what is sin nature and why does it still exist in this world? I guess that’s two questions. 🙂 But, I think we’ve all wondered why bad things happen in this world and where God was in the midst of them. I’m going to attempt to answer this today, but I’ll go ahead and warn you I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does except God.

First, I think a simple definition is in order. From gotquestions.org, “The sin nature is that aspect in man that makes him rebellious against God. When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing.” To translate this into language we can all understand, we are all born bad. It can’t be seen in the youngest of us, but it can definitely be seen in toddlers who we take a lot of time teaching to share and to tell the truth. It can be seen much more as we get older.

We can’t overcome this by ourselves which is why it says this in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” God knew we would need to hear His teaching continually for it to take hold in our lives.

Writers in the New Testament also talked about sin and sin nature. From Romans 5:12, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” I John 1:8 is a clear example to us. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There are many more examples, too many for this post, but I think the point is clear. Sin is present in each of us.

Only one person hasn’t had a sin nature. Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was brought back to life. What He did is the reason we can be born again. We inherit a new nature as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” To consider this has happened as a result of my faith gives me great joy.

But, we also need to know that our sin nature doesn’t disappear when we receive Christ as our Savior. Bad things still happen in our world, and Christians can still do bad things because of sin. Knowing this in our hearts can help with the questions of illness, abuse, greed, broken marriages, fighting, and any other sin that is out there.

We have help though. Help from God. He sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence in each believer and supplies the power we need to overcome the pull of our sin nature. I’m reminded of what it says in I Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.” He will help us with sin if we only ask Him.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking–Christians and non-Christians alike. You’ve seen all these people claiming to be Christians doing bad things. You’ve seen people who aren’t Christians acting better than some Christians. What’s the difference? Why should you even consider this faith? While I wouldn’t presume to know someone’s standing with God (That’s between them and God.), I would look at their deeds–what they do. These deeds are not a requirement to become a Christian–only accepting Jesus and His love can do that, but you’re supposed to see them afterwards. There are many examples in Scripture, but I think the one in the book of Matthew is the best. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Genuine relationship with God should make us want to glorify Him and not ourselves.

No one will be perfect in this though. The Bible says that we will struggle with our old nature as long as we are in this world. But, those who are in genuine relationship with God will come to Him in repentance for what they have done wrong each and every time. For those innocents who have been touched by the evil of this world, God heals. I know He does. It will be in His time though, not ours. That is our challenge–to trust our Lord and Savior through pain, suffering, and what we cannot see while showing His love for those who most need it.

God bless you all!

 

Questions to Consider – Part 2

It’s time for a second installment of “questions to consider.” Hopefully, you were able to read my first post, and it made you think. That is the point of this series–to make you think about what you believe and put those thoughts into action. It’s not about having the right or wrong answer. I freely admit I don’t know everything. I want this to be an opportunity to grow for everyone who reads these posts whether they consider themselves Christians or not.

With that being said, here is what brought me to the next question. I’ve said before that I first accepted Christ as Savior at the age of thirteen. I was pretty much a regular church-goer from then until I left the church in 2005 for reasons that were painful, but necessary. My husband and I considered ourselves Christians, but we thought we could make it on our own away from people who could possibly hurt us. God taught us, me especially, a lot during those years. Anyway, the following year we were faced with the question of whether to homeschool our kids. Our older son was academically advanced and having to wait for the rest of his class to catch up during the school day while the younger one was being bullied for his size in his first grade classroom. Both situations were not what we wanted for our kids so we pulled them out of public school. That year, and the first years we homeschooled, I faced questions about my faith and the political process in the United States. This leads to today’s question. Do we have to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian?

A thorny question, to be sure.  🙂 I know some people who would say yes, and I know others who would say no. Back in the early years of my homeschooling career, I would have said yes. Though I did not begin homeschooling for religious reasons, I still considered myself a Christian, and there were many people on Internet homeschooling message boards who were homeschooling for religious reasons. I got to know some of them, and they were great ladies. I started considering them friends.

But, 2006-2008 was also a period of tumult in my country. A historic political campaign was waged to elect Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. There were many things he stood for I did not agree with, and when I said I did not agree, people called me racist. I did not want to be called racist so I decided to keep my mouth shut. But, that didn’t stop me from having the thoughts of disagreement. I was also hearing people  say that homeschooling would be curtailed if he was elected so I became afraid. My thoughts of fear turned into judgment. Judgment of anyone who did not think like me or act like me. I was really good at it. I was afraid of being judged so I turned into someone who judged others. It wasn’t where God wanted me to be.

From 2009-2010, God started us on the journey back to where He wanted me to be. First, my mother-in-law became ill, and we moved back to where she was to help take care of her. A right and noble thing to do, I was told. We thought so too. She ended up dying two months later. We were devastated. Many people told us how sorry they were, but there weren’t many people in my life who would let me be real with my grief. In fact, I had to hide mine a lot so I could take care of my husband and kids.

Two months later, we moved back to the city we had lived in at the beginning of our marriage for my husband to take a job. He started working, and I was at home with our boys who I was still homeschooling.. I got to know people, but those judgmental thoughts were still under the surface. I thought I had everything right because I was a Christian, and I should oppose anything that wasn’t a “Christian” belief. I didn’t even consider people on the “other side,” and I definitely didn’t think Jesus loved them either. I was able to keep my walls up and not show the bad things that happened to me so everyone should do that. Right? It was a person’s fault if they were poor or got sick. Right?

God didn’t think so, and He started showing  me in the fall of 2010 and hasn’t stopped. My husband got sick and had to have surgery. He had been sick before with his chronic condition and had even had surgery before, but this was the first time since both of his parents had passed away. I felt alone. My writing notebook was my only companion. He had the surgery and slowly recovered, but in the middle of that, he lost his job. We had no income. We burned through our savings quickly and then had to ask for help. It was humiliating. It was also surprising how quickly people turned on us. My husband  didn’t have a job so he must have done something wrong. Right? We were so sure we had been called to this path, and now, this happened. Don’t get me wrong. There were some people who did help us and who prayed for us. I will always be grateful. Finally though, we had to head west in the summer of 2011. Family said we could stay with them while my husband looked for work. The judgmental thoughts towards other people disappeared while we were going through this. Why wouldn’t they? We were being judged every day, and it wasn’t pleasant at all. It wasn’t my husband’s fault he had lost his job, but people were acting like it was.

Fortunately, we were only there for four weeks. Then, we drove back across the country for my husband to accept another job. It was good to have the chance to start over again. It wasn’t the end of bad times, of course. Within a few weeks, I lost my third child which sent me into a major depression. I felt dead and cold during that first winter. People were arguing about who was fit to run the country in the upcoming presidential election. Republicans and Democrats were slinging insults at each other. ‘Old, rich, and white’ was one insult. ‘Lazy and unwilling to work’ was another. I knew they all couldn’t be true. My husband had not been lazy and had wanted to work. There weren’t any jobs available. I wanted to know what had happened to my country and I especially wanted to know where God was.

The following summer my life changed, and I found God again in a church that didn’t judge. I was suspicious at first. It took me several months to let down my guard and let people see the real me. There were several things about this church that were different. It was multi-racial and had people with different opinions. I heard  more about grace than I had ever heard in my faith life. I started to get a sense of what living in community was supposed to mean. Flawed and messy, but still filled with love. It was a good thing for me to see.

In the five years since, I wish I could say I had gotten the hang of how this was supposed to work and was doing it perfectly. No, that hasn’t happened. 🙂 I’ve been afraid of being judged when my husband has been sick or out-of-work. I’ve felt inadequate because there are people who have more money than I do. I’ve felt disappointed because something I’ve felt called to was thwarted. I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in and still don’t feel like I fit in at times. And my country, it has gotten worse. People fight about everything and have drawn lines in the sand. We, as Christians, have forgotten that God wants us to be united in our differences to show Jesus’ love and not to draw lines in the sand. I have felt discouraged about the normalization of bullying behavior and name calling. Both sides have done it. No one can claim innocence.

But, here is the most important thing I’ve learned in the last five years. My God is bigger than my country. He is the one I hold onto during the bad times and the One I rejoice with during the good times. He is much more than any political party, and the reason I have to say that we don’t need to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay. But, for me to be a Christian and have a heart like God wants me to have, I cannot take the label of a political party. It interferes with the work God wants me to do.

May God bless you all today!

 

Forgiveness

For the last few weeks, the sermons at my church have been focused on each line of the Lord’s Prayer. We have been going through 40 Days of Prayer, and several members have been offered opportunities to write devotions, me included. I wrote my devotion on the line “Give us this day our daily bread,” which was our emphasis last week. I’m starting to think though after yesterday’s sermon, it would probably have been better if I had been able to write mine about forgiveness. Then, I remembered. I have a platform of my own so I decided to write about forgiveness today.

First, for clarity, I want to start off with the definition of forgiveness. Dictionary.com defines it as “act of forgiving; state of being forgiven.” This isn’t too clear about what forgiveness actually is so I decided to define the word “forgive”. Also, from Dictionary.com. Forgive means “to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve; to give up all claim or account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.); or to grant pardon to (a person).”

I quoted all of the definitions so it would be clear what Jesus wants us to do in the Lord’s Prayer. Here are the verses from Matthew 6 that specifically talk about this. Verses 12-15 say, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

So, there it is in black and white. God expects us to forgive others like He forgives us. It should be easy then, right? God said it, and we do it. No questions asked. No, that isn’t quite the case. At least, it’s not for me, and I’m guessing some of you find it hard too. I find it hard to forgive others because the things they do to hurt me are usually silly things. Things that would be considered childish in the adult world. So, I stuff them deep down inside. I’ve been told all my life that any hurts I have are not worth acknowledging or forgiving. In other words, making myself vulnerable was something to be avoided at all costs.

I find it’s the same way on the other end of the scale. Because I find it hard to be vulnerable in front of others, it’s hard for me to ask for forgiveness from others. Now, I’m not talking about everyday things like bumping into someone. I can ask forgiveness for those things easily. No, it’s the relationship damaging conflicts where I’m unable to stand up for what I believe in. There have been some people in my life who have given me heck for what I believe in, and we’ve said hurtful things to one another. (One of the reasons I never took debate in school.) Because I have such a hard time managing conflict, I have let the relationship dissolve. It hurts, but I haven’t been able to figure out a way where I can agree to disagree with someone and maintain the relationship. (Remember, I have been told all my life that my words didn’t and don’t matter.)

The nearest I’ve been able to come to asking for or receiving forgiveness is by writing it down, handing it to the person involved, and walking away. I know it’s the coward’s way out, but, in a small way, it’s a victory for me because I’ve been able to do what God asks for in this prayer. Does it change the relationship? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Everything I’ve heard about forgiveness say that it’s supposed to change you more than the other person. And it has changed me for good sometimes and for bad at others because I tend to withdraw. I tell myself that no one could possibly want to spend time with me because I’m such a terrible person. Like I said last week, “I know I’m hard to get along with. I know I’m prickly, and I find it hard to talk to people.” I’ve dropped out of groups because I haven’t wanted to face people. I’ve guess I’ve internalized every non-lesson I was ever taught about conflict.

Hopefully, in my words, you have found something to help you with your own forgiveness journey. Forgiveness is hard, and it’s even harder to ask for in person. When you’ve been told all your life that your feelings don’t matter and that vulnerability is a no-no, you’re not inclined to even try. I know I matter to Jesus, and you do too. He is the one who gives us the power to forgive. I just wish I knew I mattered to other people so asking in person for forgiveness wouldn’t be so hard. God’s blessings on you all today!

 

 

Getting Along with People

I tend to leaf through the pages of my writing prompt book after I’ve read a particular day’s entry. I use my wandering to get ideas  for the day’s writing, blog topics, or even things God might be leading me to as I live in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom. I found one today that pierced my heart, and knew I had to write about it. Here’s the prompt. “I just can’t seem to get along with anyone…”

I’ve felt like this a lot recently, and the words written with the prompt say this is a common thing for writers. I was somewhat reassured by that, but even though it’s a common thing, I still have the longing for deep relationships. It’s a longing God gives all of us. It seems though that some of us are better at it than others with me being at the not so good end. I decided to write about this and what we can all do to help today because there have to be more people who experience this problem than just me.

First, have we listened, truly listened, to a person who is trying to talk to us? I have had many conversations in my life with people who are looking at everyone else, but me during the conversation. It’s made me wonder if I’m really that bad to talk with.  I’ve also had people who can’t wait to get their own words out when we’re talking. It’s made me wonder if my own words even matter. It’s also made me more likely to write my words down than to say them because the written word helps me remember how I felt about something and helps me to be honest. I found a meme yesterday with this quote that I wanted to share. “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters.” It makes one think, doesn’t it? 🙂

Then, there’s walking up to a conversation that stops while I’m there and almost immediately starts back up when I leave. It’s made me wonder if I’m the one being talked or gossiped about. This is especially true if I know the people involved are part of a clique who I’m not well-acquainted with.

Funny story with the statement in the last paragraph. The other day I saw a cartoon with someone in the bed about to mentally go over every conversation they had that day and wonder about all the things they should have said. Because, I do that. Every single night. I give myself mental pats on the back if something went well, and I castigate myself if it didn’t. I shared the cartoon on my Facebook page, and others told me they did the same thing. It was a small comfort.

Finally, there’s walking into a room full of people and wondering how I’m going to fit in. It is something that terrifies me enough that I’ve almost quit doing it. I’ll get somewhere early so I can be the first one there. I’ll decide not to go somewhere at all to avoid it. Or I’ll just stand on the outside looking in. It’s not a place where I want to be. It’s just the place where I am right now.

I write all this because not only has it been done to me; I’ve done it to others. We all have. Listen, I know I’m hard to get along with. I know I’m prickly, and I find it hard to talk to people. It’s why today’s prompt spoke to me. We have all found multiple ways to sin–towards God and each other. I get tired of hearing all the ways this world has turned on itself and ask Jesus if He could go ahead and come now. I don’t want to deal with all the rotten stuff and feeling like I’m alone, unwanted, unneeded, and unloved because I do. (By other people. I know my Lord and Savior loves me.) I’ve spoken before of how my husband has more of an impact with his life than I do. He is wanted and needed at our church whereas I’m not. But, I digress. We can’t get along with others under our own power. We just can’t. Jesus needs to be in our hearts, and we need to give each other grace. It’s as simple as that.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!