A Place To Belong

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‘Instead, by truth spoken in love, we are to grow in every way into Him—the Anointed One, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love’ –Ephesians 4:15-16 (The Voice).

I don’t write poetry often (and I have no delusions of greatness for my poems), and rarely share my scribblings with anyone.  However, this week, I wrote down the feelings churning inside for several months.  My grandmother had one of my favorite childhood books at her house, Douglas Saves The Day.  In it, Douglas (a bunny) looked forward to a parade; but it poured and the parade got cancelled.  The book described Douglas’ angst as ‘all elbows and knees.‘  I recalled that line often this week as I thought about the angst I have in feeling like Jud and I don’t fit in anywhere.  I’d say my reflective mood encompasses my desire to see more unity (and less uniformity) in those of us who follow Jesus.

Home 

(by maggie jusell)
Am I wrong                                                                                                  
To want to find a place where I belong?
 
 To find a place
(In time and space)
Where they need me
And I need them
Where together
We show a perfect view of Him
In all His glory
 
A place of peace
A place of joy
Where all can play
And share the toys
He has given
Where we fully live
His story
 
Do I dare believe
That place exists for me?
For us?
A place where we gasp and smile
For all He’s done and continues to pile
Blessings in our lives
And wonder in our hearts
 
A place to play
Like a child again
And run without fear
Embracing the wild again
Laughter, tumbles
Giggles, jumbles
Grass stains, tangled parts
 
A place where I fit
Without trying to fit in
Without forcing and bruising
My puzzle piece into place
But finally breathing, ‘I’m home’
Because I found the poem 
I belong in 
 
A place imperfect
But together one
In Him
A place of games
And fun
Without loss or win
Because ‘together’ is what matters
 
Am I wrong
To want to find a place where we belong?
 

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Amazing Grace

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“Grace is central in God’s action here, and it has nothing to do with deeds prescribed by the law. If it did, grace would not be grace” –Romans 11:6.

Grace.  Such a big word.  Super theological.  Filled with deep meaning.  And, I believe, deeply misunderstood.

As I’ve pondered grace throughout my life, my viewpoint has broadened.  I’ve had my seasons of ‘Grace is all well and good, but we need the law to keep people in line, too.’  At some point, my thinking changed to ‘Grace doesn’t negate the law.  Grace just means that God still accepts us as we disappoint Him.’  Around my 30s, I started believing, ‘Grace is where we start for salvation purposes; but we have more responsibility as we walk through sanctification.’  That thought morphed into ‘As Paul (and therefore ‘we’) walked through life, he started on a broad road that got narrower and narrower until he walked a tightrope at the end of his life.’  I looked forward to the tightrope … I’d practiced my whole life and had excellent balance!  I knew I could show others how it was done ….  *sigh*

In the last several years, I’ve needed a definition of grace that held less shame, less personal responsibility, more freedom … I looked for a definition that gave God less disapproval, more control, more power, more … well … God.  This year, I’ve focussed on shame, humility, freedom and how all of those relate to living as Jesus lived.  I’ve mentioned the idea that Jesus sets us free from shame–because the power of ‘sin’ is shaming us into living according to someone else’s rules.  In recent months, I’ve come to believe that grace frees us from the shame that belongs to hierarchical systems.

By definition, a hierarchy is a lot like a pyramid scheme.  Only a few reside at the top of the heap.  The rest of us only hope to clamber closer to them, and if (joy of joys) they take a tumble, we might replace them–if we’ve hidden our faults proven ourselves above reproach more than the next person.  I’ve heard many in the upper echelons of the power hierarchy say things like, ‘We can’t let grace get out of hand.  How will we maintain control?’  I’ve heard many songs, sayings, and bumper stickers proclaim, ‘Grace isn’t cheap.’  I say now, ‘No, it’s not cheap.  But it is free!  I wish we dealt with the problem of too much grace, too much liberty, too much tolerance in churches.  Instead, we have churches that want to harden grace and burden others with a limit to freedom.  We don’t want to let grace be grace in all its messy, complicated, freeing glory.  It’s harder to lead organizations if there aren’t set ground rules.  It’s harder to corral people if we can’t use shame as a tool when they cross lines of decency.  It’s a lot easier to pull out the rule book than to live in relationship with people and allow them to learn at their own pace from mistakes made.

A friend of mine went through a messy divorce years ago.  Because her self-image took a beating during her marriage to an abusive husband, she kinda went overboard on exercise, provocative actions and wearing revealing clothing to get attention from men.  She relished the ‘freedom’ she experienced after such a repressive life.  She needed to let her pendulum swing from one extreme to another until she could find balance.  I offered challenging questions to her, trying to help her reflect on how healthy her life choices were for herself and her daughters.  Often, she received the questions I posed and changed a decision.  Often, she went ahead with her plans and suffered some consequences.  Many people judged her appearance.  Many friends walked out on her.  Few bothered to understand her motives and what needed healing in her heart.  Fewer trusted that God would finish her story and would reveal more of Himself to her through offering her His grace as she stumbled along the path of emotional healing.  She found balance.  Not overnight.  Not without pain.  But, she found balance in God.  She learned from His humility and grace.  Now, years later, those earlier times have shaped her heart with empathy and compassion toward others who stumble in their own soul’s darkness.  She offers her light that God ignited in her to help them see Him welcoming them to a smoother, well-lighted path.

I believe that as we learn to rest in the fullness of God’s grace, we become humble.  As we become humble, we offer grace to others in their lives.  We want to live compassionately, gently cherishing the journey of another’s soul.  Because we no longer base the success or failure of our own lives on accomplishments or good/bad behavior, we no longer try to make ourselves look holy based on shaming another person … and clambering to the top of the heap just seems like so much work.  So, we content ourselves with being just like everyone else–a blend of mature and immature attitudes, altruistic and selfish actions, and changing and unchanged beliefs.  Instead of anxiously walking a tightrope fearing someone may notice if we fall, we’ve learned to skip along with skinned elbows, hands and knees on a path filled with uneven spots.  And we stop with a smile to help those who have fallen.  Because if we didn’t, grace would not be grace.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Do-Overs

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I am re-posting this one in honor of National Mental Illness Awareness Week.  If you or someone you love suffers from any mental/emotional health issues, please seek help and learn to risk opening up about the struggles.  We need to learn to support both those suffering with and those suffering with them through this hell.

‘I admit how broken I am in body and spirit, but God is my strength, and He will be mine forever’  ~~Psalm 73:26 (The Voice).

Remember, as kids, asking for a ‘do-over’ when you missed a shot or messed up a move in a game?  The older we got, the less likely requests for do-overs got positive responses.  As adults, how often would we like a do-over?  We say things we wish we hadn’t, we do things that hurt people, we don’t think far enough ahead to realize consequences.  As an extrovert, I pretty much live life out loud and wishing for do-overs.  I’ve become an expert apologizer and often internally berate myself for my words and actions.

So, when I got the news that Robin Williams died this week, I wondered what I always wonder when I hear of suicides:  Did he wish for a do-over just a little too late?  Lots of my favorite actors have died–Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland (do you see a musical trend?).  Oh, and how could I forget Cary Grant?!  But death by suicide brings a deeper sadness with life-changing and life-lasting effects for those left dealing with the aftermath.  Life becomes more real, more sober, more heavy.  Always waking from stressful dreams.

Like chasing in vain to stop something from going over a cliff.

Like wanting desperately to stop talking so you don’t say what you know will change a relationship forever and you can’t take it back.

Like when we were young and called a ‘do-over’ in a game, only to have your friends deny the request.

Robin Williams’ suicide this week spotlighted the tragedy of mental illness. Many articles and blogs detail how depression, anxiety, and other debilitating diseases and disorders leave a life in constant chaos. I’ve watched friends, loved ones, and loved ones of loved ones exist in the trenches of the mental health war.  Part of the sorrow I feel over his death is my own helplessness and inability to change lives.  I’ve known personally at least 4 people in my life who committed suicide.  I’ve watched and held countless other sobbing friends (3 in the last year) live with the shock of loved ones who died by their own hands.

While much is written on depression/anxiety disorders, I haven’t found much encouragement for those of us who have to live with and watch those we love suffering from that anguish.  Needing to process all that’s going on in my soul right now, I dedicate this post to myself and to others who need to acknowledge what they rarely, if ever, admit:

If someone we love attempts suicide, but lives through the attempt:

  • We. Thank. God. Every. Day. For. Their. Life.  But we may never sleep restfully again.  Every ring of the phone, every noise at night in a silent house becomes heart-stopping for us–even though we may appear calm, happy, or to have recovered from the shock.  The elephant in the room remains.  And we’re afraid to address it.
  • We remain vigilant of where you go, how you’re doing, and are always nervous when you don’t pick up the phone.  But we try to sound ‘breezy’ and nonchalant.
  • We feel insecure with our own limits to help, fix, empathize, support.  Some of these feelings spur us on to grow and mature.  Many times the feelings incapacitate us from intimacy with you because we’re afraid of creating waves that may drown you.  We need to recognize that it’s no one’s responsibility to make someone ‘happy.’  We can’t live well with that pressure; but accepting that we aren’t big enough to absorb your pain is equally daunting.

When someone doesn’t live through a suicide attempt:

  • Guilt, shame, questions never go away.  We constantly second-guess what we could have done, could have said, could have been to you, and relive every minute detail of every last encounter with you … for years.
  • Our questions will never have answers.  You cannot assure us that it wasn’t our fault.  And believing that your death reflects how we didn’t show enough how much we loved you, shames us.
  • We cannot erase the image of you in death.  That death image is what we remember.  Even if we didn’t find you, we know how you died and our imagination fills in the sordid picture emblazoned in our heads.  It’s the last, and therefore, strongest memory we have.
  • We cannot confront you with our anger over the hell you’ve thrust upon us.  You don’t have to see the consequences of your actions; but we have to live with them every day.

So how do we blend the two worlds of people who suffer with chronic illnesses (physical, emotional, mental) and those of us who love them?  We have to live vulnerably and without shame with each other.  We have to network and create support systems.  We must de-stigmatize chronic illnesses–especially the ones that have no physical attributes.  How often have I heard people say to friends with internal challenges, “Well, you don’t look sick.”  To the people hearing those words, they feel dismissed, because if you can’t see the challenge then it doesn’t exist.  It may not be what we’re trying to communicate; but it’s what they hear.  Instead, let’s have some open communication and address the elephant in the room.

We may not be able to ‘fix’ ____ (depression, anxiety, chronic pain, recovery, etc.); but we can sit with you in it.  We have to learn how to support those we love and cherish in the midst of their struggles–read books on what they deal with, go to counseling sessions with them, just listen … patiently … endlessly.  Does it get old?  Yes.  But it’s not about our comfort or convenience, it’s about the ones we love–remember, their lives may depend on our support.  Let us into your hell and help you fight the demons.  We may make mistakes and insensitive remarks, but tell us when we do!  Don’t close off when we fail–teach us how to love you in your language.  We want desperately to learn!

Take some time for self-care and soul-care.  Loving someone with chronic issues exhausts even the best and strongest of us.  Talk to a trusted counselor, friend, pastor or priest.  Take a vacation.  I take a personal retreat every year for 4 days in the mountains.  So refreshing and rejuvenating!  Find at least one daily activity that you can do for your own joy–paint your nails, read for 30 minutes, walk a trail, finger paint, write.  Find God within and without.  Meditate on Scripture, pray, sit in quietness and feel God’s presence.  Connect with friends for coffee, meals.  Sometimes, I make a coffee date with a long-distance friend.  Even 15 minutes can lift my spirit.

And don’t forget that people are not defined by what challenges their lives.  Don’t let the challenges define the relationship.  Remember to have fun!  Remember to laugh!  Remember to enjoy the presence of each other!

Because, we don’t ever want to stand over your grave wishing for a do-over.

If you or someone you love is struggling, please get help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available:  1-800-273-8255.  

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Old Habits Die Hard

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“Like a dog who goes back to his own vomit, so is a fool who always returns to his foolishness.  Have you seen a person who is wise in his own sight?  Know that there is more hope for a fool than for him” –Proverbs 26:11-12.

My daughter and I just finished a 24-day cleanse/challenge.  My nutritionist doesn’t like to call it just a cleanse, because many ‘cleanses’ are unhealthy and focus on starvation.  We could eat well–just not processed foods, gluten or dairy (but we could have eggs and plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit).  Within 12 hours of beginning, I texted my nutritionist and exclaimed, “I MISS CHEESE!  This doesn’t bode well for me for the next 23 days, does it?”  *sigh*

I actually ended up enjoying the process.  Challenge drives me and motivates me.  To say that I’m competitive understates my inner drive.  When I played tennis in high school, I used to go out in the Phoenix summers and practice serves … at noon … when no one was on the courts … because it was 115º.  If I started losing in a match during the season, I’d deny myself water at the changeovers.  When my body would start screaming from near-dehydration, I’d converse with myself, “You thirsty?  Try winning a game.”  I’d often come back to win.  Bonus points that it freaked out my opponents most of the time.

So, this week, the competition healthy cleanse ended.  And I won … And I feel the benefits in my gut.  I stayed committed to the regulations.  I felt better than I have in years (which makes me think that I have at least some kind of gluten-sensitivity).  I swore I would continue the habits.  Until the night after the cleanse, the thought of more hummus or salmon made me a little ill, and I remembered that I could have a grilled turkey and swiss sandwich and creamy tomato soup.  Oh, it was delicious!  But, I felt the effects in my digestion and renewed my intention to maintain some of the cleanse habits.  Until the next night.  This time, white rice sushi paired with milk chocolate chips sprinkled in a tangerine yogurt (technically, it was Greek yogurt, but looking at the sugar content on the label didn’t help make it healthy).  Then, my nutritionist texted me to schedule a follow-up appointment so I don’t lose momentum.  I haven’t told her yet about my ‘iron-will’ since the cleanse….  Today, my husband took my daughter and I out to celebrate the end of the restrictions.  We had butter, biscuits, linguine, scampi and fried shrimp (yes, on one plate … per person … don’t judge me!).  At least I learned to eat only about half of what the restaurant served us.  The rest, I packaged up and brought home for my son to snack on.  He still has a metabolism.

So, now I’m learning that old habits really do die hard.  And I really do need a support system.  And a plan to keep me on track.  My iron-will isn’t so strong without competition.

Spiritually, we need cleanses, too.  Times to assess what’s really going on inside of us; and if there are some belief systems that worked in the past, but have become unhealthy over time.  We need to work on our souls, not just our bodies, for our lives to work well with others.  I find more and more I need to evaluate how long-held doctrines affect my spirit.  Am I exhausted because I’ve too long held certain beliefs that no longer offer my spirit and soul good nutrition?  Have I lost a sense of joy and wonder because what used to satisfy my desires, my more mature system has outgrown and my needs have changed?  We need a plan for our spirit to maintain a healthy pace of growth.  We should look for a support system that will encourage us to process beliefs–and adapt or change any beliefs necessary to draw us closer to God.

Adjusting our way of handling our spirituality takes humility to admit that we can’t make those shifts on our own.  We need each other to offer grace, perspective, and support–because we will flounder, at times.  We can’t treat living like a competition where we have to ‘beat out’ someone else in the race.  Instead, we can look at life as a challenge that we train for, and try to progress beyond our last effort.  If we surround ourselves with people who have the humility to admit that they, too, need us to help them, then we can all succeed.

For now, I will contemplate how my physical and spiritual systems react to situations and sustenances; and ask for help in assessing what needs to change in me to make my whole self healthier.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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