A Little Tough Love

I’m getting ready to kick off the new year with a four part series on time management/organizational strategies that have helped me get where I am, but I don’t think any of that has value without a little tough love.

You are exactly where you want to be.

Yes, that is exactly what I said. You are exactly where you want to be. You have chosen your life.
Now, I know some of you are thoroughly pissed at me at the moment and are thinking things like, “I wouldn’t be here if my ex…” or “I wouldn’t be here if my parents…” I’m sure all of that is true, but you made choices that put you where you are, and you continue to make choices that keep you where you are.
How can I say that? How can I be so harsh? Because I’ve been there, and now I’m not. I know how feels, and I know how it feels to break free.
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Serving Others

There’s a reason all good spirituality includes service to others. There’s a reason 12 step programs evolve into serving others. There’s a reason my Baptismal Covenant requires me to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Service to others is a key to being happy and spiritually fulfilled regardless of your circumstances.
Life has been hard the last two and a half years. There are days when I just don’t want to get out of bed. I’m tired of this renovation, and I’m tired of living out of boxes. I miss just spending time with my husband not because we’re too exhausted to do anything else but because we want to. I miss waking up to just a plain old day.
This renovation has been straight out of the movie The Money Pit. It has sucked our savings dry and sucked up every spare minute of our lives with no end in sight. We’re exhausted, and we’re frustrated. Every time we think the end is over the horizon, we uncover another mess that pushes out our goals another month… or two or three. Continue reading

A Dog A Day…

Very few people know just how much I’ve struggled with depression and low self-esteem.  Some have seen my success and just assumed I was happy.  Others have seen the positivity in my outward interactions with others and again have just assumed I was happy.
Sadly, many Americans achieve in an effort to escape their unhappiness and low self-esteem, hoping that just one more win will make it better.  Not all, but many.  In addition, many people struggling with depression make a serious effort to be positive, because they don’t want to burden others.  Both have been the case with me.

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Freedom in Surrender

Surrender1I’m often surprised at Christians who say you shouldn’t bother with the Old Testament.  Certainly, no one should ever begin there.  The Old Testament isn’t easy reading, but contains a valuable and poignant story–a story relevant to today’s problems.  A Father trying to help his children and to provide for them.  Children grumbling and demanding more.  A Father angry and betrayed.  An intermediary begging for mercy toward the children.  A Father showing mercy, only to begin the cycle again.
God answered our cries over and over again.  God provided for us over and over again.  Yet, when he asks for our fidelity and trust, what do we give him?  When he asks us to surrender to the wonderful plans he has for us, what do we do?
We love to be in control.  We love to make our plans and execute them.  Rarely do we surrender to God, but the rewards in surrender are priceless.  The comfort.  The peace.  The serenity.  The freedom.  The Casting Crows song “Just Be Held” states it beautifully:

And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go
So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

Every time I let go of the results and let go of control, I find myself enveloped in peace and love, and the results exceed anything I could ever imagine for myself.  God does not give us what we deserve.  He gives us love, mercy, and joy.  He gives us the Kingdom of Heaven over and over again regardless of how many time we walk away.
How many times have we walked away?  How many times have we complained about what we don’t have rather than be grateful for what we do?  And how does God answer?  When we let him take over, he gives us far more than we deserve.  Even when we don’t act like it, he treats us like beloved children, providing everything we need to grow and to flourish.
In a recent Girlfriends in God, Mary Southerland shared a prayer and an activity, both of which I found particularly helpful in surrendering myself to God:

Let’s Pray
Father, I come to You – broken, shattered and desperate for You. I come to You in complete surrender. Please lift me out of this pit and show me the way, Lord.
In Jesus’ Name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Read Psalm 40:1-3. “I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”
Circle all of the “action” words in these verses. What does God ask you to do? What does God say He will do? Do you believe Him? Are you willing to let Him be God in your life?

It is easy for us to take control and try to fix things ourselves, but it never works out as well as when we can surrender to God and give it to him.  When we wait upon the Lord, he always hears us and shows us the way.  We just have to be willing and faithful.

Maundy Thursday

As I prepare mentally and spiritually for what I know will be the most emotional liturgy of the year for me, I’m reminded of the Alanon saying, “Pain in inevitable; suffering is optional.”  If you’ve never been to 12 step meeting, you might be thinking, “pain and suffering are the same thing.”  In this case, pain refers to the inevitable hurts life dishes out: death, breakups, disappointments, etc.  Suffering refers to the pain we inflict on ourselves.
Tonight I will go to church and participate in a remembrance of the Last Supper, of fellowship and subjugating ourselves to one another that includes washing each other’s feet.  Before we leave the church, all  of the beautiful trappings we use to celebrate the Eucharist each week will be removed, leaving the altar stripped and the cross covered.
Tonight is the night we keep vigil in the church, waiting in the garden with Christ as he prepares himself to face unimaginable pain at the hands of his own people.  For those of us in liturgical churches, tonight will be a painful night.  We know what’s coming.  We know it hurts.

I am, however, reminded that I will not suffer.  I will hurt, but I will not suffer.  That is not what the Lord intends. Pain is inevitable, but in the Lord there is no suffering.  I will surrender to him, to his plan.
I’m also reminded that my pain is a small cross to bear in comparison to that of the apostles.  Imagine seeing your friend and teacher flogged and hanging on a cross, his broken body dead and lifeless.  They’ve been warned what’s coming, but they don’t know as we do.  They haven’t experienced it before.  Their Savior is going to be betrayed and gone.  We know Easter is the third day.  They don’t.
My pain is a small cross to bear in comparison with the sacrifice Jesus is preparing to make.  He knows he will be resurrected, but he also knows that to get there he must be flogged, beaten, and crucified.  We can pretend he isn’t scared, but why else would he ask God to stop it if there is any other way?  He is divine, but he is also fully human.  He will feel the lashes.  He will feel the nails.
Beginning today, the next few days will be difficult, painful.  But I will not suffer.   I will experience the pain, and I will have Faith that this too shall pass, as all things do.

A Confession

For a Christian, there really is no bigger sin than having hate in your heart.  Christ tells us that the most important commandment is to love God and the second is to love each other.  Pretty clear that hate isn’t a part of a Christian life.
I confess…  I HATE people who have animals and don’t treat them with loving kindness.  I don’t just hate the obvious abusers, but I hate people that don’t treat their animals well.  I can’t pray for them.  I can’t love them.  I just don’t know how.
Yesterday morning as I was pulling in to the local gas station/grocery on my way to work, the truck of one of the regulars was in the parking lot.  No surprise.  But the dog in the bed of the truck was a surprise.  I had never seen a dog in the truck before.  It took all of three seconds for anger to flare up in me.
It was 19 degrees.  Animals struggle as much as we do when the weather see-saws back and forth from 70 degrees to 19 degrees, and any dog who lives in Tennessee isn’t really equipped for 19 degree weather.  What makes this jerk think his dog wants to sit on a cold, metal truck bed when it’s 19 degrees?  Imagine how cold it was back there when they were traveling the 45 miles per hour (or more) on the road to get there.  The poor dog was exposed to subzero windchill for what?  To protect his upholstery?  Meanwhile, he’s in the cab of the truck enjoying heat and no wind.
What was this jerk doing while his poor dog was lonely and cold in the back of his truck?  Eating breakfast in a warm seat across the table from one of his buddies.  How do I know the dog was lonely?  First, his body language screamed Yellow Zone–uncomfortable and unhappy.  Second, dogs are pack animals.  They NEVER want to be alone.  Instinctually, alone equals death.  What dogs crave most is the company of the pack, whether that pack be us, other dogs, or other animals.  So this guy was depriving his dog of the one thing his dog wants most, so he could eat breakfast with his buddy.  Nice.

You can see how quickly I escalate and how angry I get.  God made these animals for the sole purpose of loving and serving us.  I get so angry when I see someone clearly defile that love.  The correct, Christian response would be to pray that through Christ the person’s heart is opened to the love of his animal and through that love to God’s love as well.  Instead, I fume.  Sometimes for days.  Not only does it not bring the guilty party closer to God, but it also separates me from God.  It’s sin.  Plain and simple.
Even with the best of intentions, losing sight of God’s great love for us and all his creation happens in the blink of an eye.  One minute we’re rejoicing in his Grace, and the next, we’re mired in hate and anger.  I shouldn’t stop caring, but I certainly need to find a better way to do it.  I need a way that gives God a chance to show me his wondrous mercy and perform miracles even on heartless jerks who leave their dogs alone in the bed of a pickup when it’s 19 degrees.
No one ever said it would be easy.  Christ only said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NLT)  Possible but not easy.
Today, I pray that God will give me the strength to seek and serve Christ not just in those I want to love but even in those I don’t.  I pray that God will soften my heart to love even my enemies.
Which of your “enemies” do you struggle to love? to pray for?