Sunday, November 29, 2020

When Christmas Leaves You Longing For Home

 I have had the privilege of serving in a support group ministry and have met some amazing ladies over the years. One year I had several younger women who had grown up in extremely dysfunctional and abusive homes. They quickly bonded because they each had difficult stories and could relate to the pain the others had suffered. They could also relate to the struggles each faced as they worked to find freedom from their pasts. They worked hard to find healing and to become the women God created them to be. 

They were wise and set strict, healthy boundaries with their families of origin. The boundaries were very needed for them to grow and heal. But sometimes those boundaries felt hard and felt lonely. That year when Christmas was approaching, one of the young ladies remarked that she was really missing her family. One of them sighed and responded wistfully, "Yeah, I miss the family I made up in my head, too!" They looked at each other and laughed because of the profound words that hung in the air. With their permission, I share this part of their story as holidays approach, because it isn't just true for them, it is true for many of us. 

Holidays can be fun. But, holidays can also be very hard. They can be difficult when we have had to separate ourselves from abusive families to stay safe. They can be especially hard because holidays often surface the longing for healthy loving families that that most often go unfulfilled. 

Holidays can also be difficult when we don't have to separate for safety sake. They can be hard as anxiety rises around holiday preparations that gets coupled with the dread of conflicts that often ignites when extended families rub shoulders. The shared history that sometimes bonds us also leaves us vulnerable with the knowledge of how to push each other's emotional buttons. Holidays can be hard as tongues are loosed when the alcohol flows freely and words become cutting and pierce the soul. 

Holidays can be hard because we find ourselves grieving over loved ones we have lost. Those loved ones may have been the ones who made the holidays special for us--the child, the soldier, the mom, the dad, the grandparents, or the friend gone too soon. Their empty place stirs an ache in the heart that we try to cover with a smile. 

Holidays can be hard because of grief that we experience over unfulfilled dreams. These dreams can be exposed by the questions we are asked. They can also be exposed by simply being around others whose dreams were fulfilled--dreams of a baby longed for but never had, dreams of specific jobs that went to  less deserving coworkers, dreams of a spouse that hasn't materialized, dreams of an intact marriage that slowly dissolved into a heap of pain, or the dream house we can't afford due to a failing economy. Or grief over the family we can't see due to covid quarantines

Holidays can be hard due to illnesses that can't be healed and pain that makes it hard to be around people we don't want to burden. It can be because of mental illnesses and the unpredictability of another's actions or even our own depression that is a dark fog continually trying to crowd out joy and light. They can be hard because of eating disorders that trigger anxiety as holidays are planned around food or the avoidance of holiday toddies due to one's recovery from alcohol addiction. 

Holidays can be hard because of the fear of giving presents that don't please others or because we fear we can't give the outward joyful reaction our heart feels to a gift that others need us to give. 

And, holidays can be hard when the family puts pressure on us to do away with preset boundaries that we put in place to protect our families, our recoveries, our healing journey, and ourselves.    

So, how do we navigate the holidays in a healthy way? First, we begin by going into the holiday season with eyes wide open. There are no perfect families and their will never be a perfect Christmas. We can enjoy Christmas more when we let go of expectations and the made-up families living in our heads and accept our families as they are. Isn't that acceptance something we, ourselves, long for as well? 

Second, we can commit to treating others with respect while we practice good self-care by getting plenty of rest, drinking water, eating somewhat healthy, and using our voice to request what we desire and what we need. 

Third, we can refuse to take every word, action, or attitude personally because those things are about others' hearts not ours. We can take quiet moments alone to breathe, to grieve, or to regroup as we need it. 

Fourth, we can give thanks for the good moments and learn from the bad, knowing that one doesn't cancel the other out. We can make sure we extend grace to others as well as to ourselves. 

Fifth, we can own our mistakes, apologizing and making amends when needed. We can keep short accounts and forgive quickly. Those of us who are overwhelmed introverts can refuse to compare ourselves to extroverts and focus on one person at a time, fostering meaningful conversations and maybe looking for the one who looks as lost as we feel.   

Sixth, we can remember we have a Savior who cares and wants us to take our grief, our fear, our hurt, and our dreams to Him. If anyone understands dysfunctional families He does. Just look at the people who were in His family line. Abraham, who though he was commended for his faith, lied about Sarah being his wife. Jacob weaved a mighty mess with his wives and concubines and the favoritism he showed to one son over eleven others. Naomi the widow became so bitter after the loss of her husband that she changed her name to Mara. David, the man after God's own heart messed up his family by abusing Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He ended up with a son who raped his daughter and chose to do nothing about it. Jesus own brothers thought He was insane. 

Oh, Jesus' family line had its sin, its secrets, and its dysfunction. So, He gets ours. This was proved by the way He treated those around Him. He was full of compassion for the woman caught in adultery who was thrust at his feet. He was full of compassion for the woman at the well who had been married five times and then lived with a man in sin. He was full of compassion for the ill, the blind, the deaf, and the crippled. He fed both those who were hungry, both physically and spiritually. He allowed Mary and Martha to vent their grief and stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept with them before He called him to come out. Our Jesus cares. 

Seventh, we can enter the holidays confident that we have been given a new Heritage through Christ. The pain of our past, the dysfunction of our families, the failure of our Christmases to be perfect don't define us. Jesus, His love and His sacrifice, do. He calls us beloved, chosen, blessed, forgiven, children, and friends. 

As I reflect on past Christmases, one of my most pleasant memories is of when my children were teenagers. They got up early as they always had and opened gifts and all fell asleep watching a Christmas movie. I looked around at my sleeping family and picked up my Bible and read the Christmas story again. I felt overwhelmed by His love, experiencing a heart connection with Him that gave me peace and joy. That joy and that sense of belonging was because I truly felt at home in Him. That sweet moment prepared me for future losses and changes that life brings about in families. But I also realize it fulfilled one of my deepest longings--to finally feel at home somewhere--the somewhere just happened to be a Someone and that Someone is Jesus. 




Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Grace Is More Than A Pardon

When I first became a believer, I had a pretty narrow view of grace. I would have described it as a pardon for my sin. But that view began to change when I studied the attributes of God and came to realize grace was more than a pardon, it was one of God's attributes. That means grace has permeated every action God has taken and every instruction He has given. This means grace dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden when God created Adam and Eve, He graciously placed them in the Garden to tend to it. In that Garden they had everything they needed. They had human relationships that were unhindered by sin, deception, guilt, or shame. They had a sense of purpose when they explored the beauty God created, when they tamed and named the animals, and they they tended the Garden, freely eating from the fruit. They had a spiritual life that was unhindered by sin, allowing them to fellowship freely with their Creator. They lived with only one protective limitation placed on them and as long as they obeyed God's instruction this sheltered, abundant, and harmonious life they live would continue indefinitely. The world and the life God gave them was a demonstration of God's favor--the byproduct of His grace. 

Then Adam and Eve came face to face with a crafty serpent, through whom Satan cast doubt on God's goodness. He did this by questioning God's command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As the serpent spoke Eve glanced at the forbidden tree, noticing it was full of beautiful fruit that whet her appetite. She began to ponder over the serpents words, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil." Those words filled her with doubts God's integrity and about God's goodness and provisions for them. And most importantly she felt a sense of deprivation and dissatisfaction for the first time ever as she longed to be like God, knowing good and evil. And in that state of dissatisfaction and that sense of wanting more, she chose to quit relying on God and to take charge of her own life. She took the fruit and bit and turned to her mate and offered him a bite and he, too, bit.  

Their eyes were immediately opened and they were filled with the dark feeling of shame. They sewed fig leaves together to cover their shame and to hide their nakedness. Then when they heard the Lord walking in the garden, instead of moving towards Him, they hid themselves from His presence. The deceiver hadn't prepared them for the guilt and the shame they would feel over their actions. Nor had prepared him for the fear of the Lord that would fill their souls in the in the aftermath of the choices they made.  

But God's attribute of grace was still in place when He entered the garden that day. Not seeing them, He called to Adam, in a sense inviting him to confess his sin. Adam didn't take him up on the invitation, instead he admitted to God that he was afraid to be seen by Him because of his nakedness. God asked him if he had eaten from the tree He had commanded him not to eat. Adam once again ignored the invitation to confess his disobedience. He instead cast blame on God for creating the woman and then he blamed the woman as well. And the woman did no better. She blamed the serpent for her choice. 

The next verses in the story contain what has always been known as "the Curse." But as I read them, I see God's grace beautifully woven through God's declaration of their consequences. Within the curse, we see grace in the form of the first promise of the Savior who would take their sin in His body. Within the curse we see grace through the protective covering of Adam's leadership assigned over Eve. Within the curse we find grace in the promise that Adam will someday die and return to dust. That may not seem like grace, but it was because God didn't want them to live forever in their fallen, sinful state. I believe Adam saw God's grace in the curse as the name he ascribed to the woman was "Eve," "the mother of all living." 

We also can see God's grace in His actions towards them. God killed an animal and clothed them in garments of skins. When Adam and Eve took off their fig-leaf coverings and replaced them with the garments God had made, they acknowledged that they, themselves, could not repair the damage their sin had caused to the world, to their relationship with each other, and to their relationship with their Creator. He also removed them from the Garden so they could not eat from the tree of life and live in that fallen state forever.

God's grace also shows up in our lives everyday. It shows up in the sunrises and the sunsets He paints across the sky. It shows up in the way He fulfills our needs. It shows up in the work of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our sin, brings to mind God's truth, and whispers the truth of God's love into our hungry souls. It shows up in the design of the church as He gifts people with gifts and passions to build up the body. It shows up in His daily reminders that because of Jesus we are no longer defined by our sin, but by the words Jesus has spoken over us--words like chosen, beloved, redeemed, blessed, restored, reconciled, delivered, forgiven, holy, blameless, above reproach before Him, and qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints. He has also shown us grace through the comfort He gives, the healing He does, and the discipline he administers that helps us grow into His likeness. 

Yes, grace is more than a pardon, it is the assurance that comes from knowing our God and the truths contained in His Word--truths like, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing."(Zephaniah3:17)


Thursday, November 5, 2020

To Please or Not to Please

Hi, my name is Wendy and I am a recovering people pleaser. I do not mean any disrespect to people in recovery by writing that. It is a part of my story. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to please people who were in my life--that included family, teachers, friends, and church family. What I remember most from those years of people pleasing was a terrible angst that I experienced when what I believed would please the Lord would in someway displease some of the people in my life and the angst I experienced when a decision made pleased one person and upset another. I remember at those times crying out to the Lord, saying, "Lord, there is no right choice for me to make." When I did make decisions during those times, those choices most often carried a heavy burden of guilt and shame and a belief that I had somehow failed and second guessed decisions that were godly. 

Some things have happened over the years that have helped reshape my views of people pleasing. First, during a difficult season of decision making I mentioned to a friend that there seemed to be no right decision to make. He looked at me puzzled by my statement and said, "There is always a right decision to be made." We didn't have time to process what I meant by my statement or what he meant by his statement. But, I began to think something was amiss in how I was approaching decision making in my life. Sometime later I was seeking the advice from a pastor on a ministry decision and he laid out the possible options. All of them good and godly, but not all of the options would please everyone involved. I pointed that out, and he gently pointed out my people pleasing ways. At the time I carried a lot of shame and even though the pastor was a good man who did not mean to heap shame on me, I felt a deep shame envelop me when he said those words. From that time on I assumed the desire to please was something shameful which I needed to correct.  

Recently I was listening to Dr. Henry Cloud, on a call in program and he addressed the problem of people pleasing for one of his callers. One of the first things he stated was that the desire to please is written on our hearts by the creator and that the desire to please was not an evil thing. He pointed us to Matthew 25:21, "His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." I realized when Cloud shared those verses that hearing those words from Jesus as I enter into His joy forever is one of my strongest desires. It was so freeing to realize that the desire to please is a good desire, not something about which to be ashamed. 

As I processed the idea of people pleasing through the lens of this truth, I became excited. I realized that when I experience the desire to please whether it be God or others, I don't have to take on that old yoke of shame I once wore. I can simply acknowledge the desires to please and prayerfully research and set some parameters around it to help me discern the choices I have ahead of me that may or may not please others. I identified a couple of things that could help me in this. 

First, I can seek God's wisdom through His Word and through prayer. I know both His will and His design for my life are perfect and never wrong. If my desire to please God is at the center of my decision making process I will seldom make wrong choices. That means when I make a decision that pleases God and displeases a person I have not done anything wrong and a person's displeasure with me is not something I have to own. I can make myself available to have a conversation with them, but at the end of the day, their displeasure with me will not be a deterrent to choosing to please the Lord. Nor, am I responsible for fixing that their feelings as their feelings are about their hearts. I have had a couple of great leaders from our ministry come to me and tell me God was calling them to do something different. I initially felt some grief at the loss our ministry would experience when they left, but I did not feel displeasure or disappointment towards them. I experienced deep joy that they were recognizing God's callings on their lives and were moving a head in faith and confidence to impact women in ways I had never even dreamed of doing. They had in fact grown and matured enough to see more clearly the path God had for them. Their decisions impacted me and the ministry, but God will provide what we need as He moves them. I would have hated it if they were so afraid of disappointing me that they didn't obey God's calling. And it would have been wrong of me to guilt them into staying. 

Second, there are times that I have had to choose between two good choices. Maybe it is a choice of having to choose with whom I will spend time, knowing I would leave the other person disappointed. Maybe it is a choice of choosing which short term missionary trip I will participate in, causing an organization to feel disappointed that I won't be on their team. Maybe, it is choosing which project I will finish first, leaving the recipient of the work not yet done displeased that they have to wait a bit longer. Looking back I see that when I worried about those kinds of things, the mature people graciously accepted the decisions I made without questions or shaming statements. There were times less mature people expressed displeasure over my choices. Sometimes they simply stated their feelings and graciously accepted my explanation that my intention was not to hurt them and things were quickly resolved. There were also times when people became angry, demanding, or judgmental and tried to manipulate me through guilt and shame evoking statements. I have had to learn that their reactions are more about them than me.

I have worked hard to learn to rest in my prayerful decisions, understanding my limitations are sometimes going to expose other's impatience and inappropriate tendency to place expectations and demands on others. By being gracious in hearing, but kindly firm in boundary setting, others are given the opportunity to grow and become more patient and gracious as well. In learning these lessons it has also helped me to not take others' decisions personally, allowing them the same freedom to seek God in their decision making processes. 

I want to be a person who strives to please the Lord in all things. While I want to be a blessing to all the people in my life, I realize that I have had to take a look at what blessings really are. Sometimes they occur when I make a choice that pleases them. But sometimes the bigger blessing comes from the growth of allowing someone to sit in the disappointment caused by a decision I have made. The codependent in me wants others to always feel good, but that is not in their best interest anymore than it is in mine. To please or not to please...that is a fair question. But we won't go wrong if we seek to please the Lord first and utilize His wisdom when our choices impact others.     

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!