So Here I Am Again

After being away from what you know or grew up with (like us living overseas), you have these expectations of what things will be like when you return. Some of these are serious and heavy expectations, realistic or not, like how you will interact with your family, old friends,  or even the Church. Some of these are far more light such as driving down the main street in your hometown, going past an old hang out joint, or even what the  Chicken Vino Bianco at Olive Garden tastes like (it’s no longer on the menu, but I can usually persuade the chef to make it with my “overseas, haven’t had this in years, it’s my favorite” story). These things are familiar. They are known. Like riding a bike, we have eaten these things, done these things or were a part of these things for so long, we can recognize them with a smell, the viewpoint of a certain tree or curve in the road.

I’ve been writing about the inward, upward path that God seems to lead us on as we follow him. Part of this, at least from my experience, has been having those moments of no clarity or those times of really having no clue what comes next. In my life, these moments have been crisis due to medical things, personal conflict feeling the world is against me, a major bombshell leaving no idea what happened to my plan, or God leading me away from something but not leading me to anything, at least not yet. I’ve had a lot of them. As I’ve mentioned before in these posts, we have an incredible support system of people in our lives that are constantly speaking Truth in and over us. Even, at times, we I don’t want to hear it. I have learned over time, and this is a hard lesson I continue to learn, that when this starts to happen, to lean into community and Christ even greater.

And yet, here I am again. I have come so used to my crisis cycle, that I can pinpoint exactly where I am. In a very small nutshell, when whatever happens happens, I first start my becoming more of an information seeker and more introspective. I try to figure out with all my human resources, what is going on…and why. As the fog starts to settle, I become more desperate and reach out to Christ, to my support system. This can go on for a while. but eventually, I become more at home with where I am. And that means more accepting of where God has me. Eventually, the fog lifts, and I can start to see the next step or two in front of me on my path. God may or may not speak to me during these times. But He is ever present. I can say that now. I haven’t always been able to. But like I said, I’ve become more comfortable in the fog than I used to be. I’m learning to be present with my feelings and emotions in the fog.  I’m learning to be more vulnerable in the fog. God continues to build trust into me. And if you lean into Him, I believe He will do the same for you.

So what about you? Are you becoming more comfortable in the fog God has us in from time to time? And when you lean into Him through it, what is the result? Do you have a support system? When will you start to build one? Your vulnerability brings hope.

be blessed today

Meeting Each Other

I really have good people in my life. There are good people that have surrounded my family and I. Encouraging, supporting, willing to call me out on my stuff when I start blaming or throwing myself a pity party. Yep, those kind of good people. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have them. I would probably be living out of my own woundedness and dysfunction more than I already do, that’s for sure.

One of the hardest things for me when I started down my road of recovery was both sharing my own junk freely and letting that float in the air in the room. The listeners were quiet, none of them trying to break up how uncomfortable they felt with handing me a tissue or saying “it’s ok.” Another hard thing was sitting there when someone was sharing their junk and me not trying to make myself feel better by smiling, talking, adjusting my posture in my seat, etc. We all just sat. Quietly.

My first experience with this sitting in silence was in one of the dark times in my life. I wanted God to speak, clearly, as to what He wanted me to do. I was desperately searching for direction. But He was silent. Very silent. And the more I strained to hear anything, the more piercing the silence was. I finally unloaded about this in a  group meeting of other leaders as we went around the circle sharing what God had done in us that week in the San Bernardino mountains. But all I could share through tears was my frustration…and fear. And there it was again, silence….silence from the other 30 people in the room. But this time it felt inviting. It seemed that God was doing, even though He wasn’t saying. I say this in no light terms….it was holy ground.

Henri Nouwen, who knew loneliness and pain, wrote, ” I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the midst of our limited abilities to help each other. “

When we hit the wall and the bottom, we feel it. If we lean into it, and consequently God, we come out changed for the better. More grace, understanding, compassion, trust, joy…the list goes on. Jesus meets us in our pain. And, we can meet others in theirs. Who will you meet in their pain today? Who will you allow to meet you in yours?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Do You Have The Courage For Empathy?

There have been several times where I’ve had no words. There are some people who might find that hard to believe about me (I tend to talk a lot), but it’s true. At times I have been known to hustle-try to make myself look better in others eyes by providing some sort of “wisdom” or “advice.” But what it amounted to was me simply floating, fading, smoke filled words to build my ego, or at least save face.

There’s been a series of ads run in the U.S. from a help line for those who are dealing with family members struggling with substance abuse. The commercials usually have two people chatting, one obviously upset about something and the other simply there. The person struggling reveals that their child has a drug problem and then the other person doesn’t know what to say. Or perhaps worse, says something very similar to what I mentioned I do above. The commercials premise is great, helping people help their family members by giving them tools and resources.  But, it seems to be lumping two  very important things together that should never be linked.  Empathy and Sympathy.

I used to hand out sympathy left and right to people. To me, sympathy was pity. Sympathy can also mean having compassion, but often times to show someone sympathy is to show them pity. To say that they are lesser than, weaker than, worse off than myself or yourself, that’s pity. Knowing that I love Jesus and Jesus loves me, I walked around with some sort of arrogant pride in the love Christ has for me, and therefore had pity on other people. Perhaps it was simply my Western, White, American mind that had pity on those who had less than me. Perhaps that is why I still struggle with it. Perhaps, but that’s for another post.

To have pity on someone, only, is to simply put yourself above them. To have pity, only, is to feel bad because they feel bad. That isn’t compassion, that is co-dependency. Jesus showed compassion to others around Him. He wept because He was so overcome with compassion. Even God showed compassion on Jonah in the midst of Jonah’s judgemental pity on Ninevah, by letting a giant weed grow to provide Jonah shade from the hot sun. Jobs friends, on the other hand, had nothing to offer. They didn’t really seem to listen to Job. They simply handed out their advice and in the end, said it was all Jobs’ fault. Not only was this not true, it also wasn’t compassion. It was pity.

Having empathy is something a bit different. Empathy is trying to relate to another person, tying to see what is going on from their perspective, trying to have an idea of what they are going through. I wrote about my daughter last week, grieving saying goodbye to her school and friends she may never see again. I had compassion because she was really hurting. And I also had empathy because I have had to say goodbye to people I knew, not knowing if I would ever see them again. I had to be real, honest and vulnerable with myself in my emotions in saying goodbye to those I knew and loved in order for me to relate and have compassion for my daughter. And I had to dig deep into myself to find the same feeling that she was having.

My sister in law passed away unexpectedly three years ago. Iris was in the middle of grief and mourning. So was I. But, understandably so, Iris’ grief was far deeper than mine. This was her older sister. She shared a room with her growing up. She learned from her, watched her, and spent most of her life with her up until she met me. I had lost all four of my grandparents years ago, and that was a time of grieving for me. But I was young, and both of my siblings are still alive. So, I didn’t know how to relate or even understand what Iris was going through.I hadn’t had that experience. So, what was the only option? Sympathy?

Sympathy as compassion, yes. But not pity. Her walking down this road was also the beginning of my journey of understanding what I was feeling and allowing myself to feel. Thankfully, I was able to lean into my support system of friends, coaches, spiritual directors and others. God began a work in me to become more in touch with my feelings, why I was feeling them and what they were. This also came about from starting down the road of recovery. Sitting in meetings, talking with people and hearing their stories allowed me to dig deep and find those same feelings from past experiences in my own life. What I learned was that simply listening to her, acknowledging what she was feeling and honestly saying I had no idea what to say, was the most empathetic response I could have given. And she was thankful for me sitting in the midst of the darkness with her.

But digging deep, just like loving, is a process that brings about pain. Empathizing with someone going through a hard situation means you are tapping into the same feelings you had after going through a painful situation. We don’t like pain, because, well, it’s pain. It hurts. But when we have the courage to dig deep, be vulnerable and honest with ourselves and tap into those feelings, the joy of building relationship comes through. Empathy and compassion build relationship. Sympathy in the form of pity drives wedges between people. It holds others at an arms distance because we are too afraid to dig deep into ourselves to find those same feelings.

Empathy does not only come in hard times, but also in joyful times. Empathizing with someone when they are joyful of a pregnancy, marriage or promotion can also happen even if we have never experienced those exact things. But again, it comes with digging deep and being honest with ourselves. And even those times of joy can come om pain.

Jesus empathized and showed compassion. Though He was the most courageous of all, my prayer is that we strive for the same courage of our Savior.

Be Courageous. Be honest. Dig deep.

be blessed

 

Photo Credit: http://weheartit.com/entry/13536737

You Are Not As Unique As You Think

     You’re not unique. At least that is what someone told me once. Well, let me be honest, he said “You, you are unique. Your situation- not unique.” I am unique. Intricately made in God’s image. Carefully placed gifts, skills, personality and character traits, physical attributes and everything else. We are uniquely us. You are uniquely you. However, we think that because we are uniquely made that our situations and struggles we face are also unique.I wrote a post on being awesome, and how this new desire to “be awesome” isn’t really helping anyone’s self esteem. It’s not helping anyone become better people, better influences in their local communities. Being awesome is a grand idea, but how?
      When I started down the road of recovery, one of the first things I encountered was having to admit I had a problem. After that, the struggle became to continuously recognize that the problems I face are not unique to me and therefore I have no excuses for how I choose to react to them. To put it as Iris so eloquently put it, when it comes to struggles “there is nothing new under the sun.”
     What do I mean? Well, let’s take guys for example. Just one simple example. Guys, generally speaking,  tend to struggle with purity and sexual integrity. That struggle is not unique to John down the street or the guy who just got arrested for hiring a prostitute, it’s something that has been struggle for guys for a long time. David, Job, Solomon, and more struggled with that thousands of years ago. Or let’s take control issues-Pharaoh, alcoholism-Samson, grief-Naomi, Fear-Abram (Abraham),  blaming-Adam, physical disability-Jacob, being cut off from family and friends-Paul (while imprisoned), too much to do leading to burn out-Moses,  to name a few. The list goes on and on in the Bible.
     I find myself getting into those places in my life where I think that my issues are only unique to me. “Well, ya, I could do that…but it’s different for me, for my situation, for my family, for my job, for my ministry,” and the list goes on again. I justify this by thinking I’m unique therefore my situation, hurts, hangups habits, addictions are solely unique to me. And that’s simply not true. This mindset is a victim mindset. Thinking this way is like saying “this is the way it is because life happens to me, therefore it will never change.” And we begin to go down the road of self pity and simply trying to survive here as long as we can. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating, surviving life is no life.
     This differs from being an actual victim. Living a victim and being a victim are two different things. Being a victim is where you are totally powerless to what has happened to you. Living a victim, which is what I’m talking about, is allowing things to happen to you even though you have power to not let them. For a great post on living a victim, see Donald Miller’s recent post about the dangers of living this way.

     Another good friend of mine has been in recovery for a long time. He gets it. He understands compulsivity, addictions and hangups. I was talking to him one day over a nice cup of coffee, giving my long list of excuses why I couldn’t forgive, couldn’t recover, how life was going to change because of a big move and others around us might react harshly to our new journey of recovery. Again, a long, very long list of excuses how my situation was unique and no one could understand. Never. He called me on my crap, my excuses.
     He then proceeded to tell me a bit of his story.
“I used to believe my situations, tensions, hurts were unique to me. This way I could justify my behavior whether it be lashing out at someone, or hiding in my workaholism, escapism or shopaholism. No one lived my life and no one understood everything I was going through because no one was me. And part of that is true, no one is me. But my issues, my addictions, those were not unique to me. When I sit in those breakout groups on a Friday night after the Celebrate Recovery big meeting, or I sit in a Step Group with other guys working the 12 Steps along with me, I hear my situations and issues coming up. They come up in all those other people who are going through recovery along with me. One person in the group may not be going through the exact same things I am, but collectively, we all are. Therefore, my situations are not unique to me. Therefore, I have no excuses and justifications for my behavior and choices. Once I realize this (and notice how I said that in the present tense), I can stop being the victim and start living my life. Making choices that will bring life, not simply try to survive till I die.”
      I can find the things I struggle with in other people, no matter race, age, profession or gender. Honestly looking at them and myself, I can then stop the excuses and start living. Start setting up boundaries. Setting boundaries isn’t so much as keeping things and people out, it’s setting up space that once was God’s and giving it back to Him. It’s an act of submission, of humility. It’s showing that I’m done playing god, and relinquishing what little control I thought I had, to Him.
     But, as my friend mentioned above, it’s in the present tense. It’s not a “been there done that” kind of thing. It’s an on going, life long growing process of recognizing my own stuff, admitting it, and continuing to move forward. I pray that we all continually do this.
What about you? Are you able to find your struggles in other people? Have you reached out to them for guidance, help and support? Do you struggle with the victim mindset?
be blessed today
Photo Credit: image from the movie “Being John Malkovich”

We Really Are Worthless…But…

We really are worthless, you and I.

Recently, my family spent two weeks in an all Hindu culture. We were there for a bit of rest and family time, it just happened that the culture was Hindu. Watching even the most nominal in their beliefs, be so pious just in case what they believed was true, they might be spared some sort of punishment both presently and eternally. Though the architecture was beautiful and the smell of incense was pleasant, the underlying idea that these acts must be done in some sort of feeble attempt to atone for any possible wrong doing, both known or unknown, was sad and heart breaking.

Iris and I’s first encounter with such piety was when we traveled to Nepal and India for two months, it seems like forever ago. That trip in 2000 was a life changing event for the both of us. Part of that was seeing the complete and utter despair and uncertainty of never knowing what side of their god they were on. It confirmed in our hearts that we were to live overseas and share about this loving Savior we know and have complete certainty in.

We really are worthless, you and I. If we look at all the world religions, there really is absolutely no reason any of these gods would want anything to do with us. All are based on acts of piety, sacrifice and fear. Lots of fear. We make lots of mistakes, hurt people, are constantly at war, even with each other in the same religion, we have little compassion for one another, even the unborn. Other than simply toying with us, why would any god want us at all?

Especially the Living God, the Creator of the universe with the power of His simple spoken word. Born into this fallen world, we see the beauty of the Creator in His creation. We continue to experience His power, His love, His compassion and His wrath. In comparison to Him, we are nothing. We will never be greater than He is. We can never do anything remotely close to what He can do. We can die in an instant and even though revived, our days in this very tangible world are numbered. He is eternal.

I read a verse this morning that was incredibly profound to me.

“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”-Ephesian 5:14

There are people who love themselves. There has been much teaching in the Church that loving yourself is bad. It is un-Christ like, it is selfish, it is prideful, it is unloving. I remember hearing this growing up. People who loved themselves didn’t understand Christ nor the sacrifice that He made for us. To love yourself was a sin. I think there is some truth to this, but I don’t think it is all true. Yes, I do believe there are people who love themselves in a way were they don’t care about others, they are trying to get as much out of life for themselves as they possibly can-fame, fortune, sex, attention, good feelings, power, etc. Perhaps it’s not even a love of self, it may be more of an insatiable greed.

But I also believe there are people who love themselves exactly how God desires us to. What do I mean? When we love ourselves because of Christ, we are honoring who we are in Him and honoring the humanity in which He has made us. If we don’t love ourselves because of Him, we do not honor the gifts He has given us, abilities He has given us, our history, past, relationships….pain. All of those things He has given us become pointless.

My journey of recovery started about three years ago. I am a big proponent of recovery ministries, the 12 Steps and other recovery resources. I personally think every follower of Jesus should start down the road of recovery because I have seen more honest, raw, healthy, growing people in their relationships with Christ because they realized their need for recovery, than I have in churches full of “healthy” people.  But that’s just my opinion and experience. In the Step groups and breakout groups I’ve been a part of, I have seen people who have had no love for themselves at all. It seems they are only going through he motions of living because they fear dying, or they want to be their for their kids or spouse. But in regards to having any self love or self respect, they lost it all to their various addictions, hurts, habits and hang-ups. I shouldn’t say “their” but “our” as I am one of those who believed the same.

But coming to a point where you have nothing and realizing how little and insignificant you are, you begin to realize how incredible it is that Christ does first love us. When we realize this and begin to more fully understand (because I don’t think we will ever fully understand), we begin to have a love for ourselves and everything that makes us us, because of Christ. When we come to a point where we can love ourselves, be thankful for what has happened before, what’s happening now, be honest with how we are feeling about all of that with a God who can handle us and our emotions, I believe is when we are at a place of the greatest understanding of God’s love for us and communion with Him.

“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

What hit me about this verse today was that yes, the Creator is telling us to wake up from our sleep. Wake up from the idea that we are to deny ourselves to the extreme, wake up to the falsity that how we were made, everything about us is bad. To wake up and rise from this death speak into the truth that Christ loves us. To rise up and see what freedom their can be if we love ourselves because He first loved us. What life giving truth is that. My prayer is that because He first loved us, we love ourselves today even if it’s the the very first time we ever have. Honoring Christ and honoring ourselves, how incredible.

Have you found this to be true? Have you gone from despair to a love of yourself becaseu of Christ? What was your journey like?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: http://www.worthless.co/

Snow-What it Does and Doesn’t Do

It snowed a little last night!

I love freshly fallen snow. I remember when I was younger, after a large snowstorm, I would often times go for a walk. We lived on a nice piece of property with a lake, forest and a meadow or two. I would walk back to the woods, stand on the edge of it and the meadow and just…stop. I would lift up my hat so my ears were exposed so I could listen to the silence. The only sound was the wind gently blowing through the trees. Other than that, nothing…pure silence.

If it was a wetter snow, the trees, shrubs and berry laden branches would be encased in a thin layer of ice, making it a a forest of glass. Simply beautiful when the sun was out (which didn’t happen that often in north central Ohio).

But what I loved most of all, was everything covered in the brilliant blanket of white. So perfect, so delicate, so soft. I would intentionally take the long way to the woods, following the line where the meadow met the lawn and walk the edge so that the view of the perfect blanket from our kitchen, wouldn’t be ruined by my footprints.

When our boys were really small, for two years our small family of four at the time, lived in a Russian city on the edge of Siberia. Just slightly inside of Asia, was our little apartment. It was on the first floor of a five story building, with a drive that passed the entry doors on one side and a main street on the other. However, the side with the main street had a “park” area with several trees that divided our windows from the mains street by about 120 or so feet (40 meters ish). This made it a beautiful “meadow” in the winter time. We never got large snow storms, but every morning there would be  dusting of snow. By the end of winter, it would be 2-3 feet deep.

But then would come the Spring thaw. Everything would melt and the grass would start to push through. Over the course of winter, our neighbors in the four floors above us, would throw out their trash, glass bottles, magazines, diapers, out onto this park area. We hardly noticed through out the winter as by every morning there would be an thin, untouched coating of snow. I remember one year, as it began to thaw there was a pornographic magazine that had spread open on the ground when it landed as tenants above threw it down. Not the sight I wanted to see, nor my two young boys when we looked out the window. it seems as though the “sins” of the winter became apparent in the thawing warmth of spring.

It snowed last night.

The words from Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool,” come to my mind. Isaiah doesn’t say that our sins will simply be buried under a blanket of snow or wool. Isaiah writes that they will be washed completely away with no trace. Our sins, our hurts, bad habits, will only be a memory but nothing that has to harm us anymore. They won’t be simply covered up. We are now whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7), we can give thanks for God’s incredible grace, compassion and desire for restored relationship with Him.

I do love the snow because it covers up the dry, muddy, ugly brown of the world around. It lays a beautiful blanket of white over everything. It brings a peace and stillness to the world. But, whatever lies underneath, whatever it covered up peaks it head again in the Spring. Whatever was hidden is only hidden for a time. It doesn’t hide it forever…it doesn’t clean it and wash it away forever. It’s hard for me to believe at times that God isn’t simply covering my dirt up to unleash a long list of my wrongs  someday.

It’s hard to believe that He washes us, cleans us so that we are whiter than snow. He has far more grace for us than we do for ourselves. I need to remember that-to give myself more grace, to become like Christ in that way.  We are to be open, honest about our struggles-He did make us human after all. And we also need to remember to give ourselves grace. We are whiter than snow, we just need to believe it sometimes. I just need to believe it sometimes.

I can’t wait for it to snow again.

Is it hard for you to believe God doesn’t simply cover up, but actually washes us? Do you have times where you chose to give yourself grace? What came of that decision? I’d love to hear your story and experience. it helps us all grow in our journey with Christ!

Simplifying and Living Simply-Why isn’t it simple?

A good friend of mine was talking to me a few months ago. We stay in touch often, reaching out when we are falling back into old habits, hurts or hangups. He and his wife moved recently. In the process of packing up he said “We are trying to simplify our lives with the amount of stuff we have. And we’re also trying to simplify to get to a point of “Jesus only,’ but it is so, so hard to simply say and live “Jesus only.'”

That has sat with me for awhile. The trend in the States and in most of Europe is to simplify what material possession we have. Whether people do it to be trendy or they believe they need to live a more simplified life, the desire is there. I think this is great. However, what I’ve noticed in my own journey, is that I tend to complicate my life, especially my relationship with God. I put things in that shouldn’t be there. I put barriers that hinder my understanding, warp my view and distort my perspective on God, creation and others. Out of my own sinful and dysfunctional nature, I am almost trying to sabotage my relationship with my Creator.

I love documentaries. Be it the best sushi chef in the world, a year in the Arctic or about an incredible road cyclist, I really enjoy watching them. I love to learn, and watching documentaries are one way I broaden my understanding of the world and my perspective of it. One documentary I watched not too long ago is called “180° South.” It’s about a guy who tries to recreate a trip that Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia Clothing, and Doug Tompkins, Founder of The North Face, took back in the 60’s to the Andes in South America. Incredible photography and an engaging story line, it’s worth the watch. In one shot, they have a dialogue about the ecological state of the world that I think is important to this topic of simplifying.

Yvon-“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex.  What’s important is living an examened life.

Doug-In response to when people say you can’t go back, well what happens if you get to the cliff? You can go one step forward or do a 180 degree turn and take one step forward. Which way you going?  Which is progress?

Yvon-The solution maybe for a lot of the worlds problems is to turn around and take a forward step. You can’t just keep trying to make a flawed system work.

I believe there are sacred moments in the secular world that are important for us to perk up and pay attention to and this is one of them. What Yvon said in that short discourse is true of our spiritual journeys in relation to God. What I have found is most of us feel unsatisfied or perhaps dissatisfied with ourselves and our relationship with God. What we do, or at least I know I do, is try to put things into my relationship to make it “feel” better. Perhaps give more, pray more, read more, try this trend or that. Do whatever the “other guy” is doing. Yet in the end, I feel more dissatisfied, disappointed or discouraged in myself, usually, and occasionally in God.

Complicating my life be it with material things like tech or social media or spiritual things like the “shoulds” is incredibly easy. It’s when I begin to strip away those things (some of those are incredibly intertwined with my being) that is hard. When it is Jesus Only, we are stripped bare, naked, completely exposed before Christ and others. But, and this is the joy behind it, it is in those moments that we are fully embraced by the light of Christ. Nothing to block it, nothing to hinder it from touching our skin and every dark area of our life.

Simplifying isn’t easy, but it is freedom.

Are you simplifying or are there boundaries hindering you? Have you experienced simplifying and God on the other end? Or are you in process at the stripping stage? Either way, I’d love to hear your story.