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The last time I went to my Women’s Small Group at church somebody noticed I could sing.  I was immediately asked if I would lead the worship time in a future group and if I had considered joining the worship team.

It was so hard not to look behind me to try and see who they were really talking to!  You want me to lead a small group in worship?  Lil ‘ole invisible me?

I was flattering to say the least but a very large part of me wondered if they really meant it, if the leaders would actually follow through and arrange a specific date for me to lead the worship or if it was just one of those vague, polite niceties I’ve heard all my life that frequently equated to nothing more than a carrot on a stick.

Besides, they don’t really even know me, I’ve only been attending this church for about six to eight weeks and this small group only started last month so they don’t know me from Adam – there’s no way they could be serious… right?

That was the second time this small group had met.  The first time I had a last minute nail client and wound up being a half hour late to small group so I snuck in while everyone was worshiping (this small group is focused on prayer and worship).  Afterwards we prayed for each other and I saw a little snapshot of something relevant and felt I needed to share that with the gal we were praying for.  Feeling very brave and wondering if they would even allow me to speak since I was so new I stood up from my chair and moved a few feet closer to where the gal was sitting in the middle and I waited for the person who was speaking with her to finish.  It took a little while and my courage began to lag, I wondered if maybe I didn’t need to share after all but one of the leaders had seen me and knew I had something to say so she motioned me forward.  Nobody there even know my name.  I shared the details of the picture I had seen while we were praying for her and went back to my seat.  Afterwards the gal said it was very helpful and encouraging to her and I wound up having some light conversation with the leaders.  In our next small group meeting that same leader, having only met me at the previous small group the one time before, asked me by name if I had anything to share with the gal we were currently praying with.  I did not and said so and the leader was content with my response.  Later that night I was asked to lead a future small group in worship.

I walked out of there on Cloud Nine.  I had value to these people!  I wasn’t invisible!  None of these people knew who I was or my background or what’s going on in my marriage or job or anything about me but they looked at me and saw what God sees when He looks at me!  I knew then that God really had heard my cry to serve Him with the gifts He’s given me.

But still, was it really going to happen or turn into just another one of those “someday” things?  Proverbs says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” and I think that’s where I’ve been for a long time now, heart-sick, and it’s made me untrusting of others, especially spiritual leaders.

This church has really been challenging me in several areas – Do I really accept what the Bible says as truth?  Do I honestly believe that God talks to me at every moment of the day and not just in the sanctuary on Sundays?  Do I trust God and take Him at His Word?  The Sunday sermons have been solid, Biblical teaching backed up with lots of verses and scriptural examples.  Most weeks I walk away somewhat shell-shocked from acknowledging that I’ve allowed myself to live out a different truth than what I’ve always said I believe.  My head will go “Oh yeah, that’s what I believe” but my heart does this funny, cartoon-like explosion thing when I realize “That’s not what I’ve been taught my whole life and that’s not what I live”.

My small group only meets twice a month (I really wish it was once a week, the worship is amazing!) and our next meeting is tomorrow.  Yesterday I received an email asking if I was still up for leading worship this week and besides a keyboard what else did I need?

Wow.  Talk about God coming down and meeting me where I am at.  This is real!  This is what the Bible talks about when it says God’s mercies are new every morning.  I feel like He is healing the wounds caused by other churches – and my own lack of faith – and I’m receiving a fresh start to learn and believe the truth along with my heart’s desire, an opportunity to serve Him with the gifts He’s given me.  I am so excited!

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Oh the joys of being me!  Here’s the roller coaster ride of feelings I  had today:

Overwhelmed
A Failure
Anger
Weary to the bone
Incapable
Suicidal
Hopeless
Unworthy
Faith-less (as in having no faith, not as in being unfaithful)
Rejected
Doubt
Alone
Zero endurance
Panic

OK, so that’s not really a roller coaster ride, that’s a gravity drop ride…

Today was horrible.  The fourth ten-hour work day in a row is always hard on me but this particular Monday at the call center there was non-stop calls from 11:30 am to 7:30 pm, just back-to-back-to-back, with a much higher than average ratio of mean customers than normal.  Seriously people, it’s not my fault you don’t open and/or read your statements and therefore “forget” to pay your bills on time or get interest charges from failing to pay off your promotional financing offers before they expire!

I started my day tired, cried off and on throughout the day because of my customers attitudes and comments and ended the day exhausted and yet, obviously, unable to sleep.  During my shift today I wrote several “Goodbye World” notes in my head – trying to decide what to put on Facebook to make the appropriate people feel guilty and how could I contact my youngest daughters only nice ex-boyfriend to ask him to look in on her when I’m gone.  At some point I realized my thinking was pretty messed up, which only made it worse because then the feelings of “I have no business being a parent” kicked in and only made the urge to off myself stronger.  I really began to feel like I would be doing the world – and especially my children – a favor by not being here.  Towards the end of my workday the calls slowed down and I became a little more rational.  Yes, stop freaking out, I am going to call my doctor tomorrow to get back on some form of anti-depressant because there really is something terribly wrong with me.  (I’m sure that someday this blog will wind up in a clinical textbook about depression and I’ll be reduced to nothing more than a case study, although that’s probably all I am to some of you anyway…)  I fantasize that my doctor will place me on disability because my jobs stress me out so much, but that is just one more fairy tale that will never come true.

I contemplated my faith, or current lack thereof, today.  As a child I loved God with all my heart.  As a teenager I was desperate for the peace my church promised I would have if only I followed God faithfully and did my very best to be a Good Girl.  After high school I began to see that reality was not the life I was told it would be as a Christian.  As a young married wife I slipped further and further away from believing the Christian ideal and now I’m wondering if God would even notice all that much if I cut that last thread and left Him altogether.  But if I don’t believe in God what’s left to believe in?

I have a jewelry open house this Saturday, trying to raise money to pay my school tuition and although I created a Facebook event and invited 50 of my Facebook “friends” to it I haven’t had a single response, yea or nay.  Which leads me to doubt that any of them will come because when everything shakes out I really don’t have “friends”, I have acquaintances.  Lots and lots of acquaintances.  I’ve chased most all the people who might have considered being my friend away by virtue of being mentally disturbed, distrustful and insecure.  I feel so alone, like there’s no one who will help me get out of this hole I’m in and I don’t think I can get out of it myself but I keep trying.  I really want to delete all my so-called friends and actually be as alone as I feel I am but I know I will regret it in the future.  I’m not sure why I’ll regret it but I just know that at some point I will…

My husband, who does woodworking, is all excited for my open house and has been making hand-crafted wooden pens this last week for me to take and try to sell at my fundraiser.  Not to help me get my tuition paid but to get him money to buy more wood because he wants to start a woodworking business from home.

A friend made sure to point out that her contribution to my efforts was limited to prayer.  Good grief, I’m not asking for charity – although standing on the side of the road with a sign asking for donations will probably make me more money than all my efforts to actually earn it will so I may do that soon too – but I wasn’t trying to guilt her into buying anything from me either.  It’s probably me just reading between lines that aren’t there again.  With her it seems like it’s always me reading between those damn invisible lines, I’m always wrong about something.

And that’s the core of what I always come back to.  It’s not you, it’s me.  It’s always something wrong with me.  I’m broken, I’m damaged, I’m wrong, wrong, wrong.  I can’t do anything right.  It’s true, that is my mother’s voice!  She has so much to answer for – although being dead she probably has answered for it by now…  Unfortunately I’m still sorting through all the crap she instilled in me growing up.  I’m 40 and finally realizing that most of it IS crap but I feel like the old dog you can’t teach new tricks to – how do I change the way I think?  The way I feel?  The way I respond to life?  The easier way out is death but honestly I’m a coward.  Too scared to die, not brave enough to live.  Clinging to the mushroom life because the evil that I know is easier than the good that I don’t know.

People in my church avoid me – and to be fair I avoid them now too.  The few that used to speak to me don’t any more and I feel like I’ve been given up as “lost”.  That I’m not worth their efforts anymore.  That I’m beyond “saving”.  That I could change if I would just decide to change.  My suicide would only cause them to “tsk, tsk, tsk” and think in their hearts that they were right.  My staying alive is the only way I would possibly dare to spit in their eye – and that’s pretty good motivation right now.

The next step is to get out of this job and start being a Nail Tech.  Right now I can’t deal with more than one goal.  Raise $1900 to pay my school bill, pass the state boards and start working as a Nail Tech.  After that, who knows?  Maybe reaching one goal will give me the courage to accomplish another goal, like leaving this church with or without my husband.

OK, so maybe it started in August and ran over a bit into October…  Here’s the rundown, and my apologies for not having blogged for so long but I think you’ll understand:

August 27th – I turn 40.  (Not entirely bad news, it’s just a number, right?)

August 30th – Our washer and dryer died.

September 1st – Our hot water heater caught on fire and needed replacing.

September 4th – I lost my job and signed up for unemployment.

September 9th – We are not eligible for food stamps.

September 13th – GOOD NEWS!   I signed up to attend a beauty school’s Nail Technician program with my husband’s somewhat skeptical blessing.  I’m tired of the office life!  I have wanted to be a Nail Technician since I was in my early 20’s but the money and the time to go to beauty school never made it to my house at the same time so to make money I did what I was best at, answering phones and office work… for 20 years…  and now the opportunity of a lifetime, a miracle has come my way!

 September 16th – MORE ABOUT THE SAME GOOD NEWS!  My first day “back to school” and it was soooo weird after over 20 years.  I brought my paper, pen and pencil and I was so excited that my girls made fun of me and I didn’t care a bit!   I should graduate sometime in January of 2014 so it’s roughly four-and-a-half months and almost every day so far has flown by – I go home feeling like I had FUN at school, I really love what I’m learning!

 September 20th – My unemployment claim was denied.  (I am appealing it.)

September 21st – Our oldest daughter turned 18 and we had this HUGE party planned for over 3 months with 10 people invited… guess who spent money, lots and lots of money, that we didn’t have?

September 24th – I lost my phone.

October 2nd – My car died.  Dead.  Seized engine dead.  Over-sized paper-weight dead.  Tacky Red Neck Lawn Art Dead.  Walk to school and be late and then wonder how I’m going to get home dead.  Dead dead.

You know, sometimes so many bad things happen in such a short amount of time that all you can do is sit back and giggle hysterically.  That’s pretty much where I’ve been.  To tell the truth I’m kind of sitting back wondering what else could go wrong and thinking I might want to grab a soda and popcorn to watch the next disaster go down…

But in spite of all that something really good that has happened through all this.  I’m actually  very happy right now, strangely happy right now given all the above circumstances.  I don’t think I need my depression pills any more kind of happy, weird huh?  Somehow, for the first time since I was a child I 100% believe that God is fully in control and everything is going to be OK.  Not Never-Going-To-Have-Another-Problem-For-The-Rest-Of-My-Life-OK but All-My-Needs-Will-Be-Met-And-Taken-Care-Of-OK.  I actually have more peace and trust in God more now than I did when I had my job and was making good money!  Have you ever heard “Blessings” by Laura Story?  I feel like I’m living it…  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ  I KNOW everything is going to be OK and I haven’t felt that way for a long time.  I guess if this is what it took to get me to this amazing, emotionally stable place then I wish it would have happened earlier!

What my life looks like now:
I’m looking for a job I can do after school and on weekends.
I’m trying to get my Pampered Chef business to make us some money.  (I had two shows last month, whoo hoo!)
I’m wondering how I’m going to make up the two house payments and numerous utility bills that we’re behind on.
I’m driving the car my nearby best friend is selling me on payments.
I found a cheaper phone plan and my entire family has new phone numbers <aggravating> so now I don’t have to find my other phone, lol!
We replaced the washer and dryer with used ones but unfortunately had to buy a new hot water heater.
Starting next week I’ll be ready to give manicures and pedicures to paying customers at school now so hopefully I will start getting tips!

Life is life.  God is God.  God is bigger than Life.  Life is going to be OK.   🙂

Last week I overheard a lady on the bus say:  “It’s terrible, there’s no shadows on the ground from the sun, it’s just terrible!”

She seriously sounded like the world was going to end if the shadows didn’t come back so I, of course, quickly glanced out of the bus window and was able to see the shadow of the bus on the sidewalk…  Whew!  That was close!  To be fair it was a really faint shadow because of the smoggy atmosphere but the shadow was most definitely there so I don’t think she had very  good eyesight.  But like many of the tangents in my life it made me think…

A shadow is essentially proof, in darkness, that something is standing against the light, blocking it from reaching the surface.  Shadows can be very dark or very faint, depending on your light source and the opacity of the object causing the shadow… and, apparently, your eyesight.

A shadow is not good or evil in and of itself, it’s all in how you perceive it.  Some examples are:  The lady on the bus viewed the absence of shadows as something terrible and unnatural, scary even but people under trees in the middle of a hot summer view shadows as a blessing.  At night, when a statue is lit from the bottom the shadows make the face look very creepy and it becomes a wonderful place to sit and tell ghost stories.  When that same statue is lit from the top it appears normal and your ghost stories have less umph.  Walking from bright light to deep shadows can be unnerving because you can’t see anything until your eyes adjust whereas going from deep shadows to bright light is usually quite nice.  Your perspective changes everything, eh?

My musings turned me towards wondering – where the shadows are in my life?  What bad habits are standing up, against the light and causing a shadow on my surface?  Where am I dark?  Is the darkness OK?  Am I providing people shade or scaring them with my shadows?  What I am using for my light source?

For me personally my light source should be my Bible because it is the standard of my faith and I believe it is the written word of God.  “Should” obviously implies that it isn’t… not really.

I had to apologize to God this morning because I haven’t been a very faithful follower of His for the last few years…  I allowed my circumstances, my bad shadows, to drag me down and I’ve just kind of stayed there for quite a while, having elaborate pity parties and pushing away the people who love me.  I’m trying to change but definitely can’t do it by myself, I need God’s help!  Thankfully His mercies are new every morning…

Next weekend, for my 40th birthday, I’m going out-of-town on a trip with my two best friends, (who are finally going to get to spend some time together, whoo hoo!) and I’m just going to bask in the shade of our girlfriend-ness.  We are all believers but my friend from high school has a very strong faith and I really need that encouragement, that renewing right now.  I’m ready to start my relationship with God over and want their support.  I need to reach back to the people at my church who have reached out to me and try to start over.  It’s time to come out of the bad shadows and make a new beginning!

I love you.  I wanted to start with that statement. It stands alone, with no qualifiers. I am sorry for not being the support, friend, leader or lover that you have needed (individually, not necessarily all at once). I don’t understand how women work. You baffle me, more often than not. This is not to say “I give up”, but to say “I will yet try harder, until I do understand you, who you are, what you need, and most importantly, what you need me to be for you”. I will still frustrate you, most likely to tears on occasion, but that is because I am a man, not because I don’t love you. I don’t offer an excuse, just a statement/explanation. The good news is that, being a man, I am fundamentally incapable of quitting until I get it right.

By God’s Grace,
I WILL: be your biggest fan.
I WILL: be your best friend.
I WILL: be a leader you can follow.
I WILL: be a lover you desire.
I DO: love you without reservation.

I am sorry for not being enough of these things for you, and I am sorry for all the hurts this has caused you.

I freely forgive, and forget, all past hurts to me, real or imagined.

I am so sorry for not keeping my word to you. I know this hurt you deeply, and I am so very sorry.

Yours to command,

<My Husband>

 

WOW!  He sent this to me at work recently and I almost started crying.  I am humbled and amazed – and yes, I told him so.  Just when my little seedling of faith was withering away God sends a dose of Miracle Grow – from my husband of all people!

I think we’re going to be OK…

 

This was the question of my small group leader yesterday morning.  Not specifically to me but to all of us – how do we pray?  Some ladies take Prayer Walks and talk to God while they’re walking.  Some ladies write their prayers down and call it Prayer Journaling.  Some ladies have lists of people they pray for and some ladies just talk to God all day long while they’re doing the dishes, folding the laundry and chasing their children all over the house.

Some ladies shared specific prayers like The Lord’s Prayer and The Tabernacle Prayer.  I know there’s also the Ripple Prayer, Arrow Prayers, Prayers you think, Praying the Word and several other prayer formats, most of them my church has taught from the pulpit or had classes on at one time or another and don’t get me wrong – sometimes good to have a format to follow just so you don’t sit there for three minutes thinking “Uh…I can’t think of anything to pray about so life must be OK and I’m done praying now”.

I didn’t actually share with the group yesterday about how I pray.  Throughout a normal week my prayers to God usually consist of conversations, me talking to Him about this or that, just whatever’s going on.  I know God already knows everything I tell Him but it helps me to speak out loud the things I generally bottle up inside.  But for the last six months or so  my basic prayer, the one I pray almost every day is “Save Me”.  I say it over and over again.  I think it over and over again.  “Save me, save me, save me…”.  When life just gets too overwhelming, too crazy and my brain looses it’s ability to think coherently all I can do to pray is say “Save me”.

And He does.

Not all at once, not like in fairy tales or movies where the hero comes swooping down and rescues the princess in one courageous battle and then they ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

The saving comes slowly and softly so I have time to adjust to each little step of the change that is Being Saved.  My thoughts begin to change.  My heart begins to soften.  My soul starts to thaw.  The chains that bind me grow lighter and are closer to becoming breakable.  My goals and dreams, once nothing more than ashes and dust, show teeny, tiny signs of life returning to the pots I have kept them in at the back of the closet in the furthest recesses of my heart.  With a little water and a lot of faith they will grow into a beautiful plant and bloom once more.  It will just take time, lots of time.  And I guess that’s fair, it’s taken almost 40 years to get to this craziness I call “Normal Life” so why shouldn’t it take a few years to be saved from it?  To find a new “Normal”?

I’m still working on putting together a women’s retreat.  That’s a goal I think I can accomplish within this next year.  I’m also working on making prints of my paintings to sell them – I need to do some more research as far as cost to get started.  My art makes me happy when I look at it and other people say it makes them happy too so maybe there will be a market for it, who knows?  And I want to have my own band although finding the right people and equipment might take a few years to really get it off the ground.  But these are all things I want to do as a part of defining who I am separate from anybody else.  These are things that make me happy when I do them and so I will pursue them – and pray about them, asking for the favor of God and man to be successful in them.

Please support the people around you who are trying to accomplish their dreams – and say a prayer yourself.  Pray that they would receive what they need and that your needs will be met as well.  God hears you and He loves you, every little thing is gonna be all right.

I am beginning to learn that being whole is not found in being alone.  Wholeness is found in being open, not closed.  In being one tile in a mosaic, not a single art piece unto myself.  I need other people, friends, my family.  But I’ve kept myself separate and alone for so long out of self-defense that it’s very hard to let anybody in…  Did it really have to take until I am almost 40 to realize how important it is to connect with other people? <sigh>

Just as I am discovering that there are many facets to Who I Am, it is becoming apparent that each of these facets are tile pieces that fit in many different mosaics.  I have a tile that completes my Family mosaic, tiles that compliment my Best Friends’ tiles, a tile that fits in pretty well at work and a tile that, dare I say it, is improved by connecting with my husband’s tile and improves his tile in return.  Being Whole is giving away parts of yourself to other people who need them and being willing to receive parts of others who need to share.

Knowing this and living it are two different things and one comes far easier than the other.  Learning to trust my husband again is the first and biggest step… and it is not entirely up to me.  He has to prove himself trustworthy to be trusted.  He brought up a very good point that because I don’t trust him (and haven’t for years) that lack of trust has bled over into not trusting other authorities in my life – the church leadership and my bosses at work, as examples.  The more I think about it I believe he’s right but that will have to be another blog.

Tomorrow will be 20 days since I confronted him with his addiction, so far he has been Prince Charming and I’m really enjoying our new relationship… but I’m not ending the 2 months early either.  In fact, I kind of wish I had asked for 6 months instead of just 2.  I’ve lived through 19 years of life being all about him and I want to KNOW for sure that this change is real, that his putting our children and family first above his wants and desires is a permanent change and not something he’s doing just long enough to get me to agree to stay in this marriage and then go back to who he has always been.

Aside from my relationship with my husband being a Whole Person is sharing my friend’s burdens, rejoicing with them when they rejoice and weeping with them when they weep.  It’s supporting my children and encouraging their dreams, helping them to become adults.  Being a Whole Person is being part of a team at work and sharing the load when things get hectic. Being Whole is not actually completing yourself with only yourself.  It is fragmenting yourself to complete others and allowing others fragments to complete you.  How completely backwards from today’s world that teaches us, especially women, that we don’t need anybody else, that we are fully capable of being independent and that we are strongest when we are on our own, that we don’t need anything or anyone to complete us.

And there’s one more part to becoming a Whole Person – God.  I can have a tile in my mosaic from everybody I know but without God’s tile being in the center of the masterpiece that is me I will always feel empty and incomplete.  I am learning that too.  The faith I had as a child died years ago but a seed remained and I can feel it sprouting once again.  I can feel a change coming and soon, I believe I will be a Whole Person – for the very first time!

 

It really isn’t.

And now that all the people who consider themselves True Christians have armed themselves with pitchforks and gone off looking for me I can finish my thought.

If you became a Christian (or joined any religion for that matter) because somebody “helped” you decide to do so whether it be to please them, they out-debated you, gave you guilt trips and a fear of hell or you became a Christian out of a sense of obligation and duty because you grew up in the church and your entire family is Christian… then in my experience, your Christianity will only last as long as it continues to make sense.  The minute something else makes more sense you will change your mind and go a different direction.  Why?  Because your heart wasn’t changed by what you said you believed and the mind can be easily swayed to and fro without a firm, heart-held conviction of what you belive.

True Belief Changes Your Lifestyle.  People become vegetarians all the time after being made aware of the life animals destined for the meat market lead.  Did these people all of a sudden stop loving the taste of a juicy steak or Kentucky Fried Chicken?  Probably not.  But the thoughts and images of what they learned overwhelm the pleasure of eating the meat and they willingly made a change in their lifestyle because they believe in their heart that their refusal to eat meat spares animals from slaughter.  These people don’t have a problem telling others that they don’t eat meat and why.  Some vegetarians are very passionate about it and will try to sway you to become one of them while the rest just say “No thank you, I’m a vegetarian” when you offer them a slice of Meat Lover’s pizza and that’s the end of it.  They hold to their convictions without apology, without regret and without much care in regards to what you may think of them for being a vegetarian.

Most of my life I would have told you I was a pretty good example of a Christian but when I compare the strength of my beliefs to those of even a basic vegetarian I find myself coming up short…and how sad is that?  The conviction of my Christian beliefs don’t hold a candle to those of somebody who has chosen not to eat something for the good of an animal.  And honestly, how many new Christians change their lives so drastically, so visibly as new vegetarian?  How many church members will stand up to the girls at the office and say “Sorry, I don’t participate in gossip, I’m a Christian”.  How many professing Christians will give back the extra change the cashier at Wal-Mart gave them on accident?  Are those who call themselves Christians today truly any different from the average American?  Unfortunately the people typically identified as being a good representative of religion aren’t usually Christians in this day and age…

I grew up in church, at one time my parents were the youth pastors and my father was often involved with the worship team in one way or another.  I remember praying the salvation prayer at age 3 and did my best to be a good little Christian girl thereafter.  And that may be my biggest problem, I think maybe I tried harder to be a Good Girl than I did to be a Good Christian, not knowing they were different.  Please note I’m not trying to say that Good Christian Girls are not Good Girls because they most definitely are.  I’m trying to say that Good Girls are not necessarily Good Christian Girls.  In the spiritual realm A = B does not always mean that B = A.  That would be too easy…

True Belief Shares Itself.  Someone once said “Witness at all times.  When necessary use words.”  When your heart is different your life will be different.  When your life is different people will notice and you will not be shy about explaining yourself, in fact it will be easy and you will be eager to do it.  When the beliefs of your heart change your lifestyle then, and only then do you have a chance to create a convert because hearts respond to hearts.  Seeing the actions of another can inspire a heart to change but are rarely responsible for any permanent, lasting effects.

Having said all that I will once again repeat that your relationship with God is none of my business.  My relationship with God is my entirely my own business and none of  yours.  The Bible says that your relationship with God should be my concern, a topic of my prayers and even reason for my tears but each person has to make the choice to live for God – or not – on their own.  Nothing I say or do can force you to change your mind one way or the other with any lasting, heart changes.  I have no power or control over your heart save my witness, my example and my lifestyle.

I’m not perfect but I am forgiven.  I try, try and try again and trust that God knows my heart.  I choose to Believe the Bible, Love God and People, Know Others by Their Fruit but Only Judge Myself and Obey the Bible.  It is all that I can do.

While on our Christmas travels this year we drove hundreds of miles on the freeway and I couldn’t help but notice all the tumbleweeds caught in the fences that lined the roads. A simple, four strand barbed wire caught so many tumbleweeds that it appeared in places to be a solid wall of tumbleweeds, you couldn’t even see the barbed wire or the posts.

Tumbleweeds are fascinating, although annoying, plants. Oddly enough a tumbleweed is not a specific plant but rather a generic term for any plant that, once mature and dry disengages from the root and is blown about by the wind. So a tumbleweed starts out as a green, living plant but when it dies, it becomes a nearly indestructible nuisance, blown about by the whim of the wind. You can run over a tumbleweed with a car and the darn thing keeps on rolling. They’re tough, wiry, resilient and crazy hard to get rid of.

My thoughts feel like tumbleweeds rolling through my mind – I frequently wonder how do I catch them? How do I stop them? How do I change them? Which thoughts are OK to think? Why are some thoughts OK to think and some aren’t? Who decides what’s OK to think? And on and on it goes…

I think the church we attend is trying to tell us what we should think and say and what we shouldn’t. The pastor of the church we attend gave a sermon this last Sunday that defined its mission as four very Biblical steps: Win, Connect, Disciple and Send, based off of the Great Commission – Go, Make Disciples, Baptize them and Teach them to Obey Jesus’ Commands (Matthew 28:19 – 20). One of the final slides of the PowerPoint was “The Chief Challenges” (to accomplishing these goals). Copied directly from the photo I took of the PowerPoint they are:

“The Obstacle: Unbelief.
UNBELIEF is doubting questions or negativity that destroy faith leads to lost joy and an unfaithful heart.

“The Challenge: Faith.
BIBLICAL FAITH is not being willing to ponder any fact of life or circumstance that opposed the revealed will of God.”

Given those guidelines what on earth can I question or think about then? I feel like any question I might raise to another church member or the church leadership will be seen as doubt or negativity and talking about my actual life circumstances without sugar-coating them will instantly label me as not trusting in God. Does anybody else get that too or is it just me and my desperation to leave this church that is seeing things that aren’t there?

Like the four-strand barbed wire fence caught the tumbleweeds on the highway I need a fence of my own.  Here, I think, are the essential principles of being a Christian and there are more scriptures than what I listed but in effort to keep this post short(er) I’m just going to put forth a few for each category:

Strand One:  BELIEVE.

A)    John 3:16 says:  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
B)     John 20:31 says:  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
C)   Romans 10:9 says:  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
D)    1 Thessalonians 4:14 says:  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again…

Strand Two:  LOVE.

A)   I John 4:8 says: “God is Love”.
1)  I Corinthians 13:4 – 8 says:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.   It does not
dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but
rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.
B)   Mark 12:30 – 31 says: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”
C)   Matthew 7:12 saysSo in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
D)   Galatians 6:2 says:  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Strand Three:  KNOW PEOPLE BY THEIR FRUIT BUT ONLY JUDGE MYSELF.

A)    Matthew 7:18 says:  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
B)    Matthew 7:20 saysThus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

  1. Galatians 5:22 – 23 says:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
  2. James 3:17 saysBut the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

C)    Luke 6:37 says:  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
D)    Colossians 2:16 – 19: says:   Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
E)     Corinthians 11:31 says:  For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
F)     Romans 2:1 says:  You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Strand Four:  OBEY

A)    John 14:23 says:  Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.
B)     1 John 2:5 says:  But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him.
1)  Titus 2:1 – 10, 12 and 15 says:  …teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.  Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of
respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.  Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way
they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to
love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their
husbands…  Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good.
In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you
may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.  Teach slaves (or employees) to be subject to their masters (or
bosses) in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be
fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.  …teaches us to say “No” to
ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, …These, then, are the
things you should teach…

2)  Ephesians 5:21 – 22, 25, 28 and 33  says:  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit yourselves to
your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for
her.  …   In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. … each one of you also must love his wife
as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

And that is the essence of what I found while searching the scriptures today for “rules” on how to live a Christian life.  Nothing about “don’t ask questions”  or “you must sugar-coat all your problems”.  Indeed, how are we to “bear one another’s burdens” if we don’t share what our burdens are with each other?

I don’t pretend that I am a perfect Christian by any means but I do believe in Jesus, I do my best to love the people around me and I try my best to obey what the Bible says.   Can anybody give more than their best?

The other day I told my  teenaged daughter “Don’t give up being who you are to be with someone else – too much of that and you’ll never get yourself back again.”  As soon as it was out of my mouth I realized that is exactly what I had done…over 18 years ago.

I haven’t felt like I’ve had the privacy to write my heart in a long time.  Over the years I’ve changed – I’ve gone from devout to questioning, from anti to tolerant, from steadfast to wishing…  Who knew the choices we make when we are young could change one’s entire life so completely?  Not the young, the young never know and they don’t listen to anyone who isn’t young.  Stupid that.

Most of the time I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore, or even who I could be.  Oh, I know who I “should” be, I know who I was raised to be.  Wise and gentle, godly and kind, sweet and pure, loving…I should be so very loving.  But I fall short of everything I was told I should be by my mother and by the church.

Yes, I was raised in church from the day I was born.  My parents attended many different pentecostal, charismatic, christian churches throughout my childhood.  We spoke in tongues, raised our hands during the worship service, closed our eyes and some churches we attended even danced during worship.  As a child, church was my favorite place to be.  I loved the worship services and even paid attention to the sermons, many of them changed my life in different ways.  The highlight of my junior high years was Wednesday night youth group and getting to be with all the other “good” kids at church.  It helped me get through my struggles for seven more days until the next Wednesday.

A major theme of many sermons and lessons I’ve learned in church over the years is “Stop trying to do things in your own strength.  You can’t and the very fact that you’re trying to do it on your own probably means it isn’t God’s will for you to be doing it in the first place.”  And yet sitting on the couch, watching television and “waiting for God to do something with me” is equally frowned upon.  Where’s the line?  I am, even this very second, exactly who God created me to be.  He allowed me to go through the circumstances and situations of life that molded and shaped me the way I am.  How do I stop being those things and let God be through me?  I think my current church (of the last 6 years) has put too much emphasis on the doing and the being and not enough on the becoming.  Too much focus on how I act and the way I dress and not enough acceptance of who I am right now, at this very moment because right now, in spite of my warts and damaged heart, I am still God’s creation, God’s child, someone who He loves.

One of the most precious gifts God has given us is free will.  He won’t make anyone love or obey Him, we have to choose to do those things for ourselves.  I’ve made some bad choices and I’ve made some good choices in my life.  Once made, every choice is hard to unmake and life still goes on.  Trying to unmake a past choice usually means making big changes to your present and has the potential to destroy your future.  I am here, right now because God can use me here, right now.  My giftings may come and go according to His choosing, it is by grace I exist.

Funny how we spend 18 years trying to “grow up” as quick as we can but we never really understand the furthest reaching consequences of our actions until much later.  I am just now beginning to realize that some long and hard journeys are chosen simply because the beginning of the trail wound around a rose garden with an enchanting fountain while the paths with the brightest futures are often ignored because they begin by camping in a tent in the middle of a briar patch.

Here I am, on a narrow ledge better suited for a mountain goat than for myself, looking up the trail, looking down the trail, looking over the edge…  There is no future in the past and there is no life over the edge so my only choice is to press onward in hopes that the path will soon widen and I can stop to catch my breath.

Learning which dreams to give up and which dreams to keep have been a painful lesson.  Some dreams are only possible when there are two dreamers who are dreaming the same dream.  A single dreamer cannot complete the work they were called to when they are not walking hand in hand with another like-minded dreamer.  Large works require that many dreamers unite towards building the dream.

More painful, by far, is the awakening of the dreamer who has linked dreams with another only to find that you and your soul-mate aren’t dreaming in the same direction.  To see your dreams slip from your hands because you chose someone who has an entirely different dream – or sometimes – someone who has no dreams at all is quite devastating when your eyes are finally opened to realize the full effects of your choice.

My solution, my “cure” for loneliness has been a success in fact only.  I am not “alone”.  But what no one ever told me is that the greatest depths of loneliness hide inside relationships, not outside of them.  You can be with someone and yet still feel completely and utterly alone.  It is a wounding that takes your breath away and leaves you gasping for your very life, like a drowning man clawing at the surface of the water.  I rushed into marriage believing it was my one and only chance at having a precious gift and I have spent the remainder of my life questioning that choice.

So now the question begs to be asked – not just who am I but have I ever known who I am?  Or have I always been just a compilation of words and actions, attitudes and behaviors that were expected from me by my parents, my church and my schools with no real input of my own?  Have I ever truly had my own opinions or have I always just parrotted the opinions of the “important” people around me?  Things that make you go Hmmm…  I wish I had an answer for that but right now I just don’t know.

I think that I’ve lost myself, that I’m broken and need help.  There are a few things that I’ve been doing because I enjoy doing them just for me:

Painting/Drawing
Writing/Singing/Playing/Listening to Music
Baking
Growing Plants
Helping People
Writing/Blogging/Poetry

These are a good place to start with identifying who I am today.

This is a good place to stop and think some more.

Goodnight.