Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On being ok...

When I was 16 I was in a car accident.

The driver of the car took a corner too fast, and the 1990-something Ford Escort we were in hit some gravel and flipped end-to-end several times. Both the driver and I walked away from the crash, but I’ve had neck issues for the last 14 years.

Around 18 or so I started getting treatment for my neck. Thousands of dollars, too many doctors, and tons of test later I reached the end of medical treatment. The neurologist’s recommendations were: wear tighter clothing, keep mobile, and have an MRI every year.

When I say neck issues, I mean I am in constant pain nearly every single day of my life (about a 4 out of 10).  I have disc degeneration, bone spurs, and a syrinx. I can do most things, but I’ll never ride a roller coaster again. Here's a picture of what a syrinx looks like. This one isn't mine, but it'll work. It's that little white sliver.

At the start of this year, I hadn’t had that MRI for 10 years. My pain was also closer to a five or six most days.

I hadn’t gotten an MRI or seen a neurologist because I was terrified of what the results would be. I was scared of what the doctor would say. “You’re syrinx has gotten worse, you’re slowly dying.”

I think I was also terrified of how my now ex-husband would respond to the results. Would he leave me, be mad about the expense, or act out against me with retribution?

This year my husband I made New Year’s resolutions for each other. One of Del’s resolutions for me was to get treatment for my neck.

I started seeing a chiropractor. I’ve started getting massages. And finally – I got that MRI.

Two days ago I saw the neurologist to go over my MRI results.

Driving to the neurologist with Del I was terrified.

Sitting in the waiting room I was preparing myself for whatever the doctor might say.

Eventually, the doctor came in. He looked at my MRI, did a few office tests, and then told me his opinion. He said, “Well, I can see why you’re in pain. You have issues X, Y and Z. But you can walk and you seem mobile. I’ve seen a lot worse, so I don’t think you keep seeing me regularly.”

To manage my pain he recommended I get physical therapy. To make sure I don’t get worse, he recommended I get an MRI once a year and check up with him.

After Del and I left, we got to the car and cried.

Out of fear I waited 10 years to hear that I was fine.  I am okay. Everything is ok.

This experience has got me thinking about a three things over the last few days: scale, fear and readiness.

Compared to most 30-year olds, my neck is in rough shape. Compared to many folks that have been in a car accident, I’m doing ok. Compared to most people the neurologist I met with sees, I’m doing great. How many times do we forget the scale, and how it shifts based on our perspective?

Out of fear, I waited ten years to get my neck checked out. After waiting so long I was terrified of how much worse my neck had gotten, and if I’d waited too long to get it checked out. I sat in fear for a decade because I was terrified of the outcome. What else have I wanted so long on, just to find out that everything would be ok? What else am I not fixing or working on today that I could be?

Have you ever listened to someone complain about something and thought to yourself, “I know your problem, and here’s what you can do to fix it”? Have you ever told someone exactly what their problem was and how they could fix it, only to have the person shut down or do the exact opposite of what they should do? Everyone has had that experience. But no one can fix something until they’re ready to face their problem. There is no amount of pushing, coercion, or complaining that can get someone to change something they don’t want to change.

The thing is – we have all been that person to someone. To someone, I am that lady that always does this thing, and it’d be great if I just fixed it.

I could have seen a doctor a long time ago, and maybe I’d be better now today. But if I’m honest with myself, I know I would not have been ready. I was not at a place in my life where I felt safe to face the issue in front of me.

This experience has taught me about life.

Life is this miraculous thing. And life is facing one problem after the other. One day, everything is fine – and the next day everything feels like its falling apart.

When those moments come, where everything feels like its falling apart – that is where we find Jesus.
Sometimes he comes in food or water. Sometimes he comes in friends and family. But sometimes he comes from a doctor reading test results. No matter how he comes, he always says the same thing… “I can see why you’re in pain. This terrible thing has happened. But you know what? You’re going to be ok.”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

On why empathy is important...

A few months ago I went through a rough patch in life.

The church campus where my husband was a part-time pastor closed, and I spent a long time dealing with that loss (I wrote about that here).

Being active in our church, we have an amazing group of friends who are incredibly supportive. During the church closing, I reached out to our friends and mentioned that the closing was really hitting me hard.

I was surprised when our close friends did not seem to be responding in a way that I though reflected the empathy I needed. I was confused that our friends seemed to be falling short. It was especially strange because we have, quite possibly, the best group of friends for which you could ever ask. When you’re sick, they’ll bring food. When you need prayer, they’re a message or call away. I wanted someone to say, “That situation sounds so difficult. Thanks for telling me. I’m here for you.” (I’ve since talked to my friends about this... I mentioned they're amazing? Part of the issue was me not properly asking for help. I’ll write more about that later).

That experience forced me to reflect on an important question I think we should all ask ourselves: am I good at being empathetic?

The last time I took a personality assessment, one thing that stood out was that I value accurate information over feelings. If someone says something I know to be incorrect, it is more important to me to correct that person than it is for me to value that person’s feelings. In high school, one of my friends was telling me about a difficult situation they felt they were having with their parent. Rather than consider how my friend was feeling, I remember correcting that person when they told me details about a story I knew were incorrect. I can be such a dick sometimes.

I can also think of dozens of times where people have told me about something difficult they’ve gone through, and I can remember not responding as well as I could have. I can think of times where I could have listened rather than talked, where I should have been kind but was impatient, and where I tried to one-up instead of empathize.

Am I good at being empathetic? I’m not terrible, but I need to be better because I am falling short.

My experience after the church closing also led me to ask what I believe is one of the most important questions in the world: why are some people better at giving empathy?

Sympathy isn’t empathy.

Empathy fuels connection – while sympathy drives disconnection. Click here for a video on the topic that I love.

And here’s a nice summary of what is empathy. Empathy occurs in communication when there is:

1)      perspective taking
2)      staying out of judgement
3)      recognizing emotion and then
4)      communicating that emotion back to other people

But what makes someone have the ability to be empathetic? (I wrote about this before too).

It turns out that the most empathetic people, are those that have been through the most difficult situations. David DeSteno, a professor at Northeastern University who specializes in social psychology, noted the following in his article from the New York Times:
“those who had faced increasingly severe adversities in life — loss of a loved one at an early age, threats of violence or the consequences of a natural disaster — were more likely to empathize with others in distress, and, as a result, feel more compassion for them.

However, in his article, DeSteno goes on to note that studies have also found that:
Living through hardship doesn’t either warm hearts or harden them; it does both. Having known suffering in life usually heightens the compassion we feel for others, except when the suffering involves specific painful events that we know all too well.

Simply put… if Mr. X has been through a lot of tough shit, he’ll likely be more empathetic – unless you’re telling Mr. X about a situation he’s already been through.

When I first read about this twist on empathy, I just sat on in – pondering over its merits. Then, a few weeks ago I noticed it playing out in my own mind. One of my co-workers was telling me about how she had too much work to do. An empathetic response would’ve been, “Thanks for telling me. It does sounds like you have a lot going on. Can I help you?” However, I had a ton of work to do as well so I said, “Tell me about it- I’m so busy.”

The moment the words left my mouth I realized what I’d done. Gah, I can be such a dick sometimes.

Empathy is important because people are the most important things in the world. God created more than one human because we were meant to live in connection with each other. If we were never meant to connect, we would live on islands. When we fail to give empathy, we fail at connecting. We miss an opportunity to share ourselves with another human being.

My plan for the next year is get better at being empathetic. When someone needs to connect with me – and I am able – I’m going to try. I hope you’ll consider trying too. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

On gaining back self-confidence...

I just sat there in a work meeting.

The president asked if anyone knew how much money company X had made in Q4. I had the data in front of my face, but I couldn’t say the answer.

“What if I didn’t do this right?”

“What if I get yelled at?”

“I’m too stupid to possibly have the right answer. I’ll just let someone else get this.”

I’ve written before about how my first marriage impacted me (right here).

In the last few months, another layer of that relationship has started to surface: where did my confidence go?

From grade school to graduate school, one thing that I never lacked was self-confidence. If I thought I knew the answer, I would say it. If I wanted to talk, I would speak.

But six years of living with someone who is emotionally abusive will gradually kill your self-confidence.

It didn’t happen overnight, but over time it eroded everything in myself I thought I knew.

Sometimes, I sit in meetings and stare at the people who aren’t afraid to speak. I feel jealous of the folks whose confidence was never crushed.

A few months ago I came across a pile of receipts and a sheet of paper that said “Money.” My ex-husband made me track every penny that was spent. Each month, I was allowed $5 of spending money – despite the fact that I was the only one making any money. Any money that was spent, I had to provide receipts at the end of the month. If I spent $50 on gas, I had to prove that. If I spent $60 on groceries, I had to prove that. If I overspent… well… I just tried not to overspend.

The clothing I wore when we first met? I wasn’t allowed to wear anything that reflected my personal style. Instead of amazing dresses and cool pants, it was khakis and Ralph Lauren t-shirts (vomit). I once bought myself a purple dress, and then hid all proof of the purchase.

My haircut? Picked for me.

My friends? I had a three friends I could hang out with and receive no retribution.

My family? If I contacted my mother or father I was immediately grilled about the conversation. “What did you say? You know your family is terrible.”

Sex? I’m not ready to talk about that.

At one point, I wasn't allowed to have a car because...?

I wasn't allowed to bake because it was too expensive. 

I wasn't allowed to go to church because...?

I was once told that if I didn't lose twenty pounds, he was going to leave me.

I could go on, but you understand. I don’t want pity. This happened, but it is over.

Thanks to my friend Bri and her husband Chris, the camels back finally broke. I was the maid of honor in Bri’s wedding. After Bri and Chris said their vows, they walked down the aisle and Chris started dancing with Bri. It was an amazing moment, because Chris doesn’t love to dance, but he did it for my friend. In that moment, the reality of my situation finally hit me. I realized I did not have someone that would dance with me.

I went home from the wedding and told my ex-husband that if he called me a bitch one more time that I was going to leave him. He told me he understood. A few days later we went to the grocery store. Instead of spending $60, we spent $70. On the drive home he started calling me a stupid bitch, because I spent an extra $10 on food. Soon after, I told him I wanted out. I had reached my breaking point.

Abusive relationships steal. But they don’t just steal and run; it’s a slow drain. Sometimes I wonder how much farther I would be in my life if not for the weight of an abusive ex-husband? How far could I have gone if my confidence hadn’t been crushed? How many hangouts, friendships, birthdays, promotions, and events did I miss?

Most of the time, I’m just grateful I got out. Before I totally lost myself, I left him.

There are times I feel like a failure. I’ll hear people say, “People just get divorced too quickly!” But something tells me those people never endured my ex-husband.

In the last four months, my confidence has started to come back. My husband asked me if I would volunteer to be a part of a ‘Live Show’ he is in charge of at our church. As part of that, he asked if I would be a co-host whose job was to speak on camera. Reluctantly, I did the first show. Then I did the second, and then the third.

After the third show I started to remember the pieces of me that I thought had been crushed. “I use to be really good at this? Didn’t I?” I thought to myself. That confidence has carried over into other areas of life. At work, I’ve started to speak up more. In my personal relationships, I’ve started to use my voice more frequently. It feels really good to feel like I’m allowed to speak without repercussion.

If I can find good in what happened, I can see that I’ve learned to temper my words. Instead of just talking, I’ve learned to be more eloquent when I speak (you know, most of the time).

Del and I are coming up to three years of marriage. Through everything, he has been kind, loving and supportive. Every day, I’m so grateful for Del. He sees the good in me that I cannot see for myself.

It took six years for my confidence to slowly be taken away, but I’m getting it back. Bit-by-bit, it is trickling in. I got out of a bad marriage to a bad person. He took my money, hurt my relationships, and controlled my appearance. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him keep my self-confidence. This is mine, and I’m taking it back – one meeting at a time.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

On gluten-free (or, all I want is a fluffy bagel)...

The worst part about having migraines, is waiting for the next one to strike. In high school I got frequent migraines until I figured out that the trigger was harsh smells. For the last few months, I was waiting for the worst part. Without smelling something that is usually a trigger (like Axe cologne or patchouli) I would get a terrible migraine. When I get a migraine, I see a halo, go blind in my right eye, and then proceed to have terrible pain in the front part of my brain for four to ten hours. After my migraine hits, I find a dark room and try to sleep it off.

I only have so many sick days from work, so I decided to see my doctor to get some help. In addition to doing some other testing and giving me some migraine medicine, my doctor told me, “I think you might have celiac disease. You should try cutting out gluten.” I love bread, so I wasn’t thrilled with this diagnosis. But when you’re live your life terrified of getting another migraine, you’ll try anything.

When you have celiac disease, your body attacks any gluten that you eat. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye and barely. When you have celiac disease and consume something like bread or beer, your body’s immune system attacks your small intestine. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet.

I’m in week two of not eating any gluten.

Week one, Del and I went to the store and just bought nuts, fruits and vegetables. “This isn’t a big deal,” I thought to myself.

Week two, reality started to sink in. I would describe the week as ‘pitiful.’ And the apex of pity struck during today’s trip to the grocery store.

This morning before church I went to the grocery store alone and was trying to find ‘fun’ foods I could eat. The moment I walked through the doors I was hit with a feeling I can only describe as self-pity. That feeling didn’t get any better as I wandered through the aisles. I would pick up a package, see if it said ‘gluten free’ and then would have to put it down when I saw ‘wheat.’

Cereal? Nope. Fluffy bagels? Nope. Pasta? Nope. ALL I WANT TO EAT IS A FLUFFY BAGEL.

When I recognized the self-pity hitting my brain, I immediately felt guilty. I’m not the first person in the world to have a restrictive diet. I know a few people that have celiac disease, and most of them have dealt with the restrictive diet for decades. I’m able to afford food, so I should feel grateful that I have food that I can eat. There are gazillion types of food in the world, and I am able to eat more foods than I cannot eat. Regardless of all of those things, I still felt weirdly sad. It didn’t help when I got to the check-out, and the guy in front of me bought a pack of delicious, fluffy bagels. He better eat ALL of them!

Leaving the store, I started whimper crying as I drove home. The mix of self-pity and guilt over feeling self-pity got the best of me. By the time I got home and started unpacking my groceries I was crying.

In spite of my self-pity/guilt, I drove to church. When I walked through the doors of the sanctuary I noticed tables full of communion elements (wine and bread) in the back.

Seeing the communion materials in the back made me feel strangely pissed off. If a person doesn’t take communion, I know they aren’t any less of a Jesus follower. But still, I really wanted to be able to partake in the ceremony with my church. The entire service I sat in dread waiting for that moment where my pastor says, “Now, go do communion folks!” I imagined that I’d have to sit at my chair and loathe in self-pity as the people I love got to enjoy one of my favorite church activities. I then thought of all of the other people I have known throughout my life that haven’t been able to partake in communion – but wanted to. My heart sank. How had I never thought of these people? Sorry people! I was a selfish jerk. 

Thankfully, something wonderful happened. My pastor announced we were doing communion, and then he said, “And there’s a gluten free option at the back table.” My heart jumped. While other people were slowly meandering to the bread and wine, I was walking like a mad woman to the gluten free option. 

I got to the table, saw the gluten free crackers and wine, and felt a strange sense of relief. I don’t remember gluten free options when I was growing up. I saw the cracker, dunked it in wine, and slowly ate it. In my entire life, I’ve never felt so grateful to be able to be a part of communion.

I haven’t had any gluten for two weeks. My body has never felt so good. I have a history of stomach problems, but haven’t had any issues since I began my new diet. Most importantly, I haven’t had any migraines for two weeks. Thanks you Jesus. 

If you open your eyes to The Lord, you will see Him everywhere. I’ve seen Jesus in people, in nature, and in the kind acts of others. But today, I got to see Jesus in a gluten free cracker at the back of church. The body and blood of Jesus has never tasted so good.

Monday, July 6, 2015

On surviving a church closing...

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared!”

I totally get that.

I’m one of those people who checks the weather every morning, and always has band-aids and ibuprofen.

But how do you prepare for the things you can’t see hitting you?

Two weeks ago, the church campus my husband and I had been attending for almost two years closed. My husband was a part-time pastor. I was a kid’s ministry leader. For months, we poured ourselves into serving the amazing people that attended our campus.

After I found out the campus was closing, I was depressed for a few solid months. When you give so much to something, seeing it dissolve is incredibly difficult. To me, it felt like a death.

My husband was also hit by the loss. Not only did he take care of me, he was trying to take care of church members – and make sure he was coping with the loss.

Yesterday, the long-term impact of losing a church finally hit me. I looked at my husband and said, “You know what? That was really fucking hard on our marriage.”

To which my husband replied, “Duh.”

How should we have prepared for that? Is there something that could’ve curbed the loss, or reduced our grief?

We prayed about it.
We read the Bible.
We told our friends.
We told our family.
We shared ourselves.

But, in all honestly, I’m not certain that all of that made the pain any less terrible. Maybe a little?

Maybe we just didn’t trust God enough? Maybe we just didn’t lay our yolk upon him fully? But I doubt that.

Sometimes, I tend to think we put too much stock in happiness. We tell ourselves we deserve the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ and when we aren’t pursuing that – we feel like failures. How many people have damaged the ones they love in pursuit of their own happiness?

In full disclosure, I’ve always had a melancholy personality. I find a weird joy in understanding grief, and I’m not a huge fan of big changes.

I think the reality is, there are just some things in life that happen for which you cannot fully prepare.

I think the reality is, you cannot always be happy.

I think the reality is, sometimes, you just have to go through something. You can’t check the weather. You can’t pack band-aids. You just have to weather the storm, and check yourself for cuts when you come out.

This storm has passed (I think). Our church campus has closed.

But after the storm passed, I looked around to survey the damage and I was incredibly surprised.

Our church members were all safe. The kids we ministered to are transitioning to the ‘big church.’

Most importantly, my husband and I made it through this together. When I was down, he held me. He didn’t push me back up (I’m probably too stubborn for that anyway). When he was down, I helped him brace through it. It sucked while we were going through it, but we made it out okay. We have come through this event with a stronger marriage. I love and respect my husband more today than I ever have.

After this, I’m sure there will be more. We don’t know what is next, for time and chance happens unto them all. I don’t know what could happen next. Maybe something joyful and amazing? Maybe something not so great?

All I know is, somehow – someway – we’ll be ok. Everything will be ok.

Friday, June 19, 2015

On depression... round...???

If you’re ever struggled with depression for a long time, you don’t wonder why people commit suicide.

I know that’s morbid.

Mina Brees was 59-years-old when she committed suicide from a prescription drug overdose. I don’t know a lot about Mina Brees (Mina was the mother of Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees). I know she was an attorney in Austin. I know she was intelligent and people say she was charming. But when I first heard that she had committed suicide, I wondered about how she lived? Did she struggle with depression? For how long? What was the last straw? I don’t know the answers to those questions. But when I hear of an older person who has made the decision to end their life, I assume they struggled with the monster that is depression.

Alcoholism is a disease that persists. Some people struggle with alcoholism for a short time, and then conquer it. However, many people struggle with the urge to consume alcohol for their entire lives.

My experience with depression is chronic. I was diagnosed with depression when I was in 8th grade. Since that time I’ve had a half-dozen or so bouts of depression. One bout lasted a year, another lasted only three months.

Depression is exhausting. It feels like there is a giant weight on me. I try to move, and it holds me down. I try to think, and it holds me back. My body hurts all of the time. I haven’t slept soundly in weeks. I’m exhausted from fighting something that won’t seem to go away. I feel ridiculous that I have to tell people again that my depression feels like its winning.

This time, my bout has been going on for about four months. It started slow. I noticed I was feeling anxious at work, and felt scared to talk in front of people. My depression has progressed to calling into work ‘sick,’ avoiding large social situations (if I can), and trying to stay away from people. This week at work I had to go to the bathroom six times to cry in the stall.

Frankly, I’m just fucking tired. I’m tired of fighting this. I’m tired of the waves.

Last week my mom came to visit, and she spent a lot of time taking care of me.

Last night, my husband held me while I melted down into nothingness.

If my depression could be healed by thinking of nice things, I would’ve started investing in puppy stickers a while ago.

If this mental pain could be healed by prayer alone, my words to Jesus would’ve saved me years ago.

If my anxiety would go away with hugs and kisses, then the time my mom spent holding me Saturday should’ve healed my tired nerves.

If my faith were enough to save me from this, this weight would’ve been lifted a while ago.

I try to imagine all of the good things that come from having depression. When I think of the best thing, I think of Darl from As I Lay Dying. "Life was created in the valleys. It blew up into the hills on the old terrors, the old lusts, the old despairs. That's why you must walk up the hills so you can ride down." You never really know a peak, until you’ve been in a valley. And if you’ve never really been in a valley… well… you know the rest.

I lay in this valley. The only way to get back up – is to climb. I’m so fucking sick of climbing. Can’t someone else just pull me up? Whatever… here I am. Climbing again. Step by step. When I reach the crest, I know I will rejoice in the glory (1 Peter 4: 12-13). The sun will be bright again. The sky will shine in glory. It’s hard to see the glory from the bottom, but I know it’s there. I will walk up.

Monday, May 18, 2015

On why some people suck at being empathetic...

I almost punched someone in the armpit a few weeks ago. In my brain, I totally punched that person in the armpit, and then in the ankle.

A few weeks ago I was on the phone sharing something very personal with someone I know. I was talking how event X was really difficult on me because of Y. Like a lot of people, because I was talking about something difficult, I started to cry. There I was, chatting on the phone with this person, pouring out my heart and crying like a child.

I was the picture of vulnerability. In that moment, the only thing I wanted was to share my own personal experience with another human being. All I wanted in return, was for that person to hear my pain, and try to connect with me on a human level.

I think we all want that. I think that is why we make friends, get married, and have children. Deep down, we all want to be vulnerable and share deep connections with other people.

After pouring out my heart, the person said to me, 'Well… at least you can be happy about…. X. And at least you can look forward to Z.' That is when my brain started reaching through the digital airwaves and punching this person in the hamstring.

I'm not a negative person. In any given day I see that my life is full of amazing things. I have an AMAZING job, a great husband, and super duper friends. I have a car that works, a house, two cute cats, great parents, and – most importantly – a God that loves me. I understand that focusing on your blessings is a good mental exercise in making sure you don’t turn into a Mr. Sour-puss. I'm aware that being negative all the time sucks.

The thing is, in that moment – in the moment when I’m sharing my soul – that is NEVER the moment when you say ‘Well, at least...’

That is never the moment because it shows that instead of you (as the listener) trying to feel empathy, it shows that you are trying to alter the mental state of the person talking. And if you know even .01% of psychology, you should know that you can never force a person to change her mind by making one or two little 'Well… at least' comments. In fact, one or two little comments are more likely to drive a person (like me) to want to slap you in the kidney.

I've spent the last few weeks pondering why some people suck at empathy. I think my mother would say, ‘Well, some people just don’t know what to do or what to say.' I think my mother is an empathetic person – perhaps the most empathetic person I know. I agree with my mother that some people aren’t sure what to say, but I think there is a reason for that. I think the causal factor is that the least empathetic people have never really experienced suffering. The reason some people don’t know what to do or say, is because they’ve never been in a position where they need another person to give them empathy. Until you reach the point of receiving empathy, I’m not sure if you can ever really give it out.

The person that sucked at being empathetic has never experienced true suffering. No big deaths, no illnesses, no big family issues, no real money issues, no marriage problems, no kid problems… no… NOTHING.

My mother…. My mother has overcome more than any person I have ever met. My mother overcome a very difficult childhood. She overcame a very difficult first marriage. I am so proud at my mother’s kindness and resilience. As a result, she knows exactly how to act, react, and empathize.

A few days ago a friend came to me to talk to me about his life. This friend has many things that are exceptionally difficult going on in his life. Half way through our conversation, when he was talking about how difficult life has been, he started crying.

The best thing to do when someone is crying – is to cry with them. So that is what we did. My friend and I sat there for a few minutes, and we just cried.

In a one hour conversation, I am not going to be able to fix another person’s problems. Heck, sometimes I feel like I can’t even fix my own problems. One thing I can do, is sit and listen.

At some point, that person that I wanted to punch in the armpit is going to need someone to cry with. Part of me hopes for that moment to come soon. When that moment comes, part of me wants to wait around the corner with a bunch of 'Well…. At least X, Y and Z.' Unfortunately, my dear sweet mother didn’t raise me that way. So when that person comes trotting back needing empathy – which is going to happen at some point – I plan on being there.

If you are my friend, and you need to cry – I will cry with you.

If you are my friend, and you need to talk – I can just shut up and listen.

If you are my friend, and you need me – I want to be here for you.

That is what empathy is. It is understanding. It is sharing. It is... just being there.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On why I left the church, and how I came back...

When I was a freshman in college, I walked away from God and the church. Actually, I’d say I ran away screaming.

My first six months of college I attended a campus Christian group. We would meet every week, discuss the Bible and hang out. Then, one week we started talking about judgment. No, I don’t mean we talked about how we will be judged, or salvation. We didn’t talk about being saved through grace, or acts, or some other theological debate. I mean, the group of people I was sitting with started discussing who was going to heaven and who was going to hell. I thought that was bullshit.

I was so offended by the conversation that I left and didn’t come back to God for about seven years.

My falling off started small, but grew over time. I began doubting God’s existence. I wondered how a gracious God could create a world with so much bullshit. I was angry that I suffered from depression and had experienced so much loss, while other people seemed happy and full of life. I stopped attending church. I never read the Bible. I stopped praying. I stopped believing. If you asked me if I believed in God, I would have told you ‘Hell, no!’

The thing about God’s voice, is that once you’re really heard it – it is impossible to stay away. Although I thought I had left everything I once knew about Christianity, God still wanted me.

After seven years, my life started turning to shit. My now ex-husband was going to leave me. Graduate school was terrible. I was suffering from three solid years of depression. I felt like I had nothing left.

I got into my car and decided I was going to drive it off of a bridge. I started driving around looking for a place where I could gather enough speed, and where I could drive off without hurting anyone else.

But then I heard something. Something was telling me that this didn’t have to be the answer. Instead of driving my car off the bridge, I called a suicide hotline. The woman on the other end, whose name I don’t even remember, saved my life. She convinced me to call my brother. My brother came and got me.

Two days later, I started going to church again. I googled the church that was closest to me, and just started going. I was terrified that someone in the church would be able to see that I had been fighting for team atheist, and that they’d throw me out. No one did that.

I use to think my journey was beautiful and unique. I guess in some ways it is, because it is mine. However, since time has passed I’ve talked to at least a dozen people who’ve followed a similar path. I think a lot of people leave the church because people within the church are shitty to them.

For some strange reason, growing up going to church, I always had this weird idea that church-goers were somehow better people. After over twenty years of going to church, I now see how na├»ve that is. I do think that churches need to do more to let people know that Christians are not perfect, and that pastors are people who sometimes fuck up. After attending church for a few decades I hope I’m a better person. Even if I’m better, I’m never going to be perfect. No matter how hard I try, I’m probably going to do something that hurts someone.

Churches are full of people. And sometimes people are really crappy. Hopefully, churches can be a safer (safer than work or home) place where we can turn to each other in our times of need. But sometimes, churches fail.

When you are crapped on in church, it is easy to look at the church and blame God for the problem. It is also easy to think all Christians are as terrible as the person/people that treated you poorly.

I’ve found that when I talk to a crappy sales person from a company I often think that the cruddy sales person IS the company. The number one reason people don’t return to a restaurant is a bad waiter. And the main reason people leave a company is a bad boss. Does a bad waiter mean the whole restaurant is terrible? Does a bad boss mean the whole company is worthless?

If you identify as a Christian, and you treat someone like a jerk, it is probable that the person you treated poorly will think that you are representative of all Christians.

I was able to come back to church because I was able to make an important distinction. Going to church is a lot like going to a gym. Some people are going to be really fit, healthy, and in shape. But there are also going to be a lot of people that are unfit, and need to spend a lot of time getting in shape. We don’t go to church because we are perfect. We go to church because we are hoping to get better. If we all had to be perfect in order to meet Jesus, none of us would be good enough.

If you’re reading this, and someone within the church has hurt you – I want to tell you that I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that someone hurt you. That sucks.

If you’re reading this, and I’ve hurt you – I am sorry for that as well. I’m sorry I was a crappy person.

In the campus Christian group, those people were just being jerks that day. It doesn’t mean they are terrible people. It certainly doesn’t mean God is terrible.

At the end of the day, the most important thing, is that you are a child of God and God loves you. No matter what you’ve done, and no matter what others have done to you, God loves you. In a perfect world we would always be examples of Christ. We would let other people be themselves. We would hold each other when we are in pain. We would protect each other, help each other grow, we would be safe places in a storm. But we are people, and we will fail.

No matter where you are, if you’ve ever heard the voice of God – He is calling to you. He wants you to hear Him. He needs you. And if you’ve ever heard the calling, you know that you need Him too.

From the day my husband and I were baptized.

Friday, April 3, 2015

On the loudest voice…

One part of my job is reviewing comments from readers.

I read survey comments. I read Facebook comments. I read comments people write post on articles.

There is no shortage of people sharing their point of view.

I’ve been reading comments as part of my job for about six years now.

Although I haven’t crunched the numbers, I am convinced that the amount of negative feedback has greatly increased over the last few years.

Three weeks ago someone wrote a comment in one of my surveys that the author should be fired because he/she was an ‘idiot.’ What was my crime? I had one typo on a thirty question survey.

A few months ago, I had to go through over 15,000 comments from a massive survey. The comments included insults that called people names like ‘facists,’ ‘communists,’ ‘fucktards,’ and ‘retards.’ One person said we needed to kill ourselves.

After two solid days of reading comments I was utterly destroyed from the negativity. I don’t know of a single person that wouldn’t have some emotional reaction after two days of such pessimism.

Since the internet began, we have experienced the approach of infinity on a number of things. The amount of data is infinite. The amount of new knowledge is infinite. With the approach of infinity, there is no shortage of people reacting to the things they read online.

With all of the noise, what voice do you listen to? What voice reaches out above the rest?

I am guessing that people leave mean or cruel comments because they simply want their point of view to be heard.

I get that. I understand that we all want to believe that our opinions and viewpoints are valid and valuable.

In the sea of comments, I think people forget that their voice is being heard by someone.

Many times, the person hearing that loud (and sometimes cruel) voice is someone like me.

Who am I?

I am a 29 year old, married, white woman who lives in Jackson, Michigan. I love watching television. I teach Sunday school to little kids. I am a daughter, an aunt, a sister, and a friend. I like playing board games with my friends, and trying new beer and wine. I am a person. I have feelings and thoughts and reactions. If you call me a ‘bitch’ that hurts my feelings. When you tell me I am an ‘idiot’ for having one typo that makes me feel bad. When you tell me to ‘go kill myself’ that hurts my heart.

In my entire life, I have never had a complete stranger walk up to me on the street and yell obscenities or say cruel comments. If you would not yell at a stranger on the street, then why is it okay to do it online? Is it because there is some anonymity? What is it about cutting someone down builds you up? If you feel the need to cut someone down, what are missing in your life?

Swimming through the sea of information and stories, I think it is easy to forget that there are people watching and reading. I am one of those people. And I am tired. I am tired of being yelled at, called names and insulted for the most trivial things.

Are some people actually idiots? Yes. Are some people doing incredibly stupid things? Yes.

But I bet you are too. I know I do stupid things all the time.

Would you want a team of people yelling obscenities at you the next time you mess up?

I know I wouldn't. So why are you doing it? And can you please stop a little bit?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

On washed in the blood or the water…

The Old Testament called for animal sacrifices for the redemption of sin.

The best animals were carried up mountains and through desert lands so they could be slain.

We fell from God. Ever since the moment we fell, we’ve been trying to get back to perfection. We shed the blood of animals to forgive inequities. We shed blood hoping we would someday get back to perfection.

In our culture, we are often removed from the blood of animals. We see violence on television, but outside of working in the medical field or butchery, we seldom see blood.

Sometimes I imagine how much blood was spilled. Hundreds, thousands, millions of gallons? Probably.

What would that be like (not that I would’ve carried out the sacrifice) to literally be covered in the blood of a spotless lamb?

We all know the verse….

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I memorized the creed…

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Lately, I’ve began to wonder how much people really understand the grace that comes with such a sacrifice.

Have you ever carried a spotless lamb for thirty miles up a mountain? Animal sacrifices for the redemption of sins are rare – they are also unnecessary.

God gave us His son, so we could forever be washed in the blood of The spotless lamb.

Are you washed in the blood, or just in the water?

I’ve lost count of the number of people who are surprised that I drink and swear.

I’ve never found my swearing or the glass of wine I drink with dinner to conflict with my beliefs.

Somewhere along the line it seems like it has become more important ‘To Do’ all of the ‘Right’ things rather than simply believing in and accepting grace.

If Christ died for the redemption of sins, why do I see so many people pretending they can somehow be perfect?

We all have different ways that we honor our God. Some sing to praise. Some grow their beards out of honor, others wear dresses. It is not those things that give me concern.

Do not drink. Do not smoke. Do not dance. Comb your hair this way. Comb your hair that way. Do not… do not… do not…

Why have so many washed their hands of things that never made them unclean in the first place?

If there is no grace, there is no forgiveness. If there is no forgiveness, there is no redemption. If there is no redemption, than the blood of Christ has no meaning.

Christ died for all.

Our own scale of judgment is too poor of quality for what would be necessary for all of mankind. We see and judge what is in front of us. We our subject to time, our experience, what we ate at dinner, what our spouse said to us 15 minutes ago, the media, our lifespan….

God’s scale of judgment is…. I don’t even know. I can only see for short period of time. So what I see as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ is highly subject to my minimal experience. God’s scale spans for all of eternity, across billions of people, across thousands of cultures and languages. It cuts through my own preconceived notions of right and wrong.

So who am I to judge? I am not the great I Am. But He is.

He died for us. He shall judge us.

Water cannot make us clean. Only the blood can.

Friday, March 13, 2015

On the wrong (for my brother Ben)….

My brother Ben and I have personalities that are 95% completely different.

I follow the rules, while Ben is more – um – flexible. I got straight A’s throughout school, while Ben got – um – not straight A’s. I played sports, while Ben rocked the trumpet. I’m not a risk taker. Ben has always pushed it (I’ve always admired that about him).

Then, there is that 5%. That small percentage is where I feel the closest to my brother Ben. I know so many people, and have many great friends. However, none of them have that five percent that I share with my brother.

The two things that my brother and I have in common are: 1) an incredibly sarcastic sense of humor and 2) an acceptance for the decisions that other people make. The former, we got from our father. The latter, Ben taught me.

I cannot think of a serious rule I broke until I drank underage in college. When we were younger, Ben found a clever way to drink an entire bottle of brandy my dad had (I think it was the only bottle of alcohol my parents had in the house while I was growing up). Ben would have a drink or two from the bottle every week or so. Then, he would replace what he drank with died water. By the end, the contents of the bottle were entirely comprised of water.

When Ben was in eighth grade there was a video game he wanted for Christmas. That year, my parents purchased all the Christmas presents early, wrapped them, and hid them somewhere in their bedroom. A few weeks before Christmas Ben went through my parent’s room and found the video game. Every day, Ben would find the game, carefully unwrap it, play it at night while we were sleeping, and then re-wrap it before anyone found out. Before my brother got the game on Christmas day, he had already conquered it.

At the end of my freshman year and at the end of Ben’s senior year – we came to a head.

In high school, my brother started failing several classes. Ben has an IQ over 150. He got into Mensa when he was in 8th grade, and scored a 30 on the ACTs before he got into high school. Ben never failed because he lacked ability – he failed out of choice.

Meanwhile, in my entire life, I’ve gotten 4 letter grades that were not As.

Knowing he was failing at high school I cut Ben down and told him he was stupid, dumb, an idiot, and a complete failure. Yeah, I know, really nice sister move.

Neither Ben nor I have ever been ones to mince words (we value honesty over tact). Ben stopped in his tracks and said flatly, “You know why I fail? I fail because I don’t give a fuck about what everyone thinks of me. You know why you do well? You do well because you care too much.” He was right.

The moment Ben told me I cared too much, I realized how completely different we were. In that moment, Ben taught me that sometimes the decisions that others make are neither right nor wrong. Sometimes, the ‘wrong’ decision, is simply one we would not make for ourselves (for the record here, I am not trying to excuse unhealthy behaviors).

Ben is never going to follow the rules, do what people tell him to do, or try to get straight A’s. He does not care. It is not in his nature.

Meanwhile, I’m probably going to draw inside the lines, cross every T, and dot every I. It is just who I am.

When you follow the rules, and you are confronted with someone that breaks the rules – you only have two options: 1) continually judge the person and tell them they are wrong or 2) accept that we all break someone’s rule/s, and just move on.

I’m a Christian. I think the most annoying thing I encounter in Christian culture is conversation about what ‘To do.’

I’ve lost count of the number of times I've  been in groups where folks talk about all the things they are doing correctly, while also discussing all of the things everyone else is doing incorrectly.

I understand the purpose of these conversations, and I would be lying if I said I’ve never participated. The purpose of the ‘to do’ conversation is to help groups reinforce norms and mores and feel a sense of cohesion about shared beliefs.

But I’ve never understood how the person talking about what EVERYONE else is doing wrong can’t point the finger around.

I have SO many annoying habits and personality traits. I’m controlling, I have anger issues, I talk over my husband in conversation, I never put my shoes away, I exhale loudly 300 times a day at work, I crack my neck, I bite my fingernails. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know God loves me. But come on, I can be SUPER annoying.

I guess I could’ve spent years focusing on what my brother is doing ‘wrong.’

The thing is, in Ben’s mind – he isn’t doing anything wrong. He has a creative personality, so in his mind he is flexing rules; not breaking them. Notions of shared rationality are idiotic.

The world is not black and white. The world is gray and swirly. There are not universal rules that every single person follows. Some Christians drink, others don’t. I’ve never met two people that have the exact same beliefs, or the same personalities.

When we spend so much time focusing on other people’s shit, we do two very terrible things: 1) We miss the chance to improve ourselves and 2) We miss the chance to love another person.

Rather than spending years trying to change my brother, I just accept him. My brother is so different from me, but I love him. He is a great father, he is by far the most intelligent person I know, and I appreciate his creative nature. Ben, if you’re reading this, I think you’re fucking awesome dude. I’ve always thought you were great.

Instead of spending years of energy on trying to fix my brother, I hope I’ve – instead – focused that energy on fixing myself. And thinking that my brother somehow needs to be fixed, is denying my own brokenness. I cannot control what my brother does. I can only control what I do. In a few years time, I hope I’ve become kinder, listened more and talked less, practiced some tact, stopped exhaling so much, and learned to let go.

Because what we never really know is… who thinks we are the ones in the wrong? Who is talking shit about what you’re doing wrong? Who thinks you are broken? Trust me, there is someone thinking it. Someone out there thinks you are wrong, you are an ass, and that you need fixing. And you know what, they are probably right.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of another person’s judgment? I have. It’s terrible. Right after I got divorced, one of my best friends told me that she could no longer be my friend – because I was getting divorced. She said, "If you choose divorce, I can no longer be friends with you." The irony was that she herself was divorced. Yeah, I know. I still don’t get it. Losing that friendship was an important lesson for me. I never want to be in a place where I am passing judgment on everyone else, while completing missing my own brokenness.

So let’s just all do each other a favor, and get the heck over ourselves. Let’s focus more energy on thinking of what we can do to improve ourselves, and spend less time focusing on what we think everyone else needs to do.

If you feel like you can’t do it, just let me know. I’ve got this amazing sarcastic brother I can send to straighten you out.

Friday, February 13, 2015

On all the good things…

My husband and I got baptized together. Well, not in the same hot tub (our church does immersion), but we got baptized on the same day.

Right after we got baptized, one of our friends said to us, “I love you guys. I like that you both had prior relationships that didn't go well, but you don’t let that stop you from moving forward.”

I cried a little. I thought that was one of the nicest compliments my husband and I had received about our relationship. I also thought it was especially fitting right after being baptized.

The compliment was also true. My husband and I both had some bad stuff, but we didn't let that stop us.

Del (my husband) and I were both married previously.

Del got divorced because his ex-wife just left. One day they were together and married, and the next day she decided she could no longer handle being his wife.

I never really knew Del’s ex-wife. I had met her before. When I met her, I thought she was nice and funny. I know she can/could bake well, and that she can/could sing well. Beyond that, I know very little about her. I couldn't tell you what makes her tick.

Whenever I think of Del’s ex-wife, I feel disappointment. I’ve spent a long time contemplating why I feel so disappointed with her.  She has never done anything to me, and frankly, her decision to leave was my gain. I think I feel disappointed because Del will never tell anyone (except me) what it was like to be married to his ex-wife. I have heard from other people that his ex-wife told tons of people intimate details about their relationship. Del will sometimes say ‘It was terrible’ or ‘She was not kind.’ I see the irony in my disappointment, or is it the hypocrisy? I'm divorced too. I left too, and I'm writing a blog about it. But I feel disappointment nonetheless.

I am never sure if his silence is Del being honorable, or if the pain of whatever she did is too much to discuss. Maybe it is both.

I got divorced because my ex-husband was controlling. I wasn't allowed to: bake, spend money, decorate the house, spend time with friends, talk to certain members of my family, etc. etc.  My ex-husband also enjoyed calling me names. I think ‘bitch’ was his favorite. Any of my friends and all of my family will tell you that I had to leave my first marriage. It was, well, super bad.

Neither Del nor I were perfect spouses.

The strange this is - I am married to Del – and I cannot tell you exactly what he did as a husband that contributed to his marriage failing. My husband is not perfect, but he is SUCH a good husband. He is kind, forgiving, a hard worker, funny, at sooo cute. At any rate, why Del did to his marriage that contributed to its failure is his story. He can tell it, if he ever wants to.

I also did a lot that contributed to my first marriage failing. I was not forgiving – of anything. If my ex-husband would do something wrong, I would hold it over his head. I never told my ex-husband how I was feeling or what I was thinking, which really doesn't make a marriage work. I mothered my ex-husband. I would try to force him to see all of the little details he was missing.

I think the greatest lie I hear people tell is that one person caused a marriage to fail. Yeah, I am sure that is true for some people (like 1%), but most of the time it is two people not doing enough to make a marriage work.

For some reason, our society excuses the three A’s as a reason for getting divorced: abuse (physical or mental), adultery, and addiction (drugs or alcohol). If one partner has a problem with those, our society gives a green light to leaving. I have always thought that was so strange. And no, I'm not supporting the three A's, or insulting folks who chose to divorce because of them. I just think its fascinating... If you are called to love your spouse forever, why are there this weird tickets to single town? What is it about these three things that suddenly make the decision to leave a marriage so black and white?

In some ways, I am grateful for that I had a green light. It removes a lot of societal disapproval I faced after getting divorced. I've never heard anyone admit this, but if you say ‘My ex was abusive’ – it removes so much critique. And no one ever asks the spouse that was cheated on 'What did you do to contribute to your spouse cheating?'

Don’t worry though, while society may remove that critique, I still give plenty of it to myself. My first marriage failed. I contributed to that failure.

I've said it before, but I will say it again: I forgive my ex-husband. I forgive Del’s ex-wife. I forgive Del for whatever he did to contribute to his first marriage failing. And – I forgive myself for whatever I did to contribute to my first marriage failing.

With this grace, we move on.

Del, my husband, is the best husband in the entire world. When I think of him, my stomach still gets butterflies. When he kisses me, my knees get weak. Just writing about him right now makes my heart beat faster. Just writing his name makes me miss him.

Del and I came together at a time in our lives when everything was falling apart. I’m guessing that most shrinks would say we bonded over a traumatic event, and then they would tell us that our bond is unhealthy. Meh. I disagree.

Del and I work because we have four important things: 1) a ton of common interests, 2) a healthy respect for individual growth, 3) Jesus, and 4) good sex (my parents read this, so I’ll just bullet this one for the sake of my father).

Together, Del and I both love: food, tv, drinks, friends, games, Jesus, reading, learning new things, visiting new places, exercise, bad jokes, good jokes, being kind to people, and more. If Del starts liking something I don’t care about, 90% of the time I will try to become interested in that too. For example, Del just started listening to tons of weird pod casts, so I’ve started listening to pod casts as well. I guess I could just poo poo that new interest and move on. But if something is important to my husband, it is important to me.

Despite caring about 90% of my husband’s interests, there is that 10% I just can’t seem to care about. I try to support and nurture that 10% as much as I can. For instance, my husband likes bourbon. I think bourbon tastes like how I imagine cat piss would taste, so I don’t drink it. But for Christmas, I bought him a nice bottle I thought he would like – and some mixers. My husband is also exceptionally good at finding weird stuff on the internet. I can’t keep up with him on that, so I just try to tell him as often as possible that I love that he is learning new and weird things.

We are into Jesus. We attend church together. We serve in church together. We pray together. We read the Bible together. However, we also encourage each other to grow however Jesus is calling us to grow. My husband might be called to do one thing, and I another. When the day is done, we crawl into bed and talk about where we are at. What happened today? What do you need? How is God working in your life? How is God working in our marriage?

I am not sure what most people think you are supposed to do after a failed marriage.

When I was in my teens I had a teacher (Ms. T) whose husband left her and her children for another woman. Ms. T was the most miserable bitch I ever did meet. In the south, I think they’d call her ‘awnry.’

After Ms. T’s class, I made a silent vow to myself. I vowed that, no matter what happens to me in life – I don’t want to become an angry, bitter old woman that all the kids loathe.

When I got divorced, I guess I could have sat alone in my house crying myself to sleep about the crappy things that were happening. But I just don’t fucking have the time or energy to be miserable.

So I cried a bit. I dusted myself off. And I just kept on trucking.

I am so thankful I kept going. If I hadn't, I would've missed all of the good things that life has given me with Del.

I would've missed Disney World, and drinking at Epcot. I would’ve missed Del teaching kids how to beat box. I would’ve missed playing board games with friends. I would’ve missed trolling around Grand Rapids, sleep-all-day Saturday, watching too much Netflix, napping in the backyard, bonfires, cuddling, smoking cloves, listening to pod casts, and enjoying music.

I’ve taken some punches, but so has every other person on the earth. At some point, you just have to realize that life is unfair, but you still get to choose whether or not to be happy – and whether you want to miss all of the good things.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On lowering your expectations…

I’m just giving up on expecting so much of other people.

And I couldn't be happier about it.

When I was sixteen I knew a guy named Andrew. Andrew was, ahem, a breath taking sight. He was smart, funny, handsome and kind. However, he was terrible at finding someone to date. One night, Andrew, his older brother David, and I were talking about Andrew’s terrible dating dilemma (it was like an episode of Dawson’s Creek). Andrew was blathering on endlessly about how difficult it is to find a soul mate, when David stopped him and said ‘You know what Andrew. If you’re having trouble finding a woman who meets your expectations, all you have to do is… lower your expectations.'

I use to think David was an idiot. Now, I think he might have been onto something.

The other day my husband and I were talking about ministry. We are both involved in our church, and we were discussing the pros and cons of what we were going through. While we were chatting it out, I said to my husband that, for me, I thought the hardest part of ministry was…. watching people fail.

If you’re well churched, you know what I mean.

Hell, if you’re just a regular person that has your shit together, you know what I mean.

Okay, if you have a Facebook account and a vast array of friends, you know what I mean (but I digress).

When you are in ministry (at least at the church where my husband and I serve) you watch people come in and out the door. We are lucky to have a solid base of amazing people that come to our church. However, we also have a large portion of people that come in and out on a regular basis.

Some people I meet once, and never see again. I probably couldn't tell you their names, or even remember their faces.

Some people I have gotten to know for a few weeks or months, and then they leave to go onto something else.

The group that I struggle with, are the people that come for a long period of time – and never do anything with their church experience. They never serve anywhere. They never try to meet other people. They never try to dig into The Bible. They never try to understand God. They never try to become a better person.

Honestly, if I really think about why the hell it bothers me to watch people fail, it is likely three fold. 

First, it probably bothers me because I see something in them that I also see in myself. I see anger in them, and am pissed off that I still struggle with anger (yes, I see the irony). I see a lack of forgiveness in them, and I feel sad that I struggle to forgive so many people (too many people). In a sea of people, all I can see is our sins.

Second, it bothers me because – really – there isn't a damn thing I can do about other people choosing to continue life patterns that I disagree with. Our church is full of resources. We have small groups for people to meet others with similar life styles. We have volunteer opportunities within the church, and within our community. We have amazing pastors who are the most giving people I have ever met. We have congregants who would give their limbs to help a stranger. And – most importantly – 95% of the time - all we do is talk about Jesus. If you walk in the doors, we will shove Jesus down your throat – because He is just that fucking awesome. The hard part about ministry is, you can bring a person to Jesus, but you can’t make them drink the Holy water. And it is SOOOO painful for me to watch people, day in and day out, just stand at the pool and never jump in. I've tried pushing, it doesn't work. I've tried dunking, it doesn't work. Only Jesus can lead you to Jesus. Not me. And damn it, it is sooooo frustrating.

Third, and finally, it bothers me because people aren’t doing what I would do. Let’s be honest, most of us pick friends who agree with us on most issues because all we really want – is to know that our thoughts and opinions are valid. And if I see a bunch of people who are living in a way that is opposite of my lifestyle, it can make me feel like I am somehow less valid. When I see someone who won’t stop drinking to save their family, I get pissed off that they can’t see beyond the bottle. When I see someone who spends all their time on work, and completely abandons their children, I get ticked off that they cannot see their own priorities. All I see is – everything that everyone else is doing wrong. All I see is – everything that everyone else should be doing because I do it that way.
And that thinking – my thinking - is just the shittiest thinking of all.

It is the shittiest thinking of all because it pushes all focus on to – you guessed it – other people. And the moment you are focusing on other people’s shit, you start thinking that your’s doesn't stink.

We need to – I need to – stop expecting so dang much of people. People will never be what we want them to be, because we should not be living to please other people. We should be living to please God. I’m not sure what lowering my expectations looks like. I don’t have a list of rules or guidelines. But I know that if I keep living this way, it will lead to bitterness. Bitterness towards other people, and Bitterness towards God.

And if I am expecting so much of others, what are they expecting of me? Do people look at me and see someone who still can’t get it together? Honestly, sometimes I think they should. Because I don’t have it all figured out.

There are so many things I struggle with. I struggle with anger, forgiveness, sarcasm, control issues, and so much more.

Yet, how on earth can I be struggling with these things, when I am surrounded every single day by all of the resources of one of the best churches in the world?

And when I stop thinking about what everyone else is doing wrong, and only focus on myself… what happens?

Suddenly, all I see is a pile of brokenness that feels like it will never be fixed.

The only thing I can think to do when I feel like that broken pile, is to stop and take a look around. In that moment, what I see is a group of other people that are just as broken as I am.

A church is not full of perfect people. A church is just full of people. We come to church hoping to get better. I hope we do. I hope I do. We can all help each other become better people.

But in the end, there is only person that can fix it all. And He will. And He does.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

On teaching 'bad' kids...

When I was eighteen or so, I use to teach swimming lessons to kids.

One of the worst kids I ever taught was a ten year old boy named Daniel. Daniel was a jerk. He interrupted me, he would splash, dunk, and hit other kids, he hardly listened to any instruction I gave him. One day Daniel was being exceptionally terrible. To handle Daniel, I put him on time out. While he was in time out, he started yelling and throwing things at us. I didn’t know what to do, so I just started yelling at him. My yelling stopped Daniel in his tracks. He completely froze. I remember wanting Daniel to feel terrible. I wanted him to stop acting like a jerk and start listening to me.

I still think about Daniel, and how small I must have made him feel. He was a kid, so he probably doesn’t remember some dumb teenager that kind of taught him how to swim. But I can’t help but wonder… does he remember me? If he does remember me, I wonder what he thinks. Does he remember how small I made him feel? Does he remember that I yelled at him when I didn’t have to? I don’t know why Daniel acted like a jerk, but I am guessing he had something going on in his life and he was just trying to find some way to let it out.

I have always regretted yelling at Daniel. I regret yelling at him not because he didn’t deserve it. I regret it because I remember wanting him to feel small. Ugh – what a crappy thing to do to another human being. Why do we want other people to feel small? Does it really add anything of value to our lives?

I recently had a ‘Daniel’ while teaching Kid’s Journey (our churches Sunday school). I had a kid that wouldn’t listen, was hitting another kid (his brother), and was just being difficult. If you have ever babysat, had a sibling, are a parent, or have taught a kid – you know it is frustrating to be around a kid that is having a hard time paying attention.

The thing is, I have changed. I am not eighteen years old, I’ve been doing this a little bit longer, and I have now encountered dozens of Daniels.

There was a part of me that wanted to yell at this kid. However, the part of me that wants other people to feel small – has somehow departed. I don’t know where that part of me went, but I am so happy it is gone.

When the kid interrupted me, I asked him to raise his hand.

When the kid hit his brother, I stepped in between them.

When the kid was saying terrible things about his family, I asked him to say more about his feelings.

I also tried to give the kid TONS of positive affirmation. When he cut out some paper, I told him ‘Great work!’, and when he helped clean up I said, ‘Nice job! You are so great!’

I am not sure what other people would have done. Honestly, I think other people probably would have been a little bit harsher. I am guessing other people would have put him on time out, or yelled at him, or talked to his mom about his behavior.

Teaching Kid’s Journey where I teach is different from teaching at school and it is different from parenting.

There are some kids I will only meet once, and then I will never seem them again. I don’t see these kids every single day of the week, or even multiple times a week. Some kids I meet don’t know me, and sometimes I will only get to know them for sixty minutes of one day of their entire life.

In this position, I need to ask myself, ‘What do I really want these kids to know?’ 

I once listened to a sixty year old woman tell people about her journey as a Christian. She said that her family never had the opportunity to go to church, and so she didn’t grow up in a Christian home. However, when the woman was five years old a preacher stopped by their house and a kind man told her ‘Jesus loves you very much.’

I don’t know where Daniel is. I hope he turned out to be awesome. If I met Daniel today, I would tell him I am sorry for sucking. If I never get the chance to do that, then moving forward, I want other Daniels to know that there is something better. No one comes to Jesus through me. People can only come to Christ, through Jesus. However, I am exceptionally lucky to be in the position where I can tell kids from all different backgrounds ‘Jesus loves you very much.’

That is what I want these kids to know. I want them to know, that in a world that can be super difficult and super shitty, that there is something they can cling to.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

On waiting for permission...

I've mentioned this a few times, so I don't want to harp on it. However, I use to be in an unhealthy marriage. The person I was married to was exceptionally controlling. I was not allowed to bake, attend church, visit friends, spend money, buy certain food, etc. etc. etc.. I am no longer in that relationship. Today, I am married to an amazing husband, and we have a great marriage.

Taking a tradition from our friends (thanks Paul & Kelly), my husband and I decided to make New Year's resolutions for each other. We each decided to make three. For me, my husband resolved that I should: 3) Reduce my chronic neck pain from a 10 to something lower, 2) start a small group at church, and 1) do more creative stuff.

Since he gave me the resolutions, I have taken on being more creative.
-Last week I redecorated our spare bedroom. I made two paintings (I haven't painted in years), got a new duvet cover, and found some cool decorations from Goodwill.
-I baked new desserts: an apple tart, raspberry & strawberry ice cream, and a pannekoeken.
-I cooked new dinners: chicken curry and Italian soup.

As I started, years of experimental creativity came flooding back to me. My mom was great at encouraging us to try new things. I use to draw all the time. My mom and I once spent too much money on card making supplies, and on a food dehydrator, and on so many other things. I dabbled in photography. I painted. I wrote. I baked. I made some thing - from other things.

One thought hit me as I was making soup, "Why the hell was I waiting for permission for this?"

Abusive relationships steal. Sometimes I don't realize what was stolen, until it is returned to me. My ex-husband didn't steal my creativity (no one could do that). What he did steal - was permission. I use to know it was OK to create, but he took that from me. Thankfully, my wonderful husband gave it back to me. My new husband gave me permission. And two days ago, I didn't even realize it was gone.

Making my soup, a list of other things I want to create twirled in my brain. I want to get better at my job - by making fewer data errors. I want to create new charts in excel that are easier for people to understand. I want to re-decorate our bedroom (the old owners painted it tan. Why tan? Always tan!). I want to re-do our bathroom, and make it orange. I want to... I want to... I want to create.

I use to think I knew all of the things that were stolen from me. I am learning that I am not fully aware of all of the things that were taken. If the last few days are an indicator, I think I have learned that there is still more waiting to be returned.

Life is about progress, not perfection. I am not sure what is missing, but I know I will be made whole again.

God gave us a world that was perfect, but we have fallen from that. Bit-by-bit, we will make it better. We have to make it better, because the other option would just plain suck. Any why would you want to live as a person who steals, when you could live like my husband... and give permission.