Monday, August 12, 2013

Cultural differences and hard questions

In every culture, there are certain social norms that we are expected to follow. I have grown up in Tennessee, mostly around people from the Church of Christ. There are many things I do not question. Or at least, I didn't question for a very long time.

I have said it before and I will say it again: at my church, we weren't supposed to ask the hard questions. We weren't supposed to ask why tattoos were wrong, but it was okay to wear clothes of mixed materials. We weren't supposed to ask why women could (and even should!) wear pearls, but it was silly to think you had to cover your head in church. There were so many verses in the Old Testament where people were allowed to use instruments in worship, but that was most certainly unacceptable!

I could go on and on about the things we weren't allowed to question, and in retrospect, it's totally ridiculous! There are even verses where we are told to question things (I believe it is in some of Paul's writings). But we were supposed to blindly follow those older than us. It wasn't right to ask the hard questions.

A few days ago, I was having a discussion with a friend. We were talking about the fact that in the area she is from, she was considered extremely conservative, but here, she is considered quite liberal. She is from another state. Same country, but the cultures are worlds apart. Things that, in my church, I don't question, she simply could not get her mind around it.

We need to have those hard conversations with out children and spouses and friends. And when others ask us the hard questions, we need to not automatically go on the defensive. Often even when the questions sound accusatory, the person is really just seeking answers. There are some things that seem ludicrous to one group that are accepted as normal by another (even within the same religion).

There is a Plumb song that I adore where she says, "I'm not your average girl. I don't like to wear makeup. I like my mighty curls. Do I make you feel unstable. Do I put you in a whirl because I do not fit your ideal of a beautiful girl?" I adore that song! It was one of the first times that I realized that it was okay to figure out who I am and just be that. God is the potter, not me. He is the one who does the molding and shaping, and it is in no way my job to control things. I cannot force myself to be something I am not. We all have struggles. And we all have to discern what is truly a part of who we are, and what are lies from satan.

And this is where those hard conversations come in. We are called to confess our sins to others, but I also think sometimes we need to talk to others to even see if things are truly sins! I cannot read Hebrew or Greek. I do not know the exact meanings of all the original words in the Bible. So this is where when I do understand something, I need to be willing to share, and when I don't, I need to be able to ask those hard questions.

All of us are human. We are all in the same boat. We all want to be lovely and accepted, but so few are really willing to open up and be vulnerable! I wish I could claim I was always willing to be open and vulnerable, but I'm not. Not yet. So I pray. I talk to friends. And I read my Bible. I listen to music, and I am learning every day. And I am learning that, even when someone's views are different from my own, it does not mean I need to freak out. We are each on our own journey. We need to respect others views and have open conversations (and this includes not attacking people with "That offends me!").

For all have fallen short of the glory of God.

None of us are perfect. And we won't be perfect in this life. For me, learning to be more content in my own skin and learning that people with different views and opinions are not my enemy... It has just helped me to really start living a happier healthier life. Ask questions. But then listen for the answers.

Blessings and peace to you all today and every day.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

spiritual insta-fix

I know I haven't post anything in over a week. It's been one of those weeks where I have struggled. And I don't want to. I still have this idea in my head that I have to have it all together (at least on the outside). I keep trying to find the right formula or fix. And you know what? There isn't one. This is part of living life. God isn't mad at me. He loves me.

So why do I feel like I need to be perfect? Maybe it's part of the church I grew up in. There were many wonderful people there. But we never talked about struggles or flaws. And there were several times where I saw it blow up in people's faces. It broke my heart! Yet even now, over 6 years since I left that church, I get really nervous about really letting people see what is going on.

But we all have things going on! I have learned over the past few years that even the people who seem to have it all together can have crazy things going on in their personal lives. This doesn't make any of us bad! It makes us human. And it's awesome to pray and strive to be better. But I am having to learn to not beat myself up for the past; to not isolate simply for fear of judgment.

I put on a strong front because that is what I want people to see. I don't want them to see the girl who is terrified of getting hurt. I want for everyone to see the incredible things that God has done in my life, yet it is so hard to let people into what He is still doing. I'm like, no, that isn't finished! Don't go in there! The flaw I am finding with that, though, is shame. Or pride depending on how you look at it. Because I don't know if it's really about me or God right now. Either way, I am way too concerned about what others think. I tell people all the time to not worry about what anyone else says, and yet one off-hand comment can be a dagger to my heart. Things have been said where I have just sat and nursed my injuries for days over things that people probably just didn't even think about before they said.

All of this comes back to the same thing: We are all human! For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us will ever be perfect in this lifetime. And that doesn't make God love any of us less! He loves us in our mess! It's crazy and I don't understand it but I know it is true. My mess is different than it was 5 years ago or even 6 months ago, but in many ways, I am a spiritual child and I can still make a royal mess out of the simplest things. Parents can get really worn out by kids, but God is perfect and He is SOOOO patient with me! I keep thinking of the song "How Deep the Father's Love." In some ways it seems like a sad song, but I remember singing it years ago and it never seemed sad. I didn't understand the meaning behind the words.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

I don't like thinking of myself as a wretch, but the fact of the matter is that without Christ, there would be no hope. God doesn't rate sin. It's not about doing enough good things to outweigh the bad (which by the way, can't be done). I don't want this to sound negative. The point I am trying to make is that we are gonna screw up. It's life. But God loves us unconditionally! He never changes! He is the embodiment of love! He is grace and mercy and peace. Yet He loves me! I will never understand it. His ways are not our ways. And maybe, just maybe, as I learn to rely more and more on Him, I can learn to worry less and less about my "image" and what others will think. Blessings and peace to you all.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

maybe the little things aren't always little

So I am definitely one of those people that sets out thinking about how well off I am and how I need to help those less fortunate than me. Over this semester particularly though, I am really beginning to see in a whole new way that money is far from being the only thing that matters.

I say that because for a long time, I always made sure to buy The Contributor from anyone I saw. I never tipped them. I never really spoke to them. But I felt really good about myself (oh and I never bothered to read any of the stuff either!).

Well a while back I remember someone telling me that if you couldn't afford to buy a paper, at least carry around something to give to them, like water or little peanut butter and crackers or even baby wipes (heck, all of the above if you can!), and then one you see someone, just offer them something.

Small gesture, right? I mean, you can get over 30 water bottles for less than $4 at Costco. So basically I started doing this to ease my conscience. (and I hope you can all read the rest of this in the spirit it is written. this really has nothing to do with me being an awesome person or something).

I didn't think giving out water would have much of an impact on me. How wrong I was! The first time I handed a man a water bottle, something in me started to break. What is this man's life like? He is a person just like all my friends and family. God loves this man! And 90% (or more) or the time, I have just driven past these people or thought of them simply collectively as "the homeless."

That is not how God sees them.

I drive the same route five days a week at pretty much the same time every day. So over the past 2 months or so, I have seen the same man, almost every day. I miss him when he isn't there. I wonder if he is ok. If he is there, he is just such a blessing. No matter what the day has been like, he brings a smile to my face. I give him a water bottle each day (and yes, I take it in to work so that the water is at least a bit cool), and every time a new paper comes out, he gives me a copy.

It started out as me wanting to ease my conscience. And now... I don't even know how to explain it. This man is such a blessing to me in ways I can't describe. He knows essentially nothing about me except that my name is Claire, I bring him water most days, and I drive a red car. I know his name is Demetrius. I know he waves at me in such an excited way each day that I drive up. And I know that every day I see him, he just blesses my heart.

I can't afford to give him money every day, but I can afford to give him a bottle of water. I have no clue what his background is, nor does he know anything of mine. But each day, we greet each other with a smile. I don't know who is more excited to see who.

Why do I say all of this? Because I am all too often focused on me (simply look at my posts and note the number of "I," "me," "mine," "my," etc.). Yet God has been able to open my eyes to see others. Yes, God cares deeply about me. And He cares deeply about all of His children. Demetrius is one of God's children and I will miss him so very much when this internship is done.

It's is so strange the things that I see when I am just open to God revealing things to me. This week started out pretty crappy, but every day, Demetrius brightens my day. I don't know where he goes when he isn't standing on that corner. I wonder on nights like tonight when it is pouring rain if he has somewhere dry to go. And I realize that these are the things in life that are important. Little things or inexpensive things often seem silly (or even free, like a smile) but they can do the heart so much good. So often we take things like food and water and shelter and clean clothes for granted! And yet if you think about it, there are so many people who don't know where their next meal is coming from. They can't afford the $2 to go buy a bottle of water (and yes, that is what a cold bottle of water costs in most stores here).

So often I get so obsessed with having the "right" things or the "cool" things. And I forget just how very blessed I am! I have all of my physical needs met. I have a wonderful church home. My family, while irritating at times... I know they love me and I love them. It's not all about the money. Sometimes its just a small gesture to say hey, I see you and so does God. And when it just becomes part of every day life... it is just the coolest thing ever!

We used to sing a song at church that I didn't understand. It said "Open the eyes of my heart Lord. I want to see You." I think I understand that so much better after meeting Demetrius. So tonight, I am sitting down to read my newest copy of The Contributor and I am going to say a prayer for Demetrius and all the other men and women and children who don't even have the things we take for granted. And I am going to thank God for allowing me to see Demetrius because he never fails to brighten my day.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Poem from Mercy 2010

I was reorganizing some things in my room this morning and found a poem a dear friend wrote while we were at Mercy Ministries together. She got there exactly one week after I did, so we were there together almost the entire time. I hope this speaks to my Mercy sisters as well as anyone who is struggling. God is the Great Physician. Blessings and peace to you all today and every day!

Dear Sister,
We never thought this day would come
When we’d walk through these doors
And be greeted with love.

Mercy was a dream
This place wasn't real
Our hope was fading
Would we ever be healed?

I know when I say
The next stanza or two
That we’ll all agree
We don’t know how we got through

As kids we were free
To dream and to play
We all had a vision
Of where we’d be today

But somewhere along the pathway of life
These dreams were soon shattered
And our lives turned to strife

We looked at the world
And saw nothing but lies
And thought “That’s what I need to just stay alive.”

We hurt our own bodies
To cope with the pain
To cry we felt weak
But to live was in vain

I know that we’ve laid
Upon our beds at night
Pleading with God
To just end our life

The doctors and nurses
Gave us some meds
Collected their money
And many of them said

You’ll always be sad
You’ll always be sick
If you want to get better
You need lots of money and quick!

But now we can say
We’re sorry, you’re wrong!
‘Cuz now we are free
In Christ we are strong!

Our saving grace
Died on a cross
He paid for our sins
So we’d no longer be lost

You see my dear sister
We’ve finally found love
Not just in Mercy
But Christ up above

No matter the sin
He loves you the same
His love is unending
He’s taken our shame

He is the answer
When the world tells us no
Our lives are now His
In Him we are whole!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's in a name?

So there has been a great deal on my mind lately. One of the biggest things is about the character of God. In the English language we know Him as God and Lord, but very rarely are any other names used. Over the years, this has made it hard for me to understand Him at all.

He created the world. Lovely. But what does that mean. In Hebrew, He has a name, Elohim, that refers to Him as God the Mighty Creator. Not only can He create. He is THE creator. He is the only one who can create something beautiful out of complete nothingness. For us, if we want to create, we have to combine things that are already in existence or modify them in some way. This isn’t true of God. He can create entire galaxies out of total nothingness. Think about that for a minute. He created this entire world, with all the different species of plants and animals. He created different races and within the different races, all people are different. Our God created all of this out of nothing.

Another name that I love is Jehovah Jireh (or Yahweh Yireh), which means God Who Provides. God is our provider. It is not just that He can give us clothes or pretty flowers. He can provide all the things that we need to be fully alive in Him. In my life, He provided a way out, a way to live. That may not sound that incredible, but I have gone back and read some old journals, and believe me, it is a miracle that I am not only here, but happy! God provides that which we need, whether it is training so we can fulfill our purpose or putting someone in our lives to encourage us… He provides EVERYTHING that we need.

Following closely with that is another name, Yahweh Rophe, meaning the Lord Who Heals. God is the ultimate healer. He doesn’t just put salve on a gash and wait to see what happens. He goes deep into those wounds and mends them up. He makes them like new. My heart is no longer the stitched together mess it used to be. I still get hurt, but I give my hurts to God, and He goes in and mends them up. I have to let Him in and often it hurts so badly! But in the end, it is so worth it. God is Healer. He is the Great Physician. He is the only one who can heal us like that!

There are many other names for God in Hebrew, as well as variations between cultures, but these are the names I have been reading about and trying to really meditate on. Jehovah Jireh is probably my favorite right now. He provides. He gives us what we need to live fully alive. And it is just incredible to me!

(I do want to give credit for where I found out about the different names. It is Ann Spangler’s book entitled Praying the Names of God. It is a wonderful book that I am still in the process of reading, but it has daily meditations and I love it!)

Blessings and peace to you all today and every day!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Who am I?

I am young.
I am not stupid.

I am a woman.
I am not docile.

I am a social worker (ok student. But I lack just a few short months!).
I am not a Democrat.

I am a Christian
I do not conform to the doctrine of a specific church.

I question things. I have doubts. I do not automatically believe all people have good intentions.
I do not believe this makes me cynical.

I believe that if God can save me, He can save anyone.
However, some portion of the person (no matter how small) has to want to be saved.

I am a reader and a thinker. I love to see the beauty in things. But being able to see the beauty doesn't mean that I am not painfully aware of the darkness.

I am saved.
I am not perfect.

I am learning, growing, and changing all the time.
This does not mean you have permission to try to change me.

I respect other people's rights to be who they are.
I do not have to respect people who deliberately hurt others, or who repeatedly hurt others and do not even stop to think about what they are doing.

I believe we are all human and we all fall short of the glory of God.
I do not believe this means that we should simply do whatever feels good.

I love to write and express myself.
I despise being told what I have to write. I write from the heart and my heart does not follow instructions easily... (remember the stubbornness mentioned yesterday?)

But above all of this, I am a beloved child of God. And nothing can ever change that.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

it was then that I carried you. and over there is where you threw a fit....

Have any of you heard the whole poem about "it was then that I carried you?"

Yeah it's sweet and all but that is NOT how my journey with God has been. Not at all. I'm pretty sure I've already mentioned this, but I have been known to be a bit stubborn... (read: crazy, insane level of stubborn that my poor mother didn't know existed until I came along).

So the first time I saw this picture, I just about died laughing.

The more I thought about this picture, the more I realized it was so true in my life! And I was actually talking to a friend about the fact that, for me, this could even be expanded on.

"And over there is where you ran off and threw a tantrum."

"And that's the thorn bush I had to pull you out of."

"Over there is the cliff I kept you from falling off of..."

"That's the dark cave you tried to hide in."

Not to mention that the part where He dragged me, I was probably kicking and screaming and throwing a heck of a fit.

I don't know if this sounds familiar to anyone else but I know this has been true in my life. I don't mean for it to sound like I don't take God seriously. Please believe that I really and truly do. I have been a thorn in His side for years, but He stuck with me. Despite all of the tantrums and running off, and just laying on the ground and complaining about how hard life is.... He has stuck by me.

He has put up with so much crap from me, but do you know what? He still loves me. God loves me. Why? Because I am His child. His creation. And as a friend said last night, we are able to reflect God's light out to the world. (maybe I can get her to write out that description because it was truly beautiful!)

So yeah. Despite that fact that I am stubborn as a mule. And I throw fits like a 2-yr old in need of a nap... God loves me.

I get excited and run ahead and He gently calls me back. He reminds me about why balance is important. Why wanting to head in the right direction is good, but why I need to do it with Him. I will fail on my own. Every time. No matter how well I think I am doing, I am nothing apart from God. But with Him... Life is truly beautiful.