Taking my place in the Pews

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ‘new’ Christians. People who’ve just decided to accept Jesus or maybe they haven’t accepted him yet but they are ‘trying on’ the Christian life. I have some good friends who have just begun attending church. In fact, they were previously pretty Anti-church. So now when they sit next to me, I’m keenly aware of all the nuances of the service. How church members relate to each other. The rituals and habits we have. It must seem so foreign to them! I remember when it was foreign to me. The churchy language, the small groups, full immersion baptism. Oh man , THAT one used to freak me out! (I worked hard on my hair and makeup and you want to ruin it? In public??) I’m also aware of the expectations that can sometimes accompany church membership.

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One of the things I dearly want for my friends is not to confuse who they are to the church with who they are to God.

I  started attending church again regularly after a lengthy almost  two decades  hiatus during which I royally screwed up life (another many stories for another time) I was happy to be there but I felt like such an outsider. It was like being the new kid in middle school and all the other kids had been friends since they were in Kindergarten. Fortunately, the congregation was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Plus they served snacks after service. Bonus! They drew me into their tribe, their culture, their lives, their conversations. It was amazing! I couldn’t get enough. After 14 years in my  2nd abusive marriage (no judging) my self esteem was next to nothing and I didn’t feel like I had anything of value to offer other than my hairstyling skills. But these people-they seemed to love ME and that’s what I so desperately needed. So, in true over achiever fashion I jumped right in to everything they had to offer. And there was a lot!! I did women’s ministry. I did Bible studies. I attended conferences. I helped with and planned events, dinners, children’s ministry puppet shows. You name it, I said YES. Heck , I even went to Bible college and graduated Valedictorian! I drank ALL the Kool Aid! I was killing this Christian thing!! And for a while it felt awesome! I was accepted. I was praised. I was wanted. I was appreciated.

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When I was at my lowest God knew what I needed and He generously supplied.However, while I was moving up in church leadership I began to realize that something was off. My church family seemed more interested in what I was producing rather than what I was becoming. I was a major player. One of the ‘special’ ones. I also felt tired, judged, confused, stretched thin, and vaguely empty.

I began to realize that I wasn’t doing all this for God. I was more concerned with what people would think of me if I Didn’t do #allthethings  all the time. Ashamedly,  I also realized that I was addicted to the accolades that I got from being ‘one of the chosen’ who sat at the front of the church. Or being one of the few that attended the inner circle meetings of church hierarchy. I’d become one of the cool kids and I liked it. It made me feel special. Somewhere along the line I’d gotten it wrong. I’d come back to church and to Jesus because he accepted and loved  ME.  Not because of Anything that I did. He loved me when I wasn’t doing anything ‘special’. I didn’t want to have to do all the right things to be accepted anymore. Jesus had only one qualification for me to follow him and that is that I am totally Unqualified.

My marriage(s)  had left me with the wound of ‘ never good enough’. Even though I thought I’d left that at the door, all I did was bring it with me and put a Sunday suit on it. I’d moved my hamster wheel of worthiness from home to church. I’d spent years and years trying to become whatever people wanted me to be so that I’d be valuable to them. Constantly trying to figure out what they wanted from me.

What I didn’t understand was that all God wanted from me was– Me.giphy (1).gif

 

Because God likes to mess with my comfort zones, He led us away from that particular church and all the activities I’d put in His place. He removed my protective Armor of Productivity and put me on a ‘Busyness Time Out’.  I no longer had my committees and bible studies and women’s groups to take up my time. In the absence of movement there was only me…..and God. And you know what I began to realize? I didn’t need all the busy work. Not once. Not one single time did I feel any less loved for not ‘producing’ . In fact, I felt peaceful and comforted and accepted again. As I spent my time with God and reading His word it slowly dawned on me that He just wants me to love Him. Trust Him. Love others. Be kind. It doesn’t matter if I do that for 300 people or just the guy bagging my groceries.  I don’t need to do something that looks Big and Amazing to people. To God the smallest gestures of love ARE big and amazing. He knows that my giving of love produces far more results than anything else.

So, if you want to find me at church don’t go looking where the volunteers are. That may come at another season of my life again; but not now. For now, you can find me sitting in the aisles next to my newbie church friends and just being with them.

Building the Butterfly

“The caterpillar is a necessary stage but becomes unsustainable once it’s job is done. There is no point in being angry with it and there is no need to worry about defeating it. The task is to focus on building the butterfly, the success of which depends on powerful positive and creative efforts in all aspects….” Elizabet Sahtouris 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about butterflies lately. Like there aren’t far more important things, right? I know it’s weird but whenever something sticks in my mind like this I usually know that God has something for me to share. So stick with me on this one even if it gets a bit ‘science-y’ okay? It’s fascinating. Truly.

It started when I went to see my dear friend and business partner, Patti, in the hospital after she suffered a horrible car accident. This was not the type of accident where you have a few broken bones and some whiplash. This was a stay in the hospital three weeks, wheelchair, home care nurse,six month rehab, let’s hope you heal normally type of an accident. LIFE Altering!

One of the first things she said to me in the hospital was, “I just want to hurry up and get this (recovery) over with!” Well, yeah! I mean, who wouldn’t ?! As I looked around her room at the cards and children’s drawings meant to cheer her up I noticed how many butterflies were on them. Patti. Loves. Butterflies. They are all over her house. And I thought, how funny that we always see the beautiful butterflies but not the cocoon.

As a culture we are obsessed with the pretty. Me included. #shinysyndrome .We love the ‘before and after’ photos of people who’ve gone from obese to gym beast. We can relate to a Before photo and we  desire to be the After, but we ignore the getting there part. Why do we celebrate the butterfly and despise the chrysalis? It’s in the butterflies getting there stage that all the magic happens. That’s when I realized how much we have in common with these little winged creatures.

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Although we can’t see it, I’d imagine that being stuffed in a cocoon is  cramped , uncomfortable, and dark. Isn’t this pretty much how we feel when going through a transformation? I know I do!  The stretching , molding, breaking down and building up again into a new creation generally sucks when it’s happening. It’s painful. Caterpillars can totally relate to this.  (Get ready! Science-y part coming!) Inside the cocoon, they go through a stage called histolysis which is defined as “the breaking down [of tissues] during the process of metamorphosis.”  Ok, first off , Eewwww!!! Secondly, Holy wow! have I been there! The last 15 years of fully turning my life over to God I’ve changed in a million ways. Every habit , attitude, or belief I hold now required the tearing down of one I held before. Old dreams perished and new ones were fashioned. Goals I’d had, no longer seemed worthy of pursuing. Huge parts of me had to disintegrate and die in order for new ones to be born. People knew something was going on WITH me but they couldn’t see what was going on IN me. And, just like Patti, I wanted to hurry up the ‘getting there ‘ process and reach my ‘After’.

Ok, here’s my last ‘science-y’ butterfly fact. When I read it, it blew my mind. Inside of these insects are structures called Imaginal Discs.These discs are responsible for the caterpillar turning into a butterfly. They are what actually becomes the wings. AND they are only activated once they are in the cocoon!  Why does a caterpillar even form a cocoon? I’m so glad you asked…. Because they run out of something called juvenile hormone. Basically, their carefree days of living off the tree and eating free leaves are over and they have to get out and get a job.Seriously, I’m not making this up. Can’t you see how this is so much like us?

At some point, being juvenile doesn’t serve us -it stunts our growth. God knows the potential He’s placed in us and He loves us too much to let us stay as children in our faith. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like He loves us because the whole ‘getting mature’ thing is even More painful than staying immature. For me,I wanted IMMEDIATE change, not months or years of angsty self examination. I reached out to God looking for light and freedom and it felt like He put me into a dark crampy cocoon. Then He made me stay there. Well, I really made myself stay in the dark. I remained until all the lies I’d believed about myself were crushed and my mind was renewed with God’s truth of who I really am. I am made in God’s image and everything I needed to be a butterfly was already in me.

Because here’s the thing about us humans, we will happily walk around consuming things of this world until something forces us to seek God and the change that comes with that. We don’t just wake up one day and think, ‘Today I want to question all my motives, goals, and relationships. Then I’ll reexamine my dreams and where I put my finances. Yeah! This is gonna be awesome!” #no  . It takes the cocoon; the journey through the dark, to find your wings. When your time comes to go through transformation, embrace it. It’s in the dark that we find the power of Christ that is in us. It’s that power that will give you your wings.

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Dawn Chorus

I’m an early bird. There is something soul nourishing about being awake in the stillness. The crisp morning air . The scent of clean earth. There is so much hope and promise in a sunrise. Nothing has been done yet. No decisions or mistakes. No conversations that you wish you could do over. And the birdsong. I love the birdsong. I make my coffee (#priorities) and snuggle down in my favorite place; a big oversized chair in our living room that looks out through a bay window. In front of the window is a bird feeder. I can sit for hours just watching every sort of chickadee and sparrow flit down to peck a few seeds and fly away. They are a delight to watch and their plumage never ceases to amaze me. But it’s their song I love the most. Before the first rays appear, while it is still dark, they begin.

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How do we sing in the shadowed places? The birds sing in anticipation of the first glimmers of dawn. Long before the arrival of the first light they sing with assurance the sun will rise again like it’s done thousands of times before. They sing of hope and faithfulness. Not every song is buoyant.Beside the joyful twitter of the bluebird is the haunting coo of the mourning dove.There have been so many times when I thought midnight would last forever.When my song was nothing more than the choked out sobs of despair. But I kept scanning the horizon, looking for the dimmest glow in anticipation of it’s arrival. It’s not that I’m the eternal optimist.(though my rose colored glasses are well used). It’s the fact that no matter my situation God has been faithful to me. Whether you sing a melody or a dirge I promise you God is listening and He is faithful to you when you call to Him. Always. Even when it feels like you’ve been singing for an eternity without an audience.

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Tomorrow morning I urge you to go outside and listen to the chorus. The lyrics intertwined, overlapped, a blended cacophony of unique warbles, twitters, and trills. Not one more important than the other This is their Dawn Chorus not a Dawn Solo. The birds don’t sing alone and we aren’t meant to either. We have to find our flock. When we intone our hymns of grief there will be others grieving with you. When we explode with uncontained joy there will be others who rejoice with us! Their voices lifting up our own song in solidarity. Find the ones who remember the light that came after their darkness. Those are flock. Your people. The ones who will help you remember the sunrises of your past.Search the horizon together and sing your Chorus of anticipation to the God who shines light in the dark.

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Jesus and the Phone Charger

As Easter approaches my 10yr old son and I have had some interesting discussions about Jesus. He is a quick thinking, no nonsense type of child who appreciates a no nonsense, ‘real world application’ answer.Luckily, I happen to be fairly gifted in the area of metaphors.
His most recent question was this, ” What do we need Jesus for if we already have God?” “Well”, I answered, we needed someone to reconcile us with God; to take our sins away so that….” Looking at the blank stare on his face my sentence trailed off unfinished. I’m pretty sure I lost him somewhere around ‘reconcile’. Eager to capture this teachable moment I quickly rifled through my rolodex of Sunday school explanations. Spying my phone I had my lightbulb moment!
“Okay, pretend the cell phone is us and the wall plug is God. You know how you have to have a cord to get from the phone to the wall so that you can charge it? The cord is Jesus. In order for us to be connected with God, we needed a charger. Now, imagine that the phone has a glitch in it, but the Jesus charger takes all the glitches away so that it can absorb the power in the wall. At this point there is a light coming into my son’s eyes and he’s no longer playing with the remote. Ha! I’ve got him! So I continue.
“And you know how when we buy the cheap imitation chargers they break easily and take For Ev Er to charge the phone? But the original charger works every time and never fails? The cheap imitation chargers are like all the things in life that people chase instead of Jesus. Money, fame, false religions, girlfriends, cars…those are the imitation chargers and Jesus is the original. The imitations work ok for a while, but their power runs out pretty quickly and they can’t fix the glitches. In fact , sometimes they add more glitches because they weren’t meant for the phones in the first place. The original Jesus charger never lets us down, fixes the bugs and keeps us connected to the original power source; God.Does that make more sense?”Mentally I am now high fiving myself for this moment of parental brilliance amazed I could come up with something so simple yet so deep at 8pm after my glass of Sav Blanc.
Son,” Cool. Can I have a snack?”
And this, my friends, is what keeps me humble.

                                                    A Certain Kind of Courage

Courage is found in unlikely places;

in shattered dreams and tear stained faces.

Raising your hand in front of the class when you’re so afraid they are going to laugh.

Proclaiming the truth and exposing the lie.

Whispering secrets you’d locked inside.

Choosing to live when your loved one is dead and finding the will to get out of bed.

It’s seeking forgiveness

and asking for help.

It’s forcing a smile and facing yourself.

It’s shaky legs that stand up for the weak and the timid voice

that bravely squeaks.

It’s finding your dark and choosing the Light.

Loving yourself;

being able to cry.

It’s laying it all at your Saviour’s feet;

all of the messy and none of the neat.

Trusting His strength and His sovereign hand.

Having Peace in your journey without knowing the plans.

-C.Pay 2015

Breaking Ties with Toxic

Recently, I was listening to a dear friend of mine talk about how difficult it was to break away from a toxic family member . She feels torn. Sad. Angry. Family is supposed to help each other; not hurt one another. Maybe if she just ignored him . What if she was nicer? Wait, what if she confronted him?! Then he’d see how much he was hurting everyone and he would change! She feels like she needs to repair the relationship because that’s what good Christians do. We are supposed to turn the other cheek; 70 times 7 and all that stuff. Right?

Her dilemma resonated so deeply with me. I spent most of my life believing those lies and only had the strength and wisdom to change about 5 years ago.I am a recovering Enabler. We are the people who want to help everyone and fix everything. You can usually spot us by the heart on our sleeves and our rose colored glasses. We truly believe there is good in everyone no matter how much $%^& it’s buried under. I’m not saying this is inherently a bad thing. I still believe there is (mostly) good in everyone. The difference is I now recognize the people who want to change for their betterment and those that don’t.Guard your heart

Toxic people are the ones that give you that ‘ugh’ feeling in the pit of your stomach. They are the ones that make you cringe when you see them on your caller ID. The ones that leave you feeling drained and unsettled after being with them. My sister has been instrumental in teaching me this. While I ignored the ‘ugh’, thinking I could somehow love the jerks out of their jerkiness, she was walking the other way saying, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that!’ Hence, I married two of the jerks and finally , after learning a thing or two, married my Knight.

What I learned in my 40 years wandering The Desert of Enable, is that truly toxic people are so wrapped up in themselves that they aren’t aware or concerned that you’re being hurt.They need and they need and they need. And we, the big hearted wide eyed enablers keep on loving and loving and loving. We find it hard to leave because we just can’t understand Why they act this way. If only we could categorize it somehow maybe then we could fix it. Unfortunately, Toxics don’t change until THEY realize that they have a problem.

My other Desert lesson was this: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or accepting. Forgiving them means that I take my anger and frustration to God and let Him deal with it. (This.Is.HARD! Honestly, punching them would feel far more satisfying and be much quicker but I haven’t found any scripture to back up this method yet. Still looking.)

God tells me to forgive those who hurt me, but He never says to roll over and be used and abused. In fact, He says, “Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.” Ps. 4:23. As a mother and an artist, I need a clean open heart in order to love and create. If I let someone in who chooses to fill me with poison, then my ability to love is stunted and my ability to create is diminished!

There have been times when I confronted a Toxic with their behaviour and they were truly repentant and worked to make amends and repair my broken trust. Other times, my Come to Jesus meetings with Toxics have not gone so well. Those times I’ve been yelled at, put down, and told I was the crazy one and maybe if I was a better wife, friend, mother… they would be happier. Sometimes, the best way to forgive And save your heart is through prayer at a distance.Perhaps, sometimes ‘turning the other cheek’ means turning and walking the other way.

Never say Never

“Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are? Ha ha ha bless your soul. You really think you’re in control? Well I think you’re crazy, I think you’re crazy. Just like me.” – Gnarls Barkley ‘Crazy’

Someone says, ‘I’ll never have kids/get married/move from this town/go back to school….’. We laugh and reply, ‘Never say never!’ Sage advice that we’ve all spoken and eaten when we broke our own ‘Never’ vows. Time and circumstances change rapidly and unexpectedly. What was once inconceivable now enters the realm of possibility and probability. We see our lives differently so we make different choices. This is the operative word. CHOICE. ‘Never’ was a CHOICE we were making. Our destination seemed logical, planned, thought out. We believe we have a modicum of control.

Then out of the blue events happen that make you a victim. The rug gets ripped out from under you and panic mode sets in. How many of us have been in this situation? Life is going along just fine and Wham! Unexpected, unwanted, unimaginable changes occur. How we make decisions in those moments is based on our level of fear . No one. I repeat, NO one, knows how they will react when fear sets in . Fear paralyzes. It grips you and guts you leaving you void of reason. .

“I’d never tolerate my husband having an affair! I’d be out of there!” . But he did. And you didn’t.

“I’d never get raped. I just wouldn’t put myself into that kind of situation”.  But you didn’t think it would be someone you trusted. And you didn’t think they’d convince you that it was your fault and people would hate you if you told.

“I’d never even think of killing myself. ” Maybe you haven’t felt that depressed yet.

“I’d never stay with an abusive man.” But you did hoping he would change and love you like he promised.

I’ve met women and been a woman who’s been dealt some of these cards. You know why we always say ‘Never’. Because it hasn’t happened yet! We believe we are invulnerable because we have to . In order to feel safe, we imagine that if we act differently , are stronger, more outspoken, more discerning than those poor souls, then somehow we’ll avoid those tragedies. As a survivor of abuse I can tell you that hearing how you would have done things differently only serves to make me feel blamed. We are already so good at blaming ourselves for screwing up and breaking those ‘Never’ vows that the last thing we need is for someone to pass judgement on our behaviour. All of us have lofty ideas of what we’ll do when (insert bad thing here) happens. The problem is that we construct those lofty ideas sitting in cushy chairs and not from a place of shock and fear.

Blame doesn’t promote healing it promotes hiding. Most of us have been hiding in the dark for a long time.Healing starts in the light. Let us talk and vent and say the disagreeable ugly things that make you feel uncomfortable about your own safety. But mostly, create a safe place of light for us to come to. Love and listen and then love and listen some more.For a victim to tell you their story is a courageous leap of trust and a great honor. Match that with your own bravery. The bravery to look into the things you are most frightened of to help another heal. I can’t think of a more noble position than that.

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible. And everything that is illuminated becomes a light”. 

                                                                                                                                             Ephesians 5:13