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.

giphy

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.

.giphy

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.

A Declined Invitation

Have you ever had someone turn down your invitation to join you for a party or an event? It stinks, doesn’t it? I mean, the whole point in asking them to come is because you want to be with them. You want to share the experience with them. Partake in the enjoyment of it together.

This happened to me last week. I sent an invite to someone I really wanted to spend time with. It wasn’t just that they declined, they didn’t even bother to respond.Initially. I gave them the benifit of the doubt thinking they must not have seen the invitation.We’ve all missed evites that got buried under the spam mail, right? So, when I saw them I asked, ‘hey, did you see my invitation? I didn’t want you to miss it!’ Yep….they’d seen it. Seen and Dismissed. Ouch! Not only did they not answer, but they couldn’t give me an explanation as to Why they didn’t want to attend. All I got was shrugged shoulders and a mumbled “Idunno’. Dannggggg ya’ll. I’m not going to lie, I was pissed. And hurt. RSVP

Issuing an invitation entails a certain degree of trust.

You trust that:

they will share your interest

they will make an effort to attend if possible

they will, at the very least, RSVP.

Here is the thing about Invitations though. They come with options.

Yes. No. Maybe.(like those notes we passed in elementary school)

Invitations don’t guarantee someone’s presence or participation. They are not commands bereft of  a choice. The invited are allowed to exercise free will.

And really isn’t this the way it should be? If I invite someone to be with me I want them to attend with the same enthusiasm that I invited them with. Attendance out of obligation is meaningless.

Issuing an invitation is an act of vulnerability. We put our hearts out with every invite by offering a piece of ourselves to the other person. We are saying ‘I want you. You matter to me and I want to share some of my time with you’. That’s why it hurts so much when we get declined.It doesn’t just feel like a negative response to the event it feels like a rejection of US.       expectation

So, as I was licking my wounds and being really ticked off, I started wondering how God would want me to respond. I was pretty sure that my initial reaction of being sullen and snarky wasn’t the proper way to handle it. It made me think of how many times He issues invitations to me that I decline. Or invitations I don’t even acknowledge. How many times does God beckon me to come spend time with Him? How many times has He asked me to do something with Him and I just hit delete without responding? The awesome thing about God not being me is that He never gets sullen and snarky about my lack of response. He just keeps inviting as if I never rejected Him. He’s far more secure in His worth than I am in mine.

In thinking of how God responds to me I came up with a few guidelines for me to remember when my invitations get rejected:

A negative response does not determine my worth or value.It’s never personal When I say no to God it doesn’t mean I don’t love Him. My response is solely based on what I’m feeling or focusing on at the moment. Yes, I know that’s selfish. Don’t judge me.

My joy is not based on their presence or absence. I have expectations of people and when they aren’t met I get hurt and disappointed and sad. I don’t think God has these unrealistic expectations of us. He wants us to decide to be with Him. I believe He’s delighted for US when we choose to accept His invitation but I don’t think it ruins His day when we don’t.

I can’t control what people will say Yes to or when.I can only hope they will. And they will, when the time is right for them. I say ‘yes’ to God when I’m ready. He doesn’t try to control my decision, He just keeps issuing the invitation. No pressure. No expectations. Just patient and continual offering. He doesn’t give up on me because I initially reject His offer. He knows that being with Him is awesome!  (that is some amazing self esteem) The ones who think that being with me is awesome will accept my invitation. The ones that keep ignoring it…well they’re going to miss out but it’s no longer going to ruin my day.god pursues

I’ll be honest. Even with this insight my feelings are still bruised. Except now instead of being a deep purplish one it’s turning into a pale yellow one. A few more days and I should be healed. Maybe next time I’ll dodge the blow altogether.

 

 

 

                                                    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

Everything I Know about Fighting I Learned from my Son

If you fell down yesterday stand up todayIf you met me today, you would say that I was a fighter. A strong woman who won’t take sass from anyone. Such was not always the case. I suppose I have always been competitive. In fact, I’m Sure I’ve always been competitive both with myself and others. We may be friends, but if you play a card game with me the gloves come off! 😉 Fighting however is a different matter altogether.  Being sexually abused stunted my growth in so many ways.I didn’t get the chance to learn to fight small skirmishes and build my stamina over the years. I lost the first battle. A huge battle. And the scars went to the core. Instead of coming out of it with my fists raised to the sky I learned to contract into myself. Curl into a little roly poly until the danger passes. If fighting and losing was going to hurt that badly then why do it at all.

Then I had my son. There’s something about holding a tiny defenseless baby that smells like heaven.Instinct and love tell you that you must do whatever it takes to protect this child. That’s what ‘good’ parents do, right? What if you don’t know how to fight? What if the idea of it grips you with terror? If my son asked me how I learned to fight, I’d tell him this:

From the time I was pregnant I fought the nausea, the weight gain, the labor pains. When they let me take you home, I fought the panic that I had no idea what I was doing.

I warred against insecurity, ignorance, and impatience.

Croup, ear infections,and teething became my world and I fought for sleep.I wrestled to comfort you, quiet you, soothe you to no avail.In the morning I went to work and fought to stay awake.

I fought to maintain your home in the face of my divorce and when your father threatened to abduct you, I fought to hide you and keep you safe in my arms.

As a single mom I struggled to support us, to find time with you between jobs, to make sure you felt loved and not left.

School was hard for you and I campaigned for your education, to understand you, to support you.

They diagnosed you soon with ADD and then with Bipolar disorder and I rose up against dread. I battled to get appointments, good doctors, the right medications. I pushed against their assumptions of your bleak future and counter argued with hope.I devoured every piece of information on mental illness and armed myself with knowledge.

As you slept at night and I sat by your bed and cried. I fought the fear that I could never be worthy of being the parent you needed. I cried out to God for the strength to be your champion.

I waged war with  broken school systems and burned out teachers. I stood strong during IEP meetings and counseling sessions. I became the parent who wouldn’t take back down because of bureaucracy.

I fought bad influences and bullies. Internet filth and video game overload.

In the most challenging combat I put myself as a barrier between you and your stepfather’s cruelty. Some battles I won, but too many were lost.  Paralyzing fear attempted to keep me down but with each encounter I slowly learned to stand for us.

I endeavored  to discipline you, teach you , love you, protect you. Sometimes; many times; from yourself.

I fought my own demons and dark.

I went to war on my knees in fervent prayer. Over and over and over.

I fought against you. You fought against me. And sometimes, we fought together.

When you became my prodigal son I fought to teach you responsibility, accountability, consequences. I fought to be a good parent (whatever that is)

You pulled away and I fought to be part of your world, to let you go without losing you, to accept your differences, and to make you know that my love was eternal.

Fighting for you gave me strength. Praying for you deepened my faith. With every blow I landed for you another one of my own demons went down and I found my armor, piece by piece. My son, I know I gave you life, but you gave me back mine.

affliction

Holding Patterns

11109248_1174810499211878_2397342255463787269_o

I’ve heard it been said that laughter is a universal language. Let me also offer this as a universal : the extreme dislike of Waiting. Never in my life have I met someone who actually enjoyed waiting for things to happen. For me, it’s right up there with doing your taxes and horrible stomach pains from Indian food…you just want it to be over. I tend to be the type of person who wants things done yesterday. And if I’m really excited or anxious about it then having it finished by last week would be preferable.

This isn’t something I feel with people. With people, I tend to be very patient and empathetic to the point of enabling. (see my post on ‘Breaking Ties with Toxic’) It’s not the type of waiting such as being in line at Disney or on hold with the gas company for 45 minutes I’m referring to . I mean waiting for Life Changes.You’re ready to get married, get the promotion, move, have a baby, start a business, do SOMETHING,but the pieces won’t fall into place. Or even more frustrating, you don’t know where you’re supposed to go next. You just know that there’s Something More. The “Next Big Thing” is waiting for you, if you could just figure out what the “Next Big Thing” is. This is me. Right now.

Over the past few years God has been repeating one phrase to me over and over.

Be. Here. Now

Be. Here. Now.

Be. Here. Now.

Be . Here. Now.

Honestly, I love Him, but He can annoy me. After I quit whining about it and started saying the phrase out loud a few hundred thousand times it started to make sense. Also, my life wasn’t moving where I wanted it to go so I figured I should pay attention. Here’s what I’ve learned:

BE . Here . Now. Just Be. Stop striving to make the deal or manipulate the circumstances. Stop obsessing over the what if’s and should be’s. Slow down and breathe. Listen to your heart.Spend more time listening to God than shooting ‘why’ questions at Him. God doesn’t speak Whinese. Nurture yourself and take time to do the things you love. Read, paint, draw, pray,write, work out. Do the things that make you lose track of time. Immerse yourself into anything but striving for the ‘Next Big Thing’ and the answers will begin to reveal themselves. “Let be and be still, and recognize that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 AMP

edna mode never look back

Be . Here. Now. Not back then. Not there. Not when.Not someday. Here. There is a reason you are at this place at this time. There are lessons to be learned here that will get you there. Examine the obstacles you bump into repeatedly and figure out what you need to change to avoid them.Planes stay in a circular holding pattern while they await permission to land. Timing has to be right and obstacles must be cleared from the runway before they can execute a successful landing. Be assured that God is working things out and clearing the pathway you will land on. In HIS timing. *Sigh*

Be. Here. Now.  You know that cheesy quote, ” the past is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today is a gift which is why it’s called the present”.? It’s true. I have spent wayyy too much time worrying over what I should have done yesterday and what might happen tomorrow. What I’ve found is that the past doesn’t change if I rehash it and most of the things I worry about never happen. What Does happen when I don’t focus on now is the people I care most about lose out. They lose out on my full attention and presence. And I lose out on enjoying them. If I’m trying to hold onto the past or grab at the future my hands are too full to embrace the ones right in front of me. The best thing I can do on while waiting for  the ‘Next Big Thing’ is to make memories along the way my family will cherish.

The craziest thing I’ve learned so far? Is sometimes the ‘Next Big Thing’ is the thing I’m doing right now. Maybe someday I’ll listen to God without whining about it first. Maybe.

How do you cope with waiting for life to happen?

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