Bullying: It Never Stops

26 Jul

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Once upon a time—in the late 90’s—I was sitting in math class at my Christian high school.  We had some free time so I was working on homework when a student in the back of the room began harassing me.  “You’re a lesbian, you know that?” he taunted.

One of his smirking friends joined in pointing out that I must be a lesbian because I didn’t have a boyfriend.  At least they didn’t call me ugly or fat—that day.

Finally, unable to stand it anymore, fighting back tears I told them to stop, which just encouraged them to continue their torment.  My teacher was standing at the front of the classroom, no more than 15 feet from where I was being verbally abused.  I looked straight at him and asked, “Aren’t you going to do anything about this?”

I’ll never forget his response.  It’s one I’ve heard used by educators, parents, and adults everywhere when they talk about bullying.  Dismissively, he said, “If you ignore them, they’ll stop.”

If you ignore them, they won’t stop. 

I know because I tried that, too.  The bullies only jeered more loudly.  Other joined in or laughed, while a few girls sometimes giving me pitying glances.

Back in those days I didn’t cry nearly as much as I do now.  I would hold it in knowing that they could never see you cry.  You can never let them see that they got to you.  I knew I would come home and drag a razor across my wrist or thighs or stomach and somehow that would release my pent up rage.  No one called it “cutting” or “self-injury” back then, just para-suicidal behavior.

Sometimes during middle school and high school, I imagined I would stand up and give an impassioned speech, which would change everything, like I was staring in some sort of Hollywood blockbuster.  I would tell them how much it hurt to be called names, to be pushed into my locker, and to be left out.  They would finally understand, apologize, and we’d all become best friends like on “Saved By the Bell” episode where Zack dated the fat chick.

I couldn’t wait to grow up because I thought there wouldn’t be bullies anymore, or at least I wouldn’t have to go to school with them every day.  When I became an adult or at least went to college everything, I assured myself that everything would be OK.

When I went to college, everything was OK.  I met and befriended real lesbians on campus and wondered what those immature high school boys would say about that.  I excelled in my classes, like I usually did, and felt secure in my environment of friends who accepted me.  Finally, I was part of the “in” crowd or maybe just in a crowd.

They (whoever “they” are) say that bullying is just one of those things kids do and the victims will survive.  Students just need to toughen up, educators say, because kids will be kids.

I wish I could say it still didn’t hurt.  I wish I could say the kid who made fun of my voice every single say in sixth grade science class hasn’t affected why I sometimes feel awkward when my voice is amplified over a microphone.  So many of these lies still rattle around in my brain and the lies have become my truth.  It is something God and me are working on together. 

The truth of the matter is that words do hurt.  The far reach of social media has made bullying even worse.  I recently watched a documentary called The Bully Project and I cried through much of it.  I couldn’t even watch the entire thing.  Emotions I thought long dead resurged.

Finally, it occurred to me that no matter where you are, what age you are, or what you do, there will always be bullies.  Work bullies, neighborhood association bullies, church bullies (who do it in the name of God), road rage bullies, mommy group bullies—and you know what?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Frankly, I’m sick of bullies.  They’ve taken too much from me and I’ve let them.  I don’t have any deep answers on how to solve the bullying epidemic.  I don’t know how to make teens stop sending stupid text messages or posting ridiculous nonsense on Instagram or Snapchat.  All I know to do is to tell them over and over again the effects of bullying. I can’t change them, but I can change me.  I can stop giving their words meaning and move past the hurt they inflicted.

I refuse to be like my math teacher, who incorrectly told me they would stop.  They never stop.  Instead, I work with students as they deal with conflicts and teach them about who they are in Christ so the truth can overcome the lies, so the light of God can overcome the darkness

In this work, I have found redemption for my own middle and high school years eaten by the locusts.  There is healing in ministry—something that makes the scars bring forth His light. 

My junior year of high school was more than half a lifetime ago and I still remember the words of the students and my teacher.  I still feel the sting because I am human.  But I don’t let it consume me because I am redeemed.

Pokemon Go Into the World

14 Jul

Last night there were a lot of youth and young adults at my church.  The problem is that they weren’t inside the doors, but rather in the parking lot.  You see, our church is a Pokemon Go Gym and there was an epic battle being fought between the red and blue teams for control of this precious resource.

Have I lost you yet? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here.)

Like millions of other people, I downloaded the alternate reality game because when it comes to pop culture, I like to be in the know.  What I initially didn’t realize about Pokemon Go is that it’s a precious tool when it comes to meeting others.  Take a walk around your neighborhood, and you’re bound to run into someone else looking for Pokemon (aka “pocket monsters”) to catch.  Eavesdrop on a conversation at a local fast food joint and you’ll find out where the biggest and best Pokemon are lurking.

I’ve heard so many complaints about how the game is silly, a waste of time, and childish.  I’ve read the stories about how it’s consuming people’s lives and seen funny videos and meme’s about those who take the game a little too seriously.  Pokemon Go can and may be all those things.  But like all technology—all things really—it’s what you do with it that matters.

As a youth leader, I’m always looking for ways to connect with my youth—whether it’s singing Adele and Taylor Swift songs,  watching superhero movies, playing MarioKart, and social media.  Any way I can dive into youth culture, I’m willing to give it a try (within reason.) If downloading a game that involves catching little creatures with things that resemble baseballs (pokeballs) is a way to bond with students, then I’m all for it.

My heart echoes what Paul talks about 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.  I want to become all things to youth—a mentor, cool adult friend (like an aunt), a karaoke singer, a movie watcher, and a Pokemon Go player.  Like Paul says, I want to be all these to different students because I desperately want them to know about the One who made me.  I want it to be way to sharing the Gospel and showing how God is alive in my life.

See, last night one of the girls in my small group and I roamed around the perimeter of our church catching Pokemon.  Then I was able to talk to another student—a boy who just finished 8th grade—about Pokemon Go.  He excitedly answered all my questions and honestly, now I’m a better player.  The students and I even talked about the potential for a meet up with their friends to go monster hunting together.  I suggested the same thing on my neighborhood Facebook page, which is usually filled with drama about what time we should put out the trash, complaints loud teenagers, and random gossip.  Finally, there was something that brought us together; we could go out and play Pokemon Go.

Tomorrow I plan to spend time with another student and hopefully catch a few pocket monsters during our time together.  Maybe we’ll even make new friends.  In a nation that’s become so divided by politics and race, isn’t it great that there is something that’s bringing us together, even if it is a little silly?

And tonight or tomorrow night, I’m going to head over to my church and sit with the young people littering its parking lot.  Since I’m Pokemon Go newbie, I need help from experienced players.  No one seems to mind a quirky blond woman in her 30’s asking about Pokeballs and hatching eggs.  So, I’ll sit with them on the concrete and as the Holy Spirit leads, perhaps invite them into the church.  One day maybe we won’t sit together on concrete, but rather inside the church worshipping God together.

Last night when I looked at the Pokemon players, less than 100 feet from the church doors, it filled me with hope and excitement.  Churches aren’t exactly filled with the under-30 crowd these days, but there they are in our parking lot.  We could easily dismiss this nonsensical game or we can use this opportunity to minister to the people that are very literally sitting at our doors.

I don’t know about you, but I am definitely joining the PokemonGo Out Into the World movement (#pokenmongointotheworld).  Yes, I meant that to be punny, but it fits in with Matthew 28:19 pretty well.

Wanna join me?  We gotta catch ‘em all!

The Wisdom of Youth

15 Mar

Not my students, but we can pretend they are!

On Facebook, I recently posted some off the cuff remarks on what I, as a youth leader, have the privilege to learn from the student with whom I work.  See, the thing is that I often think I will impart the wisdom of the ages on these young minds.  I will amaze them with all my Bible knowledge and life experience.  My middle school girls (the primary group with which I work) are so lucky to have me.

Really and truly, I am so fortunate that God allows me to work with them.  I often tell them I love having a front seat in seeing them grow into young women of God.

Because everyone in the world isn’t my Facebook friend, I thought I’d recap what I posted here and add a little meat to my top 10 list because it’s so easy to forget how much we get from the students who spend time with us.

Here are 10 ways my students pour laughter and encouragement into my life…

  1. They are always FIRST to like my Instagram photos…and they like each and every photo I post.  Sometimes my own mom doesn’t even like my Facebook photos. (To be fair, she’s technologically inept and doesn’t always see my photos.  In case you’re reading this, I love you, Mom!)
  2. Not only do they insist I *REALLY* am engaged to Captain America, they think I’m amazing enough to be engaged to someone LIKE Captain America. (Being engaged to Captain America started as a joke last May and since then has really taken off.  My students, in particular think it’s great and often introduce me to their friends as Captain America’s fiancé.)
  3. If the Captain America thing doesn’t work out, they have back up guys for me to date and it hasn’t occurred to them that these guys might not be interested in me. Seriously, they see the rare single guy at church and automatically start planning our wedding.  Sometimes I look at these guys, who are really good looking and think about how they’d never be interested in me.  These girls don’t see that—they see *ME* and think I deserve the very best, even when I don’t.  I love them so much for wanting that for me.
  4. They remind me that cynicism doesn’t have to be a reality; idealism can flourish. To them, almost every fun idea is a good idea, whether it’s running outside to check out the twin brothers who live next door (note to parents: we are discouraging this) or learning to crochet scarves or sledding down a snow mound during the Super Bowl party.  They are ready for anything.  I love when they’re told they can’t do something and they ask, “Why not?”  It hasn’t occurred to them that certain things just aren’t possible.  I am learning to ask myself the same question because why not?
  5. No matter WHAT the discussion happens to be, they can tell random stories that have nothing to do with the actual discussion. It’s a special skill.  It really is.  If you’ve ever talked to middle school girls, you know what I mean.
  6. They can’t remember to bring their Bibles to *BIBLE STUDY*….but they remember the words I say. As much as I think they aren’t listening to me because they’re staring blankly at the wall or laughing with a friend, they hear me.  They remember when I tell them they can have a piece of candy for memorizing a Bible verse, that I love meat, and even that they are so dearly loved by God.  Keep talking, fellow youth workers, they’re listening.
  7. Even if I think I’m the biggest loser in the world, they think I’m completely awesome.  I was one of those kids that never fit in when I was in middle school.  I could those are three of the roughest years of my life.  High school was only slightly better.  Yet these are the kids who know think I’m a role model.  How on earth does that happen?  I have no idea only to say it is by the grace of God.  Plus, I think listening and showing an interest in the students probably helps a little.
  8. They still think playing WiiU is cool…especially when they team up against me on MarioKart.  I consider it a fellowship and bonding activity.  It’s always fun to win a game against an adult, right?  Except I always crush them in MarioKart.  Sorry, girls, I have a lot more practice driving than you!  It’s fun to be able to “play,” which is something we adults neglect far too often.
  9. They raise their hands when they don’t interrupt each other.  It’s a respect thing and it’s absolutely adorable.  But yes, there are lots of random interruptions.
  10. Sometime they say the most astonishing things, I can’t believe they’re only teenagers.  Last summer when I was running a high school girls small group, we were looking at Psalm 139.  I asked the students, “If we are fearfully and wonderfully made, then why are some babies born with birth defects?”  There was a long pause and one of the girls said, “He makes us how it pleases Him.” I had to take in her thought…and often times, I still have to take in her thought to remind myself, I have been created to please my Creator.

I could probably write an entire book on learning from middle and high school students, but I’m sure many have been written.  Here are a few of my thoughts on some of my favorite people in the world. Thought it’s an often quoted verse for youth, I want to use it just the same. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all believers in speech, in conduct, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

I’m so fortunate God blessed me with teenagers who set such a high example for me.  My prayer is that I can be worthy of this calling.

No Hugs Please

23 Feb

I don’t like being hugged.

Maybe I should clarify that statement a bit.  I don’t like being hugged by strangers and most acquaintances with who I have no real relationship or bond.  When you come at me with outstretched arms, I might obligingly sort of hug you back, but I hate it.  Really, really hate it.

See, I’ve never been one to enjoy being touched.  Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.  It’s not as if I wasn’t hugged as a child, but we were not overly touchy.  The Pennsylvania German culture—my people—are like that as a community.

That’s not to say I NEVER want to be touched.  As always there are exceptions to this rule—like with children, teenagers, old people, and dogs.  I don’t feel threatened by any of them and therefore, touch is welcome.  Besides, try explaining to a baby why they can’t fall asleep in your arms or a teenager why a game of surprise poking isn’t funny or an old lady who misses the embrace of her deceased husband why a hug isn’t permissible.  My compassion overcomes my discomfort.  I seek opportunities to touch those who most need it.

To me, a hug is an intimate act between two people, which I take seriously.   I may spontaneously hug someone in excitement or because of genuine care or love.  But if you ask me for a hug, I say no, and you hug me anyway—that makes me mad, uncomfortable, and puts distance in our relationship.  You have violated me and my personal space.

It’s not that I can’t offer grace to those huggy types, because I do.  I see the intention of a hug wasn’t to harm, but rather to share a great gift.  I am trying to become more comfortable with hugs because I need physical touch, especially as a single woman.

There are huggers, semi-huggers, and non-huggers.  I’m a semi-hugger, which means I hug with discretion.  Non-huggers would rather not be touched at all and huggers, well, hug everyone and everything.  Here’s what huggers need to understand—not everyone wants to be hugged.

You should never force a hug on a semi- or non- hugger. No means no!

It doesn’t make us frigid people—maybe slightly controlling—but not lacking the full real of human emotion.  Whether it’s how we were raised or personal preference, we need to be respected for the discerning huggers that we are.

And maybe, just maybe, when you enter our inner circle, you’ll get a hug, too.

Until then, don’t force it.  Hugs should be given in love with the feelings of both people in mind.

Movie Review: RISEN Doesn’t Rise to Occasion

22 Feb

Risen starring Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, Luther) is the latest in a growing number of faith-based films.  The story is loosely based on the mention of a Roman centurion who after Jesus’ terrible crucifixion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman tribune, who after investigating the claims of Jesus’ resurrection becomes a believer himself. (Sorry for the spoiler, but you knew it was coming.)

Let’s start with the positive aspects of Risen.  While the plot wasn’t gripping, Joseph Fiennes did a good job as Clavius, especially in those opening battle scenes to help us establish that Clavius was a tough soldier.  It was interesting to see Fiennes transition from the roles of Shakespeare to Luther to Clavius, and he certainly bulked up for this film.  As a fan of Fiennes and his brother, Ralph, I primarily wanted to see Risen because I like Joseph Fiennes.  I was not disappointed as the movie contained plenty of Fiennes goodness and I didn’t have to put up with him kissing other women.

The biblically accurate scenes, such as the depiction of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples along the Sea of Galilee found in John 21, were good.  Even though there is no mention of a Roman centurion tagging along on their fishing trip, I enjoyed seeing the disciples once again receive fishing advice from a stranger onshore who they later recognize as Jesus.

The costumes, sets, and other imagery seemed very realistic…or at least better than the cheap Roman soldier outfits we use at church during Holy Week.  I found myself interested in the setting, the rooms, the outfits, and even interested in the architecture of the period.  This, to me, was a highlight of the film.

Finally, of course, I appreciated that it was none other than Tom Felton, who portrayed Draco Malfoy in several of the Harry Potter films, who was Clavius’ attendant.  Harry Potter fans might find this especially amusing since Fiennes’ brother, Ralph, is Lord Voldemort in the same franchise.  Unfortunately, Felton can’t seem to catch a break because he still played a villain.

My biggest complaint about Risen is the departure from biblical narrative.  While some of this is necessary in reimagining a story, I believe Risen took it too far.  I started to squirm in my seat when Clavius discovered Jesus sitting with His disciples and Mary Magdalene in the Upper Room.  My discomfort grew after Clavius followed and befriended the 11 disciples (Judas not among them, obviously).  But when Clauvius was part of Jesus’ reunion with His disciples in Galilee, my stomach did flips and I nearly walked out when Clavius and Jesus had a heart-to-heart in the middle of the night.  While all these things might have happened, there is no biblical evidence to support this whatsoever.  Since I attended the movie with my youth group, I felt the need to lean over to the sixth grader sitting next to me to inform her of the parts that weren’t actually in the Bible.

Also in the realm of scriptural inaccuracies in Risen is one of my pet peeves—the incorrect portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute.  In fact, Scripture says Jesus drove seven demons out of Mary (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2).  Could she have displayed promiscuous behavior?  Possibly.  However, there is no evidence in the Bible this was the case.  Risen suggests that Mary did business with half of the Roman army before her life-changing encounter with Jesus.

While Clavius was a character with dimension, everyone else is a caricature of a goofy disciple, born-again radical, or a fool more concerned with power than truth.  While this makes for great comedy relief, high drama, and inspiration, it doesn’t make an award-winning (or even interesting) film.  Even though these characters exist to move the plot forward, they do so at a terribly slow pace.  In fact, when my sixth grade friend dumped her cup of ice on her lap, I was just about to doze off.  It was that boring.

Most of all, I was disappointed in the potential this movie had.  Instead of producing a mediocre tale about Jesus’ resurrection with made-up, feel good stories, it could have told a greater, more realistic story about the centurion, perhaps how his new belief caused great distress in his position, possibly including persecution in the early church.  Understandably, there parallels to Clavius’ search and a believer’s own search for truth and perhaps this is what the movie was trying to portray.  But it just lost me.

Risen starts out strong and loses steam as it continues. While there are some notable scenes, the last half of the movie drags on and on. Joseph Fiennes provided great acting, but it wasn’t enough to keep my attention. It was an interesting depiction of the Roman centurion who believed, but so many artistic liberties were taken I fear people will confuse what is in the Bible and what is not.

Through the fat lens

19 Feb

A few weeks ago, I wrote one of the most real and blog posts of my entire life.  It’s about my lifelong struggle to define myself despite being “fat.” It’s about how I see myself and expect that everyone else sees and judges me through the lens of “fat.” Most of all, it’s about how despite the changes I’ve made, I still struggle to see myself as more than “just that fat girl.”

….

I HAVE A LIFE-THREATENING DISEASE CALLED OBESITY.

It’s a slow death, which happens in a million little ways.

At first, it’s just the teasing by classmates and later, social ridicule since making fun of fat people never goes out of style. Then it’s trying to find clothes that not only fit, but are affordable and even fashionable. Finally, it’s the things you want to do, but just can’t, like fit comfortably in an airplane seat or tour Europe or walking up a flight of stairs without losing your breath.

It’s the swollen feet that make finding adorable shoes more difficult.

It’s grabbing another purse when want you really want is a pretty little dress to wear to church. The purse can fit you; the dress cannot….

{read on at Faith Reboot}

 

What Frozen Has Taught Me About Holding On

19 Jan

{WARNING: This post contains FROZEN spoilers!}

Frozen.

I know I should be so over it.  Let it go as some may say.

But like an ice clinging to my windshield that I can’t get off no matter how hard I scrape, I just can’t let it go.

Because Frozen is a story which cuts to my heart reminding me of a God who relentlessly, recklessly pursues me as I run away from His redeeming love.

In case you have lived under a rock, like Kristoff’s adopted troll family, Frozen is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” with a delightful Disney twist.  As in, the original fairytale is unrecognizable, except there is, in fact, a snow queen.

During the story, Elsa hides her “snow magic” after almost killing her younger sister, Anna, during a midnight snow fight when they were children.  Everything changes on the day of Elsa’s coronation, when she is to become queen of Arendelle.  Guests and dignitaries are invited in to the open palace which was formerly shut off to hide Elsa and consequently, Anna, from the world.

The two sisters interact for the first time in years at the coronation—Elsa, elegant and reserved while Anna, is friendly and slightly awkward.  Anna has no memory of Elsa’s powers, but every day Elsa lives with the horror of what her powers can do and how they can injure others, especially her beloved little sister.

Naturally, things go awry when love-starved Anna announces to Elsa that she plans to marry Prince Hans after an evening chatting and singing.  Elsa, who has not learned to control her emotions or powers, reveals her snowy secret for all her kingdom to see, accidentally freezing Arendelle in the process.  In order to protect others, she heads for the mountains, sings “Let It Go,” builds herself an ice castle, and gets a snazzy makeover.  She convinces herself “the cold never bothered me anyway.”

But it’s the fear of the cold that has run Elsa’s life.

Anna’s warmth is an interesting contrast to Elsa’s reclusiveness.  Despite Elsa giving Anna the cold shoulder for years, Anna pursues her sister into the mountains to beg her to unfreeze Arendelle.  Along the way, Anna enlists the help of an iceman named Kristoff and his puppy-like reindeer, Sven, as well as everyone’s favorite summer-loving snowman, Olaf.

The sisters finally come face-to-face and sing a reprise of “The First Time in Forever,” which is actually one of my favorite songs from the movie.  Elsa sings of her need to keep Anna safe while Anna begs Elsa to come back home so they can find a way to help her together.  At the end of the song, Elsa sets off an icy blast, which accidentally hits Anna in the heart.  Not knowing she injured her sister, Elsa sends Anna and company away so she can live out her days alone.

After learning Anna’s shot through the heart is fatal without an act of true love, Kristoff rushes Anna back to Arendelle on his trusty stead, Sven, so she can be kissed by her true love, Hans.  Hans, as it turns out is a sociopath, whose only intentions were to falsely woo Anna, arrange a fatal accident for Elsa, and take over Arendelle’s throne for himself.  Locking Anna in a chilly drawing room to die and chaining Elsa in a dungeon after capturing her, it seems evil has won.

That is, until Olaf and Anna escape from the castle to find Krisoff, Anna’s actual true love, to get that magical healing kiss.

Meanwhile, Hans lies to Elsa, informing her that Anna is dead because of Elsa.  Elsa, overcome with the severest of emotions, breaks out of the dungeon—not knowing how to deal with what she believes to be Anna’s death or how to save her kingdom from its deep freeze.  Hans goes after Elsa, intending to kill her.

Amidst the blizzard, Anna and Kristoff try to find one another while Hans looks for Elsa.  Finally, Anna spots Kristoff as her fingers start to turn blue, but to her right she sees Hans ready to strike Elsa with a  sword.  Anna is faced with a choice—save herself or save her sister.

Anna chooses to save her sister.  With an outstretched arm, Hans sword doesn’t fall on Elsa, but instead on Anna’s hand, which is now frozen solid.  Shocked, Elsa weeps over her once living, breathing sister who is now an ice sculpture…and suddenly, Anna unfreezes.  Anna’s selfless act of love has saved her because love is what heals a frozen heart.

And like that, Elsa realizes that love, not fear, heals and is able to save Arendelle.  She becomes the beloved queen of the people, Hans gets exiled, and the sisters make up for lost time.

Many view Elsa, queen of ice and snow, as the takeaway character from Frozen.  Admittedly, snow powers are pretty impressive, along with a fantastic singing voice provided by Idina Menzel, and an impressive look.  Elsa is beautiful and powerful, but fearful and cold.  She hasn’t been taught how to  manage her emotions, live in community, or have real relationships.  Her fear imprisons her and she needs a savior.

Anna is loveable, likeable, and hungry for adventure.  The persistent, sometimes annoying little sister doesn’t have any special powers.  But her heart is huge and her love for Elsa drives her to take risks most of us would never take.

Think about those family members or friends who have hurt you.  I mean, really hurt you.  Would you chase them up your version of a snowy mountain?  Would you give your life for someone who seemingly ruined your world?

Would you relentlessly pursue someone who wants to be alone, who wants nothing to do with you?

I might’ve let Elsa alone to die on that mountain.  Who is she to ignore me all those years?  Who is she to hide who she really is?  Really, who IS she?

Yet God, like Anna, sees us scared and alone building castles of isolation.  We tell Him that we don’t need Him.  We sing songs of independence.  We look beautiful on the outside.

On the inside, our hearts are slowly freezing us to spiritual death.

No matter how many times we try to cast Him aside, He is relentless.  He pursues humanity with His love sacrificing Himself on a cruel tree to win our freedom showing once and for all that His love heals and His blood sanctifies.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Like Anna, Jesus can’t be held down by death.  He bursts back to life three days later, bringing new life and hope to weary mankind.

I can’t let go of the story of Frozen, for it is a fabulous love story, which reminds me of my own love story with Jesus.  It reminds me how His love healed my frozen heart, how He quiets my fears, and how He rejoices over me in song.

It is something I just can’t and never want to let go.

Transform: I Can

13 Jan

transform_zpssuy2osoe

My mantra up until yesterday (when I first realized I had this mantra) was “I can’t.”

I can’t write.

I can’t get healthier.

I just can’t do this anymore.  God, why do you push me on to do these things I just can’t do?

Somewhere between my heart and the scribbles in my journal and the intervention of the Holy Spirit, I realized that “I can’t” is just an easy excuse.  “I can’t” means I don’t have to and it would be easier to give up and stay the way I am.  Because status quo can be easier than change, especially for me.

Yet my creative heart yearns for something more…and there’s that part of me, too.  These two selves war within me and I am trapped.

I thought about my mom, who is hooked up to a dialysis machine every night because her kidneys don’t work anymore.  She will spend the rest of her life on dialysis.  I see her life fading because she can’t walk very well.  When she falls, she needs someone to help her up.

When I fell, she was the one who used to help me up.

When she says “I can’t walk up a flight of stairs,” it’s true.  But the thing about my mom is, that she’ll try to walk up those stairs anyway.

So I’m starting with my “I can’t” statements.  There are some things I truly cannot do, but there are others I’m just hiding behind because I’m afraid.  What if…I can?

I can write.  I’m doing it right now.  No one said it has to be good, right?

I can get healthier.  I lost 80 pounds in 2015 and I intend to lose at least 80 more.

I can do this because I don’t have to do it alone.  I have a God who never, ever, ever, ever leaves me and who covers me with His extraordinary love.

Circumstances require us to change and change to push us to transform into someone we never knew we could become—the kind of person that God wants us (wants me) to be.

Life and Death in the Garden

4 Aug

It’s out in the garden I find life—tomatoes so beautiful and heavy they push over in their flimsy cages, cucumbers plush and delicious additions to every meal, a variety of peppers, and an aroma of herbs.  There are random holes here and there from a curious chipmunk looking for tender shoots on which to dine.  Insects crawl in the rich dirt and on the plants, startling and repulsing me.

I also find death—wilted branches with their leaves turning yellow as they are drained of life, blossom rot on the vine plants for fruit that will never be, fallen tomatoes trampled into the soil by my careless feet,   and leftover flowers being choked to death by weeds.

No wonder the garden has become so symbolic for it is a metaphor of the lifecycle should we have eyes to see.

As I sit on my gardening stool, rearranging the tomato branches within their cages, it strikes me how the the burden of their fruit overwhelms  the plants breaking branches, dropping fruit, and causing them to topple into one another like dominos.

I have been like the tomato plant—full of fruit I wanted to use for God, but too overwhelmed to use it, too burdened to give it away for His glory.  I wanted the glory for myself; I wanted to show the fruits of my labor.  Instead, I fell and how great the fall!  With open hands, I give the glory to the One who is above all.

I pull up weeds which had overtaken sections of the garden, even growing up over the stone walkway.  I claw at them trying to pull up each root.  I grab a hand rake and chopped at their stems.  If only my cilantro or oregano had grown like these hardy weeds…

I have been like the weeds.  My heart believes the lies that so easily grow over the clear path God has given me.  Instead of what is true, I follow the false path for I cannot find the way until I unseat the vines I have made truth.  I am tangled and suffocating.  I rip them up with a new fervor, refusing to be ensnared by lies again

The lettuce has turned bitter due to the summer heart.  I think about inviting the rabbits in to taste it.  Perhaps refrigeration will help.  If not, we will pick this cool weather crop in the fall.

I have been like the lettuce—looking beautiful on the outside, holding onto bitterness on the inside.  Taste me and I will leave a terrible taste in your mouth.  I surrender the bitterness to God, giving each leaf to Him.  I offer names, covering those who have wronged me in forgiveness, being filled with gratitude for grace.

Carefully, I investigate the vines looking for cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon, and cantaloupe.  The cucumbers—my favorite vegetable—are growing well.  The zucchini has come back after a terrible case of blossom rot.  A small watermelon is finally forming and a cantaloupe will be ready soon.

I am like the vine plants, growing and multiplying in God.  He is the vine and I am the branches.  I will abide in Him and grow much fruit.  Apart from Him, I can do nothing.  I look at the cucumber smashed by my stool.  Apart from the vine, it is lifeless.  I toss it in with the rest of the plant debris.  I will no longer pull myself away from the source of Life.

As I turn to close the garden gate, I feel a sense of satisfaction, knowing that weeding, pruning, and picking are divine activities.  My dirt caked arms and feet are the mark of the Master, showing how I’ve spent time with Him.  And I smile, thankful for this lesson from God.

In the Waiting

23 Jul

It’s in the waiting that I find Him.  He’s on the edge of every moment of my life, but it’s easier to miss God in the laughter, though He’s the very sound of pure laughter.  In the tender moments, I am touched and bless so I offer Him thanks, grateful to be alive.

But I find Him best, strongest when I’m waiting—vulnerable, wailing, holding on to hope, reading my favorite Scriptures, over analyzing, wringing my hands with worry.  Somehow these moments are sacred and precious.  I have no choice but to cling desperately to God.

I suppose I have a choice, but to cling desperately to fear seems fruitless.  I’d rather cling to the One I can praise in the storm.

Right now, I’m in the waiting.  I’ve sat by the phone this week waiting—willing it to ring so I could find relief.  When it did ring, I didn’t find the results for which I had hoped and prayed.  Another test, more waiting.

Quivering with fear, I cling to the familiar psalms.  I go over the verses that remind me I’m never alone, that I am tucked under His wings, that He sings over me.  It doesn’t always quiet my trembling, but it puts a peace that surpasses all understanding in my heart and spirit.

It is hard to explain how my anxiety can physically manifest itself—the trembling, the crying, the irrational fears—and yet my soul can be at rest.  Yet I know in this dichotomy, He is near.  I wish I could hold His hand, touch His skin, and rest on my Father’s shoulder, but such is a thing for which the heart yearns, where it will one day find its home.

For now, I know Abba draws close to me, quieting me with His Love.

If it wasn’t for the waiting, though I dread these moments to my core, I would never know the tenderness of God.  I wouldn’t need to learn to trust Him or understand how He works despite my anxiety disorder.  My faith would be made stronger.

I will celebrate the waiting, for in it I find God.

(As a random aside, God only made me wait a few hours for the test results when I thought I wouldn’t receive them until Friday or Monday.  They were normal.  I see this as an extra measure of grace because God is so good.  Thank You, Father, for being with me in the waiting and in the finding!)

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