Smiles... Prayers... Grace!

My deepest thoughts on spirituality and life lessons.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Fear and Peace in the Coming Year

How often do I still make choices anchored in fear?  
(oh, let me count the ways…)

How can I move from a place of fear to a place of peace?
(where I truly want to be)


My Story

For a very long time I clung tightly to fear-based thinking… and I had no idea! Honestly, I was afraid of things I thought were good to be afraid of…

Afraid of not pleasing - people and God.
    Afraid of not being in control.
        Afraid of not having the right beliefs.
            Afraid to be or appear weak.
                Afraid to let anything bad into my world.
                    Afraid to make a mistake, or be wrong.
                         And at the crux of it all, afraid to fail.

As a result I strove for illusive perfection and acquired a false sense of self-righteousness. I held an unhealthy pride in my beliefs and actions; and this perky, positive girl developed a truly negative filter for the beautiful things of life. I approached the world from an attitude of judgment, and any hint of dissonance meant I would distance myself. I wrapped that “distance” with a smile and what I thought was love.

But really it wasn’t love.
    It was control.
        And control is far from love.*

Then something shifted along the way. Slowly but clearly, my eyes were opened to my noxious judgment and unbecoming pretentiousness, and I became aware that beneath it all was, indeed, FEAR.

So, here I am: an ever-recovering perfectionist and fear-based decision-maker.

I still regularly struggle to give up control, and I often cringe at my bend to think I hold the monopoly on what is the right way to believe or act.

Heaven knows, I am thrilled I don’t have to have the right answers to the ways of the universe. Yet I still often find myself wanting to tell people how to think, act and feel, as if what is going on in my mind and soul is the be-all-end-all.

But along this messy recovering process, here’s what’s happening… I am tasting PEACE.
Real peace. True peace. Like I never experienced before. The kind of peace that is so deep and pure, you can’t explain it. The kind of peace that can exist in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, even danger. The kind of peace that can co-exist with real fear, and hold space for it while it runs its course. A peace that provides steady grounding so that the fear turns to courage. A divine peace …that feels like freedom.
And the more I release the fear, the more I experience the peace. Which means this true peace isn’t just coming and going in elusive flashes. Peace is sticking around more. Peace is becoming my foundation, my anchor – the place from which I make my decisions, from which I act and move and develop my being.*

My Wish

While fear is actually a very real and important emotion, it is not meant to become the cornerstone of our existence. For when it does, it blocks the flow of peace, love and blessings to and through us.*

So this is my desire for all of us in the year 2016.

I believe we all can move more toward peace and act less from fear. I believe this. I want this. For me and for you, for our communities, for our country, and for our world.  

A Path

It begins with some self-assessment - taking an honest look at your thoughts and opinions.
  • Are your opinions driven by love for others, or fear of others? Are they girded in a steadfast promising peace, or a tumultuous venomous fear?
  • What shapes your thoughts? Are they tethered by worry and anxiety (expressions of fear), or hope and assurance (expressions of peace)
  • Do you find yourself being defensive of your thoughts, beliefs and actions? or can you say that more often you are free from defenses and open to movement and growth?
Next, upon acknowledgement of the places fear is overstepping its place in your being, step into the cycle of being, and make changes where needed - away from fear and toward love.
The cycle goes something like this:
  • our thoughts repeated become our ways of thinking;
  • our ways of thinking are expressed in our actions;
  • our actions repeated develop into the way we live;
  • the way we live becomes who we are;
  • and who we are in turn shapes our thoughts.
       So where in this cycle will you commit to change? In which part will you make a shift first?
  • Will it be in how you treat people who are different from you? Will you act your way into change? Or will it be in how you think of others - especially your adversaries? Will you choose to see them as you see yourself?
  • Will the change be in your response to ideologies, expressions, or religions that challenge your own? Will you choose to lay down your own justifications in order to become teachable?
  • Will the shift be in your own spiritual practices, going deeper or wider or longer or higher in your ways of inner-work? Will you allow God to re-shape you
Finally, when you begin to feel the freedom that comes with real peace, fear will most assuredly pay you a visit here and there.  No need to resist fear; just learn to recognize it. And instead of setting up camp in it, pass through the it to the other side. Fear can then have its proper place in our growth: as a teacher, rather than a dictator. 

PEACE will replace FEAR as your anchor.*

This year can be a year of real change. For me and for you.

Let’s do this!

*For scripture study, see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Acts 17:27-28, John 14:27, and Jeremiah 30:10, respectively.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Identity, Love, and The Other

A non-Christian in church.
       A fat person in a gym.
               A smoker… well almost anywhere these days.  
                       A disabled woman moving slower than the crowd.
                                A homeless guy in line at McDs…

Have you ever been in a room and felt like everyone wanted you to be different than you were?

What if the entire system you were in considered you an outsider?

Prior to these last few months I apparently had my head in the sand, thinking that racism was mostly dead other than a few extremists on the fringe. But oh no, I have been wrecked with tears as racism has reared its ugly head right on my newsfeed. And from some who bear the same religious name I do – blinded by their entitlement to the harm their pride spews on others. I am ashamed. It pains me so!

And then the same fear, assumptions, and hate continue to come through against our homosexual brothers and sisters, too.  I am crushed that many who wave the banner of Christ cannot see the GOOD in treating ALL people with the same respect we desire for ourselves, and the indiscriminant love that God lavishes freely on us. How can we receive and preach that indiscriminant, unconditional love, but not truly bestow it extravagantly as Christ has taught us?!

Being greatly saddened by all this, I have tried to sit in the shoes of “the other.”

…and it has brought me to my knees.

Maybe you can go there with me.
I’ve thought about what it feels like to have black skin and slave ancestry. To feel the sometimes subtle, but sometimes intense marginalization lurking every time I see the symbols of painful times not so long ago being revered. To be reminded that only a generation or two has passed since I was considered not equal, not worthy, or not even human, and that some fellow Americans obviously still hold those beliefs about me. About me. Just because of my skin. To feel that wherever I go, I have to try to fit in the mold of another in order to gain respect.
I’ve thought about what it feels like to be gay. To have my sexuality and romance be set aside and dismissed, or even degraded and vilified. To have my desire for a loving spouse and family to be considered abnormal, even perverted.  To have my voice to explain myself, and my fight to be recognized equally be shunned – even by those who are not that different than I.  To be completely misunderstood and ostracized by the culture I live in. To feel that I need to act differently than who I am around many groups of people in order to maintain respect.
If I were gay, or black, or   (any “other”) , how would I feel living in my own town of Richardson, TX? in other places I have lived, like Alabama or Louisiana? Would I feel fully respected? Equally treated? Welcomed, wanted, loved? Or would I struggle – with my identity, worthiness, and shame?
I don’t know for sure, but I can surmise. I DO know it would not be easy. And I fully acknowledge that I have not considered how hard that would be until recently.

You see, these issues we’re having – these issues I’m having - are not about beliefs, or right and wrong.

No, it’s about WHO WE ARE - at the core.

When we struggle with issues over race, sexual identity, religion, body size - or any other labels, we are struggling with identity and we fail to understand one important truth:  WE ARE ALL THE SAME. We are all MESSED UP, but we are all BEAUTIFUL, WONDERFUL CREATIONS of GOD, and we are ALL CONNECTED!

There was a time when Christians went to war, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the Crusades – in the name of God. They believed they were doing the right thing. They believed they were doing what God wanted. THEY WERE WRONG. Thank God it stopped!

But I’m afraid we have a modern-day version of the Crusades happening right in our midst.

When Jesus taught his revolutionary, upside down gospel, he broadened the meaning of “Do not murder” to include the way we talk to one another and think and feel about one another. (Matthew 5)

When our own sense of moral entitlement and exclusivity breeds disregard for others experiences – labeling and judging without knowing them, make them feel less than we are, or worse, spew hatred -- we are doing nothing less than murdering our own brothers and sisters, the beloved of God.
Ouch, a harsh reality. How awful I feel to know what I have done!

Even if we believe we are doing the right thing. Even if we believe we are doing what God wants. WE ARE WRONG. And it must stop.

When we try to control others and make them more like us, we are murdering them, not loving them.
When that person comes in a room and feels the judgment, we are murdering them, not loving them.
But there is good news. We can choose a different way.
Love includes compassion, empathy, and humility.

So, Who are you at the core? Who am I at the core?

You are that smoker, the addict.
       I am that non-Christian in a church.
              We are that fat person in the gym.
                      I am the disabled woman.
                             You are the homeless man.

We all are black, gay, republican, female, Muslim, white, democrat, male, straight, Christian, Jewish…  and loved deeply by God.

We can choose empathy and sit in the shoes of the other. We can choose compassion and stop the judgment, the murdering. And we can choose humility and apologize to our brothers and sisters.
And then – and only then – we can start truly loving.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Some links I recommend:
Gabe Lyons and Andrew Sullivan Share Apology
Shane Claiborne: What To Do With My Confederate Flag?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year’s Resolution… for your Marriage

It’s that time again: time for the resolutions!

Leon and I are part of a marriage-strengthening ministry called ReEngage. With that on my heart and mind, I've come up with some suggestions for a New Year's Resolution for your marriage. After all, besides your relationship with God, your marriage is the most important relationship you will ever have! It deserves your effort and energy!

So, while you’re in the spirit of making positive changes and putting efforts into things that need improving, here’s a resolution for your marriage you can get excited about!

Sometime within the next week sit down with your spouse and your calendars and schedule one date night a month for the next five months. This will take you up to the summer when you may just decide to do it again! Write your date nights in ink on your calendar. Make these dates a priority: appointments you have to keep! If you really, really need to cancel one, reschedule it on the spot.
A couple of weeks out from those dates make sure to schedule a babysitter if needed and make reservations or plans in advance. To help you get creative and offer alternatives to simply “dinner and a movie,” here are some special date nights for you to try. Each month pick from one of these dates below.
·         Romantic Date Night – Sometimes we all need a little romancing!
o   WIFE: Decide with your husband on your favorite nice restaurant, and you plan a nice surprise of something fun afterwards like dancing …or parking somewhere with a romantic view.
o   HUSBAND: Make reservations at the restaurant, get flowers for her to begin the evening, open doors for her and treat her like you adore her.
o   BOTH: Get dressed up, put on your best scent, and plan several compliments and adorations of your spouse to slip into the conversation throughout the evening.

·         Back to Beginnings Date – Pretend you’re teenagers out on a date!
o   No need to dress up.
o   Go to your favorite casual, inexpensive place to eat.
o   Share an ice cream or froyo or latte at a local place afterwards.
o   Spend the night reminiscing about when you met and were first dating… Look how far you’ve come… And share your dreams for your lives for the future.
o   You could even go walking in the mall holding hands or kiss at the door before you go in the house for old-time’s sake! J

·         Comedy Fun Night - Laughing together is good medicine!
Pick one or more of these ideas …and end with a tickle fight in bed at home. J
o   Rent and watch funny movies. Search the internet for “funniest movies of all time” to get you started. Each of you pick one to watch. Pop some popcorn and get your abs ready.
o   Go to a local comedy club and let someone make you laugh for a while.
o   Let loose, be kids again, and play your favorite silly game with just the two of you. Try the Heads Up app, Truth or Dare (do some funny dares!), karaoke to funny songs from your younger years, or just sit in front of the mirror and see who can make the silliest faces.
o   Tell each other the funniest stories from your own life growing up or your family life together. What moments can you look back on and laugh at now?

·         Goodwill and Kindness Date – Serving together builds memories and bonds like nothing else!
This one may need to be during the day, so plan ahead accordingly. Find a service you can do together for someone or an organization, and enjoy a meal together afterwards taking time to share what it meant to you to serve. Here are some ideas.
o   Serve the homeless a meal at a soup kitchen or shelter.
o   Visit elderly in a nursing home and plan to sit down and have a conversation with them.
o   Visit a shut-in and plan to do some needed chores for them.
o   Work a few hours at a local food bank.
o   Think of someone you know who may be struggling financially and go shopping for some luxury grocery items for a special meal; then deliver it secretly with an anonymous note.
o   Get creative and think of a way you could be a blessing to someone together for a few hours.

·         Intimate Indoor Picnic – Got to keep those home fires burning!  
You’ll need to have the kids cared for away for this one (grandma’s house, church childcare, friend’s house, etc.) You could also choose to make this a mid-day lunch date if kids are in school/daycare and/or that works best with your schedules.
o   WIFE: Find an area of the house to lay out a picnic cloth and make it comfortable enough for after-dinner activities. Light some candles (in safe places) and put on some nice music. Dress in something you both find sexy.
o   HUSBAND: Go pick up to-go food and bring it home. Consider some romantic picnic foods (wine and cheese and crackers, champagne and strawberries, chocolates, etc.) Flowers could be nice, too. Make sure you smell nice and dress the part as well.
o   BOTH: Before the date write a note for your spouse telling him/her how you find him/her attractive. During the meal, exchange notes or read them aloud to each other. Enjoy the meal. Feed one another. Undress one another. Enjoy the picnic!

·         Share-a-Hobby Date – Do you know what your spouse enjoys doing in his/her free time?
Plan a date doing something around your hobbies. See if you can fit both of your interests in during the date, and be genuinely interested in learning about your spouse’s hobby. You can get creative with all kinds of pastimes, but here are some examples:
o   Cooking – Shop for some specialty ingredients together, then cook a meal together. Be sure to feed one another some test bites along the way, and set a nice table with candles and use the nice china.
o   Sports – Go play a game together or watch a game together, learning/teaching the rules and strategies that make the game a favorite. Make it a challenge to learn/teach all you can about the sport!
o   Art – Go to a painting or pottery place and get creative together! Make memories and have fun while you do it. You’ll end up with a great memento of your date!
o   Reading – Go browse the shelves at a local bookstore. See if you can find some interesting facts to share about a topic you both love; read some jokes from a joke book together; look for a romantic line in a book to use on your spouse; shop the bargain books for the oddest titles.
o   Home Improvement – Create a scavenger hunt to complete in the aisles of your local home-improvement store: the most unique item, the most energy efficient item, the most obscure item you can describe what it’s used for, an item made of plastic, metal and wood, etc.
o   Running or Cycling – Run or ride to and from a local park or nice spot where you can stop and enjoy a beverage or small meal and good conversation. Be sure to shower up together afterwards. J
The more energy you put into your spouse and these dates, the more you’ll grow closer together and the stronger your marriage will become.
The key is in the planning... in other words, don't just read this and think, "That's a good idea. Maybe we'll do that." Instead go schedule those dates right now! We're going to!
Your marriage is worth it!
Have fun dating your spouse in 2014!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Good Dance: Peace in the Pain

Joy and pain simultaneously erupting. Thankfulness and desperation both swirling around and welling up. Elation and grief co-habitating.

The whys and hows of this duality are beyond me. But the longer I live, the more I understand and accept that this is how life is to be. In fact, this is where life is lived: in the dance among the many polar emotions and paradoxical notions of our existence. And it is good. Somehow very good.

I was part of a wonderful weekend retreat with women of all ages and stages. It was marked by both a joyful recognition of our beloved identity in God, and the acknowledgement of deep pain and struggling within the lives of many of us. I believe without the co-existence and dance between both of those realities we would not have experienced the meaningful weekend of growth and reflection that we each ended up having.

Then today I have been struck by events near and far. From the completely devastating typhoon in the Philippines thousands of miles from me, to the devastating news of a next door neighbor's baby's death, to the devastating set back in the adoption process within my own family to bring my nephews home to my sister and brother-in-law, I am overwhelmed with the pain and struggle that constantly dwells in the lives of all of humanity.

Yet today I am not finding myself in a state of depression or feeling down. Rather I somehow feel incredibly peaceful and uplifted by the presence of a God I cannot explain. A God so powerful and expansive I cannot describe or fathom. I rest in the peace and calm of God's sovereignty to be in and through all things, connecting and loving all people, comforting and calling each soul to go beyond circumstances to a place of peace and goodness in Him.

My soul is well today.
Amidst the mess and the goodness.
Finding rest and joy and peace.
Embracing the "both/and"s of life.
In a very good dance.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

These verses have been soothing and brought a joyful peace to me today:

But me he caught—reached all the way
    from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
    the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
    but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!
-- Psalm 18:16-19 MSG

I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born.
-- Isaiah 66:9 ERV

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.
--Isaiah 43:19 MSG

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Human Experience

I am feeling very human today.

In the way it is sometimes said that we are not humans beings who have spiritual experiences, but we are spiritual beings having a human experience, I am feeling particularly human today.

Overwhelmed. Sad. Lonely. Disconnected. Mechanically moving through the day. Accomplishing nothing. Stuck in perpetual thought. Not understanding why.

I have an awareness that my soul, my True spiritual Self is still there, but she can't seem to be heard by my this human thing going on today. She's just there observing, with compassion and understanding, waiting for an opening to embrace and enter and envelop me once again.

Where is the sadness coming from? Why do I have such an empty tank? What is it that is missing? Am I doing something wrong?

I have felt inklings of this over the last month or so, but have avoided the depths of it for the most part. Talking myself out of it. Acting myself out of it. I guess there is only so far that "fake it 'til you make it" will go. I should have known: avoiding it doesn't work. So today I find myself sitting in it - well, wallowing in it - and trying desperately to work through it. It stinks. There is nothing fun about it. I don't feel like myself.

Yet I know God is here.
I know there is another side, and I will make it there.
I know God is good, and that I have something to learn in all this humanity.
May my sitting in it - my allowing space for it - prove beneficial in shaping me more into who I have been created to be.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

-Hillsong United, Oceans
When you're going through something very human - sadness, depression, addiction, grief, anxiety - and you can only muster the energy to just take the next step, you really just need someone near you to know and to care. While having a someone with human skin to fill that role is always good, we must remember that God is nearer to us and cares more for us than we can ever imagine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
~ Isaiah 43:2

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Truth & God's Most Excellent Harmonies

If asked, we would all likely say that we want to know the truth.

There is power and freedom in truth. We have tasted it and we know it.

But we tend to fill our minds - and thus, even our hearts - with lies, untruths, misspoken words, myths and false beliefs.

We replay our mistakes. We remind ourselves of the things we're not good at. We hold ourselves captive to over embellished and misplaced guilt. We tell ourselves to give up, to stop trying because we're not worth it. We replay the negative self-talk without even realizing it!

You're not good enough. You messed up too badly. You're not the one who gets to do that. You're not worthy of that. You are always messing up. Why can't you just get it right? Why can't you get your act together? You're too fat. You're too dumb. You're too short. You're too tall. You're too soft spoken. You're just the clown. You messed up before. You'll just embarrass yourself. You only disappoint.

Stop. Right. There.

Brothers and Sisters, fill your minds with, and meditate on, things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. And God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Yes. Yes. Yes!

Do you see what Paul reminds us here in his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9)?

Paul knows. He gets it. He of all people had reason to replay the lies in his head. He struggled in the same way we do with his own issues (the "thorn" in his side) and struggles (prison, beatings, trials, and more) and past (as a murderer). Yet, he shared with everyone the secret he had learned to make it through all of this negativity. At the crux of his contentment and the fulfilling of his purpose was this practice: filling his mind with positive, truthful things.

So how will we claim truth, or even know it when it comes our way?

Yes, Truth is found in scripture. Truth is found in the life and being of Jesus. Truth can also be found in many other places. TRUTH himself created all things, so the avenues from which Truth springs forth are infinite.

Poetry, Nature, Paintings, Conversations, Books, Sermons, Meditation, Children, Work, Play....

Truth is revealed to us when we are open to receive it.

And that takes a shift.

A shift in our awareness. A practicing of openness to allow Truth to flow to you from wherever it may be revealed.  A willingness to let go of our own thoughts, whatever they may be, and to hear the Truth from TRUTH. A shift away from talking and toward listening.

Have you ever heard a line in a song or on a TV show, in a book or a movie, that spoke directly into your being. Truth was revealed to you in that moment. No need to over-think it. Just accept it.

Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset, a rainbow, a lake, a mountain and been struck still in awe? Truth was revealed to you in that moment. Don't let it go too quickly. Take it in - deep within.

Have you ever heard a simple statement from your child that maybe didn't mean much to him, but meant the world to you? Truth was revealed to you in that moment. Marinate in that moment. Let your soul absorb it.

Begin believing moments like these. Don't discount them as happenstance and return to your negative self-talk! Instead, believe them! That is God speaking to you. That is God re-directing your thoughts. That is God turning your lies into Truth, little by little.

When we are reminded by Paul to think about good, positive, truthful things, he adds that God can then begin to work "his most excellent harmonies" within us.

My friends, we are all worthy of God's most excellent harmonies! That is what we were created for!

What is it that you are wanting to accomplish? What is it that you are stuck on? What is it that your mind and heart are racing in the hamster wheel about?

Begin to open yourself up to filling your mind and heart with more Truth and see what happens!

My friends, we can change the world!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Entitlement and the Call to Love

NOTE: I wrote this in November of 2008, and published the post as "Entitlement vs. Love." It's one of my favorite posts. I still believe every word, and still believe this is an issue we all deal with every day. I wrote this from personal experience catching myself feeling entitled and realizing that I didn't like the subsequent feelings and results. Writing this really helped me to process it, and I am much better now at acting out of love rather than entitlement than I used to be; I recognize entitlement rearing up in me much more easily now. The topic has been on my mind heavily again lately, so I thought I'd repost it. It's long. Take your time with it. Let me know what you think again this time around.

the way it is

So, why is it that we think we are entitled to whatever we want? When our forefathers wrote of our rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, did they have in mind the egocentric people we have become? I know our country was founded out of a desire for the best for all people, but somehow I think we've gotten it all wrong. We can't blame it on our forefathers, or our own fathers, or anyone else in particular... but we have to realize that we have a problem and then do what we can to change it!

Here are some examples of common every-day entitlement issues in our culture:

When we go to a restaurant, we feel we are entitled to the best service possible. If we don't get our food on time or as we ordered, we get huffy, complain, tip less, and leave in a bad mood.

When we drive down the road, we feel we are entitled to go where we want, however we want, with others getting out of our way. If we get honked at, or cut in front of, or not allowed in the lane we want, we get huffy, complain, call names, and get where we're going in a bad mood.

When we go shopping, we feel we are entitled to the item we want at the price we want and to buy it without waiting. If we can't find just what we want, or it's mis-priced/over-priced/damaged, or if we have to wait in line to buy it, we get huffy, complain, maybe even make a scene, and leave in a bad mood.

When we speak, we feel that we are entitled to say whatever we want. We think that just because we have the freedom by the laws of our country to do so, that makes everything we say "right." So, for example, if we feel a certain candidate for office is wrong or if someone hurt our feelings we tell, write, blog terrible things about that person (maybe along with some facts, to make it better) and we dwell on the negative and live in a bad mood.

When we make money, we feel we are entitled to keep it. If we are asked to share (charity), forced to give (taxes), or lose some (stocks, theft, etc.) we get huffy, complain, feel sorry for ourselves, even live with anger & resentment, and definitely find ourselves in a bad mood.

I don't think I need to go on....

How can this be the best way to live? We know it isn't, but our culture says it is. Commercials for "tough lawyers" say they can get us money for just about any "wrong" we feel has been committed against us. The beauty industry tells us that we "deserve" to have beautiful skin, be skinny, and feel pampered every moment of the day. Good Housekeeping seals, Better Business Bureau stamps, and the like remind us that we are entitled to "the best" of every product or service.

I know all this isn't all bad. It's fine to want to look good, be treated right, and get the best value. Because our world is so messed up, there are people all around us who have low self-esteem and don't feel valued, so as a culture we've overcompensated by telling ourselves that we deserve this, that, and everything. Our culture tells us that we can't rely on anyone else to value us, so we have to value ourselves above all. But when valuing ourselves becomes a purpose that dictates our actions above our love and value of people, then something has gone way wrong.

a new way to look at it

I know not everyone will agree with me, or wants to live any different than the above examples... I mean, we do have rights by law to be that way! And we do need to value ourselves as dearly loved children of God! But I have to think that all the bad moods people get in are usually because of their sense of entitlement. And maybe, just maybe, the world would be a majorly better place if we let go of our sense of entitlement... at least a little bit! For sure we'd all be happier people!

For those who call themselves Christians, or who just want to simply follow Jesus (everyday I fall closer to the latter, and farther away from the former), we have to realize that Jesus never spoke of rights or entitlement or anything that elevates self. In fact, Jesus teaches quite the opposite.

Jesus speaks of loving those who wrong us (the waitress who didn't get it right, the guy who cuts us off in traffic, the clerk who is so slow). He taught by example to value every person (the candidate who stinks, the people who benefit from the money we lose, give, or is taken from us). Jesus had empathy for even the sleaziest people, the people of lowest status, the poor and marginalized, the rich and uppity. Yes, he loved them all.

I think that the more I try to view every person the way Jesus did (does), the less I feel entitled to have things my way, and the more I can let go and be happy even when things don't go my way.

It's a tricky oxymoronic truth. The more we focus on loving others, the more value we find in ourselves. We don't have to focus on our own entitlement to lift ourselves up. Somehow our lives are enriched and for fulfilled when we place purpose in valuing others.

Let me help you connect the dots here...

the way it could be

When I don't get great service at a restaurant, I think of the server as a person. This guy could be my friend. When I realize that he might be working more tables than usual, or might be having issues with the kitchen staff, or might be having stress from home, or whatever, then I can see that, while I might be "entitled" to better service, he also might be "entitled" to having a forgiving patron.

When I make money, I realize that on one hand I am "entitled" to keep it because I earned it. But on the other hand, everything I have is a gift from God, so none of it is really mine. And people who make less money, who are struggling, or those who make no money who are dying, or even those who steal from me are all people God loves just as much as he loves me, and I am not entitled to a fabulous life with money to buy whatever I please any more than they are. So, I become compelled to share with those less fortunate, and not be bitter about losing money or having less than I could if I hoarded it all. I become free from the burdens of money.

When I'm driving, I realize that the people in the other cars are people just like me, trying to get somewhere like me. No matter what my hurry is, I'm not entitled to get in front any more than they are. My time is no more valuable than theirs. So why not let them get in front of me?... what harm will that really do to me?! None, whatsoever! It actually frees me from being so angry!

Do you see that by valuing people over our own entitlement, our perspective changes?! We become less self-centered and more thoughtful of everyone as a community of people. In doing so we free ourselves from getting upset, carrying around anger over silly things, and our days can become happier for ourselves, and maybe even more meaningful to others.

Now I'm not naive enough to think that this means completely peaceful days, rosy and perfect. I know that we will still get rude gestures in traffic, we might be late to an appointment because we let someone in front of us in the grocery line, we might eat cold soup or get no refills at a restaurant without any acknowledgement or apology, and people might not even know that we are being self-less and putting their interests first! Some days we might get angry and frustrated that we're being nice and forgiving with no recognition and no one seems to care!

But I have to say that as I've been attempting to live more this way, I've been able to let go of so much angst, so much stress, and it really does make my day better. Hopefully it has also made someone else's day better along the way too! When I go through life thinking of others I pass by as people with stories like mine, with days to get through like me, with joys and sorrows and bad days and good days, I don't have to be sour about putting their interests first. It can just naturally flow from the love that is in me through Jesus.

Living this way has also made me even more aware of times when other people act this way toward me, forgiving my oopses, allowing me to go first, or valuing me as a person over their opinion. Some people might say that the universe is giving back what I'm putting out there, but I'd say it's just God's gift of awareness of the good in life that becomes more acute when you are acting that way, too.

the challenge

So, here's a challenge to everyone out there to live life with less entitlement, and more love for others. See if it makes a difference!

Let someone get in front of you in line... don't expect a thank you from anyone... forgive the rude comment a friend makes... tip the waitress who gave you terrible service... and smile along the way, because you're not letting it get to you... you're blessed in spite of it all!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Heart Connections: Part One

You know this: God is Love.

Ponder the incredible, incomprehensible depth of this! God is a Love that encompasses all that is good: kindness, compassion, gentleness, justice, peace, grace, joy, tenderness, truth... This Love is huge. It's unfathomable. It's amazing and all embracing. God is Love.

And now ponder something else you know: God created you... that means YOU have been birthed by LOVE. When you think of something birthed by Love, what comes to mind? Well, that's you! You are beautiful and worthy. You are a precious child of God Himself - of Love Itself! And you were created to fulfill that birthright, living out a legacy of Love.
Visually it's something like this...
Now look at this tree, or think of an actual tree, as our metaphor. We bear the fruit - we possess the genetics - of what we are. But there is vital importance in the connections: Connection to the tree itself, and subsequent connections to other branches, twigs and leaves, are vital to bearing the fruit of who we are, and ultimately to fulfilling our birthright.

In John 15 we read of how Jesus shared this very concept with his disciples. He doesn't speak with the commanding language he sometimes used, rather we can almost feel the emotion and the depth of His love for his followers as he shares about the heart connection they have with Him. These disciples not only had been students of His Way, but they had become his dearest friends on earth. He shared with them His desire for them to remain connected to Him through understanding of their birthright and through bearing the fruit of that birthright by loving one another well.

His depth of love is the same for us. His desire for heart connections is the same for us. This is His Legacy of Love for us, so that we may live out the Legacy.

(Read John 15:1-17 now, picture Jesus sitting with you speaking this into your heart. Can you feel the depth of his love?)

Back to the image of the tree. Not only are we connected to the trunk, but to the tree as a whole. We are all connected to one another. Just as each leaf, twig and branch are all connected in some way every other branch, twig and leaf, so are we to one another. Some of us are very close to one another: we’re on the same twig. We live life together daily. Some of us are close, just on different branches nearby. And there are even many people we will never meet: we are on opposite sides of the tree, on different branches across the expanse of its foliage. Yet, all of us are one. All people have been created by God. All people have been birthed by Love. We are all family! Begin to shift your perspective and see all people as connected to you, as your family! Wow, how that can change how you relate to them! You see, our true connections with each other, our relationships to each other, are so important because they are our connection to God himself!

Where Love is present - acts of kindness, compassion, justice and truth - there is a true connection made. It is then that we are recognizing our birthright, our connection to the Tree, to Love, to God. Loving each other well is not only how we follow the example of Jesus Christ in sharing God with others (being little Christs, as the name Christian says) but also it's actually how we come to know God better!

God connections, Spirit connections, Heart Connections, connections of Love. They are the only real connections.

How can you strengthen your heart connection to the God?
And how can you strengthen your heart connections to others?
Do you see this as being important enough to really focus on and make needed changes?

Whether you see it as a lovely watercolor tree of hearts or the image of a mighty oak, our Heart Connections must be tended and strengthened always.

Keep growing. Keep living the Legacy!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Embracing Where You Are

A recent realization: I embrace where I am along my journey much better than I used to.

The back story is that I am an ever-recovering perfectionist. This means I have something in me that, when it comes to what I produce, does not like to settle for anything but over the top, 110%, best of the best. Not a horrible trait to have in this capitalistic, individualistic culture of ours, but not so great to have when it comes to possessing important spiritual attributes like peace, patience and grace. The reasons to work against this tendency are many, but for me mainly include saving myself from major stress, keeping myself grounded in reality, and keeping me humble... and sane.

So, what I've noticed recently is that I really am beginning to enjoy being good, or even just okay, as opposed to stand-out-exceptional. I know that sounds a bit odd maybe. Let me attempt to explain.

I always want to be growing, improving, becoming.

When I recognize others who are much better than I at something, it absolutely thrills me! It inspires me: not in the competitive way, but in a truly joyful way. I love celebrating the beauty of others who are fulfilling exactly who God created them to be!

Now there are some people who revel being on top to the degree that they only surround themselves with people who are mediocre or poor performers. They want to look good and feel good about themselves at the expense of others, as they actually keep their peers from growing and improving. They may not even realize their tendencies in this. It's merely ego that guides them. They are threatened by those who excel beyond themselves, so they keep a significant distance from those who are the best.

I don't ever want to be that person!

I strive to surround myself with friends and colleagues who are better than I at all kinds of things, and I love it! I love getting to know people who are the best at what they do! They stretch me. They pull me forward and challenge me to grow. As I like to think of it, they make me glow! Their beauty radiates brilliantly, multiplying my own light, and filling my life with good, very good, blessings.

Sometimes when we see someone shine, it's like a switch is triggered in our heads, and our self-talk immediately makes the comparisons. You're not nearly as beautiful as she is. You can't carry a tune in a bucket, much less ever bless others with your voice like his. You really stink at organizing, don't even try to attempt what she did. You couldn't write a sentence that eloquent to save your life...

But here's a different way to react. When someone truly excels at something, we can see God. And, oh goodness, how we want to see more of God, don't we?! The talents and gifts in people are true miracles and wonders. Let's see them as such! They are gifts from God. They are glimpses of God himself.

We can choose to put away the coveting, the comparing and the envy, and we can begin to celebrate the God-given strengths in each of us. We can embrace who we are and where we are, and know that when we see others excel, it can be such a blessing and encouragement to us as we grow and become.

Where are you along your journey?
Are you fighting against it, or embracing it?
Who are you surrounding yourself with to make you better and glow brighter?

Notice the beauty in excellence, and celebrate God in you and God in others!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Living Life Awake

Sleepwalking through life. It's just so easy to do. Going through the motions. Just surviving the day, then the next, and the next.

I know you've been there. You might be there now.

so Where is the joy?
     and How do you wake up?

Living life awake begins with your breath.

Stop reading. Close your eyes, and take a slow, deep breath. ... Go ahead. I'll wait. Do it.

It feels so good. You needed that. A deep breath awakens your senses and brings you to the present moment. Do it again. And one more time. Until you find yourself smiling, if only for a fleeting moment, on the inside.

Now. You are awake to this moment. When you are present in this moment, you are able to experience life wide awake. You are able to receive what God has for you. He has LIFE for you. In. each. moment. Right now. Life.

When I'm sleepwalking through life, all I'm focused on is getting to the end of that meeting, the end of that phone call, the end of that chore, the end of the day. I long for the moment when my head hits the pillow. Then I just dread the sunshine that will come too soon. My head swims with worry (about the future) and regret (over the past). I strip myself of life itself, because I am not living any moment in it. I am never here. Never present.

So I must breathe. Especially when I'm running 90 miles an hour. I must allow myself to be. here. now.

When you're folding the never-ending laundry, what can you receive from the moment? Breathe deeply. Enjoy the fresh scent of clean clothes. Experience the sense of accomplishment as the pile becomes stacks. Acknowledge the little lives who wear those socks and that favorite shirt, who dry their bodies with that fluffy towel and enjoyed muddying up those shorts yesterday.

When you are running errands and just trying to shorten that list, what can bring you joy in the moments? Breathe deeply. Notice the carefree squirrel who crosses the alley in front of you: "I can be worry-free like him. God cares for me even more"... or Look in the faces of the clerks and the people in line with you: could they use a smile or a gracious offering?

When you are overwhelmed with the weight of failing relationships or surmounting debt or your own poor choices, how can you endure the present moment? Breathe deeply. Notice your breath. and start counting...Blessing #1: You are alive. Be grateful for that which you cannot manufacture. It is simply a gift: your breath. Blessing #2: You are loved dearly by the One who created you as a priceless treasure. Blessing #3: You can feel the pain of your trials, breathe through the pain, and eventually make it to the other side. Believe it. You will make it. You are alive in this moment, and God is redeeming your circumstances in this very moment. You are choosing to live life awake and not sleepwalk through it!

Live life awake to the present moment. This now is the only reality. This now is the only place where God brings you the abundant life he so desperately wants for you. This now is the only place where you can let God's love flow out of you.


Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.