What the Heck….??

Life is messy. That is my best and most succinct observation after nearly 56 years on the face of the earth. Handling the “messy” becomes the challenge. Sometimes I can do it well, other times not so much. For me, whether or not I handle the messy times well is dependent on so many factors; how much sleep I have gotten, my overall stress level, exercise or the lack thereof, prayer time, financial status at any given moment, etc. I know, I know, I should trust God, have more faith, His eye is on the sparrow, and all that jazz. Allow me my human frailties.

Messy makes me weary. I would just rather go thru life gliding along on easy street, no worries, no hiccups, no dissention, world peace, kitties, puppies, and rainbows…… Ever felt that way? So often it seems, at least in my experience, as soon as one messy piece is cleaned up another is close on its heels. A brief respite between messes, and then back in the thick of another. Could be I’m just doing life all wrong, but I don’t think that’s the problem. I’m an avid observer of people and it appears we are all in the same boat, buffeted by similar storms. Some people reach out and ask for help, others pull inward and ride the storm out as best they can, and still others fall somewhere in between. Put another way, some fall on their knees and look heavenward, others shake their fists at the heavenlies, still others do a combination.

The Bible is our “how to” manual, our guidebook through the trials and tribulations of life. So why do we live on the roller coaster of life, twisting and turning, up and down and all around? Second Corinthians  1:4 puts it this way: “3 Praised be God, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, compassionate Father, God of all encouragement and comfort;4 who encourages us in all our trials, so that we can encourage others in whatever trials they may be undergoing with the encouragement we ourselves have received from God”. (The Complete Jewish Bible) Ahhh….so that’s the answer, or at least part of it. We gain wisdom in the trenches and then emerge able to “pass it on” so to speak. Let’s face it, none of us goes through anything that another hasn’t already gone through. Am I right? It’s called empathy; our ability to share the feelings of another in any given situation. Of course we can’t know exactly how another feels as that person goes through their trial, experiences their storm, but we probably have a pretty good idea. And we are God’s representatives on the face of the earth, are we not?

I’m not just talking about everyone who has spoken the “magic words” , the prayer of salvation we are prompted to say when we accept Jesus as Savior. That may seem irreverent, but let’s face it, many times the altar call sounds as if the words spoken during the prayer of salvation are the only words that God will accept in order to enter the kingdom. Not so. God is looking at our hearts, not listening to the words. If you believe in God, Jesus His only Son, and the Holy Spirit, no worries.

The storms of life, the messes, teach us; they teach us about ourselves, about life, about others, and about God.  On the other side of the storm, the lesson, the wisdom gained, can be used to help another going thru a similar storm. What if I still don’t have any answers after the storm? It’s still a win-win because there will be someone who needs to hear, “I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is that God loves you, He knows your struggle, your pain, the situation, and I will come alongside you and pray for you until you are on the other side.” Just knowing that we are not alone in our storm, that someone is praying for us, is comforting.

Life is not only messy, it’s also unfair. The messes of life don’t discriminate between good and bad people. We will all get our turn! Matthew 5:45 says, “45 For he makes his sun shine on good and bad people alike, and he sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) Well, at least that’s fair! Right!? Non church goers and church goers will get thrown the proverbial curveball of life from time to time; it’s part of us all being in the same boat!

Usually when people share their troubles with me I tell them we learn more in the valley than on the mountaintop. Whether they go to church or have never darkened the doorway, they know what I am talking about. Do I have all the answers? I used to think I needed to have something “wise” to say, a profound word of wisdom that would make everything all better. Life has taught me differently. Listening is far more important than pontificating the wisdom of the universe. Sorry that was kind of a smart mouth thing to say, but really, it’s true; listening is key. We want to be heard, and often just telling another our struggles helps. Invariably we tell our struggles to someone who has been there, done that in some way, shape, or form, and it makes us feel less isolated, less singled out by life. And it’s okay to say that we don’t have an answer, sometimes a hug says more than words.

So, what’s the bottom line? There’s nothing we go thru that isn’t common to man, and whether or not we are a “good person” or a “bad person”, life will be messy at times. Once on the other side we will get the opportunity to help another during their messy moment. Do I go thru my messy times with grace and beauty? Hardly!! Usually it’s kicking and screaming! I suffer loudly! Ask my husband and kids! But I have found, during those messy times there are people who come alongside me and give me hope, encourage me to keep putting one foot in front of another, and lift me up in prayer so that when I am on the other side I will have something to offer another.  

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Love, God, Love People………Really???

(Dedicated to those lost in the Orlando tragedy, and those who loved them for the unique people each of them was. We mourn their loss, and celebrate their lives)

I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It read, “(heart) God, (heart) people”. Nice sentiment; who is going to argue with that? Me! What have I got against (heart) God, (heart) people? Nothing except that we as a “body of Christ” really don’t subscribe to that philosophy! Oh yeah, we give it a ton of lip service. “God loves you and so do I”, “God loves all people”, “all are welcome in the kingdom of God”, and other not-so-very-genuine statements Christians make every day.

The vast majority of churchgoers and professing Christians I have met in my life don’t really mean what they say about loving everyone. Does anyone really love everyone?? No, because we are human.

I work in an industry that cares for the developmentally and intellectually disabled. I head up the Health Services department and love my job…..and more importantly I love the people I care for. What I have learned about myself, about God, about life is another whole blog post by itself. Each of the living God-breathed souls I care for each day have a purpose, a message, a life of meaning, and each leave their unique fingerprint on the world.

We have staff of every variety of humankind. We are a nation unto ourselves; white, Hispanic, African American, Africans, Christian, Atheist, Wiccan, Muslim, Straight, Gay and Transgender.

When I walked into that job a few years back, I walked in a conservative believer with an attitude of superiority because God and I were tight and I knew what He tolerated and what He did not. The churches that I have attended viewed homosexuality as a sin, and any other religion as inferior to Christianity, or just plain wrong.

We, as humans, like to label others so that we can establish categories that each belong to. Strip the labels away and you have a rainbow of humanity, each uniquely created and loved by the Creator. Stripping the labels away forces us to acknowledge the person as a living breathing human deserving of respect and dignity.

Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, some of our best staff are those who have been ridiculed, shunned, misunderstood and mistreated by society, and many by professing Christians. I can give society at large a minor pass, but not Christians. Aren’t we the representatives of God on earth? Aren’t we supposed to understand the heart of God?

In Yeshua’s (Jesus) day those who were shunned, ridiculed, considered unclean, were the lepers, the Samaritans, women, and each was considered unworthy of God’s love and acceptance. And yet Jesus accepted them all. Not much has changed, has it? We are still deciding who and who is not “worthy” of love, and acceptance by us and by God.

Being immersed in many who are “different” than I am on a daily basis has changed me. Some in the church might say that I have become “desensitized” and am teetering on the edge of losing my salvation because I am associating with the “unclean”, those outside the church. But I disagree. Involvement with people different than me has made me realize that we are all in this together, we are human and share the trials, triumphs and challenges common to all humanity. It has opened the door, at times, to discussing the hurts and challenges that have shaped us and how we view others, and view God, Sometimes I am asked to pray for or pray with others.

I don’t run around wearing a placard announcing my relationship with God. I mess up in front of others; things come out of my mouth that are less than Christlike, I get angry, frustrated, you name it I have likely stepped in it at some point, but there is still something that others perceive in me that is different. I love the opportunity to talk with others about the hard issues, spiritual issues, faith, trust, hope and God. It’s humbling. Sometimes I don’t have answers; I just listen and that’s ok. People need to be heard.

The biggest take-away for me from this whole experience is that people are people, and God loves them all. I don’t know where that person may be on their journey with God, or even if there is a journey. Another person’s journey really isn’t my business in the grand scheme of things. I trust that if that person is open to hearing the voice of God, He doesn’t need my help to speak. But what I do know is that when I am open to all kinds of people and accept them as they are, there is a higher probability they will give God a chance. I’m not perfect, far from it, and everyone who knows me knows that!

The reality is I don’t want people to see a “perfect” version of me because that is not real, not genuine. When we work overtime to wear the face of perfection in front of others we are giving the wrong message to those who don’t know God. If I am “perfect” the message is that you must also be perfect for God to accept you. Not true.

God created this rainbow of humanity and He loves His creation. Do you shun others different than you? Maybe it is a lack of understanding, or fear that someone different from you will “rub off” on you. Fear should never be a factor in choosing to associate with another.

Many Christian churches have strong feelings and teachings against the homosexual or transgender person. I will admit I was one of those people, but it was because I didn’t see them as a creation of God. The churches and Christians I have known taught me to view them as their “sin”, not as a uniquely created being. I refuse to judge another and what I think is “sin”. I surely don’t want others judging my “sins”! That whole judgment thing is God’s business, not mine. The only one I can be concerned with in terms of “sin” is me.

I used to believe, as many do, that homosexuality/transgender is a choice. I no longer believe that. God doesn’t make mistakes. I do believe God creates spirits clothed in human skin. The spirit of the person is who he/she is, not the human clothing that is worn. I know for me, the experiences I have had in life, to a great extent, shaped the person I am today. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but this spirit God created is accepted by God and loved by God.

Do I “love” everyone? No, honestly sometimes it’s a struggle because some people are just irritating, frustrating, am I right? But I try to see people as a unique creation of God. Not all people make me all squishy like puppies and kittens, but I do know that God loves us ALL.

Standing At The Grave…..

Assumicide leads to the death of relationships because we end up believing the worst about others.” (Taken from the article, When You Are Misunderstood, by Dr. Ray Pritchard) Wow has there ever been a more true statement? It’s amazing to me that when we are dealing with an issue in our lives God brings a statement, or a person that speaks to the very issue we are dealing with. That’s what happened with this statement. Cool!

Being misunderstood, misquoted, mistrusted hurts, especially if you weren’t aware, or were only minimally aware, that you were in the middle of the proverbial “crap storm”. When the crap storm becomes an F5 tornado it is likely the life is going to be sucked out of you. Yeah, that’s what it felt like. Was I completely innocent of all charges? Was anyone involved innocent? Nope.  I admitted my transgressions, apologized, offered the olive branch, but alas none of that was enough, and relationships are now dead at the hands of “assumicide”.

So what happened? Little statements taken out of context, repeated, embellished, twisted to serve another’s purposes, tossed up in the air again and stomped until a “bad guy” is targeted as the cause of all the dissention. People are people and when we are feeling hurt because of something we heard someone else supposedly say, and then it’s repeated to others their perceptions further color the situation, and the end result is  a tangled mess that often cannot be sorted out. Wrong conclusions are drawn based upon bits and pieces of information that seemingly prove the accusations to be true, and then we rally the troops as we draw the line in the sand. Either others will stand with us or against us.

It hurts. The closer the relationships the greater the pain. The “blamer” wants to hurt the one perceived to be the instigator of the problem because it may feel that motivations or actions have been challenged; many times the “blamed” wants to be heard, to fight back against the falsehoods, to bring understanding, to heal the fractured relationships. The “blamed” one’s honor is in question, trust has been compromised, a reputation is at risk.

So what do we do? I really don’t have any answers. Speaking from our hearts to bring understanding may work, but then again it may not. Sometimes no matter what we say the words won’t be heard and received in the vain they were intended. Sometimes people have hardened their hearts and decided no matter what is said forgiveness will not be given. Sometimes people want to believe the worst about others. As the “blamed” sometimes we have to accept that we cannot “fix” the relationships and we need to move on. That can be a hard pill to swallow. We cannot control how others act, what they say, or what they choose to believe. The only ones we have control over is ourselves.

So then the question becomes, “what is my response going to be?” We can be angry and harden our hearts, or we can draw closer to God and let Him fight our battles. That’s hard, though, isn’t it? We WANT to put dissention to rest, recoup our reputation, and to be trusted again. The Bible tells us that a good reputation is worth more than gold or silver so it is to be protected. When our reputation is in question we want to do what is needed to restore its good name.

Drawing closer to God means we are willing to  hear His wisdom in the situation. Maybe that will mean we permanently break from the relationships where we once felt loved, cared for, and understood. God often draws us into deeper waters in times like these, the course of our lives change in small and big ways. I’m at that place. I am walking into deeper waters awaiting God’s direction. It can be a lonely place, but also a place of depth and learning. I can’t say that I am excited at this point to find out what the next steps for me in the grand tapestry of life will be; in some ways I am still in mourning for what is lost. I am also mourning for what I thought I had, but in the end did not. So, here I stand at the grave of the relationships lost to “assumicide”…….

 

Judge not…..

We’ve all read it, heard it, said it to someone, or had someone say it to us. Maybe you’ve even been curious enough to research the passage and its interpretation. The Complete Jewish Bible Matthew 7: 1&2 says, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For the way you judge others is how you will be judged — the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you”. If you read the whole chapter Yeshua (Jesus) says a whole lot more and the chapter is a lot to digest, but for our purposes we will start with these two verses for now.

The passage seems rather straightforward. Not too much to discuss…..don’t judge others and you won’t be either. Judged by whom? God. He is the ultimate judge after all, right? And that is where many people get tripped up because the meat of the statement is that we needn’t judge others and we won’t be the recipient of the measurement of judgment we dished out. I believe that has earthly and spiritual consequences. “Karma” if you will!

Let’s face it. Humans make horrible judges. We judge others a whole lot more harshly than we judge ourselves and if you were to continue reading in Matthew 7 Yeshua addresses that as well. Judging another doesn’t usually stop there; Judgment’s” sister “Gossip” is usually in the vicinity and the hole we dig for ourselves gets that much deeper. So from this day forward you are hereby absolved of your responsibility to judge others! Do you feel lighter now?? Hope so!!

Zooming in a little closer Yeshua’s admonition to abstain from judgment is because we are not God…not even close. We only see any person or any situation in part. The statement has to do with judging the heart of man, his/her motives for the decision or situation that person is in. Can we, in all reality, truly know the heart of another?? No we cannot. No matter how well we may think we know others, we cannot know their hearts. That being said I dare to venture many of us have been “judged” by others, and some of us rather harshly. It doesn’t feel good does it? I have heard it taught in churches I have attended that it is our responsibility to judge others in the church. What a lot of people miss is that we are NOT to judge the person…that is God’s job, not ours. If we are to “judge” anything it would be the actions of others and then offer our help whether that be in the form of prayer, counsel, or in whatever way would be most helpful. Paul addresses that very thing in another book of the Bible.

Where many church people mess up is in the judging of others. “tsk tsk tsk did you hear that Billy Jean and Rob Roy are getting a divorce??” or “I heard that Jesse James is frequenting the liquor stores and bars and possibly even smoking and yet he is front and center in church every Sunday!!” or “did you see that tattoo on that woman’s arm? Obviously SHE needs prayer!” That, my lovelies, is judgment with a heavy dose of gossip….every bit a “sin” if ever I saw one! What is that you say?? You were merely telling another so that you could join in prayer for that dear misguided soul?? Bull poo poo!! I don’t buy it for a second! And that is why Yeshua said that we would be next in line for judgment and it would be measured out with exactly the amount of compassion we used to judge. Who among us can resist a juicy tidbit of gossip that we cannot wait to share with our best pew buddy even if we promise “to bring it before the Lord in prayer”?! Gossip all by itself is never helpful in any situation. It destroys, but that is a story for another day.

Every person on the face of the earth is on a journey with God whether we choose to acknowledge Him or not. He knows each of us full well. He knows the number of hairs on our head…..and He knows every desire, secret, struggle, hope, loss, fear, and motive we have every moment of every day of our lives. He KNOWS us intimately and the most beautiful part is He loves us anyway! And on that journey we are all at different places with Him; learning and discovering things about Him and ourselves at different times than others on their journey. Not only do we have no idea of the motives of another’s heart, we do not know where that person is on their journey…..what God has taught or revealed to that person so it makes no sense to judge the person.

So what of the actions or words of another? How are we to judge them? That’s risky ground in my book but it can be said that God has laid out what “sin” is as far as He is concerned. The Bible says that God hates sin…that He cannot be in the presence of sin. Ok I get that and because He cannot be in the presence of sin He gave us Yeshua to stand in our stead. Yeshua is God’s bridge for us to approach Him. The Old Testament folks didn’t have that advantage. We do. He also gave us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks to our spirit and we can choose to hear or ignore Him. When we choose to hear Him He can speak to us about areas that need change. Some call those areas sin. Whatever word you choose to use is not the point….the point is are we going to listen and respond or not. That to me is the journey.

I can only speak for myself but I have lived long enough and have been through enough in my life that I now do my best to accept each person as they are and where they are and pray that God will speak to that person on their journey, and then I leave the work and judgement up to God. At times people have asked me for my opinion on a matter that may be considered “sin” and I will answer. Be forewarned though, I always say, “don’t ask unless you really want to know what I think!” At other times I have felt compelled to talk with a person that I see is headed for hard times, about to make a decision that will dramatically impact that person’s life as well as many others and sometimes that conversation is tough and isn’t always received well, but that’s the risk. The conversation, however, is held in private and not shared with anyone else so that we can “pray about it”. That my lovelies would be treading the path of gossip and quite truthfully having been the subject of gossip at times I don’t care to put another in that position.
If you think that it would be important to pull another into the conversation to give further wisdom or guidance ask for permission to share the situation first, but be certain it is a trustworthy person with tight lips! Offer guidance, counsel, prayer and then leave the work up to the Holy Spirit. Trust me He doesn’t need your help!

Have I screwed up and “talked out of school”, in other words, “judged another person? YES!! I am woefully human, and am more than willing to admit it. I screw up every day, likley every hour, some days probably every minute! I am a work in progress, and God most definitely has His hands full with me!

In the end we are all a work in progress and none of us has risen so far above another that we have the right or responsibility to judge another person. We may not always accept the actions or words of others or believe the actions or words are in line with the Bible, but that does not mean that we cannot accept the person as a unique creation of God and love him/her. We are called to love one another plain and simple.