Sunday, December 20, 2009

Expectant Tears

In Pompeii back in 63 BC, the people were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the great Christ. They were excited at what His arrival would mean. Based on the greatness of King David, who if you will recall was an amazing warrior; a grand man of faith with a presence that could not be ignored, they awaiting the King of Kings expecting Him to be very similar, but bigger and grander by far. They waited and waited faithfully for a grand warrior, a man of prestige and obvious honor to come and say “I am He! Follow me!”

With all their faith and all their waiting… can you believe they missed it??? When it finally happened and Jesus was born, they didn’t believe that He could possibly be the Christ. You see, He did not fulfill the popular expectation of the Messiah at all. He was humble not boastful. He was a servant to others not bossy at all. On the outside, He was a man of few means, not a man of extravagant wealth. He was a lover and not a fighter. Nope, this wasn’t the Christ they expected at all and as a result of their incorrect expectation… they missed it completely.

I have often asked myself how I will know when Jesus returns. I wonder if I will accidentally miss it or not believe when the time comes. But then I realize I am fortunate to have the Bible to direct me and assure me that I will not miss it. It's very clear in there, there will be no way for me to miss it… and I have to be honest… I can’t wait!

I think we as people walk around with all sorts of expectations and we don’t even realize it. For example, if you’re in a really good mood, you might choose to say hi to a stranger at the store. But just because you said hi doesn’t mean they are going to say hi back. In fact, they might even give you the finger depending on what kind of mood they are in. It's amazing how quickly your good mood turns sour when you do something nice (like saying hi) and the same niceness isn’t reciprocated. Why is that? It's because we have the expectation that just because we offer ourselves in kindness, that others should do the same. We expect to be respected… and in our selfishness, we also somehow think everything is about us. If someone doesn’t say hi, it’s taken very personally and we wonder what we did wrong.

I have gotten better at not over-expecting or under-expecting (which is just as dangerous) but I still have a lot to learn. One of the ways I practice having a zero expectation walk of life is to say hi to everyone I come across… say hi and expect nothing in return. It’s a very small gesture but has helped me a lot. Some people smile at me, some people growl at me, some people look at me like I’m a weirdo and some people just jump right into a lovely conversation. No matter what happens though, I know I am doing it because I want to. I am doing it because it’s a little way I can shine a tiny glimmer of Jesus into other people’s world. They don’t have to accept it… that is their choice. And… if they don’t, I know it’s not my fault at all. I never know what someone else’s battle may be, but it surely is not about me saying hi to them.

Recently I’ve had some expectations dashed… and it has really hurt. I do a lot of work with people in recovery and it gets messy sometimes. One of my expectations in this area is that people who come to me for help, really honestly want help. That seems like a reasonable expectation, right? Well, I think I’ve learned that having a zero expectation policy here is much healthier because in reality… some of the people who ask for help are only doing it because they know they are supposed to want help while in reality… they are not fully ready or willing to make changes. Another expectation I realize I must change is the belief that the people I work with in recovery will respect our relationship enough not to turn on me and blame me for things I had nothing to do with. My partner in recovery leadership told me that this is pretty normal stuff… that hurt people, hurt people… and they lie and make stuff up to cover their own butts. They need someone to blame for their failures or incorrect behavior and the one who was trying to help, the one who knows the truth is usually the easiest target. I know he is right, and I know I’ll get better at this as I adjust my expectations and tighten up my boundaries when working with new people, but I have to admit… it is scary to throw my trust out at people who I know might screw me over because they are not ready. In the last month, this has been so real and scary to me that I have deeply considered walking away from my God given purpose of helping others in need of recovery.

I’m not going to quit though, God has assured me this is spiritual warfare. The devil doesn’t want me to to continue because through me following God’s will, the devil will lose some very faithful followers. My head knows I can’t quit and that I won’t quit… but my heart questions whether I can handle the pain. Can I really keep trusting the untrustworthy hoping they will see that God hasn’t given up on them, while taking the chance they will turn around and pierce another piece of my heart? Can I do it?

I ask, what would Jesus do? Would He turn away from what God has asked Him to do just because He was scared of being hurt? If you recall the night He was arrested, He went to His Father in prayer and asked Him if there was any other way… He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Mark 14:34) Then He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you...Yet not what I will, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36). He went on from there to suffer a torturous, painful, horrible death… for all of us. For… me. Jesus didn't turn away from what God wanted of Him, and He knew it was gonna hurt real bad.

A wise friend of mine told me that in the end, all we have is trust. If we let this cynical world steal our trust from us, we are only punishing ourselves (thank you wise friend). Of course, trust should be used with intelligence, with expectations in check and proper boundaries in place. And then comes faith… faith in a God who is bigger than all of it.

Yesterday, my heart was heavy with grief and I had been crying most the day. God felt really far away and I was questioning what He wanted from me. It hasn’t been my best week. I had to put my dog to sleep, both of our cars broke down, ridiculous untrue accusations coupled with unkind emails, difficult personal boundary adjustments, and to top it off… my grandmother died. Having a heavy heart… well that doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings at the time. But I had a party I needed to go to for Celebrate Recovery and I decided to try and do my best with what was ahead of me. I was in the car trying to merge onto the highway and for some reason, no one would let me into traffic. It was tricky and for the first time in a long time I really struggled to get in the lane I needed to be in on the road. Finally I was there and took a deep breath. I looked ahead to the car in front of me and the plate said, “PVB 123” I wondered if God was speaking to me… had the cars not let me in because God needed me to make my way behind this particular car? God-incidence??? I called my husband and asked him to read Proverbs 1:23 to me and here is what it said, “Listen to my strong words! See, I will pour out my spirit on you. I will make my words known to you.” I was in awe… God was there… He was going to take good care of me and I needed to just relax and let Him show me His will… it would come.

I have felt a little more at ease with God’s presence since then, but still very troubled about having been accused unkindly of something untrue while trying to help someone in recovery and I've chosen not to stand up for myself because I hold others anonymity very highly. It just hurt my heart. This morning at breakfast my husband suggested maybe I needed to read the license plate a little differently… Proverbs 12:3. I looked it up and here is what it said, “A man will not stand by doing what is wrong, but the root of those who are right with God will never be moved.” The weight on my shoulders began to lift and by the time we returned from church... I was finally at peace.

Knowing Proverbs 1:23 and Proverbs 12:3 is out there and that they are the word of God written for me, I can say loudly, “Yes Lord, I can do what You ask of me, whatever it is!” And with the help of a few really good real friends, my sponsor and an a-number-one Christian therapist, I will get better at balancing the proper expectations and boundaries that are so needed in what I was made for. Hey devil… you can expect to see me keep on going! And I expect that my heart will ache from time to time... but the joy in the end will be worth every single expectant tear. I'm not going to miss out on my calling or my relationship with Christ just because it's not quite what I expected.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Warning... Written by a Girl Who Is Crying...

It has been a very sad day for me. I made the decision that it was time for my little doggy, Tori, to go meet her maker. It was one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life and as I sit here now, I am relieved it is over. I am not relieved she is gone, but I’m glad that I don’t have to ponder the subject of “when” for another moment. I was really hoping she would just drift off on her own one night but… that would have been too simple, especially for a very complex, neurotic dog like Tori.

I joke that she was the most expensive dog ever purchased. It’s not that she cost that much… it’s that I purchased her on a credit card with 10% interest and then didn’t pay it off for over 10 years. With compounded interest, late and over the limit fees the little American Eskimo Spitz puppy was by far the most expensive dog in the world. I may not have been very responsible with my money back then (obviously) but taking care of her taught me a lot about responsibility in general. I wasn’t always very good at that responsibility, but I did my best.

I am regretful of several poor decisions I made as her owner. Sometimes the men in my life were more important than she was. Sometimes I didn’t do a good enough job at protecting her from herself (not putting the trash places she couldn’t get to it). I didn’t give her enough discipline and as a result, she was really hard to control later in life… especially after Brett was born. I yelled at her for things that weren’t really her fault… and I left her behind at the kennel for most of the big events of my life.

I am disappointed with her that my son didn’t have a dog that loved to play with him and romp around in the back yard playing ball. Instead, I had to protect my child from the unpredictable nipping and bite of a very jealous little animal. But that was my fault… I didn’t do the kind of research I should have before purchasing the little puppy. I bought her based on cuteness… only to find out later that she was not a very baby friendly animal. Yes, I am disappointed that the birth of my child caused so much angst for little Tori… and for me.

I am angry about all the things she destroyed through the years… oh my goodness! She could chew through anything. One day I awoke to a big hole in the drywall of my bedroom wall. She ate clothing, shoes, furniture, books… basically anything she could get to. I’m also angry that she barked so dang much. It was so annoying, especially toward the end of her life. She was deaf so she barked even louder then normal. Her only joy in life in the final days was to bark for treats – and she did it ALL DAY LONG. She was tenacious too… barked until she got what she wanted. It would infuriate me.

But, mostly I am thankful. She was my one and only friend for many, many lonely years. She saw me at my worst so many times, in fact, she was the only one who knew the real alcoholic Wendy at her worst. I never hid my behavior from her…and she just kept on loving me. She would lick my tears and entertain me endlessly. She helped my husband propose to me… he tied the ring around her neck and I am so thankful I kept the ribbon he used. She provided me with many good memories through the years… the way she rode in a milk crate in the back of my two-seater convertible back in my early twenties. The time she absolutely refused to forget about the hotdogs a neighbor tossed over their balcony edge… she knew they were there and she was gonna get them by golly. That went on for days! When I lived in Maryland, there were some huskies that lived behind us. The firehouse was close by and when the alarm went off those huskies would howl at it. Tori wasn't a very good howler but she sure did try to join in. She would stand up and make sure I wasn't watching her (as if embarrassed) then slowly begin to try to howl. Her voice would crack and she sounded silly but I'd just pretend I didn't hear her just so she'd keep doing it. We took her with us on all our family reunion Outer Banks trips and boy did she like running on the beach and digging in the sand. And what about all the nights she kept me safe from the boogey man when I lived alone and then later, when my husband was out of town. I can see her running happy and free in the pasture and yard at my parent’s farm in Virginia. She only got zapped by the electric fence once or twice before learning not to go near that. And just his past Thanksgiving… oh the fun we had with her trying to keep her out of the kitchen… you had to be there… it was hilarious.

She was a good little dog… even though I failed her in many ways. I’ve said she was annoying to many people, I’ve jokingly tried to give her away more times than I can count but all of her horrible habits were of my own making… my fault…. and for that I say to her… I am sorry. I am also sorry that I, the hand that had fed you for years, kept you safe, happy, protected and warm was the hand that brought about your final moments on earth. For that… I am truly sorry. I hope you will forgive me.

I held her in my arms, looked in her eyes as she slipped away… I told her I loved her and how much she meant to me and then I asked God to take good care of her. She was His long before she was mine, so I know He will.

Bye little Tori… I love you and will miss you and your jingle jangle.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tossing Magnets

This morning I was sitting on the floor in my kitchen playing a refrigerator game with my son. He was tossing magnets at the refrigerator door to see how many of them he could make stick. It turned out to be a lot more difficult than he imagined. It’s a basic law of attraction: magnet… refrigerator… shouldn’t they all stick easily on the first toss?

Brett is the kind of boy who likes to do easy things. He tends to shy away from things that he can’t do perfectly the first time he tries. As with all of us, he really enjoys success and avoids failure at nearly any cost. I am trying to teach him that failure is a very important part of life. When things are difficult for us, we must keep trying, learn from our mistakes and practice practice practice. If we keep it up, we eventually will have success. I read a book called “Failing Forward” and it changed my attitude about failure. I realized that failure is not something we can avoid, unless we want to do nothing at all. It’s not a bad thing… it’s a necessary stepping stone to greatness.

So there we were sitting on the kitchen floor (which I noticed was really dirty… to-do add on: mop kitchen floor), he was tossing magnets toward the refrigerator in a game that should have been easy but ended up being a game of chance. Only about ¼ of the magnets stuck and the rest fell to the floor.

I looked up at the refrigerator and saw a poster I have on there… a poster that has been there for over 2 years. It was one of those things I put up there as a reminder to myself but then got so used to seeing it that I don’t see it at all anymore. It says:

“WARNING: Intolerance Will Not Be Tolerated!”

This quote makes me chuckle because of its oxy-moronish statement. I see myself (the new creation Wendy, not the old dead Wendy) as a fairly tolerant person. I love people, especially people who are screwed up because I myself am quite a bit screwed up. I feel like God has gifted me with a vision of people that is deeper than their problems. I see beauty and hope in messed up lives… I see grand opportunity for God to come alive in a real and tangible way. So, I like to think of myself as very tolerant. But… as I sat on the floor looking up at this reminder, I realized there are few people in my life that I have become a person who, instead of embracing them as beautiful screwed up people who carry a promise of hope but just haven’t fully gotten there yet, I have become a person who silently yells, “Intolerance will not be tolerated!” at them. There is one person in particular that I have really been struggling with… and I have to say resentment has built up a wall that has blocked be from seeing their God molded beauty. Part of it is that this person is almost EXACTLY LIKE ME. For some reason, it’s harder for me to tolerate their behavior because it is so much like mine used to be before I fully gave my life to Jesus. A very wise friend of mine suggested that perhaps my specific intolerance of this person was more a reflection of how I felt about myself… perhaps I have not fully forgiven myself for my poor behavior in the past. Wow, the insight the Spirit gives others to tell us our truth is amazing when we open up and become transparent with the right people.

Back to the magnets, as I watched little Brett’s game continue, I was completely surprised at how easy going he was about his failure rate, again only about a quarter of the magnets were sticking. Instead of whining and becoming intolerant of the ones that fell to the floor, he rejoiced in the ones that stuck. I wondered if maybe my lessons of continuing to try had finally begun to stick with him. But what he did next really taught me a lesson. When all the magnets had been tossed… he picked up the ones that had fallen to the floor and “failed” him and instead of giving up on them or throwing them away, he gave them a second chance. He began tossing them again.

I think we are like magnets God is tossing at the refrigerator of salvation. A lot of times, the natural law of attraction just doesn’t work. Sometimes we turn ourselves the wrong way as we are flying through the air and when we get to the door… we don’t stick. But God doesn’t become whiny or intolerant of the ones that failed him, He doesn’t throw us away and give up on us. He rejoices in the ones that stick and then… He very kindly picks up the ones that fell away and gives them another chance to stick. Lucky for us… He just keeps trying again, rejoicing in the ones that stick and then giving the ones that fall away another chance… over and over and over.

It is amazing to me how my 4 year old child can teach me such valuable lessons in life. Of course, he has no idea but wow… the wisdom of a child! I will take the advice of my wise friend and look a little deeper at my own self-forgiveness. I will try to stop passing right over the poster, “Intolerance Will Not Be Tolerated” and take time to actually SEE it. And, I will hug my child with a silent thank you for reminding me that God never gives up on us, no matter who we are or how many times we fall to the floor. I want to be more like that.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christian Leadership Is Like a T-Shirt... Really, It Is!

A few weeks ago my husband said to me, “Wow, you sure do have a lot of Jesus shirts!” Yes, I do. I’ve written a few different articles concerning my t-shirts. Check out June’s articles “Blending In” and “Responsibility… An Addendum to a T-Shirt” and October’s “Out of Propane … Again.” I’m a big fan of Jesus shirts, not so much because I think I’m making people love Him by seeing my shirt, but more because it’s a way I can profess my faith without saying a word. I can show Jesus my devotion to Him and show I am not ashamed to profess it. It also has created a new way of thinking for me… a way of being more responsible for my actions and to not be a bad example for Christ. The impact of Jesus shirts has been life changing for me.

I am a leader at church and I take it very seriously. Right now I’m forming a team for something very important. In the training material it honed in on something that has really stuck with me. Other than love and devotion to Christ, the idea is that the most important ingredient to a good church leader is their ability to walk their talk. Before making leadership appointments or pleas for help, first stop and ask “does this person’s life reflect their devotion to God in all facets? Do they live out their belief? Do they walk their talk?" That’s not to say they have to be perfect… no one is. But there is a big difference in the credibility of someone who says “do as I do” and a person who says “do what I say, but ignore how I act.”

When it comes to Jesus t-shirts, you have 5 choices to consider:

Choice One: You can choose not to go in the store the sells that type of shirt. That’s right… there is nothing in there for you! You’ve either got it all figured out on your own or you don’t think “that stuff” can help you with anything. It’s a bunch of hooey. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in a shirt like that!”

Choice Two: Once in the store and browsing, you see a shirt that strikes your fancy. “OHHHH, that is pretty!” or “Ha ha, that’s kinda funny…” but you make a choice. You choose not to buy a shirt at all. “It’s too much trouble, what will people think of me if I wear THAT… yes, that shirt is for OTHER people, not me.”

Choice Three: After you buy the shirt, you realize that it carries with it a bit more responsibility than you first thought. At that point, you make the choice to never actually wear it (or maybe you just wear it to bed as a night shirt). So, it hangs in your closet, every once in while you consider putting it on to wear in public but then you don’t. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to deal with the responsibility of having to watch your behavior – or maybe you are afraid… afraid you will fail and afraid you will be a bad example. “I don’t want to be a bad example. If I’m not perfect, God will be mad. I may turn people away from God then their lack of salvation will be all my fault.” (FYI you sin all the time whether you have the shirt on or not and God still loves you – and God is much bigger than you so if you mess up one person’s view of Christ, He has boundless opportunities to fix it, so get over yourself!)

Choice Four: You can choose to wear the T-shirt and walk around willy-nilly without a care in the world. You’re flipping people off, cursing like a dude that just fell off a navy boat, getting loaded at the bar… you’ve forgotten about the shirt completely or maybe you just don’t care one way or another. Perhaps the t-shirt is fashionable, or maybe it makes you feel like you are part of something, maybe it’s just comfortable, maybe it makes you feel important… who knows… but you can choose to put it on and wear it just like any other shirt in your closet.

Choice Five: You can choose to wear the shirt and take the responsibility seriously. When you put it on, you say to yourself “I am going to do my best to be an example that makes God shine. I am going to walk as closely to Jesus as possible today.” Okay, so you might mess up but refer back to the parenthetical at the end of Choice Three… get over yourself, God can fix ANYTHING. The amazing thing with this choice is that if you work on this consciously, in time what will happen is you will not need to prep yourself each time you put the shirt on, and maybe just maybe you will unconsciously become a better disciple of Christ than you ever have been before no matter what shirt you have on… and what could possibly be wrong with that? Nothing… it’s awesome. I have seen this happen in my own life. And yes, I do screw up. But… I keep putting the t-shirt on and keep doing my best. Isn’t that what being a Christian is really about… having the shirt on every single day?

So now, what the heck does the t-shirt have to do with Christian leadership??? A lot really… it’s just we don’t think of it this way.

Choice One: You can choose to not put yourself in a position to ever be asked to step forward for Christ. Perhaps that means not going to church at all, maybe it’s just going on Easter and Christmas. Maybe it’s regular attendance but out the door you run as soon as it’s over. After all, you don’t want anyone to approach you and actually ask you to do anything for the church. If they did, you’d either have to make up some lame excuse about how busy you are or you’d have to say yes just so people don’t think you’re a bad person. Then you end up serving God with a bad attitude. He LOVES that (sarcasm).

Choice Two: You go to your house of worship every week. You enjoy the people and the social aspect and that Pastor he is really great… he tells the best stories (they’re in the Bible, you should read it sometime). But when it comes to all that extra stuff… Bible study, small groups, food drives, angel tree, clean team, prayer chain… the list goes on… it sounds interesting at first but… “It’s too much trouble, what will people outside of my church think of me if I commit to THAT… yes, that stuff is for OTHER people to do, not me.”

Choice Three: You’ve been attending regularly for a long time, you’ve even officially joined the church and it feels good. You have “purchased” a tiny corner of the building by committing your tithes. Someone steps up and directly asks you, “Would you be willing to lead a new team for us? I think you have the skills and background to do a great job. This ministry could be incredible and reach lots of people… will you think about it?” You are so honored and you go home with a smile on your face. “Wow… they thought of me! I must be doing something right, I have it all together! They know I love God and see what a good person I am.” Suddenly, the honor starts to turn on you…. And fear steps in… “But I don’t have it all together… and what if they find out? What if they find out about my bad habits? Will they kick me out of the church?” Then the Spirit steps in… “But God obviously brought this to me for a reason, maybe He is asking me to step up. Maybe with His help I can make some changes within myself that I have been putting off for a long time.” Enter Satan…”Who do you think you are? You can’t change. You are just a worthless sinner and you have no business leading anyone in anything. They will laugh at you, they will mock you, you will fail… you’re better off letting someone more qualified than you take this.” You call the person who asked you to lead this new team or ministry and you politely decline. Part of you is ashamed because the voice of the Spirit told you ever so quietly that He wanted you to do this and that perhaps it was time to makes some changes in your life. The other part of you is relieved. You can go on just the way you’ve always been, doing the things you want to do, not worrying about if people find out or what people will think of you. Whether you realize it or not, that relief brings more guilt… and shame.

Choice Four: You agree to head up the new ministry. You are ready to go and proud that you were chosen. This is a point of ego for you “I am a leader, people look up to me, I am good.” Deep inside you know that your position as a leader means that you should probably not act out in certain ways but, who do these church people think you are, Jesus? “I mean, I need to live my life and be who I am.” You have chosen to lead but you walk around willy-nilly without a care in the world. You’re flipping people off, cursing like a dude that just fell off a navy boat, getting loaded at the bar. When you are outside of your ministry, you’ve forgotten about your church responsibility completely or maybe you just don’t care one way or another. Perhaps to you leadership is fashionable, or maybe it makes you feel like you are part of something, maybe it makes you feel important… who knows… but you can choose to take on the role of leader in Christ but segment your life so that you don’t have to make any changes that reflect your choice to lead others to be closer to Christ. Sadly, I believe this is where most people find themselves. I would love to be wrong.

Choice Five:
You can choose to lead the ministry and take the responsibility very seriously. When you wake up in the morning of a ministry responsibility, you say to yourself “I am going to do my best to be an example that makes God shine. I am going to walk as closely to Jesus as possible today.” You recognize that you will never be perfect, you will make mistakes, you will need to make apologies but your faith is strong and you know without doubt… God can fix ANYTHING. You step out just a little bit further and realize that the way you act in public, while at work, while at the coffee shop, while waiting in line at the grocery store is also a reflection of your ministry. What if someone from church saw you flipping off the car next to you? Because you are a leader, would they then think it was okay to do such things? Or would they go the other way and make a decision to NOT be like you? You put yourself in God’s hands humbly and ask Him to do His best work with you, molding you into the person He made you to be. You allow your ministry to bleed into your entire life. The changes you have been waiting to make… you jump off and do it with the help of God. Eventually with this attitude you will unconsciously become a better disciple of Christ than you ever have been before no matter where you are or what you are doing… and what could possibly be wrong with that? Nothing… it’s awesome. I have seen this happen in my own life. And yes, I do screw up. But… I keep trying and keep doing my best. Isn’t that what being a Christian is really about… leading people towards Christ every single day?

Are you still wondering what a T-shirt and Church Leadership have in common?

Well, here’s a big idea for you to try to swallow. Forget about t-shirts and specific ministry leadership for a moment. Let’s go really basic. Think about your allegiance to Christ. Do you call yourself a Christian? Do you call yourself a Christ follower? Well, the choice to be a Christian, a Christ follower, is in and of itself a daily leadership position. If you are a person who calls yourself Christian… I urge you to take it very seriously in all facets of your life. It is a matter of life and death; few and many, narrow and wide.

If you have made the decision to lead within the body of God’s church, I also urge you to take it very seriously in all facets of your life. It’s not an easy thing to do. In fact it takes a lot of discipline and prayer. But you have peoples’ lives in your hands and in addition you have made a “contract” with God to aid his ministry one soul at a time. If you can not take this seriously, don’t accept the job. None of us are perfect, and one of the best things a leader can do is to be authentic, able and willing to say, “I screwed up, I’m sorry… I will try my best to do better next time.” I have very recently had to do this very thing. I was embarrassed, but the outcome was incredible. I built more trust and credibility with my people… and I was told that the fact I could admit my failure proved that I am, in fact, a good leader. I will end with this quote, “Nobody likes to be led, but everyone loves to be led well.” Lead well my friends.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Vine...

As I write this today, all I can say about myself is… guilty. But merely saying I am guilty does not exonerate me from it. I do not get to walk away with a smile on my face and say, “Good job, Wendy… you admitted you are guilty. Enough said!” Nope, there is one more thing to be done.

I may not have a real job, but I do definitely have a job. In fact, I have several. The jobs of wife and mother are up towards the top of the list, and they take up quite a bit of my time. Another big job I have is that of the mission God has instilled in me with the life of recovery. It is so very obvious to me that He has given me my issues so that I may help others learn to overcome theirs with the help of God. I take this very seriously, and I believe this to be my God-given purpose in life. I wish I could say I always have my priorities in line but, I don’t. Admittedly, I put my mission in front of my husband and child at times. I am very grateful to have an understanding husband who doesn’t get too upset with me when this happens. He is so incredible… I don’t think God could have done a better job at matching two people together.

But more than being a wife or mother or a missionary for God’s grace… I am called to simply be a daughter of the King. That is my number one job in life. To be an obedient, open, connected and humble daughter. Sometimes, I get so busy talking about the awesomeness of God, sharing His ways with others, talking about how He gives us freedom from the bondage of ourselves that I forget to stay connected to Him. In other words, I get so busy trying to help others build a relationship with God that I neglect to have a relationship with Him myself. I forget to stop and be His daughter.

Recently, someone I love relapsed into their addiction. It is painful to stand by and watch denial and tragedy wreak havoc on their life but that is really all I can do. Apparently there were warning signs that it was coming, but the warnings were not shared with me. I’m not sure if it was hidden from me out of shame or perhaps fear of what I would say… maybe they just didn’t want to have someone tell them no. In the end, I know I can’t take any responsibility for someone else’s step backwards. All I can do is be there for them when they are ready to step forward again. And to this person I say… my arms are open… I love you no matter what. I am angry… but not at you. I am angry at the addiction… at the devil… I am PISSED OFF to see how a beautifully created, incredible person can be turned into a shriveling pile of deceit. I’ve been there, I was that pile (and it was big and heavy)… but hear this… it is NEVER too late to turn around. God will NEVER give up on you. God loves you more than you can fathom. If you can’t believe that yourself, just believe that I believe it… because I do.

Relapse can happen to any of us. It can happen at any time, on any given day. It can happen to the over-eater, the drug addict, the co-dependant, the depressed, those addicted to love and lust, those overcome with grief, the over-spender, the person who just loves to hate themself, the workaholic, the child abuser, the boozer, the worrier, the control freak... any of us, all of us. Relapse is what happens when we don’t put God first on our list and remember to take time to be His son or daughter for too long a period of time. Relapse is what happens when we become disconnected from our life source. It’s so easy to do, so hard to maintain yet so simple… take… a… moment… and… pray.

Back to what I said at the beginning, I am guilty for being disconnected. I haven’t devoted undivided prayer time to my Father in many days but I don’t get to walk away scott-free right now, proud to have admitted a failure to the world. Nope… I must also leap into action to correct the problem. Without action, my confession really doesn’t mean much. Without correction, perhaps a confessed sin loses its redemption. I am going to take a moment and pray… right now… on my knees. I am going to reconnect with my life source so that I may fulfill my number one job in life; to point my undivided attention toward the great, powerful, wonderful, grace-filled, ever-loving, ever-forgiving God who I am thankful calls me daughter. Join me in some time with God and John 15…. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Choose To Be Awesome

“I didn’t mean for this to happen! It just happened. I am so sorry,” or “I don’t know how this happened… it was totally out of my control.” Ever heard one of those before? Or perhaps you have been the one to say it. In my freshman year of high school, I had this "best" friend who said that to me almost once a week. I remember really liking a boy that my friend also liked. I began dating him but it wasn’t long before she said it to me… “I didn’t mean for this to happen… but it just happened. It was out of my control.” I was crushed. But if I am going to be honest, I’ve been the one to utter a similar phrase as well, many times. Here’s the crazy thing – when I was the one saying it, it seemed so true. But when I was the one hearing it, it sounded like the biggest bunch of bull-caca ever articulated.

It has taken me years to fully understand that for the most part the phrase, “I didn’t mean for it to happen, it just happened” is in fact a bunch of crap. Nearly everything we do in life happens as a result of multiple tiny decisions. Some times the decisions are so small that we don’t even see them as decisions at all. Take for example an affair, you don’t just wake up one morning and BAM! find yourself in an affair you weren’t in the day before. It’s a series of small decisions that lead you there. First it’s to talk to someone. Then it’s the decision to continue talking to them knowing you are attracted to them. Then it’s to think about the person in a way you know you shouldn’t think about them. Then it’s to continue both, talking and thinking, even though you know better. Next it’s to rationalize “we’re just going to coffee as friends, what could happen?” Then the decision to keep a secret… then another. Phone calls, texts, perhaps a secret meeting in a closet or hotel room… before you know it, “I didn’t mean for this to happen, it just happened! I am so sorry!” comes rushing out of your mouth. LIAR!!!! The truth is you had choices and you chose badly. I’m not saying it’s easy to reject these things, I’m just saying that we need to call a spade a spade and say… bad choices…. period. Of course this isn’t true for everything, some things in life do just happen… but an awful lot of them don’t. It takes intentional thought way in advance to prevent these things from cropping up in our lives. We really have to be on our toes since the devil loves to keep us blinded to all our minuscule decisions. But an affair always begins with an innocent, “Hello.” A decision doesn’t get smaller than that.

I was discussing this very thing with a friend and she said something I really loved… she told me that just like small decisions lead us to make big mistakes… small decisions are also what lead us to wonderful victories. I had never ever thought of it that way before. I remember back when I was beginning to repair my life after coming to terms with my alcoholism. I wanted to change… overnight! I wanted people to see me differently just because I had made the big decision to be sober. Well, it didn’t work that way and there were times I got really bummed out. I couldn’t understand why some people just saw me as a screw up no matter what I did. I really thought I could do one really awesome thing and all of a sudden become an awesome person. I’m sure that works for some people in ways, they can be seen as an awesome person for a few hours by doing something big, but the question is, is it real??? I think the best way to awesomeness is to make a bunch of really awesome small decisions over time. The choice to smile… the choice to be kind… the choice to help the old lady at the grocery store… the choice to listen to a friend even though you don’t have time… the choice to pick up a piece of trash… the choice to give your extra dollar away instead of buying a pack of gum… the choice to give your sandwich to a homeless man at the park and stay hungry for a few more hours… the choice to not yell at the annoying dog… the choice of patience when you have none left… the choice to commit 5 minutes to God instead of doing the dishes. Eventually these small choices will become who you are and lets be honest… what could be more awesome than being that person? Now that is the person I really want to be and I am happy to say, with the knowledge that it’s the small decisions that really matter… I realize I have begun to truly transform. I don’t need to give a million dollars to a university… I just want to be nice.

So, I'm not gonna lie to my friends, family and acquaintances anymore. I'm not gonna lie to myself by saying “I didn’t mean for this to happen… it just happened” or “I don’t know how this happened… it was totally out of my control.” I'm facing the truth, I'm going to be aware of my small decisions… and I'm going to choose to be awesome.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Pink Flag

There are lots of different types of flags in the world: city, state, country, nautical, religious, swimming, railway, decorative, racing. Personally I use a mental warning flag system. I think most of us can all agree that a red flag, means STOP! Don’t go any further!!!! Danger ahead!!! You stop at a truck stop at midnight to visit the facilities. There are 5 “MISSING” signs on the front door. The store clerk looks a little crazy and there is a chainsaw on the floor right across the hallway from the bathroom… RED FLAG!! Get back in car and find a different place to stop (sound familiar Dustin). Or how about this… you are a beautiful female looking for a new job and apply for one online. They request a picture of you and then without having an interview or even a phone conversation, the guy emails you at 7:00 on a Friday evening asking if you can come to his office and do some emergency “filing” that night... RED FLAG! Delete email and quickly block this man of questionable intelligence (that one is for Kristin). I’m sure you can think of many red flags you have gotten in your lifetime. You gotta love those red flags… they keep us out of heaps of trouble!

But what about the pink flag? How many of you have seen one of those pink flags waving around in your subconscious mind? Oh come on… you know it… it’s when the red flag is waving – flapping with loud and bright obviousness but our desire to get what we want is so strong that we somehow convince ourselves that the flag we are seeing isn’t really red… it’s just a little pink. That’s right… the pink flag is the red flag we consciously choose to ignore. I think it’s fair to say, we have ALL done it.

I’ll share one of mine with you. I was 23 and had just met a guy. We were on our second date, sitting at a bar getting loaded (that’s what we did on our first date too). My prior relationship was with a guy who I thought drank too much, he was abusive to me in many ways and had a history of not treating women very well. I wanted to change my luck in the worst way and I was hoping this new guy was it. That night, on our second date, he decided he needed to come clean with me about a few things. I sat listening to him explain … he didn’t have a driver's license because he had gotten several DUI's. If he got another one he was going to do time in the slammer. Hmmm… he was drinking heavily with me, and he had illegally driven us there in his truck without a license... RED FLAG… oh but wait, there was more. He went on to tell me he was in the process of defending himself in court… against a rape charge. He promised me the charges were bogus (and in his defense, he was later cleared). He had consensual sex with this young lady then her boyfriend found out so instead of admitting she had cheated, she cried rape. He continued on by telling me this was the reason he was single. Apparently he had also cheated that night and when he was officially charged he couldn’t hide it from his own girlfriend any longer. She broke up with him promptly after uncovering his unfaithfulness (smart girl). Can you say ginormous, humungoid, too big to even fit on the planet earth sized RED FLAG!!!!!! I remember sitting there looking at him completely freaked out. I thought, “Run!!! Run fast!! Run faster than fast!!!” but I sat contemplating for a moment on what to do next. All of the sudden, this flag – the biggest, reddest flag that had ever been waived in my direction began to slowly change colors. My gut reaction to run made me feel guilty... like I was being judgmental and it wasn't fair to judge him for his past mistakes. Then I thought to myself, “That sure must have been difficult for him to tell me all of that. Wow, that takes a lot of guts and honesty. Yes… what an honest guy! I like honesty. Honesty is a great trait for a boyfriend to have.” BAM! The flag had turned a beautiful shade of PINK!!!! You won’t be shocked to hear that my almost 3 year relationship with this guy was filled with drunken stupors, violent arguments, dishonesty, unfaithfulness and alcohol related vehicle issues… and not all of that was him - I was very guilty too. Now, I want to say this clearly, I think we Christians have this judgment thing kind of backwards sometimes. We think that we aren't supposed to judge people at all... but the truth is that we make judgments everyday. The act of judgment isn't wrong... it's what we do with the judgment in our heart and the way we treat people as a result of the judgment that becomes the issue. I would have been better served to have judged him at that time as a man that drank a bit too much, was confused about faithfulness and sexuality and just said a prayer for God to help him work that out... as I walked away. God's plan is inevitable... and if I were to walk away from someone He really wanted me to be with... He would bring him back around when the timing was better. I have full faith in that.

Red flags are red for a reason. Think about what would have happened the night of the first Passover if one of the Israelites decided to dilute the blood he brushed on the doorway for protection. Death, that’s what would have happened. So why then do I choose to ignore the red flags God gifts me with in my life? Do I really think I have a better plan? Do I really think I have the power to make a situation turn out differently? Back then I knew that guy was not going to be the good guy I needed. All the signs were there, but I thought I could be awesome enough to make him love me enough to change and be different. So, from the very beginning, the relationship was about ME…that’s how selfish and arrogant I was, and that’s just crazy!!! I have a hard enough time trying to change myself, why the heck would I be able to change someone else? This changing stuff is for God alone. He is the only one who can change others, He is the only one who can change me and He should be the only one in charge of the flag colors. The bible says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” I’m not always good at that… but I’m gonna try my hardest to let my green flags be green and red flags be red; to judge appropriately without guilt... no more pink.

(special thanks to Jennie Carlson ... you rock sweetie - I love ya!!!)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Following From In Front

I have a dog, she is 17 years old – yes that’s right… seventeen. She is an American Eskimo Spitz and to say she is a little annoying would be like saying God is a little awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love her but she is blind, deaf, has major arthritis, snaps at my child quite often and have I mentioned that she barks… A LOT. And it’s not just a regular bark, it’s this piercing extra-loud, super-annoying bark (if you know Carly Arnold, ask her, she’ll tell you). I wish I could say her annoying behaviors started at her geriatric onset but that’s not true… she has always been annoying. But like I said, I love her anyway.

One of the things she does that really drives me extra insane is this phenomenon I call “following from in front.” This is when she really wants to be with me and go where I go but instead of following from behind, she walks in front of me… slowing me down… turning her head back to try and figure out where I am heading so she can stay in front. She does it ALL the time!!!! It usually results in me tripping on her, her yipping in pain at me stepping on one of her little paws and then me yelling at her, “Will you get outta my way, you dumb dog!!!!” You’d think she would have learned that following from in front doesn’t really work. I mean she has had seventeen years to figure it out… but… nope… she still does it. I still trip on her, she still yips and I still yell at her to “get outta my way, you dumb dog!”

I have recently been given the honor to work closely with a new lady in the area of recovery. She isn’t an alcoholic though, her area of addiction is food. And just so you know, she gave me permission to share this with you. So fear not, if you and I are talking about recovery, you need not worry about seeing your story here in writing without your permission because I take anonymity very seriously. At first she and I weren’t sure if working together would work out since we have such different issues but we have both come to find out, we are not all that different, and one thing is for sure the same… the answer.

Several weeks ago, she was at her breaking point. Of course, she has been struggling with her eating issues for years but for some reason here she was at the threshold of the recovery doorway trying to decide if she was ready to really, truly walk though it this time. She reached out to me saying “I can’t do it!!!! I can’t!!!!” She was furious, she was depressed, she was extremely disappointed, she was petrified… she was almost broken in half. As painful as I knew it was for her in those moments… I found myself excited for her. I knew this was the moment she had been waiting for, for YEARS. It was a make it or break it moment. We began to talk through her feelings and thoughts. I asked her questions and listened to her answers. When she told me that she was in a hurry to kick her problem in the butt because she knew there were a ton of people out there who were suffering and needed her help… it became obvious to me that she needed to take a deep breath and slow down. I was quickly reminded of myself and told her a story.

It was my very first day at AA. It was my very first meeting. I sat listening to the people around me and realized quickly that I understood them. I realized they understood me… and I just knew I had something incredible to share that would be a healing force in many people’s lives. I was ready to stand up in front of everyone in that very moment to tell my story of alcoholism and heal the world!!! I seriously thought I was ready in that very moment to help others. I knew God wanted me to make something good out of my hell and I knew I was up to the challenge. What I didn’t know was that I was not yet equipped. That may seem like common sense to most people, but me… nope.

While that was an extremely noble (and perhaps slightly egotistical) feeling, I am glad that I was too nervous to actually do it that day. I probably would have sounded ridiculous… “Hi my name is Wendy and I’m an alcoholic… I’ve been sober (pause to look at watch) exactly 2 hours and I’d like to tell of you how I did it…” In addition I am glad I picked a sponsor who was able to tell me time and time again that I needed to slow down and stop rushing the recovery process. I really hated hearing it, but instead of firing her, I made myself teachable and decided to listen. I admit it, I have always been the type of person who wanted to teach everyone else how to drive a stick shift before actually learning how to do it myself. I’d tell a mother of 8 how to have painless childbirth before I had ever been pregnant. My most common response to my father was, “Yes Dad, I know.” I would load up an awesomely amazing hay ride with lazy boy recliners for comfort, enough pumpkin pie for all the passengers, and a hot apple cider machine but then sit there and wonder why the horse couldn’t get us on our way. Well, he was hitched to the back just standing there looking at me like, “stupid lady.” I’d go back there and try to push it myself… push with all my might and just end up looking like a giant donkey as everyone would jump off my ride to go find a more productive one. I guess you could say I was the type of person, who just like my dog, liked to follow from in front. Through a Christian non-AA sponsorship, I realized that I had to learn to give my problem to Jesus before I could teach someone else how to give their problem to Jesus. I learned it is necessary to step out of God’s way, and allow Him to lead.

Back to my new friend who was standing at the recovery welcome mat; it was amazing what happened that day. God gave me this mental image to plant in her head of her problem being a kite and how she needed to stop hanging on to it, running, stumbling, out of breath, beside it and just let go of the string and let God take it up to heaven. I truly had never thought of recovery that way before… but those were the words that I spoke… they were His words, I have no doubt. Something about that image stuck with her and I am proud to say that she walked through the recovery doorway that day, even though it would have felt easier to keep saying “I can’t do it.” Today she is basking in the continued glory of how God allows her humble success with her eating issue. She looks beautiful, she is literally glowing and I know each day that passes, she is one step closer to being able to help those people out there who need her help and understanding. She has even passed on the kite imagery to someone else who was struggling… and that is how it works. One little step at a time, we pass it off to God and then we pass it off to others. Before we know it He is using us in amazing ways we never dreamed of… and instead of being boastful we are so very humbled by the opportunities He gives us to help change one life at a time.

As I’m writing this I can’t believe how much like my annoying dog I really am. So many times I am blind to God’s presence, I’m deaf to His calling, the aches and pains of this life make me snappy to those around me and my mouth… well it gets pretty loud, repetitive and annoying I’m sure. I always have something to say… I get those looks from people, those “will you just sit down and shut up” looks. I’m aware of them and I’m working on it. I’m trying to learn how to just be “the girl in the room” instead of always “the girl with the mission.” I pray about that daily and I know God will show me and teach me how to accomplish it. But I wonder if, in the process, God ever looks down at me like I’m the annoying American Eskimo Spitz who’s trying to follow Him from in front? Am I slowing Him down, causing Him to trip? I’ll bet so… but one thing I’m sure of is that He isn’t up there yelling, “Get outta my way, you dumb human!” Instead, I envision Him gladly stopping what He is doing to gently pick me up and dust me off. Once He knows I’m okay and back on my feet, He kisses my forehead sweetly and says, “Now, go child … do the best you can and I’ll be here to pick you back up later.” It’s about progress…. not perfection.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Proud Like Haman

I’d like to tell you a story about a girl I know…

She had a happy life. She was blessed with good health, a nice family, and a pleasing job. She wanted for nothing… her lifestyle wasn’t overly extravagant, but nice. She was very proud to have a 4 bedroom home in a nice neighborhood. She often told her friends about the pool and hot tub in her back yard. She mentioned the wall sized movie projector television in her living room whenever a discussion led her there. She was proud of her game room that housed a full sized pool table. Her biggest source of pride was that her husband had been so smart with their money that they had no debt other than their mortgage.

She had an attractive husband… and smart son. All in all, a good-looking family. It was actually a family she never dreamed she would have since in her mind, good-looking men were out of her league. And motherhood… that was just not something meant for her. But now that she had it all… she was bound and determined to be different… to do this every day married and mommy life in a special and more exciting way than others did it. She was going to rise above the norm and be exceptional.

She worked for a company that found her skills so appealing, they were willing to over-pay her by many thousands of dollars. They even made her a manager. It was the best job she had ever had and she loved going to work every day.

In her spare time, she did plenty of volunteer work. She saw herself as a person who did more for the world than most people. She relished the honors her extra work brought upon her and she shared them with those around her proudly. She saw herself as a person who loved and devoted herself to God more than most people. She thought her relationship with God gave her the right to judge others and she did that often, essentially making decisions for God about who was good and who was bad. With these thoughts, she elevated herself above average and when she looked in the mirror, she saw a person who was doing really great in life. A person who was BETTER than most.

With all of this going for her… she still wasn’t happy. She always wanted just a little bit more. She always felt like the world owed her just a little bit extra. She was racked with jealousy… and if she ever saw someone else getting new, expensive things… a family that was evolving beyond hers… a job or promotion that exceeded her own achievements… or even being publicly rewarded for a good deed, she would turn green with envy. Sadly, she had even plotted against others at times to hold them back even in the tiniest of ways. Some times it was as simple as an unkind “joke” to deflate confidence or maybe even as complicated and cruel as giving a poor score on a managerial review just to keep them from progressing. But even with all those things swirling in her mind and through her hands on a daily basis, she still regarded herself as a highly moral, good and decent Christian gal… better than most.

Well, if you haven’t figured it out already… that girl was me. Most of you reading this that know me, never really fully knew that part of me. It is embarrassing to admit these things, especially to people who mostly only know me as sober, God-loving Wendy. I have no doubt you see a glimmer of it here or there as it is innately (and unfortunately) who I was for many, many years. It is a fight to leave those behaviors behind after living that way for so long. The best word to describe that person is… proud. And yes, I find myself in that proud mindset more often than I’d like to admit. It is by far my biggest struggle, even beyond sobriety.

I found it interesting how closely "old me" resembled Haman, of the Old Testament. He is the villain in the story of Esther. He saw himself as being totally devoted to King Xerxes and made decisions on the King’s behalf, one of which was a plan to kill all the Jews. He boasted of his wealth, his family, the ways he had been honored by his job with the King, and how things he had done had elevated him above others in high standing. He perceived himself as “The Man,” and used trickery to keep himself on top. He ordered the death of a man who was responsible for saving the King’s life and had a special gallows built for his hanging. In the end, his plot was found out. You could say it was through a series of coincidences, but in my mind they were nothing short of God’s nudgings to have His plan unfold with victory for His chosen people. Haman was hanged on his own specially built gallows. To me, this spoke volumes. It is so common for me to dig a big ole’ hole and then fall right in it. The old perception I held of the person I used to be, a good and moral God fearing lady, was so misguided with pride. The truth was, I had never really read the Word of God, I rarely prayed and the only thing I was ever concerned with was myself. Psalm 7:14-16 says, “The wicked conceive evil; they are pregnant with trouble and give birth to lies. They dig a deep pit to trap others, then fall into it themselves. The trouble they make for others backfires on them. The violence they plan falls on their own heads.” I believe God considers this kind of pride a worse state of faith than to have no faith at all. 2 Peter 2:21 backs me up on that, in fact that whole chapter is a good one to read when feeling prideful and superior in my spiritual standing. Proverbs 16:5 says, “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”

The story of Haman shows me how a proud beginning leads to a very bitter end. Fortunately, my end had not yet come when I was given the opportunity to accept God’s grace and forgiveness of my past life. Sobriety and working through the 12 step program is what awakened me to who I really had been. After seeing the type of person I had become… I was able to look to God and ask Him who I was really meant to be. Thankfully, He will never give up on me so with each day that passes I can step a little bit closer to that person He has in mind for me. I still (and always will) fight my intrinsic nature of pride and ego though. I’m so glad that God put real people in the Bible, people I can relate to both bad and good. They show me clearly what will happen to me if I choose poorly, they remind me of who I once was and they also give me unimaginable hope as I attempt to walk closer to God. Someone recently accused me in a very negative and condemning manner of having an inflated spiritual attitude… they said, “Wendy, stop trying to be like Jesus!!!!” But what was meant as an insult brought great joy to my heart. After all, isn’t that the point of being a Christian, to try and be more like Christ in all we do??? I know I’ll never achieve it. I know my pride and ego will rear their ugly heads and set me back now and then but at least I’m trying. In the meantime, I will continue to try and simplify things, not need so much, take more joy in quiet giving and humbly offer my experiences to those who ask.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear Hasbro...

Dear Hasbro*,
My 4 year old loves transformers. I thought maybe he was too young to really appreciate them or be able to “transform them” but I was wrong. I bought him one of the level two transformer dudes and he did in 3 minutes what I couldn’t do in 20 after some cursing. There are several things I wanted to bring to your attention as a consumer who will inevitably be buying more of your products for years to come. And just in case you are wondering, I am also a consumer who realizes you probably don’t give a flying flip about what I’m about to say, thus there really is no point in writing this letter… except to post it on my blog for other consumers of your products to read and enthusiastically nod at before heading off to the store to buy more Hasbro products.

First, I found it quite strange that you have put transformers on the market that don’t actually transform. Had I not been really careful to read the very small print at a most inconvenient place on the packaging that said, “this product does not transform” I may have accidentally purchased a product that would have left my son HIGHLY disappointed. Is it strange for me to think it’s strange that you would sell transformers that DO NOT transform??? Strangely, I do not think it is strange for me to expect a product called a transformer to… transform.

But more to my point here… my son does love transformers… and even at 4 years old he can figure it out easily. He can play with them for hours without coming to me for help… or at least I’m fairly certain he would play with them for hours without needing my help IF ALL THE DANG PARTS (I.E. LEGS, ARMS, HEADS AND OTHER APPENDAGES) DIDN’T JUST FALL OFF AT THE SLIGHTEST TUG. Just in case you are wondering, I am SHOUTING AT YOU!!!!!

I would find it rather difficult to believe that no one there at Hasbro* has children. May I ask you to do something for me? Would you go find one of those employees that actually has a child and ask them a question? Ask them, “Do you enjoy the sound of your child whining about how their beloved toy’s arm or leg constantly breaks off?”

My husband played with transformers a child… and lucky for us he saved several of them. Last weekend we gave a box of his old 1980 transformers to our son and let him play with them. Would you believe that after constant toying, manipulating and rough housing… not one piece fell off??? NOT ONE!!!! Yet, just blink at the new version wrong and whoops… there goes an arm. It just goes to show, things are not made with the same care and durability as they used to be. What really ticks me off is that even considering inflation… things are so much more expensive these days. That’s right people… more expensive and more crappy!!!! Aren’t we lucky? How did we turn into a world that thinks this is okay?

I am a Pez collector… I have over 800 of them and you know what – there is even a difference in the making of a Pez dispenser. My old 70’s and 80’s dispensers NEVER lose their heads or get jammed. But these new ones, you take them out of the package and it’s a crap shoot… will it work? How long will it keep its head?? You just don’t know. So what if I only spent a dollar fifty on it… does that give it an excuse to SUCK??? Does buying the less expensive toaster give it the right to short circuit and burn my house down? No people… it doesn’t!!! I shouldn’t have to buy a $150 coffee maker to get one that doesn’t squirt hot water all over my counter!!!!! (By the way, Hasbro*, I realize you are not responsible for Pez… or toasters... or coffee makers.)

Here’s my point, if a company is going to take the time and energy to engineer, manufacture, market, package and sell a product, we as consumers should be able to rely on it period regardless of whether it is a cheaper or more expensive variety. Alas… that is not the world we live in. If it’s a $15 toaster, then we must expect to have burnt toast.

Time changes everything… right? I can’t expect things to stay the same… right? Well, there is one thing I can count on no matter what… God. He is the same today as He was yesterday. He will be the same tomorrow as He was today. He will never get chintzy or try to make an extra buck by selling me worthless or faulty goods. He won’t ever try to sell me a look alike triune God that doesn’t actually have an interchangeable Father, Son and Holy Spirit. His arm won’t fall off if I tug on Him a little too hard. His dispenser won’t ever get jammed and deprive me of what I need most in life… grace. He may allow me some pain or some whine time… but I recognize the bumps in my road are necessary (usually my own fault), and not a result of a lack of attentiveness or caring on His part. With all that said, why should I feel the need to complain about Hasbro*? Perhaps just for fun… to remember that I am just a human who is allowed to get frustrated and that frustration is sometimes the only thing that binds us humans together! Luckily for me, there is no commandment in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt not be sarcastic” or I would be in loads and loads of trouble. I do think I need to just accept today’s commerce as the way it is and move on. I don’t have to like it…. but I must accept it. It’s like the old saying, “would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”

Hasbro*, thank you for allowing me to complain. I am thankful to live in a country that allows me that right. And please, do not send me any gift certificates to “make this right” as I don’t need any more toys that fall apart in my house.

Sincerely,
Wendy S. Oleston
just a girl recovering from alcoholism with the help of God one day at a time


P.S. How dare you Disney create a Cars die-cast car by the name of “Tow” that is an actual tow truck BUT doesn’t have the type of hook that will tow any thing. And lets just say some tenacious child who is smart enough to know that a tow truck named Tow SHOULD be able to tow other cars decides to try and force the issue… how dare you make it so cheap that the tow breaks right off. I'm just sayin'...

*and any other product production company in the world

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Ultimate Unfair Fight

If there is one dude who for certain doesn’t fight fair, it’s the devil. I’ll just be sitting around, minding my own business, thinking I’m doing exactly what God wants me to do and then realize… BAM… “the horned idiot got me!” Maybe he wriggled in with jealousy over a cherished friendship or perhaps I purposely missed an opportunity to serve my neighbor because of pride. Maybe selfishness interrupted the joy of what was meant to be a good deed… whatever it was… he got me, again. He sneaked right in there without me noticing. He used one of my many known weaknesses to drag me down to his level. And if I’m not really careful, he can keep me down there with him by making me think I need to beat myself up over and over and over instead of just giving it to God once and wiping my hands and heart clean of it. Yep, that devil sure doesn’t fight fair.

It makes me think of the story of poor Dinah. She went out to see some of her girlfriends one day and while out and about, struck the fancy of a man named Shechem. He decided he had to have her… and raped her. He was really nice to her after, but she was completely distraught over being defiled and disgraced in such a personal and private way. I’m sure she couldn’t help but to think how unfair it was to be taken like that against her will.

She told her family hoping for support and at first, they seemed to have her back. But it wasn’t long before she learned that Shechem, the man who had raped her, was requesting her hand in marriage. The worst of it was her father was actually considering giving her to him. How in the world could she marry a man who violated her so terribly? When Dinah heard her father had struck a deal with this awful man, I imagine she was beside herself. She felt lost and alone. She felt abandoned and afraid… and she couldn’t believe life could be so cruel… and unfair.

The deal was an unusual one for sure. Dinah’s father told Shechem’s father he would hand over his daughter in marriage, and share other daughters and land with him IF all the men of Shechem’s tribe would agree to take on the sign of the covenant with God. In short, all the dudes in Shechem’s tribe had to be circumcised. After talking it over, the deal sounded pretty good. They’d get to trade goods, daughters, land and such and all they had to do was undergo one little, teensy procedure. They all agreed it was worth it so they went for it… and all the men in the city were chop-chopped on the same day. Fair or not, off little Dinah went to her new home.

Well, as unfair as it may have seemed to her… the Shechemites were about to learn a little something about injustice. In an act of planned vengeance, Dinah’s brothers gathered all of the great warriors and able bodied men of their tribe together and went over to the Shechemite's city while they were all still in pain and recovering from their little “procedure”… and Dinah’s brothers opened up a big can of whoop-ass on them. Because of their weakened state (an unfair advantage), Dinah’s tribe was able to easily kill all the men and plundered the city. And they did it for her… they were her personal vigilantes!

I love this story… do you know why? Because these are God’s people exacting revenge! Of course it’s the Old Testament (big shock) and if you don’t believe that it’s really in there… look it up at Genesis 34. Now, I’m not saying you should go open up a can of whoop-ass on everyone you feel has been unfair to you… what I am saying is this… God showed me today how “the unfair fight” goes both ways.

I really hate the way the devil plots and plans against me. He does horrible things to me then tries to trick me by saying he cares about me. I can become like Dinah and be completely distraught over being defiled and disgraced in such a personal and private way. I think how unfair it is to be taken like that against my will. He is mean and calculating and it’s really easy to look at him and cry, “no fair!!!!” But maybe when I feel that way, I’m thinking of it the wrong way. How unfair is it that the devil already knows he has been beaten??? How unfair is it that he knows he has absolutely NO POWER over God and God’s people? How unfair is it that no matter what he does, no matter what he says… he can not change the fact that Jesus has already overcome him. It’s a done deal. When I think of it that way, I start to feel a lot like Dinah must have felt as she watched her buff brothers mow down the man who had defiled her. I feel justified and proud. I feel invincible and indestructible. I taunt him with… “Ha-ha take that you idiot… you’re goin’ down sucka!!!”

Of course the devil needs to be sneaky and play unfair… I mean wouldn’t I if I knew there was absolutely no way I could win? Wouldn’t I be grasping at whatever straw I had to, to try and hang on to even the tiniest of victories or dignity? Of course I would… and that’s exactly what he does. That’s why it’s so important for me to remain vigilant in my servitude to God. The war has already been won but there are many battles ahead. Yes, the devil may come out ahead on a few of them… but in the end, my vigilance and my Father’s vigilante, Jesus, is going to come through for me!! I bet my eternal life on it! “That’s right devil… you’re goin’ down sucka!!!!!” And THAT, my friends, is the ultimate unfair fight! I sure am glad I’m on the winner’s side.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chat

I learned a valuable lesson last night, one that I hope I won’t soon forget. I had a “date” to chat with a friend of mine. I had been looking forward to it all day and was excited when it was time. Unfortunately, another circumstance arose and when it was time for us to get together, we didn’t. I was bummed. First I must say, I don’t deal with changes in plan very well to begin with, but add on some extra sensitivity and wow… I got some very silly hurt feelings. I felt let down and disappointed. I felt unimportant and silly… I felt sad. My heart kinda did this achy thing it hasn’t done in a long time and at that point I thought it was really strange for me to be so hurt over something so simple. I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep but couldn’t. I started talking to God and asked Him what my deal was… why was I so hurt over something so simple and ridiculous? And that was when He showed me something that made me understand Him just a little bit more.

I love my friend… but she owes me absolutely nothing. We are friends to the end… and I’d do anything for her. My friendship with her is based on nothing other than kindness and respect and love. Our plans to chat didn’t work out, for a reason I understood and support but it still hurt.

I love God… and I owe Him everything. He never leaves my side. He created me, He gave me everything I have, He has saved me from so many terrible things and I am sure there are more to come. He forgives me every time I ask. He holds a special place for me in His kingdom. He calls me daughter. He sends His Spirit to me often to guide me and tell me things. He gave me His only Son with no strings attached. My plans to chat with Him change all the time and usually for reasons that escape any understanding (messing around on Facebook or watching re-runs of Seinfeld).

So… how much more does it hurt God when my plans to chat with Him “don’t work out” because I decide to go watch television or take a nap. How much more than my little heartache does it pain God when I consciously choose something else instead of time with Him? After all, He created me… and I owe everything I am to Him.

Tears came to my eyes when I really thought about this. But not in a beat-myself-up-forever, I’m-such-a-terrible-awful-person, how-could-You-love-me kind of way. It was more of a thank-You-for-showing-me-that-I-need-to-do-better, thank-You-for-Your-grace kind of way. I am truly humbled today… and so very thankful to my friend for this lesson she helped me learn, even though she has no clue. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Footy Pajamas

Another rainy day. I have to admit, I do love the rain. For some reason I find it comforting. Nothing is better than curling up on the couch with a fuzzy, warm blanket on a quiet, rainy day with only a book to read or a few movies to watch. That just sounds like heaven. Of course, once you have children that heaven changes slightly. Suddenly, the fuzzy, warm blanket is sticky with last nights orange juice, the couch has been overrun with cracker crumbs, the quietness that afforded you a listen to the rain drops on the roof has been replaced with , “Mommy, will you play with me… Mommy, can I have a snack… Mommy, I need to poop,” and your new forced favorite movie has an annoying theme song you can’t get out of your head. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of joy in that too, but sometimes it sure would be nice to go back to simpler days.

I’m emotional today although I’m not 100% sure why. Perhaps it’s because I’m saying farewell to some things God has told me to release. Perhaps it’s because I’m embarking on some new, scary journeys God has led me to embrace. Both are very uncomfortable for me. And I don’t deal with change very well. If you don’t believe me all you have to do is ask my husband. He will tell you… a change in plans, however slight can really throw me for a loop. I’m stepping out in faith right now. I’m doing my best to follow Him with obedience. I don’t really “like” it, but He is changing my heart slowly but surely with every step I take toward Him.

I stopped at the super-store to get some milk just a little while ago. As I made my way through the store I walked passed the pajama department. My eyes fell upon a rack I just had to go take a closer look at: adult size footy pajamas. Oh man, I was excited!!! I looked through them and thought about how ridiculous I would look in a pair of these bad-boys… but I also thought about how comfortable they would be. I remembered that a friend of mine had bought a pair last year, and a matching pair for her daughter. I looked at the price… $24.99. I thought it was a bit much for such a silly thing I didn’t really need. Instead of buying them, I picked up my cell phone and called my friend to tell her I had thought of her and her footy pajamas. It made her laugh. Oh how it was good to hear her laugh. I think she was having a rough morning… and we just spoke briefly but profoundly… something about not knowing the answers to the questions we don’t yet know. And… how we put too much pressure on ourselves to know answers to questions we don’t yet know. We both completely understood in that moment, although I’m not sure what the heck we were actually talking about now. We said goodbye and promised to talk again soon.

As I grabbed my milk and headed to the checkout counter I realized the reason I had considered getting the footy pajamas was really simple. I was longing to feel like a child again. I was longing to feel warm, cozy, and curled up safely on my couch. I was longing for the weight of adulthood, responsibility and decisions to be lifted from my shoulders even if only for awhile. I stopped in my tracks and thought about getting those footy pajamas again. $24.99 wasn’t such a bad deal if I could re-claim my comfy-cozy infancy for a moment or two, right?

Then I heard a whisper in my head and realized, I didn’t need to buy a pair of footy pajamas to feel like a cozy, comfy, protected child. All I had to do is ask God if I could nestle in with Him for a little while. I felt Him wrap His loving arms around me and there I stood, the child I longed to be. I felt warm and comforted. The weight of not knowing the answers to questions I didn't yet know lifted in an instant. To further my comfort, God told me I will never be a grown up in His eyes. And He is the type of Father that will always make time for me no matter when or where, no matter what He is doing. Always. Period.

Right now, the house is very quiet… I can actually hear the ticking of the clock in the hallway. It’s nice. I need to go pick my son up from pre-school in 5 minutes. After that, the quietness will be gone but giggles and endless questions will fill the void. As mommy, it is my job to make sure my son feels comfy, cozy and protected. In addition, it is my hope that when he is all grown up, he will recall his mommy teaching him that God can bring him back to his “footy pajama” days... anytime... every time he needs a break.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"What in the TAR-nation?"

Someone once told me the Bible was the cheapest book you can ever buy because every time you read it, it’s a new story. And it’s true, I learn something new every single time I sit down with it.

This Sunday, my husband and I attended a new adult faith class at the church we have been attending. It was our first time going to Sunday school in YEARS… and it was our son’s very first time ever. I’m happy to say, little Brett had a great time and learned about being nice to everyone. Hopefully that will stick! As for Ryan and I, we took a wild tricycle ride (literally, we watched crazy Pastor Rossow ride a tricycle down the center of the room) through 4 major stories in Genesis. First, we discussed Adam, the sneaky-lying-satan-serpent and Eve. Second, I realized how quickly after creation we humans screwed the world up by discussing Cain and Abel. Next was God’s painful decision to wipe “all evil, all the time” away with the Flood. We talked about the rainbow; God’s covenant promise to never ever do that again. He allowed us to start over… and promised that we needn’t be afraid. He told us to be fruitful and multiply and spread out all over the land. We were lucky, right? To have a chance to start over… to have a promise from the Big Guy that He would never flood us again. A sigh of relieve went through the land as we respectfully, graciously, glad-to-be-alive, quickly, obediently went about following God’s direct orders to a tee. Right???

Which brings us to the 4th story... I’m literally rolling on the floor laughing…. Ha ha ha!!! God told us to be fruitful and multiply and spread ourselves through-out the lands. So what did we do? We decided to build the Tower of Babel. That’s right… we decided to build a huge tower so we could all stay together… so we could all fit in one nice, neat, little area. The tower would reach higher and higher and higher… so we could keep an eye on God (wink wink). Yep… spreading throughout the land was overrated. We had a way better plan than God had and we needed to stick together. We needed to stay the same… no change for us! No discomfort needed… same old, same old was just perfect! So there went our respectful, obedience immediately.

As if our defiance weren’t enough, we lobed a big loogie at God as we built this tower of insubordination. What was that loogie? I’m so glad you asked… tar. Yep that’s right, tar. We built the danged tower with tar. Now why would that be a loogie to God??? I’m glad you asked… well, tar was one of the only things we had back in those days that was… waterproof. And why would we want a tower that was waterproof? Glad you asked… could it be… perhaps… we didn't TRUST God’s promise not to flood us again???? Could it be we DOUBTED God’s covenant???? Oh man. How does He put up with us??? (Grace)

As always, God gets us to do what He wants us to do no matter how much we kick and scream. With the snap of His fingers, the tower was gone (tar and all) and we were spread out over the lands with different languages to boot. I had never realized the significance of the tar until yesterday and it got me thinking. How many times in my own life do I try to “waterproof” my tower of disobedience?

The Lord tells me He loves me… and I need not worry (Matthew 6:25-34) yet everyday I find something to worry about. Today I’m sitting here worrying about why some of the women in one of my classes don’t seem to like me very much. It’s like I think my worry will make them like me or will help me change the situation. The truth is, God made me and not everyone is going to like me. God knows who I’m supposed to be close to. So why don't I trust Him?

The Lord says, do not judge (Luke 6:37-42) because He is the one and only judge. Yet there I stand, watching life take place around me as women I see continue affairs, men I am acquainted with sneak peeks at porn and others over-consume alcohol in an effort to try to “get away.” I’m not gonna lie… I judge, even when I don’t mean to. Do I really want to be judged by the measure with which I judge others???

The Lord tells me of the importance of reserving a special time of day to listen and be devoted to Him (Psalm 46:10)… yet it is so easy to choose to do something else instead like… watch Judge Judy or fool around on Facebook for hours looking at pictures of people I don’t even know. I know it's so rewarding to spend that time with Him, so why am I so easily distracted?

And what of this really difficult one… the Lord tells us we should share our troubles and sins with others so that we can be healed (James 5:16). Why is it that we think we have to pretend to be perfect for others? Why do we think we have to have it all together to be in a better position to help others? I was really surprised to hear that my openness about my alcoholism (and other issues) may lead others in need to think that I am not qualified to be a helping hand because I don’t “have it all together.” I only have one thing to say about that… we are all unqualified in some way. If you are in need and you finally find that person who says they have it all together so they can help you… you’ll be working with a liar. Jesus is the only exception. Interestingly enough, Jesus is also the only answer.

Yep, I use tar to build my tower just incase God isn’t gonna get it right. I always seem to have a backup plan, which is usually me attempting to take control of things and resting on my own powers instead of trusting God. Maybe one day I’ll remember that I don’t need a backup plan because God’s covenant is real and true. God doesn’t tell lies… God doesn’t play games. He just keeps giving us chance after chance after chance. He loves us unconditionally. He forgives us with no strings attached. He forgets the past and lets us start fresh. He is true to His word always. Although I’m pretty sure He is up there with a grin on His face as He shakes His head saying “What in the TAR-nation are you crazy people doing now?”

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Out of Propane... Again!

I made a dumb, dumb, dumb mistake the other night… I left the gas tank valve on the grill open after I was done cooking. Not only could we have had a big explosion and burned our house down (thank goodness neither of us smoke) but when I went to cook our steaks last night… there was no fuel. Dumb, dumb, dumb!! I know a few of you can probably relate to that feeling… “Darn it (or other expletives)! I’m ready to grill and I don’t have any propane!!!!” The only thing worse than not being able to start the grill due to no propane is running out right in the middle of cooking your main course. We bought two propane tanks in an effort to avoid this unfortunate occurrence but due to pure laziness, they both usually end up empty at the same time. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Anyhow… I had the whole meal ready, except the steaks (bacon wrapped filets… yum) and Ryan became the savior of dinner by running out to get the refill tank as soon as he got home from work. In no time we were back in business… or so we thought.

The nozzle on the new tank was broken so no gas would come out. Argh… really??? I was quite perturbed… mostly with myself truth be told. It was my fault this whole thing had come about but in the moment all I could feel was agitation and it didn’t really matter what the root was. I grabbed the tank, slammed the door and went to the store myself to re-exchange the exchange.

As I parked at the Wal-mart market, God gave me a little reminder in my head… “You’re wearing one of my shirts child… be gracious, set a good example.” I heard Him clearly and took a peek at myself… I was wearing my statement of faith shirt. Check… set a good example… got it.

The market was BUSY! I went to the first cashier I saw and explained that I just need to exchange the tank really quickly. She told me I needed to go wait in line at the customer service desk. Okay, fine… until I saw how long the line was! Setting a good example left me in that moment. I went and took my place in line completely and utterly annoyed. Apparently everyone on the planet needed to cash a check, get a money order or buy cigarettes (people still buy them at $7 a pack – again, I’m was very glad neither of us smoke). I took several deep breaths and I heard God’s voice again in my head, “You’ve got the shirt on… don’t be a moron!” Okay, maybe He didn’t say moron, but He could have and I would have totally deserved it. I decided to “pretend” I was just fine for the sake of the shirt. Typing that makes me laugh a little.

I closed my eyes and tried to just silence myself. As I stood there trying to gather my inner thoughts and purify them slightly, my attention was drawn to the woman behind me who was talking on her cell phone. I didn’t turn and look at her, I just listened. The exact words out of her mouth were, “I am overwhelmed! I can’t handle this. I don’t know what I am going to do. I am so alone.” From listening, I gathered that she was going through a nasty divorce. Her husband was being very jealous, greedy and was slandering her to her friends, family and co-workers. Of course, the truth in situations can never be found by hearing just one side… but this was obviously her perception and it was obviously taking a huge toll on her. Near tears she repeated, “I am completely overwhelmed.” I decided to use my time in line to pray for her. Specifically, I asked for God to comfort her and to try and give her some moments of peace. I asked Him to hold her under his wing of protection. As I prayed, the image of God’s peace felt as though it were flowing out of me and into her… sort of like something you’d see in a sci-fi movie. It was like an invisible mist that transferred from my body over into hers… and it went on and on for as long as I prayed for her. I didn’t speak to her, although maybe I should have. It was almost my turn in line… and the girl in front of me grabbed my attention. She was buying a money order for $32.00 to pay her cable bill. She was also buying some milk, eggs and cheese with food stamps (it’s a credit card these days but the same idea none-the-less.) I haven’t been too far from being in her shoes in my life… unable to pay bills, unable to buy food free and clear of assistance. I remembered my homeless days. And there I stood pretending not to be mad about running out of propane on my second tank (cause I’m lazy) for my grill (which I don’t even need cause I have a kitchen) to make bacon wrapped filet mignon (a special meal we have quite often) for my happy, healthy family (whom I slammed the door on when I left the house). Wow… perspective hit me like a ton of bricks!!!! How ungrateful of me! I said a quick prayer for this young lady too. And when it was my turn, a real smile came to my face as I kindly explained my need for an exchange.

After getting the exchange taken care off, I went to my car ready to head back home. For some reason I was filled with anxiety though. It was strange… as if out of nowhere. I sat for a moment and realized I had passed all of my peace off to the lady behind me, maybe that was why I felt so anxious. As I started my car my eyes noticed a license plate across the parking lot. It said, “JOS.1.9” Hmmm… a Bible verse perhaps??? I just so happened to have my Bible on the car seat so I grabbed it and looked up Joshua 1:9. Here is what it said:

“Have I not told you? Be strong and have strength of heart! Do not be afraid or lose faith. For the Lord your God is with you anywhere you go.”

Wowwy… I had to laugh… and had to shout to the Lord in gladness! He is so there for me!!! He is so there for us at all times in so many ways. I am amazed and comforted!!!

I went home and finished cooking. I have to say I was sort of beating myself up for not speaking to the lady behind me in line. I mean, what if a simple hug would have made all the difference in her world? Why didn’t I do that??? Unaware of my internal battle, my husband decided to share with me the verses he was meditating on this week.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-11

I felt God tell me that passing comfort to her through prayer was good enough. I realized God's comfort is kinda like my propane tank. I have a tendency to only turn it on when I need it, then I turn it off tight when the steaks are done. But... I think what He really wants me to do is just leave the valve wide open all the time so I can share it with others when I'm not needing it myself. And the super cool thing is, God's tank never runs out... it just keeps going and going.

Only thirty minutes later after this realization, I found myself complaining (or other expletives) about how the across-the-street neighbor keeps parking in front of our house instead of his own… oh boy… when will I ever learn? Sorry God… I’m trying! The phrase "The difficulty with Christianity is that it is so daily" never seemed more true... except it was a lot more moment to moment for me right then. Thankfully, God will never give up on me and His tank just keeps going and going!