Successes…

I haven’t posted in some time as I have been processing the stages of grief and I have been consciously aware that my emotions could have gotten the best of me if I let them control my writing. Each week at church I have been contemplating what I would write, but I could not focus on writing a new topic because my thoughts were preoccupied. Until the past few weeks anyway.

Right now has been a several week series titled Home Run Life, where baseball has been a metaphor for scoring in life. Start at home plate, win with God; run to first, win within; run to second, win with others; run to third, success; and score at home, again win with God. We have only gotten to 2nd base as of now reflecting on how we must first win with God and win within ourselves before we can win with others and have success. As I have been reflecting I can say that I have been seeing this play out. This has not been a short journey for me.

I recently received a compliment that I have seemed happy lately. That I am for sure of, it is true; but I of course still contemplated and wondered…what am I putting out there that is different, what are other people seeing that is different from a year, two, three years ago.  I wondered, could it be that I have been focused on my health and exercise; which had really raised my self-esteem? Then I heard the first sermon on Home Run Life, and I went, uh duh, light bulb moment…. I have been back at church for the past year. While God was never absent from my life, this past year I have been “winning with God” and truly focused on myself so that I can have the capacity to love others. To really be the way I want to be with my husband, kids, friends, family. And I can say it has been a progressively great year and it is getting better. Full of promises and the potential to be living the life we really want to have, more simple, secure, family oriented and fun filled. I will admit this reference to a home run life is just one example where I have seen or am seeing this play out, and it is a slightly more materialistic of an example as it does revolve around career success and a little more financial stability. I can truly say though I am at a point in my life that it will not be squandered, underappreciated or taken for granted. I want what to me, seems like basic things to come from financial stability, to not stress over monthly bills, get my kids a college education and give them experiences in different cultures. I want a smaller house not a bigger house, I want less expenses and more of a God filled life, filled with family and friends. To me that is SUCCESS!!

Advertisements

Just Jump!!!

Each Sunday seems to have direct meaning to some area of my life. Of course, I think if we are all introspective and look for meaning in things each and every part of our days can be a learning experience. With God empowering us on Sunday mornings, for me those mornings are some of the most meaningful connections I make.

We were led by a story of the disciples crossing the sea of Galilea and Peter asking Jesus to tell him to come to him, Peter then took a step of faith and walked across the water to Jesus. This story was a demonstration of what it means to have faith, to take risks in life to follow God. That taking those risks and following God leads us to the divine. 

I can say that in the past I have for sure jumped in and took risks. I have always been one to put my faith in God to get us through tough times, most often the struggles in the past have been financially. Today I realized even more connections of where that faith and jump has led me.  I jumped into a career that seemed to be pulling at me and just felt like the right move for me, that God was calling me there. With that however, meant a pay cut, a part time job and really, little room for advancement. But I knew I needed to do it and looking back I can see how God has provided for us through that time. And now, finally leading us to more financial security as we have entered our 30’s.  With the storms I have been faced with recently I made more connections today of how God has led me to this path. I was led to working in a career with addictions, I was taken into a path to learn empathy for situations I could not relate to, I developed a passion for what I do and with learning how addiction has impacted my family I feel this is the path I needed to be on to get through the storm I am facing. Had I not jumped into this career and trusted God, I may have sunk in this storm. As much as I know about addiction and how it impacts families, I can picture myself going down another path had I not had the supports in place that I do, had I not learned about addiction as I have. 

“We lose sight of Jesus and begin to sink.”- Pastor R. 

I can see times where I could have started to sink; I am always thankful that I have never fully lost sight of God. This statement could lead me to a spiral of what if’s, what if I didn’t learn about addiction, what if I had learned about the impact it has had for my family when I was much younger, what if I didn’t have supports in place or a loving husband, what if I had ever experimented with substances – where would that have left me. Fortunately I feel God has put me where I need to be and I don’t dwell on the what if’s. I feel blessed to be where I am at in my life because I never understand why one person’s journey is harder than anothers. I agree with Pastor R this morning when he said “the best decision we can make is to go, go and follow Jesus!” We need to “Just Jump!”

We were then asked “what are you needing to take the risk in yet? The risk to tust and follow Jesus.” One thing in my life I am most contemplating with is my career and the long term path of finances, stability, getting a masters, do I need more money, should I be content? I mean after all I know God led me to this path, so if he put me here should I be content? I finally thought of this a new way today, that maybe I had to “just jump” to get the knowledge I needed, to learn the empathy I needed, to find the supports I needed to get me through this personal storm. But, maybe in the long run I can still take another path, that God may stear me somewhere else, that I may need to “just jump” again when the time comes, even if I am afraid. That maybe I need to “just jump”more when it comes to facing things head on, especially conflict, because I can definitely shy away from conflict. I mean it is very uncomfortable. 

Whatever we are doing in life, if we are following Jesus and not just mimicking the motions, we should be jumping. Jumping all in and trusting the path God takes us in.

Just Jump!!

Personal Storms!

“Do we wonder if Jesus cares if we drown? When we are forced with a crash of change, do we maintain faith? Who hides the storm in their lives? You’re in the storm for his purposes.”- Pastor R.

These questions were very powerful for me. “Do I ever wonder if Jesus cares if I drown?” That one I can answer confidently, no, I always have trust and faith that he will keep me safe, that their is a purpose for what crosses my path in life. I know he won’t let me drown, if I drown in my turmoils, that is on me, that would be me rejecting him.

“When we are forced with a crash of change, do we maintain faith?” Do I maintain faith when my life appears to be crashing, when my world seems to be turned upside down, or even just hitting lots of pot holes along the road? Yes, I feel that I do. I may feel hurt, sadness, anger, betrayal, devastation, but I am always thankful that I know I have support to get through any situation that comes my way. At this point in my life I can say yes; I hope I can always say yes. 

“Who hides the storm in their lives?” My hand shot up in response to this faster than I anticipated. It was a spontaneous response, with no attempt to hold back my answer to that one. I thought, I for sure hide the storms in my life. Right now the storm is huge, and for the most part I put on a good face, continue with each day and my life goes on. After a few minutes something stuck out to me “You are in the storm with his presence!”- Pastor R. I love moments in life when I have the ah ha moments, when I feel enlightened because I realize or learn something new about myself. It is a very reassuring and calming feeling. This was one of them, I intially was struggling with the fact that I hide my storms, but at this moment I realized, maybe for a brief period I hide my storms, or maybe just to some people, but really for the most part I realized I am not hiding my storms, I am in them with his presence, his presence is still radiating through me. He is guiding me, keeping me strong, comforting me. Sometimes when people know I am going through a lot, like recently, I get looks that kind of ask “if you’re in a storm, why are you smiling, why do you look okay?”  I know that often people may be confused by my optimism, my ability to push through, to keep smiling and going forward. I also know it can be hard to describe, I mean I really can’t describe it, but in spite of things that happen, I still find myself feeling at peace, all because God is by my side. He not only provides me with his comfort, he has provided me with amazing friendships for support, a community of support and my faith that he is shaping me for the next twist in my path. 

“You’re in the storm for his purposes!” That next twist in my path, that next crash of change, sudden uproot of everyhing I know, they all have purposes. I may not always know in that moment what it is, but I can look back at my life and I can say that of the different bumps I have hit along the way, they have all had a direct influence on who I’ve become and where I have currently landed. I am realizing even now how amazing God is that he can guide us in a way and put us where he wants us. I chose a Bachelors degree in Pyschology for many reasons, one being that it is very vague. I have many different interests and I wanted many doors open to me. When I graduated I began job searching and I’ll be honest, there were some very appealing things about the job I accepted, that I knew I wanted to do. But other things came with the job that would have not been my first thought of a career or where I would belong. Looking back at my life and the situations and experiences I have had, all give me many strengths for my career. For the career that God clearly led me to, I have weathered my storms for his purpose and I am confident that I am continuing to live his purpose.
One final question we pondered which I think is one people often find themselves asking, is “did he cause the storm or allow it?” My only response to this is…. Does it matter? We grow from it, it is for his purposes!

 

Do you sink in your failures?

Two weeks I ago I sat down at church and during the first prayer I was flooded with blessed emotions. The prayer was reflecting “living like Jesus.”My flood of positive emotions was contentment, joy, humbleness, that I feel I am living like Jesus. Of course not perfectly, but my goal this year has to been to radiate. I can say I feel this working through me, I am happy on the path I am on and I continue to focus on radiating each day. 

The sermon focused on “it’s not fair.” Pastor R challenged us by asking “do you sink in your failures?” I am blanking thinking on this, I do not know what I would even consider failures. To me I don’t feel that I set myself up for failure, I don’t put myself in situations for failure. So maybe that means I don’t take enough risks, maybe it means I play to safe, or maybe it’s that I look at all situations on a constant changing path, with twists and turns, learning moments, but no failures, maybe I have faith that God will lead me where I need to go and without a few falls my path wouldn’t change. I’m thinking it’s most likely the later; actually I know it is.  Even in my past I don’t look at things with regret, I embrace things and how they have made me who I am. They are a part of my journey, my journey of following Jesus. Which means I may be tried, challenged, let down, I may make mistakes, struggle with moving forward at times, but all of those moments are experiences I have had, they affect how I percieve the world, they create empathy for others, they allow me to cherish what I have. So I am confident I can answer no, I don’t think that I sink in my failures, at least not for the significant life events I can think of. But, who knows what the future may hold; hopefully if I find myself sinking, this sermon will flood my memory and lift me up. 

A big part of avoiding the “it’s not fair”trap is accepting our situation, accepting what we can and cannot control and keep our eyes focused on our greater purpose. Pastor R said “what does what somebody else have, have to do with us, we follow Jesus.” Exactly!!! I know that this mentality, belief, perspective, that it may not be easy. It may be easier said than done; in order to live this we may need to reflect on who we are, why we feel and react to things the way we do, we may need some therapy to figure these things out, a friend to bounce ideas off of, a shoulder to cry on. But I cannot stress enough how important it is to get to the place in life that we just don’t care about what others have. I have learned to embrace what I have, cherish it, and to be present in each moment, with my kids, husband, family, friends.

Would you give it up for Jesus?

“What is one thing you love?”- Pastor Ryan.

 I always feel like these are trick questions because the obvious answer it seems we should give is God, but of course there is always more being saught than such a simple answer. I of course, could not just think of one thing, my mind raced with things I love: God, family, husband, kids, friends, yoga, exercise, nutrition, my current achievement of a size 4, outdoors, women’s radiant dance fitness class, my career, my church…….. Yes I know, some of these are heartfelt and things close to my heart, some are more materialistic, worldly, maybe a little vain to some. But, they are honest responses. 

Now, “would you give it up to follow Jesus?” – Pastor Ryan

Um…. would I give these things up to follow Jesus? I feel like I instantly fell into the trap because my natural response was to protect the things I love. I honestly can say the things I love, to me is part of following Jesus; these are things I feel God has made important in my life based on my strengths and characteristics, they are things I feel I do with God as the underlying factor. I know that loving my new size 4 body may not seem like having God at its core, but I started my journey of weight loss to be healthy, to care for the body that God has given me, to respect it and honestly have some self control when it comes to all of the food placed in front of us that many indulge on with little regard to the cost it can have on our health. I am also very aware of how becoming obsessed with exercise and my looks could be detrimental; and there are times I need to keep myself in check, making sure I am not putting exercise above all other responsibilities and being sure I am balancing it in my life. Overall I feel I do a good job at balancing all areas of my life. But, if I were given an ultimatum could I walk away from my family, well I can honestly say probably not. I know it may seem like making justifications, but I do not feel God would ask me to up and leave my small children, I do not see how that would be serving God. Now at the same time, would I do anything to protect them, especially for a greater purpose in life? Of course, but I feel they would be on that journey with me. 

After I sat feeling rushed with emotions on having to sacrifice the things I love for God and thinking, of course God knows not all people could drop everything to follow him, he did make us sinners, we are imperfect and he knows that. But then, Pastor Ryan went on to further explain what he really wanted us to sit with, and that is “are we holding all of those things we love loosly and holding on to God tightly?”  For me I felt relief that I could honeslty answer yes. I answer yes because I have worked very hard to let go of control and to be okay with change; to be open to the path God may lead me on. That means that if I felt God was leading me to another location, my family would move; if God took me down another career path, I would go; if God changed my life that I could not continue my nutrition and exercise routine, I would find another way (seriously that would be hard to give up though because I feel so healthy), but the point is … I truly feel that I have worked very hard to put God first and to allow my life to adjust and flow where he leads it. In all of the chaos that comes my way, I hold onto my relationship with God to lead me through it. 

I am not sure how many people could agree with how they hold the things they love, loosly or tightly. And I can say that, I have not always been at a point in my life I could have made sacrifices for God. The idea of leaving home and moving away used to terrify me; I have actually done that and honestly feel like it is one thing I have failed at. I went away for my freshman year of college and came running back, homesick, and not able to tackle something new, someplace new. I do not regret the path I took, but parts of me would have loved to experience college and young adulthood with more confidence and more open to possibilty. I could not always imagine the possibility of my world being turned upside down for any reason; but now, I feel that if God gave me challenges that were life alterning, I would be able to conquer them because I put God first and hold him tightly. 

Jesus, above it all, beyond it all, greater than it all! 

Doubts…

 “Doubt is often the pulse of our faith”- Pastor R….. For me this has proven to be true, in fact I could not have described it better. 
Doubts! We were asked “what keeps us from being real about it?” It was pointed out that pride gets in the way of showing struggles and that when we struggle with doubt we don’t need to walk away from God, we can doubt.” Typical responses to these doubts are “pray, it will get better.” To get to the root of things though, we need to be introspective and reflect on what is causing those doubts, those feelings; then we can understand them, learn from them and either affirm them or counter them. I can say I don’t recall a time in my life that I have had doubts that God exists, I have not doubted my faith in him, I have not doubted things that have happened in my life or wondered why he would allow bad things to happen. One thing that stuck with me from my childhood during a sermon was “the devil does things too.” This is what I think of when bad things happen; that and I know I have a healthy mind set in that I wouldn’t know what happiness is without bad times. So what doubts can I relate to my relationship with God?
How and what is real!! My late 20’s were a time for me to really discover who I am, not who I thought I was, who I was raised to be or was because that is what the culture I was raised in was. My outlook on life changed, on who people were, what was healthy or unhealthy about relationships, what “normal” was and what I felt was moral and ethical or not. Over those years I developed my own sense of what was moral; of what I feel God would consider moral based on what I was taught about him from my childhood and what I feel in my heart. I recall it being constantly reiderated that “God loves everybody no matter what,” we were to spread God’s love. That the one way to heaven is through believing in the triune God. As I came into young adulthood I began to feel more contradiction to this.  There was such a strong emphasis placed on changing or making laws to prohibit people from doing things that were not “Christian,” the way God wanted it. This was such a struggle for me because to me it contradicts that God loves and accepts us no matter what. 

I realized over these years, my late 20’s that I will not live my life judging other people, when in fact, I definitely have traits that others would or could judge. I could no longer blindly follow, following because that is what I was taught was not enough. I feel my ability to look at multiple perspectives and understand different perspectives is a gift. I ask questions, I question what is, I make sure I understand what I believe in or I don’t allow myself to verbalize an opinion. I question and ponder what I am taught; I reflect on if what I am taught follows and lines up with core values I know about God. This left me with doubt of what church taught; not doubt of God or my faith in him. But, doubt that we worship and praise God how we should. I mean the reality is that is is not possible for one church to know with certainty that they are doing everything right when it has been roughly 1,983 years since Jesus has taught us what and how God wants us to live. Now, I will be honest that history and timelines are not my thing, if this number is not perfect please don’t judge.  But this doubt, it is a doubt I struggled with hard. Pastor R, to keep him somewhat anonymous, stated “wrestling with our doubts can strengthen our faith.” I for one have found this to be true. The last two years wrestling with my doubts on the purpose of “organized religion” had left me conflicted. While I felt my relationship with God was stronger than ever; I knew that by not going to church I was not getting my kids what they needed to learn about God. I knew I could not teach them near as well as others who know more than I do. And I knew that I wanted my kids to have a church to grow up in, other youth to interact with who come from families with similar values and core beliefs and a place they can spend their time that I can trust will give them healthy activities to do and keep my kids safe. 

This is where I got to the point that I spent a few Sunday’s and Saturday evenings in another church, not my home town, childhood church, but the same denomination. There was one problem, I did not feel welcome. My kids would speak and I felt judged, that my kids should be quiet and sit perfectly still for an hour while let’s be honest, they are bored out of their minds.  This is not what I wanted.  So I spread my horizons and began researching new churches. After months of making excuses I finally went to church at Radiant Life which was Sturgis Wesleyn Church at the time. It did not take long before this church became my home. It has filled in a piece of my life that was much needed; my kids love it and each Sunday I feel ready to tackle what obstacles life may bring. Community worship, congregational support, the power of prayer, these things have made my devotion to attending church much stronger. I have now realized how much worship and praise with other people, a congregation, has fueled my relationship with God, my ability to radiate his love to others and to myself.  My relationship with God that I felt was stronger than ever a year ago, has reached a new level. 

Something that stuck with me from the sermon on doubt was that doubt is ok. It is ok to doubt what we are doing, the path God may have us on, what we have been taught and well, even God. Because, we are human, we do sin and we are not perfect, we can’t be. But what really stuck with me is that if we doubt, to “process it in a place to foster our faith-Pastor R.” The two years I struggled with my doubts, I somewhat did it alone; I had an amazing friend I bounced my doubts off of. A few actually and that did help. But even after starting to attend my new church, I still felt those doubts; however, Pastor R was right, wrestling with my doubts with a church family helped me to foster my faith, move past the doubts and feel more passionately about attending church than ever before. 

I know I will have doubts in my life, I know I have many doubts about what I am doing in my career, am I on the right path, should I go back for a masters degree, should I be content, I doubt the reasons for my goals and what my goals are, for my kids, am I protecting them enough or too much from life, am I doing the best I can, am I teaching them everything I need to?  There will always be things to doubt, but when we are surrounded by people we love, people who believe what we do, and who will provide us support, I believe we can grow from our doubt.

This may be a bit of a tangent, but it is another thought that was sparked for me the last few weeks regarding doubts. I have recently been supporting somebody who is struggling with who they are, doubting… I cannot say that I know all of the reasons they are struggling because I never assume I really know what somebody else is going through. But I do know that part of the struggle is feeling that they are one person and being told by others that it is not right; it is not what God wants. One of the things I have doubted about church is the strong stands some churches take on one or two specific topics, sexuality included. Why I struggle with this so much does not have to do with what God may think is right or wrong, but rather the shame that people feel from church for their sexuality. What bothers me is that this shame does not come from God, the shame comes from judgement that people impose on others in the name of God. Which I feel is misplaced; I am not arguing what God wants, I am acknowledging that we all sin and I know God forgives me as much as anybody else and I would never want my judgement to shame another person. My heart aches because I can understand how it feels to have so much guilt over actions that others disapprove of because they are not what God wants. 

I can say I am much more of a person that I know God would be proud of when I let go of judging others and for feeling content with who I am. I don’t hold onto guilt for not being perfect or for sinning. I learn each Sunday ways to be a better Christian, but I spend more of my energy radiating God’s love to others through my actions rather than trying to tell or teach others how to act. I want to lead by example, not by authority. I want to not doubt what I am doing and rather, focus on doing what I know for sure is right. For me, what I don’t doubt is God, that he made us all, and that he loves us all. 

Addiction…

As it was referenced Sunday:An unhealthy habit or action that is repeated. As an addictions clinician I could write forever on the reality of addiction, the stereotypes people face, the obstacles, the lack of support, lack of empathy and assumption that recovery is not possible. These things create shame and fear to seek help, fear to ask for support from loved ones and it keeps famlies in twisted, unhealthy cycles of addiction. Trust is lost, lies eat you up, anger festers, all to keep addictions secret, to “protect” the family, the addiction. 

This cycle is toxic. At some point the truths come out, they cannot be undone and loved ones are hurt.  

This pain, this hurt, it can be healed. Sunday we were told that an addiction starts with desire, then we entertain the desire, we develop an appetite for it, we become trapped in it, we are now helpless. Of course being at church it was emphasized that we can be set free from addictions, through and with Jesus. And addictions were referenced ranging from addiction to body image to drugs. As a Christian, God, worship, prayer, reflection, comfort of church family, these things all help to heal; they are how I find comfot and peace with things I cannot control, things that devastate me and hurt my heart. 

In addition to Sunday morning service we had a re-fresh evening of worship. We worshiped through music, prayer, thanking God for what we have, asking for forgiveness and taking communion. These times of reflection for me heal my soul; they radiate Gods love for me as tears streak down my face and I pour out my soul to God.  These are vital parts of my everyday life; and if everyday life is not balanced “addictions (exercise, cleaning, reading for me)” can take over and that time for God can wither away. 

I remember during college, psychology of human development, reading in my text book that psychologists are unsure why Christians report an increased satisfaction of life.  I could answer this instantly, at least for myself; faith in God gives me hope, reassurance of a greater purpose, a community of support, I don’t fear death, I put my uncertainties into God’s hands. He does not fail; each Sunday, each time I worship through music, singing, I feel God in my heart, in my veins.  These things all help me heal on a regular basis; when I am being consumed with something; I find my balance in God. These things are why religious based support groups are so common in recovery. I know that it is also possible to find recovery without God, for those who do not idetnify as Christian; I know this to be true through my career. But for me….. God means I am not doing it alone; I am healing from the pain of addictions with support, community, love and faith.