I’m Not Guilty and Neither Are You

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Standing in the parking lot of my daughter’s school I struck up a conversation with a woman who was obviously older than the rest of the mom’s huddled around the doorway waiting to pick their children up from school. “My son’s wife died of cancer last year”, she said, “and then he was in a car accident a few months ago…so now I am taking care of him and his son. I feel like I am taking care of everyone else right now but myself…but then I feel such guilt because I’m not doing enough for my grandson. So I’ve put him in swimming lessons and t-ball and we are thinking about soccer. But I just can’t seem to keep up. I feel like I have the opportunity to make it all right for him…even though he doesn’t have a mom and his dad isn’t doing well, I want him to have better.” Her answer for guilt is to give her grandson all the opportunities she can. Her answer to a better life is a full schedule and a variety of activities and experiences. For her, and for so many mom’s, we push down the reality that the world is hard and confusing and we bandage over it all with forced growth and a plethora of opportunities for our children, convinced that if we just help them do more then life will be better for them. Is a busy calendar actually helping a child become a stable, intelligent, successful adult? Is it okay to just let your kid be a kid…and not feel guilty about it?

To start, the bustle of activity isn’t always manifested because of the need for distractions. It is not necessarily that people want to keep their kids busy…because often times their lives outside of activities are already busy enough. Between homework, family responsibilities and normal everyday happenings there is enough going on to make a child overwhelmed. But factor in a sick parent, a financial crisis or a blended family situation and you have a recipe for anxiety. With all that already exists that we can’t control, why are we adding pressure on ourselves with things we can control? And if we aren’t just trying to give our child something to do, what are we attempting to do?

There is this unseen force that pushes moms to feel that if they don’t prepare their children for everything and give them every opportunity to succeed then they will miss out or be weaker or fall behind. Our expectations for our children are much too broad.  It is unrealistic to think that a person could succeed at everything, especially to the degree of feeling confident and fluent in that area. And I would argue that to allow your child to choose the activities that they participate in based on what they feel like or what their friends are doing, is a disservice to the child, especially as they become young adults. In that scenario you are not training your child to discern what is good and helpful for their growth. A lifetime of such choices adds up to an indecisive, confused adult.

The process is like sculpting a monument. It may look like an unidentifiable mass when you begin, but as your child grows and develops you may begin to see strengths and weaknesses and interests and gifts. As time passes it becomes more evident as to what a child would be most successful in to pursue as an adult. As strengths and interests arise, then we can direct our children and guide them toward activities that will be most helpful to them.

My daughter has natural rhythm that was obvious before she could even walk. She loves making up songs and she has a wonderful knack for picking out tunes on the piano. And so my husband and I have guided her into exploring the piano and have plans for her to take lessons next year. My son however, shows more interest in building, baking and creating with his hands I give him opportunities to help me in the kitchen, guide him in forming objects out of play dough, give him measuring cups and spoons to divide beans into containers and  I support his obsession with Legos. As he develops, so will his skills, and I can direct him to participate in more age and developmentally appropriate activities. Soccer and cheerleading are an option just as long as they do not begin to interfere with our ultimate focus and goals.

I have seen too many children that dabble in everything and are pulled in so many directions that they no longer have the ability to discern what is good and what is not good for them. They have lost their ability to focus and no longer have the capability to be excellent at anything because they are too busy trying to be good at everything.

Many junior high and high school students never even see their families anymore because they have been trained to fill their lives full of activities. They are running from baseball to track to choir to cheer camp. So, some of the most impressionable years are influenced most strongly, not by the loving guidance of a parent but by school teachers and coaches.

I’m not saying that participating in sports or clubs or lessons are bad. Extracurricular activities can be very good at teaching kids some very valuable skills like selflessness, sacrifice, discipline and teamwork. The problem arises when the child is no longer looked at from a spiritual perspective. Is signing my daughter up for soccer the best choice for her spiritual well-being? If she is struggling with cooperating with others or tends to be lazy and undisciplined?…then maybe a team sport would be a great framework for addressing these weaknesses. And some activities are actually helpful to discover what a child is not good at or an area in which he or she needs to work on. It is our job as a parent to discern what is best and most helpful for building the right skills and values into our child. It is not our job to keep them busy and entertained.

And why the guilt? Feeling guilty is a proper response when you have done something wrong. But have you actually done anything wrong if you aren’t keeping up with all of the other kids? If you are feeding your child, loving him, disciplining him, teaching him and encouraging him then what is there to feel guilty about? God will not hold you accountable for not signing your child up for t-ball but you will be responsible before HIM for his or her spiritual growth.

Whether I put my children in extracurricular activities or not, I must choose to stop playing the comparison game. I have to choose to intentionally treat my children differently when it comes to extracurricular activities as to ignore the need for success in all areas and to focus on what my child is actually good at and is interested in. If I choose to give my child a break and just let them be a kid, I will not fear they are falling behind and I won’t feel guilty for it. Because I’m not guilty for doing any of those things…and neither are you.

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The Real Authenticity

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images (4)I’m passionate about helping people figure out who they are. The dream for my new, updated blog is to provide a place where women aren’t afraid to be real. I want to create an atmosphere for discussion about thoughts and feelings that are often squelched by negative connotations. I am excited about authenticity. But, what, you may ask, do I actually mean by authenticity? It has come to mean so many things to so many people that it’s meaning has become very ambiguous.

I know what authenticity is not. Authenticity is not
…being unique just for the sake of standing out in the crowd.
….holding back from doing what you like because you are afraid.
…doing what everyone else is doing just to fit in.
…constantly changing who you are to match your environment.
…making choices based on the popular opinion.
…covering over your temptations and struggles because you are terrified of what people will think.

In the last year I have been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have come to me totally drained from holding in a secret sin for far too long, living in constant anxiety over someone finding out who they really are. I cannot even count how many people who have been shocked by the openness I have had about sharing who I really am.  I just thought that was the kind of honesty that Christians were supposed to have. I have experienced the overwhelming peace that comes with being authentic. I have felt the spiritual growth that accompanies being free from the endlessly differing opinion of the world and instead choosing to be who God made me to be.

But the contrast is not any better. A decade ago, to me, authenticity meant bucking the system and living in defiance of the legalism I was raised to obey. Authenticity meant making sure everyone knew what I thought and fighting tooth and nail with anyone who disagreed. Being real and honest was simply an excuse to be rude. Authentic Christianity wasn’t authentic or even Christian…it was yet another fad form of religion that allowed me to be lazy and careless and thoughtless. Anyone who tried to hold me accountable was just being judgemental. And I wasn’t worried about anyone else’s feelings because I was so concerned about “being me”.

Is there a way to be authentic without overshadowing the reason for it? Is there a way to be real and still be loving? Can authenticity be a part of a Christians lifestyle without causing someone else to stumble? Can we be who God made us to be and appreciate others for who they really are? These are questions that I hope to answer as I ponder this topic over the next few weeks.

 

A Piece of My Life…You Can Pretend You Were There

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Last weekend I gave part of my testimony at our church’s women’s retreat. I typed it out and even included a picture of what I looked like while speaking. You can pretend you were there…

testimonyThrough the influence of godly parents and a bible teaching church, I became a Christian when I was only 6. I was strong and vibrant and cared little about what the world thought of me. I made friends wherever I went and my feisty attitude gained me the nick name “trouble” from many of our family friends. If you know my son, he is a good example of what I was like as a child.  I was strong-willed and very sure of myself.

But as I entered junior high, my self-confidence began to crumble and my strong original thoughts became jeopardized. I was very small for my age and at times a bit eccentric.  I often received criticism for my behavior and clothing choices and I gradually slipped into the steady, easy flow of trying to please my classmates. My strong, positive attitude quickly fell apart. My thoughts became overwhelmed by pleasing those around me and I fell prey to the looming presence of peer pressure. My thoughts became obsessed with never being pretty enough, smart enough or popular enough.

During this time in my life, my mind went to some very sinister places.  I desperately wanted to be somewhere else and to be someone else. As I sank deeper, my heart longed for the approval of my peers. I just wanted to fit in. Through high school the thoughts still lingered in my head.  I questioned myself over every word I planned to say. Many times I just didn’t say anything at all. I beat myself up for months over forgetting a line in the school play or getting second place in a race or tripping in front of an upperclassman. I called myself stupid and ugly and useless and unlovable…I pushed everyone away because I was so afraid. I was completely paralyzed by my own thoughts of myself.

As High School came to a close, I imagined that college was my time to find freedom from all of the negative feelings I had been pushing down.  I could start over and be a new person. I started my freshman year with a new boost of confidence. I wore my bright floral thrift store skirt that looked like curtains from the 70s and I made myself go places I wouldn’t normally go and hang out with people I wouldn’t normally hang out with. I tried my best to do what I wanted to do without worrying about who was going to question my decisions. But I soon realized my thoughts were chained to me. I could attempt to change my behavior but the thoughts were still controlling me on the inside.

As I drove home after the first semester of my sophomore year, my head was swirling with self-destroying thoughts. “Your friends don’t really like you. You are alone and that’s how you deserve to be. You are stupid for choosing education as your major. You shouldn’t have even gone to college.” I spent the 3 hour drive mentally ripping every part of my life to shreds.

But my thoughts were abruptly halted when my SUV slipped on a patch of ice on the snow-covered road, slid out of control and spun around. I instinctively pushed the brakes as hard as I could and instead of stopping the top-heavy car flipped and skidded upside down across the guard rail, crushing the roof and crushing the back windows. Though I couldn’t see anything around me, I knew where I was in my route and I pictured the endlessly deep ravine that awaited me on the other side. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the fall but the car mysteriously landed with all four tires back on the road. I walked away without a scratch.

I traveled back to school after the holiday, still shaken from the trauma I had experienced. My mind was in a constant buzz trying to conceptualize what had happened to me. I began to come to grips with the fact that life and death are out of my control. I could have died that day but I had no control over it either way.

I began grasping at any control I could get my hands on. Exercise was my first vice. I spent hours in the gym, often skipping classes to use the elliptical. I spent more time in the weight room than I did with my friends. But the feeling of control I got from dropping seconds off my mile time wasn’t enough. So I started restricting my diet. I nibbled on salads, banned all sugared beverages, said no to all desserts and skipped meals. I finally felt strong and in control.

But my body rebelled…I was starving myself and working out too hard. One night while I was alone in my dorm, I ate everything I could get my hands on. Chips, pop-tarts, crackers, peanut butter and chocolate were devoured within minutes and immediately shame, guilt and regret poured over me. And since control had to be mine once again I went for a run, forced myself to avoid food for the next three days and I stayed much longer at the gym.

Years went by and I was stuck in an endless cycle of starving, bingeing and exercising and starving some more. I no longer felt in control, I felt controlled by my actions. I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I was spiritually blinded by it. I remember standing in my kitchen knowing that a binge was coming and I thought so clearly that I almost spoke it, “God, I want this more than I want you. I don’t want anything to do with you. If I have to obey your rules then I would rather just walk away.” And I chose in that moment to turn away from God. I went through the motions to save face in front of my friends and family but I was really just so angry and hollow inside.  I didn’t care about anything but myself and my eating disorder.

For five long years I was lost in the powerful undertow of an eating disorder. I lied to my husband in order to have the house to myself so I could binge and exercise without him knowing it. I hid food. I couldn’t eat in restaurants. I was terrified of eating around people. I agonized over ordering off a menu. I had no friends and I avoided my family.  I felt desperate to change but I didn’t know how. But my husband, David, stayed faithful to me and had confidence that one day I would be better. Without me knowing, he talked to our pastor. I was furious but at the same time I was relieved. I felt like I was giving up part of my burden and I felt like I was actually going to get some help.

Our pastor encouraged me to go before God and then the church and present my problem as it was…sin…confessing and repenting. And so I did…knowing that my God was faithful and just to forgive me and He would cleanse me of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Though I was terrified to stand before the church and acknowledge what I had been doing, I felt like that was the easy part. After that I had to make daily choices to stop thinking the way I had been thinking and to turn from temptation when it came before me.

On one particular occasion I was sitting in my car outside of my house, knowing that no one was home and feeling stressed and anxious, ready to partake in my usual routine of bingeing and purging. But instead I began to pray. I said, ‘God, I am really struggling. I don’t want to sin. I want to feel better. I want to be free from this. I want to be strong but I’m really weak right now. Come and be strong for me. Help me to resist the temptation that is facing me right now…” And I continued to pray for hours. And this was my life for the next few months….passionate, constant prayer, fighting temptation on a daily basis.

Then I was forced to face my thought life. I had to daily take my thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). And I replaced those thoughts with whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, and whatever is worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). And it’s a daily choice even now. If I allow my thoughts to take command they immediately go to destroying me and putting me down. I fight daily to avoid saying things to myself that I wouldn’t even say to my worst enemy.

Thoughts have always been a struggle for me. I have lived as a prisoner of them. I have let them be my master. I have let them destroy me and I have let them rob me of joy. And it has taken me most of my life to realize that I don’t have to live by their rules. Through the grace and the strength of God and through the tools He has given me I have started to break free of their terrorizing capabilities. I have learned that by the power of the Holy Spirit I can control them and through Christ I can be free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Want Something Better…Do You?

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Does life constantly disappoint? Does life feel overwhelming and out of control? Do you want something better? Hebrews 3:3-4:16 provides us with the answer for hope and fulfillment we will never find in a hopeless and unsatisfying world.

 3:3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself….

1. A Better Hope? The audience of the book of Hebrews were Christians in need of encouragement. They found it easy to rely on the strength and wisdom of a human guide like Moses but struggled to see Jesus as the ultimate leader. I can relate. It is hard not to hold people higher than they should be. I expect too much and build my spiritual structure around mentors who are merely meant to point me to God, not become my god. From an elevated place in my mind it is so easy for them to fall and then I collapse against the lack of stability. But our hope, our security, should not  be in people. Jesus is the only one that can withstand the shocking blows of this life.  He is the only one who can give me the wisdom that is unfailing. He alone is my source of true love and acceptance. He is the ultimate source of spiritual hope.

3:10-11 They always go astray in their heart;     they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath,     ‘They shall not enter my rest.’

2. A Better Rest? Does fighting sin ever feel like it is completely not worth it to you? Does it feel exhausting and overwhelming, especially when you don’t see the kind of change you would like? Does it feel like it is easier just to give up? Sometimes we seek out a rest from this struggle by giving in or looking past the sin, but it never lasts. The difficulty always comes rushing back, more intense than it was to begin with.  God promises true, lasting rest that is greater than any physical rest we could imagine. He promises us freedom from sin, freedom from pain and suffering and freedom from frustration, stress and worry…but it does come with a stipulation. Our hearts are to stay fixed on Him. We are to submit to His ways, not our own tumultuous ones, in order to find a rest in Heaven that is our reward for perseverance.

4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

3. A Better Word? God’s word doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. The truth about our hearts is often painful and ugly. But if we want to grow and if we want to be closer to God, then the Bible is the only source that can show us how to truly change. It is the only place we need to look when we are seeking to search our hearts. It is the only outlet when we need answers to our most troubling problems. It is the only source of truth and light that will lead us to the true repentance that God requires of us. Because God is the only true and right judge, only his words can convict, provide grace and bring healing to a soul that has been chasing after lesser things.

4:14-16 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

4. A Better High Priest? In Jewish history a high priest was necessary to having a connection with God. Only he could perform sacrifices, only he could be exposed to the holy presence of God. But when the new covenant was made, an earthly high priest was no longer needed. Jesus made the perfect sacrifice that covered all past, present and future sin. There was no longer need of an animal sacrifice. Jesus bridged the gap between us and God so that we could come into his presence and be shielded by Christ’s righteousness. He is our mediator and atonement. But Jesus has both “passed through the heavens” and has lived an earthly life. He can represent us in heaven and also sympathize in our suffering because he has been there. He is both God and man and is the only perfect high priest.

Why perpetually chase after something better from the world, when only Jesus can completely satisfy? Why constantly strive for more, only to be left disappointed and empty when Jesus can fill us with blessings to the point of overflowing? I do want something better…do you?

Read This: A Better Perspective on Pain

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When It Won’t Go Away: A Biblical Response to Chronic Pain by Michael Emlet. This article was written almost a decade ago but the scriptural truths are always applicable. The author is a medical doctor who is also a trained biblical counselor so he has a well rounded approach to the concept. The truths are geared more toward those who suffer with chronic pain but can also be helpful to those who want to minister to them.

When We Suffer: A Biblical Perspective on Chronic Pain and Illness  Mary J. Yerkes. This information is much more consise and simplistic than the above listed article. It’s a very quick read for encouragement and scripture references. The author has suffered with rheumatoid arthritis for almost 20 years so she has a very personal perspective on chronic illness.

How Much Pain is Enough? Joni Eareckson Tada. This interview from Revive Our Hearts Radio puts legs to what I read in the other articles. It is an example of how faith through illness and pain can have purpose and meaning and can ultimately bring us closer to God. Her own words as she speaks to God give light to the concept that I have been contemplating this week, “You were so wise, because a ‘no’ answer to a request to be physically healed has meant ‘yes’ to a deeper faith in You. God can use our physical suffering to make our relationship stronger. And sometimes the lack of healing is what shows his love the most.

Suffering and The Sovereignty of God is a book of compiled articles by authors such as John Piper, Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Saint, Carl Ellis, David Powlison, Dustin Shramek, and Mark Talbot focusing on the issue of suffering. Each article points readers to  the comfort and peace that can only be found in Christ. It is the only reading that I chose that requires a purchase but it is well worth it to receive so many different perspectives in one publication.