Monday, February 28, 2011

The Burn Rule


People are tricky.

For years I lived by the rule of thumb: "Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me."

And, truth be told, I made it a custom to rarely let the ladder happen. 

Oh it did from time to time... and when it did, I'd give myself a stern talking to... 

I mean they had shown me their true colors and yet I let my guard down... it was my fault really. 

Some people just should be trusted. I need to wise up on these matters... and I would build another wall.

If someone disappointed me, my solution was to lick my wounds and the adjust my expectations of them.

If someone lied to me. I was done.

If someone hurt me intentionally. I was done.

If someone betrayed me. I was done.

I felt that life was short and I wanted to fill it with the people who love and respect me...

Ahh respect... my cornerstone. Nothing gets me more agitated than disrespect. 

But lately, I have been think a lot about Christ. And about God.... about the folks they chose to fill their lives and Word with...

Jesus chose 12 (or technically 13, I suppose) humans to hang with while on this earth. 


Now what blows my mind is that Jesus knows what kind of character these folks have... one would think that he would have chosen those with pristine character...yet, we all know about Judas...

Think about it. Jesus chose Judas. Chose him--knowing that in the end he would betray him. He spent his days with him. Of all the people to have in his inner circle, and he chose Judas. I can imagine they even had some good moments. Yet, the whole time, Jesus knew what this dude would eventually do... the ultimate betrayal and then ultimately kill himself. Can you imagine how heart breaking that must have been.

And, to a lesser degree, what about Peter? Dude lies about Jesus after pledging to him that he would never do such a thing... This from a man that Jesus calls a "Rock"

It had to be frustrating that James and John were a bit into self-promotion with that whole right and left seat bit... while Jesus was trying to show the world a completely different way of life.

And what about everyone falling asleep despite his asking that they remain awake as he prepares to take on the most difficult time of his life that will result in the salvation of the world?

Not to mention the fact that he made that ultimate sacrifice after spending years on this earth with all the disappointment and imperfection that is the human race.

From an outside view, it might appear that he was pretty lousy at picking friends... ya know from the burn rule...

It is pretty clear to me that Jesus was viewing the world from a place of love. He wasn't interested in self protection. I am in wonder after all these years that I am finding a message of friendship and love in stories that I have heard a million times.

And, when I think about it... his choosing sounds very familiar to the God of the Old Testament that chose a rag-tag bunch of folks who were far from perfect to interact and engage love.

I guess my point centers around this:

John 13:34-35
   34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Love one another.

That kind of rocks my burn rule's world...

Then, if that doesn't clarify the matter... he clears things up with this little number.

Matthew 18:21-22 
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

Man. That is rough. How on earth am I suppose to protect myself in these kinds of conditions?

I guess the point God has been tugging at me lately with is that I'm not very good at being a protector and perhaps I ought to leave that to the pro... ya know, him.

Ya see, despite the fact that I have been oh, so wise and oh, so diligent in building all these protective walls-- the hurt still got in... and yet it was successful at keeping a lot of people out.

I am not really sure how to fully proceed at this point, but I am glad that he is still working on me...

I will close with a note about the Oscars... of all things... ha!

I am not a huge Oscars fan, but from time to time I do watch. I don't particularly care for all the hoopla over the dresses and most of the time I haven't seen very many of the movies being celebrated.

Through twitter and facebook, I usually witness those that love the show to those that hate it and everything it stands on the other hand... I can take it or leave it.

This year however, the video of all those that have passed away really got my attention. I actually found myself oddly with my hand over my heart and a tear in my eye as I watched a screen full of folks--most of which I had no clue of who they were--flash by.

Some old, some young.

All gone.

All important to someone no doubt. Worlds for ever changed. In that moment my heart broke for them.

Later, feeling a little silly, I got to thinking about why that got to me so much. I think it was because for a moment I just sat an looked at their humanity. Not the dress she was wearing or the bad example he was setting. Nope. I was caught up in something entirely different.

Her smile.

His eyes.

Her gift.

His love.

Her voice.

The way she touched another's life.

What he meant to her.

And, I guess I just wonder if that isn't at least in part how and why God puts up with us imperfect humans--looking past all of this dreadful mess we make of ourselves and seeing the beauty that lies within-- the beauty he put there.

So what are your thoughts on dealing with people?

Are you a burn rule person like me?

Or, have you found a way to live at peace with the human folk? ;)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Expiration Labels

I recently had an epiphany that took me a little by surprise.

For a really long time, I have been defining myself...

In little ways and big ways... 

Based off of a culmination of what I thought others thought of me...

Turns out, some of these labels are well past their expiration dates and not from credible sources... just sayin'

Truth be told, this independent, successful woman felt just a tad bit foolish when I came to this realization...

Since coming to this understanding--like an onion--I have begun peeling back the layers of these labels and discovered that in some ways I haven't known myself for years... I had been set on auto-pilot without really knowing it.

No wonder I hated social interactions... it is hard to be on auto pilot when you aren't sure whether you were a plane, train or automobile.

Now, from a professional standpoint I have identified with my labels and embraced them for the most part. Hardworking, resourceful, "go-to gal", dependable, communicator, facilitator, etc.

There were a few areas professionally where I discovered I had let some uncredible sources box me in... 

I remember talking to a friend one day about starting my own business. About how I was thinking about going back into writing but I wasn't sure if I was going to be any good at it. 

Her jaw dropped. "Umm... You are a writer."

She assumed that since I had been writing pretty much my entire life, was on the newspaper and yearbook in high school, excelled in my writing courses and worked for the newspaper all through college... Since I wrote daily on my blog and for other people my entire professional career-- including my time as a Marketing Director and later a Communications and Outreach Director-- that I had confidence in my writing... 


Didn't she know that Person X used to mark up my work with a red marker until the page bled and embarrassed me constantly in front of my peers? Or that Person Y used to tell everyone that I was incompetent behind my back.

Now, would I have trusted either Person X or Y to give me an assessment of skill sets on anyone else? 

Absolutely not. 

For a myriad of reasons, I knew enough not to trust their judgement of others--yet I let them inside my head to plant a seed of doubt about something that turns out to be a vital part of my professional and personal life.

Holy cow. 

Why on earth have I just been handing the keys of my life over to other people all these years? And, in some cases, to people I would have never trusted with anything or anyone else.

As I have been peeling back this onion, I have discovered so many of the labels that I have let determine my social and spiritual struggles should have expired years ago... or even worse... shouldn't have been allowed to be planted at all. 

"It is not what name others call you that matters, but what name you respond to that truly determines who you are." - Swahili Proverb

Have you been answering to names that aren't you? 

Have you allowed others--knowingly or not--plant labels on you that have expired?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Basket Full of Squander

Sometimes I wonder why God blesses people so lavishly, only to have them squander it...

And by people, I mean me.

A lot of times I think the other shoe has got to drop... I am so undeserving in so many ways.

Almost all of the time I feel this sense of urgency to be more... to do more... to somehow figure it out.

I often complain of not enough time, but God has given me the same number of hours in a day that He has given people who have done amazing things.

But, I somehow can't escape my laundry...

Do you feel like you are fulfilling your life's purpose?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Part Four: Deal Breakers and the Hypocrite

So, when I get ready to post here, it isn't as easy as my other gig.

I have hid this story for so long--in pieces and in its entirety at times-- that I have a difficult time actually putting it into words. I have to psyche myself up and remind myself that part of the reason I am telling this story is to heal from it, grow from it and let God use me and it how He sees fit.

I used to tell a friend who had been through a lot that she had an amazing story that God could use for so much good. It is ironic that while I was shelling out such stellar advice for someone else to go out and make themselves vulnerable-- I wasn't brave enough to do the same thing with my own story at the time.

I wrestle with each post and sometimes wonder if I am going to come back and continue. Your encouragement has been so amazing. From your comments, to your emails, to even a few phone calls, I am amazed at what God can do with my story.

With all that said, I have been wrestling with this post a bit... I know I need to write about it... so much so that God worked with me today on it in a way that reminded me of the GOODe Ole days...

So, without further ado... This is Part 4. Need to catch up? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

My disconnect from the church grew from a crack to a gaping hole from that point forward.

I believed that if I ever let my guard down and shared my thoughts, fears and developing opinions on what I believed that it wouldn't be received well...and I in turn would get hurt.

I kept God separate from fellowship. He and I would have really awesome and powerful times and then I would burn out.

I read somewhere (can't remember the source) that faith is like an ember in a fire. It can burn red hot, but if it is separated from the other embers, it will quickly lose it's heat.

That was me... I would get all fired up. So connected. Then it would fade... I had no one to kindle it with.

I was caught in this vicious cycle that had shame all of its own.

I was after all Sunday School Suzy... I couldn't be the "child actor" version of the Christian faith could I? I sailed and soared and then fizzled all out...unable to reconnect with what literally made up my identity as a child/teen.

There were a couple occasions when I found a way to connect with a body of believers for a length of time, but I still kept most at arm's length even then.  And, on the rare occasion that I tested these waters and let my guard down... like a self-fulfilling prophecy... I would get burned and on occasion badly.

Turns out hanging out with other embers can burn baby.

Badly enough to be able to say --and boy did I say it to myself OVER and over and over again--that the most hurtful times of my life have been at the hands of Christians.

And, from a social standpoint, if I couldn't trust Christians-- a group I so identified with for so many years-- who could I trust?

So everyone was locked out.

After getting burned for the last time, I decided that I was going to try to find a new church and this time I was going to have criteria dag-gone it.

So, like when teachers would get the in class evaluations, off to church I would go with my list of things that were "deal-breakers" for me and I would "observe" the service to see if it offended my sensibilities.

Many say that churches are filled with hypocrites. I couldn't say that. My experience with church and church culture was more complex than that.

No, my deal breakers centered around bubble issues like rallying the congregation around hot button social issues, the mention of certain Christian leaders or their propaganda materials, politics in the pew, mega buildings over community programs, Christian nation development over Christ's love, works over grace, etc.

Now, a lot of these issues are still important to me, but looking back I think of how arrogant, distrusting of God, prideful, judgmental, *insert all kinds of awful things here* this monitoring behavior was... even though I know it was rooted a deep need to self-protect.

In my mind-- I was also protecting tons of folks who were seeking God, but didn't fit into the church, folks like myself... except that I rarely told anyone that I objected... I just used it as another reason to stay disconnected.

I became a pro at chalking up the differences between me and other believers. Most times, I was so concerned about what was being said and who it might offend that I missed many opportunities to engage with my Creator and/or His people.

Gradually God led me to the painful conclusion that if I was going to continue with these strong feelings of  what was wrong with the church-- I needed to look at myself and answer --as a Christian-- what I was doing to balance things...

My criticism was doing nothing for the things I claimed to care so deeply about... in essence I was the hypocrite.

As Gandhi once said, I needed to "Be the change you want to see in the world".

That is part of what this online journey is about...

I have been struggling with how to write about my "deal breaker" period and ironically enough yesterday at church I had to laugh when many of my previous triggers were present at some point during the service...

Triggers that used to consume me and my thoughts all service long.

God totally used it as a teachable moment for me. Even though I may not agree with certain approaches in regards to hot button issues or may not believe it is our job to create a Christian nation-- yesterday I saw the people who may think differently than I completely different.

Instead of judging them, I saw our similarities over our differences.

In each case, we were both imperfect humans coming to our Lord on a Sunday morning.

For the first time in a long time, we were both there to worship our God... not judge each other.

Do you struggle with God's people? Do you struggle with those outside the church?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Part Three: A Nomad's Revelation

Need to catch up? Part One, Part Two

So, at this point, God isn't talking to me.

My support system is deflated.

And, I begin to wonder where I went wrong.

After all, common theory was that if you look up and God is gone, you must have been the one that moved.

Don't believe me? Well, at the time-- I even had a letter telling me so.

And while that may be the case for some (and even me later in life)-- I assure you, at the time that wasn't the case. I was desperately seeking Him.

Looking back, I wish someone would have sent me this and reminded me of Job and Lazarus and the silence they experienced.

That you should examine your life to make sure you aren't putting something between you and God, but that ultimately --no matter how much you want one--God does not owe you a response and it doesn't mean He doesn't love you.

That sometimes God uses silence to shape you. 

That sometimes God's silence is a sign of trust not punishment

That silence can be intimate

That you should keep talking to Him.

Instead, I got judgement

Shame consumed me. 

Over what, I had no idea.

But I knew I didn't fit anymore. And, apparently it was my fault.

I wish someone had share with me the words of Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest:

"When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible—with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation."

During this time something strange happened. 

Even though I locked myself up deep inside, I suddenly stopped seeing people as a sum of their sins.

The "issues" that I used to fight to protect on behalf of my bubble's rights became far less important to me.

Compassion for those at the heart of those issues grew in place of the righteous entitlement I once subscribed to.

I kept thinking if I-- Lil' Miss Suzy Sunday School --could trip and fall so badly, not able to catch my footing, who was I to judge others...

I figured those folks might need my compassion more than my judgement.

And, truth be told, I now reserved all my judgement for those who were living the bubble life I once knew and loved.

And while I struggled with that new sin, I began to realize that God was giving me a gift through his silence.

He was revealing to me a view of the world I could have never seen tucked safely away in my bubble. He was shifting my perceptions and molding me into someone much different than what I was determined to be...

However, while that revelation was becoming clearer, it didn't make my nomad status with the church any easier... I was a woman without a home. A woman without fellowship. And, no matter how many ways I tried to justify it, it wasn't right.

To be continued...

Has God ever used silence to reveal something to you?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Red Phone: Part Two

Truth be told, I have been avoiding writing this post since posting Part One.

So, you know that scene in a scary movie (where I totally close my eyes b/c I HATE scary movies) where the beautiful blond is running from the uber scary dude and sees the phone as her saving grace and runs to it only to find--in complete horror-- that the phone is disconnected and then she proceeds to get slashed to death by the bad guy?

Well, that would be a perfect description of my spiritual life during my freshman year of college--minus the bad makeup and adding the freshman 15...25... Oh, and that I am a brunette and not a blond.. you get the point.

I recently discovered that many of my issues with social and spiritual tensions are kind of wound around this particular event... an event that shook me to my core. It feels weird to even call it an event. Because really, it was just a change...

My phone went dead folks.

God fell silent.

And I was left singing "Ya picked a fine time to leave me Lucille" as I watched the bad guy slash my Christian bubble all to pieces and in the process, my faith took a beating.

Ya see, I grew up in the newly formed/solidified Christian sub-culture. Where we had our own music (Rock on DC Talk), our own books, our own phone directories, our own trusted businesses, our own world... except everything in our world had a nice shiny fish stamped on it that "made it ok" to enjoy.  A Christian bubble so to speak.

Now, my parents were never a fan of this "not in/ not of" world... and they warned me all the time that the world didn't work in "Christian-only" mode and that Jesus called us to be a light in this world, not create our own world.  But, I had found my world-- a place I flourished in...and what did GOODe Ole mom and dad know anyhow? Part of the attraction of the bubble was its safety... I would be fine...

Enter a college prof with a major chip on his shoulder... who just so happened to teach my freshman Religion course. He prided himself in having good little Christian boys and girls like me for dinner. And dinner he had.

He used my bubble ignorance against me. He would teach about my childhood Bible story heroes in ways that definitely never made it on the felt boards back in Sunday School.

He had sources that didn't come from the Bible book store--heck he even had a bible I had never heard of...

He twisted things in ways I can't even describe... and for a while I was fine... but then I began to have questions. Not about my faith, but more about specifics...

When I began to dig in and ask my fellow bubble people about it, all I got was a lot of sugar coated answers... if that.

Sometimes I got annoyance or condescension.

There were a few that truly tried to help, but for the most part, I felt my bubble deflating rapidly and no one was overly concerned... except me.

I was devastated. And, worst of all...when I would pray to God... all I got was the dial tone.

I knew in my heart of hearts what was true. I am blessed to have felt the presence of God in my life for YEARS. But, this attack on my faith coupled with the loss of my community was a lot to take in as a freshman. Then to lose my red phone connection--despite my desperate pleas with God was almost too much to take.

I became scared.

In high school, one of my ways of coping socially was the security of my church youth group. It was one of my few safe havens during a very rough social time.

When I sought out this sanctuary in college, I didn't fit like I once did. I had so many questions and an ever growing set of baggage as this religion class and its fallout messed with me.

In return, I discovered a different side of the bubble.

The outcast.

It wasn't pretty.

And, if I am being honest, that is when I became jaded and began to fall out of love with God's people.

And-- at the same time--I retreated so far into myself socially that I am still finding my way out today...

To be continued...

Has God ever went silent on you? Have you ever been disappointed or hurt by God's people? Did it effect your faith or your relationship with Him?