Posted in Faith, Mental health

“Let Your Heart Smile”

It’s been a hard year. I think many of us are in a place where we could agree with that statement. For me personally, it hasn’t been a bad year, but yes, it’s been hard. The shock of when I first read those two words – “global pandemic.” The uncertainty of what this virus actually was. Would it hurt me, or my loved ones?

The adjustment to schooling my children at home. Which I welcomed, in fact…because I was afraid. And I wanted nothing more than to hide them under my wing, here at home. But eventually, that initial comfort turned into the daily frustrations of coping with my children’s boredom, and their resistance to doing the schoolwork that was important, but at times frustrating. I felt my mental health declining under the strain of their constant demands, the lack of alone time, and the sense of disorder and chaos within my home. As the school year and then the summer finally drew to a close, I welcomed the chance to send them to school and preschool again…though warily, because…how would they cope with all the new restrictions? The masks? The constant sanitizing? Being chained to a desk? Or, being prevented from something as natural and normal as interacting in close proximity to their peers?

Whatever the case, it didn’t last long. A few months later, and they were back at home again, and everything was shut down. There was nowhere we could go. Some days, I felt as if my mind was literally slipping away. I watched frontline and essential workers become celebrated heroes (and rightly so), but felt nameless and faceless at home with my kids, doing and doing and doing, without recognition, while politicians scolded us from our screens for questioning their methods. Money was thrown around to people who already had plenty. I began to worry about economics. How would our country pay off so many irresponsible expenditures? Why were wealthy people profiting even more from pandemic handouts?

Then my church split, and my heart broke. It wasn’t caused by the pandemic, but was complicated by it. I felt anger, at times, rise up within me like some unfamiliar, wild beast. I didn’t know I was capable of such. But the divisive issues that I saw everywhere brought out the worst in me, as they also did in others.

As the new year began, we kept putting our feet in front of each other, but our pace had decidedly slowed. Promises of normal gatherings and celebrations that had been dangled in front of us like carrots were pulled further and further away. I began to wonder what was more deadly – the virus itself, or the toll of trying to avoid it?

Finding myself, now, halfway (!) into the year, my province is in the midst of a ‘third wave.’ (I wonder how long they will keep numbering the waves.) The weather is gorgeous, my children are happy and healthy and laughing, the seeds are sprouting, the trees are green, and the flowers are blooming.

And yet, I seem to be stuck, in this rut of sullenness. I don’t blame COVID, necessarily. I blame habit. And I blame my own focus. My own gaze.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 NIV

I ask myself the question: Where am I looking? Am I looking only at the things that infuriate and depress me? Am I fixated on areas of lack, want, and trouble?

In the midst of this, I have heard a simple phrase, whispered gently to me beneath the mental clamour of my own complaints: Let your heart smile. Perhaps, because the Lord knows I am tired of cliché sayings such as “look at the bright side,” “be thankful,” and “practice gratitude,” He has provided an alternative wording which speaks directly to the condition of my heart – which seems to be operating from a misguided, twisted sense of duty. As if I must remain upset about the world’s problems, or as though I will change them by continuing to sulk about them. But in doing so, I am turning away from the joyful things that surround me. And in doing so, I am refusing to let my heart smile.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Luke 12:25-26 NIV

So when I look out my window and see a beautiful June day; as I watch my children run, giggling, through the sprinkler; as I see the faces of women on a video call who want to interact and pray; I have begun to allow myself to be filled with joy. There is no use fighting it. God has given reasons for my heart to smile. No, it’s not something I can muster up. It’s a gift that God is offering, that I need to stop throwing back at him. As a tree does not grimace or strain to overflow with fruit, so the fruits of God’s Spirit are not produced by my efforts.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

I thank you, Lord, for the fruit you produce in our lives, that we cannot bring forth on our own. I thank you, Lord, that we may leave all the solutions to the world’s problems up to you. I accept the peace, and joy, that you want to give to me. I will allow my heart to smile. And maybe, even my face as well.

How are you doing, and what are you smiling about today? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

On Coming Home

Recently, my family and I attended church. At church. For the first time in a year. As we entered the building, there was a sign with a picture of a house on it. On the bottom it read: “Welcome Home.”

There’s nothing like a world-wide pandemic to make you miss what you’ve never really had before. Amidst all the cries of faith-filled people that I have heard, wishing to gather with their church families, my voice has been, for the most part, silent. I am not quiet out of dissension, but from a place of what I would attempt to describe as perplexed shame.

Home. Has the church ever been home to me, in all these years? To some degree, yes. But in order for a place to be truly home, one needs to move in. And in order to move in, one must unpack. All of the boxes, bags, and containers. The new, exciting things. The old, worn-out things. The mementos. The things you love. The special items, and the mundane. Some things you should have gotten rid of years ago. And yes, even the dirty laundry you wish you had washed before you got there.

By unpacking, you bring your entire self into the environment. The things that you unpack reveal who you are. The good, the bad, the ugly. A true home must be home to your fullest self.

And once you have moved in, the work begins. You clean, maintain, and fix. You organize, arrange, plan, and make the place fit and welcoming for habitation and use. This work never stops, and many hands are needed. If you want to live there, you contribute. You don’t complain about menial or lowly tasks. And you learn to work together with the people who share the space.

You get hungry, and thirsty. You all do. So you share a meal. You pray over the bread, and break it. You eat together. You digest. You have a drink to wash it down. You’re thankful. It’s too good to keep to yourselves, so you invite guests in to share. The food and drink have a never-ending supply. Often, the guests decide to move in permanently. And you welcome them.

Sometimes, you play. You get to know your family better. There are young people, old people, and people from all kinds of backgrounds and lives. You learn to appreciate them all, because this family is formed by adoption. Dad wants lots of kids. And He likes variety.

When you get tired, home is a good place to rest. Dad says, that’s what He’s there for. And for recovery, when the outside gets to be too much. His arms are always open, and He says that ours should be too.

No home is perfect, and neither is the church. Even there, the rules meant to protect us get broken. Families fight, and people get hurt. The doors get busted in, and things are stolen. But when we pray: “Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven” – I think that what we’re really asking for, is home. And the Church is the place that home begins.

So maybe it’s time to move in. To work, and eat, and play, and rest. Maybe it’s been too many years of ducking in and out of the family gatherings, sitting in the back, and taking all my stuff with me when I go. Maybe it’s time to unpack, and settle in for good. (I wonder what that would look like.)

Have you gone back to church yet? What was it like? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Mindsets for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Self-doubt. It can be crippling. For some of us, it lurks around every corner. It causes frustration, bitterness, resentment, and even despair. It makes it difficult for us to accept criticism. It can change us into competitive, envious people who are unable to rejoice at the success of others.

But we don’t need to let it win.

Self-doubt is a demon that I know too well. As a stay-at-home mom who hopes to return to work again someday, I often feel as though I am on the bottom rung. The task before me seems overwhelming…even, impossible. Yet, this aching need for a purpose beyond my walls does not go away.

In the midst of this, my thought life can be a game-changer. What I believe about other people, myself, my past, and my future will change how I behave, and the decisions that I make. From one self doubter to, perhaps, another – here are some things to remember when you find yourself in that pit.

Remember the compliments, not the criticism

Yes, criticism can be constructive. However, if you are like me, it can tear you right to the ground – especially when you’re already in a position of weakness. These are the times that we need to also remember the compliments that people have given us over the years. Perhaps it is more natural for you to meditate on the criticisms. This may happen unintentionally. So, let’s be intentional about what may not come as easily – running the positive things that people have said about us through our minds, over and over again. You may want to write a few of them down. Are there any commonalities? What are the good things that people have called out of you? These can direct you towards future paths.

Pass the blessing on to others

After you have practiced gratitude for how others have encouraged you, you will have a greater understanding of the impact that your words may have on others. Is there someone you can encourage today? Someone else, who, perhaps, has been feeling a little beaten down? Do you see strengths in them that you can help them to notice? The Bible says “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Give it a try, and experience this truth. Everyone has influence – either for the good, or for the bad. This includes you. You have the ability to change the lives of others, for the better.

Turn envy into blessing

Nothing defeats the power that envy has on you, like turning it around on its head. That woman who has what you wish you had? Tell her how amazing she is. Tell her you admire her for it. When I have practiced this, it has softened my heart towards people I would have otherwise harbored resentment for. It has also released me from the captivity that envy is. Yes, you can – appreciate others for the strengths and good qualities that they have, without it taking anything away from you, and who God made you to be.

Embrace humility

One verse that has continually challenged me is Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV)

There is a perplexing relationship between self-doubt and pride. Pride insists that a person be the best at everything, and have the best of everything, which leads inevitably to failure and self-doubt. A humble person, however, understands that this is an impossible stance, and that they are no better than the next person. It is ok, natural, and good to be less-than what you see in others. A humble person knows there is more to life than how they rank.

We are each given struggles as well as gifts. And our gifts, by definition, are acts of grace – completely undeserved. Acknowledge them for what they are, and realize that every other person is given both struggles and gifts as well.

Find purpose in the here-and-now

Everybody needs a sense of purpose in order to be healthy. Self-doubt can stem from a fear that you will be unable to fulfill purpose in your life. If you question what your purpose is, look around. Look right in front of you. Where have you found yourself? What must you do in that situation?

Are you at home, with your kids? If so, you have found a purpose: love your kids, keep them safe and fed, and try to stay sane! Are you sick in bed? Rest, and get better. In the middle of a huge argument? Work towards resolution and do what you can to reconcile. In a job you don’t like? Do it to the best of your ability, while praying about and researching other opportunities.

If you are like me, you may think too far ahead into the future sometimes. Your purpose in 5 or 10 years may not be very clear right now, or it may seem impossible. However, I am willing to bet that your purpose for today, for this very moment, is something that you can identify and achieve.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:34 ESV

I understand that your self-doubt may be more complicated than the points I have outlined here. Nonetheless, I hope that by focusing on the compliments, passing on blessing, overcoming envy, embracing humility, and finding purpose in the here-and-now, you will find yourself in a place of greater peace than you were before.

Do you struggle with self-doubt? What is your advice on how to overcome it? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

“A Beast of Burden”

“How are everyone’s devotions going?” I asked a few friends several weeks ago, during one of the precious few in-person meetings we’ve been permitted to have, since…you know.

The room fell silent. Some women looked away. Others slowly shook their heads. I felt bad for asking.

Years ago I heard Joyce Meyer talk about spending daily time with God. With reference to busy mothers, she had asked in her typically pointed way (which I love) – “Well, what can you do? Lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes to pray, if you have to.”

This simple statement has motivated me when ‘quiet time’ is virtually impossible. A few months ago, I re-evaluated my devotional plan. At the time, I had been reading through Ezekiel. But when circumstances dictated that both children be home full time, and supervision of school work was added to my list of responsibilities, Ezekiel felt like a little more than I could handle. I wasn’t looking forward to my devotions any longer, and began to avoid doing them.

So I decided to take a break from Ezekiel for a while and go directly to the source: the words of Jesus Himself. I found a long stretch of red letter text in Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount), and began to read it very slowly. I sampled different translations, and found that they added layers of meaning to the text. Since translation is not always a straight-forward process, and words are tied to the history and culture in which they are used, different versions of the Bible can relay varying aspects of what was originally meant.

Recently, I stumbled upon a verse that grabbed me in a new way because of one such alternate wording. In Matthew 21, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem shortly before His death and resurrection (otherwise known as the “Triumphal Entry”) is documented. There, I read a verse that has become quite familiar to me in NIV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” Matthew 21:5 NIV

However, here it is, in ESV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:5 ESV

A beast of burden! The CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translates it the same way. A quick perusal of Britannica.com informed me that this is a common term of reference for a ‘pack animal.’ Donkeys, in particular, have been used for bearing loads for as long as six thousand years. According to Britannica: “In many places in the world, the use of pack animals is the only feasible means of transporting a load.” Donkeys “are surefooted and can carry heavy loads over rough terrain.” And where horses cannot survive, or people are too impoverished to own them, “donkeys are the main beasts of burden and source of transportation.”

Surefooted. Carrying heavy loads over rough terrain. Able to survive where horses cannot. Available to people who are poor. Transporting from one place to the next.

The only feasible means.

Could there be a better way to describe the Savior Himself?

Jesus’s association with this animal was not a coincidence. He had specifically sent His disciples to fetch the donkey from a complete stranger, knowing in advance that it would be there, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

And like the donkey, our Lord is humble and gentle. Like the donkey, He bears the loads that are too heavy for us to carry, and He does so without complaint. Like the donkey, He is essential – especially, to those who are poor.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3 NIV

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7 NIV

I wonder how much easier it would be to spend time with Jesus daily, if we remembered that He is willing and able to bear the heavy loads we carry, over the rough terrain of our lives. That He is the only means of transportation – from one season of life to another, and from this life to the next.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”

Psalm 68:19 NIV

What burdens can I give to the Lord today?

The burden of worry. That my life, and those of my family members, won’t turn out alright.

The burden of control. He is God. I am not.

The burden of feeling unloved. He made me, and knows and loves every intricacy of my being.

The burden of this day. I am not alone. He is with me in every task. He leads and directs me.

I invite you to spend some time with Jesus, and allow Him to hold your heaviest troubles. Which burdens will you give to Him? If you would like to share about it, comment below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Parenting

The Beauty of Inadequacy

I jog for a lot of reasons.  For the health benefits, and the feeling of well being it gives me.  For the hope that it will tone my legs (besides doing a number on my knees), and maybe even shrink the roll of baby fat that uncomfortably spills over my waist band.  For the cool, crisp evening air; and the refreshing guzzle of lemon-tinged ice water to follow.

But perhaps, the greatest benefit is the release of my nervous energy at the end of a day.  With each steady, plodding fall of foot upon pavement, my sneakers pound the questions that I’ve grown tired of asking.  Many of them have to do with parenting.  Questions like:

How can I do right by my kids, in every situation?  Are my husband and I steering them in the proper direction?  Are we giving them what they need – always, infallibly, with no developmental area neglected?

One area that I struggle with, for whatever reason, is team sports.  I wasn’t very good at sports growing up, and always felt bad about it.  Therefore, my intention with my own kids was to involve them in it early, so they could develop the abilities I never had.  However, after one and one half seasons of enduring mini soccer alongside my first child, I realized he had little to no interest – and surely did not see sports as implicit to his sense of self-worth, as I had as a child.

On the other hand, he has always loved water and enjoys swimming lessons whenever I’m able to send him.  He also loves to be with friends – goofing off, running around, and playing games – so the kid’s club at church was a win.  I think that this is all great.  But I still worry that I’m shortchanging him, especially when I hear other parents talk about kids who are heavily involved in sports.

As I thought about these things while jogging one evening, and my angsty trudging finally gave way to exhaustion, breathlessness, and its requisite calm, I remembered the Lord. “Please,” I prayed, “let there be nothing neglected.  May there be no inadequacies in the upbringing of our kids.”

His reply came as swiftly as the words left my mind.

“But it is in the inadequacies that I do my greatest work.”

At once, my mind flashed images from my life.  A collage – not of my proudest moments, but those of failure, weakness, lack, and disadvantage.  And I knew in a moment…

My inadequacies, though disappointing, have taught me humility in the place of pride.  They have caused me to refrain from drivenness and instead, to embrace contentment.  They have helped me to develop compassion and mercy, where I would have otherwise been critical and judgmental.

Character is of great value, to Him.  And the way that we treat others.  Can we love them?  Are we even capable?

Give up the selfish ambition.  Then, maybe.  Discover a sense of worth beyond achievements and accomplishments.  Then…perhaps.

If so, that is the best possible outcome.  For myself, and for my kids.

I will close with some of the passages of scripture I could stand to read every day.  And as always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Philippians 2:1‭-‬4 NIV

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
James 3:13‭-‬18 NIV

Posted in Faith

Ask, Seek, Knock

I’ve been looking at my phone more than ever lately.  Times of upheaval and change call for desperate measures.  Like reading news stories, compulsively searching job ads, grasping at deals on local used items, and researching government programs.

I’m kidding, of course.  But those are precisely the things I’ve found myself doing.  I feel a course adjustment in the works but I don’t know which direction to take, or where it will lead us.  And I’m afraid.

And the words ring through my mind: “ask, seek, knock.” Ask…Google?  Seek…the guidance of website, after website, after website.  Knock on the screen of my phone.  Tink, tink, tink.

But nobody’s listening.  There’s no one there.  There are no answers, no solutions.  (I guess Google just doesn’t get me.)

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“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:10 NIV

In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus is teaching about prayer.  He describes two vignettes.  One is of a person knocking on his friend’s door late at night, asking for food to help feed an unexpected house guest.  His friend, at first, declines to help.  But because the person keeps knocking, he gives in and helps the poor guy out.

The second example is of a father with his child.  Jesus explains that even earthly fathers will normally feed their children when they are hungry.  A good father will not give his child something damaging, like a snake, or pointless, like a rock, when what the child needs is good, wholesome food.

In the past when I have read the first scenario, the message seemed to be: if you’re really annoying and keep begging God for what you want, eventually, He’ll give in.  At least, that is the impression given by the New International Version:

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
Luke 11:5‭-‬8 NIV

I do believe that persistent prayer is of value for the purposes of developing and nurturing a relationship with God, and allowing Him to shape me and my requests.  Maybe sometimes, there are even forces at play in the spiritual realm, that I need to persist in praying through.  But…really?  Does He give in out of annoyance?  Is He waiting for me to impress Him?  To beg, or show off, or ask a certain number of times?  There must be more to the picture than that.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

So let’s imagine Jesus with us.  Let’s put ourselves in that little circle of disciples, hungry for His guidance on prayer.  And let us listen to how He begins His sentence.  First, the King James version:

“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?”
Luke 11:5‭-‬6 KJV

And then, the English Standard Version:

“And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?”
Luke 11:5‭-‬7 ESV

Do you see the question mark at the end of the passage, that was removed in the NIV version?  Notice, that Jesus is phrasing the scenario as a question.  He says, “Which of you?” Or in other words, who has this ever happened to?  Who has a friend like this, who wouldn’t even get out of bed to help?  If even he will finally help if you keep asking, imagine how your Father in Heaven will respond!  Will He give you snakes and stones to eat?  No, no…He’s better than all of that.

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Photo by Patricia McCarty from Pexels

This is where I had a little help from an online commentary on the passage.  Elisabeth Johnson of workingpreacher.org writes:

“Hearers today might empathize with the woken-up friend and think that the midnight caller is pushing the limits of friendship.  But in the culture of the biblical world, it is the woken-up friend who is behaving badly.  The ability of his friend to provide hospitality, and thus his honor, is at stake.”

She goes on to say:

“Jesus’ parable implies that if it is so among friends with their mixed motives and self-interest, how much more so with God who wants to give us what is good and life-giving, and who is invested in keeping God’s name holy.”

How much more so.  How much more so!  With God, than with human friends, who may be unreliable.  Or even than with a human father, who may disappoint, ignore, or hurt his children.  How much more so, will our loving God hear, and answer, and fill our prayers.  The first time.  The second time.  The third, the fourth, the fifth, AND the sixth.

Every.  Single.  Time.  He’s not waiting until we get to 100 repetitions in order to listen.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13 ESV

I don’t know about you.  But I can’t spend hours praying about each item on my list.  (Sometimes, I do.)  But other times, it’s just a quick sentence under my breath.  Or even, a thought.  What my pastor calls “dart prayers”:  “Lord, I give this to you.”  “I put this in your hands.”  “Lord, please bring resolution.”  “Oh God…HELP!” 

“Dart prayers” such as these may not cultivate a rich, fulfilling prayer life.  But I don’t think that God listens to them any less.

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Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

In summation, I believe that the thrust of Jesus’ teaching in this passage from Luke is:

Rest assured.

When you hear no answers, rest assured.  You are heard.  The Lord is better than a sleepy friend or an imperfect parent.  If you ask, seek, and knock…you will receive, find, and walk through.  Maybe it will take longer than you like.  Maybe what you’re asking for is no better for you than a rock or a snake, and one day you’ll be glad the answer was no.  Maybe, there’s an angle to your story that He sees, that you cannot.  Maybe, He’s helping you get down to the heart of your needs, and it’s different than what you are aware of on the surface.  But whatever the case, you can trust Him.

And maybe, I’ll still ask Google.  But I know who can really help me.  In fact, He’s the only One who can.

What are your thoughts on this passage from Luke?  How do you understand it?  As always, I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below!

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Those Prevailing Gates (Thoughts on the Pandemic and the Church)

Trigger warning: this post contains mention of suicide.

Recently, an old friend from high school contacted me.  We hadn’t been in touch for a number of years.  I’m still shuddering in disbelief and shock at the news she delivered: 3 suicides in the past 7 months – all people we went to school with.

I wasn’t particularly close to these people, but I have specific memories of two of them.  The first, I will refer to as T.

He was popular, and athletic; I was quiet, and book-smart.  We never spoke unless it was out of necessity.  Except that one time, at his graduation.  He was drunk.  (Which probably explains why he approached me.)  We were talking about his girlfriend.

“You’ve been together a long time,” I said.  “Do you think you’ll get married?”

“I hope so,” he replied.

I remembered this conversation, a day or two before I heard about his suicide.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Except that, otherwise, I would have no reason to think of them.  A woman walked by me at a campground who reminded me of his girlfriend.

Wonder if they ever got married?  I thought to myself, smiling inwardly.  They were together for such a long time.  Popular in school; and confident and smart enough to probably land good jobs and have a few kids, by now.

As I know now, he never married her, but married another woman and had 3 boys.  Apparently, his father had committed suicide when he was young, also leaving 3 young boys – he and his brothers.  Man, the things you don’t know about a person.

The second guy – C – had left school for a while, and then came back to attend Grade 12 the same year I was.  He wore cowboy boots, and a stern expression, and you could always hear the steady beat of his feet as he walked staunchly up and down the halls.  I was afraid of him.  Until, he joined our class and I realized his temperament wasn’t as harsh as his appearance.  He chose our graduation motto – “Well Worth the Wait,” from the song “Long Time Running” by The Tragically Hip.  He was quoted in the local paper, talking about how great it felt to finish high school and how glad he was that he had come back.

 

However, a couple of months before grad, just as the winter was lifting, there had been a tragedy in our town.  Three local guys were involved in a car crash that took their lives.  Two of them were supposed to have graduated with us.

To my surprise, the principal of our school asked me to read a few verses of scripture at the funeral.  I accepted, feeling as though I had been handed something sacred.  As I stood behind the podium of that small Catholic church, overlooking two coffins, I read the weighty words of apostle Paul, and struggled to comprehend them:

“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:53‭-‬57 NIV

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I wasn’t sure what those verses would mean to anyone until one day, after the funeral, C approached me outside the gymnasium at school.  He cried.  He thanked me for reading at the funeral, and hugged me, and talked about how the words had encouraged him.  He said something about death and how the reading had made him realize how little power it had.

Honestly, I didn’t quite get it yet, myself.  But I was glad that he did.

And all in all, I thought that, probably, he’d be ok.

I struggle to reconcile, in my mind, my recollection of C those years ago – hope-filled, and somewhat at peace – with the knowledge that he has now taken his life.  Or how T – who from outward appearances, checked the boxes we use to predict a successful life – would find himself in such a pit that he would leave his sons in the same way his father left him.  Though I barely knew these men, it brings tears to my eyes.  Was there something I could have done?  Something I could have said?  I feel an urge to go back to my hometown, and do something about this epidemic of despair.  But what could I do?

And I think about the church.  I think about how a pandemic has closed its doors.  I think about the congregation, the individual people.  Those of us whose faith has, perhaps, cooled off…being lulled away down a nonchalant path of apathy, self-service, and disconnect.

I see the normalization of substance use and abuse.  The churches must shut down.  But liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries remain open, because people rely on them to cope.  May I remind you: 3 suicides in 7 months, in a tiny, alcohol and drug-saturated town.  How well are we coping?

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Picture taken from https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/10/17/health/canada-legalizes-recreational-marijuana/index.html

A culture that also normalizes, or even glorifies, killing and dying, while diminishing the sacrilege of human life.  Where defenseless, unborn children, unhesitatingly and unblinkingly, have their lives taken away.  (And no, the pandemic hasn’t slowed that down, either.)  Where resources that could have gone to improving palliative care are diverted to legalize assisted dying, and the aged or ill can choose to end their lives rather than live out the remainder of their allotted days with friends and families.

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Picture taken from https://www.babycentre.co.uk/8-weeks-pregnant

Where children are regularly fed images of death and darkness: skulls, zombies, vampires, ghosts, demons, and themes of being possessed by evil.  (Just watch the cartoons.)

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I don’t want to point fingers, or shame anyone.  I write this to myself as much as anyone.  But please, let’s awake to the fact that evil has not slowed down.  Let’s not become so enclosed in our self-isolating bubbles that we forget the role of the church in offering hope to the people who may be grappling for it.  Could we, perhaps, seek them out?  Could we find them?

No, I don’t quite know how to, either.  But what is the church, besides a body of people who love the Lord and love other people?  Is the church a building, whose doors are nailed shut?  A system, vulnerable to breakdown and financial collapse?

Or is it individuals, banded together in hope and love?  If you love the Lord, He has undoubtedly saved, healed, or dragged you through something.  Was it despair, that He delivered you from?  Depression?  Illness?  Abuse?  Death?  Addiction?  Suicide?  Divorce?  Tell someone.  They may be scrambling to find the hope that you now have.

Who reached out to you?  Which member or members of the church body held out their hands, their Bibles, their homes, their hearts?  Remember them.  Do not despise or diminish the power of the church.

The church is an essential service.  Undoubtedly so, more than ever.  You can close the building.  But you can’t shut down the church.

Let us not forget, to be the church.

 

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:18‭-‬19 NIV

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Revelation 1:18 NIV

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Proverbs 18:21 NIV

How do you think the church’s role has changed because of the world wide pandemic?  What are our responsibilities, as Christians, in light of the present situation?  How may we reach out to others?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

You’re His Favorite

Sometimes, tears come quickly, while words come slowly.  That’s what it has been like for me, the first part of this summer.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been enjoying the glorious weather, warm waters to swim in, camping, and being with friends and family.

But in addition to these pleasantries, it was like some kind of switch flipped in my brain, and I was suddenly swamped with memories.  Both good and bad.  Forget memory lane – this was a vast network – hundreds of winding, meandering paths.

I realized a few things.  They came together, began to make sense, and were shed with new light.

I speak often of God, the Holy Spirit; His comfort, and His healing.  I honestly didn’t intend for this blog to be so full of spiritual themes.  But I can’t help it.

He has been with me in a special way, lately.  I sense His love, and His kindness.  He loves me in a way that no one else has ever been able to match.  He knows what I need, at every moment.

He gently prods away at my past, helping me to understand it.  I feel His compassion.  He cares too much about my hurts, to let them lie buried forever.  He reminds me of them and is showing me how to heal.

And perhaps most importantly, He tells me that I am enough.  He sees my innermost thoughts and feelings as worthy of respect and love.  He reminds me to be careful, who I allow in.

I know that opinions are divided on the book/movie “The Shack,” even among Christians.  However, there is one thing that I think the story got right.  In several instances, God is quoted as saying: “I’m particularly fond of him,” “I’m particularly fond of her,” etc., until the main character comes to realize that this God is “particularly fond” of every person.

Lately, this truth has gotten down into my heart.  I feel like I am His favorite.  Like His entire attention is on me.  And if there is one message I would like you to take from this post, let it be:

God is particularly fond of you.  You are His favorite.  His entire attention, is on you.

His way of relating to you may be different from what I have described here, just as I relate in different ways to each of my two sons.  One is an energetic chatterbox who tells me everything that is on his mind at every moment.  He wants me to listen to his stories and loves it when I do activities of all kinds with him.  My other son talks less, but has a sly sense of humor, and has been cracking me up ever since he could string two words together.  He likes it when I tickle him, and he’ll often just come and lean up against me, or climb onto my lap and lounge there.  They are so different, and I delight in them both.

So it is, I believe, with God.  All of His children are so very different.  And He delights in each one.

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If you’re hurting, He wants to bring you healing and freedom.  If you have been abused, or are being abused, He can show you how to get free.  If you hate yourself, He can reveal the goodness inside you that He created and knows so well.  If you are stricken by fear, He can become your safe place – the one place where you can rest.

I will leave you with a song that has become my summer anthem.  I feel as though it is the cry of my own heart, through the mouths and instruments of other people…as if I could have written it myself.

It’s hard to believe in the goodness of God, until you have experienced it yourself, or, until you hear the stories of people who have encountered Him.  People who have tasted, and seen, and invite you to do the same.  This is the strength of our stories.  Our testimonies.  Share yours.  Listen to those of others.  It’s all just too good to miss.  

And remember: you’re His favorite.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Psalms 34:8 NIV

 

Posted in Faith, Mental health

5 Small Ways to Stand (On Your Own Two Feet)

Feeling bullied?  Beaten up?  Beaten down?  All of the above?

Sometimes it’s the world that does it to us.  Sometimes it’s specific people.  Sometimes, we have ourselves to blame.

Whatever the case, it’s never too late to get back up again.  Because when it comes to your personhood – your God-given value as a human being – the very nature of you – nobody is able to take that away.

Every human being is created with purpose, and intent, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalms 57:2; Psalms 139:13-16).  This does not give us free reign to do whatever we want (Romans 7:15-25; Romans 6).  However, there is a clear biblical basis for the protection of one’s personhood.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 NIV

I find it interesting that even though Jesus willingly and sacrificially laid down His life, He never compromised on who He truly was: the Son of God (Luke 22:66-71), the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11), and a friend to sinners (Luke 23:39-43).  Although people surrounded Him, spat on Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and even killed Him, they could not remove this core truth of His innermost being.  He had come to save the world.  And, save the world is what He did.

With a similar boldness, there are some simple ways that we may stand on our own two feet, assert our confidence, and say: I am who I am, and who I am is good.  Not because I say so, but because my Creator does.

To certain individuals, the following list will seem odd or unimpressive.  And to others, it will make sense, because they too have become inhibited or shamed in some of these areas.  Keep in mind that what is commonplace to some, may feel nearly impossible to others.

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5 Small Ways to Assert Your Confidence in Who You Are

  1. Try a new hairstyle.  You know that short cut you’ve been wanting to try?  Maybe now is the time.  Whether it looks good or not, you will still be you, and you will have some fun experimenting with your appearance.  I did this – read about it by clicking here.
  2. Learn a new skill.  This can even be something small.  Sometimes, we have never done a task simply because others have always done it for us.  After a while, we can begin to feel dependent on that help, even though we aren’t.  It can be very empowering to take the step of doing it for ourselves.  For example, I recently set up our tent trailer on my own.  Usually, this is something I would have relied upon my husband to do.  But I found it gratifying to know I could do it myself if I had to or wanted to.
  3. Refuse to be mocked.  Being open to feedback or constructive criticism that is delivered in a kind and thoughtful way, is one thing.  Intentional mocking, however, with the explicit intent of hurting your feelings, tears down your personhood and is not something that you should be subjected to on a regular basis.  Is there someone in your life who repeatedly mocks you?  Perhaps it is time to calmly set a boundary with them.  For example, you could say, “If you speak that way to me again, I will end the conversation until you are willing to treat me with respect.” Remember to also be kind and respectful towards your offender.  Don’t join them in the destructive game.
  4. Don’t berate yourself.  Perhaps, you are your own mocker.  If so, it’s time to have a little talk with yourself!  No person is perfect.  Ask for forgiveness if you have let someone down.  Then move on, treat mistakes as opportunities to learn, and be the best you that you can be.
  5. Set and work towards a goal.  Giving up says, “I’m not important and will never achieve my goals.” Standing up says, “Even if my dreams don’t fully come true, they may, and I’m allowed to have them. What is one small way I can work towards them today?” It feels hopeless to never permit yourself to dream.  Hold your dreams with an open hand, and be willing to be flexible, because…life happens.  However, so does growth, and achievement – and it will happen to you as well, if you allow it.

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It seems to me that there is very little separating those who stand up from those who lie down, beyond their inner attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs.  The mind, will, and emotions are powerful tools that can be harnessed for the good of ourselves and others.

Do you feel like parts of you have been beaten down?  What are your best ways to get back up and reclaim your personhood?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

And if this post resonated with you, check out some of my other posts related to self-awareness, self concept, boundaries, and generally living in your own skin:

Hey Young Mom, Your Feelings Matter Too!

Mom Fail Number 99

Moms are People Too!

This Shame Problem

Forced to Look

Coming to Terms with Social Anxiety

Warm wishes,

Lisa

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Psalms 139:13‭-‬16 NIV

Posted in Faith

Praying the Psalms – Psalm 1: Thought Life

The Psalms is a book of prayers.  It covers a wide range of human emotions and can be a catalyst for when you don’t know what to say to God!  Join me as I pray through the Psalms.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

A prayer inspired by Psalm 1:

Lord, please focus my thoughts.  Direct my steps towards the ways that please you.  Please provide friendships for me that will bear good fruit and draw me nearer to you.  Help me to be open to those friendships.  Help me, Lord, to not dwell on negative things.  This can be such a struggle, some days!

Write your words on my heart, Lord.  Fill my head with your thoughts.  Please help the Bible to be meaningful to me; give me understanding and insight.

Help me, Lord, to thrive – could you be my water?  Help me to be healthy in every way: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Help me to do good work that will be effective in the right ways.

I know that your ways are best.  May I not get sidetracked by the things of this world: selfish ambition, wealth – the things that pass away.

Have mercy on me, Lord.  I know that your eyes are always on me, and I thank you for that.