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Posts Tagged ‘God’

Out-With and the Fury

If you’ve read “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne you’ll recognize these two phrases.  (Tho I haven’t seen it yet, I imagine if you’ve seen the movie you’ll recognize them as well….)

One of the things I wanted to do when I started this blog was to write about the books I read and the impact they have on me.  I’ve done that a few times since starting this—tho not as often as I imagined I would.  Or as often as I’d like to.  I have so many thoughts flowing through my head when I finish a book they never seem to “gel” into anything that would make sense to anyone else.

After reading this book I don’t really care if it makes sense to anyone else.  I want to put pen to paper (even if it’s only e-paper) and record a few thoughts.  It doesn’t matter if it flows well, or if it’s something that interests anyone else.  I want to write about it anyway.

Holocaust books trouble and intrigue me at the same time.  They always have.  I’m not sure why.  This book was no exception.  It’s written from the perspective of a 9 year old German boy.  It’s charming, beguiling, abhorrent and disquieting all at the same time. 

I don’t want to re-tell the story or discuss the plot.  If you want to read what people think check out the reviews on Amazon.com or on Goodreads.com.  Plenty of people smarter than me have written lots of thoughts.

There is something so compelling, so captivating in Bruno’s story.  You see Auschwitz (or “Out-With” as he pronounces it) and the Fuehrer (or the “Fury” as Bruno calls him) through the eyes of an innocent, naïve 9 year old child.  The author does a remarkable job of showing his adult audience the horror of the situation while sheltering his younger readers from the full vileness of Auschwitz and the Holocaust.  I am truly impressed with how Boyne was able to successfully balance the two. 

As an adult reader of his book I found myself drawn into Bruno’s life more than I had realized.  At the end of chapter 18 I had to literally set down the book.  I set it aside and said out loud, “I don’t want to read the rest.  This will NOT end well.  I don’t want to read this anymore.  I don’t want to know how it ends.  He’s so innocent.  He has no idea.”

I picked it back up a few minutes later and read chapter 19 in almost total denial.  “Maybe it will be okay.  Maybe it won’t be as bad as I think.  Maybe the author won’t take the story where I think he’s taking it.  I’m jumping to conclusions.  Maybe it will turn out fine.” 

How did it end?  You’ll just have to read the book to find out.  (Or e-mail me for more of my thoughts offline.)  I’ll say only that the author impressed the heck out of me.

The thing that is staying with me (as much as the story) is the author’s note at the end of the book.

Boyne writes, “The issue of writing about the Holocaust is, of course, a contentious matter, and any novelist who explores it had better be sure about his or her intentions before setting out.  It’s presumptuous to assume that from today’s perspective one can truly understand the horrors of the concentration camps, although it’s the responsibility of the writer to uncover as much emotional truth within that desperate landscape as he possible can.”

Wow.

Maybe that hints at why Holocaust literature pulls at me so much.  Maybe it’s (at least partially) because I know that I cannot understand what happened.  What it must have been like.  What it must have felt like to experience it.  I cannot imagine how those who ran the camps managed to convince themselves it was okay to treat other human beings so horribly.  So brutally.  I cannot imagine how so many people knew about it and did nothing.  And how so many more people intentionally chose NOT to have knowledge of what was happening.  How many people chose to deny what was happening.

I can’t wrap my brain or my heart around any of those questions.  So I read, and re-read, as many different perspectives as I can.  I read as many different authors as I can.  Any well-written book that touches on the Holocaust in any way—even if the main focus is not present, first-person perspective.  From “The Reader” to “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” I am drawn to them.  With a curiosity to learn more.  To attempt to gain a better understanding.  To see things from a new perspective.  To answer in any small way possible, “Why?” and “What can I do to keep it from happening again?”

None of the answers are satisfactory.

There aren’t enough words in the universe to explain “Why.”  When I get to Heaven the first thing I’m going to ask God is, “Why?”  I am positive I will not be alone.   Faith (the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen) alone allows me to trust God will have an answer we can all accept.  I cannot imagine what it will be.

“What can I do to keep it from happening again in my lifetime?”  Yeah.  That question makes me want to scream.  And cry.  Look at the genocide/holocaust in Rwanda and Darfur and Zimbabwe.  Those were in my lifetime.  Those were in my adult lifetime.  What did I do?  What am I doing?  How often did I actively avoid news stories…..feeling there was nothing I could do.  I tell myself, those places are so far away.  Maybe it’s not so bad.  Maybe it’s not what they are saying.  Maybe……

But I know.  It is that bad.  It is what they are saying, and have said.  It is.

And I feel so helpless.  So powerless.

I pray, “God do SOMETHING!  End this!  End it now.  You can do that.  You can bring people to their senses. Please.  Please.  Please!  I’m begging.  Bring peace.  Bring love.  Bring understanding.”    And I see no change.

Maybe I’m drawn to Holocaust literature because I’m searching for an answer.  What can I do?  What can I do?  What can I do?

I have no answers.  So I continue searching.

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The lesson at our church on Sunday was about God’s grace. 

I love (intellectually) the subject of grace and believe it really cannot be taught often or strongly enough.  We need more of it in our world.  We need a better understanding of it in our world.

Evidently what I needed (and still need) was a better connection to it emotionally.

Tom talked about God’s grace and defined it in a very specific way.  (Listen to the entire lesson here if it intrigues you.  It’s well worth the time.)  For his lesson Tom used this working definition of grace.  “Grace is the free unprovoked dispensing of favored (or even most favored) status to one who does not deserve it, with the giver absorbing any cost necessary to provide it.”

Wow.  That’s strong.  And hit me more emotionally than definitions of grace normally do.

Here’s the normal ladder I think of intellectually.

Justice- Getting what you deserve.  I sin and under justice I get God’s wrath and punishment.

Mercy- Not getting the negative thing you deserve.  I sin and under mercy I receive no punishment.

Grace- Getting better than you deserve.  I sin and under grace God does something nice for me.

Even my fairly intellectual definition (at least what I understand and accept on an intellectual level rather than on an emotional or heart level) of grace is pretty unbelievable.  When I sin, when I do “wrong” according to God why on earth would He do something nice for me?  That just doesn’t make sense.  But I can accept that’s just who He is.  I don’t understand it—but honestly there’s a lot about God I don’t understand.  I’ll just add that to the list.

And I see that in my life.  I have blessings (beyond count!) that I don’t deserve.  So that’s a clear, tangible sign of God’s grace. 

Emotionally—that’s a different level.  When I sin He’s not happy with me.  He gets hurt.  He would rather not be around me.  Right?  Because sin separates us from God.  So clearly He’d want to avoid me.  He’d want to put some space between us until I come to Him and beg forgiveness.  Right?  He’s not going to come running to me, throwing His arms around me and say, “Spudsie, you rock!!  Do you know how amazing you are?  You are one of a kind!  There’s no one else on the ENTIRE planet like you.  I love spending time with you.  You are so special to me.  You get ‘most favored’ status.  I love you!”  Right?  He wouldn’t say that.  He wouldn’t want to be near me.  Right?

Well, according to the definition of grace Tom used, that’s exactly what God would do.  He’d run to me and gush.

I sin and deserve separation from God.  I deserve death.  And He comes running to me and loves me.  And tells me about everything I’ve done that’s good. 

Is He unaware of the sin? 

No.  He knows all about it.  But I’m covered by His grace.  By His amazing grace.

At the end of Tom’s lesson on Sunday I was (quite literally) in tears.  And not the dignified quiet weeping of a tear or two running down my face.  Nope.  The full blown, nose running, make-up running, not a tissue in sight kind of tears.  Tom talked about God walking into our group and walking up to us (me) individually and telling us how much He loves us.  Beaming as He looks at us.  Loving us.

And I was in tears because I really, really WANT to believe that God thinks that about me.  (About everyone!)

But I’m not sure I do.  I’m not sure He feels that way about me.

Occasionally I get a glimpse of it.  I feel it for about a millisecond. 

Most of the time I feel as though God is disappointed in me.  That He’s not happy with me.  That He cares for me in spite of who I am, rather than because of who I am.  I feel His judgment so much more than I feel His love and grace. 

Does He love me?  Does he extend His grace to me?

Intellectually?  Yes.  I know that He does.

Emotionally?  I’m not so sure.  How could He?  And why can’t (or don’t ) I feel it?

Mr. Spuds and I have been attending the small group meeting that Tom and his wife are a part of.  (What an awesome group!!!  I’ll have to write more about them later.  For the moment let me just say they astound me!)  And the group was talking about grace—when we’ve received it from others and when we’ve given it.

Mr. Spuds and I talked about this before the small group meeting.  And we really couldn’t come up with examples of when we’ve received grace (based on the working definition Tom used Sunday) or when we’ve extended it.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  We’ve had generosity and mercy extended to us countless times.  And we have extended mercy and generosity to others often.

But grace?  That’s an entirely different level.

At the small group meeting it seemed the conversation kept coming back to examples of “grace” that involved friends and/or family members being generous.  Or showing mercy.  And the group kept referring to those examples as “grace.”

And while the stories were inspirational, I’m not entirely sure they were examples of pure grace.  They were mercy.  Generosity.  Love.  Compassion.  Forgiveness.  All good things.  But not pure grace.

And I wanted to talk about pure grace.  God’s grace.

So I tearfully asked (in front of a group of near strangers) if I was the only one who had a hard time believing the end of Tom’s lesson on Sunday.  Am I the only one who has a hard time feeling God’s grace?  Who pretty much can’t believe that He would come running for me?  That He thinks I rock?  That can’t really feel his grace in my heart?

The group assured me I was not alone.  That it’s hard.

And then Tom started talking again.  (Mr. Spuds has commented that some of the things I say in the small group often resonate with Tom.  He’s not sure if Tom “gets” what I’m saying and struggling with on a deeper level or if I “get” Tom’s lessons on a deeper level…but Mr. Spuds says it’s interesting to watch the connection.) 

Anyway, Tom suggested that maybe we could feel God’s grace more, feel His grace deeper if we spoke it to each other.  If we spoke in first person on God’s behalf.  “Spudsie, you are amazing.  I saw what you wrote today and it blew me away.  You are so loving.  You are so wonderful.  I just want to take your face in my hands and love you.”  Etc.

Tom was talking to me saying these things—as if it were God talking directly to me.

And I couldn’t maintain eye contact.  I just couldn’t.

(Okay, Coach Jim would probably stop me here and try to help me see this a little differently.  So let’s see if I can coach myself through this.)

I chose not to maintain eye contact for fear that my emotions would further overwhelm me.  I chose to look away so I could continue to participate in the group discussion and not dissolve (completely) into a puddle of tears.  I chose to avert my eyes so I could keep some protection (or defenses depending on your point of view) around me. 

But it was more than that. 

I chose to look away, to break eye contact with Tom because I didn’t think I deserved to hear those things from God.  (Or from Tom speaking on God’s behalf.)

And I don’t.

And because of His grace, He wants to say them anyway.  He wants me to hear them.  (He’d probably shout them at me but He knows a raised voice raises all of my defenses, and I’d never hear Him then!  J)

I just don’t think I’m strong enough to hear them.  I don’t want to argue with God.  I don’t want to say, “Yeah….you really don’t know what you’re talking about….I’m not any of that” to the Almighty.  I want to believe Him.

I just don’t know how to choose to hear Him.  I don’t know how to accept it.  To live in His grace.

God’s grace……it’ll mess you up.

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“Called Out of Darkness”

Yesterday was kinda tough for this potato.  The damage I did to my foot while on vacation took an emotional toll.  While still in Vegas it kept me from doing a bunch of stuff I had wanted to do.  I didn’t let it completely sideline me, but I really did miss out on things I had wanted to do.  And the stuff I did despite the injury was marred somewhat by the limp and excruciating pain.  (Hindsight being 20/20 it would have been much less painful had I thought to have Mr. Spuds find an ace bandage to wrap my foot in and a cane so I could keep weight off of it and still move….but alas….I didn’t think of either of those things until I was back home and doctor told me they would help.  D’oh!) 

Basically Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were still fun vacation days, and at the same time they were so much less than I wanted them to be.

At the airport Mr. Spuds got one of Southwest’s special blue envelopes so I could board the plane before the “normal” passengers.  It sounds a little foolish, but I resented needing this special pass.  I really did need it—I was moving so slowly at that point I would have help up the entire boarding process.  But it was one more reminder (in addition to the brutal pain in my foot, lack of a shoe, and basic feeling of unwellness) that I was damaged goods.  And I really didn’t want another reminder.

I managed to get in to see the doctor on Saturday morning.  He didn’t think the foot was broken, but told me to stay off of it.  No problem doc!  It hurts too much to do anything!  He said it should start to feel better in 3 to 5 days.  And if it doesn’t, I get to go see a foot doctor. 

So naturally I spent all day yesterday wallowing in pity party.

Okay, that’s too harsh.  I spent all day yesterday trying to avoid wallowing in a pity party.  I was partially successful.  Despite that, it was essentially a wasted day.  I didn’t read anything.  I didn’t really write anything.  I spent the day staring at the TV, desperately wanting to do laundry, clean the bathroom, visit a friend; all of the stuff I had hoped to do when I returned from Vegas.  But I was stuck in my room—not allowed to do any of it.  I was helpless.  And I really, really, REALLY don’t like being helpless.

Today I decided enough was enough.  I have to return to work tomorrow, and I may as well do whatever I can today—without moving.  So I finished reading the book I had started on the plane.  (Have I mentioned how much I love my Kindle???  It rocks!  I had a dozen books to choose from….and didn’t have to cart around any extra luggage!)  And when I finished that one I decided to finish “Called Out of Darkness” by Anne Rice.  It’s the story of how she found her way back to God.  I had started it before vacation but hadn’t been able to finish it.

The first hundred or so pages were a little challenging for me.  Some it I could really relate to.  Some of it was foreign to me.  Rice grew up Catholic and she describes in great detail what that was like.  The education.  The saints.  The services.  The community.  The Latin.  All of that is pretty foreign to me.  I have a little knowledge, but I haven’t “lived” it and for some reason I found it difficult to relate to.

That was odd—the book I had just finished reading was about a zoo in Warsaw during WWII.  I’ve never been to Warsaw—much less a zoo there.  I clearly wasn’t around during WWII.   I’ve never helped people escape Nazi terrors.  Yet somehow I was able to relate to that book while Rice’s descriptions of a Catholic upbringing escaped me.

Odd.  I don’t really understand the difference.  But there it is.

There were parts of the first hundred or so pages that were easy to relate to.  They talked of Rice’s faith (while growing up) on a very personal level.  That was really neat to read.  She does an excellent job of describing what I would have called indescribable.   She gives words to feelings and thoughts I could not articulate.  Pretty neat stuff!

The final 100 pages of the book were mind-blowing. 

During the first half of the book I found myself thinking, “Get to the point Anne!  This is supposed to be the story of how you found your way back to God.  Why spend so much time describing your early faith?  Tell me about what your faith is NOW!”

I had to laugh when I found myself hit with those thoughts.  “LOL!  Come on Spudsie, it’s her story and she gets to tell it however she wants to.  That’s her right as the author….and as a person.  Just keep reading.”

I think Rice describes a struggle countless Christians have gone through.  Those of us raised on or with a parent’s faith have to go through a journey to make their faith our own.  Hmmmm…..that’s not quite right.  We have to go through a struggle, a journey to find our own faith.  Some of us abandon the original faith completely.  Some stay with the faith generally and make changes to how they practice.  Some cling to the faith of their parents so tightly they risk losing it altogether. 

For some the journey, the struggle is relatively quick.  For Rice the journey took thirty-some years.  As she looks back on those years she sees how her writing mirrored the struggle though she didn’t realize she was in the middle of it.

She talks about how her return to faith, her return to God was a deliberate choice.  One she made knowing it would require active participation on her end.  She didn’t stumble in to a blind faith.  She chose to return to God knowing full well she would have to wrestle with questions of what total devotion to God means.  Of what trusting God means.  Of releasing her own questions of “How can this be your will” to God, instead of answering them on her own.  She eloquently describes those struggles.  And how she went into them with open eyes.

Rice also talks of her fears of returning to God.  She writes, “I believed in God.  I feared Him.  I feared what He might ask of me.  I saw the shallowness of my commitment.  I saw the incompleteness of my life.  Mine was a negotiated abandonment, and that mean it was not a true abandonment at all.”

“I don’t recall talking to anyone about this.  It was too intensely personal to share with another.  And how pompous and foolish it might have sounded over a café table.  What if God wants something more of me?  I’m afraid.”

She struggled to find a way to make a deeper commitment.  And it hit her—she needed to write only for God.  Only for His purposes.  She needed to release that part of herself to Him.

Wow!  If we could all feel that, if we could all come to that place in our Christian lives, in our total lives, how different could church, could religion be?  Totally surrendered to God.  The thing we want to grasp the most—to release that to Him.  What would church communities look like then?  What would families look like?  What would our world look like?

More to the point, what would my world look like if I decided to make that choice?

I could be totally mistaken (I often am!), but I believe Rice wrote this book to tell her story.  To tell of her journey back to God.  Simply to share it because she had lived it.  (And she’s a writer—so that’s what she does.  J)  Perhaps she hoped it would be encouraging to readers.  Maybe she dared to think it might give inspiration to others struggling to find their way to God.

To me she did far more than that.  She challenged me.  She set the example.  She said, “I’m willing to let go of what made me a popular, successful author.  I’m willing to let go of the old characters.  I’m willing to leave them behind and to now write only for God.  I’m willing to ignore critics, willing to ignore doubters, scoffers, willing to be guided by God and God alone in my writing.  I’m willing to let go of the one thing that I know and go wherever God guides me.  Because I love and trust Him.”

What a remarkable thing to do.  What an example.  What a challenge.

Reading often transports me to unexpected places.  This book has been no exception.  And for a work of non-fiction to transport me to an unexpected spiritual place—that’s quite surprising. 

What is it You want from me God?  What am I trying to cling to?  And how do I let it go?

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Here’s a song to get everyone in the mood for Thanksgiving.

“Bright light city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money that’s ready to burn,
So get those stakes up higher
There’s a thousand pretty women waitin’ out there
And they’re all livin’ devil may care
And I’m just the devil with love to spare
Viva Las Vegas, Viva Las Vegas

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
‘Cause even if there were forty more
I wouldn’t sleep a minute away
Oh, there’s black jack and poker and the roulette wheel
A fortune won and lost on every deal
All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel
Viva Las Vegas, Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas with you neon flashin’
And your one armbandits crashin’
All those hopes down the drain
Viva Las Vegas turnin’ day into nighttime
Turnin’ night into daytime
If you see it once
You’ll never be the same again

I’m gonna keep on the run
I’m gonna have me some fun
If it costs me my very last dime
If I wind up broke up well
I’ll always remember that I had a swingin’ time
I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got
Lady luck please let the dice stay hot
Let me shoot a seven with every shot
Viva Las Vegas, Viva Las Vegas,Viva Las Vegas

Viva, Viva Las Vegas”

What?  What??  That doesn’t get everybody in the mood for Thanksgiving?? 

????????

Oh!  I think I understand…….this song gets me in the mood for Thanksgiving this year. J

Mr. Spuds and I are getting ready to leave for vacation this week.  We are packing and prepping.  Wanna guess where we are going?  Yup!  We are “running away” to Las Vegas to eat dinner on Thanksgiving at Bouchon.  Yuuuummmmmmmmmm!  I’m drooling just thinking about it.

So clearly it won’t be a “traditional” Thanksgiving for us.  We are trying something different.  It should be tons of fun!  Lots of good food while we are there, a good show, a great spa facility (I actually packed 4 days worth of work-out clothes for vacation!!), a great room.  Ahhhh….good times.

So, since I won’t be around to post a note on Thanksgiving I thought I would mention (perhaps a little early) what I’m thankful for this year.  

God.  I’m thankful for God.  Do I need to expand on that?  LOL!  There’s so much he does that I’m thankful for….I could probably blog for pages and pages.  I am especially thankful for his very clear presence in my life this past year.  He’s always around.  I know that.  This year I’ve been able to see him more often, more clearly.  I am thankful for his gentle guidance.  For his mercy and grace—something I need to learn to extend to myself.  I’m thankful he continues to extend it to me even though I try to reject it.  Thanks God.  You rock!!!

Mr. Spuds.  I have the best husband on the planet!!  (Even though he does make fun of me knowing what the Vulcan IDIC symbol is.  J)  He has been so supportive of me…….well…ever since I’ve known him.  His patience is amazing.  He allows me to be me.  Even when I’m trying to change, he still lets me be me.  He encourages me in so many ways.  He’s my rock on earth.  He keeps me centered and grounded—even when I feel like I’m lost, when I look at him I know I am loved and treasured and know I am where I belong. 

Family.  My family is amazing.  I love them all and am so thankful for their love, support and examples.  They are some of the most remarkable amazing people you could ever meet. 

I am so thankful for my mom’s example of dedication and commitment and protection.  She sacrificed some of her emotional safety to try and protect me and my siblings.  I didn’t recognize that at the time, but she put herself in harm’s way to try and stem some of the abuse that was headed my way, and my siblings’ way.  She couldn’t divert all of it, but every bit she could turn aside gave us a better chance.  She’s stayed with my dad through some of the toughest time I can imagine.  If Mr. Spuds treated me the way she’s been treated, I’m not so sure I would have stuck around.  But my mom?  She’s committed.  She’s in this for the long haul.  She’s worked to improve her marriage from within the marriage.  What an awesome example she is!

I’m so thankful for my dad’s example of a completely generous spirit and heart.  He’s not a perfect person—who is?  I often wonder how unhappy he must have been (and may still be) in the core of his being.  It must have been an excruciating pain for someone with the compassionate heart he has to lash out at those he loves the most.  His heart longs to give everything he can and to help everyone he meets.  His wry sense of humor is hilarious!  (At least it is to me! Must have inherited that from him.  LOL!)  I am very thankful he is my father.

Coaches.  This is a new category this year.  “Coaches?  As in plural?  Spudsie, do you need more than one coach??”  Oh yeah.  Coaches.  Plural.  More than one.  Oh, I have only one “official” coach—Coach Jim.  But I’m realizing that I have seemingly countless people in my life who are coaching me in one way or another.  People who are guiding me—some without even realizing it. 

Friends, co-workers, strangers, all kinds of people are setting examples of how to make deliberate choices.  Showing me how to be more of what I want to be.  People who encourage me.  People who pray for me.  People who listen to me, who read my ramblings here.  People who are interested in my life and who look for ways to encourage me.  Friends from all over the country—some who have never met me in real life.  I am so thankful for each and every one of them as they help coach me through life. 

And of course my “official” coach—Coach Jim.  I am so thankful he’s been willing to help me, willing to work with me.  Willing to continue to be patient with me (much more patient than I am with myself).  I’m thankful he’s always willing to say the same thing 83 different times and 24 different ways until I finally understand it.  Without his patience and gentle guidance and calm example I’m not sure I’d have made any progress.  When I find myself getting frustrated with myself in our conversations I stop and remind myself “Hey Spudsie, listen to Jim.  Listen to his tone.  Is there ANY frustration with you in his voice?  Is there any hint of irritation?  Nope.  Then let go of yours.  Just be in the conversation.  Leave the assessments on the sidelines.”  I’m thankful for Jim and the effort he puts into working with me.  Because of his efforts I’m really excited and curious to see where I’ll be at this time next year!

I’m thankful for my health.  I’m thankful for my employment.  I’m thankful for my home.  I’m thankful for my yard.  I’m thankful for my turtles (even when they try to bite me!).  There is so much I’m thankful for this year. 

And for the first time in a long time, I’m thankful for me.  I’m thankful for who I am.  For who I am working to become.  Not that I’m perfect, or finished, or where I want to be.  It’s just that I’m beginning to realize that Spudsie, just as she is, is kinda cool.  And I’m thankful for that.  And for everyone who’s helped me get here. 

For all of this (and more) I give thanks.

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Here’s a quick update on yesterday’s post.

I survived the evening. 

😉

Okay…..I did slightly better than just surviving.  (Grin!)  It was good.  I managed to be much more open than I would have been six months ago.  So I’m really happy about that!!  Being open (at least IRL) isn’t easy for me.  It’s truly a deliberate choice I have to make—it doesn’t come naturally.

Going into a group of 9 people I’ve never met before isn’t the problem for me.  I’ve learned how to engage people and get them talking about themselves.  I ask basic questions, listen to the answers, scan my brain for quick follow up questions that relate to their answers, and try to have them talk about themselves as much as possible.  And since most people love to talk about themselves, it’s pretty easy for me to come away without needing to “give away” too much information about me. 

If they say something that triggers a “Hey, I’ve done that/been there/know them too” type of response I’ll toss that out there.  And then follow up with questions about them again.  So I leave little clues about who I am in the conversation.   Knowing full well no one will pick up on them.

Occasionally someone will surprise me and remember something I said and mention it later in a conversation.  And I typically take that as a sign that they really do want to get to know me.  That they aren’t just being polite.  So I open up a little more.  I become a little less guarded.

But most of the time I try to keep people talking about their own life.  While it is a completely defensive way to walk through life, it also provides me with amazing information about people.  So it’s clearly a skill worth hanging onto, worth keeping in my tool belt.  I simply need to add some additional tools into the mix.

And I tried to do that last night.

Scratch that.

That’s what I DID last night.

I was more open, more authentic, more ME last night than I typically am with a brand new group of people.  Yay me!

Was I as open during the entire evening as I wanted to be?  Nope.

And I’m okay with that.  Clearly there is still a bunch of room for growth.  But I’m making progress.  Eye contact much of the time (except when I fell back into avoiding it), feet firmly on the ground (except when I fidgeted), shoulders fairly square (that was probably the biggest physical challenge….I’ll have to work on that more), fairly open body posture (arms not crossed at all—so that’s awesome!).  Lots of little things I managed to do some/much of the evening.

 I was open (for at least part of the evening) with my spirit.  We had a group prayer and I volunteered to pray for a specific area.  So that’s kinda cool—praying is a pretty personal thing for me.  Before communion was served/shared (the reason Mr. Spuds and I went to the group in the first place), we all went to individual spaces and wrote a note to God.  And then came back as a group and read the note out loud.  I wrote a personal note—since I knew I would be reading it in front of everyone I left some things out.  But I left a lot of pretty personal stuff in as well.

Here’s what I said to God.  (I want to record this here so I’ll remember it and be able to look back in 6 months and see exactly where I was.  And by writing it down, I feel like it helps me keep saying it to God.)

God,

You know how hard it is for me to think of you as Father, as Daddy, and feel that part of your love and protection.

I thank you for your never-ending love, patience and gentleness with me as I try to grow more comfortable with that aspect of you.  And as I try to grow into the person you want me to be—and know I am capable of being.

I am overjoyed with the people you have brought into my life in the past year to help me see myself more like you see me—and help me see you more accurately, more wholly, and more holy. 

I love you.  I thank you.  You are amazing in ways I don’t even understand!

(See….even in group settings with strangers I’m still long-winded!  LOL!)

That’s a fairly personal, honest, authentic prayer.  And I cried while reading it.  I cried while listening to the music they played before writing it.  It was a crying centered in calm.  Which is totally new for me!

During the evening I did a fair amount of checking my posture, checking my energy, checking myself overall.  It helped.

At the same time, it was still really, really, REALLY hard.  Really.

Was it worth it?  I think so.  I hope so.  Yeah…..it probably was.  If nothing else it was a great way to practice combining a lot of the things I’ve been working on with Coach Jim.  All of ‘em at the same time takes oodles of energy!  And I know that’s primarily because it’s all still new to me.  If I do it more, it will become easier.  So in the long run it will definitely be worth it! 

If the be-all end-all result of doing this was how I felt at the end of last night, I would have to say it wouldn’t have been worth it.  Because I walked away with a fair amount of frustration.  Frustration that there were periods of time where I wasn’t fully engaged.  When I simply sat and withdrew into myself.  When I wanted someone to reach out to me.

And that’s the down side (if there is one!) to practicing this with a group of strangers.  They have no idea who I am.  They don’t know what I’m struggling with.  They see me a little differently than anyone else because I’m presenting myself differently than I have in the past. 

I don’t think I’m articulating this very well.  Ugh. 

Essentially there are things I feel good about from last night, and thing I feel less-than-good about. 

Overall?  If I had it to do all over again, I’d make the same choice.  The choice to commit to walking in and being as open as I could be.  Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to do everything I wanted to do wouldn’t change that.  It was a great practice—and we all know I need to practice!!

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An open prayer to God

Hi God.  It’s me again, Spudsie.  I need some help.  Again. 

You know Mr. Spuds and I have been visiting a new church recently.  And I LOVE the authenticity I’ve seen there.  And I’m feeling really compelled to get more involved.  Yet I’m hesitating.

Is this the right place for Mr. Spuds and me?  (Did you locate it so close to us that we couldn’t help but find it eventually??  J )  I know no church is perfect.  And I also know there are a lot of churches that wouldn’t be right for us because of the theology/doctrine/teachings/etc. 

This one feels right so far.  You know how hesitant I am to trust my feelings—so I find myself looking for concrete things to back up my “gut.” 

Do they believe in the Bible?  Yep.  Do they believe it is the perfect word of You?  Yep.

Do they believe their goal (individual and corporate) is to bring other people into a relationship with You?  Yep. 

Do they believe in being open about who they are and what their struggles are?  Yep.

Do they hold the same basic tenets of faith that I believe are essential to knowing You and leading others to a relationship with You?  Yep….well…..mostly….well….I don’t know.  There is one slight sticking point here.

Here’s where I’m stuck.  You know I was raised attending a Church of Christ which taught the “six steps to Salvation” of “hear the word of God, believe the word of God, repent of your sins, confess your sins to God, be baptized, and live a life faithful to God.”  (Otherwise known as the single word “hearbelieverepentconfessandlivefaithfully.)

You’ve worked on me over the years.  You’ve helped me grow to a point where I understand that no work (or works) on my part can earn my salvation.  It’s a gift from YOU!  Freely given if I choose to accept it.  And in understanding that I’ve become convicted that baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith.  That baptism is NOT what saves me.  Your grace saves me.  Your love saves me.  You save me.  Not something I do, or have done to me.

Yet I’ve continued to attend churches that practice baptizing people at the same time they confess You.  At the same time they invite you into their lives.  And I suppose I continued to assume (without giving it much thought) that at the point of baptism You entered their heart, their lives.

But that doesn’t match baptism being an outward sign of an inward faith does it?

This new church offers baptisms several times a year.  AFTER people have invited You into their lives.  After they have accepted You as their Savior.  They teach that people are saved by You entering their lives.  Period.  That You are there even without a baptism.

And I’m struggling with that.

Are You asking me to grow?  Gently nudging me to see if I really believe baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith?  “Okay Spudsie.  Let’s see what you really think.” 

I need some help here.

Often in the past when I’ve heard things preached or taught that “sounded” reasonable but went against what You have said in the Bible I felt the “wrongness” in my gut.  My throat would tighten.  My stomach would be in knots.  I would have a fight or flight type of response.  And I’ve always listened to that.  And taken the teachings back to the Bible and been able to clearly see where the teaching didn’t agree with Your word.  

I don’t feel any of that panic with this question of “delayed” baptism.  This church teaches that baptism is still a very important, very special, very sacred action.  (But You already knew that!)  They simply teach salvation in a way different from what I’ve lived with for so many years.  I’m having problems trying to determine if my discomfort with the teaching is because of my formative years of “baptism is necessary for salvation” sermons.  Or is it something bigger than that?

So I’m asking for help in this area.  (Along with all of the other areas You are already helping me.  Thank You!!)  If this isn’t the right church for Mr. Spuds and I, I need You to make it super clear.  (Preferably a sign in the parking lot reading “Spudsie—this isn’t the right church for you!”  That would be really clear!  LOL!)  I know Your timing is always perfect, so I ask this next part humbly.  If you could make it super clear, super soon I would really, really appreciate it.  You know how hard it is for me to open up to people.  And I think I want to get involved with and open up to some of the people at this church.  So (again, asked in all humility) if this isn’t the right place for Mr. Spuds and I please make it very clear to me very soon.

I’ll continue to wrestle with this issue.  I simply wanted to take a few minutes and ask You for some specific help.  If You want me to grow and are using this as a way to help me, I appreciate it.  You’re being incredibly gently.  Thanks!! 

If I’m feeling drawn to this church for reasons that have more to do with me than with You, please open my eyes and show me that. 

If this is where Mr. Spuds and I should be, please help me feel that “peace that passeth all understanding”  (You know in my heart I’m a King James kind of gal!) when I’m in situations that encourage me to open up to people.  Help me feel that same sense of safety I feel when I’m talking with Jim.  Provide that protection for me.  And help me to recognize it.

Whew!  That’s quite the laundry list of requests isn’t it?  One last one, if I may.

Please take all of this stuff in my heart that I cannot even begin to articulate at all and give me what I need to grow.  As gently as You can.

I love You.   

Your devoted and struggling Potato,

Spudsie

Amen

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God- a perfect Father

The Bible uses tons and tons of analogies to help explain God and his love for us.  That’s not surprising really—God is a spiritual, all powerful, all knowing, all everything being.  And that’s pretty much outside of the realm of my understanding.  So analogies really help explain who he is and how he loves us.

God is our strength, our shelter, our protector, okay…..I feel like I’m about to break into praise and worship songs from Sunday morning!  (Grin!)  The one comparison that seems to be the most all encompassing, the most meaningful to people is God as our father.

(I can hardly believe I’m about to say this out loud.)

I have problems with that analogy.

Gasp!

I understand intellectually the concept of God as our loving father, wanting the best for us, protecting us, caring for us, loving us, providing for us, bringing us into existence.  Comforting us when we are sad.  Rejoicing with us when we are happy.  Delighted with us when we reflect aspects of himself back to him when we do good or right.  Pride when we succeed at something we’ve struggled with.  Cheering for us as we run the race of life.

I understand the concept.

I just don’t feel it.

There.  I said it.

The reason I don’t feel it has nothing to do with God.  (No surprise there.)  It has more to do with my experiences with my real life father.

Before I get into this too much more, let me be clear.  No parent, no father here on earth is perfect.  No parent’s love is carried out in a completely perfect, unflawed, without fault way.  Parents do the best they can.  They want to do the perfect thing for their child—but we live in a fallen realm and countless things get in the way of perfection.  My father was (and is) no different.  He loves me.  He loved me while I was growing up.  He did the best he could. 

Despite his best efforts he made mistakes.  Mistakes that really hurt me.  That helped create much of what I struggle with today. 

I don’t hold that against him.  He did the best he could.  He loved me.  He still loves me.  And wishes he had been able to do better.  He wishes I didn’t struggle with the same negative self-talk issues he continues to struggle with.  He loved me the best way he knew.

Still, when I think of “father” it’s not a term, it’s not a relationship the feels entirely safe.  And to have God described as “Father” causes quite an odd mix of emotional stew.  I want to claim the love, the protection, the comfort, the devotion, the admiration, the encouragement and everything else that ideally goes along with “Father” but I’m afraid.  (Ah….yet another fear I live in.  Will they ever end?)  I’m afraid to trust it.  My heart leaps at the thought of thinking it might be true.  That a perfect love might be available to me.  But combine it with “Father,” tie it in with “Daddy” and my breathing turns shallow and I get a knot in the pit of my stomach.  It’s a visceral reaction.

My interactions with my father have been very guarded for a long time.  Since before I can even remember I’ve had to guard my emotions, had to protect my spirit.  And that impacts my interactions with God when I think of him as “Father.” 

How arrogant that sounds!  Spudsie—what are you saying?  That you don’t trust God?  And just who are YOU to decide you can’t trust God?!

That’s not quite it.  I trust God.  I just have a hard time trusting him completely when associating him with “Father.”  I don’t like thinking of him as “Father” because my real-life experiences with my father have often been so difficult. 

To me “father” is (in part) someone who tells you what you’ve done wrong.  “Father” is someone who learns what really matters to you and often uses it against you when they are hurting and need to lash out at someone—at anyone to make himself feel better.  “Father” is someone who at times can be so completely loving, so totally devoted, so entirely proud of me—and at other times can be in so much unspeakable pain that they take the anger they feel at themselves and direct it at me, lashing out trying to hurt me so they don’t hurt as much. 

“Father” is someone who reminds you that you aren’t perfect.  Someone who tells you every way in which you aren’t perfect.  Someone who explains how everything wrong with their life is your fault.  Someone who plants the seeds of “You aren’t good enough Spudsie” deep enough in the soul of your psyche that it seems almost impossible to weed them out as an adult.

“Father” is someone you have to protect yourself from.  “Father” is someone whose approval you constantly crave, yet seldom receive. 

And NONE of that describes God. 

I don’t want God as a Father as I perceive Father.

I want God to love me unconditionally.  I want God to be proud of me.  I want God to be unbelievably amazed by who I am, by what I do, by how I love, by my unique abilities.  I want him to shout from the rooftops, “You won’t believe my Spudsie!  She’s the most amazing child!  I’ve never seen such beauty, such intelligence, such compassion, such understanding!  I am so glad I created her!  I want everyone to know about her!  I want everyone to know her!  I want everyone to see how amazing she is!  I am going to be so involved in her life she’ll always feel safe, she’ll always know she’s loved, she’ll always be able to be open with me, she’ll always know she’s more than I ever could have imagined.  I’m so proud of her.  Even when she makes mistakes I love her so much!  She’s such a joy!”

I want God to say such gushingly proud and loving things about me that I blush.  That I am humbled by his effusiveness.  That I know I am protected by his love.  That I am encouraged to move beyond where I am now.

I’m pretty sure there are fathers that do that.  In fact I know there are.  Because every time I see them do that I cry a little inside.  I’m so envious of those families.  Families where children grow up unafraid to make mistakes.  Where children are encouraged to be themselves.  Where forgiveness is real.  Where fears are banished rather than preyed upon.

What does it feel like to have a father like that?

I know intellectually I have a father like that in God.  I simply have no idea how to turn that brain knowledge into emotional knowledge.  And that makes me almost unspeakably sad. 

If you’re reading this and believe in God, would you mind tossing up a prayer asking that God would help me feel his Fatherly love?  I’ve been praying for that for while and still feel lost.  So I think I could use some reinforcements. 

My father is truly an amazing man who did the best he could and loves me deeply.  He is generous and kind and feels things deeply.  He is an incredible example of remaining committed to things and people even during trying times.  I know he’d be very sad to know anything he did impacted me so heavily.  He would do things differently knowing what he knows now.  And while that doesn’t do anything to change the scarred landscape created by a difficult childhood, while it doesn’t lessen my sadness or longing for something different, it certainly makes it easier for me to love him. 

And maybe that’s a start for a better understanding of God as my perfect father.

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