Thanks – Just Kidding!

For, SO MANY YEARS, my life was out-of-control and my brokenness held a death-grip on the teeniest desire I may have had to change. During that time, if anyone would have told me to be grateful I likely would have slapped them silly! And in their stunned state, while I had their attention, I would have pulled out my handy “gratitude – NOT” list and spewed all my anger and bitterness right at them.

Let’s see…

  • Thanks mom for all the abuse. That was fun.
  • Thanks psycho-neighbor kid for introducing me to perversion when I was too small and afraid to run away from you.
  • Thanks ex-husband for your “lying, cheating, cold dead-beating, two-timing and double-dealing, mean mistreating, (un)loving heart”. What a knight in shining armor you turned out to be!
  • Thank you world for gleefully providing all my trivial wants, empty longings, and self-centered demands.
  • Oh yeah, and THANK YOU, GOD! for totally ignoring all the above.

I was bitter and hateful all those years; entrenched in such a deep sense of emptiness and hopelessness that I felt the only relief from the pain was to find a way to end my life. I did make a failed attempt to kill myself when I was twenty-three. Two years later, when I married my current husband, Tom, I became a Christian. But, for years it was in name only and nothing really changed.

Though that was the beginning of my faith journey (such as it was) it took years of healing for me to warm up to this scripture verse that is most critical for a life to be filled with joy, passion and purpose: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”.

It has only been in the past ten years or so that I have been able to truly appreciate and claim for myself the meaning and depth of gratitude in two significant areas of my life: the painful experiences of my past and my sense of entitlement: My striving for “things”, successes, whatever it took to numb the pain. My constant shame battled with my pretense of being emotionally stable and spiritually healthy, “Look at me people! Aren’t you jealous? You are and you know it!”

I know gratitude for the pain as well as the joys in life seems like a paradox – it makes no sense at all, right? Believe me, I get it…

All I can say is that it was gratitude that finally made sense of my past. In the midst of the pain inflicted by others in my life I felt I had nothing to live for: No purpose, no hope, no concern for anything or anyone beyond myself. Gratitude has loosened my white-knuckled grip on my own sins as well, which was actually my biggest hurdle.

The beginning of my transformation was like a forest and trees analogy: I had to step away and look back to realize how God was with me all along; that He did love me, and had a plan to use my pain in service to others. My gift was to share my story. My purpose was, and still is, to walk alongside those God puts in my life that are also broken and lost. My life has never been richer. I have never been happier. I could never ask for more. I owe a debt I cannot pay to a God who will never send bill collectors to my door – not ever!

So, is my life now pain and heartache free? No…but…now I know how to access God’s love which resides within my very being; I know I can hope and trust in Him to overcome anything life throws my way even if I may not have the slightest idea what good will come of those struggles.

Brennan Manning Quote

Sooooo, how do you replace discontent with gratitude? Is gratitude a simple act of will? Sort of like all the diets I have been on? Let’s see…today I am going to be content with this bowl of broccoli while you eat that big, fat, juicy steak!

No, it isn’t easy.

It’s important to first realize what we’re up against. I believe the biggest obstacle to gratitude and contentment is our Western culture’s sense of scarcity in all areas of life. We need more gadgets, a bigger house, a better car, a more important job. We’re never grateful for what we have because someone else always has more.

The Scarcity Gremlin eats up sufficiency for a midnight snack. So, by morning each day begins with a sense of “not enough” of___________ (fill in the blank), and then a striving to get it. Whatever “it” is.

How can you be content, you ask, when your new neighbor, who just moved into a house twice the size of yours, is younger, prettier, has a career you envy, and a pool to die for. And if all that weren’t bad enough, she speaks eight languages – you only speak four. She has traveled to fifty-two countries – you have only made it to thirty-eight. She’s been married six times – you’ve only been married once! Okay…ENOUGH!

We are continually comparing ourselves to others in myriad ways: Our looks, our weight, our homes, our successes and that of our kids, our social status, our cars, the lushness of our lawns, and jealousy inducing vacation pictures of our friends posted on Facebook! It’s endless and exacerbating.

Where is God in all this? Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”. Sounds lovely, but we prefer, no, must have, the newest doohickey that we often can’t afford, but cannot possibly live without. Really? The first smartphone was introduced, what? In the 1990’s? How’d we do without it for about 2,000 years before that?

Jesus smartphone

Our sense of scarcity; our need to one-up others, distorts and devalues all the blessings and gifts we have been given. We are so hyperfocused on what we don’t have, we fail to appreciate or show gratitude for what we do have. Gratitude seems to be a lost virtue in a culture never satisfied.

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David G. Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, wrote in an American Psychologist article. “Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology. Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.”

So, are you sleepwalking through life, fooling yourself into believing that striving, owning, having, and out-spending others will make you happy? Is this what your purpose in life is?

You know you want to change because there is something deep within your heart that has been speaking to you for a very long time about how discontented and unfulfilled you are with your life and with all your “stuff”. All you need to do is trust that God’s got your back and is just waiting for the slightest motion toward him. That mustard seed step of faith (Matthew 17:20). A faith that begins with patience and hope which are two critical elements of a healing heart:

  • Gratitude requires a great deal of patience; trusting God’s timing and ultimate plan for our lives:

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  • Hope is not tangible, it is in things unseen: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, considered the world’s leading expert on gratitude, says, “Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness.”  When we turn our focus from ourselves to God, we are the ones who benefit. “The self,” in the words of Emmons, “is a very poor place to find happiness or meaning in life.”

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (not Amazon prime), and cometh down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17)

If you want to read more Dr. Emmon’s Website is here:

Now then, time for true confessions. Until six weeks ago, I was feeling pretty altruistic and benevolent toward “the least of these”. After all, over the years, I have given away perfectly good: designer clothes, furniture, household items, a kidney, canned goods, and my precious time and energy. I thought I knew what poverty and hopelessness were all about. I was wrong.

Six weeks ago, my husband and I went to Rwanda in Central Africa to visit our son, daughter-in-law and two of our grandkids. It has been the most profound and overwhelming experience of my life! Here, hunger has stared down my apathy. I have seen the memorials that display the graphic reality of the genocide in 1994: A mass slaughter of almost a million men, women, and children in just one-hundred days, while the world stood by and watched. I have talked to survivors and been surrounded by hungry, often shoeless, always laughing, children. I can’t even put into words how it has torn at my heart.

And when I think of the contrast between this country and America: what we have and they don’t; what they appreciate and we don’t, I can’t help but think about the virtue of gratitude and pray that I will be a different person when I return home. That I won’t forget. I pray that contentment will look much different; that I will be mindful of the difference between need and want; that I will not be so wasteful or take anything for granted again.

Just try to imagine the following contrasts. I could have posted many more. But, I hope these will give you a sense of how this experience has impacted me:

I Want a Do-Over…I Think…Maybe not

(Originally posted 6/30/14)

My oldest son and daughter-in-law have an eight-month-old baby, their first. On a recent visit, my daughter-in-law asked me what I thought was important to teach their daughter. I threw out some thoughts, but, several weeks later, I am still thinking about that question.

I made a LOT of mistakes parenting my children, something that always comes to mind for me on Mother’s Day, and other random days when I am particularly vulnerable to my darkest side. I often wish I could have a do-over. A chance to enact that age-old expression, “if I knew then what I know now”.

So, if I had it to do over how would I parent differently? First of all, and most importantly, you cannot instill in your children what has not been instilled in you. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” doesn’t work (you do know that, right?). Or, my all-time favorite, “Do it because I said so.” But, the reality that children learn by our example more than anything sometimes catches us off-guard, many times in uncomfortable places: In front of friends, the pastor, or new neighbor. We blush with embarrassment and exclaim, “Johnny, where did you hear that????” You know darn good and well where he heard that!

“From you daddy!”

We often fail miserably in living out the values we want to impart to our children.

There are six values (in no particular order), and one HUGE command, that immediately come to mind for me, none of which, I might add, were modeled to me as a child:

  • Generosity: 

I think that if we were all honest we would admit that we embrace some degree of selfishness. Like:

Hiding in the bathroom with the last piece of pie from last night’s dinner. (Come on, you know you’ve done it.) And you know full well it was your husband’s favorite pie. AND it was more like two pieces! AND you told him it was all gone!

Holding onto that “favorite-can’t-live-without-it-sweater” when packing up a box of clothing for the hurricane victims in Haiti. They really wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. And you’re giving them all this other stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes or stains. Okay, maybe it is your dear dead grandmother’s stuff from ten years ago, but it’s still usable. Never mind that you have three other identical sweaters!

Ignoring the bills in your wallet and digging in the bottom of your pocket for meager change to hand out the window of your moving car to the homeless man on the corner. Then feeling pretty darn good about it because the three people in front of you drove right past him. Shoot, you may have even offered him a blessing as you drove away.

Is that the kind of “generosity” our kids see in us? Will they respond to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in the same way? How giving and selfless do we want them to be? Like us – or like Jesus? I would hope you would say, “Like Jesus” but then the question becomes am I like Jesus in my selflessness and generosity?

The challenge becomes this: the next time we are given the opportunity to give to or serve others how generous are we willing to be? Enough that it hurts a little bit?

Here’s a recent experience I had:

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This was a homeless man I encountered recently on the Katy Trail one morning. I greeted him kindly as I ran past him. When I was returning I saw another man standing next to his bike talking to him. When I passed them I couldn’t help but think about how I had avoided him, excusing it as a safety measure on my part. After all, the trail was secluded and there was no one else around at the time.

However, when I got home I enlisted my husband to help me pack some food and water and take it to him. We found him trying to fish with a string and a hook and talked with him for a while before he went on his way. I’m pretty sure I did all that out of guilt and definitely felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit when I tried to get past him on the trail that morning.

The point is, as I am being continually reminded, it isn’t enough to throw a few coins from the safety of your car. Your brother or sister needs touch; needs the love that says you care; needs to see Christ. Have you heard the expression, “You may be the only Christ a person meets”? Think about that.

  • Forgiveness 

I know, this is probably the hardest one of all, especially if what you are teaching your children to forgive is, well, unforgivable. But, I have to ask, how do they know what is or isn’t unforgivable? Have you taught them that? Do you tell them you don’t go visit Uncle Jim because he did something awful to you and you can’t stand him? Do you talk about the neighbor you hate or the friend you don’t see anymore because of some grievance you have against them? Then one day your daughter comes home from school and tells you she hates her once best friend for whatever reason and you tell her that it’s not nice to hate?

Countless times I said to my kids, “Hate’s a strong word. We don’t use that word”, while for years I hated my own mother and others who abused me. Eventually I did learn to forgive those who hurt me deeply and I learned to seek forgiveness from those I hurt in the past and sometimes still do. Try it. Just know that you can’t truly forgive without the grace of God. It’s not a good idea to go knocking on someone’s door you are estranged from without taking God’s compassion and grace with you.

  • And speaking of Compassion:

God could have kept Jesus safely at home, thereby sparing both Son and Father the agony that they’d soon be suffering. But those who had been cast aside by society desperately needed Jesus’ touch. The woman who came to the well after all the other women had shunned her; the leper who’d been sent into a lonely, humiliating exile; the adulterous woman, shamed and frightened, standing half-naked before a self-righteous crowd eager to stone her. All of them, and so many more, needed Jesus’ compassionate touch, a touch that the world rejects; it’s beneath them.

As we grow into the people God created us to be, made in His likeness and His image, we must accept the call to share that love with others – not as a burden, but as a blessing.  Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29).

I’m someone who has received Jesus’ compassionate tenderness when I have been so undeserving of it. He calls me to reach out to others in the same way. Even when we can’t imagine how our touch will be received, we have a mandate to carry on Christ’s work. The world would have us believe that it’s dangerous to reach out to others, especially strangers. But, as Mother Theresa says, “Do it anyway.”

Here’s an important question to reflect on: Could you or I have compassion for someone in need if no one was watching?

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Yes, of course the Pope knows everyone is watching him and this scene makes a lovely photo opt. But, I think there are few people who doubt Pope Francis’ compassion. It truly is genuine and brings many to tears.

Do you remember this story of Officer Larry DePrimo who was photographed after he bought boots and thermal socks for a homeless man? He didn’t do it because someone was watching, or because he would gain anything for himself. He did it because he cared. Plain and simple.

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  • Acceptance

I often think our kids are more accepting of others than we are. I’m not sure why it is so difficult for us to just accept others for who they are, but it is. We can’t accept the jerk next door that spews profanity at everything from his crabgrass to the mail carrier to his wife…and you, of course.

We often can’t even accept ourselves. Actually, I believe we are just as judgmental and merciless towards ourselves, because, after all, we should act better.

I would go so far as to say that we even struggle to accept God for who he is. We try desperately to remake him into our image and become frustrated when he doesn’t cooperate.

I guarantee you I can find something wrong with everyone I know, myself included. The list of the things that make me the mess that I am is long – very long.

Think about every time you meet someone new. You hope against hope that this person will be different. They seem normal. Then they do something stupid by your standards (it’ll happen, just give it time). Suddenly, they become an instant ass and the proverbial honeymoon is over.

If we could only grasp these profound words of Richard Rohr (paste this on your bathroom mirror and read it to yourself every day until it sinks in. You’ll be doing yourself, your kids, you neighbor and God a huge favor!):

Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God—you and me, your country, your children, your marriage, and even your church and mosque and synagogue. That is not a put-down of anybody or anything, but actually creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18).

In this, you may have been given the greatest recipe for happiness for the rest of your life. You cannot wait for things to be totally perfect to fall in love with them or you will never love anything. Now, instead, you can love everything!

  • Humility

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

“Love does not get puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Puffed-up love, or pride, is easily recognized because it’s always turned toward itself. I know all about pride because I once made an almost effortless transition from self-hatred to self-love. Not the self-love God refers to in Mark 12:31. The self-love I’m referring to hides within the ego and thrives on a superior self image. That’s not what God had in mind when he modeled humility in the life and death of Jesus. He became “the least of these”.

Would I do this? Would my child?:

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  • Trust

This has always been a huge one for me.

Are you trust-worthy? Because if you are not, then it stands to reason that you will not trust others and will find yourself cynical of their motivations. Do your children trust you?

I learned very early about trust. When I was about seven, I hid the key to our bathroom because I wanted a safe place to run to when my mother had one of her frequent angry fits. Soon after that, while my brother and I were playing a game, I cursed and he ran home to tell our mother. I ran past him, flew into the house, and locked myself in my sanctuary. In almost no time, of course, there was a pounding on the door.

“Linda, open the door.”

“No.  You’ll hit me!”

“I said open the door!”

“Promise you won’t hit me.”

“Open the g@#*^ door, or I’ll climb in the window!”

“Promise you won’t hit me!”

“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”

Trusting her – after all, she was my mother right? – I opened the door. She beat me until I fell into the bathtub and continued beating me until she was convinced that I had learned my lesson. Well, I did learn a lesson that day: don’t trust anyone. It was a lesson that would stay with me for many years. I became instantly determined that no one would hurt me like that ever again.

Why is it that we’ll trust people who have no interest whatsoever in us or our well-being, yet we can’t seem to trust the One who died for us? How many of your Facebook “friends” care about your salvation? Do you think they care that you struggle? Do you think for a moment they wonder how you’re doing? “Gee, that’s a shame about Linda’s brush with hell” – yawn. If they want anything, it is to keep you right there with them. Misery loves company.

When I became a Christian my struggles and heartaches didn’t magically disappear. They did, however, illuminate God’s call to surrender my will to his. Every time I came to that place I fought it with everything I had. I was angry that God would ask such a thing of me, “Where were you, Lord, when I was being abused? Why should I give anything up to you”? Though I kept him at arm’s length for a long time, gradually, he got through to my hardened heart. Gradually I began the process of turning loose of those things that – truth be told – I never had control of anyway. I was beginning to trust.

As I have grown closer to God, I have come to hear his voice more clearly, trust his guidance more readily, and wait a bit more patiently when he is silent. Yet, what is critical to understand in all of this is that I still fall short. Just when I believe I have overcome my defensive attitude someone pushes my button and sets me off. Busted! Exposed! And the insecure Linda I try to keep locked up is revealed—again.

So, there are the six virtues I wished I would have learned as a child from loving parents; virtuous parents. They are the virtues I have wished for so long to have modeled to my own kids. They never saw it then; I hope and pray they do now.

Now, be assured, ticking off a checklist of all that we “accomplish” on the path to sainthood and beating ourselves up when we fall short is an exercise in futility. Why? Because we are human, it is no more complicated than that. We try to make it more complex, but it really isn’t.

 When we fail – and we do (as will our kids) – discouragement will become our constant companion if we do not accept the fact that we will never be perfect. Never! (And neither will our kids.) Because I could not accept that in the past I felt I was continually failing God when I couldn’t seem to control or discipline myself, my husband, my kids, or the dog. No one!  But, as shocking as it may seem, the greatest commandment is not, “Get your act together stupid!”

And as for our children, sure, we want them to grow up with the moral fortitude and the integrity of a saint, but we also have to accept that it just might not happen the way we envision it. For whatever reason, there are no guarantees. That adorable baby you start off with could end up different than you had dreamed:

hitler-150x150 Know who this is?

So, are you saying, Linda, that raising children is a crap shoot? In some ways, yes. But, here’s the thing we just can’t seem to comprehend when we try desperately to control our lives and the lives of our children, if that is the basis of our parenting, God help us! I’m not saying that you should throw discipline out the window – far from it. We are given a responsibility as parents that we should take very seriously.

Anyway, my point is this: God has lent us our children. They don’t belong to us, they belong to him and he wants them back in the same “condition” we received them. Of course, he knows we aren’t the only ones that influence their behavior and he does not hold us accountable for the possibility that others may lead them astray. As I said before, there are no guarantees. I’m sure there were people in my earlier years (I’m thinking of some of my teachers) who wouldn’t have given me a snowball’s chance in hell of staying out of jail! Well….

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If you, like me, are a bit intimidated by the responsibility you have to care for the children God has gifted you with there are innumerable Christian parenting books. Some are very good, while others make no sense at all. God has also given you the ability to discern which ones make sense and which ones don’t. I will say this: If you try a method that advocates excessive discipline, or go the opposite route and become too permissive, you will likely know in your gut that you are on the wrong path. Remember, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results.

For me, Dr. James Dobson’s books filled the gap between the way I was raised and the way God was calling me to love and nurture my own children. And I believe his council is as true today and it was then. But, that is as far as I will go in offering advice as that goes beyond the scope of this post. Just remember that what I have offered here is my opinion. And what did you pay for that opinion? Nothing.

The days of actually raising my children have long passed. But if I did have it to do over I would have first learned to love them unconditionally because of God’s unconditional love for me. I would have accepted them as the individuals they were created by God to be, faults and all, because that is how God created and accepts me, and I would not have felt such a need to control the hell out of them!

That brings us to the final thought: that ONE HUGE COMMAND which Jesus left to his disciples and us.

The GREATEST of these…is…

Drum roll please….

LOVE

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” If the basis of all we do as parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors is to love as we are called to, our children will be just fine.