What Should Our Reaction Be To Suicide?

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After feeling the heartache of the loss of Robin Williams and then hearing and remembering myself how much joy he brought to the world, I have been impressed by the impact he had on so many people who like me never met the man. I have been contemplating what it is about his death that is hitting so close to home for us. I have been reading many posts about his death and people sharing how they feel like it is having a much stronger impact on them than the death of a celebrity typically would.

I think it is partly due to the fact that his death is in such stark contrast to what most of us saw of his life. It is the opposite of laughter. It is pain that became too great to fight against or to bear any longer. It is pain that makes you truly believe that the world, including your family, is better off without you. It is feeling as if there is no other way, that death is the only place of relief.

Are these things true? No. That is the trickiest part about depression; the truth is distorted in your mind. Those things feel 100% true to a person who is severely depressed. And there are so many of us.

I think that the huge impact of Robin Williams’ death is, of course, because of the ways that he brought joy and laughter to so many of us through his work but also because so very many of us can relate to his battle. Many relate to his battle with depression. Many relate to his battle with addiction. And many relate to both battles.

If anything can come from this horrible loss to our world, I hope that it will be a recognition of the struggles so many people have and hide so well. A favorite quote of mine is “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

That brings up the fact that Robin Williams’ death has apparently brought up some unkindness in us enough that his daughter deleted her twitter and instagram accounts stating her reason was due to “cruel and unnecessary” messages.

Then there’s all of the hullabaloo on Facebook about Matt Walsh’s blog post. I was trying to avoid reading it because of the anger it has apparently raised among many. I just wanted to avoid anything that would make me angry and focus on the way people are reaching out and sharing about mental illness and addiction. But I finally read it tonight after a post by a friend saying he did not understand why there is such a strong reaction to Walsh’s post.

The post did not make me angry. It make me sad at the ignorance that is perpetuated by it. It made me wonder if it is even possible for someone who has not struggled with deep depression to ever truly understand depression in such a way as to show real compassion to those who do. It makes me sad that his response is the very thing that keeps people struggling with mental illness and addiction quiet and alone. Thankfully at least for addicts there are tremendous support groups where people are fully accepted where they are and are made to feel that they are not the only ones broken.

The words that seemed to cause the most anger are the thoughts that he made a choice. In a black and white world, yes, Robin Williams chose to end his life. But our world is rarely black and white. Anyone who has ever struggled with severe depression or thoughts of suicide know that it is not that clear cut. (Matt Walsh admits in his blog post that he has struggled with depression but it is obvious by his remarks that he has never struggled to the extent that I and others have.)

Ann Voskamp as she so often does has the words that express it best in her blog post entitled “What the Church and Christians Need To Know About Suicide and Mental Health” which begins:

Dear Church,

Cancer can be deadly and so can depression.

So can the dark and the shame and the crush of a thousand skeletons, a thousand millstones, a thousand internal infernos.

We could tell you what we know.

That — depression is like a room engulfed in flames and you can’t breathe for the sooty smoke smothering you limp — and suicide is deciding there is no way but to  jump straight out of the burning building.

That when the unseen scorch on the inside finally sears intolerably hot –  you think a desperate lunge from the flames and the land of the living seems the lesser of two unbearables.

That’s what you’re thinking — that if you’d do yourself in, you’d be doing everyone a favor.

That does not sound like much of a choice to me, stay inside and burn or jump out of the burning building. It does not feel like much of a choice either. But the reality is that is exactly what it FEELS like.

I have examined the causes of my depression for years and years ad nausem. Things I believe that I have learned from my own experience and those of my friends who struggle with depression include:

  • People who struggle with depression are often more sensitive souls. I recently discovered that I am an empath when it comes to personality. Basically it means I take on the pain of others to the point that I emotionally and too often even physically hurt. Sometimes I have to pull the plug on the various media I receive from organizations dealing with things such as poverty, slavery, etc because I cannot handle the pain anymore. On the positive side, we are the people you want to call at 3am when it feels like your life is falling apart. We are the ones you want as friends when you need someone to really see and hear what you are going through and most often without judging simply because of what we have experienced ourselves.
  • Some people can go through life by shutting down their emotions to a certain degree. They take life in stride and never seem to struggle. Nothing really ever impacts them too very much. Or if it does they are able to work past it fairly easily. I am frequently envious of those people.
  • I cannot be one of those people. I have tried. I have learned the hard way that shoving down my emotions only solves the problem temporarily. They will eventually reveal themselves in the form of depression.
  • Pretending to have it all together, pretending that things are fine, and pretending that I am someone that I am not in order to please other people somehow causes such conflict inside of me that it also reveals itself as depression. This is closely related to the point above because pretending involves shoving your feelings down.
  • You cannot think your way out of depression by positive thoughts. I have tried. LOTS AND LOTS. Most of the times I have been depressed I think to myself, “My life is good. I have beautiful children. I have a supportive family. I have a job I love (most days). I have the most loyal and supportive friends in the world. There is no logical reason for me to feel unhappy.” But there is nothing logical about depression. The feelings feel very real and very overwhelming, even consuming, and even when logically you know what you are feeling is not true.
  • The key to helping people who are depressed is connection and support with other people which is why people acting like it is a choice is completely unhelpful and even detrimental to finding help. Instead, a loss like this one should help us become more in tune and ever more aware of what those around us are going through and sensitive to how we talk about this subject to people.
  • It is the unconditional love and support of the people in my life (I am talking about the ones who know the real me, the good and the bad.) that keep me from getting too close to the edge of the abyss. I am so very grateful for the friends and family I have in my life, some of whom do not really understand depression never having experienced it themselves, but who have stood with me, listened to me when my thoughts are irrational and spoke truth to me, and loved me when I have been at my least lovable.
  • Creativity and genius often stem from deep pain.
  • Even seemingly “minor traumas” such as emotional or verbal abuse can take years to heal from and can cause depression. Also, spiritual abuse, which I was initially skeptical of but am now a firm believer in its reality, can take years to heal from.

The older I get the more and more I come back to the fact that we are all, every one of us, broken somehow. No one here is perfect. We all need kindness and love and empathy and grace. We all come here with something to offer to the world. Often we learn what it is we have to offer through pain.

Sadly, Robin Williams’ creative genius likely was the result of much internal pain. But he brought so much joy and laughter to the world in spite of his pain. Matt Walsh also had a problem in his blog with people “glorifying” suicide by saying things like he is “free.” The fact of the matter is that he is free. Anyone who has ever severely struggled with depression (and I have little experience here but likely addiction as well) knows what it is like to long for freedom from it. For too many it will be a lifelong struggle that may not be relieved until death; it is a constant battle. To say that Robin Williams is free is not a glorification of suicide. It is a celebration of his life and the fact that he offered what he could to his family and thankfully to the rest of us for as long as he was able.

 

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Grace Full and Guilt-Free Living

Wow! Just WOW! I am finding myself in a place where I am doing things I thought I would never do (at least not without a great degree of guilt). I am pretty much living in a way “contradictory to God’s Word,” or so I was told all of my life.

So why do I feel so close to God? Why does joy appear in my life on a more regular basis than ever before? And the peace? Oh, my! The peace that most definitely passes understanding looking around at the constant busyness and upheaval in my life? Why am I experiencing this when I am doing everything “wrong?”

One thing I know is that my dear Papa has brought me to this place of newfound freedom. He has been with me every. single. step. I would not be here without him. No doubt. I would not be here without people in my life he has given me to encourage me and point me to him.

So I share with people, with friends, the good things that are going on in my life–people I think would be excited and happy for me. The overwhelming response…”Be careful.” To which I honestly want to reply…well, I cannot write what I honestly want to reply. I do have overwhelming compassion for them and this god of safety, but I am tired of worshiping that god. I am sick to death of worshiping that god! In fact, I absolutely refuse to live a life based on fear anymore.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

How did this huge world-changing, life-transforming gospel become a very small gospel of “play it safe.” I have spent my life reading the Bible, not just reading–devouring, grasping, searching. What is taught out of the Bible is pieces we have picked and chosen to say what we want to say. It is sad to me that this powerful book that can lead to an amazing, grace-full, overflowing-with-joy, peace-in-the-midst-of-turmoil life has been watered down to being safe.

Really? Have you read it? Because playing it safe is most definitely NOT a theme here. But to listen to the American church, you would not know otherwise.

This morning as I am reading from Jesus Calling, God is clearly speaking to me about some things going on in my life. After years of practicing “walking by faith” my tendency to want to figure everything out is still alive and strong. Sarah Young shares how sometimes when we try to look ahead everything is covered by a fog. This is actually a sort of protection for us, a reminder not to look too far ahead but to live fully alive in the moment God has put right in front of you, trusting him with the future.

One of the scripture references from this particular devotional is from a years-long favorite passage of mine–one that is so dear to me that I have part of it tattooed on my ankle.

Psalm 73: 21, 22–

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Definitely spent A WHOLE LOT of time in that place over the past few years. “I was a brute beast before you,” perfectly describes how I have been before God at times. After spending years of coming to a deeper understanding of his unending love for me, you would think I would not be overwhelmed with surprise that he can handle me in this place, no matter how many times I go there, but I am.

v. 23, 24–

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

And then my long-time favorite, v. 25, 26–

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

As many times as I have read this over the years, my heart still cries “YES!” every time.

Then today my eyes were opened in a new way to v. 27, 28–

Those who are far from you will perish; you will destory all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

I am thinking as I read this about grace full, guilt-free living which has been on my mind frequently these days as I am overwhelmed by the joy of finding myself in this place. I think of what the “religious” people would say about me not going to church this morning (because worshipping with my family this evening is not acceptable). I think that these would have me think that I am far from God and unfaithful. So… I should be experiencing destruction right now… not the good things that I am and have no doubt in my mind are from God.

I no longer believe any of that. But I can say with the writer of this psalm “But as for me, it is good to be near God.” It is indeed good to be in this place of freedom. God has definitely been my refuge during the storm. And telling of his deeds? That’s what this blog is for because I cannot shut-up.

In Luke 14 Jesus proclaimed his purpose by reading from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has annointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When I read this I cannot help but think how much of this is the exact opposite of what is proclaimed by the religious people today. So if what you are being taught is not good news, and I mean really, really awesomely good news, the best news ever for everyone, not just the ones who look a certain way and live in a certain place, then is it really from God? If the message you hear is not setting people free not just from literal prisons but figurative ones as well, is it really from God? Jesus makes it crystal clear that if you are entrapping people into prisons by loading them down with manmade rules that you are against God. If it is not opening the eyes of those blinded by tradition to God’s creativity and ability to use different ways through history to reach down to us, then is the message really from God?

Is life perfect now? Far from it. I still have days where things are hard and I get discouraged, where I am uncertain. But the overarching theme right now are the peace and joy I wrote about earlier. So to the ones who continually remind me to “be careful”, well, I will not. Been there, done that. And the air is much easier to breathe here.

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Be Careful! Say whaaat?

*Warning: Sarcasm Central*

I am looking at making some changes in my life. And I am so sick of being told “be careful” and “don’t make any quick decisions”. Why do they need the feel to say this? Oh yeah, because that is what I do all day long–make irresponsible decisions all day every day. In case you haven’t noticed, my kids wear rags and we live in a cardboard box–all five of us in one box. We eat nothing but potato chips and chocolate all day every day. They go to the school of life. What a better way to get an education than on the streets. I never go to work. I call in sick every single day. I really do not know how I keep a job. Oh yeah, maybe I don’t have a job. Maybe I got fired from both of my jobs and just don’t know it yet. And my vehicles are clunkers that only run three days a week. No insurance either. Nope. Not for us. 

I just want to scream “SHUT! UP!” Actually I want to scream more than that. But we cannot say those kinds of words, that would ruin the perfect illusion of our perfect existence. Not to mention people who say bad words spend eternity in hell. 

Well, guess what? I think far more people are going to judged in eternity for being too careful, for playing it safe. There. How about that one? There is actually a parable in the big book on that one. I challenge you to find it. But you might have to take your religiosity blinders that we hand out weekly here in the Bible belt off in order to do so. 

Our obsession with safety and security in America has become an idol that we worship like we worship our 3-bedroom, 2-bath, 2-garage homes with the perfectly manicured lawns. How dare anyone move into our neighborhoods and look different? How dare anyone challenge us to go into another neighborhood that looks different from ours? To extend love to those in need of being shown what real love looks like, in a world that’s based all on what you look like, where you live, who you know, in a world where we will help you but only if you accept Jesus as your Savior and then “Good luck! You’ve got the Lord on your side now. See ya!” Plus, it is a little too scary to hang out there for too long. 

America used to be a place that prided itself on innovation and creativity and new ideas and dreams. Now we just sit around in our cookie cutter houses and blame the other side for all of our problems. Forgive me if that’s not the life I dream of. That’s what the American dream has grown to look like, but it is not my dream. It is my nightmare. In my opinion, that’s no way to live. If you have a problem with your world, change it. Don’t zone-out hours a day in front of your HD tv and ipad and then get up expecting things to be different. 

Do not sit in your perfectly manicured life and tell me to “be careful”. I have been to the other side, where you get your hands dirty and you cry and you laugh with a deep heart-joy we are not allowed to feel in our small lives and you realize that we are all really the same deep down even if we look different and our lives are literally and figuratively worlds apart. I would choose to live there any day over the land of safety and security. 

And, for the record, I know a lot worse words than the ones we consider “bad words”, words like starvation, neglect, children dying from preventable disease, homelessness, them and us. 

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Being Heard

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I need to write. It probably relates to our common need to be heard. I am a quiet person in general. People tend to talk over me. If I want to be heard in a group, I generally have to interrupt MULTIPLE TIMES before anyone will stop to listen.

I have rediscovered the therapeutic value of writing through the Brave Girls’ Club Soul Comfort class I have been taking. I have written pretty intermittently over the past few years. I have blogged sparsely mainly because the things I have been writing are most assuredly not acceptable things to be thinking, let alone writing, especially here in the Bible belt where I have spent my whole life, especially here in the South where women are always supposed to be “nice.” Yeah. I may have grown up here. But I am not that girl anymore. Life happened, and I am finding that I am not such a “nice” girl anymore. I am fierce and passionate and angry and a lot of other nice girl no-no’s but definitely not “nice.” I can still put up a nice-girl front, a necessary thing to survive here as a woman in the South.

One of the perks of dealing with your shit (Sorry, I tried to think of a more acceptable word but that is really the only one that fits. See, there I am trying to be a nice girl again. It is a work in progress.) is that you learn that what you have lived through makes you who you are. That, along with the grace of God, if he chooses to show up.

I am going through a doubting phase spiritually. First one I have been through in a good while, so I guess I am overdue. For so many years, most of my life really, I had no one to rely on but God. I had to lean on him to survive the emotional and spiritual abuse I was going through. I guess I should be thankful. Some people would have been driven away from God. It is just that I have never known life without God. In spite of the distorted view of God I was taught in church growing up and in spite of the fact that I was taught over and over that God only deals with man in this day and age through his word the Bible, God kept showing up. Like, for real showing up, being there for me. And not just when I read the Bible.

So right now I am a little angry at God. Okay, not a little, A WHOLE LOT angry. I have been clinging to him through the past few tumultuous years. I have talked to him constantly, cried to him during the hard times, praised him during the good times, and sometimes during the bad times too. That “praise him in the storm” stuff, that’s a whole lot easier to do if it is a small storm. The big, rock your world kind of storms? Walk through one of those and still praising God in the middle of the pain and get back to me. You are someone I want to know better. Real praise too, not the “I’m in church so I have to praise God” kind of praise. I have pointed my children to God over and over and over, praying with them, sharing the ways that God has been faithful to me and us. I have prayed with and encouraged my sister friends too, the ones who have also walked through the fire with me. I have shared God’s faithfulness with them.

So now another of my children is struggling. Not just a little bit either. Gut-wrenching, “where is God and why doesn’t he care about me?” kind of struggle. And when he makes the statement “God is the only one who can help me and he won’t because he doesn’t care,” what can I say when I was in the exact same place one month ago about the same situation asking, “God, WHY? Why is my child still struggling after 2 1/2 years of prayer, telling him to trust you, to pray to you, of many, many prayer warriors approaching you on his behalf?”

I really do not have any answers. All of the “Christian cliches” of God’s perfect timing and God working all things for the good of those who love him do not mean a whole lot when it goes on for years and when the child who is hurting loves God and has talked about God and talked to God like he is best friend for as long as I can remember. When Jesus spoke about the faith of a child, he was talking about a child like this one. So, God, what now? You crush that faith? Because that is what it looks like and feels like.

Being a single mom is hard and lonely. Yes, there are lots of friends to encourage you. There is a mom who helps out with the kids a good bit. But on a day to day basis, it is pretty much you and God to try to catch up with the never-ending laundry and dishes and to attempt to keep your house clean enough to keep it from being condemned and to listen to the child who needs to be heard and to help with homework (which is a form of torture these days). Honestly, God is not really a whole lot of help when it comes to household chores I have found, but he can be good company while you trudge through them. And the internet and some Xanax are more helpful than God when it comes to homework. So when he seems to have dropped off the planet, it is one of the most lonely places there is.

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The “Perfect Christmas” or the perfect Christmas?

“We are going to stop and have a moment of freaking quiet in the midst of the chaos!!!”

My kids will likely never forget our Christmas devotional last night. Beforehand, since it was a rare moment when I had all four of them together, we had lessons on what the trashcan looks like when the trash needs taking out, how to take the trash out, and also on how to tell if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty and how to empty the dishwasher. (Insert photo in your mind of overflowing trashcan and a dishwasher with dirty dishes precariously balanced on the kitchen counter above it.)

Everyone participated in emptying the dishwasher while I fussed about how I am not the only person in the house and I need some help. By the time the clean dishes were put away and the dirty ones loaded, baby boy was crying. He takes great pride in his role of youngest child, producing tears anytime he is asked to do anything helpful and pretending at 10 that he is far too young and life is far too hard for him to have to do any chores. Oldest son was stomping and slamming. The middle two were calmly doing what they were told most likely thinking, “If we just quietly do this, it will be over and mom will stop lecturing/yelling soon.” Yes, it was one of those warm, fuzzy family moments that will hopefully be forgotten.

Earlier in the day I had a Christmas epiphany that I was looking forward to sharing with the kids that night. As a recovering perfectionist, I have spent years trying to make Christmas perfect. Many years it might have even looked like I was succeeding. But as a single, most often very sleep-deprived, night-shift working mom, Christmas the past two years has looked anything but perfect on the outside. Last year I even bought a fake tree after years of devoutly always going to a tree farm to select just the perfect Christmas tree. This was huge deal for me. But I simply could not face the hassle of dealing with a live tree. This November driving by the Christmas trees in front of Kroger, I had the overwhelming desire to buy a real tree. I thought, “I think I can handle it this year.” So a tree was bought. 13-year-old son and I managed to get it into the tree stand and into the house with relative ease. And what the two youngest have proclaimed “the perfect Christmas tree” has been in my living room half-decorated and surround by boxes of Christmas decorations which have spilled over onto every flat surface in the room. I gave up on putting outside decorations up after my meager attempt at putting a wreath on the front door brought the realization that the door will not close with the over-the-door wreath hanger on it. Next year we will be the house to drive by and see. But this year I proclaimed that we are just going to be festive on the inside.

Back to my Christmas epiphany: while sitting in carpool listening to Christmas music and trying really hard to get in the spirit with only a handful of sleep over the previous three days, I had a realization. One that I knew before. One that I believed in my head. But now it was finally sinking into my heart. The realization that I am not the one who makes Christmas perfect. God is. He makes it perfect by sending the perfect gift into this less-than-perfect world and our far-from-perfect lives and giving us hope that we don’t have to try so hard to make things right. In fact, we do not have to try at all. All has been made right already.

This is pretty much the complete opposite message that we are bombarded with on tv, by our friends’ houses and facebook posts, by the photos of what the perfect Christmas looks like on the magazines greeting us at the grocery store checkout line. Sadly even at church, we talk about grace, but the expectations to perform are still overwhelmingly present. We are pretty much bombarded with this message of perfection and performance every single day of our lives, not just at Christmas.

Exhibit A if you have 72 seconds to spare–

So my plan was to share this with the kids–that even though our Christmas does not look perfect, what matters is taking time to spend together as a family and to stop and be still and quiet and reflect on what really matters. But…with everyone in a foul mood after the momplosion, I gave up. Only for a moment, but I gave up. I thought, “What’s the use in having a Christmas devotional now??? We are 16 days behind on Ann Voskamp’s Advent readings in The Greatest Gift. And I still have not found the Advent wreath in any of the mountain of boxes still filling the garage, and even if I did find it there is not a square inch available on the coffee table, its usual December dwelling place. I might as well give it up this year.” But after sending the kids to go ahead and get ready for bed, something else in me said, “THIS is what it is about– it’s about God coming down in the midst of the mess to bring peace and hope. My children need to know that life is not perfect, that it is hard and messy and exhausting at times, so that when they are one day hit with the hardness and messiness and exhaustion, they will know that they are not alone no matter how perfect the lives of those around them look.”

Thus my calling of everyone back into the living room with the announcement that even though life is hard and messy and chaotic, we were going to stop and have a “moment of freaking quiet”. So we did. And that’s when tears poured with the realization that God’s timing is always perfect. We are never 16 days behind when we stop to reflect on Him.

Day 3 from The Greatest Gift is about the fall and God asking Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” after they failed and God’s continual pursuit of us and asking us “Where are you?” It was about how He never gives up on us no matter how many times we fail or we think we fail because of the lies all around.

That is how we came to have probably our most memorable Christmas devotional ever.

Here’s my meager effort to go the opposite way of all of the lies. Here’s what real life looks like:

My “perfect” Christmas tree and mantle on which the stockings have yet to be hung. Maybe we will start a new tradition of hanging them on Christmas Eve. We are getting rid of some old traditions that no longer work for us, and very selectively adding a new one or two.

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And the coffee table right beside the tree that I actually “cleaned” last night and the couch with the perpetual pile of folded and unfolded laundry–

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Next the countdown-to-Christmas gingerbread men we have been doing since Eli was little. We are only about 13 days behind on the daily activities to do that is written inside each gingerbread man. Like last year, we probably will not actually do most of them. A few years ago I changed most to simple, minimal effort activities–yeah, still can’t get them done. But the kids still have fun opening them and thinking that we are going to read The Christmas Day Kitten that day. And sometimes we do.

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And the shelves that I moved “out of the way” so that we would have a place to hang our gingerbread men, the same ones that have needed either hanging or moving out to the garage since our move in May–

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Our smaller tree that we are going to hang our gorgeous ornaments from the free download that comes with the purchase of a hard copy of The Greatest Gift if we get them cut out and made into ornaments–

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And the other couch AKA coat hanger and general miscellaneous item collector–

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So this is what a real Christmas and real life looks like by a real single mom of four who chooses to read another bedtime story instead of folding clothes, who chooses to spend a very messy time baking cookies with the kids “helping” instead of preparing the perfect dish to take to the potluck at work, who chooses to teach them about real life even when it’s yucky instead of perpetuating the lie that everyone else has it all together, and who chooses to have a real but very imperfect Christmas devotional instead of giving up.

For the record, as hard and messy as it is, I will take real life and a real Christmas over a fake, pretend life and a “Perfect Christmas” any day.

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Alternatives to the Altar Call

Confession time. I went to a church service on Sunday for the first time in months. It is not that I don’t believe in God or love him. I do. I will continue to proclaim that I could not survive without God as my anchor. My father, my comforter, my deliverer, my lover. I just couldn’t. I would no longer be here. I’m not strong enough to handle this life thing on my own.

But I have issues with church. And religion. BIG issues. And they get in the way of going to a corporate worship service. You see, I love to worship my God. I love to sing to him. I love music. So I will just be soaking in God’s presence, enjoying the fact that there is a room full of believers also declaring the praises of our God, and then BAM! The people, meaning the church people, the pastor or another leader, or sometimes a person in a recorded segment, start talking. And it just ruins the experience for me. We just have so much baggage that distorts our thoughts of God. Add that to all the religiosity passed down through history and what I hear is often very different from what I hear God saying.

This past Sunday was no different. I was filled to the brim during the worship segment, overflowing with praise and gratitude for God in His never-ending grace and love and wisdom and care for me. Then the lesson was ok. There was actually some good stuff in there that I made notes of. Things that I would like to share with my kids during our devotional time one night.

Then we got to the traditional altar call segment of worship. We are praying as the pastor guides our prayer. The problem is that what the pastor was saying was totally different from what God was speaking into my heart at that moment. The pastor was speaking of asking God for His forgiveness for not standing for him and to give us courage to stand for him. Not a bad thing to ask necessarily. But when I listened to God, he affirmed in me, “You are courageous. You are brave. I adore you. I know things are hard sometimes and sometimes you don’t feel courageous, but don’t give up. You are living courageously. Keep on doing it.”

This experience got me thinking about the tradition of the altar call. We sing about God’s grace being poured out on us during worship, but then we assume that God is unhappy about some part of us. We need to confess it to him. We need to commit to changing. To being better.

None of those things are wrong in themselves. I think it is the way our emphasis on the negative colors so much of our interaction with God that is the problem. So much of religion today is focused on the negative, what is wrong with us. Those are the parts of the Bible that we tend to emphasize, but the overall theme of the Bible is not “Sinners! Sinners! How dare you approach me you miniscule pieces of trash!” The over-arching theme of the Bible is “Come to me. Come to ME! Let me show you what I can do with messed up, broken people. Let me show you how incredible things can be with me on your side.” It is how God’s grace overcomes all of our brokenness, even using our brokenness for good, to bring him glory and to bring us the gifts that come with a faith that has been tested and proven. It is what God’s power can look like if we just surrender all the mess to him instead of focusing on it in a micro-managerial sort of way–if I just focus enough on all of the things that I need to change, then maybe I can will myself into being a better person. The focus is on Him, not on us, on His goodness, not on our badness.

Paul when writing about Moses putting a veil over his face to cover his radiance after being in God’s presence says:

Whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away…so all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NLT)

Our radiance comes from focusing on his radiance, not from focusing on our muck.

There were a lot of younger people at the service I was attending as I live in a college town and it was the 5pm service I went to before going to work for the night. My heart ached for them because I remember being their ages. I remember the altar calls and the guilt that consumed me during those times. I hurt for them that the pastor, though well-meaning, was heaping burdens onto them that are not necessarily from God. And while the pastor prayed that these young people would take a stand for right. I prayed that they would stand for God. And God is love, right? So I prayed that they would stand for God’s unconditional, never-ending love. That they would stand in such a way that it would be life and world transforming.

A part I left out of the above passage is verse 17 which says “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” I was filled with gratitude last night for God pouring out his grace and love on me over and over and over for years until it sunk into my very soul. I was flooded with gratefulness that instead of condemnation, I can hear his words of affirmation and love to me. That is freedom. Freedom from the trappings of myself.

We as Christians have tried the “let’s take a stand against everything we think is wrong with the world” stance. That obviously has not worked out so well. It has just created deeper and deeper divisions. But our God is a god of unity. Jesus prayed for Oneness.

What if we tried taking a stand for a kind of love that most have never known? A kind of love that loves and speaks and acts kindly even when it is not deserved. A kind of love that gives of ourselves without asking for anything in return instead of hording up more and more treasure for ourselves. What would that kind of love do to the world?

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Perfectly Imperfect and Painful Moments

There are certain songs on the Christian radio station that I cannot listen to. I change the station every single time. Because they are either too painful or they imply that broken marriages are simply a result of people giving up, not trying quite hard enough. 

One is “Lead Me” by Sanctus Real. While it is a beautiful message and hopefully will stir some men to step up to their role as loving and leading protector of their wives and children, it is too painful for me to hear. There were too many years where I begged for that very thing. But instead of receiving it, I was told that it was somehow invisibly going on and there was something wrong with me that I could not see it or that it was ALL my fault that my marriage was not unfolding the way a strong Christian marriage should.

The second is Chris August’s song “Restore”. I love many of Chris August’s songs. But this one ignites my ire as do many, many of the “Christian” lessons on marriage, implying that people just do not want to stay married. (Yes, I realize my anger is just a further sign that I am in the midst of the healing process–healing from emotional abuse by religion and by my spouse–a healing process which I am finding takes years by the way.)

I have said before and will say again–divorce was not my dream for my life. It was most certainly not what I want for my children. It was simply the result of giving until I had nothing left to give. In fact, I almost had nothing left of me at all until I went through years of counseling and began to find healing and wholeness and restoration of who I was, of who I am. 

There is a song that is resonating with me these days. A message that I want to get through to my children before they leave home. It is Phillips Craig & Dean’s “From the Inside Out.” 

A thousand times I’ve failed

Still your mercy remains

And should I stumble again

Still I’m caught in your grace

 

If we are doing things just to look good on the outside–if we are going to church every Sunday to be seen and to check the box on our “to-do for God” list, if we stay married just to look good on the outside when in reality there is really subtle emotional (or other kinds) of abuse going on, if we help other people only for the kudos we get in return–then we are not being changed on the inside which is what God really wants. In fact, that is what He starts doing from the moment we turn our lives over to Him. He begins slowly using our experiences to transform us into the person He intended for us to be from the beginning–before we were even born. 

Everlasting,

Your light will shine when all else fades

Neverdending,

Your glory goes beyond all fame

 

My heart and my soul

I give you control

Consume me from the inside out Lord

Let justice and praise become my embrace

To love you from the inside out

 

This is the cry of my heart. Regardless of how imperfectly it looks from the outside.

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