2012 was a landmark year for me. I celebrated my 40th birthday in April, and celebrated 10 years of being in recovery from addiction in June. On October 23, I had the amazing opportunity to donate a kidney to my father. It was a big year for me, and a big year for my family. So as I drove home after celebrating New Year’s Eve tonight, I found myself reflecting back over the past year, and thinking about all of the things I learned, the feelings I felt, and the experiences that made this year all that it was for me.
Amidst all of these thoughts, I find that the primary word that comes to my mind is “redemption.” I am completely and utterly overwhelmed with gratitude – enough that it honestly brings tears to this goofy, often sarcastic girl’s eyes – when I think of the path of redemption that my Savior has weaved throughout my life. I think about the period of time a little over 10 years ago when taking pain medication for a medical issue led quickly to addiction, and to a very dark and difficult period in my life. And yet God held fast to me, not only bringing me through that difficult experience, but redeeming it, and using it in ways that I could not have fathomed at the time. And 10 years later, I have a job that I love, working with individuals who are struggling with addiction and various mental health issues, and I see them with eyes that can see beyond the surface to the depth of their struggle – because I have been there. I can share with others that there is hope, and there is healing – and I KNOW this to be true – because I have experienced it. Redemption.
I think back to a time 7 years ago when my engagement to my long-time boyfriend ended, due to circumstances that were nobody’s fault, but devastating for both of us. All of a sudden, my long-held vision of myself as a married mother of 3 (2 boys, 1 girl in my mind – in that order) evaporated – or was at least indefinitely delayed. And I couldn’t imagine that God’s plan involved my being single well into my 30’s – that scenario in no way fit the one in my head. And yet, I turned 40 this year as a single person, secure in my identity in Christ, and by the grace of God, deeply loved by the most amazing friends and family in the wide world. I have found that I am happy and content as a single person, and I could not ask for a fuller or richer life than the one I have. Redemption.
I think back to a time 4 years ago, when I learned that I would not likely be able to have children. As someone who ADORES children, it did not seem to add up in my mind that I would not give birth to any. Once again, I still thought SURELY God intended for me to give birth to 2 boys and 1 girl (in that order) at some point. And yet, it was not to be that I would be a biological mother to these 3, or any other, children. And yet. Enter the previously referenced most amazing friends and family in the wide world. They have not only overwhelmed me time and time again by how well they love me, but they have given me the gift of allowing me to love and invest in their children. And while I am not a biological mother of 3, I get to spiritually pour into and nurture numerous children. And my soul is full. Redemption.
Finally, I look back one year ago. To my father’s surgery, and subsequent complications. To nearly losing him. To his initiation of dialysis. To watching him struggle with lack of energy and fatigue. While he never complained, his “spark” wasn’t there. Today, he has the energy of a man 30 years younger. His spark is back. And I got to give the gift of returned quality of life to the man who has spent 40 years giving life – in too many ways to count – to me. Redemption.
So as I look back on a year filled with milestones, my heart is so full that I cannot possibly express my gratitude enough. To my family and to my friends, who are life to me. But mostly to my Savior, who has proved faithful over and over and over again throughout the course of my 40+ years on earth. May I live a life that is worthy of the grace and redemption I have received.
Blessings for a wonderful 2013.
I drove to work this past Monday morning, as many of us did, feeling deeply saddened, heartbroken, and still reeling from the events of the previous weekend. As someone who works in the mental health field, I see a great deal of suffering on a daily basis, but it has somehow seemed magnified over the past few days – with every individual with whom I came into contact, there seemed to be an overwhelming amount of sadness and struggle. Addiction. Psychiatric illness. Physical illness. Domestic abuse. I spoke last night to an amazing group of parents and educators in a local community, who recently experienced a tragic event at their school. We talked about substance abuse, and fear, and warning signs, and feelings of powerlessness.
There is enough heaviness out there to drown us if we let it. And I confess that I can sometimes start to go under a little bit when I take my eyes off of the One who is my source of hope. I needed to be reminded this week that our God is a redeeming God, a God of hope, a God of PRESENCE, who, as my friend Mark said in his Sunday message, CHOSE to be present in the midst of our mess. He chose to do so 2000 years ago, and still chooses to do so today. And my soul can rest in the knowledge that God is with me – is with us – even in, and especially in, the things we don’t understand.
Mark posed a question during his message that reached in to the deepest part of my soul: Will you move out of your fear towards Him?
And the answer, for me, is a resounding YES. YES, I will take a step out of my fear and towards my Savior, knowing that my hope is not in the things of this world. YES, I will pursue the hope of Christ like my life depends on it, knowing that only by embracing and sharing this hope can I truly impact the world around me. YES, I will choose to be present with God, this Christmas season and beyond – to be still, and to rest in the knowledge that He is ever present with me. YES, I will choose to be present with the people in my life – to be FULLY present, and to fight against the distractions that can steal my attention. And finally, YES, I will choose to be obedient to God’s commandment of “Do not be afraid,” choosing to trust in God’s faithfulness and to be mindful of the many, many ways I have experienced His faithfulness in my life.
Immanuel. God with us.
I returned from being on vacation today. It was a great vacation – spent with some of my very favorite people on the planet. But I came home with a very heavy heart, and with a feeling of sadness like I haven’t felt in a long time. We had a lot of downtime over the past 24 hours with airport layovers and the like, which provided an opportunity for some text, email, and in-real-life conversations, as well as some
trolling scholarly review of social media. And I find myself having difficulty sleeping again tonight.
Many people have written about this topic over the past week, and done so much more eloquently than I will. But I feel compelled to write about it nonetheless. Anyone who lives in America, and does not reside under a rock, has been following the ongoing Chick-Fil-A saga over the past week or so. And even though we were on vacation and were many miles away from our local chicken franchise, my cousins and I followed it as well. And it has broken my heart on a deep level.
It’s not the comments from the Chick-Fil-A CEO, the reaction by various city officials, or the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day itself that have caused me to feel this heaviness. I have various feelings about each of these elements, as it appears that most everyone does. But what has resulted in this sense of heaviness for me is the response by the Church across various social media outlets over the past week. This week, while the country watched, we had an opportunity to show love, grace, and compassion, and in my humble opinion, we did not love well.
Many Christians have tweeted or posted on Facebook that they are standing up for free speech or traditional marriage, and that they do not intend to communicate any disrespect to other individuals by exercising their right to express their beliefs. And I truly believe that the intention for most people was to stand up for convictions and not to communicate disrespect for other human beings. Nevertheless, the events of this week left my precious and dearly loved gay and lesbian friends, who are infinitely valued by God, feeling devastated, rejected, devalued, and heartbroken. Some were brought to tears. And whether or not the communication of hate was the intent by the majority of people, it was the perceived effect. And this matters. And yet, rather than meeting people where they are, acknowledging their feelings of hurt, and demonstrating compassion (all of which can be done while still exercising the right to stand up for one’s convictions), many Christians flooded the airwaves of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest with pictures of them jubilantly holding up a chicken sandwich, or statements such as, “Wow, the line is all the way around the corner!” (which can be loosely translated as “Wow, look how many people are on OUR side!”) People entered into debates which at times became mean-spirited and hurtful, made statements that were smug and self-righteous (some even followed by “LOL” or “HAHAHA”), while real, live, flesh-and-blood human beings experienced real, live pain. And I struggle to see how Christ was honored in this.
Many Christians did not participate in this behavior, and many exercised their right to show their support for a company whose values are similar to theirs, and did so in a peaceful and respectful way. But there was a lot of damage done this week. It appears, once again in my humble opinion, that the gap between the Church and the gay and lesbian community was widened, and I have yet to speak to or run across one person who was drawn to the love of Christ by our actions this week. As a mental health professional, I am reminded of the fact that gay and lesbian teens attempt suicide 4-6 times as often as straight teens – which translates to the fact that a large number of today’s youth would prefer to end their lives rather than go on living in a world they perceive as devoid of hope. I cannot imagine that this does not break the heart of God; and therefore, it should break our hearts too.
As Christians, we are called to live according to a Biblical standard. And we seem to be very good at taking a stand on various issues and standing up for our convictions. However, it seems that in the area of loving people the way Jesus loved people, we need a little work. I find myself wondering if we as the Body of Christ would stand in line for several hours in the hot sun to sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion, or to care for the poor and the hungry, as Jesus repeatedly commands us to do. We cannot ignore the fact that over 20,000 precious, created-in-the-image-of-God children died from starvation in the 24-hour period that was Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, and I ask myself where the outrage and passion is over this issue, which is so clearly close to the heart of Jesus. I have read the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” several times this week – and it makes me wonder whether we see other issues which are clearly identified as sin in the Bible (pride, arrogance, greed, gluttony) as being as worthy of our time and attention as we found this issue to be this week. Given the fact that we all struggle with sin as part of the human condition, do we hate the sin within ourselves enough to allow ourselves to be transformed by God into the loving people who can truly change the world? My prayer for us as the Church – and for myself – is that we will hold fast to the truth of the Bible, while never placing a position or an issue above human beings. That we will dedicate our lives to loving in the way that Christ commanded us to love, when He told us that the greatest commandment is to love Him, and the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. If we can love like this, God truly can change the world through us, and we can make an eternal difference in the lives of our fellow human beings. If we can’t, then we’re sort of reduced to being just (wait for it)…chicken.
I’m a great starter. Heck of a starter. I can start with the best of them. In fact, very few people can out-start me. I could win starting trophies, if there were such a thing. Maybe even set some starting records.
But somewhere along the way, I get distracted. Or discontent. Or dissatisfied, disheartened, disillusioned…something.
I am not proud to say that this has been somewhat of a pattern in my Christian walk. For example, God laid it on my heart several years ago to read the Bible all the way through. I have since read Genesis no less than 26 times. Because the only thing I do better than start is start OVER. And the more times I start over, the more I begin to subconsciously believe that I won’t finish.
For me, the message this past Sunday could not have been more God-sent or more timely. You see, I have realized recently that one of the primary reasons that I am such a poor finisher is because I have, somewhere deep down inside of me and generally just outside of my conscious awareness, an overwhelming fear of failure. And as I listened to the Sunday message and heard Mark repeat the words “It is finished,” I realized, for the first time, the magnitude of these words and the Power behind them. And I was struck with the realization that Jesus finished the work on the cross. I have work to do, but Jesus finished THE work. The work that makes me right with God. The work that makes me unconditionally accepted, unconditionally loved, and eternally secure. And I found myself wondering, “How would my life look differently if I REALLY GOT THIS?” If deep down inside, where my fear of failure lives, I truly understood the reality that where I stand with God is not related to my performance or to my ability to please others, but is already decided by Jesus’s finished work on the cross. And I realized that when I truly GET this, truly understand it with my heart instead of just with my head, then I will be free to fail. I will be free to take the second step, and the third, and the fourth, rather than just the first, without fear of failure or rejection, because I will be secure in the knowledge that falling down does not alter my status as a child of God one single bit. That I could fail at everything I ever try from this point forward and my worth would not diminish. There is great freedom in this realization. And if I am free to fail, then I am also free to succeed. Not to succeed by the world’s standards, but to succeed by finishing well. And I CAN finish well because, and only because, Jesus did. I cannot finish well in my own strength. But I can in His. Because His grace is sufficient. And what does He ask of me? Only that I take one step, and then another, closer to Him and deeper into His will for me.
(Written for my church’s blog, Live Oak Roots, on 4/21/11.)
People are sooooo funny. I am very fortunate, because I have hilariously funny people in my life. People who keep me laughing, which in turn keeps me semi-sane. Lately I have taken to writing down the funny things my friends and family say, lest I forget them. So now I’m going to blog about them. Some of these statements might not seem funny when you read them, but that’s okay, because as I write, I can see the “instigators of laughter” making these statements, and I can assure you they were quite funny. So you just have to trust me.
My cousin Lacy, in response to my Aunt Linda’s attempt to provide very complicated directions, which she assured us would shave at least 3 minutes off of our journey to the store: ”Mom. Shortcuts never work. If they did, they would just be called THE WAY.”
My friend Joanne, when offered a hot dog: ”No thanks. I don’t like side food. You know, hot dogs, tacos, corn on the cob – food that you eat from the side. I also don’t like spaghetti, because it slaps you.”
My friend Amanda, while watching her 8-year-old daughter’s soccer game: ”ELLIE RUN TOWARDS THE GOAL!!! RUN THAT WAY!!! RUN!!! RUN!!! RUN!!! YOU’RE RUNNING THE WRONG WAY!!! (*sits down and takes deep breath*) “NOT THAT IT MATTERS, HONEY. IT’S ALL ABOUT DOING YOUR BEST AND HAVING FUN!!!”
My mother, when I followed up after asking her to do a favor for me: ”Oh, I totally forgot about that. Right after I decided not to do it.” (Bwahahahaha…)
A great guy whom I supervise at work, during a recent staff meeting: ”Sorry, it’s not that I’m not listening to you. It’s just that you have the thermostat set on hell in here.”
My awesome supervisor, during a conversation where we were expressing different opinions: ”This is not about winning or losing. It’s about me being right.”
My 15-year-old friend Shorty, referring to a somewhat-out-of-control youngster: ”That kid needs a bully.”
My cousin Jill, in response to my telling her about a difficult thing that had happened to a friend of mine: ”The worst things always happen to the nicest people. That’s why I’m such a b—-.”
My cousin Lacy (again), after being told by my Aunt Linda that she had taken food over to our aunt and uncle’s house following surgery: ”Oh my gosh, did you cook for them? Wow, kick ‘em while they’re down…”
My cousin Lacy (once more…), exasperated after being teased by another family member:
Aunt Linda: ”Lacy, he’s just full of B.S.”
Lacy: ”He’s about to be full of bullets.”
And…my personal favorite…
My precious friend Hannah, age 7, as we were walking to the car after her soccer game:
Hannah: ”Aunt Laura, your hair is sticking out from the side of your cap.”
Me: ”Okay, can you stick it behind my ear since my hands are full?”
Hannah: ”Yeah. Here, lick my hand.”
When I was a little girl, I spent most of my time with my best friend, Rhonda, who lived down the street from me. Rhonda and I often spent Saturday nights at each other’s houses, and attended church with each other’s families on Sunday mornings. Rhonda was Catholic, and I remember being fascinated with the Sunday service at the Catholic church she attended, and intrigued by the ways the Catholic mass differed from the Sunday morning service at the church I attended with my parents. I have a distinct memory of communion at Rhonda’s church – the priest would stand at the front of the church, and the parishioners would line up and approach him to take part in communion. There was a special provision for those in attendance who, like me, were either not Catholic or were too young to take communion. We would approach the priest with our arms crossed over our chest to receive what was called the “bread blessing” – a special blessing from the priest. This was my favorite part of the Catholic church service. I would stand in line with Rhonda and her family, and as we approached the priest, I would hear him tell each approaching parishioner, “This is the Body of Christ” as he handed them the thin, round, communion wafer. I would hear the priest make that statement several times before I arrived at the front of the line, and by the time I met the priest face to face, those words were cemented into my mind – “This is the Body of Christ.”
Although the Catholic mass differed from the church services I attended regularly on Sundays with my parents, there were many commonalities between the two as well. Communion was also a weekly occurrence at our church, although it looked slightly different. The pastor would stand at the front of the church and would read the Scripture passages from the Last Supper. Before serving communion to the congregation, he would read the passage from the Bible that says, “This is my Body, broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
I did not come to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior until I was in college, and if I am honest with myself, I have to say that most of the hours spent in church as a child were spent daydreaming, intermittently napping, or flirting with some cute boy in the youth group. But as I have come to understand that God began working on my heart long before I knew He was doing so, I believe that there is a reason that these elements of my childhood church experience are so deeply etched into my mind.
Over the past year, I have gotten a new glimpse into what I believe the Body of Christ is intended to be. About 9 months ago, I went through a very difficult time, which although short-lived, managed to totally turn my world upside down. In a very short time, relatively speaking, I went from being an upbeat, funny, energetic, focused person, who counsels other people for a living, to being in a very dark place. A place where I did not have the energy or concentration to complete basic, daily tasks. A place where I was not able to heal my own mind, let alone be a part of the healing of another’s. A place where the independence, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance that I take such pride in (and I mean the word “pride” in its most ungodly and destructive way) evaporated before I even knew it was happening. A place where my identity was stripped away, and I was left with nothing but a sense of overwhelming fear and hopelessness that threatened to consume me.
Despite the darkness that had taken up residence in my mind and heart, God kept His promise to me when He said “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And indeed He did not. Instead, He strategically placed people in my life who were the very hands and feet and arms and legs and mouth and heart of His Body. And as God in His infinite mercy has been teaching me what His love truly looks like, I have often heard the words of the Catholic priest and the pastor at my childhood church over and over again:
When I would have nothing to offer my friends, and they would respond with, “It’s okay. Your worth is not determined by what you can do, but rather by who you are in Christ” – THIS is the Body of Christ.
When I was not funny, upbeat, or energetic, and felt that I was simultaneously letting down everybody in my life, and my church family would gently remind me that my identity is not found in my personality, ability to make people laugh, or any other characteristic that I might possess on my own, but in Jesus’s perfect love for me – THIS is the Body of Christ.
When my friends would call and say, “It’s going to snow, and you don’t have any groceries – I’m going to pick some up for you at the store” or “I want to spend time with you whether you’re ‘yourself’ right now or not” or “Just hang out on my couch, even if you don’t want to talk, because you will be fighting the tendency to isolate” – THIS is the Body of Christ.
When those same friends would continue to call and check on me, even when I wasn’t doing a very good job of returning phone calls, even when I would have nothing to give, and all I could do was apologize over and over for the abysmal job of friendship I was doing; when those friends responded by placing no expectations on my being able to “hold up my end of the friendship” at that time, and instead responded simply with, “I love you” – THIS is the Body of Christ.
And finally, when my friends in Christ would have the courage to be with me in my brokenness, while continuing to point me to the One who is the Source of all hope and light, walking with me, not giving up on me, and consistently reminding me that the pain is not forever and that He who began a good work in me will complete it – THIS is the Body of Christ.
To my friends who continue to walk with me, patiently holding my hand as I come to the end of myself and learn to turn my eyes to the One who brings true healing – thank you for carrying out the words of Jesus (and of my childhood pastor) – “This is my Body, broken for you – do this in remembrance of Me.”
I love to make lists. It’s therapeutic. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I make lists of things in my head – my top ten favorite songs of all times, my top ten favorite movies, my top ten favorite books, etc. If the insomnia persists, I continue with the lists – top ten favorite video games from the 80′s, top ten favorite episodes of “Friends,” top ten favorite cousins (I have a lot of cousins – and if you are one of them, and you happen to be reading this, then yes, you definitely made the top ten list.) Okay, I’ve never really made a mental top ten list of my favorite cousins – I pretty much adore them all, so it would be more like a top bazillion list. But I have made a mental top ten list of pretty much everything else, given the fact that I have never been what one might consider a “regular sleeper.”
A couple of weeks ago, my blog crashed. I had just written a post about my top ten current favorite things about my job (top ten lists are fluid, and they change frequently as life adds to them), and when I posted it, the site crashed. With some help from my Cousin Jill, the Ninja Blogstress, the blog was able to be repaired, which made me happy, because writing has been a really fun thing. So tonight, as I go to rewrite the post, I’m realizing that a couple of work-related things have happened in the past week or so that are also list-worthy, and that I need to add to my original top-ten-current-favorite-things-about-my-job list. So, here we go.
Top Twelve Favorite Things About My Job
1) The chance to be a part of a team who is deeply committed to each other and to our patients, and the fact that we can laugh at and with each other to the point that it causes physical pain.
2) The necklace given to my fellow social worker, who is courageously battling cancer, by our Medical Director. It says, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed.”
3) The fact that our Utilization Management Director hung up on me from the get-go when I called him with a question earlier this week, simply because he did not feel like talking to me at the moment. This elicited the physical-pain-causing laughter mentioned in #1 above.
4) The fact that this same above-mentioned Utilization Management Director has Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling above his desk, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
5) My dear co-worker who assists our patients in obtaining funding for their medications. Although she has a progressive muscle disorder that limits her mobility, it does not dampen her sense of humor. Everyone with whom she comes in contact is better for having encountered her.
6) The giant, taller-than-a-Volkswagen (my Volkswagen, to be specific), mound of ice that was strategically placed behind my car recently, resulting in my having to wait until it melted down before leaving the hospital.
7) Our Activities Therapy Department, who help our patients to find expression and amazing creativity within themselves that they often did not know existed.
8) The fact that my friend and Crisis Team coworker actually rubbed Campho-Phenique on my sunburned feet a couple of weeks ago after I spent too much time in the lazy river.
9) The giant, economy-sized bottle of Germ-X in our hospital administrator’s office, which exists for the purpose of keeping us all squeaky clean.
10) The fact that when I called our Crisis and Forensic Services Director to get the name of a contact person from her, she not only provided the contact, but drove up to the hospital to help me with a difficult situation. On a Friday night. Before a holiday. In the pouring rain.
11) The bowl of warm nuts given to me by our Medical Director when I brought some papers to her home for her to sign while she was working from home recently. Warm nuts are really good, turns out.
12) The occasions when we get to see our patients leave the hospital with more hope and a greater sense of dignity and value than they had when they arrived, and the honor of being a small part of their journey.
I love to laugh. There’s really nothing I’d rather do than laugh – especially with a group of people, who are also laughing. (It’s generally not as much fun if I’m the only laugher in a large group of non-laughers – it tends to elicit those “looks” that I try so hard to avoid.) There is something healing about laughter – physically, spiritually, and emotionally – and there really is nothing like it. It is one of the great joys in life.
In addition to loving laughter, I also love to make other people laugh. It feels like giving them a gift, and it is so much fun to watch them “open” it. I don’t mean this in a cocky way or in an “oh, wow, I’m funny” kind of way. I just mean that being goofy is sort of my thing that I do. I can’t sing, or cook, or dance, or stand on one foot, or plant flowers that live more than 2 days, or wash clothes without shrinking them, or refrain from eating carbs late at night, or draw faces that look even remotely human. Or a thousand other things. But I can occasionally make people laugh. And that’s fun.
In addition to loving to laugh, I also love to write. I’m rusty at it – I used to write a whole lot as a kid and as a college student, but adulthood came around (chronological adulthood at least), and life got busy, and it just sort of faded into the background. I had teachers in elementary school who encouraged my love for writing, and I will be forever grateful to them, despite the fact that I think they probably encouraged me to write because it kept me sitting in my chair for more than the customary 5 minutes I could usually maintain inertia.
So last summer, assisted by my cousin Jill, who is much more of an expert in all things world-wide-webbish than I am, I decided to do a blog, and to combine two things that I loved – making people laugh, and writing. And I did it. And it sucked. And that was that. I didn’t enjoy it – it felt “forced,” and I had to make myself write, and then I found myself wondering if other people thought it was funny.
Over the past six months, God has been teaching me much about who I am in Him. It has been a time of growth for me – a difficult time, but I am learning that my identity is based solely on who I am in Him, and not on anything I can do – including make people laugh. And I have found myself writing again. But this time, it’s different for me. I feel the desire – actually it’s more like a need – to write, because there are things on my heart that I want to write about. And I’m not so much concerned about whether people think it’s funny or not – because I’m not sure it’s always going to be funny either. It probably will be at times, because there is just way too much bizarreness out there to not write about it – I don’t think I can help it – plus there’s light and fluffy stuff to write about too, and I’ll have to do that sometimes – but it is probably going to be a bit deeper at times too. And if people want to read it and chime in that’s wonderful. If not, that’s okay too – they can always go to www.feelfreetoreadanotherblogthatisfunnierthanthisone.com. (Hee hee hee that’s not really a website…)