Saturday, July 30, 2011

People are Just People

“People are just people” seems to be the phrase that I keep repeating lately.

People are broken and imperfect; even those with the best of character seem to let us down. It’s just the nature of being human.

But when you place your focus, your trust, and your security in Christ, you have the ability to lean confidently in Him. He’ll never let us down, and He always accepts us as we are (even as hard as that is to believe) because He loves us unconditionally.

In Him, you can hold two seemingly conflicting truths and maintain peace. You can recognize and discern the humanity of the people placed on your path, and realize that people will continue to follow the same patterns of behavior (no matter what they might say or even a short stint of trying harder) until they choose a drastic course change and allow God to change them. You can recognize unhealthy behaviors and set healthy boundaries to protect yourself…which basically means not expecting them to change and not placing yourself in an unwise position, but all the while, still love and accept them and appreciate all the great things about that person.

When we lean into Christ, others coming short of perfect does not cause us to fall down too. It might hurt for a bit, but we can take it to Christ. And in my own personal experience, God often shows me that this is what this person usually does, I really should not have been surprised, and I need to forgive again but use that knowledge to make better choices in the future. Thankfully, we never have to go it alone.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Emotional Bullying"

What is it?
Well , let me begin by saying that it is a tactic that, for most women, is well used in their armory . I’d dare say that most of us are taught (whether intentionally or not) that it is a “skill” to be fine tuned and honed in upon. I think in many ways, we know what it feels like when it happens to us, but the best emotional bullies are so subtle we can hardly articulate what just happened.

Let me also confess that this is not a trait that I have been innocent of in the least. In fact, it is something that I ignorantly used for many years to make things go my way. It was not until I realized that this was what was happening to me, dealt with that hurt, and forgave those who had hurt me that I was even able to recognize this action in myself and have the personal security to stop.
What is emotional bullying? I have no letters after my name or any other person to back up this definition - this is only a functional definition to describe this word that came into my head that we are discussing. So for our purposes…

Emotional Bullying is using forms of emotional manipulation to get one’s own way.

Some examples of emotional bullying include trying to force everyone to agree to see and do things one’s own way. There is no room for differing opinions unless they are kept silent and actions lend toward agreement.

For example, in an argument, an emotional bully can tell you their point of view in a way that makes it appear if you do not agree with them, there is something wrong with you (you are mean, naive, selfish, etc). They prey on others who are sensitive to others feelings or need approval. By the way, you can still be sincerely sensitive to others feelings, and yet hold your own separate point of view.

Emotional bullies might throw out terms like “loyalty” to keep others guilty and tied to them. There is no freedom to be separate.  Emotional bullies will undermine your values.  They will often paint others as overly sensitive or needy to keep them from having validity in their point.  Emotional bullies say they do, but they truly not want to hear others thoughts or opinions; often they only allow them spoken in short bursts so they can say that they did listen, but they are not valued or considered.  They might even allow you to explain so they can use that information to convince you to change your mind or plans.  Ironically, this is what the emotional bully will often say the person they are preying upon is doing.  It's a sick cycle.
There is much more to say on this, but this is all I have so far in the way of description and examples.

My greatest point here is to recognize that healthy minded people do not force you to agree with them or trust them or tell them everything. They are secure in themselves, secure in your separateness, and you should experience freedom in relationship with them.

What if you recognize that you are an emotional bully. First of all, don’t beat yourself up, many of us have been bullied by so many people that this feels like the only way to hold our own in the world. Second, try to take a look at why you need others to agree with you and who might be also doing this to you (behind every bully is usually an even bigger one). Third, be willing to go to God with confession and ask Him to change your heart and mind. Don’t be afraid if He asks you to take some greater steps toward healing, like counseling, to deal with the things that cause you to bully others. He can and will heal your heart and mind completely if you’ll let Him (but you must be willing to obey and invest the time that He calls for us).

What if you recognize that you are being bullied. Recognizing it is the first step. The next step I would say, if possible, is to remove yourself from the person (or people who are doing the bullying) for a time while you gain the security to recognize and deal, but sometimes that is not possible (for example with coworkers or members of your own household and you'll have to take each situation to God, but anyone else can be kept at a distance for a time so you can gain perspective and health).

To stand up to emotional bullying, you must have the confidence and security to recognize that you are separate and experience the freedom to say no. Sentences like “I’m sorry you feel this way but this is my choice” are the cornerstone to this kind of thinking, but I’ll be honest with you, unless you deal with the hurt from bullying in a safe place outside the situation…it is not likely to heal itself. Here God is also the master healer, and you can go to Him for help and healing, but He may call you to Christian counseling or some type of support group as well. Be brave enough to do to get your life back.

Christ can and will make a total transformation that gets you out of this cycle. He does not manipulate or force us into anything, we are free to come and go and receive His unconditional love no matter what our choice is. He also sets clear boundaries and lets us know the consequences of those, so that we can make educated choices, but they are still ours to make. Two good resources on this subject that I have found very helpful are by John Townsend and Henry Cloud Boundaries and Safe People…they also have a website devoted to such subject matters.

Wishing you much freedom!

Please Make Me Normal

There have been many times in my life where I prayed that God would just make me “normal”. I just wanted to fit in, to be average. And equally probably just as many times when I felt much less than average and perhaps of little worth at all.

I just wanted to be liked, accepted, and to feel like I was a part of “the group”, but those moments have been rare and for short periods.

God has spent my lifetime wooing me and romancing me to convince me that I am uniquely and wonderfully made. Every now and then for a shinning moment I can wrap my head around that in a way that is not conceited but humbled by the grace that God has bestowed upon me (and upon every man as well). But the path of following God and living to fulfill His purposes for me and please Him only is not a simple task.

“For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” – Galations 1:10

God has given me a unique view of life and some incredibly strong convictions that make my life choices much different from others. When I follow what He has told me, I see the beautiful fruit of His guidance, but it is often painful to feel so alone.

“But when it pleased God, who separated me…and called me through His grace to reveal His son in me that I might preach Him…I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood…And I was unknown by face to the churches…which were in Christ.” - Galations 1:15,16,17, 22

“And I went up by revelation.” - Galations 2:2

Paul goes on to talk about how He was not taught by the disciples but mostly by the direction of the Holy Spirit through His intimate relationship with God. We must be careful about this, though, because the enemy can use these times of loneliness to deceive us and distort the Word.

But as much as I cry out to God for fellow men to walk with me, it feels like when Jesus was in the garden struggling with his burden and to stay the course and the disciples could not stay up to pray with Him but continued to fall asleep. It is lonely and painful, but it does draw us closer to the Father. It makes us stronger.

God continually reminds me that while a community is essential and beneficial, and friendship builds us up, that each time our friends let us down and we look to God for our strength, we build intimacy with our Beloved Creator and gain greater character and strength from Him.

It is challenging to walk alone. It is so tempting to just compromise a bit here and there to keep friends or make others like us. No one wants to be an outsider. And these feelings are not only outside the church, they sometimes even feel magnified for me there, because it feels like that’s the place where everyone should be seeking Christ. But the church is full of fallen human people too. And just because God has called me to one such season, doesn’t mean that He has called everyone else to it. 

The other temptation in pushing forward in God’s call alone is to judge other’s for not going with you. This is a fruitless effort as well, and only builds bitterness and a greater likelihood for us to trip and fall.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” -Galations 5:1

The “yoke of bondage” Paul talks about here is that of living by the “law” instead of the “spirit of the law” which is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the laws hinge on these points. When you walk with God, you walk in the Spirit, and you walk in freedom. In many ways, the law also represents the need to impress or be liked by others. Paul talks a good deal about those who are even in the church who try to bring people back into bondage and create divisions and criticize and judge.

“But you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another…But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another.” - Gal. 5:13,15

“But if you walk in the Spirit, you are not under the law. But the works of the flesh are evident (OBVIOUS) which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murderers, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” -Gal. 5:19-21

There are many loaded words here, but the two that stand out to me are contentions and jealousies – these are so common among relationships…the same relationships in places where we are trying so hard to be liked.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” -Gal. 5:22

Ironically, though, as wonderful as all these things sound, these traits are not likely to make one popular. People much prefer someone a little “rough around the edges”, someone they can compare themselves to and feel better about themselves. The fruit of the Spirit while healthy and free from condemnation of self and others, will elicit much admiration and respect, but many feel lesser in the presence of such traits. It is easier to be around someone who you feel is kind of a mess.
Christ told us that the way is narrow, but He also told us that His burden is light. What makes His burden light? When we are only living to please Him, He carries it all for us and supplies all the grace we need for each moment. We become burdened when we start to look outward or inward instead of upward, and try to please others or do it all on our own.

We are not called to be “normal”. We are not called to be average. We are called to live extraordinary lives and walk in victory that others cannot explain. Extraordinary is measured by the opposite of ordinary, not the measure of success labeled in this world. And it will be challenging and painful and even many times lonely, but will reap an incredible harvest.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"I am Free"

Like a bird in a cage, I'd stand and I'd sing
a tender melody.
Like a horse tied in chains, I'd cry my prayer:
please let me be free.

And all the while, the door was open.
And all the while, I didn't know it.

I stand on a mountain now.
You stood in the gap.
I stand on a mountain now.
No looking back.

LIke a child in the night, I was afraid
of all I couldn't see.
You held my hand to show me the way;
you gently beckoned me.

And all the while, the door was open.
And all the while, I didn't know it.

I stand on a mountain now.
You stood in the gap.
I stand on a mountain now.
No looking back.

I dance and I sing, what a beautiful thing.
I throw my mane; I'm not afraid to be free.
I dance and I sing; oh, what a beautiful thing.
I throw my mane; I'm not afraid to be free.
I'm not afraid to be free.
Oh I am free.
I really dislike talking on the phone.  It just feels like a terrible barrier to good communication.  It makes me uncomfortable because I feel like you have to sound perky the whole time and you can never see any of the other person's nonverbal communication.  Plus, most of the time, there are children demanding attention or noises going on in the background or two people without really anything to say to each other just rambling on to least favorite thing to do. 

If someone has something quick to say - why not just send a text or an email or a message on facebook where I can send a quick reply without interrupting anything else.  Or if there is something deep to say, I love getting emails and letters where I can think it over and respond.

However, with Scott and a couple of close friends who live far away, we do make specific dates to talk on the phone uninterrupted.  We have catching up to do and real things to say.  Otherwise it just feels that people expect others to be available by various outlets 24-7 and that kind of stresses me out! 

When I tell most people this, they look at me like I'm an alien.  I just really pretty content with my life and want to be available in it; talking on the phone feels like an interruption of real life happening.  There are only two people I am always available to - Scott and Laurelei (or whomever happens to be watching her)...whoops, make that three...Mason too (but him and I are pretty well always connected these days...the nature of pregnancy :) )

Maybe I'm just not cut out for the 21st century...sometimes I think that's true, but maybe other people feel this way too, like its asking something of me that I didn't offer to give.  I just turn my phone off or don't know where it is when I'm at home - is that so crazy?

The truth is, I know it's not, I know it is healthy for me.  That's how I operate best.  I am totally available to those whom I have made myself available, and if others want to get in touch with me, a phone call is just not the best way to do it...takes too much time and energy that I'd rather invest somewhere else.  And I make time to check texts and emails when I can.  But I try to stay present in real life.

But I can't help feeling a little guilty and wishing I were different sometimes - everyone else seems to have adapted to this...maybe I could start a revolution.  Maybe I just need to wear a sign that says, I don't want to talk on the phone just to talk about nothing, and if you really want to get in touch with me, here's how, but I am not available 24/7 like the rest of the world...that's probably too long.  Sigh.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are You in the Way?

Recently I read a book on my Kindle that was recommended to me by a friend. It was an incredible book, by a Godly woman, full of rich, deep, pure scriptural Truths. This was the kind of book that one does not walk away from unchanged, unless you just fail to do anything more than read it for information. A week or so later, I went to purchase the book from the bookstore for a friend. I was surprised when I saw the cover; something about it gave it a tone of a cheesy self-help book. You know the type, they liter the shelves of the bookstore, going through spurts of popularity, only to end up in the bargain bin to make room for the next wave of ideas to come forth. The books are not transformational; they are just 5 cent theories that fizzle quickly. I was so embarrassed by the tone of the cover that I bought it in hardback so I could give it to my friend without the cover to distract her from the good word inside.
This sent my mind into overdrive, thinking about how God has equipped each of us with a ministry, and how sometimes our cover distracts from the good things inside. The cover of this book was not inappropriate; in fact she is a beautiful woman whom I respect and admire. But the truth is there was something about it that seemed to draw attention to her rather than the meat of the book.

My desire is that the ministry that God has given me is about making Him famous, not me. Please don’t think that I am suggesting that we all start becoming consumed with what others’ think about us and if it is causing them to like or dislike God more. That’s not a burden that anyone can carry. I hope that this will remind us that in our culture that tells us to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and make a name for ourselves that we will do just the opposite. We will lay ourselves down at the altar of the Lord and ask Him to use us to make His name, and then we will get out of the way.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Look Where You are Going

Look where you are going or you will go where you are looking.

These words came together for me as we were taking a family walk this morning. We walk along the trails through the park…actually, I power walk and try to keep up with Laurelei as she runs (not so easy at 27 weeks preggo). Laurelei will get distracted by something on the side of the trail or on the ground and start veering off that direction, me calling out to her, and often barely missing running into something. I found myself repeating this phrase to her, “Look where you are going”, and suddenly I added “or you’ll go where you are looking”. I kept repeating it to Scott, and I said – this is a good word. He agreed (any wise husband would ).

Where we are focused determines where we are headed…our pastor talks a good deal about having a vision and to keep talking about it so you stay on track. But I want to talk to you about how your focus can help or hinder relationships.

I’m not sure if everyone has this same struggle that I have had, but I do know many share this pain. So I want to share what God has been teaching me about pursuing and maintaining relationships. Before I met Scott, I had experienced a very frustrating series of events with men. It left me feeling a little jaded about the potential for ever finding the man of my dreams. God led me to a book, that, while I’m not sure the entire premise is effective for everyone, it did offer good criticism of how we look at the opposite sex and dating in general. It’s called, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, by Joshua Harris. After reading the book, I realized that I needed to stop looking at the men around me as potential future husbands, but rather as my brothers in Christ and to protect, encourage, and love them.

When God brought Scott into my life, I didn’t take the cool coincidences that kept happening as a sign that God was bringing my future husband into my life. I didn’t examine Scott’s actions to see if they might be those of my husband (which I often did before, often finding myself disappointed with that person when they didn’t measure up – what unfair pressure on a relationship). Actually, I enjoyed our conversations, but kept my eyes ahead on where God was leading me. Scott did too. And eventually discovered that where God was leading us was right to each other. Without trying, God revealed Scott’s character and intentions to me over time, and we built a firm friendship. By the time romantic interest was even on the table, we both knew the kind of person we were dating and dating with the intention of marrying this person.

What does this have to do with other friendships? Well we often (and by we I mean me) look at the people we meet as potential to fill certain needs/desires in our life. Perhaps I go to a women’s event and sit next to a girl who’s about my age, married, and a child around Laurelei’s age. Let’s say we have a positive conversation and seem to have a lot in common. She might say, we should hang out sometime. Often by the time we are both home we have decided that we are going to be best friends for life and our husbands are going to love each other too and our children are going to grow up together and we are all going to live happily ever after. Well what if I go to friend her on facebook and see images of her doing things that I’m not really interested in, or what if I send her a friend request or call her to invite her over and she doesn’t respond? I’ve had only one conversation with this person, but built her up so much in my mind that it often leads to utter disappointment.

(I have another post on being careful not to say “we should get together” if you really have no intention of doing so or are not able to hold up that end with your current schedule…just say “it was great to meet you”…but that’s a whole other story)

God has really been showing me that when I keep my focus on Him and walk where He wants me to walk, He will bring the right relationships in and out of my life and the right time. Timing is ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. When I start trying to pursue relationships, I change my focus to that person, and speaking from experience of being on the receiving end of such attention – all it makes that person want to do is run the other way…just the fact of human nature. No one wants to be the center of anyone’s attention…actually that is not true – codependent people want to be the center of your attention and make sure that you are never able to do anything by yourself and need them for everything so you can never leave them. Yikes!

Anyway, only God can handle being the center of your attention. He’s the only one who will never cause you to sin in that, He will never disable your ability to grow and be healthy. But the moment we get our focus off of Him, things start to get messy. And when we start to romanticize everything that a relationship could be, we put an incredible amount of pressure on that relationship where there is no strength yet to hold up.

So if you are struggling with relationships or feeling rejected, try redirecting your focus to the perfect friend, God. And when you meet someone new who you are excited about, tell God about them and how you feel. Ask God to help you not to think about them and to bring the relationships in and out that need to be there. Then go back to what God has already been telling you to do.

I heard this said growing up that we are all running a race toward the goal of Christ. Every now and then God will allow some people to run alongside you and enjoy one another’s company and spur one another on, but if you cling too tightly to that person one of you will end up being held back or tripped. You must each have the freedom to run ahead or change direction as needed. This is real, healthy friendship. Beth Moore says to beware of instant relationships; healthy relationships grow over time. Their foundation is in trust earned through real-life experiences. Think about it.