Monday, August 25, 2014

I Cant See without My Glasses

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 1b-3)

I'm not really a morning person. It's not that I'm grouchy, but I do go through the first hour in a fog which is why I have a regular morning routine. I do the same thing every morning the same way making it possible for me to coast through in the half-asleep state I'm in and still walk out the door ready to meet the demands of the day. One of the last things I do before heading out the door is to put on my glasses.

My left eye is near-sighted, my right eye is far-sighted and I have astigmatism in both eyes. That means that the whole world around me is blurry no matter how close or far away it is and with the astigmatism, horizontal lines have a tendency to disappear altogether. You would think that the first thing I would do in my morning routine would be to put on my glasses.

However, when I first wake up, I don't realize how bad my eyesight is. It's normal to me. After all, I see well enough to get around my apartment and it's not like I need to see any details of the furniture, knickknacks or photographs around my home as they've been there for years and I don't see them anymore even when I'm wearing my glasses. It's not until I put my glasses on that I realize how poor my eyesight actually is. So why do I wait? Because at some point I'm going to get in the shower and blow dry my hair and I can't do that with my glasses on and when I take my glasses off, I can't see what I'm doing—I become very aware of just how bad my eyesight is. I find that awareness quite uncomfortable so I wait until I know I won't have to take them off again to put them on.

One morning last week, I actually forgot to put on my glasses and began walking out the door. On my way back down the stairs to get my glasses, I had a sudden realization: Jesus is my focus and my spiritual disciplines—praying, reading the bible, worship, service—these are the framework that holds my focus in front of my eyes so that I can see clearly. When I let distractions take me away from a regular routine of spiritual discipline, I lose my focus and life becomes a little blurry. The line between good and bad, between God’s way and mine begins to disappear and I stumble around in this blurriness crossing way over that line without knowing it.

Removing my glasses, the blurriness will begin to subside after a while as my eyes adjust to trying to focus without my prescription lenses and once again, I think I can see fine until I trip over a cord on the floor I didn’t see, or I run into the doorway because my depth perception is askew. When I let my spiritual disciplines slip my focus begins to move from God to myself. I begin to think that it’s all about me and what I do for God instead of it being all about God and what he has done in me and through me. I want to do my best for God instead of wanting to let God do his best in and through me. I’ll revel in the glory of his amazing work in my life as if it were my triumph instead of his.

That’s why it is so important to keep to those spiritual disciplines—so that my focus is always Jesus. How do you keep your focus?

Monday, August 18, 2014

The World's a Little Emptier Now

Last week my heart was saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ death. How empty our world will seem without his creativity and his laughter to bless us. We’ve heard and seen so many wonderful tributes to this man who touched the emotions and lives of millions. As a person who has struggled with depression all of my life, it sparked some sad and painful memories and even some unhealthy thoughts. God got me through the week with the love of one of his most special angels here on earth – a golden retriever named Sadie whom I was taking care of for some friends while they were away.

When I was in my early teens, I made the decision to take my own life on my eighteenth birthday. In senior year, while others were looking at colleges or dreaming about the day after graduation, I was making my plan. Back then I drifted between atheism and agnosticism and I figured that if there was a hell, that’s where I was going and I was okay with that because no matter how bad hell was, it had to be better than the life I was living. God gave me something to live for when two months before my 18th birthday, I got pregnant. I was okay with killing myself, but I couldn’t kill my child and by the second trimester, I couldn’t live without him, so I couldn’t give him up for adoption.

Years later when he died in a tragic car accident, I again had to face the decision of whether I was going to live or die. My family kept me under close surveillance those first months after his death and an old friend got me into grief counseling. When that was done, I didn’t want to die anymore, but I didn’t really have a reason to live and grow either. I was moving around and going about the motions of life, but inside I was dead. That’s when Jesus stepped into my life. He gave me a reason to live and grow and thrive. When my husband left me a few years later, Jesus was my comfort, my hope and he was my reason for living. He still is. My husband's leaving hurt a lot, but Jesus held the pieces of my broken heart in his hands until the healing was done.

This doesn’t mean that I no longer have depressive episodes where unhealthy thoughts, attitudes, and habits sneak up on me from some dark corner of my mind. I’m still at risk at certain times in my life. Even after coming to know Jesus, I had a depressive episode that put me in the hospital for a few days. It was like a safety switch went off in my head making the idea of killing myself okay, normal even. I got some rest and my medications were adjusted and after leaving the hospital I continued therapy and working towards good mental health. I’ve since completed the work of learning to accept and leaving behind my past and all the hurt that resides there. I’m living and working an average life and loving God to the fullest of my ability in all I do because I know just how precious each moment is and that each moment is a gift from God. But like a person who has a life-long, sometimes debilitating disease, (like colitis or fibromyalgia or diabetes) I need to take the proper precautions and watch for the signs of an attack because it can hit me again any time. And when it does, I won’t care how precious the next moment is and I will have to make the decision to live for and love God in that moment.

You’ll note that I didn’t mention anything about the many beloved friends and family in my life. I love them all dearly and God has touched me through them often, but I left them out of this post because God is the only one who can change my heart from sadness to praise when I’m at my lowest. Sure, sometimes he gives me a moment of relief through their companionship, but he is the healer. He is the only one who can turn that safety switch back on in my mind when life trips it off.

God wants to bless those around me with my love, my laughter and my sharing. I make a difference because he makes a difference through me. Without me, there would be an empty place in the world for those I know and love. That’s what God reminded me of this week.

If you are suffering with depression and wonder if the world wouldn’t be a little better without you, think again. Tomorrow without you is such a sad thought. I promise that it gets better. Lean into Jesus—give him your pain and your tears. Call the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) or go to the nearest hospital emergency room right now if you think you are going to hurt yourself. Get counseling. Talk to someone. Talk to me. Please hear me when I tell you that you are special—in the entire world, throughout all time, there is only one of you and I would miss you if you weren’t in my tomorrow.

For those of you not suffering from depression, chances are that you know someone who is. Depression is a dark and scary thing—don’t let your loved one go through it alone. Talk to them. Let them know they matter. Let them know it’s okay to be sad for a while, but that you want to celebrate the joy of life with them too. Show them how to not give up on themselves by not giving up on them. There are no guarantees. All you can do is love them and pray.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Three Positive Things

I was challenged this past week to post on social media three positive things about each day and I must admit that even though I am usually a positive, encouraging person to those around me, I still tend toward negativity when it comes to me. I confess that it wasn’t as easy as it should have been. After all, I am incredibly blessed – I live in a country where I can worship God as I please, I have all the necessities of life and a few extras and friends and family to share my life with.  But I have a habit of forgetting just how blessed I am in unhappy moments. It’s easy for us as humans to get caught up in a “woe is me” kind of attitude. Before we know it, we’re overlooking the many blessings in our day because we’re fixing our eyes what’s wrong instead of what’s right.

God knows this about us and provided a reminder in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:8-9, NIV) This is more than just positive thinking. It’s living life actively searching with a grateful heart for the many blessings that God has given. It’s leaning into and resting in God’s embrace to withstand the harshness of this life. It’s knowing that good and bad co-exist in this fallen world and dedicating your energy to seeing the light in the darkness and reflecting that light for others.

That may seem like an impossible task. If it were left up to me and my abilities alone, I would agree. But it’s not my burden alone. When times of sin, sadness, or anxiety overcome me with negativity and worry, I haven’t failed God. Bad times don’t signify a lack of gratitude or positive attitude. Bad times just give me a chance to let God show me his strength, his love, his grace, and his peace. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7, The Message)

Three positive things about my day today (and every day):
  1. God created me, loves me, and calls me his own
  2. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that I could be in relationship with him forever
  3. His Spirit is with me and for me always

Monday, August 4, 2014

God Spoke to Me on Ninth Hole

Several years ago a friend introduced me to the joy and misery of golf. This week, God gave two very important lessons to me on the ninth hole that at the time had to do with my game, but later spoke volumes to me about my faith.

Lesson #1: Stop trying to figure out where and how things went wrong and play from where you are. 
Too often, when I veer off course in my faith walk, I waste even more time trying to figure out where I went wrong. At what point did I misstep and lose my way? How did I end up so far in the rough or worse, lost among the trees? It's almost like I'm trying to follow my footsteps back to the place I was before things went wrong and continue on from there. But I can't. No one can. All we can do is look to Jesus and head in his direction from where we are. If I am preoccupied with yesterday's mistakes, I'm not focusing on honoring God today and before I know it, I have another yesterday to analyze and fret over. But if I acknowledge where I am right now and set my focus on God's call on my life for today, I'm going to be heading in the right direction.

Lesson #2: Give yourself permission to be confident.
God knows me completely and is with me always. His grace knows no bounds and nothing can separate me from him and I know that in him I can do all things. But just exactly what am I supposed to do? God's ways are far above my pay grade—how am I supposed to know what God wants me to do? Sometimes it feels like I'm swimming upstream or groping around in the dark looking for the light switch. I'm not talking about overarching life themes like "love God and love your neighbor." I'm talking about the specifics of daily living like just exactly how does God want me to invest these gifts of life, love, talent, possessions that he has blessed me with? I'm talking the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) kind of thing. I want a "Well done" from God when the time comes. And not because I'm afraid of going to hell or because I don't want to disappoint God, but because I love him and want to make him happy. 

The truth is that I know what God wants. He tells us in his Word and if I listen with an open heart, his Spirit opens my ears to hear what God wants from me today, right now. I need to stop being afraid I'll make a mistake and mess up God's plan—I don't have that much power. I just need to listen and have confidence that because God has prepared me for the work he calls me to do, I really can do what he asks of me, with his help of course.