Experiencing Grace

No matter of religious persuasion, or no persuasion at all, we inherently understand the powerful freedom that comes when we find a safe person to whom we are able to admit our guilt, speak our shame, and cut the cords from the demon-burdens we bear. I was recently introduced to the following table to help people work through their past grievances and failings. It was described something like this:

Screen Shot 04-30-17 at 12.59 PM

Now, because I was at a religious meeting when I heard about this, we used more religious terms than what I’ve got on the table. The first column was titled “sin” and the process was called “confession”.  And in religious terms we would call the final column “repentance” – or turning away from prior actions, desires, or beliefs.

Anyone of any faith or no faith at all can go through this process and find some level of relief and feel like they’re starting with a clean slate.  They can get up the next day, read the list, remind themselves of the kind of person they’d rather be, and make choices that work toward that end.

new-beginnings

But through the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus, so much more is available to the believer.  Listen to this good news:

Make your list. And as a believer in Jesus and His gift of grace, tear away the first two columns and destroy them. Shred them. Burn them. Have your dog eat them. You get the idea. God remembers your sin no more.

Now read the words in the last column out loud and let this sink in: Because of the gift of Jesus, God already sees you this way and He promises to  remake you into what He already says you are.  That’s right. It’s not just a clean slate – but a complete slate.

You don’t deserve it and you don’t have to work for it.

It’s a gift.

That’s forgiveness. That’s love. That’s grace.

If you don’t know Jesus and the place you have in His story, or if you have been a Christian and this is new to you, I invite you into God’s reality today.

By His wounds we are healed. 

Jesus is the hero and that’s good news!

From Critical to Compassionate: 10 Ways to be Kinder to Yourself and Others

Critical: Better late than never.

Compassionate: Better now than never.

Critical: That was stupid of me.

Compassionate: I learned something from that experience.

Critical: Stop telling me what to do. 

Compassionate: It will be a beautiful thing when you trust God to direct my life.

Critical: That’s crazy! How did you ever come up with that?

Compassionate: You have a unique perspective.

Critical: You’re wrong!

Compassionate: Hmm. Interesting. I don’t see it that way, but you may be right.

Critical: I’m really dumb.  

Compassionate: I’m a human being with a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses.

Critical: You’re kidding me! She did that?!

Compassionate: She must be going through a rough time right now.

Critical: I already said what I thought. I can’t change my mind now.

Compassionate: I am on a journey of growth. I see things differently than I did before.

Critical: I can’t face those people again after what I did.

Compassionate: Seeing them reminds me I’m glad I can make healthier choices.

Critical: I can’t do that.

Compassionate: I may not have a natural talent, but with practice I’ll probably get better at that.

The Woman

Broken.

The woman lay sprawled on the cold, unforgiving marble floor. Her body ached from her fresh scrapes and bruises, but she did not tend to them. She was hardly mindful of them. What she had just experienced had been horrible, but she knew what she had coming would be even worse.  As she gasped for breath, dust filled her mouth. She choked and coughed. She wished she could cough her insides out and crawl out of her skin. She was filled with anger and hatred, certainly toward the men who had put her in that position, but mostly toward herself. In her gut she had always known it would get her into trouble one day. But she never imagined it would be like this. Not here. Not like this.

Their voices drifted far away as if in a tunnel. The harsh words they shouted were true. She screamed them at herself internally. She was dirty. She was shame-filled. She was worthless. She slowly moved her hands and curled them over her head – partly to block the sounds, and partly to provide what little protection she could from the blows that were sure to follow. She was somewhat grateful for her long hair to provide partial covering for her body. But what did it matter anyway? So many of the men standing there had already seen all of her.  But who was she to stand up and accuse them? She was just a woman.

SJ-writeinsand

She waited, but the strikes never came. The noise slowly quieted until there was just awkward silence. Was she alone? For the first time in several minutes she dared look up. He was there. His eyes were locked on hers. He was taking off His coat to cover her. His eyes. They weren’t like most men’s eyes. His eyes never strayed from looking into hers. And the depth. The tenderness. The compassion. He held out His hand toward her. She began to reach for it but then realized He must not really know. She couldn’t risk the hurt of Him turning her away after He knew. “You know I…” she started in. But He cut her short with a finger to her lips. “Shh… I know. I already know.” And His eyes said He really did. “That’s so good that you know that about yourself, too. But let’s not stay there. It’s your past – not your future. Take my hand and walk with Me. Let’s do it different this time – together.”

And the woman took His hand.

Restored.

Religiosity

A poll completed nearly one year ago by Gallup shows that 77% of Americans consider themselves to be Christian.  The largest group, 52.5% of the polled population, considers themselves to be Protestant/ non-Catholic in their beliefs. Of that group, 79% stated that religion was important in their daily lives. What exactly is religion? What does that question mean?

According to the Meriam – Webster on-line dictionary, religion means the following:

re·li·gion

 noun \ri-ˈli-jən\

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods

: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

fish

The way I see it, there are actually three things at work in the question: religion, traditions, and spirituality.  We’ll consider the second definition first. “An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.”  I will call that “traditions” or “religiosity” [Religiosity, in its broadest sense, is a comprehensive sociological term used to refer to the numerous aspects of religious activity, dedication, and belief (religious doctrine).] .  It says, ” Here are the rules for our group. If you want to fit in with us, you will look like this, act like this, speak this way, wear your hair like this, etc, etc, etc.” In my experience, it makes people more prone to compare themselves with others and to cause superficial lifestyle changes without a heart change. It may help with your emotional well-being. It may give you a place to feel good about yourself (or not – depending on your level of self-control). And it may help keep you out of trouble, which will improve your quality of living. But I find no Biblical support that outward actions will provide eternal life. Comparing Matthew 7 with Matthew 25 you will find that the saved and lost will have done many of the same things.  It is not saying that there is anything wrong with traditions or good works – in fact, there is a place for them and they are expected to be the natural out-flowing of a follower of Jesus – but they aren’t the ticket.

The first definition of religion – “the belief in a god…”, may spark a relationship that I would call spirituality.  This spirituality will also cause a change in behavior, but the relationship came first. Some say it is a behavioral change that we choose out of our love for God and what He has done for us. The more experience I have with life, people and God, the more it seems our behavioral changes themselves are only because He brings about the change in us. Our behavioral changes are gifts from the Holy Spirit. The only choice we really have is where and when we will be willing to submit our lives to Him and allow Him to change us.  The Bible tells us that our best is equivalent to filthy rags. The Bible provides no differentiation between the “best” of a sinner or the “best” of a saved person. So if something good comes of us, from us or through us, it is a gift from God.  All good and perfect gifts come from the Father above.

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesians 2: 7-10 The Message

Nuggets

If a person can’t be part of the solution, they shouldn’t be part of the discussion.

This one has sure buttoned down my hatch.  It is the essence of a conversation I had a few months ago with a friend. Sometimes part of the “solution” is venting. But if you find that “venting” extends to more than a very small number of close confidences, you’re probably participating in a disdained but popular activity called “gossiping”.
 

You are wasting your time trying to explain your reasons to someone who has already decided they don’t like your actions.

And why do we feel obliged to explain ourselves so often anyway? Are we needing the other person’s approval? Are we not confident in our actions? Is the other person’s approval of more value to us than being true to ourselves? Are we defending ourselves needlessly? Are we gossiping again?  Great advice handed to me by a wise friend.
 

Feelings are not “good” or “bad”. But how you react to your feelings may be good or bad.

Maybe you didn’t grow up thinking that any feelings were “bad”. I did. Thinking they were “bad” then produced guilt, because, being human and all… I inevitably felt the feelings. It’s been quite freeing to realize feelings are not good nor bad. They just ARE. And once I recognize them, I am then free to decide what to do with them. Amazingly elementary – but very powerful.  I would have to attribute this nugget to my grief counselor.
 

We make the best decisions we can at the time we have to make them with the tools, information and life-skills we have.

Again, the grief counselor at work here. I came across a very similar idea but worded differently in To Kill a Mockingbird. That statement is slathered in grace. It can be applied to ourselves or to those around us. It is helpful in retrospect or “live”.
 

Rarely do we intend to hurt someone else with our actions – but we all have or eventually will.

That’s my own assumption. It goes hand-in-hand with the prior statement. I think hurtful people are doing the best they can. And at the times I’ve been hurtful, I was doing the best I could. That doesn’t mean hurtful behavior is excused, but it does mean we should be more willing to forgive ourselves and others.
 

Forgiveness and acceptance of mistreatment are not equivalent.

There are some very helpful books on what forgiveness is and how to reach that stage by Dr. Luskin.  It is a process that is most healing for the person doing the forgiving. The person who was forgiven doesn’t even need to ask for it, know about it, or accept the forgiveness.  There are also excellent boundary books written by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean you approve of the hurtful action nor that you will allow it again. The tricky part is that there was quite possibly something about you that kept you from using proper boundaries in time to avoid the injury in the first place. Which leads me to the next nugget…
 

There are always two sides to a pancake no matter how thin it gets.

Anyone who thinks they haven’t contributed to a disagreement they were a part of doesn’t know themselves. For myself, I’ve found it’s generally a problem with a log in my eye that makes it hard for me to see myself. I first heard it phrased in regards to a pancake from Pastor Rich.
 

We’re all messing up our kids.

Gleaned from one of my friends. Unfortunately even though we recognize what we wish could have been different in our own upbringing, we are most certainly creating something that is less than ideal for our kids. We can learn new behaviors through facing our own fears and reprogramming. But it is the process of a lifetime. We won’t be “done” with our own learning before we die, so we won’t have it all together in time to raise our kids even as ideally as we possibly could- which would still be short of perfect. In spite of this dismal thought, I believe we can empower our kids to find the answers. We can be a living example of courage, compassion and connection – which, according to Brene Brown, are the keys to wholehearted living.
 

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. … Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection. Get the book. Or watch a short video clip here.

Practicing Medicine

“How long have you been practicing?” the elderly patient asked. I had only been out of school a short time and the way he said it implied to me that he thought I had a bit to learn. A bad taste came in my mouth. “‘Practicing’ medicine?” I thought. “These are people. I can’t practice on them.  I better know what I’m doing or not be doing it at all.”

Some fifteen plus years later, my perspective is different. I sure hope I’m still practicing medicine. Practicing means I’m still learning. Practicing means I’m still open to new solutions.  Practicing means I get better with time instead of just older. “Practicing medicine” means it is of value to me, I do the best I can, and I put effort into getting better at it all the time.

stethoscope

In the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” author Brene Brown has suggested a whole new way to apply that idea and I have found it to be full of grace. Try this: “I practice compassion in my life.” “I am a practicing Christian.” “I practice forgiveness.” “I practice self-control.” “I practice healthy boundaries.” “I practice temperance.” Those statements mean that I value those things, I am doing the best I can, and I am putting effort into learning to do them better with time.  It accepts the fact that this life is a journey and we attain the skills to do it well through the process of living it.  “Practicing” gives us grace to forgive ourselves.  Today I’m going to practice.

Do it Right

I enjoy making orthotics.  They are devices that go in your shoes to correct biomechanical problems.  They can be very beneficial for relieving areas of pain.  Some podiatrists make orthotics by using foam compression boxes or gait plate scanners.  I do it the old fashioned way.  I make casts using plaster gauze wrapped around the bottom of the feet.  The casts then get sent to the lab where they make the orthotics per my prescription. 

Some people can be so hard to cast for orthotics.  They just don’t do it right.  It can be extremely frustrating to try and get a good mold.  I explain as best I can how to do it right, but some people just don’t get it. 

The gal I just casted for orthotics did it prefectly.  She… did NOTHING at all.  That’s exactly what I asked her to do.  NOTHING.  Do not try to help me.  Let me do it.  I know where her feet should go and how I want them so that I can get a good pair of orthotics that will function well and relieve her pain.  She just had to let me move her feet where they needed to be without trying to control them herself.  She did it right.

Sometimes I think I hear God saying, “Quit trying so hard and just let Me do it, please.  I know what works.”

“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV

My Rock Garden

I was about 5 years old.  My dad was a pastor and we moved a lot when I was young.  I remember how old I was based on what house we were in.  We were living in Sequim, WA.  We never moved from a house without leaving a new or larger garden plot.  My dad still enjoys gardening.  This particular place had LOTS of rocks.  The “vegetable garden” was more of a rock garden.  The ground was terrible.  And my dad was determined.  I don’t remember how the ground was broken initially.  That detail escapes me.  But I do remember all the rocks that got turned up.  It was a family project to go pick the rocks out of the garden.  We were loading them into a wheelbarrow which then got dumped into a pile away from the garden plot.  I distinctly recall one particular rock.  I decided I was going to be the one to move that rock.  I recall hearing numerous protests from those around me that the rock was too big and I was too small.  I shouldn’t be moving that rock.  But… alas… I’m like my dad in some respects.  I was going to move that rock! And my dad…is a wise man.  He quietly stood by, patiently watching me, and said, “Let her do it.”  And I did.  I picked that rock up.  And I carried that rock.  And I set it in the wheelbarrow- right on top of my finger.  And I howled.  That hurt!  And my dad got me a bag of ice and I fell asleep in the chair, ice on my hand and dog by my side.  The nail fell off as I recall.  It was a big rock.  Too big for a small person like me. 

What did I learn?  I learned some rocks are too big for me.  Some rocks are still too big for me.  And I have learned the “garden spot” in my heart has a lot of rocks.  They are all too big for me.  They slip through my hands and smash my finger every time I try to do it myself.  God’s Word tells us how to deal with “rocks” in Ephesians 6.

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

God tells us how to deal with rocks.  He tells us to equip ourselves with the right tools- His truth, His righteousness, study of His Word, believing all that He has done and will do for us because of His great love and sacrifice on our behalf.  In Him we can be strong.

Dear God, I ask for Your tools, Your strength, Your wisdom and Your presence in my rock garden today.

The Dance

“You formed my inward parts.  You wove me in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13

“We better throw an extra pinch of determination in this one.  I see what she has coming in life.  She’s going to need it.”

“Good idea, Father.  Long-suffering and endurance will be required for her to run this race and win.”

“Yes, Son.  But You know, the enemy may tempt her to take those traits and turn them against her.  She might begin to think she can do it herself.  She might become stubborn and self-reliant.”

“I know, Father.  It’s a risk.  But I love her so much.  I will give her what she needs.  It will be her choice how she uses it.”

“I love her, too, Son.  I crave the thought of spending eternity with her.  The praise she will give is different than anyone else’s We’ve ever heard.  Each one is special and unique to My ears.  I don’t want to miss out on hers.”

Silence fell on the courts of Heaven.  There was a unanimous deep sigh among the Trinity.

“Son, I know You’re thinking what I’m thinking but I’ll ask anyway.  If she becomes stubborn, independent and self-reliant, would You be willing to pay the price for her?  Would You die for her so that she can live if she chooses to accept Your payment?”

“You know I would, Father.  We’ll need the Spirit to remind her of her options.”

“Consider it done,” breathed the wind of the Spirit.

So she was made and God said it was good and time passed.

“Daddy, help me!” cried out the stubborn, independent, self-reliant one as she looked up from the place she had fallen.

The Creator smiled.  “I’ve been here anxiously hoping you would ask. Now let’s get back to long-suffering and endurance.”  And He spun her around as she held His finger… again.

His smile is just as big every time they dance.   Even though it might be the same tune they danced to the day before, He makes no mention of the repetition.   And each time her feet follow His just a little more closely.

Unfortunately, as I go through life I seem to continually find more “tunes” that require a spin.  Fortunately, God the Father, Son and Spirit have the same conversation about each one.  Before the foundation of the earth was laid, The Plan was made.  Rescue is assured for those who ask.  “Dear God, dance with me today!”