My life today is nothing compared to what it was even five years ago, let alone 30 years ago when I began my Christian journey. God planted a seed of change; however, it took almost 20 years to stop living according to my rules and listen to his desires for me.
I am one of those people who isn’t afraid to ask the tough question. I love to get people thinking about opposing viewpoints or scenarios. When these are thoughtful civil discussions, we can begin to see that the alternative perspective has merit. We can begin to incorporate those perspectives into our own and realize a change in ourselves.
I’ve been reading a lot more during this time home alone. Mostly I have been reading about the way God can completely change who we are, if we are willing to open that door. I know he has changed my heart, my thinking, and my desires in many unexpected ways. I know God has forgiven me in ways people never have. I know I have found peace in that forgiveness and a greater willingness to offer that same mercy and grace to others. It all started with God moving in my life when I opened myself to his ways over my ways.
Jealousy, fear, and self-interest can get in the way of our celebrating the good fortune of someone close to us. Jealousy comes from the fear of losing something—someone is moving on without us or doesn’t care about us. Fear arrives with the unknown—what is going to happen once the person close to us moves up the ladder or marries or moves away. Often it is our own self-interest that we turn to when we hear news about change—what does this mean for me? However, if we truly love and care for one another the first response should be that of joy and celebration.
I spent a good portion of my life searching for meaning and understanding about my life and the world in which I live. I tried everything—sex, drugs, rock & roll, with a trip into the cultic world of Scientology. I would like to think I was a ‘free spirit’ but in reality, I was simply lost. I grew up feeling invisible and kept hoping I would be noticed. Only problem with that kind of search is that I was noticed by all the wrong people in all the wrong ways.
In the business world I searched for some measure of success. Initially I just wanted a job to pay for my car and to get out of my parent’s house. I wanted to find some credibility after my California years of living free—except for the trapped in Scientology part! I went to work where I was told to work and I made a decent living, met a husband, and a few lovers along the way. Sex, drinking, and party party became the new mantra.
I have heard it said that the way a person decorates their home is a reflection of the things that are most important to them. For the past year my walls have been bare except for some sports memorabilia and a few crosses hung in my office area. The only thing I hung in my bedroom was a gift from a friend who lives on the other side of the world. Our furnishings too have been sparse. My home has been a true reflection of the empty slate of my life. It is a reflection of the somewhat aimlessness state of my being as I have prayed and sought God’s desires for my life in these post-retirement years.
This time last year I was homeless. I had packed up the belongings I felt I needed or those few things that I wanted to hold onto out of sentiment. I had given family, friends and neighbors who were in the process of resettling some of the things they needed for their homes. I threw away gobs of unnecessary clutter. And I gave everything else to charity. And then I packed my bag and left for the sunny skies of California to contemplate my future. I had no idea if I would return home to Virginia and even if I did, I wasn’t sure I would find a place to live that I could afford. It was unsettling to have no place to call home and no idea what I was going to do with my life.
I admit—I have no earthly clue how much gray I have under all this hair color. I see hints of it every month or so and I rush out for the latest hair coloring product that promises to wash the tints of silver away. I, like many women, started coloring my hair when I was much younger and it has become a habit now. Although I will tell you, I once told my daughter I was going to let my hair grow in just to see how gray I really am and she was horrified. “Oh nooooo, you can’t do that. People think you are so much younger than you are,” she said. So I keep on hiding the gray.
This weekend we remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country. The brave men and women who stepped forward with the knowledge that they might sacrifice their very existence for a cause they came to support. Some came forward with excitement and willingness and some were volunteered into a service that would cost them everything. I am humbled and thankful to all the men and women who went into battle to ensure I would have the freedom to say what I want and to worship as I would want and to live without fear of my losing everything. I so very much appreciate their sacrificial giving.
The kind of giving in which we are called to give our lives doesn’t come along too often. Perhaps we hear stories of the firefighter who lost his or her life saving a child in a burning building. Perhaps we hear about the parent who lost their life rescuing their child in an emergency situation. We have heard stories of men pushing women and children into safety in plane and train crashes, giving away the time to save themselves. These stories are rare enough that we are amazed and brought to tears that one would give their life for another in such a dramatic way.
It’s interesting that when I went to look for Bible verses about “giving” that I was referred to “service.” So I dug a little deeper to better understand the meaning of this weekend. Dictonary.com defines service as “an act of a helpful activity; help; aid.” They define giving as “to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; bestow.” And sacrifice can be understood to “surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” When you look at the meaning behind the terms we will throw around this weekend, we begin to see something rare and special. Something that many have accepted as their calling and something others of us are humbled by.
Many of us will never feel the call to military duty while others of us will feel a call to ministry or service to others. As we remember the sacrifice of those who were willing to surrender their lives and their futures for the sake of our freedoms, I challenge you to seek ways to honor them in the service of others. Where can you sacrificially give your time to help another? Who can you reach out to and offer a helping hand with no expectation of compensation or reward? What can you do to change the life of someone else by freely and willingly giving yourself that they may benefit and grow? Please share your ideas in the comment section or on my Facebook post that others might be motivated into action.
I leave you with the Prayer of St. Francis, one who truly understood unconditional sacrificial giving:
The prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
Tt is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Thank you to the many who have given the most and to their families for your sacrifice as well. God Bless you.
I think many of us are taught as Christians that we need to follow-up our faith with action; however, sometimes we become so action-oriented we forget why we are doing what we are doing. It is easy to find that we have joined one too many ministries or agreed to one too many projects and are overburdened by our commitments. We say “yes” every time someone asks us to participate or we feel guilty when no one says “yes,” so we jump in to fill the gap. We become the “face of the church” because we are everywhere doing everything. It is great to volunteer or to lead ministries, but we need to learn to do it in a prayerful and reasoned way.
I wrote an article a while back about energy-drainers. They are the things we place in our way that stop us from reaching our goals. Saying yes to every ministry opportunity can create obstacles to following the plan God has placed in front of us. I think that God calls us into certain areas—these are the things that we are most passionate about. Laurie Beth Jones (1996) challenges us to identify those things that excite us, anger us, and call us into action. They are the things that, when we pray, we find the Holy Spirit is leading us to commit our time and our energy. All the other things are nice to do, but they may not be the things that relate to the mission God has placed on our heart.
Learning to say “no” when asked to serve in church leadership or to volunteer for the next event may be difficult for some of us. We have all heard the, “pray about it and let me know” line which we often interrupt to mean—“just say yes.” And so we do, because we don’t want to disappoint or appear uncharitable. We must, however, actually take time and pray. We need to ask God to show us if this fits with what we have heard he is asking us to do individually. We need to ask if this is something that will extend or broaden our ministry and not deter us from the path head. Sometimes we need to say, “No” and do it unapologetically.
I found myself in this dilemma and I realized that having said yes to leadership of a ministry, for all the wrong reasons, was draining my energy. I became frustrated that I did not have the insight or ability to lead. I began to spend hours trying to get better at that position while neglecting what I am supposed to be doing—studying and writing. I found myself with massive headaches and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was frustrated because “I” couldn’t make things happen. I had said “yes” even though I knew the right answer was “no.” So I finally said, “I can’t do this. It isn’t what God set on my path.” It was hard. I’m sure it was disappointing and frustrating for others to receive the message, but I know it is the right thing. How do I know? I woke up today for the first time wanting to write and excited to finish my class work. I feel inspired and ready to burst with energy. I know I am where I need to be and doing what I need to be doing.
What have you said yes to that should be a no? What do you need to back out of so that you can focus on your personal mission and vision statements? What obstacles are draining your energy? Are you ready to get back on the path you see for your life and let go of those things that don’t fit? Pray about it and when you see the answer—yes or no—go with it!
“The Lord will always lead you.” Isaiah 58:11
Jones, L.B. (2006) The path: creating your mission statement for work and for life, Hyperion Press, NY, New York
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
As I begin to understand what message God has for me in The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), I have to take some time to understand the context of the message. Remember, I’m no theologian, just your average Christian taking courses and studying the Bible in order to understand and grow. I do, however, think it is important anytime we delve into the word, especially something as rich as these passages, to have some common understanding. So for this series, this is how I understand the words given in a language many of us struggle to understand.
The Sermon on the Mount, those words given to us from Jesus represent his instructions on how to live our lives as his followers. They were intended to be taken as a whole, not ones that we would pick and choose to import into our lives. That said, healing, recovery, and living a life with purpose is a journey of learning and growing. My hope is that by starting with the eight The Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10), I will be inspired to make changes in the way I think and live my life.
Blessed—having God’s grace, his favor, and his forgiveness. The Beatitudes represent the conditions of our lives and give us hope that God is with us. Even in the darkest of our times, we have not been abandoned. I know what that was like in the past and even today I have those moments. I have to remind myself that God is aware of and involved in every aspect of my life. Does it mean life is rosy and perfect now? Hardly. What it does mean for me is that I trust God will see me through to the other side and I will experience personal and spiritual growth as a result.
The New Living Translation interprets this passage as: “God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” In today’s society I think we all have a tendency to say, “I can do it—leave me alone,” until we can’t do it. Then we find ourselves calling out for God to fix our mess. Today I want to start by saying I need God. I need to pray and wait before I run ahead with my own ideas. One of the ways I pray when I find myself at a crossroad is to ask God to firmly close the doors that should be closed and to show me an open door through which I should pass. I say firmly because I am known to keep opening doors just in case there is a sliver of a chance that I can make it work out my way. And I take time to wait before I cross into something new.
In my previous profession I was required to prepare somewhat technical briefings about military systems. I was not a technical person and so instead I worked to develop processes to help others do their work. The problem was, I had to present the information, usually in front of some very technically educated people. And it scared me to death. After I retired I continued to dabble in the area in academia. The fear really never went away there either. At the same time I was looking for a program of study to become a life coach or a counselor. Nothing I tried seemed to work. And so I prayed for the closed/open door and boy did I get it. After two years of struggling, my work with defense programs ended abruptly. I was working another job part-time and it filled the financial and work void for me. And I found a program that seemed to fit all the things I wanted and that I could finance. God opened a new door. Additionally, I found a spiritual director who helped me see that what God had placed on my heart years ago and here I am writing about it.
And just as I thought things were going my way, something happened at work to make me uncomfortable. Again I prayed about it, trying to discern if I should stay or go. Within two weeks I was “relieved of my duties,” I kid you not. I was on the fence but when I was willing to ask God to show me, he did just that. Then last night I went to bed wondering what I was going to do next and if I should consider going back to doing what I had done with before to I could bring in more income and get out of debt fast. I went to sleep praying and worrying. Now I don’t know if it was just the prayer or because I was reading about theories related to dream interpretation but in my dream I was giving a presentation and it was HORRIBLE! I literally woke up shaking a bit. And I had my answer. Don’t go back, keep going forward.
I am blessed to understand my need for God in my life. I am blessed to be able to pray and to have learned to wait before acting. It isn’t easy but it is a whole lot better than making bad choices and going in the wrong direction. Today I want to align my will with God’s will and in doing so I will find a piece of God’s heaven on earth.