Exploring My “God Jar”

In an effort to develop a daily writing habit, I first needed to…clean my basement office (otherwise known as The Mother Dungeon). I love to write. My tank is refueled when I put pen to paper. I feel whole and complete as my fingers move across the keyboard. But I’ll do just about anything to avoid it.

Writing is hard.

So is faith.

I haven’t written a personally honest post since this one which was just after Christmas last year. It’s easier to write book reviews. As I purged some books off of my office shelves, organized my scrapbook supplies, and finally found a place for an old typewriter, I came across my God Jar.

My God Jar contains various items I’ve picked up along my faith journey. To the casual observer, this jar looks full of junk but each piece had a meaning to me when I acquired it, and to my surprise, still carries meaning for me now. I feel pretty dead inside when it comes to Christianity and my faith. I don’t think my faith is dead. It’s probably in a coma. You can’t force a person out of a coma and I don’t think a faith rejuvenation can be forced either. You must wait.

So I wait.

I’m reading. I’m praying. I’m singing, and I’m waiting for faith to become vibrant once more. I’m waiting for my Christianity to be a life force within me instead of a label I call myself or my beliefs and this is where my God jar is coming into importance. I opened the jar and contemplated the contents; pondering whether or not these items are worth keeping.

Each of these items represents an encounter with God, a promise I made to Him, a promise He made, and reminders of answered prayers.

torn fabric

The torn fabric represents the temple veil being torn in two upon Jesus’ death and represented the new covenant God established. It’s symbolic to me in I don’t have to work for God’s forgiveness, it’s given to me freely if I ask. I don’t have to perform to a particular level for His approval or love.

david and goliath rock

I’ve had this rock for many years. This rock is roughly the size needed for David to bring down Goliath and it tells me God gives us what we need, when we need it and it may not be what we thought.

Marriage vows

 

 

3 rings

 

This card and three key rings are reminders to me of marriage. Against our “better judgement”, Rick and I were cajoled into attending yet another marriage event. We were tired and did not want to go but we went. I don’t remember many of the details but I do remember Rick and I recommitting ourselves to each other (the card) and being reminded God must be within our marriage (three rings, not two).

Hollywood Hills rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hollywood zip code rubber bracelet

 

This rock and this rubber bracelet are from a mission trip to Hollywood (I wrote about it here).  The rubber bracelet, which displays Hollywood’s zip code,  reminds me to pray for my Christian brothers and sisters who are working in a very tough, unforgiving, and very influential industry. The rock is from our team’s hike to the Hollywood sign. It was at the top of the hill and after an evening of meeting with writers who encouraged me to write where I felt like I found out who I am. I wanted something to remember the moment by so I faked tying my shoe and grabbed a rock.

1 Thes 5

And this verse…this verse was a promise I clung to as I waited for an answer to prayer. The answer was two years in arriving but it DID ARRIVE. I had this verse taped to my computer monitor at work and wondered daily, sometimes hourly, if I could count on it or not.  I could.

As I wait for my faith coma to end, I feel comforted by these items and more I did not write about. The light at the end of the tunnel exists and although I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to reach it, as I touch these items and wipe off their dust, I know I’m going to make it.

 

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Alone in the Pew

I was on staff at a church for several years.  Attending and working at a church for a long time allows you to meet many people; some of which you grow close to in one capacity or another.

You work side by side together, get to know each other’s families, have dinner in each other’s homes, participate in White Elephant gift exchanges at Christmas, celebrate birthdays, send dinners to each others homes during challenging times, laugh together, pray together and yes, even fight together.

Cooking Together

Being a part of a church is an all-encompassing experience. When you’re involved, you’re completely INVOLVED.

I remember when word would trickle through the grapevine a family or individual was leaving the church and attending somewhere else. It was oh so easy to take their decision personally or to judge their motives.

Very easy.

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But now I’m on the other side of leaving. I’m the one who left and I’ve learned just how painful a decision leaving a church is. No matter how much time taken, how much effort, thought and prayer put into the decision-making process, unintended consequences occur.

  • Friendships are lost. I expected to lose some friends as a result of our decision to find another church home. I actually thought I knew who I would lose but the list was longer than I anticipated. It still stings. People I’ve known for a long time suddenly don’t recognize me at Target. A random email carries a bit of venom from an unexpected place. It would be easy to retaliate, beat my chest and scream at the unfairness of it all but instead, I mourn for once was and what could have been.
  • Friendships are challenged and changed. I have a handful of really close friendships and I’m so grateful those are still going strong today. But our relationship has changed. I hearken back to the days of being on church staff and taking someone’s decision to leave personally. I think my decision affected some relationships in the same way.  Conversations are a bit stilted and even censored on some subjects.
  • Traditions end. This realization barreled through my heart like a runaway freight train this holiday season. After many years of spending Christmas Eve volunteering or working at our former church, sharing meals together in between services, seeing coworkers little children all dressed up in their Christmas finest, this year was very different compared to years past. I missed seeing my best friend’s daughter in her Christmas dress. I missed singing Silent Night and lighting a candle at the end of the evening. I missed telling familiar faces “Merry Christmas” as we headed home to spend the holiday with our families. Traditions I didn’t even realize existed until they were gone.
  • Starting over is hard. After an agonizing decision to worship at another church was made, we are now in the midst of doing the hard work of getting involved and trying to make the new church feel like home to us. We will be volunteering soon, attempting to attend Bible studies, and make an effort to meet people. It’s tough being the new kid after so many years of being part of a whole. Truth be told, I think we feel a bit adrift these days as we strive to feel at home and known.

It’s my feeling leaving a church is similar to feelings of getting a divorce.  Much is lost, rebuilding must occur, and you feel as if you’re missing a huge part of yourself.  We really tried to leave in the right spirit and in the right way but damaged still occurred; this grieves us both. I’ve lost count how many times my husband and I have gone over our decision to leave and it always comes back to the same result: it was time to go.

Knowing this, I still walked into Christmas Eve services feeling quite sad and a bit angry. I inwardly lamented worshiping on Christmas Eve in a room full of strangers. I missed having a church family, even the one that wasn’t right for us anymore. As the usher guided us to our seats, I looked down at the end of a pew and spied a familiar face; someone else who walked the same road I’m walking. I looked at this friendly face and waved. She smiled and waved back. After services, we hugged in the vestibule. As we herded the kids out into the parking lot to head home, I realized God made sure I knew I was still known and still have part of my spiritual family. It’s small now but it’s not gone.

I Am Second

I’ve experienced many times in my life when the obstacle or issue I’m facing feels just too big. It’s easy in tough times to think and feel that I’m alone or the only one dealing with this kind of pain or problem.  I don’t think anything helps me as much as hearing other people’s stories. I’ve written before about how much I love Story. Hearing the tales of others helps me to gain perspective, see hope and get a reminder than I am not alone.

Stories are the reason why I love I Am Second. I Am Second is a movement to inspire people to live for God and to live for others. I’ve been a big fan of their videos for a long time and turn to them during tough times. The stories people tell, the struggles they experienced and the lessons they learn provide hope and inspiration to many and countless others.

Here’s one that resonated with me:

I Am Second – Doug Bender

I Am Second has been filming and sharing the stories of individuals for a few years now. They provide hope for the hurting. Click through their website, I bet you’ll find a topic that resonates with you or someone you care about.

I Am Second has many more stories to share. You can help. Commit $2 every Tuesday to build film funds and your contribution will be used to develop, produce and promote new films.

I don’t share things on my blog unless I believe in them personally. I Am Second is special to me. I hope you’ll check them out and watch some stories.

 

“Disclosure of Material Connection: I receive one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

And Now For The Airing Of The Grievances

Remember the holiday that George Constanza’s father invented on Seinfeld? It was called Festivus. There was a pole, feats of strength and, my personal favorite, the airing of the grievances.

 

Here’s a list of ways you disappointed me this past year.

It’s funny but yet…it’s not.

My church attendance has been spotty this year and when I’m there, I’m not THERE. The body is present but nothing else is. I go because it’s the right thing to do and I want to set a good example for my kids. That’s it.  It’s been on my mind that I can’t continue this way. It concerns me that my state of mind didn’t bother me so I contacted an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a while and asked her to meet me for coffee.  The last time she and I sat down and talked, she was going through the beginning of a very dark time. These days when I see her from a distance, I can tell that something had changed. Her whole countenance is different. She’s happy and positively glows.

I needed to know how she got from Point A to Point B.

Over caffeine at a local coffee shop, she and I sat outside on the park benches and talked until the place closed. I spent a lot of time listening to her story and when it was my turn, I became Frank Costanza and started airing my grievances against everyone who hurt me.  I do mean everyone.

What was painfully obvious to my friend, but not to me, is that I’m wallowing…drowning in unforgiveness.  I needed to forgive those who hurt me, whether they knew it or not, whether they care to have it or not.  Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It hurts me, not them.

She also pointed out that I needed to ask forgiveness from others that I had hurt.

Well she could have punched me in the face and it would have been less painful and less obvious. But she was so right.  I went home that night and sent off a couple of emails asking for forgiveness from those I’ve wronged. (It’s amazing how I didn’t have to stop and think about who those people might be. I knew.)

A couple of weeks have gone by since our coffee date and I haven’t forgiven anyone yet.

Would you believe that ASKING for forgiveness is much easier for me than GIVING it?

My friend is right. I can’t move forward until I forgive. I just don’t know how I’m going to do it.

When Scripture Doesn’t Cut It

I’m going to use a phrase that my friend, Jessica, just absolutely hates to hear Christians say.

I’m not a very good Christian.  Jessica maintains that Christians are just Christians. I know there’s more to her argument but I figure I’ll just annoy her with this post and then she’ll write about it on her blog. (wink)

I just came off of a seven-year stint of working for a church.  Before that, I worked two years at a church in the Chicago area.  I absolutely loved ministry work. I loved doing something meaningful with my life, being a part of something bigger than myself and working for organizations whose sole objective was to help people.

And then one day…I didn’t love it so much any more.  Some days I didn’t even like it.  After a couple of years of prayer, I decided it was time to move on to something else. If my heart wasn’t it in, then I had no business being there.

I’m struggling lately with not wanting to be in church, not wanting to be involved with anything related to the church culture, including prayer and reading my Bible. I emailed a pastor friend of mine and told him what was going on and he diagnosed me with that all too common ailment of burn out.

It’s my opinion that church burn out is different from other kinds of burn out.  I believe there’s a danger from stepping away or taking a break from church or spiritual activities. If one is not careful, you can find yourself on a very slippery slope to backsliding or completely walking away.  I’ve tried to push through it with prayer, reading my Bible and going to church in order to be a good example for my kids and hoping that something will just change.

It’s not working and here’s why I say I’m a bad Christian.  Scripture just isn’t cutting in for me and I’m pretty sure that’s not something I should be admitting.  It’s not penetrating my heart and giving me something to cling to.  I’m feeling pretty lost these days and even lamented to my dear hubby last night that I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Then God surprises.

This morning I logged on to Facebook and found a beautiful picture right before my eyes. It’s a picture of a former coworker, his wife and their newly adopted daughter.  The smiles are huge!

Jim and Beth (not their real names) have been working and praying through this adoption process for YEARS. There were many moments when this situation looked precarious and Faith (not her real name) would not find her forever family.  But this week, all their hard work and prayers came to fruition. I’m sure Jim and Beth were exhausted off and on throughout this whole process but they didn’t give up. They kept pressing on.

And today, they have a new member of their family.

Jim, Beth and Faith’s smiles are just the sliver of hope I need to keep on keeping on.

 

Praying More and Criticizing Less

I’ve often been accused of holding people to too high of a standard. Usually that’s followed up with an apologetic smile and a caveat of  “But as Christians, we SHOULD be held to a higher standard.”

But somehow it feels like a character flaw…holding people to too high of a standard.

Sunday afternoon was a great teaching moment for that. I was highly irritated with my husband for not keeping a promise he made.

It wasn’t a big promise.

If I had reminded him, he would have immediately dropped what he was doing and kept the promise.

But I chose to stay silent and inwardly stew. Because I shouldn’t have to remind him. I keep my word. Why can’t he?

I did mention that the promise wasn’t a BIG one, didn’t I?

Usually when I have a beef with the hubby I speak up. But this time I didn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to do it without sounding like a teacher, a nag, or his mother (For the record, I love his mother. I just don’t believe a wife should play that role in her husband’s life).

So for the first time ever…I decided to be quiet until I could figure out what to do.

I sat at my desk and stewed.  Then I calmed down.  Then I prayed for wisdom and patience.

Then I got an answer to my prayer.

Why aren’t you praying for Rick?

(crickets)

Why aren’t I praying for my husband? The guy works two jobs, volunteers at church, keeps the vehicles running, pays the bills and is gearing up for his next semester of Master’s classes and if that wasn’t enough, he just spent every night this past week and all day Saturday working on the plumbing in our laundry room. The man works an awful lot.

So I prayed for him.  I didn’t pray for God to fix him. I prayed for God to give him the energy he needs for all of the “have to’s” on his list. I prayed for him to stay healthy. I prayed for opportunities for him to take care of himself and to spend time with our boys. I prayed that when challenges came his way, that God would provide Rick with the wisdom he needs.

What was I mad about?

Out of the Mouths of Morons (A Shocking Discovery of What I Actually Believe About God)

I don’t feel like we’re suffering. Something must be wrong.

Those are the words that came flying out of my mouth when my husband came home with everything he purchased to start doing some home improvements. He assured me that he did not use our credit card, our checkbook balance could handle the heft of the purchase and even though I’m not bringing in any income yet…we’re fine.

And then those words came flying out of my mouth.

And then I saw that all too familiar look on my husband’s face that says “Are you crazy?”

Yes, honey. I really think I might be.

I haven’t brought in a steady income in two months, our standard of living has not changed and my husband says we’re fine. He’s either lying to me or our math is wrong.

He’s not lying and our math is accurate.

We have made some significant changes around here since I left my job. No more daycare expenses. Reduced our grocery spending by half and we are not eating out. Those changes pretty much sum up my old paychecks.

But somehow I equated that making changes that would be good, even great, for our family must equate that we are going to…must…suffer for it. God answered a two-year long prayer and I’m concerned that we’re not “paying” for it.

It’s moments like this, when the rubber meets the road, where I come face to face to what I REALLY believe about God.

I falsely believe that if God answered my prayer about staying home with my family, I’d have to pay for it by suffering in some way, shape or form.

(facepalm)

Thankfully there are Bible verses that combat my false beliefs. I just need to take the time to look for them and learn what’s true about God.

Like these verses from Luke  11:

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

God knows how to give a gift and He gives them without conditions, strings attached, or a price tag. He does it all out of love.

All I need to do is accept.