Put It Away, Kid

I had two little boys between the ages of four and six live with me for right around a year. I am not, by any means, anything now but an amateur idealist when it comes to being a good mom after that experience. A year of playing their referee, jungle gym, nurse, teacher and caretaker (caretaker came first… usually… I think) taught me a lot and yet taught me nothing. 

One thing I learned was giving them broad instructions didn’t work. I learned to say things like, “Boys, by the time Auntie comes in there your socks & underwear, shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, dinosaurs, etch-a-sketches, paint brushes, 8-balls, tools and books better be on the shelves where they belong.” 

As their forced angelic voices wafted down the hall, “O’taaaaaay, Auntie Tassie, we do dat,” I flew through a mental catalogue of everything they had. Inevitably, they’d come tromping into my kitchen with a toy and the innocent question, “What we do wit’ dis one, Auntie? You didn’ say anytin’ about dis one.”

I spent an entire year trying to learn the right amount of patience, enjoyment, and training to teach those boys life skills. I wasn’t very good at it, but somehow their grins and inquiries usually made me want to hug them rather than scold them. That was my momentary taste of parenthood.

Fast forward to today. I’m no longer an “auntie” to two rambunctious boys and I no longer micro-manage my household just to keep it standing one more day. I am, however, finding that at 27 years old, there are days, weeks and months where I identify deeply with those two boys. 

I understand all too well what it’s like to not quite get life just yet and being in need of a God to help me through ridiculous, clarifying questions. He patiently reinforces His command to “trust and obey” really does mean with every corner of my heart over and over again.

But still, I have to ask, “Yes, so God, you said trust You with my future, but what about my future in regards to…? What if this crazy situation happens and I’m left with a broken heart? What then? Do I have to trust you then, too?” 

My whimsically imaginative heart can almost picture God chuckling, kneeling down and whispering, “Kiddo, put your worry where it belongs.” Somehow, His enjoyment & patience in seeing me work out my salvation never ends & He’s never too annoyed to give me the same assurances He’s given me my entire life. 

This is the grace the teaches me to love even when I can’t get my mind around how it gives my life purpose. 

Open Letter to a 501(c)3

Dear Noprofit Advocates,

This is not meant as a shaming letter. I love your passion for orphans, refugees, sex trafficked victims and any other type of mission you’ve shared with me. I love knowing God gave you that passion for a reason. I even love your boldness in standing in front of hundreds of college students and presenting your organization’s financial needs. That takes guts. Good job.

I agree with you. All you’re asking us to do is give up four coffees a month in order to support your passion-focus. You even go as far to point out that if we set a goal with a friend, we would give up less. (We’re going to ignore the fact that people like me would give up bread before we give up our coffee.) It’s a doable sacrifice for an overwhelming need. It helps that all of you are immaculate storytellers. Good job only focusing on the needs and not giving past successes. That makes it harder to say no.

Is it possible that’s what you wanted? Why can’t this be about joining you in praising God for what He’s already done and merely talking about how we’re called to support these group together? Maybe becase that’d make it easier to walk by your table with the darling kiddos’ faces staring at me without opening my wallet?

Before I go any further, please know I completely understand what it’s like raising support. My parents were missionaries and there were a few times as a kid I was confused that a pastor would invite us to speak and then no one joined the bandwagon. It’s hard not shaming people into supporting you or your passion when you know the need firsthand.

Can I share with you what I learned as I watched God provide despite what I didn’t see coming from those churches? The reality is, if every family in the pews spread their resources through every mission that walked through the door, none of the missions would feel helped. They would all feel like the people were merely doing it for the tax write off or spiritual pat on the back – not because they knew God wanted to use them financially to support something bigger than themselves. 

So, I humbly ask you to not cheapen the gifts you receive by shaming those who can’t or don’t give. Certainly, there are those who can give and don’t, but that’s none of your business. That’s between them and the Lord. But many of the God-fearing Believers in your audiences don’t give because they are already giving all they have toward something else. 

I’ll say it again, I love your passion for your organization. However, please work against playing the Judge over how many people you need to join your cause in order to get your yearly goal met. If everyone gave, if every college student sacrificed, I wonder how much less applause God would get simply because you could explain it away as good busines and financial stewardship?

You have your passions. I have mine. You can be guaranteed I have searched my heart to see if God wants me to join you in your passion. Some of your missions He has given me permission to give money to; others of you, I am that dejected college student that has learned to walk past your table with her head down.

Challenge us to pray. Challenge us to speak our questions. Challenge us to pray again, then watch God work miracles without your help.

No shame necessary.

I will join you on my side of the world proclaiming God’s faithfulness if you promise to do the same.

Sincerely,

A Pensively Challenged College Student

Living Beyond Assumptions

All he did was asked questions over an article. 

His eyes got as big as saucers as I explained the medical journey behind the 1,800 word synopsis being offered to a publication company. One explanation led to another… And another… And another. The questions were painfully typical and mundane. I felt as if I was answering the curious questioner in my sleep. My writing had led me towards this type of impromptu interview before. 

But then, he said it:

“Wow. I guess you’re really not that frightening at all. Listening to your story, hearing you explain it, everything that made you super uncomfortable (to be around) makes so much more sense. I never would have guessed… Like, geez, you’re great.”

He smiled the smile of a man who wanted to be applauded for a gracious compliment. I smiled a smile that threatened to whisper, “Because I love Jesus, I won’t break your nose when I punch you.” I’m 26-years-old and people’s fears over my disabilities still make me crumble to the ground in tears. Being afraid of my disabilities is understandable.

But if you suffer silently through those fears, all you’re saying is that you’re afraid of me

I can’t say I’m much better than this poor man who has become a victim of my sarcasm. I giggle at the differences within the disabled community because, even though I may feel uncomfortable at times, I feel accepted. But don’t you dare ask me to be open in other areas.

My biggest fear and struggle is learning how to talk to an addict like an equal. They’re my equal? Wait… You mean they can hold a conversation?

This isn’t a discussion about right or wrong, normal or abnormal. Our society has become such a culture of hiding behind assumptions we have become our fears. 

My young friend saw my differences the moment he met me a year ago. He was too afraid to ask.

I have reasons to be afraid anytime I’m around a person who abuses drugs. I’ve been at the mercy of certain addicts’ evils before. But believe it or not, when you can get them talking, they simply want to be seen and reminded of their value. I often forget that because I can be too afraid to write an exception to my self-righteous rule.

I learned a long time ago that God never told me my comfort was His first concern. His command is to love those around me no matter the cost. 

If I live in fear of the unknowns, I’ll never experience the joy of living fully by loving those I don’t understand.

Melodic Memories

It’s just a piano, but it represents so much. As a toddler, it signified naptime at my mama’s feet. As a child, it was my fortress in endless games of sibling tag (read: sibling torture). As an ill teen, it signified time to unravel the harsh truths of loving music but being too sick to share a God-given gift with the world.

As an adult, it was just friendship. Hours and hours of my mom playing through every chorus and hymnal we could find. I’d practice artistic liberty while my mom bit back a smile when it didn’t sound so grand. Hymns like It Is WellSoftly and Tenderly or Sweet By & By brought on “remember whens” of the days playing piano was two females’ only respite from a cruel, confusing disorder.

It’s just a piano, but every time I see one, I smile. I unexpectantly choked back a laughing sob today when I realized how much this holiday season will change my perception of my mama’s piano.

Instead of just my mama and I, God is humorously and joyously adding a male singer to that duo… Wait. What? In all my years of tickling the pages of a hymnal, I never thought three people around my mama’s piano would be a reality.

Instead of closing the hymnal and promising to come back and sing more next week, I’ll be begging God for another chance to sit and make music around the piano with my mama at least annually. Wait, what? My mama’s piano is one of the only childhood memories I can recall without assistance. Getting to giggle and sing with my music-making mama once a year doesn’t seem like enough.

My pensive laughter turned into awe when I realized why I’m so shaken over this year’s changes. Sure, I’m focusing on my mother, her piano and holiday traditions, but I still can’t believe the grace of God these transitions represent.

I never thought I’d make it to 26. I never thought I’d be able to act on my dreams and talents. I never believed I’d live long enough to have to figure out Godly relationships, let alone get to figure them out.

I never thought I’d grow out of being the little girl whose only release was at the piano.

Yet as I prepare to embark on an insanely unexpected holiday season, I can only hear God chuckle and pull me in as He whispers, “I’ve given you all of this and so much more. When will you learn your life has purpose?”

It’s just a piano, but it signifies dreams that were written and left unspoken by a 15-year-old, only to be told years later by the Master of Heaven Himself. 

No Longer Beautiful?

As an epileptic teen, I had a body that made the models jealous. When you have a seizure 20 times a day for 5 years, fat doesn’t have time to accumulate on your frame. My parents tried everything. There was a season where my daily diet included potato chips and a large strawberry milkshake. (To this day, my mother harkens back to how bad of an idea that was because she had to get a milkshake, too.)

No luck, though. I was 18 years old, 85-90 pounds and I had muscle in places that made people talk. I loved it, to be honest. I thought it was funny. In secret, it became my identity — My claim to fame outside of the doctors and blood draws.

 Now though, in my mid-twenties and relatively healthy, I read off those stats and I get that beautiful glance that says, “It’s not polite to tell you you’re lying, but there’s no way you… Yeah, no.” Whereas once upon a time I felt as if I could lift anything, now I’m thankful when my arms are free of anything.

I cried when I put on a size 2 jeans my freshman year of college at 19 years old. Cried. As in, oh my word, my world is over. I’m a frikkin’ size 2. I was always told my size made me beautiful. Maybe the well-intentioned souls that uttered those words meant it made me more beautiful. Who knows. That sentiment ends depending on the number of your jeans and the letter in your shirt, apparently?

When I put on a size 6 at 22, I’m fairly certain I had the fleeting (not acted upon) thought, “Jesus, 5 seizures will make me lose a size; whatdya say?” Needless to say, I never got my wish (halle-frikkin’-lujah). A size 6, to be fair, would be heavenly these days. Just sayin’. 

I hate to admit it, but after 18 years of not having to work at turning heads, there are days it’s all-consuming to realize I’m not someone who stands out in a crowd. Americans have completely re-written the definition to “beautiful.” 

I’m not saying it’s wrong to work towards being healthy. By all means, dang it, do it. But someday soon, can we stop only reserving the word beautiful for the women and men that look like they belong in a fashion show?

 As Christians, it’s very easy to see what the world has done to beauty and stand around critiquing the critique of the critique. Why do what we can to change things when we can just put our 2-cents in and walk away without any responsibility in changing what’s wrong with our world?

I challenge you, I challenge myself, to live with the Biblical definition of beauty written on our minds.

Love for others and love for God. That’s it. That’s all beauty really is.

What Is It?

Every time I feel the chains of bondage wrap around my struggling heart, I fight equally as hard against the urge to sadistically chuckle and mutter in Heaven’s direction, “This sin isn’t my fault. Fix it yourself, Jehovah. If you can… I dare you.”

We live in a fallen world. Because of that, there are multiple sins that are results of something done to us. One phrase heartbreakingly comes to mind: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have encountered multiple loved ones with PTSD who hopelessly reminisce about actions which go against the Word of God, but they feel like they “have to” do them. They can’t remember what survival without the action in question looks like.

Men and women alike who have been sexually assaulted or abused cringe when well-intentioned people speak boldly against sexual acts as sins when the victim has a brain programmed to think those acts are needed for physical survival. 

So, the question gets posed: Is it sin? When a person’s outburst of anger is because of a flashback they could not control… Is it sin? 

There are 2 types of people reading this: 

1) Someone who has no idea what I’m talking about… sin has almost always been circumstancial rather than positional. Praise God for that. I can only imagine the rest of this post won’t make sense.  

2) Someone who knows all too well what I mean and you’ve made a game out of hiding your struggle because good sane Christians don’t have problems or dilemmas like this. 

If you come from that second group hear me say first and foremost I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve suffered. I’m so sorry you’ve been told openly fighting against yourself for the glory of God should be easy… or atleast get easier over time. I’m so sorry if you’ve been told you’re just weak and should give up trying to reach sanctification. All of those things are well-veiled half truths.

Hear this warning come from someone who has lost almost everything by coming from the position of thinking my actions aren’t my fault. “Not my circus, not my monkey” has entered my “forgive me, Lord” prayers on more than one occasion. I can look back on my past and see the exact moment when my brain changed from human being to threatened victim… so blame shifting is d**** easy.

You may be able to blame-shift. You may be able to call yourself a survivor only when you do certain things that make other Christians cringe. When that happens, you are in danger of secretly breeding a level of pride that shuts the door of your heart off from anyone else getting in to possibly help you heal. That pride can get so thick you stop hearing God simply because you’re wallowing in your own self-pity and self-righteousness. 

The “prayer” I mentioned earlier? When I’m honest with myself, my heart is actually saying this: “You may be the Creator of the Universe, but I’m the one person you can’t touch and who can’t be affected by your love, redemption and mercy. I only need you for the attributes I can comprehend. You’re too weak to love me into changing.”

Be careful of hiding your pride behind the pain of your past. You may not see the root of your sin simply because it’s easiest to focus on your pain. My friend, that is the Enemy’s greatest ploy. 

Let God fight your battles, even if it’s not the battle you expected.

Powerful Questions

We are no longer in a generation where being confronted by “Churchy people” on Sundays is attractive, convicting or a game-changer for someone outside the Body of Christ. 

Once upon a time, you still came to church if you had tattoos, but you covered them up.

If you were simply 3 days clean off a drug, you kept your mouth shut, your eyes down and you collected the atta-boys of people who were perceived as holier and cleaner than you.

Technically, it was equally the shame of the action (the desire to cover things up) and the desire to change (if you ignore your past long enough, it’ll disappear and you can have a fresh start, right?).
Recently, I struck up a conversation with a single father in town. We talked all things parenting (Praise ya, Jesus, for the gift of insightful yet ignorant empathy…) and all things trial. He laughed about no longer going out with the guys at night and I chided him that sleeping in was probably no longer in his vocabulary, either. He made it clear he could be a better dad. I reminded him his daughter was beautiful.

Then the enchantment ended as soon as I brought up God.

“You? Really? But…”

His eyes spoke the volumes his lips refused to mutter. You’re too nice to me to be a Christian.

The conversation quickly died down from there, but I was reminded of a Truth that broke my heart.

The days of opening the Church doors and ringing the steeple bell to strike curiousity in a person’s heart no longer exists. We’re no longer seen as a loving place to try out. We are us and they are them. End of discussion. Though that’s not necessarily accurate across the board… it’s a reality that’s getting harder to deny. 

We’re playing our own game of ignore it and it will disappear. 

So, I simply challenge those of you that claim Christ as your savior and Lord to own up to your redemption in every way. Whether your sin struggles are in the “acceptable” sins (gluttony, lying, gossiping) or the life-style temptations, be willing to let God use your experiences to reach out to someone who thinks they can’t come through those church doors without cleaning up first. Because that is quite simply a lie from the pit of hell.

They need to know it’s possible to be seen right where they’re at. Though that’s been a concept ever since Billy Graham was first given a podium, it’s becoming more urgent… and more an issue for the Church to address than it ever was for an independant evangelist. Outside of the comfortably-Christian communities, we are losing our impact on those who believe differently because we’re not willing to get down in the mud of life next to them and ask one simple thing:

I’ve been where you’re at. Wanna talk about it?