Saturday, November 30, 2013

All You Need Is Love.........or is it??

Matthew 22:36-40
36. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37. Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38. This is the first and greatest commandment. 39. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Psalm 31:7
I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.



At my Emmaus weekend, as we were discussing our individual gifts and our callings, both career and otherwise, my friend Teresa said she thought our childhood dreams and aspirations were an early indication of our gifts and our callings. Several of the women at our table concurred, each sharing how their childhood dreams were either directly linked to their careers, or how their chosen career might be different but incorporated many of the things they thought they would enjoy doing. I disagreed, as I really hadn't had any dreams and aspirations for a specific career. As a child, I dreamed of being a wife and a mother, and of having a big family. As to careers, I had vague ideas about working with children or animals, or a series of ever changing aspirations like being a brain surgeon, a writer, the president, or of just saving the world. Needless to say, I have not realized these fleeting dreams.

But were there clues in my childhood that I might have missed? Possibly. I have not written and published any great novels, but in some way I am satisfying my desire to write with my blog posts. I ended up divorced, and with only two children, but they are two amazing children. While they were growing up we always had lots of other children at the house, and I volunteered for scouts, school functions, etc. Still, the majority of my various aspirations were left unfulfilled. I feel no sense of loss, no disappointment over this, I would hate the stress of being president.....or of being a brain surgeon for that matter!!

The one thing that has remained pretty consistent throughout my life has been that, although I have been shy much of my life, I have always formed emotional bonds easily. At different times in my life, I have considered this both a blessing and a curse. I bond quickly, love deeply, and consequentially am hurt more often than I would be if I were more reserved. Now I am not talking exclusively romantic love here. I love my family deeply, of course, but I also love my friends, still feel love for friends who have hurt me in the past, and have been known to feel love in my heart for complete strangers. It would be understandable if people thought this meant I was disingenuous, however one does not need to know me for very long to realize I am being totally sincere.

As you child, and young woman, I firmly believed that anyone who was acting out, labeled a bad person, or was in any way socially marginalized, was that way because they hadn't experienced enough unconditional love in their lives. I was convinced that if they had unconditional love and support they would turn their lives around, and I was equally convinced that if I knew them it was my responsibility to give them that unconditional love. As you can imagine, my parents not only found this belief to be immature and unrealistic, but also found it to be cause for worry. As they saw it, my lack of common sense, and my willingness.... even determination to see an idealized version of everyone I came across, put me in harms way. This desire to befriend the friendless, bond with the "trouble makers", to love everyone, and yes to save everyone came to be called my "Dear Abby Complex" by my parents.

At the time, I saw it as my responsibility as a caring and compassionate human being. I also saw my parents inability to see this the way I did as a failing on their part, and felt that they just did not have a big enough capacity for love. Ahhhh, it seems there were no limits to my teenage hubris at times!!! As I have matured, I see the sad humor in the fact that I felt everyone deserved complete understanding and unconditional love, except for my parents who I seemed to think deserved my thick headed and harsh judgement. How I wish I could have seen that way back then!! In retrospect, some of the people I chose to bond with were just other teens with a variety of issues they were working through, but in some cases I really did put myself at risk, all the while unable to see the distinction. I also wonder....Where did I get the idea that I could save anyone, through love or any other means??

We all know that God is the only one who can really SAVE any of us, as He did through Jesus Christ. I think I have a much more realistic view of the world, in some ways, now. But I still can't help but feel that unconditional love is the key to unlock many of the worlds problems. It is His unconditional love that is the key. God's unconditional love is the ultimate gift, and we must each make a conscious choice to accept or decline that gift. So we each have an ability to determine if we wish to be saved, but He is the only one with that power.

Yet, I still feel like I have a responsibility to give unconditional love. I think we all, as Christians, are being called to do so. I think, as in every gift, we all may have a different capacity for this. We also all show it in different ways. Some are open and demonstrative as I am, some offer unconditional love in a more reserved or subdued way, but we all have some capacity to share Gods love. We all share this responsibility, this gift, this blessing. We may not be able to save the world with our love, but we can be an instrument for God to shine his unconditional love on others so that He can save us one heart, one soul, at a time.

So maybe I did have an indication of my calling as a child, maybe not my only calling but one of the most important. Maybe my heart, my capacity to bond and to love, was never a mixed blessing and curse. Maybe it was always a blessing, a gift from God, and I just had to learn how to use it. Learn to be able to love unconditionally, but in a way that will not put my safety, or the safety of others at risk. Yes, there will be heartache at times, but even if I could become a more guarded person and care just a little less deeply, I'm not sure that I would want to.

Lord let us all go out into the world and be an instrument for You to shine Your perfect love on those we meet. Help us not to get caught in the trap of trying to judge who is, or isn't, worthy of unconditional love. We are all Your children, and if we are worthy of Your unconditional love then certainly we are worthy of unconditional love from each other. When our offerings of love are met with rebuke, rejection, or heartache remind us that we are the beneficiaries of Your love, and bolster us with courage to continue in this mission. Thank you Heavenly Father for forgiving us our sins, and for loving us so completely. Thank you for the blessings of our own individual gifts, the beauty you surround us with, and for each other. Our work is made so much easier by Your unfailing presence in our lives, and by being able to share our work with others within our Christian community. Amen


Monday, November 25, 2013

Being Called By God

In a previous blog post, I shared the story of being called to step out of my comfort zone and write a blog about my faith journey.

This calling is taking me ever farther outside my comfort zone. This week, without any intention too, I created a facebook page on which to share my blog with a larger audience. Each time I write a new blog post I will share it here on google, and also on the facebook page. I will also share the occasional short message or meme. It is my hope that others will be more interactive on that page, and that some people will also share their story about their own faith journey. There will also be some detractors, in fact there already have been on the very day I opened the page, but He never said that it would be easy and isn't part of our calling as Christians to hold steadfast in our faith even in the face of doubters, detractors and adversity??

Until this moment, it had not occurred to me that in addition to sharing posts her on the facebook page, I could also share the facebook page here. For now I will share the link to the facebook page and welcome all to check it out, in the future I may share some of the posts from the page here. We will see where He guides me.

The facebook page is:

https://www.facebook.com/walkingintothelightwithjesus

May you experience God's Grace and Mercy in Abundance today and everyday!!!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

There but for The Grace Of God go I......



Philippians 4:19

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.


 


Recently I went through some personal experiences that left me profoundly struck by the phrase: There but for the grace of God go I.

As I was preparing for my baptism, and for six weeks to follow, I was also going through a difficult time. A time that was challenging, but a time that taught me many lessons. I now realize, even though I was ready to give my life to God, to follow the teachings and examples of Jesus, I really still did not have a full understanding of how deeply I should trust in God. I still felt I should only "pray over the really important things, or to give thanks". I also still thought I could negotiate and bargain with God. I am still learning to turn to Him with everything, and will continue to learn for the remainder of my days on this earth.

When I started working as a travel nurse, in July of 2012, my biggest concern was that I would be able to work consistently. I could not afford to be out of work at all. Much of my adult life has involved financial struggles, and when you work for a travel agency you have no benefit time. I was assured this would not be a problem, and until July of 2013 it was not.

When I completed my assignment, on July 12, 2013, I did not have a new assignment to go to. As the weeks went on, with no job on the horizon, I was distraught! I asked my agency to review my application, resume, and references to make sure they didn't need a rewrite. I was assured that not only was everything in good order, but in several cases I was an ideal candidate for jobs I was submitted for.

I prayed to God continuously to find me a job. I would tell Him to send me wherever He wanted me to go, give me a sign, I would do anything He wanted me to. Of course, that wasn't really true at the time. It took me a while to realize I was always using qualifiers. I would pray "I will go wherever You want me to go, but please don't send me to.......(insert half a dozen places of your choice)" or "I will do whatever You want me to do, but PLEASE don't ask me to...............".

I often forgot to ask Him to provide for my needs, and was not  thankful enough for much of what He did provide. My children, my parents, my sister and her family, my son's girlfriend, friends, and members of my church community all helped me in a variety of ways during this time. Most of the time, instead of graciously thanking them for their help, I would try to refuse it. I was not use to accepting help. When I did remember to pray for help, I did not realize this was how He was sending it. He was reminding me that I had a much larger support network  than I realized, that I had people who loved me and were happy to help me if they were able. And I had two grown children who were loving, supportive and concerned. My children did everything they could to help me with bills, with money to buy my medication, even the ability to have food on the table came largely through them. My children bore most of the "burden" of helping me, and I would repeatedly say "I am the one who is suppose to be helping you, I am the mother".

One day my daughter informed me that she and her brother were happy to help me. She also quite firmly told me that instead of letting them be happy they could help me, I was turning it into a stressful and unpleasant experience. She said "mom, just say thank you". Shortly thereafter, I got the same message loud and clear from my son. Lesson learned!! It was hard, but I started reminding myself to stop arguing and just say thank you. Doing this did a few things. It actually made me feel less stressed. It allowed my children to feel good about helping me, as they should!!! It also made me begin to realize that this was a blessing from God!!

There were also other blessings! I was able to be baptized at the lake, by my hometown Pastor. This meant the world to me, and was definitely God's work. An ill family member was in the hospital three times within a month, and I was able to be there. I had some real quality time with my family. I was able to attend a wedding reception that I thought I would have to miss. I had a car accident, I know that doesn't sound like a blessing, but nobody was hurt. And I was able to attend the Unbound, Freedom In Christ conference with my daughter, this conference was one of many life changing events I have experienced since July.

After a job offer that fell through, I was offered a job at Calvary Hospital in Bronx NY. There were many indications that I was being lead to this job, and by now I had been out of work eleven weeks. The time off really had turned out to be a blessing, but I was eager to get back to work, to feel useful, and to pay my own way in life again.

On Friday, September 27th, I set out for NYC. Excited to see my new apartment, to start my new job, to explore the city.  God still had more lessons in store for me. I expected a direct deposit of a check on that Friday morning. I left home in VT before it would have cleared. Once I arrived at my new apartment, I checked my account balance to see it had not deposited. I had left VT with $22.00 in my pocket, and had paid $12.00 in tolls, I now had $10.00 to live on for two weeks!! I also found out that the hospital required a specific color of scrubs, a color that I didn't own!! I had brought some food with me, and food for my kittens, but how could I buy gas and uniforms to manage for two weeks? And what if my food didn't hold out??

I can tell you that I did remember to pray right away, and often!! I told a couple of friends that I knew God would find a way. And He did!!! By counting change, and being extremely frugal, I managed to buy a uniform that would have to be washed often. My mother sent a money order for me to buy  a couple more so I would not have to do wash every day. And then there was Carlos!

Carlos was a God send!!! He is a young man who lives in an apartment near me, whom I was to seek out to pick up my key. It turns out that his parents own the apartments. In addition to welcoming me to City Island, Carlos helped me load my boxes and totes into the apartment. He and his parents were friendly and welcoming. Shortly after my arrival to City Island, in conversation with Carlos, I revealed exploration of NYC would have to wait for a while and confided that there was no money to spare. Carlos became concerned about me having enough food, and specifically about proteins as he did not think the non perishable items I brought were sufficient. I assured him that he need not be concerned, that I would manage quite nicely. The next night Carlos was cooking chicken breasts on the grill and came knocking at my door to give me two. I tried to refuse, but he was insistent and it smelled so good I gave in quickly!! I thanked him profusely, the chicken would go for several meals, and that chicken tasted even better than it smelled!! Later I answered a knock on the door to find Carlos there, he brought me three frozen flounder fillets and one salmon fillet. I told him he was more than generous enough with the chicken, and that I was fine, but I could clearly see he was not going to take no for an answer. Again I thanked him profusely!! About a half hour later Carlos was back, this time bringing eggs which I did refuse as I am severely allergic. As I again thanked Carlos for his generosity, I told him that my family had sent out some money to help me get through the next two weeks until my first paycheck. During the next couple of days, while I was awaiting the money from home, Carlos showed up with groceries, he had bought me some deli chicken, soup, and rice. He also "accidentally" cooked more  cheeseburgers than he wanted one day and gave me one, and on another occasion bought extra food at McDonalds and I ended up the beneficiary. I am not usually a fan of McDonald's fries, but my diet had been so limited I have to admit those french fries tasted like they were the best food ever, I didn't even unwrap the burger until every last french fry was gone!

I will never forget what Carlos did for me. He did not know me, had no obligation to help me. He is not a wealthy man, he does not go to church, and yet he was definitely a blessing from God. I have given Carlos a small gift, have repaid him for the grocery bag he brought, have thanked him verbally and in writing, and will one day cook for him, but I will never be able to fully repay him. He does not fully realize how much his kindness meant in a time when I could not meet my own needs and had anxiety over having enough food. I certainly hope he never does, as the only way to fully understand is to experience it!!

There are many people in this world who have fear and anxiety about when, and what, their next meal will be, who experience this to a much greater degree than I did and for a much longer time frame. There are a lot of people who have no family to help them pay bills, who aren't able to keep their home or apartment and who end up homeless. And yes, there are also homeless people who are mentally ill and end up on the streets. Maybe they have never had medications and treatments, maybe they did but stopped taking them, or maybe they experienced a time of hardship and had no family to help them get their medications. I know my blood sugars were certainly way off before my children found out I had run out of medication and they insisted on paying for my refills. I want to help these people, and I want to do it in a way that treats them with respect and dignity. We are all God's children, and we cannot know the series of events that brought any of us to where we are!!

So now when I see the homeless, the hungry, the socially marginalized people of our world I cannot help but think : There but for the Grace of God go I.............



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Do not be afraid.......





1 Chronicles 28:20

David also said to Solomon his son, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.

I have been afraid, I have been discouraged, and I have wandered away from the work of the Lord. I started this blog several months ago, after my baptism, with the encouragement of my daughter. I was  so excited to have reconciled my anger, and my deliberate alienation from God. I had welcomed Jesus into my life, had said I would follow Him wherever He led me, and could not wait to tell my story.

I still feel excited and joyous when I remember that day. I did not yet realize, when I wrote that initial blog post, that it was a decision I would have to make every day, to continue to follow Jesus. Some days I was not even aware of it, following was so instinctual. Other days there were events that required a greater leap of faith, and I realized that when troubled times hit I often forgot to turn to Him, forgot to ask for help.

And trouble did hit. Serious illness within my immediate family, 11 weeks of unemployment, worsening debt, needing to rely on my children and my family to support me, fear, discouragement, anxiety. I did pray, I did ask for help, I did say that I would follow Him wherever He led......but then I also always added qualifiers. I will follow if......., I will follow anywhere. anywhere but to......... During this time of trouble I learned many lessons, lessons that were invaluable to continuing to grow in my relationship with Christ, invaluable to doing the work I am, or will be, called to. During this time period there were also many blessings. Time spent with loved ones, time with friends, time to commune with nature and with God. Many of these blessings, troubles, and the lessons they taught me, will be subjects of upcoming blog posts.

This post is specifically about being afraid and discouraged. Afraid of posting blogs that nobody would read, discouraged that I didn't know quite how to write them in a way that would draw readers in. Afraid of failure, of not being good enough. Clearly, things were happening in my life, and in my faith journey, and yet I felt unmotivated to post, or more honestly afraid.

I did discuss this fear, not with God though. I discussed it with my daughter, who writes a wonderful blog of her own. www.greatjesusexperiment.blogspot.com My daughter suggested, very wisely, that I don't worry about whether or not anyone read the blog, instead just write it for myself. I thought she was right, I should write it for myself. Writing can be very therapeutic, can be a means of processing our thoughts and feelings, and I love to write. I would just write the blog for myself.......but I didn't.

Since that first blog post, along with the challenges I wrote about, I have had the opportunity to attend two different Christian programs that both did wonders for me. The first, an Unbound, Freedom in Christ conference, gave me a much deeper understanding of my relationship with Christ...and of all the ways I had blocked my ability to have a closer relationship with Him. The second, a Walk to Emmaus weekend, furthered that understanding that had begun at Unbound. Walk to Emmaus did so much more for me than just reinforce the Unbound experience though. I came away feeling excited, renewed, loved, eager, and looking for ways to serve God. I prayed daily for guidance, in what way was I suppose to serve? I had some ideas, but I felt they were just things I was feeling an interest in, not things I was being called to. I continued to pray and ask for discernment.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to spend time with people I had met at the Walk to Emmaus weekend, and with others I had not yet met. One of the things I shared was that I felt strongly that there was something I was suppose to be doing, but I didn't yet know what it was. As others shared some of the ways they were serving Christ I could see their joy. I prayed with renewed fervor, all the way home. Once home, I fell into bed exhausted as I had hardly slept for the previous two days.

Sunday morning, as I awakened from the soundest sleep I had experienced in ages, I literally had a voice in my head telling me several different things all at the same time, and yet I could understand them all. I will share only one of them here and now, the one message that inspired me to write this with no fear of who will or will not read it.

One of the things the voice clearly said was:

Do not be afraid. It matters not if anyone reads what you write. If you spend the rest of your life writing about your faith, and only one person reads it and invites Me into their life then that is one person who receives My grace and mercy. And do not be mistaken, you are not writing for yourself, you are writing for ME.

So, I will continue to write my blog posts. I have a list of topics already, all that were being listed in my head when I woke up Sunday, all that were jotted down quickly. It matters not if anyone reads any of them!!

Blessings!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Life Long Journey With Christ


On Saturday, August 10 2013, at the age of  54, I was baptized. My baptism, which was long awaited and anticipated, was an incredible and joyous experience!! I feel blessed to be able to share my faith journey.

How is it that I had reached the age of 54 and had not yet been baptized, you might ask. First, I will tell you that I have always believed in Jesus, my entire life. I never doubted the existence of God, I was just very angry with him. I might even dare to say that at times I disliked him intensely. Shocking, isn’t it? More shocking still to admit it so publicly, but if I am to share my experience I must do so with total honesty.

I will not go into great detail about why I disliked God, why I resisted him at every turn, that’s not what this is about. I will tell you it had to do with several traumatic experiences that contributed to this anger. I spent many years with an attitude of resistance, and I was very unhappy with certain aspects of my life. I was searching for something, and I found it quite allusive. A few years ago, my daughter started sharing her faith journey with me. She had grown so strong in her faith, so close in her relationship with Jesus. I saw a new peace in her, I was so happy for her! About the same time, a friend also came in to my life who was very strong in his faith. As I talked with the two of them,  I slowly began to wish that I could have that kind of faith.

Two years ago I hit a point in my life where I could no longer deny I needed help. I was in an extremely stressful job, stressed at home, I was even stress at the gym which had always been my refuge. I cried daily, I wasn’t eating, my hair was falling out, I was overwhelmed. One day I walked into the cemetery and I sat down and started talking to God. I cried, said I couldn’t go on, I needed Him and didn’t want to fight it anymore, I was no longer able to carry my load alone. I begged for help, asked for Him to forgive my stubbornness and to take over, said I would take whatever path He wanted me to, follow Him anywhere.

I came out of the cemetery that day feeling compelled to take time to appreciate all things in nature as beautiful and as evidence of His love. I felt a particular pull to look at clouds, to find beauty and pleasure in them, in all their forms. I was forever taking pictures. Everywhere I went I was snapping pictures of flowers, trees, leaves, bits of bark, and clouds, mostly clouds. I literally had thousands of pictures of clouds, and was always eager to show them to friends and family. I would exclaim, "look at this one, isn't it beautiful?", I am sure my loved ones thought I had lost my mind!! But a new sense of calm came over me during this time, and also a undisputable knowledge that I had to build a closer relationship to God.

Throughout this time I still believed I could build a relationship with God without a formal church, religion, or baptism. How wrong I was!! I came to church just because my sister and her family were participating in the bell choir, I wanted to see them and support them. I was surprised to find I really enjoyed the service too!! Everyone was so kind and welcoming, and Pastor David’s sermon’s struck a cord deep within me. Often, I would sit there listening with tears running down my cheeks. Sunday services became a highlight of my week.

I was ready, I wanted to be baptized, I wanted and needed to make it official. My life was His to do with as He saw fit, no more resistance. I had wanted to be baptized at the lake last year, but I had the new job and could not get the weekend off. This year I became determined that nothing would stand in my way.

The day of the baptism was a beautiful day. My daughter had traveled from MD to VT in order to be there. I enjoyed the fellowship and the food, and was eager to be baptized. To me, everything seemed brighter, prettier, sweeter than normal. The grass was so green and soft on my bare feet, the sky a beautiful blue, the clouds so white and fluffy, the air smelled sweet, the food tasted delicious, and the voices raised in song seemed so clear, so joyous, so beautiful. I don’t know if everyone there shared this perception of the day, but it was what I experienced.  When it was time for baptism, Pastor David led us down to the water. We sang, and Leslie played his guitar. My sister and I walked side by side with our arms around each other. Steph sponsored me. Things that normally would have bothered me, and made me self conscious, no longer mattered. I had injured my back and hip earlier in the week, so I was awkward getting into the water. I didn’t care, I was getting baptized!!!! I was so caught up in the joy of the moment, I think I swallowed a gallon of lake water. I didn’t care, I was being baptized!!!! I was even more awkward and clumsy getting out of the water, I nearly fell. I didn’t care, I had just gotten baptized!!!! A myriad of emotions were running through me. I felt calm, peaceful, excited, joyful, relieved, happy, thankful, blessed, loved, and loving all at once.

I still feel all of those things whenever I think of that day, and whenever I think of God, and of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us!! I still have a long way to go in my faith journey, but I am excited about it!! I still have times when I try to direct, when I will say to Him “I will go wherever you want me to go, but please don’t send me here, or here”. I am coming to all of this as an adult, when many have these experiences in their infancy or youth. I am still growing in my faith, will continue to grow in my faith for the rest of my life. I never expected that my baptism would be my final arrival point on this journey, rather it is one of the first and most important steps. It will allow me to continue to grow closer to Him, to build on my faith, to follow Him wherever He may lead. It is a new beginning, a new life, a life where the lessons of the past are not gone or forgotten, but where they no longer hobble me or prevent me from being His servant. I eagerly anticipate the future, and the unfolding path that awaits.