“A 48 hr Personal Growth Experience”

This past weekend I attended a retreat called “A 48hr Personal Growth Experience”. It was a pilot retreat run by my good friend Francie Brown and the ministry she does with her husband called LOOK INSIDE. I’ve done other retreats with Francie so I was really excited about this one. 

As always, the timing was all God. This past month I have been floundering. New schedules, new routines. I fell off my diet wagon. I have felt like everything needed over-hauling but I had no direction or purpose. Why am I doing this?? So, the thought of going to a retreat where I might get a download of my “call” and “purpose” sounded great. 

As always, I ended up being surprised. Instead of looking for some outside source to give me direction, what we ended up doing was taking a really close look at what we already had in our lives. Let’s look at our incentives for change. Let’s look at the tools we have used in the past and that we are using right now. Let’s solidify our vision, based on what we already hope and dream about. Let’s look at our connections we already have in life and assess the health of those connections. And then, let’s figure out how to use the tools that are readily available to come up with an action plan that supports healthy connections and pursuing our vision. 

Very simple. But profound as we looked at each aspect of our life and made judgement on whether these things were good, bad, redeemable? Let’s figure out how to make the good better, contain the bad so it isn’t draining us, and either walk away from or redeem the mediocre in hopes of turning it into good. 

I walked away feeling hope. And also feeling like I had tangible steps I could make towards pursuing my vision. 

I’m going to share my Vision with you. But, first, a caveat. My vision is kind of like envisioning Heaven. This is perfection. This is what the ideal abundant life would look like. I am under no illusion that I am going to accomplish this vision perfectly or ever get as close to it as I wish. But, it’s the path I want to be on. The direction I want to be heading. 

My vision is in three parts. Relational: hopes and dreams for my relationships. Tangible: hopes and dreams for my circumstances and environment. God: my desires for my relationship with God. 

Here goes. 

I want my relationships to be authentic, mutual, and vulnerable. I want to grow my community. I want health and healing in my relationships. 

I want to thrive instead of survive. I want tangible plans for our finances and home/family management. I want to serve others with my gifts and talents. I want to have a healthy body/mind/emotions. 

I want to walk in deeper understanding of God’s love and grace. I want to make God the true center of my life and be purposeful about being in his presence. 

So, that all sounds really lofty. But in reality, what it looks like is making a TO DO list. Revamping my old home management systems. Inviting friends over for supper. Buying a book. Setting a timer on my FB so I don’t waste all my time in a mediocre environment. Just a bunch of small, doable steps. 

I’m feeling hopeful and thankful, ready to go conquer the world, one small step at a time. 

“I Need You to Survive”

This past week I was having a bit of a rough time with my foster child. I reached out to her therapist to get some advice/strategies. She said, “If I could recommend anything, try to create opportunities for connection with her.” 

Hmmm. Ok. 

I tried it. More hugs. More positive encouragement. More time talking about her day. 

It really helped. 

No, she didn’t become a perfect angel, but some of the extreme behavior went away. 

I was talking to someone who was going through some bumps in their relationship. Have you tried just talking together about what you’re thinking and feeling? 

The person tried it. Things have improved a lot. 

Connections. We all need them. We forget just how crucial they are to our existence. I can tell you from experience that my mental health crises have been significantly improved by making emotional connections with other people. My marriage always gets a big boost when we take time to be vulnerable with each other and just share our thoughts and fears. My friendships are greatly improved by a night of chatting and catching up. 

In fact, I would say that the polarization in our country could probably be greatly healed if we spent more time focusing on things we have in common instead of our differences, searching for ways to connect, instead of loudly trumpeting our disdain for the other side.

It’s also the same with our walk with God. I start acting out. Feeling fearful. Anxious. Which makes me then act Annoyed. Irritated. Unable to Cope. 

The cure? 

Get re-connected to God. 

Open up my Bible. Turn on the praise music. Spend time in prayer. 

It renews my faith, my hope, my joy. I stop acting out. 

The New Testament has a theme that runs throughout. God has created us to be a part of a family. The Body of Christ. The Church. We all play our part. No lone rangers. Community. 

During this time of unprecedented stress and turmoil in our world, I would say that Establishing Connections, Re-connecting, is really important right now. We need each other. 

This Hezekiah Walker song is running through my head right now.

I NEED YOU TO SURVIVE

I need you

You need me

We’re all a part of God’s body

Stand with me agree with me

We’re all apart of God’s body

It is his will that every need be supplied

You are important to me I need you to survive

You are important to me I need you to survive

I need you

You need me

We’re all a part of God’s body

Stand with me agree with me we’re all apart of God’s body

It is his will that every need be supplied you are important to me I need you to survive

You are important to me I need you to survive

I pray for you

You pray for me

I love you I need you to survive

I won’t harm you with words from my mouth I love you i need you to survive

I pray for you

You pray for me I love you I need you to survive

I won’t harm you with words from my mouth I love you I need you to survive

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: David Frazier / I Need You To Survive Holding

It’s Just All About Relationships

A couple years ago when the last Die Hard movie came out, my husband and I went to the theater to see it. Not because I particularly wanted to watch it, but because my husband is a full-blown Die Hard fan and I went to keep him company. So we watched this big, long, action-packed movie that involved Bruce Willis helping his son. So, after watching about two hours of shooting and dodging and fighting and racing cars and explosions and everything else you would expect in a Die Hard movie, we walked out. I can’t remember which one of us said it for sure, but I think it was my husband, he says, “So, basically, it was just a movie about relationships.” Yeah. That about sums it up. After you skim out all the explosions, it’s just about a father and son.

“It’s just all about relationships.” This has become our catch-phrase for any movie we watch, whether it be a chick-flick or race-car stealing movie, “It’s just all about relationships.” Because it’s true, even the lamest movie plots, they still throw in some kind of relationship to somehow give the movie some worth or meaning.

So, Friday night my college-going daughter, who happens to be working backstage at the Clarence Brown Theater, arranged for me and my husband and my parents to get tickets to see “King Charles III”, a play, at the Clarence Brown Theater. It was very well done. Well-acted. Great sets. Intellectually stimulating. The kind of plot where there is no definable bad and good guy, instead, a bunch of decent people making hard decisions and you can understand their motivation, but at the same time see how their decisions are creating big problems. If you enjoy theater and thinking about issues, I highly recommend it.

We walked out of the theater, each of us giving our opinions about the choices made in the play, and we paused, and I thought about it a bit more and had to say it, “You know, It was just all about relationships.”  Spoiler Alert  I’m going to talk about the plot now…. So, King Charles makes a decision based on his conscience. His son goes against his decision because his wife is pressuring him to do so. In the end Charles abdicates his throne because he doesn’t want to be estranged from his sons and grandchildren. Prince Harry gives up his low-birth girlfriend because he values his relationship with his brother more. (Sadly, the play was written pre-Meghan Markle.) Yeah. It was all about relationships.

If you think about your life, it too is all about relationships. Think about your job. It is very probable that you like or dislike your job based on the people you are working with. Think about the difficult things you’ve done in your life. It’s very likely that you did them because of a relationship in your life. I remember when I had my first child. I was twenty-two. I did not have my driver’s license because, frankly, I was terrified of driving. Then I had this baby. I needed to take her to her doctor’s appointments. I needed to get to the grocery store at random times because she needed things. I wanted to be able to take her places. So, I got my driver’s license. Because of relationships.

Someone asked Jesus,

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

Relationships. Relationship with God. Relationship with people. That’s what it’s all about. Think about it. What do we consider having the most worth here on earth?  Our spouses, parents, siblings, extended family, children, grandchildren, best friends, coworkers, companions…It is these people that give our life meaning. I love the fact that Jesus says yes, the most important thing is to love God and then love people. It’s simple, it’s not a giant list of requirements and hurdles to jump over. It’s a two-step process. Loving God, being in relationship with him…and then he’s the one who gives us the grace and power to love the people around us. It’s hard to do one without the other. This is the reality I live in, the questions I have to ask myself to gauge how I’m doing in life…Am I loving God with everything that I am? Am I loving the people around me? Because, after all, It’s all about relationships.

 

Loneliness

Loneliness has been on my mind this week. I was reading through a total stranger’s blog that I happened upon and I was overwhelmed with the waves of loneliness that crashed through one of her posts. I had a physical longing to just reach through the computer screen and pat her on the shoulder. Tell her I would be her friend if she wanted. Somehow let her know that there is a personal, relatable God who would love to permeate her life, take away the pain, fill it up with meaningful relationships. Somehow let her know that there is an answer, a solution.

I didn’t say anything though. I didn’t comment on her blog, I ghosted on by. Mostly because if a total stranger started talking real deep to me I would probably not be real open to what they have to say.  But she has stayed in my mind and I have been praying for her. And I have been thinking about loneliness.

I wish that I had some kind of “5 Steps Solution to Curing Your Loneliness”.  I was trying to think about what the solution is and all I could think of was that every single person is so different, how can there be one plan that fits all situations? And it occurs to me that while there is no “1 size fits all” plan, there is a “1 size fits all” God. If you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins and you have given your life to him, then you now have access to the One who can fix all things. He can fix your loneliness. He wants to fix your loneliness. He didn’t create us to be alone. That theme starts all the way in Genesis. God created us for relationships. To be in relationship with him and then to be in relationship with others. When people complain that they are lonely, they are in fact noticing that something is wrong with their lives, and I think it’s a problem that is universally recognized…it is not good to be alone. We were created to Not Be Lonely.

I am more of an introvert. I have never needed large groups of friends. I prefer a couple close friends, small groups, one-on-one conversations. While my childhood friendships were typical up-and-down affairs, God did bless me with a close family so that even on those days when my best friend hated me, I still had a family I could fall back on. Later I was blessed with a husband who has been my best friend for the last 20 years. Even when my women friends moved away or entered into different phases of life that moved us away from each other, I have still had my husband always there. I am what you would call a blessed woman. But I have to tell you a little bit about loneliness. It is very nuanced.

Somehow it is possible to be in a room, surrounded by people who love you and whom you love and yet you still feel alone. I was this way. I’m going to speculate on why I felt this way. When I was a kid I learned very quickly that the more people knew about you, your likes, dislikes, interests etc, the more power they had to hurt you. If they knew which boy you had a crush on, they could go tell other people and embarrass you. If they knew that something had hurt your feelings they could rub it in your face and make it a hundred times worse. If they knew of a mistake you had made they could broadcast it to the world and humiliate you. I slowly adopted the attitude of “If you don’t know me, you can’t hurt me”. If the only things you knew about me were surface things, inconsequential things, then you had no power over me. I retreated into a shell where I was very good at listening to other people and speaking into their lives, but I never opened up too much about my own life. It was too dangerous. I didn’t want to be hurt.

Now we come back to the one God who can fix all things. God lead me to a small group of women who offered me a safe place to talk, a safe place where I could open up about myself and not worry about having that information used against me. We met together once a week for years and while there were seasons when I couldn’t go, I attended as faithfully as possible. As I gained courage to open up, God used that momentum to start revealing areas in my life that needed healing and as he started healing me, I found it easier and easier to open up more. I started having courage to open up more even in my relationship with my husband which I had thought was pretty transparent. I found it easier to share about myself. The fear of being hurt slowly lessened.

Nowadays, I still have parts of me that I keep to myself, but now it’s just because not all stories are for all people. If the right person comes along who would benefit from those stories, I’ll share with them. I’m still an introvert, I still don’t have a boatload of friends, I still prefer small groups, one-on-one, but I find that I don’t feel near as lonely as I used to. Probably because I am no longer hiding.

Everyone has a different history, a different journey. I don’t know what your past was like. I don’t know what your daily struggles are. But I do know the God who knows you. And I know he doesn’t want you to be lonely. Ask. He’s listening.