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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Killed My Heart with a 12-Gauge Shotgun

Have you ever killed your heart? (Tweet that!) I did, forty-one years ago, as if I'd shot it with a 12-gauge shotgun.

In the middle of the night of January 15, 1976, I was sleeping soundly when the phone rang. I answered and my sister, Karen, whispered with a teary voice, "Daddy just died." I tried to understand what was going on in my muddled mind. She explained she was with mom at the hospital and my fifty-year-old father had been pronounced dead of a heart attack.

The shock was profound. I knew he wasn't in perfect health but to die? Only later did we find out he had gone to bed early after writing my mother (who was out at a meeting), a note saying, "I don't feel well. I'm going to go see the doctor tomorrow." Tomorrow never came for him.

But tomorrow came for us. The next morning, my husband Larry, our fifteen-month-old baby, and I traveled to my mom's where I gathered with my younger sister and brother. I don't remember at what point I decided, but I reasoned this in my 26-year-old immature brain. "I'm the only Christian in the family. If I grieve, it'll seem like I'm not strong in the Lord and I don't trust God. That won't represent the Lord well. I mustn't cry." I had only known the Lord for nine years and my belief system was muddled by wrong beliefs about emotions. I killed my heart with a loaded shotgun full of lies, vowing never to cry.

And cry I didn't. I stuffed the grief inside my heart, killing the feelings, and hardening my heart. Oh, certainly, some tears spilled out regardless but I refused to be "out of control." I wiped tears away quickly if they dribbled down my cheeks. And I forced myself to smile regardless to tamper down the feelings.

My sister and I remember that we three kids sat on the front row during the funeral giggling at one point. We all were unable to handle the emotions and instead we chose laughter as a means to cope.

For ten years I never allowed myself to fully feel the grief of losing my father. Instead, I poured myself into helping my widowed mother. I doubt we talked about my father much. It was too painful and definitely not the way to submerge feelings.

For ten years, I kept shooting my heart with that shotgun labeled "Don't feel. It's too painful and overwhelming."

Yes, for ten years!

Then God intervened. At a conference, I heard the speaker talk about the dangers of killing your heart. I knew I had been doing that. I found the little chapel at the conference center and for the first time I let myself grieve. I wrote a letter to my father and cried for thirty minutes. Deep sobs. Cleansing sobs. Cries of anguish in losing the most significant male person in my life. I gave myself full permission to feel and even explore what was happening. I knew my heart was being made alive again. And I also recognized the lie that a weeping and grieving Christian is a weak Christian who isn't trusting God. 

What relief. Comfort. Freedom. Healing. I left that chapel without any make up on and eyes puffy almost unable to see. But I left knowing I needn't be ashamed of my emotions. 

Since that significant experience of freedom in grieving, I've been learning, lo, these many years to grieve healthfully.  (Tweet that!) And as my brother neared his death and as he left this earth and entered heaven a week ago, I've experienced God's power to grieve as one who has hope. 

In my next post, I'll write more about that. 

Grieve well, my sisters and brothers. It is possible. Don't kill your heart with a 12-gauge shotgun of lies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Are You Depositing Quarters to Earn God's Love?

Some time ago, I arrived at our local regional park prepared with the six quarters for depositing into the machine that controlled the mechanical arm at the entrance of the park. I deposited the six quarters and then looked forward, anticipating the mechanical arm to rise. Much to my surprise, I realized there was no mechanical arm at all attached to the machine. It had been removed for some reason. Nothing had prevented me from entering the park all along.

"I just wasted my six quarters," I exclaimed. "I could have gone in free!"

"Here, God, is my quarter of loving that person I hate. Do you love me now?"

"Here, God, is my quarter of having my devotional time today. Do you love me now?"

"Here, God, is my quarter of serving in the nursery even though I would rather go to the service. Do you love me now?"

We put in our quarters, while all along, the mechanical arm that should block us from God's love is not there. Jesus died on the cross in our place and has shattered the obstacle to God's unconditional love. Instead of putting in the quarters, we can move forward into experiencing God's love.

Certainly, God does want us to obey him, to love others, to have our quiet time with him, and to serve in our church. But those things should be done out of our love for him—not as a means of earning his love and our entrance into heaven.

Are you willing to give up depositing your quarters trying to earn God's love? He wants you to know his incredible, unconditional love so that you no longer have to feel like he doesn't approve of you. He loves you and wants only the best for you—whether or not you’re holding quarters. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Have a Blessed Christmas

I Wish You a Blessed Christmas

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Luke 1:38 (NIV)

Mary’s obedience, though it meant she was misunderstood and judged, brought a blessing that has been the most amazing blessing of all time: Jesus.

“Throughout the Bible...when God asked a man to do something, methods, means, materials and specific directions were always provided. The man had one thing to do: obey.”--Elisabeth Elliot

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I'm the Grand Wizard of Making Everyone Happy at Christmas Time

I mentioned in my last post that I'd continue the discussion of perfectionism. So now let's look at one of the results of perfectionism which is People Pleasing. I confess! I’m a People Pleaser! I’m motivated to please others for a variety of reasons and one main one is thinking I should never say “no.” This can especially impact me at the holidays when I think I'm the Grand Wizard of Making Everyone Happy at Christmas time. Tweet that!

Over the years I've examined my heart a lot about why I feel this way. At this Christmastime when perfectionism can influence us through wanting to please others, let's see what might be going on inside of us.
  1. What will they think of me if I’m not the Super Woman who can say “yes” to everything?
  2. If I don’t say “yes,” then I’ll miss out on the fun!
  3. If I don’t say “yes,” the opportunity won’t get done to my standards!
  4. If I don’t say “yes,” they might not ask me the next time.
5.  (Put in your own reasoning).

People Pleasing is all about depending upon the opinions of others for our approval, rather than God. (Tweet that!) We fear making other people unhappy with us or think poorly of us. So we strive to do everything we can to appease other people and promote ourselves as important, valuable, or whatever vow we've made to promote or protect ourselves.

There are many examples of People Pleasing in the Bible. The most known one may be when King Saul succumbed to this Strategy. His reaction is featured in 1 Samuel 13:8-14. Remember the story? 

Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel to come so that the burnt offering could be given. But Saul saw the people scattering and he panicked. What did Saul fear that said about him? So Saul offered the sacrifice anyway. When Samuel showed up at the last minute, Saul knew he was in big trouble. Samuel asked, “What have you done?”

What was Saul’s reasoning? “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” 

Samuel saw the folly of Saul’s reasoning and rebuked him. “…now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” 

Saul defends himself primarily giving the reason that the people were scattering. Could it be that he felt personally rejected by the people? Maybe them leaving meant they lacked confidence in him. As People Pleasers, that’s not what we want to hear, see, or feel. We need to feel the approval and support of others.

What was God looking for? A man after God's own heart, but Saul's heart was all about himself and the approval of others.

Where can we all get the courage to choose God’s approval and not depend upon people's opinions?

Lay hold of God's promise, “What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6). God is the only one who will love us perfectly. Only he can provide unconditional love and approval because of the  “robe of righteousness” we wear because of Jesus' redemptive death.
Know your position in Christ. This is a common theme of mine because it's so important, especially during the pressure and stress of a busy holiday season. Your performance and the opinions of others does not affect who God sees you in Christ. "In Christ" you are perfect, holy, righteous, forgiven, cleansed, redeemed, and many other things. You might want to study Ephesians 1 and make a list of all the wonderful things you "are" in Christ. Knowing God's opinion of you never changes will enable you to be diminish being the Grand Wizard of Making Everyone Happy at Christmas Time. 

Know you are not responsible for the choices of others. (Tweet that!) People Pleasers are convinced they can control another's happiness with their own behavior. But truth is, a person's happiness, joy, or contentment is their own choice. Even if I treat someone horribly, they can choose to look to God to provide what they need. If you don't provide the perfect gift for someone and they are disappointed, their disappointment is their choice.

Which of those three ideas are most important and meaningful to you? If you have a moment to spare in your Christmas preparations, give me and my readers a comment. We would love to hear from you.

Guess how I'm going to practice diminishing my perfectionism and my stress? I'm going to risk disappointing you by declaring that I'm pausing from posting on my blog until after Christmas--maybe even the New Year. Thanks for understanding. Have a blessed Christmas!

By the way, if you'd like to explore these kinds of ideas further, the book Larry and I have written will help you. It's called Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today. We offer the tools for identifying “why I do what I do.” And then having a heart change so that you can trust God more. We’ve seen these tools strengthen us for increased obedience and joy. We hope you’ll join us in the quest for seeking God’s approval as our “audience of one.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Want a Perfect Christmas Or a Stress-less Christmas?

Do you want to have a perfect Christmas or a stress-less Christmas? 
Tweet that!

Maybe you're thinking, "When I have a perfect Christmas, that will be stress-less." Unfortunately, the two don't go together. Trying to achieve something impossible--perfection--can never be stress-less. 

Are you noticing I'm using the word "stress-less" not stress-free? That's because the less we strive for perfection, the less stress we will experience.

Maybe right now, you're thinking, "I'm not looking for perfection; I just want things to go well, especially at Christmas." I'd like to offer a little quiz I developed that might help you see whether you're striving for perfection in your life more than you realize. From one perfectionist to a potential another, we don't always recognize our tendency toward perfectionism.

And by the way, would you like to hear the definition of a perfectionist? Someone has said, "A perfectionist is a person who takes great pains and passes them on to others." Tweet that!

Oh, we can so easily do that and not realize it. 

So here's my little quiz. Keep track of any of these statements that apply to you, even if a particular statement isn't in your life 100% of the time.
  1. _____ Most of the time I sense God is disappointed with me.
  2. _____ I spend lots of energy evaluating my performance.
  3. _____ I tend to think in terms of “all or nothing.”
  4. _____ I think I should have my act together by now.
  5. _____  My expectations tend to be unrealistic. 
  6. _____ For me, “good” is rarely “good enough.”
  7. _____ I often wonder why people can’t get their act together.
  8. _____ I’m compelled to straighten out misunderstandings.
  9. _____ I won't begin something if there's a possibility I can't do it well.

To determine your results, if you found 3 or more of those statements applying to you, you have perfectionist tendencies. You may not be experiencing perfectionism in every area of your life but the thinking of any of those statements can bring stress into your life, especially at Christmas when we think we must express our love to others perfectly in order for each person to feel loved. 

Right about now, you may be expecting me to give you one overall solution to rid you of your Christmas perfectionism. But here's a part of the solution you may not find welcome. 

There are no instant, overall, all-or-nothing solutions. But I will be sharing with you some ideas over the next couple of posts I hope you will find helpful. Having to wait and receive little pieces, not the whole banana, can in itself be a way to whittle away at the tentacles of perfectionistic tendencies.

(But if you want the whole banana, check out my book which has the points I'll be sharing, plus much more. Why Do I Put So Much Pressure on Myself and Others?)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

God's Message Wasn't Very Original

Some time ago I was waiting in the airport for my next connecting flight, minding my own business while enjoying reading a novel. 
I looked up and noticed a small food counter nearby where a woman was serving customers. I continued reading when unexpectedly the Lord’s still small voice within my heart whispered, “Go talk to that woman behind the counter about Me.” 

My reaction was unfortunately one that I usually made: “Oh, Lord, you know I don’t like doing things like this. Please! No!”

I could sense Him patiently waiting. 

“Oh, all right, Lord. What should I say to her?”

“Tell her I love her.”

Well, that wasn’t very original! I still wasn’t convinced I wanted to go and tried reading my book again. But I knew He wouldn’t let me rest so I gathered my things together and got at the end of the line for the counter. 

I was amazed that by the time all the customers in front of me had been helped, no one had gotten in line behind me. When I faced the woman at the counter, I gulped and shot an arrow prayer, “OK, Lord, here we go.”

I spoke up. “M’am, I know this will sound strange, but God wanted me to tell you He loves you.”

The woman’s face seemed to harden for a second. I inwardly cringed. “Oh, no, Father, what have you gotten me into now?”

But then suddenly, her face softened and tears welled up in her eyes. She stared at me in surprise and said, “Oh, my husband recently died and I’d begun to believe God didn’t love me. Thanks for telling me that.”

I ordered my iced tea and she began sharing her hurt and pain with me. As I went to the side of the counter to mix in the sweetener, she followed me and again thanked me for reaffirming her belief in God’s great love. 

I was amazed that no one came up to the counter as the room was full of people. God had opened a door of opportunity and I was so glad I hadn’t refused His prompting.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Third Block to Gratitude

Here's a third post on the topic of identifying the blocks to gratitude as Hebrews 13:5-6 refers to. 

Here's verse 6:

   "I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

This part of those verses refers to a third lie blocking our gratitude.

God doesn't protect us, especially from the opinions or actions of others. 

This speaks to me as a People Pleaser. I am often challenged to look to others to protect me from feeling bad about myself. But guess what? People don't cooperate with the way I want to be seen and acknowledged! They don't think I'm perfect! They don't acknowledge my strengths. I'm discontented and grumbling because I can't change their wrong opinion of me. It feels like my worth and value are being threatened. I'm fearful and trying to find a way to protect myself from people misunderstanding me. 

That's a recipe for discontent and lack of gratitude, let me tell you!

But God's antidote is, "Don't fear, my child. No one's opinion of you can hurt you. (Tweet that!) I protect you according to my plan. I know the truth about you. Yes, the truth is you aren't perfect and your abilities aren't acknowledged. But I see you through my Son's robe of righteousness. You can't protect yourself but I will protect you by seeing you 'in Christ.' You are redeemed, forgiven, cleansed, and perfect in my sight. All because of Jesus dying for you. It has nothing to do with another person's opinion of you. I am your Source of worth and value. No one can do anything to you nor say anything about you that hasn't gone through my filter of love. Trust me."

I have found that believing God's glory is of utmost importance and helps me to trust God for whatever "man" might do to me. If God will be glorified through it, then I can surrender to it. And ultimately, nothing "man" does separates me from God's love--and that's all that ultimately matters. 

(By the way! Next Spring my book about seeking God's glory from a purified heart will be released. The working title is Pure Hearted. Don't worry! I'll be sure to remind you when it's available.)

Over the past three posts, we've focused on three obstacles to having gratitude and being content. Which of those three is most important to you? Which of those three would you like to grow in as you believe the truth? I'd love to hear from you if you'd like to share.