Blowing Off Steam About Love and Respect

I need to blow off some steam. Some stuff has been bugging me for a while.  And in some ways, even writing this is making me guilty of what I am so deeply saddened and frustrated by.  For that, I ask God to search my heart for my core beliefs and motives,  that can be so hard to describe in words.  I hope I make sense with this and come from a place that pleases Him.

I’m a fairly conservative Christian,  though I don’t consider myself to be an ‘extremist’ – I don’t believe extremism is beneficial for anything. (Matthew 6:1…”Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.”… ‘Appearances’, and not compassion, scream hypocrisy, and push people away from us- and the chance to share Jesus….Matthew 5:22 talks about anger, and the emotions that destroy relationships and spirituality – we’re to be in control of our actions, but our thoughts can also degrade our relationships spiritually… Life Application Bible notes).

It’s one thing to have a firm belief in God and His Word, and quite another to use it as a weapon against those who are either struggling, or have different beliefs- or are not Believers at all.   Nothing about God is  a weapon for destruction.  We’re instructed that our relationship with God is to be used for GOOD, not divisiveness.  Divisiveness is a tool of Satan.  James 3:5 “Likewise, consider the tongue as a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  And it can be incredibly difficult to figure out how to love the sinner and hate the sin, and do it from a place of love and compassion for the person, without being judgmental.

Every week there is something else in the media (not from God) that turns on the “judgement switch” of a lot of Christians… and that’s not our job as Christians. I see it in people I know,  people I don’t know in articles and interviews, and I see it in myself at times, and must stop and ask God to help me deal with the situation in a way that pleases Him. I’m not always very good at that.  Every time ‘WE’ judge ‘the other side’, we do *exactly* what we accuse ‘them’ of doing.  I’m so tired of it!  I strongly believe in having a solid core belief system, and mine happens to be that of a conservative Christian. My goal from my heart is that  I become stronger with the  characteristics of a Biblical Christian (not humanly manufactured judgement spewers).   Living the Fruit of the Spirit is my daily goal (and I fail regularly)  😦  … Galatians 5:22… “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  When I disagree with someone, or feel I’m not being heard or treated fairly, those are the responses I am to have.  And it ain’t easy!

I have enough of my own character defects to work on to have ANY right to call out someone else.  Even if something is in the Bible as sin (and we are ALL sinners), I can only live and grow my own relationship with Jesus.  Even Jesus didn’t come to point fingers and judge- He came to save us; judgement will come at its due time, only known by God.   If Christians are so busy worrying about the actions/thoughts/beliefs of someone else, who is left to love them to the Lord?  Matthew 7 is a great chapter on judgement and forgiveness.

We have all sinned (Romans 3:23).  There is no hierarchy of sin.    I believe we  ALL need Jesus- every single day for our OWN spiritual lives. I understand that not everybody believes that- and God gave us free will to believe or not, so who am I to demand more than God? He wants genuine believers- not robotic, loveless stalkers!   We are commanded to go into the world and spread the word of God… How can we do that if we’re so busy condemning others?  Romans 12:18… “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”   Salvation, and a relationship with God is a choice- we can’t earn it, we can’t lose it… but we must sincerely desire and choose it.  And I can only choose for myself.

Does that mean we condone everything? Of course not !  But we aren’t responsible for the actions and beliefs of others- and if we’re so busy being pious and judgmental, who is left to share the Gospel?  We are known by our actions first.  And there are many Christians who send non-believers running for the hills from the hypocrisy and absolute intolerance of various groups of people, or those who even believe differently. Some send ME running for the ‘hills’, and we’re supposed to believe the same thing !
There is not one person on this planet who can truly know what is in the heart of someone else- their struggles, pain, frustrations, BELIEFS, etc.  Christians are generally taught to appear like everything is wonderful- which is VERY hard to do 24/7.  And it’s disingenuous.  God gave us emotions.  But we do have to be careful about not directing them AT others, and instead using them to encourage and uplift others.   ‘Loathing’ is not from God.  Constant mockery, negative comments, and complaining are in direct contrast to what we are told to do in Philippians 2: 14-16… “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God , without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life- in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”  That’s hard !  But it lets me know that getting involved in negative ‘conversations’ isn’t anything I’m doing to praise God.  It’s purely self-serving when it’s not done out of love, and to offer something positive and encouraging.
I believe that there are a lot of Christians who truly love the Lord, and are still struggling with various issues.  When I worked drug and alcohol rehab, we saw a LOT of Christians… and had a special sub-group of recovery options for them in addition to the traditional  12-step treatment (which is completely spiritually based, and strongly reflective of the Sermon on The Mount).  Christians are not immune from continuing to (or starting another)  sin; for some it’s easier than other to ‘reform’ and/or recover. Some have condemned themselves much more than anybody else could- and are afraid God couldn’t possibly want anything to do with them. (So let’s throw some disdain their way, eh?) And some have lived their entire lives believing that they are guilty of something that was done TO them.
I’m so glad that the  God I know is more loving and forgiving than many of my fellow Christians- known personally or not. And HE knows MY heart!  He has access to the secret corners of my being, and loves me anyway!     Other humans only know what they assume- and that is dangerous ground for basing a relationship (or opinion) with anybody.   John 8: 2-11 is an outstanding example of how Jesus dealt with a woman accused of sexual sins.  He came from a place of love.
I spent many years with severe eating disorders –  clear abuse of the body God gave me, and where the Bible says the Holy Spirit dwells in Christians.  I was living in a state of daily sin by focusing on the flesh– and yet I still loved God deeply, and dealt with the shame of not living fully for Him when I was focused on something so destructive, and felt so stuck.  It’s painful to see Christians assume that because someone is ‘pro’ this or that, or in some sort of addiction (food, drugs, alcohol, etc.)  that they aren’t Believers.  “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”… remember that one?   I’ve met a lot of Christian addicts (recovering, and  just going through detox)… some of the most solid Christians I’ve ever met.   Being a Christian never removes the fact that we’re still human.  We fail. We get up. We move on. And sometimes (a lot of times) we fail again, with the assurance of a loving God catching us in His arms.
Some (a lot of ? ) folks do appear to be clearly anti-Christian.  There’s someone on the news, other TV shows, radio, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  pretty much daily that come  only to verbally mock and shun Christians.  (one program last night had me fairly heated !). God has that covered !  We’ve been told about those who persecute Christians- it’s been going on for a couple of thousands of years now !   And it’s not our fight.  God will take care of those who harass His Children in due time.  I find comfort in that- I don’t have to waste time being angry or even hateful !  I can try and find things to be thankful for.  We’re instructed to be thankful in ALL things.  We’re instructed to have a very specific mindset about our ‘enemies’. ****  It is so much more freeing to not be worn down by things that I have no control over, that will be dealt with by God in HIS timing, and to look at the wonderful things I’ve been blessed with- however great or small… they are more uplifting than the negative people and situations :
****1 Peter 3:9…” Do not repay evil with evil, or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  
Matthew 5:44… “But I command you all, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”
Romans 12:14… “Invoke blessings on your persecutors, blessings- not curses.”
1 Peter 3:15…”But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for evil.”    Hmm… ‘in your hearts’ (don’t need a billboard).  Gentleness and respect…. (wow- don’t see much of that).  Is it good or evil to single out assorted ‘hot topics’ and make them a thermometer of morality and gauge of someone else’s heart?  Or would it be more in keeping with Jesus, being the definition of love, to reach out and show compassion?  I don’t have to agree with anybody to  be kind to them.
I can anticipate some who read this getting upset that I’m not focusing on pointing out  specific ‘hot topic’  sins of others  that they feel are clearly stated in the Bible.  I’m really not interested in pointing out someone else’s sin nearly as much as I am showing them the love that Jesus came to show us; the Holy Spirit  will convict someone of sin- I’m not that powerful, so why not show love and compassion?  I’m not always good at it- but that is my goal.   When anything comes across as hate, it will drive someone away who God loves, and wants a relationship with.  That’s not being obedient.  I don’t have to change my beliefs to show someone else what I believe- and I don’t have to do it with condescension or spite.  Neither of those are from God.  I don’t have to jump on every bandwagon that comes along to ‘prove a point’.  I know what I believe… I don’t have to repeatedly and frequently drive the point into the skulls of anyone I encounter.  My friends know what I believe, and IF someone asks me, I will aim for the gentle and respectful explanation.  🙂
Sometimes, there are people who will only know one or two ‘known’ Christians… do you want to show someone the love of God, or tear them down by talking about specific sins?  We are all sinners, and Jesus came for all of us.  There are no prerequisites for loving Jesus.  He takes us as we are.  All of us.  As. We. Are.  The miracles of being new creations happens after someone discovers Jesus, and the ultimate meaning of love.
So, what is my hope that I show people?  It’s very clear…  🙂  And it’s an ongoing process.  So, I’m really not at liberty to judge someone else.  I’ve got my own work to do.
I Corinthians 13:4-8a….”Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, and New Year filled with peace, compassion, and joy of knowing that God supplies all of our needs.

 

 

 

I’m Grumpy Today

I’m not sure what my malfunction is, but I’m sorta grumpy.  I got up way earlier than usual (I’m one of those who is usually up half of the night and then sleeps until noon).  I’ve got a vague headache, but that’s nothing all that new. I have chronic headaches.  Christmas was really good- I got to see (and meet) family, and talked to my biological mom and half-brother on the phone, which is always good.  I got to spend time with family at the Swedish Christmas party since I’ve got the ice vest to wear when I leave home and don’t have as much chance of being overheated because of the dysautonomia. And yet, I’m a major dud this morning.

My 11.75 year old schnauzer with heart failure was so eager to eat some ‘meatloaf’ I made for her yesterday (with controlled sodium), and this morning she won’t touch it. I’m running out of options.  She started refusing the prescription dog food weeks ago, and prior to that had been eating a minimal amount (which wasn’t all that unusual for her- but she managed to keep her weight up). So now I’m trying to figure out other ideas… have been through ground beef/turkey/chicken, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, brown rice, white rice, baby food veggies, cooked carrots (gag), baby food applesauce and oatmeal,  and various combinations of the above.  She normally likes all of those things. Now, I’m lucky if she eats some of her Charlee Bear dog treats- they have minimal sodium, so she can still have them.  If she weren’t still alert and very interested in what is going on, as well as physically mobile and showing no signs of pain, I’d have her put to sleep…but I don’t want to ‘kill’ my best friend if she’s still getting some enjoyment out of life.  It’s a fine line right now, so as long as it’s not blatantly obvious, I’m holding out… but that time is coming.  There’s only so much I can do, and I think I’ve pretty much hit my limits. 😦

I’ve been extremely irritated at comments to news stories on various online sites and publications. So many people are so heartless and cruel.  Or pathologically immature and even psychopathic.  Responding that they’re ‘happy’ about an article where five people were made homeless by a fire that destroyed their home? How do people get that way?  Who dropped them on their head?  Or burned them?  And then there are the other ‘less’ disturbing posts that are just plain nasty and/or cruel.  Or ignorant.  I’m actually very thankful I don’t know those people or have to spend any IRL time with them.  A click of the back button takes them out of my life.

The onslaught of horrible stories that are on the news constantly is also a major bummer. I feel really badly for those folks and what they’re going through, but what good does it do anybody to have it dissected in the media for days to weeks on end?  I’ve been a crime survivor of a high profile case (before the 24/7 media, back in 1987).  It wasn’t helpful to see it on TV for days or see the newspaper coverage over and over.  The people who knew about it, and were my actual friends/family already knew what happened, and face it: most people really don’t want to know about real life horrors that happen to other people.  Or they don’t know what to do with the information, at least to the persons’ face. Behind their back, the chatter won’t stop. If people would have just asked me straight out what happened, or even if I wanted to talk about it would have been much  more helpful than days of media coverage  (without any input from me- I was an object).  I had one ‘different’ neighbor that responded to meeting me with “I never thought I’d meet you ! ”  Really?  Meeting someone who has been raped and beaten was a life goal?  Step away from the strange one !

I’m extremely disgusted with my weight, and have my food diary set up to start on January first. I don’t want to look like this on my 50th birthday next November.  I don’t want to be grotesque and repulsive going into the last third to half of my life. I have to restrict food. I’ve tried the ‘normal’ calorie amounts I’ve been given from the doctor and diabetic dietician, and that doesn’t work…so I’ve got to go lower. I can’t do much exercise because of the issue with passing out when my heart rate goes up or I get overheated, and my knees and spine issues.  So the calories have to go.  A slippery slope for me, so I’ve got to be careful- but I have to DO something beyond what I’ve been doing.  I didn’t look like this before chemo… and I want to lose any remnants of those days.

Losing weight will also save me some time before having to have my left knee replaced (I had the right one done in late 2006, and it was a very unpleasant experience with some complications and ‘dull’ response time by the doc and nurses to a bladder infection). I had to go to a rehab place for the medically defective. It was a good rehab facility- great care, but set up where people stayed in their rooms like a hospital between therapies (no common area), and since I was infective, I was in a private room- not a horrible thing, but friggin’ isolated. It’s not like there was a big risk of someone coming into contact with my pee.   My left knee has unrepaired, and questionably healed ACL and medial meniscus tears, done when I turned over in bed back in 2009- about a week before my closest friend from here in this town died suddenly (following several complications from a KNEE replacement). She’d moved to a different state to be closer to one of her daughters, but we were in contact by phone daily, even when she was in the hospital or rehab.  I was supposed to have the left knee replacement done, but then got leukemia and everything was put on hold to survive that.  Been a weird few years.

I’m frustrated that I don’t feel that people understand why I’m like I am.  I’ve got diagnoses that people haven’t heard of.  I ‘look’ like I’m capable of working, and I miss being a nurse SO much- but too much standing or walking, and the whole heat/heart rate thing = one unconscious middle-aged RN.  I’ve been an RN for nearly 28 years.  I’ve been on disability for 8 years.  But I still keep my license, because I still AM an RN.  I worked hard for that thing.  And I loved working with it…  And those days are done.  When people ask me what I’m doing to get back to work, it hurts- there isn’t anything that can be done by me or anyone else. Some things CAN’T BE FIXED !  SO those perky, blessed-to-be-clueless people need to shut up and go target someone who has some stuff going on that is treatable. I’ve been dealing with much of this since 1996- and worked until 2004- I held out as long as I could.  I fought to keep working.  QUIT asking me if I’m going back to work. NO, I can’t !

I was raised in an evangelical church, and am a born again Christian, without some of the judgmental drama that can go with those two things.  I hate the passive ‘I’ll pray for you’ stuff- prayer is wonderful, and I do it often, but if someone wants to help, some action would be really amazing ! Prayer is about as passive as a person can get and rationalize to themselves that they’re ‘doing’ something– and while I do believe in prayer and that it is a very positive and powerful thing (and pray for people on the news all of the time since I can’t do anything else), it’s not the be-all end-all answer to really being of use to someone.  It’s definitely better than nothing, but it really doesn’t show much in terms of actively supporting and helping someone. Sometimes it’s all people CAN do- and that’s appreciated.  But remember the ‘faith without works is dead’?  I’ve sensed a lot of dead.  I wish I could do more for others, and feel guilty about that.  Not like I know many people around here to be available for… back in the home where my heart is, I could be more useful, even if I’m not that physically ‘able’… I could drive someone to the store, or appointments.  I could water plants when they were gone, or change out cat litter. I couldn’t walk dogs or watch kids… but I’d do what I could.

I’ve contacted my ‘old’ church (from when I grew up and it was an amazingly positive experience) to find out about women’s Bible studies and other things in the past, and have been essentially blown off. I guess I’m not good enough for the ‘elite’ evangelicals anymore. My checkbook may not be deep enough or something.  I’ve tried again, and will hear back after the 31st when the contact person returns. I had really looked forward to going back there when I moved back from Texas.  I found it to be cold and a bit pretentious.  If someone can’t go back to the church they grew up in, where should they go?  Where is the ‘real’ message in that?   It hurt.  There were some really nice ladies (who I’ve known since I was a kid) who invited me to a type of ‘grief’ group, but I don’t want to sit and talk about dead family.  If that works for them, I’m really glad they have somewhere that feels right for their grieving process.  My mom is dead. Sitting in a room with folks who need that type of support doesn’t work for me.  I guess if I want to connect with anybody there, I have to be bummed out.  Not something I’m interested in.  I’m hoping the Bible study that starts on January 9th will work out- otherwise, I’m done trying to get back in to the church I grew up in. It shouldn’t be a ‘project’ just to find somewhere to fit in there.  The singles group wasn’t my bag – I want some ‘study’ group type thing.  🙂

Anyway, that’s a bit of what’s rattling through my head today.  I’m a little less grumpy now.

Christianity: Ritualistic Religion vs. Relationship

I’ve never liked the term ‘religious’.  For me that invokes mindless rituals and a lack of personal interaction with God.  Sort of a Monday through Saturday apathy, but a false piousness on Sunday when people are looking.  I don’t like that.  For me, Christianity is a relationship- and it’s not about being in a specific place on a specific day.  Going to a shoe store doesn’t make me a shoe.  Going to church doesn’t make me a Christian.  What I do seven days a week makes more of a difference than whether or not I show up at a specified building on Sunday.  Yet I can’t ‘do’ anything to earn heaven.

I grew up in an evangelical church, and for me it was a great experience. The other kids were fun, the youth groups were active and kept us busy with activities and ‘field trips’, and the chaperones were generally goofy enough to not be embarrassing adults, but grown up enough to keep us from getting killed. The senior high choir even did week long tours during Spring Break to Kentucky and Washington, DC, and everybody came back in one piece. We had fun.

The teaching part was also a positive experience.  None of the pastors hollered. I don’t like to be hollered at. If someone wants me to listen, they have to treat me like my ears work, and I’m not in trouble before they even get started. Hollering is punitive to me. Normal volume gets my attention.  Just about everybody who had a pastoral position had a great sense of humor- that was also crucial. I didn’t want to sit through an hour long service with someone that sounded constipated and annoyed.  During the time I went to that church, I was lucky.  Humor was intact.  I learned a lot.

Sunday School teachers were also great role models. I remember several of mine. I even taught kindergarten Sunday School for a while, and it was a lot of fun. We had the curricula all spelled out, and projects to help reinforce the lessons.  There was singing, and with little kids, a fair amount of hugs. One of ‘my’ kids came from a moderately rough background. Her mom wasn’t in the picture much, and I was near the same age as her mom.  She tended to hang out with me a bit closer than the other kids.  I still have her school photo from 1984.

People who don’t grow up in a church often think that TV ‘Christians’ are representative of all of us.  Um, NO !  There is no magic handkerchief, or vial of oil (probably Crisco), or need for someone to pray on my behalf.  I’ve got the direct number. It’s “Hey, God?” 🙂 , or “Oh, Lord” 😮 – depending on the tone of the prayer or conversation.  I don’t always get very formal- sometimes I’m even sort of ticked off. God can handle my anger. He can handle my frustration and He WANTS to hear about my pain.  The Psalms are full of examples of David’s pain- and God used  him to be the lineage from which Jesus was born.  Check out YouTube and Amy Grant’s ‘Better Than A Hallelujah’… we don’t have to follow rules to pray and be heard! Just be open, and let God know what’s going on. Good or bad.

TV preachers don’t work for me for the most part. There are exceptions, but the ones nobody has ever heard of except for the people awake during the 3:00 a.m. time slot used to  suck money out of the desperate and disenfranchised are pitiful in my opinion. But that’s just me.  God gets to judge their hearts, and He holds preachers and teachers of the Bible to a higher standard than us regular folks.   God judging hearts- that’s good news in my book.  What humans think of me is pretty irrelevant, though I’d want nothing more than to be a good representative of Christ- but in the long run, it’s God who will judge me. NO human’s opinion even comes close.

Judgement and being a Christian aren’t the same thing. Becoming a Christian is a choice. It’s an actual ‘event’ of praying to ask for forgiveness, believing that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and rose again- and He’s coming back one day. That isn’t something that gets ‘revoked’.  People can choose to develop a stronger relationship with Christ- or not.  And nobody does it perfectly. People ‘backslide’ (fall away from their spiritual teachings and beliefs).  I routinely ask for forgiveness for stuff I do.  I will be judged one day before God- but my salvation is secure. My judgement won’t be the same as someone who has refused to accept Jesus.

I was also lucky to have a summer camp to go to as a kid for week long sessions. Between the summers before my senior year in high school and  freshmen year in college, and half of the following summer, I worked there as a nature counselor (and a few weeks of ‘cabin’ counseling).  Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, WI was SO much fun- and is still a very important part of my spiritual ‘roots’. People there lived what they talked.  It wasn’t put on for show. We believed what we talked about. For those of us who worked there, it was how we all lived, for weeks on end.  The immersion in 24/7 Christianity out in the open was special.  It wasn’t a ‘real life’ setting- but it was a huge blessing to have had those times there, whether as a kid going to camp, or a summer staff member.  I met people there that I’m still in contact with, and they haven’t become ‘less’ solid in their Christianity when nobody is looking…they were and are solid examples of loving Christians.  We do exist!  But we’re not perfect.

I’m not someone who spends a lot of time talking openly about my beliefs. I think as a nurse, I became less likely to just open up about God. When I was working,  I was at work to take care of patients, not preach.  (And, it could get me fired; being an example of kindness could do more than verbally ‘Bible-thumping’ someone)  It was that way for all religions.  If a patient mentioned something I also agreed with, I did smile and say I agreed. But that was pretty much the limit that was allowed.  I did support patients in their beliefs. For example, an orthodox Jewish patient needed matches (or a lighter) to light candles when his rabbi came on Friday nights. I had no problem finding those for him.  I took trays with pork products back to the kitchen at a nursing home for a Muslim resident.  I didn’t have to believe the same thing to be respectful.  I didn’t see that as a threat to my beliefs.

For me, Christianity is a relationship with God.  I’m physically limited as far as getting to an actual church building, but there is nothing wrong with my ability to read the Bible, pray, and have ‘general’ conversations with God.  I guess it’s a fine line between that and praying, but there’s communication.  I’ve read through the entire Bible a couple of times so I could see for myself what’s in there (and the study notes I had). Mostly what I learned is that I still have a lot to learn.

I also learned that it’s not my job to cram Christianity down anybody’s throat. It’s not my job to be offensive in my beliefs.  Being a Christian isn’t about ‘making’ someone believe something.  To me, it’s more about being willing to tell someone what I believe, and hopefully living in such a way that I don’t push people away.  The Bible is clear about being gentle in one’s approach to nonbelievers.  That gets missed a lot when the sensationalistic preachers are interviewed for TV, or taped as they holler on the streets.

Christ is about love.  John 3:16 is a common verse, and talks about how God sent His only Son to die for our sins and give us eternal life if we believe Him. What gets missed is John 3:17- that God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved…. there are so many more references in the Bible about love in regards to God and Jesus than there are about judgement and condemnation. Will God judge those who reject Him?  Yep… but He also isn’t cramming Himself down anyone’s throat….it’s a personal choice.  Free will.  If you don’t want Him, that’s up to you.

Religious rituals aren’t paths to salvation. It doesn’t take much to repeat an action without thought behind it.  A relationship is personal.  It’s voluntary and individualized.  I much prefer a relationship with  God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   I don’t ‘do’ Christianity exactly the same as someone else, and they don’t do ‘my’ Christianity either- which is the beauty of a relationship.  The big things are belief and faith.  Those are relatively simple decisions.  And continuing to aspire to be the type of believer that will please God is also a decision. I might not get it perfect all the time, but God does know my heart, and that is very reassuring.

Growing Up Evangelical

The term ‘evangelical’ has become attached to so many negative meanings nowadays. It’s really sad that most things to do with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or anything ‘religious’ (I don’t like that term) are met with such hostility.  Though I do understand some of why that ‘is’.   Sometimes Christians can be their own worst representatives.  I also learned later (in my 30s) that a person’s ‘assumption’ of God often reflects how they view their earthly father. If that relationship was damaged or weak, it’s hard to comprehend a loving, consistent God.  When I read the Bible for myself, I found a very compassionate and constant God.  I also found so much more love than judgement.

I grew up in an evangelical church from the time I was a newborn.  It just ‘was’ in my house.  I had a great experience in that church when I was a kid. It was my primary social contact, and the youth groups were a lot of fun.  I was in various choirs, and most weeks, I was at church functions at least four different times.  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evenings, and some sort of weekend youth activity.  In the summers we had Vacation Bible School as little kids, and I worked as a VBS volunteer when I was in high school.  I spent eleven years working in the church nursery.   We also had an amazing summer camp that I attended for week long sessions as a young kid. For  2 1/2 summers I was on summer staff as a nature counselor between my senior year of high school and early college ages.  My memories of that camp are amazing; I still love that place.

When I was growing up in that church, I never felt that there was an exclusivity about it.  Back when I was younger, there weren’t that many controversial issues that were discussed openly.  That made for a fairly sedate experience.  The things I was taught were directly from the Bible.  Were there some ‘taboo’ topics? Yep.  But it wasn’t something that was beaten into me by some rabid preacher.  There were simply Bible verses that were discussed about various topics, and that was that.  No drama.  Nobody talked about abortion, LGBT issues, or even divorce (until well into the 80s when a Sunday School class for divorcees was started).  But I didn’t hear much about those things outside of church either.

As a teenager, there was the expectation that sex happened after marriage (and I had no issue with that).  Language reflected character, and was expected to be G-rated (I later had some issues with that, and had a lousy character for a while). Clothing was expected to be modest- but wasn’t Puritanical- shorts and t-shirts were fine, as long as they weren’t Daisy Dukes or low-cut.  There weren’t any bans on dancing, playing cards, or going to the movies. The guidelines for deciding activities were simple: Was it something that glorified God?  And God is a pretty open-minded guy on many issues !  (I have read through the Bible many times, and found that most of the ‘rules’ were imposed by humans, not the Bible).  There were instructions about the power of music and the lyrics and beat that could distract from beliefs; music is powerful.  I never got into hard rock, and even paid attention to the softer rock. It had to have a positive message.

How I decided what was right for me was also simple. It was in the Bible.  When I became a Christian (an actual event- not a progressive tally of behavior and deeds), I was very young. As I got older and realized the sacrifice of what Christ did on the cross for all of us, obedience to the Bible became something I wanted to do.  It wasn’t forced on me; I wanted to follow the Bible out of respect and gratitude. I don’t always do it ‘right’, but I’m a work in progress. Since God has my heart, He can work in me.  It’s a relationship more than a religion (which to me implies mindless rituals and Sunday behavior that isn’t the same as the rest of the week). It’s something that grows and gets more mature in time.  It doesn’t end, but that’s the beauty of it; God won’t leave me.

I had no interest in having sex before marriage. I wanted to wait until I met someone that I loved, so it was special and not something to take for granted.  My body was considered to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, and what I did with it was to reflect that.  Drinking and drugs weren’t of any interest- I did go through some stupid drinking when I moved away from home (1200+ miles away), but it wasn’t fun. I stopped.  My activities were always rather dull. I’m just not that interested in things that I couldn’t do with Jesus standing next to me (which He is).  I don’t feel I missed out on anything.  My eating disorder years were a bad example of Christian values; I didn’t respect the body God loaned me.

I do think that some issues were either glossed over or ignored.  I was always taught to help my ‘neighbor’ (basically anybody), and not think much about it beforehand.  I wasn’t taught to evaluate a situation and feel that it was OK not to help someone if my safety was at stake. It IS Biblical to be safe and not suffer from the absence of common sense.   But that’s the big ‘negative’ I experienced (and it was significant in how it affected my life). On the whole, I value my church upbringing as THE single best thing my parents ever did.

When I hear about the extremists on the news, it breaks my heart.  Most evangelicals (or conservatives in general) aren’t haters.  Many have strong convictions, and may disagree with some social issues, but that’s not the same as ‘hate’.  God wants everyone to join Him. Heaven is a choice.  Salvation is a decision- it can’t be earned by any deed or quality of life. God used social outcasts for most of His plans in the Bible.  He used people of good reputations as well- He can use anybody.  God doesn’t hate anyone (that preacher from Kansas is going to have a lot of  explaining to do one day).  I can’t view anyone who hates another person as someone who is following the Bible.  God is the only Being who has the right to judge anyone.  He gave us all free will and it’s not up to me to define that for anyone. Do I have opinions on things? Yep.  But I can’t climb on board the hate wagon.

As far as salvation and Heaven go, it’s very simple. The Bible is clear on that.  Those who believe that Jesus died on the cross to be a sacrifice for our sinful nature , He rose from the dead, and is coming back someday to take believers to live in Heaven for eternity.  For those who die before He returns, their spirit goes to Heaven when they die IF they have prayed for Christ to forgive their sins, and believe in His gift to us when He died on the cross.  It’s very simple.  It’s open to anybody.  There are no mandatory deeds to ‘earn’ salvation (earning salvation isn’t possible – which is pretty neat, nobody is excluded from eligibility).

(We’re born into sin as human beings; the age of accountability is different for everyone, and  includes developmental stage and the awareness of right from wrong; I don’t believe that babies or those who can’t understand the process of confessing sin and receiving Christ will go to hell).

Baptism is a sign of obedience, but not a requirement for salvation.  The Holy Spirit is a guidance system, and comforter.  Speaking in tongues isn’t something dramatic used to ‘show’ other people anything.  It’s a language between the believer and God, and not required for salvation, or as ‘proof’ of the Holy Spirit’s  presence.  He can be very quiet and private ! The Bible is a constant, and never changes (the versions and translations may, but the message is the same, from the same Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic sources).  There are so many verses that are ‘go-to’ verses when times are tough. Psalms and Proverbs are huge helps when I’m feeling bad, or feel I’m being ridiculed by humans.  Proverbs is also a great source of direction on how to live a prudent life. The New Testament gives me the blueprint for living as a Christian (the Old Testament is still valid, but the words of Christ are invaluable).  The books of John and Romans are great for new Christians and those who want to go to the ‘nitty gritty’ before anything else.

I mess up living as a Christian all of the time.  I ask for God to forgive my daily screw ups, and He is faithful and just to forgive me when I confess my sins.  He knows my heart like NO human ever will.  With Him, I am totally understood.  There is none of the feeling of being misunderstood that I encounter with the vast majority of people I know.  But since asking God to forgive my sins and receiving the gift that Jesus gave when He died on the cross, I can never be ‘unsaved’.  I can fall away from the type of life I want to live- but I can also return to a closer walk with God at any time.  He is still there. He is the ultimate loving Father.  The decisions of others, and my own decisions, can lead to trials and struggles in life… but that doesn’t mean God is ‘punishing’ me, or that he ‘makes’ bad things happen.  All decisions have consequences; I decide how I react to them.

I’m comforted all the time by the assurance of Heaven, especially with my health problems, but even before then.  I know that I’ll see other Christians again, which makes earthly death less painful.  I grieve for the temporary loss here, but know that in the grand scheme of eternity, the time on earth is very short.

I hope I’ll see you there. 🙂

I’m Not Mad At God…

…but I am mad at the narrow view of the world I was taught by my church.  Don’t get me wrong- it was a great church to grow up in, and I’m incredibly thankful for a Christian upbringing.  Most of my friends as a kid and teenager were church friends.  Most of my social life  (like %90) was through the church, and I loved it. I went to church camp for one week each summer from 4th – 11th grades (summers before that year).   I worked at the church camp for 2 1/2 summers, and those summers were the best !  I still love that camp.

But then I had to go out into the world as a young adult, and be ready for life.  I wasn’t.  I had moved 1200+ miles away from home essentially on my own. It was a bigger city with a very diverse population. That was eye-opening at times, but not anything that caused me any sort of turmoil.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how to deal with crime and keeping myself safe.

Yes, it’s also a parents’ responsibility, but when you are immersed in a church subculture, most of your social interactions and social knowledge/mores come through the youth groups.  Or at least it did. Maybe things have changed since I left high school in 1981.  I left home for good in late 1985.

I wasn’t prepared to assess my own safety in a situation, and protect myself by knowing when it was OK not to  help someone.  I was taught that you help your ‘neighbors’ (that was basically everyone). I wasn’t taught that people can be really nuts, and dangerous.  I got the ‘stranger danger’ talk when I was 6, but I wasn’t told that even people who were known to people I knew can be very harmful.  So, I didn’t have the skills to avoid getting raped and beaten for hours.

I’d been lied to by the brother of the mother of a baby I took care of.  He made up some story about needing my help  to come and get the baby because of a family emergency. My other posts go into more details, but the bottom line was I didn’t have the skills- or permissionto say no to this guy I didn’t know.  I did know he’d gotten out of prison, but I didn’t know anything about crime and criminals, or what his story was.  I was very naive because of my church upbringing.  We were sheltered from the real world in many ways.  I did know that I could say no to the sexual perversions he did (and ignored my pleas to stop), but a lot of that was also because of NO sex before marriage. I felt a funky gut feeling about him before he got to my apartment (longer story)  that wasn’t good, but didn’t think it was OK to refuse to help.  That nearly got me killed.

There are many reasons I won’t go back to my old church now that I’ve moved back here.  I tried it several times, and in several different ‘groups’ (regular service, Sunday singles, Wednesday singles, special events- the special events were OK).  It’s not the same place, and quite frankly, it’s not welcoming. It’s not for ‘new’ people.  I still value my church upbringing, and my core values have never changed. But I’m angry that as a teenager, when I was forming my view of the world, and my place in it, I was given the sugar-coated view of how people behave only in a church setting/belief system.  I got no information about how to assess my safety.  Nothing about what can happen when evil compels a person to commit a crime – or that Christians can be targeted (simply because they’re humans).  It’s not possible to pray away all things that can happen in life.  Christians can have horrible things happen to them.  That doesn’t make them ‘weak’ Christians.

Churches have a responsibility to teach how not to stray from their beliefs, but how to deal with people who don’t share their beliefs, and  what to do with actual evil. It’s fine to pray, but some sort of action also needs to be taught.   They need to teach that there are times when it is foolish to reach out to people.   It is Biblical to assess a situation before jumping in with both feet.

Proverbs 27:12 … “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”

Churches breed simple thinking, and following the standard ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘do unto others’ belief system.  Those are great when there is no possibility of encountering evil. And I don’t know  on what planet that is  really possible. But it’s not realistic in this world.

I do believe that God can use what I went through to be of value and purpose to others (Romans 8:28…”For we know that all things happen for good, to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.”).  I have no issue with that, and that verse was actually my ‘mantra’ during the rape.  I had to believe that it happened for some reason that I didn’t know at the time.  I had to believe that God was still with me, and for some reason was allowing the rape to happen.   But I also believe that God could use me not getting raped as well.

For the most part, I’ve come to terms with the rape/beating. I’ve forgiven the man who raped me (God will deal with him).  I’m just now realizing my anger at my church not teaching me how to deal with REAL life in the world.  I’m sure I’ll get over it.  But I hope someone will see this and consider preparing upstanding Christian kids to protect themselves and avoid what I went through.  I still love the Lord with all I am… but I’m not fond of any religious institution that ignores the presence of the real world when educating its youth.

Yes- it’s true we are not of this world, but boy howdy, we’re sure in it.

80 Years Young…. My Dad

Tomorrow, my dad will be 80 years old. He’s playfully denying it.  And, he can get away with denying it since he looks so good and still runs around like a maniac.   He spent many years taking care of my mom as she declined from dementia, and since her death, has finally been able to retire; she was work (though he loved her enough to stay with her through anything and everything).  He is healthy, has friends, and can do pretty much what he wants to do. He’s blessed, and he spent years working to have a nice retirement.

My dad was the first born child of immigrants from Sweden.  His father came from Borgholm, Öland, Sweden, and his mother came from Nordmaling, near Umeå, Sweden.  They arrived in separate boats, and had very different experiences on their journeys.  Grandpa thought everything was a party, and enjoyed the whole trip.  Grandma and several of her thirteen siblings were miserable, and once they got to Ellis Island actually ‘lost’ little  Elida, who had gotten sick. They later found her in a New York City hospital suffering from asthma. She was eventually sent back to Sweden, and never saw the Midwest.  None of them spoke English, and their last names were changed to a more American spelling.  Then one of them goes missing. It was a terrible first few experiences in a new country.  It got worse.

Grandma and her siblings took a train from NYC to Chicago. En route, one of the passengers slit his throat in the bathroom of the train, and they all had to watch the blood flow down the aisle of the train car.  From what she told me, nobody did anything to help the situation.  They were all quite young, in a new country, not knowing the language, and witnessing things that were completely horrifying to anybody who was familiar with their surroundings.

My dad was born in 1932, and his parents were too poor to care for him initially.  They were thrilled with a new son, but heartbroken at not being able to care for him. They were very  grateful to have family friends  ‘keep him’ for nearly eighteen months until they could properly care for him.  They all saw each other, but it wasn’t the same.  Once he was back with them for good, he did the typical things a young boy did. His first major accomplishment was to learn English when he went to kindergarten; he spoke Swedish the first five years of his life.  His parents learned English from him, and immersion in the American culture.  Dad went to Boy Scouts, had a paper route at age nine, and ran with his friends in the neighborhood.  He still has some of those friends now.  He remembers hearing about Pearl Harbor when it was announced on the radio.   He remembers clearly when his younger brother arrived in 1946.  He remembers every job he had, and worked hard for decades.

He became a born-again Christian just prior to going to college.  That was the single most important decision in his life.  He joined a solid church, and still goes there nearly every Sunday.  His core circle of friends is there- and they’ve all known each other since the 50s or before.  I’m indescribably thankful for his decision that I be raised in the church.

Dad went to college with a good friend, by working his way through, and graduated from the University of Illinois.  He became a teacher of history and P.E.  He got his Masters in Education in night school.  Later he became an assistant principal of a middle school, then the principal of another middle school, and finally a high school principal at the school I attended.  He was there for twelve years. Now they can’t get anyone to stay for more than a few years. Fortunately for me, he was liked, or that could have been weird.  At first, he’d gone to college to become a lawyer !

He and my mom got married in 1957.  A couple of years later, they lost their first son to hyaline membrane disease (something that would be easily treated now).  Another couple of years later brought more devastation when they lost the second newborn to the same disease. My mom never saw the babies.  Dad had to plan each funeral on his own- both before he was thirty years old.  It was then they decided to adopt a child, and got me in 1963. Mom never really recovered from the deaths of the babies; dad became more driven to work.

Dad and mom travelled extensively over the years, getting to all fifty states and fifty countries before mom died in 2003.  As a teenager I wasn’t that thrilled about not getting to go with them, but I got to stay with my grandparents (I was the only grandkid on that side of the family, which definitely had perks).  That was OK.  Now, I’m so thankful they had the opportunity and ability to do that traveling.  Since mom died, dad has travelled even more, including two cruises (Australia and the Panama Canal) and a trip to Ireland.   He’s done countless road trips, and winter escapes, in this country.

Mom’s illness had a huge impact on dad.  She had multiple cancers and other surgeries,  so was frequently in some state of recovery.  The dementia from the brain radiation was the roughest , as she deteriorated one cell at a time. That left a shell of who she had been and froze the grieving process mid-stream, as she was still technically present. He never complained about taking care of her.  He shaved her legs, trimmed her radiation-ravaged hair, and bought her clothes. He learned how to dress and transfer her from her chair to the bed, and anyplace else she needed to ‘land’.  When she thought it was time for Thanksgiving in July, he went to as many grocery stores as it took to find pumpkin pie for her.  He never thought to tell her ‘no’, as he never wanted her to  feel he was treating her without dignity.  When she died, I knew what was happening (I’d been a nurse for 18 years at the time), but he thought she would pull through just like she always did.  He was heartbroken.  He really loved her; they were faithful to each other for 46 years.  He has told me that if he were to do it over again knowing how she would end up, he still would have married her.  She could be difficult; she  could carry on a conversation about 40 years ago, but don’t ask her what she had for breakfast.  He still stayed with her, and refused to consider a nursing home.

He was (and is) fortunate to have many church and high school friends, and kept active in those early months after mom died.  He found people to hang out with, and when my health has had some significant bumps in the road, has always been there for me.  His main ‘job’ when I’m in the hospital is dog-sitting.  He loves his grandogger. And she loves him.

My dad isn’t perfect, and some in my mom’s family have seriously disliked  him over the years.   He cares about them, because they’re part of my mom. He’s ticked me off at times, but he’s my dad.  I love him more than I could ever stay mad at him.  Yeah, he can drive me nuts sometimes, but that’s just ‘normal’. I’m sure I drive him nuts sometimes, too !  I was never beaten or otherwise abused by him.  He always sought my greater good.  But he never ‘made’ me do anything for his sake.  If he nudged me, it was for my good.  He has a really good heart, and can’t stand to see anyone in pain.  That’s the only thing he’s ever stepped away from the room for when I’ve been in the hospital- even if I don’t complain. He can’t stand to watch someone he loves hurt.  The people who don’t believe that don’t know my dad well enough to have a clue.

In the end, I know he is the primary human in my corner, who is there  unconditionally.  I dread the day when his time on earth is over.