There Is Only One Perfect Father

My dad’s early part of life was pretty rough…which in turn made mine a bit bumpy.  As a child, he was a victim of abuse in more than one way.  When he was old enough, he joined the Air Force and went to Vietnam, where he served on the front lines. He witnessed and participated in some pretty horrific things.

When he came home, he struggled with alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (it would be the 80’s before we’d start to hear about this form of mental illness).  By then he was married to my mother and was not only raising me, but my aunt.  My mother’s much younger sister came to live with us when my maternal grandfather killed my maternal grandmother.  Eventually my sister came along.

We were poor and mostly lived in bad areas of the city.  There was a lot of fighting and violence in the home.  It was not the ideal upbringing and although I legitimately have every reason to focus on the imperfect parts of my father, I choose instead to remember there is only one perfect Father.

My dad left my mom right after my husband and I had our first child.  It was devastating.  Eventually my dad remarried a much younger woman, who had three children around the ages of 10 and 11.  Suddenly I had to embrace this new family.  It wasn’t easy.  It seemed his new wife got the better of him.  Her children benefited from his improved financial position.  They got to enjoy things, and a side of my dad, that I never did.

My dad changed as he got older.  We became closer and I got to experience the more loving side of him.  He enjoyed being a grandpa to my three children and warmly embraced my husband as his own son.   The latter part of my life with him was much better.  And I got to hold his hand as he took his very last breath just over two years ago.

My dad wasn’t perfect.  No dad is perfect—even the most loving, available and caring one.  I believe with all my heart that he parented the best way he could.  It’s easy to blame our parents for the wrongs in our life or to make excuses for our bitterness because of what we experienced.  Perhaps God’s expectations are a little lower than ours.

I don’t know your story…what type of father you were brought up by, or even if your father has been around for you.  I don’t know about your disappointments or the rejection you felt.  You may not have a single bad thing to say about your dad.  Regardless, he is (was) imperfect.

God’s perfection is what enables us to forgive and see past our own pain to better understand someone else’s pain.  It doesn’t diminish the hard times we’ve gone through.  But what’s the point of having a perfect Father if we can’t enjoy the benefits of it?

It’s His perfect love that enables us to love.

It’s His perfect love that allows us to show grace.

It’s His perfect love that helps us to trust again.

It’s His perfect love that enables us to remember we’ve all sinned and fallen short.

May this Father’s Day be a time of healing…of self-reflection…of determination to forgive…of recognition there is only ONE perfect Father!

 

 

 

The Cure for Soul Burnout

I’ve been exhausted physically, after a sleepless night.  I’ve been tapped out emotionally, when everything is going wrong.  And I’ve been mentally drained by difficult circumstances.

But when all three happen or any one of them seems unending, it can lead to soul burnout.  A nap won’t help.  A comedy won’t make us feel better.  And thinking positive won’t change a thing.

The cure?  Soul rest.

Sounds blissful, doesn’t it?  But how exactly do we get there?

Let Go.

So much of what happens is beyond our control.  We can’t change the circumstances or the people.  Yet oftentimes we expend a large amount of energy in trying to, emptying ourselves of any reserves there might be left.

Letting go is one of the hardest things to do, especially for perfectionists (like me).    I think there’s a couple of reasons why this is so hard.  One is that it feels like we’re giving up…we’ve accepted defeat.  The other reason is that we’re putting more stock in our ability than God’s…we think we know a better way.

True surrender is accepting that we don’t know what to do but God does.  Surrender is recognizing that victory can only come through Him.  And it’s coming to the realization that although we may not understand why things are happening, God remains in full control.

Seek quiet.

The noise of this world can easily drown out the solitude our soul needs.  This includes not only the devices and activities that suck us in but the thoughts that cloud our mind.  I do a fairly good job at letting things go…unless it involves those closest to me.  Then I tend to do the “worst-case-scenario” in my head.  Or I get caught up with my emotions, anger when they’ve been hurt or worry over their circumstances.

Seeking quiet may require a setting aside of those devices and activities.  But it also means taking captive our thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Although we can’t completely control our thoughts, we can choose to not dwell on them.  When we mull something over in our mind, we’re likely to go places we’d otherwise not go.  Even righteous anger can turn an ugly direction if we fail to reign in our thoughts.

Another way we can take captive our thoughts is by refusing to react.  Reactions are usually knee-jerk and come from the flesh.  Prayer is more likely to produce a godly response.  This requires getting quiet before God.  The more time spent with Him and in His Word, the less noisy this world becomes.

Pursue God.

When our souls are weary, sometimes the last thing we think about is reading God’s Word or even going to church.  Prayer feels useless.  Keep pursuing God.  Even if you’re not “feeling it,” don’t give up.  It might not feel like He’s there or that He’s listening.  Yet it’s when God feels the furthest that He’s actually the closest and doing the most work in your life.

Some of my most victorious moments have come after a long time of what appeared to be silence from God.  It only made me more aware (and amazed) of God’s power to work in and through a situation.

Enlist help.

If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do is enlist help.  I tend to isolate myself when I’m struggling, which is the very worst thing you can do.  But soul rest isn’t a solo sport.  It’s important to ask others for help, whether it’s in a tangible way or just to have a listening ear.  At the very least, ask those who are trustworthy for prayer.

There was a long period of time in which I experienced soul burnout on my own.  I didn’t turn to anyone.  It was incredibly painful and lonely.  Then a friend invited me to attend a Bible study group.  From the first moment I sat with those ladies, I felt welcomed.  And it didn’t take long before I felt loved and truly cared for through their prayers, words of support and encouragement.  Without their help, I don’t know how I would have made it through.

Soul rest is the cure for burnout.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him (Psalm 62

Although I’m not a very competitive person, I don’t enjoy personal failure.  It’s not as big of a deal if someone else gets the promotion but if I get it and don’t do well, I’ll spend a lot of time rehashing my mistakes.

 

I don’t know anyone who gets a kick out of failing.  It feels bad…sometimes leading to shame, guilt and regret.  Yet there is good that can come out of failure.  Some of the hardest yet most profound lessons are learned through our mess-ups.

 

Those that fail at marriage might think it’s not possible to ever succeed and so they give up hope of ever having a loving, satisfying relationship.  However, taking an honest inventory of those areas that contributed to the breakup, can set you on a course toward a second chance at real love.

 

Failure at a job can cause doubt in one’s ability.  Yet time spent in personal reflection might reveal things we could improve upon.  As a result, a better opportunity may come our way.

 

Many of us have felt like a failure at one time or another with parenting.  While some mistakes are just part of the territory, others could be a result of deep-rooted issues that may be uncovered with time spent in prayer and self-examination.

 

There’s a recurring theme in these examples.  Not one alludes to someone else being at fault for our failures.  Instead, the focus is on self…looking within to find where growth, change, or confession may be the catalyst to go from failure to success.

 

Oftentimes we view success as everything going right.  Things come easily and there’s no real effort that we have to put forth…it all just falls into place.  While this might feel better, it doesn’t grow us as a person.  Failure puts us on alert that something needs attention.   It touches the places deep within our soul that only God can fix.

 

You may not find it easy to welcome failure, but you can embrace the wonderful work that results from it.  You can be a willing participant of God chiseling away the heart of stone and illuminating the heart of flesh within.

 

A REAL Family with REAL Problems

When I started this blog, I was coming out of a really difficult time in my life.  It was almost as if I was in a midlife spiritual crisis.  Life dealt some hard blows and although most of those circumstances are now behind me, I’ve learned that the battles never really stop.  Not as long as we’re on this earth.

 

I have a real family with real problems.  Children who are wayward.  Family members who are divorced, addicted to drugs, and other types of turmoil.  Sometimes the brave face is hard to put on.  Some days it feels like I can’t deal with yet another issue.

 

Discouragement is a battle I face often.  When it gets the upper hand over me, anxiety becomes a serious issue.  At one point, it consumed me to such a degree that I had to seek medical help.  Then shame tried to move in by making me feel bad that God wasn’t enough.  That was a lie.  It had nothing to do with that.  A cancer patient still takes medicine.  A sick person still goes to the doctor.

 

I had to take care of me before I could take care of my family.  God has been more than enough.  He has carried me through some pretty dark days.  He has strengthened me when I felt weak and unable.  He has guided me when I had no answers.

 

Believers don’t get a pass on difficulty.  We have real families that go through real problems.  Yet we have an advantage because we don’t have to rely on medicine or anything else to get us through.  God provides a variety of helps…but the bottom line is that we have a faith that sustains us unlike anything else.  We have the promise of a better tomorrow.  We have the assurance of one day all tears being wiped away and the end of death.

 

We have a hope that the world doesn’t have…and one that we need to share with them.  Not having it all together speaks louder than acting as if life is perfect.  We don’t do others a favor by pretending that faith means a problem-free life.  Faith is what carries us through this problematic life.

 

It’s okay to be a real family with real problems.  Because we serve a real God with real answers.

When Vindication Turns to Victory

Who doesn’t enjoy a good story of the underdog finally getting his day?  When evil is overcome by good and the bad guy gets what’s coming to him.  But what if this isn’t a movie or TV show and instead, it’s your own circumstances.  When the one who wronged you suffers and you can’t help but feel a little bit of personal satisfaction.

 

What does God say about all of this?

 

The Lord judges the peoples; vindicate me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me (Psalm 7:8).

 

Here’s the thing about these verses, the ones that make us feel good because God is on our side and He’s all about vindicating us…there is always more to it than the other person getting what’s coming to them. 

 

It’s easy to lay claim to scripture where God comes through for us.   Yet we neglect the portion of scripture that talks about “our righteousness” and “our integrity”.  In the midst of being wronged, have we remained true to righteousness and integrity?  Can we say that our handling of the situation has been Christ-like?  And do we really think that God’s vindication is supposed to bring us some sort of sick pleasure?

 

Could it be that true victory isn’t a matter of the other person getting what’s coming to him?  That instead it’s a resolution in which both sides come together in peace?

 

When someone wrongs us—especially if it’s done over and over again—our first instinct isn’t usually reconciliation.  It’s “God, get ‘em.”

 

Or maybe that’s just me.

 

God sometimes surprises us.  For months I was sure that vindication was the answer to some difficult people in my life.  Anytime things seemed to finally go against them, I would secretly rejoice (okay, sometimes I did verbalize it).  Yes, I know…very unChrist-like.  But I justified that satisfaction by recounting all the things they’d done to me and my family.  I don’t think anyone would argue that their behavior was in the wrong.  Yet that’s not where God wanted me to park my thoughts.

 

As-a-matter-of-fact, God would show me victory over vindication in a way I never expected.  It wasn’t going to be the satisfaction of the other side getting what was coming to them.  It wouldn’t even be a matter of things going my way.  Instead, God was going to take an awful situation and turn it into a complete miracle.  And I don’t say that lightly.

 

I can’t really say I’ve ever had an “enemy” in my life.  Sure, I’ve had people who rubbed me the wrong way, and those I can’t get along with.  But a TRUE enemy, not something I’ve experienced.  Yet that is what a couple of people had become.  Keep in mind the definition of an enemy is “a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.”  The opposition and hostility against my family was definitely active—for well over a year.

 

When peace is made with an enemy, that my friend, is a miracle.  Vindication wasn’t God’s plan in our circumstances.  Victory would come, instead, through reconciliation.  Not “let’s be friends and hang out” kind of reconciliation.  But “let’s be at peace” because it’s in the best interest of a young life.  I may not like you and you may not like me but we can still do this—even to the point of awkwardly sitting at a table together eating ice cream with that young life who is more positively affected by peace than conflict.

 

No one could have convinced me more than a year ago that this would happen.  Not because I wouldn’t think God is able to orchestrate this type of thing…but that I would never agree to it.  Because how do you sit down with someone who has caused your family grief and stress?  How do you make nice with someone who hasn’t been nice?

 

 

Only God can turn what you thought you wanted—vindication—to victory.  Because nothing is more victorious than making peace with others.

When Life Is Unfair

Risks and Rewards of Being the Authentic You

Although I’ve had moments in which I could fool the best of them, for the most part I’m a pretty real person.  I’m not good at hiding how I feel and I tend to say what’s on my mind.  Deciding to be the authentic you does come with some risks, but there are also wonderful rewards to be reaped.
 
Risk #1 – Not Being Received by Others
This is probably one of the biggest reasons people struggle with being authentic.  They don’t want to be rejected or not liked by others.  It’s less risky to be who others expect you to be.  I know because I’ve been there.  I wanted to fit into the right mold as a wife and mother, so it was easier to pretend I had it all together—when in reality my marriage was teetering on the edge and my children were acting out. 
 
When we care more about what others think than what God thinks, we’ll get caught in this trap.  God doesn’t place expectations on us.  He loves us for who we are and just as we are.  This doesn’t mean we stop striving to become more like Christ, but we understand that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6). 
 
Not everyone is going to like the authentic you.  But we have to be okay with that.  The more concerned we are with what God thinks, the less concerned we’ll be with what others think.   If our confidence is people-based, we can’t possibly grow in Christ. 
 
Reward #1 – Being Liked for Who You Are
As a result of being the authentic you, a wonderful discovery is made.  There are people who will actually like you for the person you are.  Aren’t these the kind of people we want in our lives anyway?  A genuine friend and an honest relationship?  Someone who likes the soft side of you as well as the prickly?  Who can look past your flaws to the person underneath?
 
My closest friends have seen the best in me but also the worst.  And yet they still care about and love me.  They can handle my attitude because they don’t take it personally.  They know it’s just me being me in my more difficult moments.  Because the truth is, we all have character flaws—things in us that we’re working on.  Those who can handle that are worthwhile people to have in your life.
 
It’s better to be loved by a few (even one) than receive false acceptance from a group of people.  The real deal is always a better deal!
 
Risk #2 – Getting Stuck in Sin
Another risk we face in being the authentic you is getting stuck in the trap of sin.  What I mean is that we can become so comfortable with who we are, that we’re not willing to change.  We shrug our shoulders and declare, “That’s just who I am.” 
 
For several years, I justified my struggles with anger.  It was either the fault of someone else (you know, the person who caused me to become angry), it was a result of my childhood (that’s always the easiest to blame) or it’s just how us German people respond (yeah, I even used culture as an excuse).  It was an attitude of “take me or leave me” because it’s not going to change.
 
Being authentic has nothing to do with accepting our sinful behavior.  It’s accepting who we are but recognizing our need for repentance and the receiving of God’s grace.  It’s a willingness to admit our faults and a commitment to change them. 
 
Reward #2 – Being Pardoned from Sin
The greatest reward of authenticity is knowing that we can come before the Lord, stained with all kinds of filth, and yet be washed clean through the forgiveness of Jesus.  It really doesn’t get better than that!
 
Authenticity before the Lord is the only way to grace.  Yes, He knows about our sins.  He knows the areas we struggle in and He knows the reasons for it.  But God wants us to come before Him, in humility, confessing that we have strayed from His path…admitting that we are a sinner…and asking for His mercy. 
 
God always has better for us.  He doesn’t want to leave us where we’re at.  He wants us to grow in Him.  He wants us to be a godly example to others. 
 
We can hide our true selves from others, but we can’t from God.  So we might as well keep it real with Him. 

1)I have full control over this stage of my life…how I want it to look and how to make it happen.

Although this is true in any stage of life, I don’t think a person really gets this until they reach midlife.  Time becomes more precious and you tend to want to make the most of it.  Instead of letting the world dictate how life should look, we take the reins and move in the direction that is best for us.  You learn that things won’t just happen to fall into place—that we have a part to play in the unfolding of what’s before us.

2) Drama is overrated.

“Reality” television has convinced us that dramatics will get you somewhere in life.  The reality is that it gets you nowhere as a person.  You end up looking foolish.  You may lose the respect of others.  And frankly, it’s just a waste of time.

3) Gravitate toward those who make you a better person and retreat from those who suck out the life in you.

Getting older, I’ve definitely become more cautious about my relationships.  I gravitate more toward those who are not only like-minded, but show me how to be a better person.  These aren’t people who sugarcoat things but tell me the truth—even when it’s ugly or hard.  I retreat from those who draw me into things that aren’t healthy (like gossip) or who never have anything positive to say.

4) Get back up, no matter how hard or how far you’ve fallen.

Every single day I mess up—whether in a small or big way.  There are times I feel like the biggest failure in the world.  Yet God’s grace is always available.  More than just a band-aid to cover the wounds of my sins, His grace is the arms I need to lift me up out of the pit.  To get me back up so that I can move forward into being who He has called me to be.

5) Don’t be afraid to establish boundaries.

We can’t always walk away from the people that in our life.  But we can establish boundaries that serve as a form of protection.  Whether it’s creating distance from the person or learning to stand up for yourself, we shouldn’t be afraid to do whatever is necessary to protect our hearts.  Healthy boundaries are not only for your good, but oftentimes for the good of the other person.

6) It’s never too late.

We don’t have to allow life to stop or slow down just because we’re getting older.  It’s never too late to try something new.  To develop a skill.  To form a new habit.  To take a risk.  To step out of your comfort zone.  It’s never too late to enjoy life!

7) Avoid the trap of a “busy” life.

In my younger years, my worth as a person was based on how many plates I could keep spinning in the air.  It was a badge I wore with honor.  But here’s what I’ve come to learn about this type of life, it’s a trap that kept me from doing the things I was meant to do.  Sometimes it negatively impacted relationships.  I’ve learned that busy not only makes you tired, it makes you unavailable to the more important matters in life.

8) Not allowing the past to define me.

Each day is a new opportunity to be the person I am meant to be.  So that means I don’t have to allow the past to define who I am.  I look at each new day as a fresh clean start—a slate to write upon it the story of who I am going to be that day.  It doesn’t matter what I did 20 years ago or yesterday, I have been graced with the chance to do things differently.

9) Simple is so much better than complicated.

I don’t like complicated relationships…complicated situations…complicated living.  I have become a much simpler person as I’ve gotten older.  This has led to less stress and more peace.  Less worry and more faith.  It’s the simple things in life that often matter the most.

10) Loosen up for goodness sakes!

Between my Type A personality and the German in me, fun and laughter doesn’t come as naturally to me as I would like.  But I’m working on it.  Being an old fuddy duddy is not very enjoyable…not only to yourself but those around you.  I’m definitely learning to loosen up…to not sweat the small stuff.  To get silly once-in-a-while.  To not make a big deal out of small things.  Life is so much more enjoyable when you’re undies aren’t in a bunch.

 

I’ve had more than my fair share of “if only” moments in life.  If only I had finished college…if only I hadn’t run up that credit card…if only I had listened to her advice…if only I had done a better job with my health.  These missed opportunities were a result of personal choices, with no one else to blame but myself.

 

There are other “if only” moments we encounter in life.  Ones that we have no control over—such as the loss of a loved one, a job or the end of a relationship.  If only Jesus had healed our loved one.  If only the company hadn’t folded.  If only that person had been willing to make things work.  Circumstances out of our hands, with no one else to blame (it seems) but God.

 

In the Bible we read about Martha, a woman who experienced one of those times.  Her brother Lazarus had taken ill.  Martha and her sister Mary had sent word to Jesus, letting him know about their dire circumstances.  Yet Jesus didn’t rush to Lazarus’ bedside.  He waited.  As a result, by the time he finally got there, it was too late.

 

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:1)

 

Like Martha, I have sent word to Jesus…letting him know about my dire circumstances.  When my father was hospitalized in the beginning of 2015, I prayed for divine intervention.  But no one, including the doctors, had any control over how quickly his interstitial lung disease progressed.

 

On February 3, 2015, I held one of his hands as he took his last breath.  If only…

 

My story didn’t end like it did for Martha.  Her “if only” was answered by a miraculous healing, as Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead.  I can’t help but wonder how long she might have stayed stuck in her “if only” thoughts.  You see, it’s perfectly understandable to suggest that God might have done something to intervene in our painful circumstances.  Clearly, He is capable of bringing back the dead…keeping our job intact…restoring that relationship.  But when He doesn’t, will we get hung up on the “if only”?  Or will we turn that into another statement, “But even if He does not…”

 

In Daniel 3, we read about King Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into a fiery furnace.  These three Israelites knew God’s power and ability to deliver them from the flames.  In verse 18, this declaration is made:  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

 

There is always the possibility that God won’t do what we want.  Where are you going to park your thoughts?  On the “if only” or “but even if He does not”?

 

With the death of my dad, I was able to quickly move to the “but even.”  It’s the only explanation for how I was able to sing worship songs to God, with tears rolling down my face, as I left his lifeless body at the hospice and went home to tell my family.

 

Yet there have been other circumstances in my life, where I stayed stuck on the “if only.”  This resulted in a shaky faith, with no peace.  My emotions strangled me.  Everything felt hopeless.  It’s a terrible place to remain stuck.  The longer you park your thoughts there, the more difficult it is to get out of the pit.

 

God doesn’t mind hearing your declarations of “if only.”  He can handle it.  He understands.  But that’s not where we are to remain.  The sooner we get to the place of “but even if He does not,” the sooner we will experience the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).  This is what will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

My Personal Resurrection

I always enjoy the scene of Jesus ascending into Heaven…the applause starts in my heart and moves to my hands, as I celebrate His resurrection.  From cruel suffering at the hands of men and death on the cross, to a glorious homecoming in the Heavens.  Sin once and for all nailed to the cross, His blood spilled out for me.

 

Sometimes, we can hear the story so often that we become almost too familiar with it.  To the point, it becomes just that…a story.  We relegate it to something that only applies at Easter.  Yet it’s a yearlong truth—a daily truth of our personal resurrection.  When we miss this, when it becomes so much a part of us that we forget it’s significance…we fall into complacency and ungratefulness.

 

Daily I need to be reminded that when Christ ascended into Heaven, it became my personal resurrection.  Resurrection from the pit of hell.  Resurrection from the grip of sin on my life.  Resurrection from defeat.  Resurrection from loss and heartache and pain.

 

Regardless of what’s going on in my life…despite the hardships or trials I face, the reality is that Christ has resurrected me.  If everything goes wrong.  If nothing changes.  If life brings disappointment.  If I don’t live to see another day…I have the assurance of being resurrected from this sinful earth to a glorious heaven.

 

Yet daily I need to recognize my personal resurrection.  I am not defeated.  I am not without.  I am not alone.  I have the victory in Christ.  I have all I need in Him.  He is always with me.

 

This Easter I am trying really hard to focus less on what’s wrong in my life and more on my personal resurrection story.  I’m trying to stop seeing the stories about Palm Sunday and the Last Supper and Good Friday as nothing more than a recounting of the past.  Because it’s my present.  It’s my future.

 

Here’s what I really love about Jesus ascending to Heaven.  In Acts 1:9, we’re told that Jesus was taken up before the eyes of His disciples.  That means they had to look up.  Maybe we all need to do a little more looking up.  What’s your personal resurrection story?