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Freedom and Choice

We all need freedom of choice. But sometimes, others will not respect that. Some may try to manipulate or guilt you into doing what THEY want. It is a sad fact of life-that can happen in almost every area-work, family, relationshtips, friendships, etc. Some people will try to do this because they want control. Maybe they know no other way to interact, trying to protect themselves by controlling others in their own brokenness. Maybe they believe their opinions are worth more than they are, somehow elevated above what others think and feel. There are many reasons.

But those reasons do not excuse the behaviors. Whenever we are pushed or manipulated into doing something, even if it seems a good idea, we give away our free choice. We give our power over to another person and lose ownership of ourselves, our choices, and our life. We may come to agree with another’s view, but we must own our own decision-making to come to that conclusion. Otherwise, we become slaves. Slaves to whatever is dictating what we do, think, or feel.

Some of us may need the reminder that being pushed, guilted, or manipulated is NOT OK. It is easy to get used to if it happens enough, and unfortunately, those prone to doing the pushing or manipulating can smell it and pounce. If someone at work, in the family, or in a closer relationship comes to mind, remember that you have the freedom to make your own choices in thought and action. You are not being selfish or a problem, even if the other party is not happy. Someone needs that encouragement today. Some people in our lives may not be healthy and supportive of this, but those with good boundaries will respect you and your decisions. It may be hard to stand up for yourself, say no, disagree, or state your opinion, but know that it is good to do so, even if someone else becomes unhappy. Without a real no, we cannot have a real yes. Without defining our own borders, whatever they may be, we cannot be true and authentic with those around us. Stay strong everyone!

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Sometimes expectations can give us direction, motivation, passion, and framework for our lives. Sometimes, expectations held onto too strongly can cripple us when things do not go the way we want. It can be difficult to cope when things do not go our way in any given area of life. When that happens, it might be worthwhile to look at how tightly you hold onto your expectations and how it helps or ultimately hinders you. We can own our own expectations -but that does not mean others have to follow them. Often, life does not comply with what we want. How do you respond when that happens?

The day had gone; alone and weak
I groped my way within a bleak
     And sunless land.008 (2)
The path that led into the light
I could not find! In that dark night
     God took my hand.
He led me that I might not stray,
And brought me by a safe, new way
I had not known.
By waters still, through pastures green
I followed Him-the path was clean
     Of briar and stone.
The heavy darkness lost its strength,
My waiting eyes beheld at length
     The streaking dawn.
On, safely on, through sunrise glow
I walked, my hand in His, and lo,
The night had gone.

-Annie Porter Johnson


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Time Does Not Always Heal

Time can heal for some things. However, deep hurts and wounds from life stick with us until we actively face and process through them. An infection begins from a cut, and while the open wound may heal a little, the infection spreads until it gets actively cleaned out. The infection does not go away on its own IF the cut is deep enough.

Sometimes, we can directly correlate what we feel with why we feel. We know the exact cause, and the task becomes handling the thoughts and emotions from the identified trigger. For example, after a tough day at work where you are harassed by an aggressive customer or coworker, you know exactly why you feel drained  when you get home. You can make an effort to keep boundaries between a tough professional day and your personal life, and make time for recovering.

Other times, often more chronically throughout the days that pass, maybe you feel a constant edge. A constant discomfort, restlessness, fear, and/or anger, and/or a constant reaction to certain situations or people. Maybe you cannot describe your experience other than knowing it is toil and pain. There are many possible reasons for your experience and struggle. One possible factor of many could be a past wound not thoroughly cleansed or bound. Here’s an exercise to try:

When thinking of painful past experiences and/or people, what comes to mind for you? (Take time to see what drifts into your thoughts)

For what pops into your mind, how do you feel as you remember? (Take some time to just feel without expectations or moving on)

If you could picture your feelings as wounds, what do they look like? Are they closed over like a painless scar? Are they halfway closed but starting to get infected and red? Or are they open wounds that are raw, exposed, painfully infected, and crippling? Are they once-healed wounds that have been re-opened?

Painful experiences happen to all of us-wherever you are at with processing yours, there is someone in a similar spot. Just try “googling” your struggle or feeling and see what comes up. For all of us, it can be helpful to take an inventory of memories and feelings  and their possible effect on how we are functioning today. If you identify something infected or open, what would it look like to clean it and wrap it? For today, it could be a momentous step to even go there- to feel that pain, and acknowledge your wounds without brushing them under the rug. It is a crucial first step that takes courage. Remember there are others who are working through the struggle, and you are not alone. 

Blessings to you.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” -Psalm 147:3
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Two months ago I bought my first car-and simultaneously, my first new car! A beautiful tungsten 2018 Subaru Outback. It was love at first sight. I felt like a new mother with a precious new baby. An only-child baby named Pearl. Beautiful beige seats, the brand-new-car smell, squeaky clean, and super high-tech to me considering my last (and only) car was an old jeep.  Pearl was magnificent.

6 days after signing for Pearl I drove her on the highway for the first time, still in the honeymoon phase with the beauty and newness. However, the butterflies and rainbows over this car splattered when a truck passed me on the left. I saw it in slow motion…a huge, ugly rock seemed to float from the truck in my upper left corner vision right to where I was. It hit my windshield. A sickeningly loud POP.  And, just like that, my brand new precious Pearl was scarred with a nasty crack.

I did not take this incident well. I drove back home and cried. I sulked the whole week waiting for a repair service to replace the windshield. I prayed about my frustration and discouragement for ever getting anything new or nice again (overdramatic? maybe a little). And the more I vented to God, the more my heart changed to see the situation in a different perspective. I still had the car. The windshield would be fixed, easy. Why did I react like I lost everything? Why did I feel like I lost everything?

I had viewed the car like it WAS everything. 

I liked it, sure, but was it more important than family and friends? My character? My soul? How I contribute to the world? Of course not. It’s just a car. More importantly, it’s an object given as a gift, but not something I’m entitled to (Psalm 24:1, 1 Chronicles 29:12). I needed a heart check, and actually became grateful for the rock and what it taught me for how to see and use this car with a healthy perspective.

I’ve had other “rocks” hit my proverbial life windshield since then. I think these are lessons God is taking me through to teach something important about how I view the things and situations around me starting a newer chapter in my life. Coincidentally (or maybe not), correlating with my previous thoughts on pursuing what will remain. It’s clearly a lesson I’m still in school for, and that’s ok. RocksI need more discipline in this area for my own wellness, but there’s grace. Coincidentally (or maybe not), the reading today was from John 1:16: “Out of his fullness [Jesus] we have all received grace in place of grace already given.

Do “rocks” come up in your life, too? How do you identify them? How do you take it when they hit? How do you recuperate?

Picture: Retrieved from thekindnessrocksproject.com
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Finding the “Middle Ground” in Depression

Depression can hit hard, especially in the common experience waking up and feeling run over by a truck. Whether expected or unexpected, it is past morning and you (or someone you know) are still in bed unable to find the energy to get up. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to experience that icky-morning-slump where every fiber of your being does not want to move. It is no trivial thing and should not be treated as such. Then the thoughts come about needing to get up to tackle the insurmountable pile of chores and responsibilities needing attention. Why aren’t they being done? What is wrong with me that I can’t get up to do what obviously needs to be done?

The battle between wanting to lay in bed and do nothing, versus seeing everything needing to be done RIGHT NOW, begins. “Snapping out of it” rarely works. Please, please do not say “snap out of it” to yourself or someone else experiencing depression.

How about finding a compromise? Instead of only laying in bed all day versus only running around to fulfill duties and responsibilities while feeling awful, what would it look like to show compassion to yourself while setting a SMALL goal to meet? If you have to get up to go to work/school, where can you get your favorite coffee or breakfast to show kindness to yourself and find the time to enjoy it? If you have homework or job searching to do, can you do it while curling up and watching a favorite movie with a soothing cup of tea?

There’s room for creativity here to find the middle ground that engages in meeting responsibilities AND taking the time to rest with compassion and kindness towards yourself in what you are experiencing. What could this look like for you?

008 (2)

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Pursue What Remains

An old teacher used to say we all have a false source of life, and a false source of death. What is one (or more) thing(s) that you think “if I just had this, then everything will be ok”-Money? A certain relationship? Degree? Career? Social status? Similarly, what is one (or more) thing(s) that completely cripples you, that you have to work to avoid at all costs? Someone else’s poor opinion of you? Failure? Lowered status in a social group or a job?

Most of us have at least one false source of life and false source of death-it is easy to dismiss them as irrelevant in our heads because we know better, but the gut reactions in our hearts say different. Try to REALLY pause and go deep on what this looks like for you, even if you know it shouldn’t affect you so much. Try to feel.  Most people I know, including myself, have stuff-you’re not alone. Once we are more aware of these things, even if they’re still there, we can become freer and more joyful.

Because after we get whatever gives us a false source of life, life goes on. Things don’t stop and remain perfect after we get that specific thing or goal. Similarly, after something we dread and fear happens, though it is by no means fun, we still remain afterwards-which is proof in and of itself that better things will come, new love will pour in, and a new light will dawn the next day after the dark. Feel your heart beating. You are still here, you remain. And you matter.

Of course, it is wonderful to enjoy good things when they come. Celebrate! And we need to mourn when bad things come. We need to feel. Through all the ups and downs we can avoid becoming dependent on these things. We can avoid becoming miserably enslaved to spending our life chasing after a false source of life, and we can avoid becoming miserably enslaved to avoiding our false sense of death at all costs.

After both, you’re still here-that’s what’s important.

When you strip away all the circumstances that can change so easy, the fickle and imperfect people, the things around you in a state of decay, and the “stuff”, what remains?

What, or Who, securely gives you life for what remains?

What would happen if you looked to this secure, unchanging, real Source of Life and love instead of the “stuff”?

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Judgment and Criticism

I heard someone today compare being critically  judgmental to carrying around venom. And there’s a growing amount of it in our world. At least from my experience, I find almost every person I know who says “don’t judge”, “treat others like you want to be treated”, etc., classify others according to political, personal, or value-driven beliefs-or just a personal dislike. It’s like two completely separate worlds coinciding at the same time within the same person even though the worlds contradict each other.

And, to be frank, I’m one of those people.

Most of us are hurt by judgments from others. I know I’ve been blasted by them, and am still healing from the pain and trauma. And yes, there is trauma. But I also know that I’ve blasted others. Sometimes because I got blasted first. Sometimes because I was convinced I was right.

“Don’t judge” is easy to understand when I write it, but then I think about what I see on the news. Any news, really. Except maybe the heartwarming little segment about the puppy up for adoption that breaks up the rest of the serious agenda. But when the news gets to politics, world relations, and what laws are up for debate in my country, it’s a lot harder for me to do. Or when I immediately want to criticize one of my neighbors or personal rivals, I see my own capacity to spew venom in thought or action any time-and that I carry around more of it than I thought.

I do not have to be best friends with everyone and will still use DISCERNMENT for who I trust and how I interact. I do not plan on naively coming back to the people who caused pain and trauma for me as a doormat. But I want to be more aware of the venom in myself as I see the venom in others.  It will get worse in the world and I will always have the ability to spew it out on my own. But I don’t have to. The more I’m aware my venom is there, the more I can choose to think and act different. I can be more compassionate when I see others use venom because I’m no better. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing the potential in all of us to spit out judgments and criticism makes me all the more grateful for mercy to receive, and give out freely, as I work on myself consistently before pointing fingers at someone else.

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