Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Blogger Challenge Day 5: Suicidal Ideation

The challenge issued for today's post is to describe a time in my life when I considered suicide. While there were dark moments in my teen years and some pretty intense, but short-lived, depressive moments following my divorce, I can't say that I've ever ventured too close to the kind of dismay and emotional devastation that leads to a consideration of suicide. Beyond that, I was raised Catholic. I was indoctrinated into Catholic guilt at a young age, and no self-preservational Catholic would ever move a pinky toe towards suicide.  Avoiding the wrath of God, the archangels, and the Blessed Virgin is a top priority. I won't wade here into the deep waters of whether those who commit suicide are admitted to heaven, but suffice it to say, I've never been remotely willing to take the chance that they are not. :)

But as I consider the kind of emptiness and despair that leads to thoughts of suicide, I am struck by the realization that there is more than one kind of suicide. Those who end their lives do so primarily to put an end to intense emotional pain but also because they have resigned themselves to a way of thinking that they cannot navigate themselves out of - the deep and profound belief that there is nothing worth living for and no greater purpose to their lives. Psychologists refer to this mindset as suicidal ideation.

I have watched a number of television programs over the last few months that focus on quantum physics and the origins of the universe, primarily because my teenage son has a fascination with science and physics and I want to help guide his thinking (where I can) around issues related to creation and evolution. A number of scientists of our day, most notably Stephen Hawking, are making bold proclamations about the creation of the universe. Hawking recently caused shockwaves in the scientific and theological communities when he postulated that the universe could easily have evolved on its own without the purposeful intent of a divine hand. With apologies to the faith community, Hawking stated that he had seen nothing to confirm the existence of God and, conversely, had found sufficient scientific justification to suggest the universe simply created itself.

I consider this a suicidal ideation.

By definition, suicide is the "act of an organism intentionally causing its own death." What, then, must I conclude of scientists like Hawking and those who use his scientific theories to justify atheism? Even if Hawking is correct - that we exist as the result of a random outcome of quantum physics - then we truly have no reason to exist, there are no moral absolutes, and death will be the end of all of us. Talk about emptiness and despair! Seriously, why not just check out now? But, if the God of the Universe in whom I have put my faith truly does exist, then atheism is the ultimate suicidal ideation.  For those who embrace it, death will truly be the final outcome, and whatever years they have put in on earth will be a vapor. In my mind, atheism is a lose-lose proposition.  And for the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would chose it. There is nothing in Hawking's brilliant quantum theories that explains why we exist, nor do they compel people toward kindness, goodness, or foregivness. By whittling the existence of humanity down to irrefutable physical laws and mathematical formulae, Hawking has sucked the very life out of life. What need have we of hope, the most self-preservational of all human emotions if, in the end, there is nothing?

Suicide is the very antithesis of hope.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blogger Challenge Day 4: My Views on "Religion"

Definition of Religion

1 a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>
   b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural
      (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
There are many definitions of "religion" and you'd certainly get a different perspective on this word depending on whom you ask. Of those offered by Merriam-Webster (above), I prefer the last one. I particularly love the words "cause" and "ardor" referenced here.

There was a time in my early walk with God that I would have shunned the word "religion" and told you emphatically that I wasn't religious. I was spiritual (as though making that distinction somehow conveyed a more appealing version of my approach to faith). Having been raised in the Catholic Church, where the concept of religious observance is often taken to ritualistic extremes, I began my journey as a born-again believer with a strong desire to throw off the imposing weight of religious observances and proceed instead under the yolk of freedom that is found in a personal, relational connection to Christ. I had spent years in Catholic school reciting monotone prayers, sitting through uninspired but well-memorized responses required to participate in the "liturgy" of the Catholic mass, and participating in a year-long stream of seemingly archaic rituals related to the rosary, reconciliation, the stations of the cross, and the sacraments.  In my mind, the dense layers of ritual that had been piled onto the Catholic faith were in stark contrast to the simple and straightforward life of Jesus and the New Testament believers of the early church. And if that was "religion," I wanted no part of it.

Over the years, I have vigorously nodded my head to more than one statement on the part of an evangelical pastor on the subject of religion. My own pastor has frequently taught me that "Christ did not come to establish religion. He came to establish relationship." The rituals and practices of the modern church, both those of the liturgical denominations and those of the evangelical denominations, represent the attempts of man to place structure and law around that relationship. While that structure undoubtedly lends depth and scope to the corporate expression of the Body of Christ, those rules and doctrines have brought with them inarguable division and condemnation in the church. And it is that same zeal for putting God in a box and condemning those who fall outside of it that has driven people out of God's House rather than drawing them into it and has resulted in an almost global public sentiment that the Christian "religion" is filled with judgmental, intolerant, and self-righteous hypocrits. This is a far cry from the character and nature of Jesus we see in the Gospels nor the beauty and simplicity of the Sermon on the Mount.  It's the very reason that nonbelievers visibly shudder at the mere mention of "religion."

Yet, when I look at the definition of religion above and, even more powerfully, the definition of religious (manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged deity), it gives me pause.  In general speech, we will often use this term to describe someone's commitment to an action or activity (He goes to the gym religiously). There is no negative connotation here. The word is not used to imply an imposing or convicting standard. Rather, the word here is used to describe someone who is so committed to exercise that he makes it a priority, rarely misses it, and has manifested that commitment to such a degree that it is evident to others. That sounds very much like devotion. Have I stumbled upon the true identity of "religion" here?

Last semester in Celebration Sisterhood, we spent a lot of time looking at the inarguably "religious" lives of the Jewish rabbis at the time of Christ - the commitment to biblical study, to prayer, to community, and to relationships. We saw evident in the life of a rabbi and his followers the very essence of discipleship, what it means to be a devout follower of Christ. In that day, a rabbinical disciple would have welcomed the description of "religious," as a confirmation that his devotion to God and to his faith were evident to others.  It was into this deep water of devotion that Christ waded when cautioning the religious leaders of his day against legalism. It is when religious devotion ventures away from relationship and into legalism that they, and we, can allow it all to go terribly awry.

This is where that word "ardor" comes in from the Webster definition above. Religious devotion cannot just come from a faithful commitment. It must be tempered with the ardor (love) of a heart that is connected in relationship to God. Faithful commitment without relationship becomes a meaningless ritual. In that sense, religion isn't a summation of rules and beliefs associated with a particular group (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.).  It isn't what I believe in my mind.  It is what I am committed to in my heart and what is manifested in my life.  Religious, then, is just another word for faithful.

So if you ask me now if I am religious, my response will be: 

 I am trying to be. I am definitely trying to be.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Blogger Challenge Day 3: My Views on Drugs and Alcohol

Wow. Nothing like a can of worms being thrust into your hands. I was tempted to skip or modify this day 3 topic because this isn't a soapbox or ministry issue for me. But this wouldn't be a blogger "challenge" if I treated it like a buffet and selected only the challenge topics I wanted to write about. And truly there so much spiritual "angst" in the modern church over the subject of alcohol that I should welcome the leadership opportunity to drill down on it, right?  We'll see. 

For many Christians the immediate answer would be, "Drugs and alchohol are bad! Just say no!"  But obviously the issue of "drugs" is more complex than that. First, pinning down the definition of a drug or identifying what is and is not a drug is a whole lot harder than it might appear. Clearly we have some guidelines from the FDA on what constitutes a legal vs. illegal substance, and of the legal substances, which must be prescribed by a licensed clinician. Trying to apply a strict approach to the subject of drugs would lead you down the narrow path of assuming that legality alone should shape your views about drugs. I've observed more than a few Christians condemn someone for smoking pot (because it's illegal) while clearly addicted to prescribed medications for chronic pain. I think we also have to be much more aware of the dynamics of addictive behavior and recognize that the word "drug" in its strictest sense - ie, something that has the ability to physiologically alter the body - goes way beyond medications.

While I would unequivocally land on the side of the argument that suggests illegal drugs have been deemed illegal for a reason and you should avoid them if for no other reason than civic responsibility to obey the law, it takes some intuitive critical thinking to move beyond legalism and recognize that we're often focusing on the wrong thing.  Regardless of legality, you would be hard pressed to convince me that person who occasionally smokes marijuana is somehow more "wrong" than the college student who is relying on Red Bull to stay awake in class every day or the husband who is addicted to online poker and is secretly emptying his savings account to support his habit at the expense of his marriage. Only one of those three things is illegal, but we could well debate which of those three represents truly addictive and/or harmful behavior.

We all have a drug or drugs of some kind. Food. Shopping. Gambling. Videogames. Sports. Television. Sex. Gossip. Smoking. Pills. Alcohol. Coffee. Exercise. Facebook. Tattoos. Excessive organization (had to throw that one in there for my husband). You name it. Whatever that new hobby or preoccupation is that has captured your attention. We consume these "drugs" because they generate a rush, a thrill, or a sense of pleasure. But none of those is inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Certainly some of them, like pills, smoking, and alcohol carry a greater social stigma, especially in the church, because they represent the potential for the most harmful abuses and behaviors, but that doesn't mean they are always harmful or that the other things on the list aren't worth worrying about. 

There are a lot of Christians and churches out there still operating under a very oppressive and legalistic mindset when it comes to this topic. It's as though there is a decree nailed to the front door of the church with a list of vices that will not be tolerated, and if you engage in them, there will be an immediate presumption that you are either backslidden, living in sin, or not a "true" believer. Don't you dare read that Harry Potter book or have a glass of champagne at your sister's wedding. And you better hide that nicotine patch you put on before church because you don't want anyone questioning your faith if they suddenly discover you're struggling to quit smoking.

I personally believe that it is this puritanical approach to governing the church that has driven people out of it and shaped resentment in the hearts of those who mistakenly assume that God demands perfection before you can ever set foot in His House.  And it warps the sensitivity of the church leader who zeros in on the guy who lit up a cigarette last week in the church parking lot while completely ignoring the church elder whose 300-pound weight is a far more immediate and critical issue. Even in my own church, where we strive for a connection to each other that is free of legalism and condemnation, I have still heard more than one critical statement made about a church member who was seen drinking a glass of wine at a dinner party or family gathering.  And all because the person who saw it was looking through a lense shaped by legalistic indoctrination and not by a true consideration for whether the behavior they witnessed was worrisome or represented a change in that church member's devotion or behavior.  And how can we possibly justify a criticism about someone drinking alcohol when uttered by a gossiping and divisive tongue? I'd personally point to the latter is the more insidious and worrisome behavior.

Some say, "Love the sinner and hate the sin." Many Christians assume this saying comes from the Bible.  It doesn't.  Actually, it's not anywhere in the Bible.  The problem with this statement is that it gives us permission to have an elitist and hateful mindset.  We're all sinners.  That's a given. It's rather arrogant to even adopt a "love the sinner" mentality because it labels the other person in a hypocritical way.  Why not just love the person?  And I'm a personal believer that if God is love and He commands us to love, then "hate" shouldn't even be in our vocabulary.  In fact we should flee that feeling as swiftly as we flee sin.

Okay, that's my 2 cents on drugs, alcohol, and the prevailing mindset of the church.  I welcome your thoughts. :)


Monday, August 29, 2011

Blogger Challenge Day 2: Where I Want to Be in Ten Years

I have to admit...this one drew me up short. I'm pretty goal-oriented and like having a plan, but I don't tend to think this far out. Ten years from now my oldest two children will be out of the house and my baby will be entering high school. Truly, I'd like to freeze time right where it is and never see that ten-year mark. I know God has great things in store for their lives and mine, but I still want to hold them close and never let them go.

But time will march on, and ten years will be here before we can blink an eye. And this blog challenge is as good a time as any to get some compelling goals on the record for where I want to "be" in ten years.  As I consider that challenge, I can say that I don't have a lot of preference for where I'll physically reside in ten years, as long as it means I am alive, curling up next to my husband at night, prospering in my career, serving in my church, and actively engaged in my children's lives - but I do have a lot of hopes for where I will be in terms of my spiritual and personal growth, so I'm going to choose to drill down on those here.

So, here goes.  If I work purposefully with the Holy Spirit, then in 10 Years I will:
  1. Listen more and talk less.  If you know me, you're laughing right now.  Yes, this is a tall order. But I really want to become the person Peter is referring to here:  "You should clothe yourselves instead from the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."  1 Pet 3:4.  Thank God for the Holy Spirit because on my own, I could never hope to accomplish this, whether I had 10 years or 100 years to work on it.
  2. Pray more. I do this a good deal now, and I try not to operate under the burden of a legalistic mindset about how much or how often I pray.  But I am utterly convinced that prayer is powerful and precious, and I just simply need to do more of it.
  3. Know more of God's Word.  I love the Word of God...I mean really love it.  If I won the lottery tomorrow (which would require me to buy lottery tickets, I realize), I would quit my job and enroll in seminary.  I'd pursue a Master's and a PhD in divinity.  I'd learn Greek and ancient Hebrew and literally immerse myself in theological study. But I can't use my job and my lack of wealth as an excuse not to pursue those same goals to whatever extent I can. Studying Epic of Eden last year reignited my zeal for biblical scholarship, so if ten years from now I have ignored that hunger for God's Word and know it only as well as I know it now, I'll be disappointed in myself.
  4. Serve with high impact.  Having just witnessed the groundbreaking of our future church building, I pray that 10 years from now Celebration will have broadened its global impact and that I will play a contributory part in seeing that happen. 
  5. Bear beautiful fruit. While I will not necessarily be in my "old age" (Psalm 92:14), I do hope at 53 years old, I will be better at surrendering to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to release His fruit in my life. Selfishly, I do want to flourish like a palm tree and be fresh and green under the favor of God, but mostly I know that if I'm still bearing fruit as I grow older, I'm still positioning myself to be used by God.
There are a lot more ways I hope I've grown and changed in 10 years.  I hope I'm thinner and healthier.  I hope I'm slower to anger and frustration and quicker to compassion and forgiveness.  I hope I trust God more and worry less.  And I hope I'm still dreaming. I'm an idealist to my core, and if I ever stop dreaming, it will be time for me to stop living.  :)

What about you?  Where do you want to "be" in 10 years?


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blogger Challenge Day 1: My Current Relationship

This will be one of the easiest posts of this 30-day challenge. There is nothing, aside from my relationship with God, more fulfilling in my life than my "current relationship." I had to grin when I typed those words because I've had more than a few relationships in my life, and "current" would have been an appropriate way to refer to any relationship I was in. I admit there was a time that I was more in love with being in love than I was with being in a relationship, and it took me a number of years and some painful choices to figure out that staying in love is really where the fun is. There are a lot of things that contributed to that unhealthy mindset that I won't go into here (maybe in another post in this challenge), but needless to say, the lesson was hard-learned and hard-earned.

I was on the tail end of learning that hard lesson (ie, divorce #2) when I met Grady. Emerging from a few painful years of his own and struggling, like I was, with what he really wanted out of his life, we were quite the pair of relationship misfits. I look back now almost 9 years later and realize that we couldn't have been better suited for each other.  When both people enter a relationship with humility, the right kind of seeds get planted in the right kind of soil.  Neither of us felt worthy of love and both of us were astoundingly grateful to have found it in each other. Beyond that, I discovered the simple truth that if you look closely at truly successful relationships, you'll find two people who are really into each other.  I can now recognize it in other marriages, and I see it in my own.  It's not about how much or how little you argue, whether you agree on everything, whether you like the same things, or whether you have the perfect schedule of date nights. It's about that deep connection you have to that other person that is the underpinning of all the rest.  Bottom line...I am really into my husband and he is really into me.  Falling in love is the easy part.  Anyone can do it, and you can do it with anyone.  But staying in love is where the magic really is.

People who say that romance inevitably departs a relationship and it's what you have left that defines your marriage are missing the point of it all. When we make our vows at the altar, we're not just committing to "stick around." We're committing to love and to cherish.  Those speak to an attitude of the heart, not just a decision of the will.  I realize that there are a lot of marriages out there that will technically make it because of an unwavering commitment to stay, but that's a far cry from an unwavering commitment to stay in love.  To stay takes endurance, but to stay in love takes so much more. 

The Top 10 things I've learned about staying in love from my "current relationship" are:
  1. My passion for my point of view should never override my passion for my husband.
  2. Falling in love with your children does not mean falling out of love with your husband.
  3. Sex and intimacy are critical to a joyful marriage. Despite what wives often think, God didn't create sex for men. He created it for the marriage. That means it's important, you shouldn't forsake it, and your relationship will suffer without it.  
  4. Nothing I'm doing is more important then greeting my husband when he comes home. No matter what I'm doing, I stop and go to the door (or sometimes even to the driveway) to show him how happy I am that he is home. He gets a long, passionate kiss and is told how much he was missed. Every single time.
  5. Like Newton's law, love in motion tends to stay in motion. Most married couples fall "out of love" because they let love lose its momentum. Reconnecting after long periods of disconnect takes way more emotional effort than just staying connected from the beginning.
  6. The same things that were important when you were falling in love are important when you're staying in love. Kisses in the movie theater, holding hands in the grocery store, a sexy wink, the extra effort to look amazing - all mean just as much (maybe more!) when you're married than when you were dating.
  7. Respect is like sexy in a bottle. I'm never more "into" my husband than when he is doing things that engender my deepest respect, and because I know this, I look for those things because they truly stoke my passion for him. If you dwell on the fact that your husband doesn't have six-pack abs or won't take out the garbage, you'll miss the strong, competent way he handles your household finances or counsels your children or performs his job. If you struggle with this, get out and watch your husband in action - at work, on the ballfield, in his Sunday ministry, somewhere that he truly excels and takes your breath away. It's important for you to see his strengths because that builds respect and respect deepens love and love builds connection.  This may be my most important tip and I probably should have put it at #1.
  8. Never assume anything about your relationship. Love is never "a given." Your husband's heart needs daily attention from you, and yours needs daily attention from him.  Leaving love notes, sending sexy text messages, and waking your spouse up in the middle of the night just to make love may seem like suggestions from a corny love coupon, but they are worth the effort.  And yes, I do all of those things - and best of all, I do them because I want to, not because I feel like I have to.
  9. Spend more time with your husband than you do anyone else.  This is a tough one.  Jobs, kids, ministries, and friends have a way of stealing all of our time. Too often our husbands get the last scraps of time and attention we have left. I don't have a lot of control over my work hours or over the time we spend with our kids, but I've learned to make time with my husband a frequent and important part of my life - not just a date night we tentatively schedule for two weeks from now.  If that means foregoing time out with friends or saying no to one more volunteer commitment or forcing myself to push back from my desk and walk away from my work, then that's what it means.  You may need to start reciting this in your head, "He is more important than all of those things put together."  If you can't say that about your husband, you have a problem.
  10. Pray. Often. Together.  This is likely the most important of all.  For Grady and I, our shared faith in and commitment to God is the glue that binds us, but we have also come to recognize that when we come to Him as a couple and put our marriage and our lives in His hands, not only are we drawn closer to Him, but we are drawn closer to each other in the process.  "A three-vessel cord is not easily broken."  There are probably no truer words in the Bible when it comes to marriage.
So those are my top 10 lessons about staying in love.  What are yours?

Friday, August 26, 2011

30-Day Blogger Challenge

I recently came across this 30-day blogging challenge when scrolling through the pin boards at Pinterest. I love the idea of purposeful blogging with a bit of an idea prompt. Some days you just get stuck in the head space of, "I have no idea what to say."  Now before you laugh, I know that if you know me well, it's not likely I ever lack for something to say, but a creative writing exercise like this is a writer's dream. It's like picking a beautiful topic out of a hat and jumping off into a great subject. So starting tomorrow, I'm going to tackle this 30-day blogging challenge - picking one topic a day and really drilling down on it.  It's a great way to practice great writing, to tell stories, and to let God inspire profound thinking and even more profound writing.

So why don't you join me?  Are you a blogger or perhaps a blogging wannabe?  Now is a great time to start putting yourself out there.  Blogging is nothing more than journaling in a virtual space where you allow people a sneek peak at the canvas of your life.  So if you're game, join me tomorrow either on your own blog (or right here) to take the 30-day blogger challenge.

It won't be an easy task. As you can see on the list, some of these topics are pretty heavy and will require some soulful transparency, and others are fun and will tell others a lot about the things you love. 


Saturday, August 13, 2011

On "Wasting" Time and Wasted Timing

The pomegranates have appeared in the land, the time for pruning and singing has come; the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:12

While curled up on the couch with my iPad this beautiful Saturday morning, Clifford on the TV for Aiden and a hot cup of coffee by my side, I found this short but high-impact little nugget from Seth Godin on the subject of wasting time:

Seth Godin - Wasting Time

I think Seth has hit on something critical here - that what we do in our "downtime" is as important as what we do when we're hard at work or engaged in something "important" - but I admit that I'm not a fan of the phrase "waste of time." You can't really waste time. Waste implies that you didn't use that time, that somehow you burned it. Time is a currency you're going to spend whether you like it or not. You can, however, waste opportunity. And God fills our days with many moments of opportunity. It's less about a waste of time, and more about a waste of timing.

Obviously time is important. We are only allotted so much of it, and the clock is ticking. Our days are numbered. There are 865 passages across 63 books in the Bible that reference time. But a great many of them speak to moments of timing - where availability, preparation, and opportunity intersect. More than a few of those 865 contain references to "at that time" or "at the appointed time," and we see the plans of God breathed into those spaces of temporal opportunity. God has give us every indication that timing really is, as they say, everything.

As Seth suggests, spending our downtime currency in meaningful ways is so important. It's in those times of "pruning and singing" (Song of Solomon, above) that we hear from God, discover purpose, give free reign to joy and creativity, weed out the junk in our souls, and have our thinking and our attitudes painfully, but mercifully, pruned by our loving God. But that expenditure of time is not for our personal edification. It is for our preparation. It is the downpayment of time on the future prize of unmissed timing.

She is clothed with strength and honor, and she can laugh at the time to come. Proverbs 31:25

The woman of God who can laugh at the future (and I interpret this as a joyful, abundant laugh, not a nose-thumbing, taunting one) is the woman who has invested both her "up" time (the work of her hands) and her downtime (pruning and singing) in ways that make her ready for those divine moments of timing she knows will come. Some will involve tragedy, pain, and the fruit of resilience. Some will involve victory, celebration, and the fruit of joy. Some will involve a bold word spoken at the right time and the fruit of faithfulness.

But she can be assured that all of them will involve her, her preparation, and God's perfect timing.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad