Too Good for My Own Good (more about suffering, more about acceptance)

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He must become greater; I must become less.  John 3:30 (Image from iStock)

He must become greater; I must become less.
John 3:30
(Image from iStock)

Although suffering is inevitable, Sunday’s sermon shed light on how often we suffer unnecessarily. Our stubborn will is the cause. We put something other than God in the place that he set aside for himself.

Our will goes something like this –

We worship intelligence only to end up feeling stupid.

We worship beauty only to end up feeling ugly.

We worship success only to end up feeling like a failure.

I knew before the sermon’s end what I worshipped – being a good person. It never crossed my mind (until now) that being good was anything but admirable.

The sermon put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unlovable no matter how many times I’m told “I love you.”

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt ashamed, never mind all my attempts at being perfect.

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unkind even though my husband says over and over, “You’re the most caring person I know.”

How did trying to be good turn out so bad?

It’s pretty simple when I apply the sermon’s formula – I worshipped my own goodness only to end up feeling anything but good.

I put my goodness before his Godness, and nothing good comes from that.

What’s getting in the way (no matter how admirable you deem it) of your relationship with God?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I’ve wanted to get out of my own way for some time now. Thank you, Iain, for the sermon. Thank you, God, for the shove.

On the side: I’m posting next about Robin Williams and suicide – a man and a topic that deserve to be talked about.

What Died? (more about suffering, more about acceptance)

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“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown  (Image from iStock)

“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown 
(Image from iStock)

I’ve spent nearly a decade grappling with Dad’s death and with the death of thoughts that I had control over my now 36-year marriage. Both losses left me feeling lifeless.

When friends said grief takes time, I nodded. However, I knew this was more than being sad that Dad was gone. It was also more than letting go of the control I tried to have over my husband. Something else died and it scared me that I didn’t know what it was or how to revive it.

I prayed every single day for more than three fourths of those years.

I prayed for energy and motivation to write and exercise and live life as it came. I prayed to focus on myself instead of staring at what others had done to me. I prayed to know what died so I could begin accepting it was gone and move beyond days that were dark and heavy.

Prayer didn’t work (meaning it didn’t make the pain go away). 

Neither did gratitude lists that included seeing my first article published, celebrating our children’s wedding and engagement, and sharing a precious granddaughter with the world. The more good that happened, the darker and heavier I felt for not feeling grateful.

Neither did advice about my attitude, attempts to diminish my pain in the light of others’ more devastating pain, or my own self-contempt for not being able to shake depression.

And neither did attending church, reading positive passages, or talking to family and friends who looked sympathetic, but confused. Their expressions said, “Now, tell me one more time why you’re feeling sad and lost?”

I almost stopped trying to explain because I didn’t know myself what was happening. That was, until I tried one more time.

“Nothing’s motivated me like trying to get it right with you and Dad,” I said to my husband. “Sick as it sounds, struggling for your attention and Dad’s approval got me out of bed every morning.”

He heard me. 

I heard myself.

Since burying my dad and my marriage (as I knew it), I’ve been missing my sickness. I wrote in my last post that suffering serves a purpose, but suffering is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Instead of learning and being changed by suffering, then moving on, I’ve tried to revive it by staggering too often into the past, flirting with fear and self-doubt, and throwing pity parties. Not that I’m saying this party girl is finished, but I’m over-the-top relieved to know what died – my suffering that masqueraded as purpose. When I’m ready, life is waiting.

And so is more suffering and I’m okay with that.

Are you smack dab in the middle of your sickness, your struggles, and your suffering? Are you feeling more dead than alive? I hope this post offers some answers, some optimism, or at least lets you know you’re not alone.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – It takes what it takes for each of us. I’m grateful to be at another crossroad where I have insight and hope and choices, and, yes, awareness that there will be more suffering.

On the side: In hindsight, some of the things I listed – prayer, gratitude, church, reading, and sharing with family and friends – did work (meaning they made my days feel gentler, they moved me forward, they grew me up), just not as quickly or as dramatically as I wanted.

Here’s additional reading about suffering from A Holy Experience, “The 1 Unlikely Secret to Hold Onto When You’re Sad.” 

Too Much Suffering, Not Enough Fluff (about suffering and about acceptance)

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"Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain." Rick Warren (Image from iStock)

“Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain.” Rick Warren
(Image from iStock)

“God is more concerned about our spirituality than our comfort” came to mind during Sunday’s message about the purpose of our struggles. At first, I wasn’t anymore thrilled about the sermon than I had been the quote. After all, I just want to be happy.

I contemplated only writing light-hearted, fluffy posts. You know, so I’d be known as the happy-go-lucky blogger, but, then, I didn’t have much to say about that.

Next, I contemplated asking for prayer so I’d be more happy-go-lucky, but God didn’t have much to say about that.

Finally, I contemplated what God did have to say and it wasn’t about happy-go-lucky, although I’m sure he has nothing against our happiness. It’s just that, from what I keep hearing, our priorities are often times not his priorities.

The sermon and the quote offered insight into our suffering and an explanation as to why we don’t need to run from it or pray it away, even though I continue to try both. We’re supposed to be changed by it.

God’s obvious concern about my changing over the past nine years has left me wondering if he had concerns for anyone else’s spirituality, but of course he does. He has big plans for us all, even though I’ve been focused on the pain that I equate with God’s punishment. Painful events have led to painful thinking.

Suffering, however, is not about punishment, although it is sometimes a consequence as the result of our behavior. Suffering is a mirror into which we catch a glimpse of what’s inside of us. No, Facebook doesn’t cut it.

Suffering is for our own good and for a higher purpose. Our time here is designed to help us stop edging God out (ego) and, instead, start edifying him. Unfortunately, most of us are hard headed and some of us are hard hearted.

What gushes out during the tough times is what’s been inside all along. Usually it’s a combination of love and fear, grace and griping, humility and entitlement, meaning we all need the changing power of suffering.

What are you suffering through? How is it changing you?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Here’s to graciously walking through our suffering and being changed from fluffy-seeking to faith-finding.

On the side: Beth Vogt also wrote a blog post this week about suffering. Click here to read In Others’ Words: Wrestling Match.

We Give God Way Too Much Credit

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"The first step in natural healing is responsibility.” Richard Schulze

“The first step in natural healing is responsibility.” Richard Schulze

When I say I stubbed my toe, I mean I jammed it going 5 miles an hour into yet another cement block that got in my way. Tripping over one in a Wilmington parking lot is how I broke my nose

I was tempted to excuse the accident with a statement like “God wants my attention.” I thought about all the times I’ve attributed unpleasant experiences to God teaching me lessons. Indirectly, I guess it is about learning because that’s how he designed our world. If I’m honest, though, the accidents and ailments likely have more to do with how I’m living (or not living) my life. And how I’m learning (or not learning) those lessons.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, my “don’t take anything stronger than Tylenol” and “only go to doctor in an emergency” mentality began when an ob-gyn prescribed medication so I could get pregnant. The problem was, I was already pregnant and, under those circumstances, the medicine was unsafe.

I agonized until I got in with another physician. It just so happened that on his staff was a nurse midwife who didn’t shave, drove a VW van, and grew her own food before organic was the fad. Meeting her (and being a hippy at heart myself) began a journey to natural childbirth and an interest in natural health and healing.

I had no idea how to nurture that interest until someone suggested Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life.

Before that introduction, I was familiar and comfortable attributing my accidents and ailments to being God’s will. Or blaming bad luck and bad genes. Or ignoring how much my emotional mindset and spiritual condition factored into my physical wellbeing.

I think we all sort of know we’re answerable for more of what happens to us than we want to take responsibility for. We say things like “I’m sick over the situation” or “I feel like I’m trying to get sick” or “I made myself sick.” We say about others, “They brought it on themselves.” But when it’s time to do something about not making ourselves sick, we come up short.

Expecting total good health and an accident-free life is unreasonable. Awareness, however, is reasonable. This is where Hay’s book comes in helpful. During a mishap or illness, one of the first things I do is check the emotional diagnosis in You Can Heal Your Life. Hay wrote more than 50 pages to address problems, their probable causes, and new thought patterns for healing. Many times, physical problems show up before we’re aware of emotional and spiritual turmoil.

I’m not suggesting we eliminate God’s help or medical help, but that we take responsibility by helping ourselves.

My blue and aching toe? Toe problems represent “the minor details in the future.” Bruises indicate “the little bumps in life and self-punishment.” Hay suggests positive self-talk like the one for self-punishment, “I love and cherish myself.”

Are you experiencing accidents and/or physical ailments that need your emotional and spiritual attention?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – When things go wrong, we tend to credit God and the lessons he has for us to learn, when, in fact, the lesson might be to take our share of the responsibility.

Fix Your Face, part 2 (when you fall on your face)

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“Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward.”  Victor Kiam

“Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.”
Victor Kiam

When the deal fell through, I fell also.

On my face.

Literally.

Which is why in my last blog post I talked about the mom who told her young son, “Fix your face.” Her words reminded me that I couldn’t fix mine, and neither could anyone else except God, and, so far, he hasn’t.

It’s also why I wasn’t sure there would be a part two to “Fix Your Face” – I wasn’t sure I was willing to share the emotional pain of the fall.

When the accident happened, I was out to dinner the next evening in sunglasses and laughing with friends about tripping over the cement block in the coffee shop parking lot in Wilmington, N.C. I fell moments after finalizing details for a contract to franchise a dog magazine. Since the contract didn’t align with our talks, I was almost certain the deal was off. Even with evidence in writing, I didn’t love and respect myself enough to confront the discrepancies.

The fall represented that attitude – “not enough love and respect for myself.” So did the next year of my life that I spent hating the bump left in the fall’s aftermath. Knowing I struggled daily, my husband encouraged me to talk with a plastic surgeon about scraping my nose down to size.

“Not until I love myself the way I am, then I’ll consider it,” I said.

The bump wasn’t my nemesis; self-contempt was. I got up from the gravel knowing I needed a fix for how I let others treat me, as well as a fix for how I treated myself. In light of that reality, I began calling my nose the “love bump.”

The fall prompted changes that were, in hindsight, necessary to bolster enough love and respect like …  

  • Practicing gratitude (despite the bump on my nose) because my teeth were in my mouth instead of on the pavement.
  • Speaking up to people I didn’t like and people I did like and people. Any people.
  • Warming up to the idea that I was worth standing up one more time than I fell down.

The accident happened in 2007. Because of an invitation in 2013 from a friend (orchestrated by God, I’m sure), I had the opportunity to consult at no charge with a respected plastic surgeon. She said my nose was an easy fix. She also said there was a chance the bump would callous after surgery the same as it did after the fall, and it may possibly grow back and possibly grow bigger.

Our appointment ended, but not before I reflected on my commitment, “Not until I love myself the way I am, …” Instead of reconstructing my outsides, God had worked inside. I wish he had opted for both, but the inside job was most important, for sure.

When I left the surgeon’s office, I knew I was closer to being fixed than if I had signed up for surgery.

How often do we opt for a quick fix instead of lasting results? What’s manifesting outside of you that really needs fixing on the inside?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I am more and more receptive to God’s reconstruction, and, no, not of my nose.

Fix Your Face, part 1 (and maybe the only part)

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"Every man over forty is responsible for his face." Abraham Lincoln (Image from iStock)

“Every man over forty is responsible for his face.”
Abraham Lincoln
(Image from iStock)

“You better fix your face, young man, and you better fix it now,” said Mom to her son who looked to be about four years old.

I turned from the clothes rack where I was shopping to see a little boy shuffling behind his mother. He pulled his hood over his head, crossed his arms, and pouted out his lips like I do mine when life isn’t going my way.

His face tickled me and so did his mom’s orders. But I also understood his pain, especially when his mother threatened to take away the next day’s fun activities. Her warning reminded me of the pity trap I fall into when my own face needs fixing, but I’d rather feel sorry for myself.

The little boy’s scene looked a lot like God and me when I talked with him last October about relocating closer to our kids and our first grandbaby. Circumstances made it obvious the answer was “no.”  

I pouted. I cried. I accused God of taking away my fun.

The scene also looked similar to the day, just a few weeks later, when I heard the news that our son and future daughter-in-law were moving for two years to Oklahoma City.

Again I pouted. Again I cried.  Again I accused God of taking away my fun.

And when __________  (I can fill in the blank with any number of situations when God’s will hasn’t aligned with my own, and I’ve pouted and I’ve cried and I’ve accused).

But those times are a changin’ because I am a changin’. I’m fixing my face and I’m fixing it now.

Here is my “powder room” list:

  • I’m practicing being satisfied with God’s answers in light of choosing “content” as my word for 2014, knowing that he always knows best. Yes, always … trust me, I’m going on 56 years of hindsight.
  • I’m recapturing my faith. Thanks to friend, Lis Morgan, and her word “recapture,” I’m focusing on and praying for the restoration of the faith that I once lived by (but lost) for at least a portion of those 56 years.
  • I’m saying grateful things more than griping, and I’m again daily making a 13-item gratitude list.

Does your face need fixing? Are you fixing it now? Care to share tips from your “powder room”?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I believe the quote from Abe Lincoln and I’m working on my makeover now.

My Word for 2014 – Content

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But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

Even though I wasn’t especially content with it, a sermon about equations hit a nerve so deep that I was convinced my word for 2014 had to be contentment.

Instead of making resolutions, I choose to focus throughout the year on one word.

In 2012, my word was incremental. Living incrementally changed my life. I broke down big tasks and overwhelming emotions into manageable proportions. It was a more productive year than I thought possible.

Last year, in 2013, I ended up with the word ponder, almost like it chose me. I’m still pondering why. Because of that word, I sat still more than I wanted to and kept my mouth shut more than I wanted to and waited for results more than I wanted to, which led to my concern over this year’s word.

Contentment (shortened to content, which I’ll explain next) could easily have turned out the same as ponder – unwanted. It’s again not a get-up-and-go word, but another that sounds like a call to be still. I have no idea how to practice it unless I purchase a mountaintop and some chants. Plus, not one person has said, “Oooh, that’s a good word for this year.” In fact, I called it boring until a friend convinced me it was my perfect word.

My friend said that if I shorten contentment to content, it has two significant meanings … to be content (as in being right where I’m supposed to be and grateful about it) and to produce content (as in finishing the book I’ve talked about for a decade).

“Hopefully you won’t be content until you write more than your table of contents,” she said.

What’s your word for 2014? Are you happy about it or stuck with it? Sometimes the latter is a good thing.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Throughout 2014, my aim is to be content enough to sit still and write content.

On the side: Thank you, Nancy. Not in a million years would I have come up with the double meaning of content, not for my word anyway.