Tuesday, September 28, 2021

What is Love? Baby, Please Herd Me!

There are scriptures I memorized when I was a Christian toddler that have played on a loop in my mind at various times throughout my life. And though they have served to comfort as intended, I am now discovering that there is so much more beneath the surface. This insatiable desire to get to know my Jesus has me diving deeper and finding so much more than comfort in the red letters. Psalm 23 is one such passage. I’ve read and recited this passage so many times and yet, it’s only now begun to take root. What if I was actually a ewe? Isn’t that basically what this is about? I’ve always envisioned myself following the shepherd who leads me here and there, but never actually pictured myself as a sheep. After all, doesn’t the world we currently live in dictate that it is not a good thing to be a sheep? To be a sheep in this day and age carries with it negative connotations, to say the least. The memes are a plenty! Aren’t we to lead and not follow? Blaze our own trail? Go off the beaten path? Let’s explore, shall we?

What does it mean to be a sheep - to live the life of a follower, part of a whole, one in many? Sheep are quite sensitive. I’ll begin there. The tiniest thing can cause an onset of fear and panic or at the very least, discomfort and unrest. If a sheep is afflicted with pests, she will torment herself until relief comes. If she is hungry, she cannot rest until she is fed. If something spooks her, she will find herself unable to eat or sleep. If there is any sort of conflict within the herd, again, she will not feed or rest. Her physical well-being and livelihood are directly tied to her mental health. And therein the shepherd finds his purpose. He is charged with maintaining the health and wellness of the entire group by meeting every need of the individual members. If one is lost, all will suffer. If one is fearful, sick or hungry, all will feel the disease. The parts are never greater than the whole. If a piece is missing, the whole tower crumbles. Enter the great shepherd…Jesus. He seeks out the hungry and feeds her from His hand. He restores her health, removes her afflictions and soothes her worried soul so that she might rest easy. He makes her to lie down in green pastures and leads her beside the still waters. He resolves the conflict within the group and unites them again so that they might thrive together. His rod and His staff comforts.

A cast sheep is one that has fallen over and cannot right herself. She can lose blood circulation quickly and die as a result. She is susceptible to attack in this position and is helpless and powerless to save herself. The shepherd must find her, right her and restore her to health. Enter the great shepherd. When her legs are simply too short and her mental resolve does not match the physical, swiftly He comes to save the day. Even though she walks through the valley of the shadow of death, she shall fear no evil, for He is with her. He gently lifts her and sets her back on her feet, firmly planted and joined again with her flock.

There is one thing about the shepherd that sings sweetly to my soul. Every good shepherd is relentless and tireless in his pursuit of his sheep, every last one. He will not rest until he is certain all are within his grasp. As a wandering, lost sheep myself, it is not lost on me how determined He is to find me and bring me back to the flock. His watchful eye sees every step I take down paths that lead to destruction and every fleeting glance toward treasures that will one day rust. It is green pastures He desires for me, not withering, dry fields. It is still waters to which He leads me, not rushing rivers that cannot quench my thirst. And how He rejoices when He finds the one and carries her home on His shoulders! Ninety-nine will never be enough for Him and this prodigal’s daughter could not be more grateful.

So I ask myself, “Why then, is it such a bad thing to be a sheep?” In recognizing that I am merely a part of the whole, a member of a family that does not flourish unless we are all on the same page, a united front, a river flowing in one direction, I am acknowledging that I am ineffective and finite on my own. My ability to thrive is tied directly to the unity of my flock. It is considered laughable to be a sheep today. It is thought to be a sign of weakness, an inability to think for oneself, or worse, challenge authority. There might be a bit of truth to that reality, but I guess the question then becomes, “Which authority am I challenging?” If it be my shepherd, that’s a hard pass for me. A sheep I will forever be! Because if being a sheep means I get to follow a shepherd to greener pastures and still waters, want for nothing, and have my soul restored each time I wander, throw me in a field and call me Dolly! It is actually a well-developed skill sheep have mastered to ensure their survival. They have come to an enlightened understanding that they are stronger together and more likely to thrive when they remain united rather than seeking independence. Fancy that! Oh, that we could learn from the herd. Let the record show that though there be hundreds of thousands of wolves intent on devouring sheep daily and nightly, still they greatly outnumber the wolves. The shepherd is so faithful to tend to His flock. Make no mistake, they are His and He will uplift them for all eternity.

**Sidenote: I would argue that the goal of the greater good should be to affirm and appease the souls of all members, which may mean NOT reaching a collective agreement on a course of action, but rather, addressing the need for compassion and taming the anxiety within each of us. We need to be heard, not right. We need to be affirmed, not shamed. We need to be validated in our concerns, not dismissed. And we need to be cared for, not discarded. And when it comes to the course of action, we need only to defer to the shepherd for direction.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Get off the throne, Goldilocks! It wasn't meant for you.

I sat down to write today for the first time in a very long time and I simply could not find the words…no, not one. I felt dejected in the best way possible, because the spirit interjected, a divine revelation quickly settled in and the words began to flow. Who am I to believe that I have anything more valuable to add to the conversation than the stranger sitting next to me at the DMV? Or the nurse at the end of the street? Or even the pastor at my church? Who do I think I am that I am privy to knowledge others are not? Why do I believe my opinion matters more, my insight will change minds and firmly held lifelong beliefs, that the information and data (science, if you will) that I have collected is somehow more accurate than that of the fifth ‘friend’ down my feed? How woefully presumptuous of me!

Insert here a vision of Job issuing a gleeful high five and a note of encouragement. “Girl, welcome to my world. Read my book!” And so I did, but I skipped past all the tough stuff that I struggle to digest to this day (no, I am not omitting context) and landed right smack at the end of story. And the Lord spoke (to us all, like it or not - at least those of you reading).

2“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
4-5Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth…Who determined its measurements?
8-9Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst forth and issued from the womb; When I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band?
12Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?
17Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?
39-41Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lurk in their lairs to lie in wait? Who provides food for the raven, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?”

Well, shoot! I can’t do any of those things. So maybe I don’t actually have all the answers or even some of them and frankly, not even one on most occasions. So perhaps I should leave well enough alone for the moment and recognize that we aren’t all meant to be teachers. Of course, we are entitled to our opinions, but we would do well to remember that they are just that and are typically shaped by worldview, life experience, occasionally nature and quite often, nurture. And others have opinions shaped by the very same things, but often land at a very different place. We’ve rolled the same dice and both passed go, but I’m paying luxury tax and my friend is sitting pretty on Park Place. And so I am learning these turbulent days that silence sometimes speaks louder than any words I can string together, any diatribe I feel compelled to deliver, and certainly any entitlement I might feel in the presence of others. And I believe this is where my story begins and ends. Entitlement. It seems to mark this current age - this generation - and truth be told, I am entitled to one thing only. I am entitled as the daughter of a King to point others in His direction, to ensure that my words, every last one of them, are His words, the Sword of the Spirit, unpolluted and devoid of spin and commentary. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne implores, “It is God’s Word, not man’s comment upon God’s Word that saves souls.”

Spurgeon adds, “If ever we have a conversion at any time, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the conversion is rather traceable to the text, or to some Scripture quoted in the sermon, than to any trite or original saying by the preacher…therefore let us bring everything to the touchstone.”

The Bible. My touchstone. Thee touchstone. Am I bringing all things to it at every moment? My frustration? Doubts? Lingering questions? My brokenness? My wounds and scars? Successes and failures? Friends, neighbors and even enemies? Am I bringing them all to the touchstone where true healing is found and real progress is made? The sad reality is that no one is changing minds at this point, not those of others and certainly not our own. So why are we still trying? The divide is growing wider. The abyss, deeper. And the anger, increasingly more palpable. And my Jesus cuts through the chaos and gently whispers these words of encouragement.

Am I a peacemaker or a right-fighter? Am I justified in my opinion and beliefs or in Christ alone? If my truth claims lie solely in the Word of God, as they should, am I still a factor in the equation or is He - rightly - the alpha, omega, and everything in between? I fancy it a heart issue, as usual. Do I believe Him enough to remove myself from the equation and confidently assert that His ways are higher or am I holding on to a fraction of pride and seeking validation for my myself?

If you force a child to give his toy to another and he might (begrudgingly) give it, but he might not actually believe the child is deserving of it. He might still believe he is the rightful owner and more entitled to it. A toddler through and through, I might give God the glory for my accomplishments and successes, but do I really believe He is deserving of it? Am I going through the motions or has this Goldilocks truly abandoned her claims to a throne and crown that will never fit quite right because it was never intended for me in the first place? Have I fully surrendered mind, body, heart and soul to His authority?

And so my prayer is that the piece of me that still desires to be acknowledged, proven right and worse, praised and esteemed for my beliefs is cut out and thrown into the refiner’s fire where it rightly belongs. I believe we all want to be the one with the answer - the solution - to all of life’s problems, or at the very least, those on Capitol Hill, the media stage, or our local megachurch (the likes of which are surprisingly comparable). We want to be privy to a secret others are not, but the reality is that we are all privy to the same (not-so-secret) secret. Wait for it! Hold on to your granny panties, here it comes! He loves us all equally and gives us all the same answers before, during and after the test. Hit the books, friends. It’s right there in the Dewey Decimals between 200 and 299 (the Bible).

A side note to consider. I believe our most miserable of failures in navigating this present darkness lies in our willingness to allow the enemy a seat at the table of every conversation. We are asking the wrong questions, arguing moot points and allowing pride to gain a foothold. It looks similar to this:

Is gender reassignment wrong?
It’s a personal decision made by an individual, not society as a whole

While we plead our case over the correct answer and even justify it with biblical references, the devil is distracting us from the real issue. Our identities are found in Christ alone. Make no mistake, the enemy will stop at nothing to fill quiet spaces with dissension and unrest, anger and pride, sin and shame. Will we let him or will we exercise our right to free speech and let that speech be colored with love and truth, beauty and humility, promise and hope, grace and peace - nothing more and nothing less than the Word of God?!

I digress to the Godfather. “The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? Leave the gun, take the cannoli. What day of the week is it? Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday. And the answer to your question is, go to the mattresses. You’re at war. It's not personal, it's business.” I’d like to confidently assert that the Godfather is not the sum of all wisdom. Indeed, it is God, the Father. And a small tweak on this ridiculous comparison that is probably amusing no one but myself, it actually IS personal with God. It is ALWAYS personal, because He has an interest in you that others do not. He is madly and passionately invested in your future and He is unabashedly pursuing your soul for all eternity.

I cannot do any of these things, but I know someone who can, the creator of them all, the author and perfecter of my faith. He has penned a story that simply does not disappoint, intriguing, moving and impassioned, rich in authenticity and bursting with humanity. I strongly urge you to read the book. The ending is so good!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land

Is it possible to confidently assert a belief or opinion these days based solely on merit alone or do we only know how to communicate and promote our position by demoting another’s. All I seem to be witnessing these days is the latter. But I don’t feel the need to unfriend on facebook or unfollow on Instagram. I do not subscribe to the cancel culture narrative and am proud to say so. Frankly, many of you are providing hours of entertainment and fodder for the blog. I am going to boldly make a claim here and open myself up to ridicule and discord. I truly do not care what you believe or where you cast your vote. I have my guy and you have yours and I don’t need validation, but if you need to elevate your position by tearing down mine, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a leg to stand on. Maybe shift your focus and tell me why I SHOULD consider your candidate. If you cannot do that, I’m afraid I have no interest in your politics. My posts are usually quite free of this commentary, but honestly, I do feel that we are all being called to speak our truth and though I find myself raging on the inside sometimes, now is not the time for silence. So the challenge then becomes, how do I share my truth in grace and build my platform on conviction and solid research, rather than poignant attacks and an incessant need to be heard or worse...liked?

So here is my truth, asserted without attacking the other side or the current face of its party. (Insert politics here - feel free to jump to paragraph 4 if need be). I’m not a huge fan of Biden simply because I don’t feel his policies align with my ideals in many ways. I also don’t believe he is strong enough in the broken places. I am also not a huge fan of Trump and I do not at all support his communication skills in the public forum. And no, he is not a good example for my children, and so it is a very good thing that it is not his job to raise my children. That is my job! We elect a President to be a political figure, not a father figure. I don’t look to my political leaders to guide my children. I look to them to make decisions for the greater good and realize that sometimes they get it wrong. I direct my children to look to Jesus as an example and to their parents and can you believe, sometimes we aren’t a great example either, but do you know what we DO model? We model grace as often as possible. We model how to construct an apology and mean it. We model kindness and common sense. We fail, believe me, but we strive to get it right for their sake. We teach our children that our political leaders are finite and human and they fail just like the rest of us. We teach them to be free thinkers, to explore all options with an open mind and heart, to learn from others and stand up for their convictions, to speak up when necessary AFTER they have listened. We teach them there are always two sides to a story, different angles from which to see the same object or idea, and that compassion and understanding are at the heart of every good debate.

I will be the first to acknowledge there is no great option this time around, but I am not choosing a soul mate. I am charged with selecting a candidate who aligns most closely with my ideas, policies and economic beliefs. I would love for my candidate to practice a bit of humility and compassion (publicly anyway - I’m not privy to his private life and so, cannot speak to that), but I’m not holding my breath. I can say that confidently for two reasons. One, I don’t look to my President as a moral compass or best friend. I look to him to further a political agenda, as he was elected to do. Second, I have no problem admitting the failures of my candidate because I realize he is human as are all of us and I, personally do not have to answer for his character. It’s a fascinating concept, isn’t it? So why do we hold political leaders to a higher standard than ourselves? We long for them to speak kindly and graciously, apologizing for weakness and flaws and yet, many of us are unable to do the same. We don’t begin our debates with admissions of our own shortcomings. If we did, we would see that humility has the ability to set the stage for a level playing field. Do I create defensiveness and divisiveness in my communications or am I willing to concede that I don’t know it all? If I allow room for improvement, others will be more inclined to engage in a respectful discussion with me. Let the conversation begin with, change my mind.

I’ve heard the terms, “Joe Biden’s America” and “Donald Trump’s America” thrown around and used as ammunition to defend a particular political viewpoint on more than one occasion. This America does not belong to one man. If you believe it does, you are giving way too much power to one man and I am terrified for you. This America is OUR America...mine and yours. Remember, “This land is my land. This land is your land...” Wait, are we still allowed to sing that in schools? Not sure, but I digress. America is ours. Do with it what you will, but please, for the sake of all of us, stop veiling your fear and insecurity by assigning blame to one person. He is not that powerful and I am not that stupid. Also, if I look at your feed and all I see are re-tweets, memes and shares of someone else’s thoughts, I am even more scared for you. Original thoughts are highly encouraged in my world. I’m simply not sure many of us have those anymore. I implore you, log off and go have an actual conversation. You might actually be enlightened, rather than further frustrated.

Right, left, middle, upside down or right-side up, sadly, I believe the intentions on both sides are good. The actual ideals and intended results of the policies we support are inherently virtuous and defensible. And comically, the underlying values are often the same on both sides. Unfortunately, what actually manifests when these policies are enacted is not at all what we seek. They do little to accomplish the values and results we intend and for which we hope. The result is disillusionment and frustration. And that, my friends, happens in life as much as it does in politics. All the more reason to consider alternate ideas and continue the conversation.

Copied from a friend’s feed: “The reason conservative voters still support Trump is because they ARE him. They have the same morals, prejudices, hatreds, and insecurities that Trump has. Trump has given them permission to come out in the open and be who they really are. And, it’s ugly.” This is what I believe to be the most detrimental problem we are facing as a nation today. Who I am, really am, is ugly. Goodness, I better work on that right away! Here’s a thought. See if you can make a case for your candidate without attacking the other side. If you can’t, you’ve got a big problem. We’ve been charged with being the change we want to see in America, correct? Is the change you want to see to make sure you are ready at the helm to call out every misspoken word and every dip in the numbers. Is the change you want to see to assign blame, find fault, and point fingers every time a candidate stumbles over his or her words? Is that it, because that is exactly what I am seeing modeled on both sides. No candidate is perfect and do you know why? Because they are human, like you and I. Interesting concept, isn’t it? And again I say, if you cannot confidently assert your position without attacking the other side, you might be in a bit of a predicament and I strongly urge you to alter your approach.

I’m sharing this next part because I believe there is much to learn from the “other side” and what a hypocrite I would be if I discounted every idea they espoused. I love this musing from a former President and would be remiss to not share.

“Maybe the critics are right. Maybe there's no escaping our great political divide...Or maybe the trivialization of politics has reached a point of no return, so that most people see it as just one more diversion, a sport, with politicians our paunch-bellied gladiators and those who bother to pay attention just fans on the sidelines: We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or cheap shot to beat the other team, so be it, for winning is all that matters.

But I don't think so. They are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way-in their own lives, at least- to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves.

...I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point. They don't always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility, between those things that last and those that are fleeting. They are out there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”

― Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Spot on, Mr. Obama. If Republicans and Democrats could just get out of the way, the people might actually get the politics they so desire.

A final thought. Matthew 7:2 reminds us, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” I sincerely hope you do NOT have someone ready to call you out every time you stumble. I hope you do NOT get cancelled for an error in judgment, a poor choice, or a flawed belief. I hope you find grace and forgiveness for your shortcomings and not judgment and ridicule. I hope you do not find yourself out of a job, unfriended, or irrelevant because you make a mistake. I hope among hope that you are not judged with the same measure you are currently judging others. Amazing, isn’t it? The “other side” actually has the audacity to hope as well.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

To the Know-it-All Who Doesn't

It is entirely possible I am a dichotomy of epic proportions. It is also entirely possible I just like the way the word sounds when it is spoken with vigor and conviction and the intriguing, mysterious undercurrent it carries.

My thoughts are fleeting and fragmented, a road map weathered and worn at the creases, always headed in one direction or the next, pausing to recalculate and often changing course. I am likely not the one to lead a weary traveler home, but the journey will be ours together, for I am the constant companion. I am predictable in volatility, erratic in consistency. My words often have the tendency to make others uneasy, as they are raw and shrouded in weakness and doubt, but oddly comforting when an ear is tuned and a soul is poised.

I am an unplanned adventure, accidental, wildly emotional and impulsive. I am danger with intention, an inferno at the water’s edge, a tantrum riddled with grace and fear tangled with determination. I am weary with passion and desperate with hope. I war with peace and triumph in loss. I am a prisoner shackled to the past but beautifully unchained in the present. I am many things that seem to contradict each other, but above all, I am made in HIS image and I am HIS for all eternity.

I wondered as I ran downhill on the cusp of a runner’s high what it was that made the faces in the passing cars hold their gaze for longer than the standard split second. I can say with certainty that it had little to do with outward appearance, as my time in lockdown has not been kind to my once-slender frame. Could they sense the mounting joy within me and were hoping beyond hope that transference would somehow work its magic and ignite a spark of elation in their own discontent existence? Was I radiating outwardly the inward exhilaration I felt? And then it hit me and actually forced a brief LOL. I had forgotten that I was wearing my Led Zeppelin tank top, the one that seems to draw the envy of classic rock fans everywhere. I fancy myself quite lucky to have stumbled across it a year ago. Also, it is the only one that affords even an ounce of forgiveness of the Covid-20 these days. And then I wondered, are these passers-by curious as to what lies beneath this Zeppelin lover and what other familiarities, oddities and convictions make her tick? Are there layers upon layers that deem her fascinating and worthy of a second look? I know, I know, I am not that powerful and they probably could not have cared less about the inner workings of my soul, let alone my favorite pasttime on a typical Saturday afternoon. In fact, it is more likely their gaze was not fixed on me at all, but indulge me further if you would, as these chronicles fall flat without a bit of embellishment. I wondered that if they put all certainty and matter of opinion in the outward appearance and presumed to have figured me out based solely on my choice of music, would it surprise them to know I was actually listening to Nichole Nordeman and modern hymns? Would it shock them to hear that I call myself a Christian, but expound that I’m not a very good one? And what if they discovered that I am fascinated with true crime podcasts and forensic psychology, have Dateline on an endless loop and that interviews with serial killers nurture my incessant need to understand the human psyche? How does that component of my persona coincide with the part of me that longs for joy and not-so-secretly roots for the poor do-gooder who cannot ever seem to catch a break? The part that praises itself for giving in to the princess’s undeserved request for a hamster and now shamelessly adores Vanilla and her late night antics? The part that weeps incessantly when the wind kicks up just so, when the right lyric strikes the right chord at the right time, or when one of the two doves perched on her fence each morning nuzzles its tiny head in the neck of the other? Can the dichotomies in me not live in harmony with each other, my interests not cover a multitude of genres and my thoughts not take their place in different schools? And further, can the multi-faceted parts of my whole not actually be something to celebrate rather than be a source of confusion to those who seek to understand me?

It begs the question, what do we do when someone does not fit into the mold we have cut for them and their ideas and opinions befuddle us to the point of anger and frustration? How do we make sense of the senseless actions (as we deem them) of others? If we have an inherent need to label someone based on their job, beliefs, interests, companions, etc., how then can we comprehend or even simply accept them when they do or say something in stark contrast to who we believe them to be? And furthermore, how can we possibly be expected to gauge how to respond appropriately when faced with an uncomfortable realization about their very being or an idea that does not align with our expectations? Just when we can confidently assert that we have figured each other out, we find our assumptions challenged and our expectations ruined. Should we not be able to count on those we count on and rely on those we rely on? Should they not behave true to fashion at all times so that we might find comfort in the consistency and security in the standard? There seems to be no room for deviation, no allowance for the dichotomies within each of us that I find, frankly, truly fascinating.

Here is the devastating truth. When we attempt to make sense of the inherent contradictions in our ourselves and those around us, we lose something sacred. We lose something vital to our ultimate happiness, the thing for which our very souls thirst and our hearts demand. We lose the wonder, mystery and beauty of the unknown, the pure, innocent, blissful naivety that is all but impossible to reclaim (hear me when I say, “all but impossible” - insert copious amounts of hope here). We lose the childlike exuberance found in simplicity, find it mistakenly in hollow endeavors and pine for it until we breathe our last finite breath. We strive to hold back a roaring, untamed river by professing intellect and maintaining order, but in actuality, should strive to demolish the dam and dance upon the broken timbers with an unapologetic awareness of our limitations. But I am confident in this and cling desperately to this notion, because truth be told, it’s all I’ve got. It is never to late to rediscover what now eludes us and return, pure in spirit and mind, enthusiastically to the lover of our souls and the one true constant...never changing, never ceasing, everlasting alpha and omega. Spoiler alert...He is not a dichotomy. He is that He is. What you see is what you get and That.Is.Enough.

Ready? This might be difficult for some to hear. To recapture the wonder and awe we so desire, we must accept that we simply do not have - AND DO NOT NEED - all the answers. Sometimes clarity veils its face and mocks our arrogance. Some hopes and aspirations never materialize (ugh). We are passed by for the promotion to which we feel rightly entitled. We are ghosted and left to wonder, abandoned and charged with picking up the pieces, afflicted with a disease for which their is no cure. We are wrongfully convicted, unjustly accused, falsely labeled and harshly judged. Or maybe we are simply, misunderstood. And in these moments and many, many more, we might have to acknowledge that there is no blessed assurance to make the pain melt away and the black fade to grey, no answer to complete the equation and no piece that fits tightly into the puzzle, no method to the madness and no immediate shelter from the storm.

Oftentimes I am comforted in a way that surprises me. Sometimes it’s secular in nature (yikes...fear not, my dear Christians, God speaks in many languages). For the record, Jon Bellion is a devout Christian, but he chose a secular label and produces much of his own music, which hit the airwaves primarily on secular stations. This little gem is called Maybe IDK.

I wonder why I get paranoid when I'm high.
I wonder why I say yes to everyone in my life.
I wonder why I feel short when I know my money's tall.
I wonder why I miss everyone and I still don't call.
I wonder why I feel emptiness and I sing these blues.
I wonder why I feel hopelessness when I watch the news.
I wonder why I can't find my voice in my dreams.
I wonder why they say hate your brother and hide your gold.
I wonder why we all fear the things that we might not know.

Although I guess if I knew tomorrow, I guess I wouldn't need faith.
I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn't need grace.
I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn't be God.

So maybe I don't know. But maybe that's okay.

Take a breath. I’ve seen the future and it all works out in the end! If there is a certainty you can rely on and a hope you can cling to, it is this. There is a freedom in not needing all the answers. There is a beauty in the absence of the desire to figure it all out, a release of power and control that frightens many, but I implore you to consider this. Just because we are not in control does not mean life has no order or meaning. It simply means there is another force at work, bigger than the confines of our earthly understanding, higher than the enlightenment we proudly boast to possess, greater than the limitations of our own minds. Their is one who does have all the answers, is privy to a fairytale ending we can only imagine, and lays claim to a road map unweathered and unworn. He knew this day before it arrived. He knew your name before your parents whispered it into being. He knows the poverty of your past and the affluence of your future. And He is unabashedly singing your praises at any given moment. Take heart, all you weary travelers. Hit the next rest stop and take a ten minute power nap. He’s got this! Say it with me people, “I don’t know and it’s okay!”

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

Friday, June 12, 2020

I Once Was Lost (and Google Maps just wasn't cutting it)

We are all being heavily influenced these days, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. Have you not heard, “You should follow this person and this advocate and this athlete and this average Joe on Instagram?” And that’s okay, because we are actually called to be able to defend our beliefs and our positions. Enlightenment is not a bad thing. But might I assert that some of these so called “influencers” change their stance faster than I change my underwear. They are like waves of the sea blown and tossed by the wind, quite literally going where the money trail leads them. So do your research and please know who exactly it is you are following. I, for one, in my despair and exhaustion have decided to return to the road less traveled and follow Jesus above all. 

Sadly, I can follow thousands of like-minded people, but if I don’t first follow Christ, I fear I might already be lost. Where do I garner support for my beliefs? Affirmation on my position? Where does my faith lie? In a social media influencer? in a party leader? A blogger? An activist? Or in one whose influence can truly turn a life around and affect change on the deepest level? Who is my staunchest supporter? Is it the one who supports me despite my actions, words, faults and insecurities and did so from the beginning? He is actually the greatest activist of all times, past, present and future. He is actively pursuing us and make no mistake, He definitely wants to use us...to further His agenda, His cause, promote His message. And that message is one of love. Unity. Equality. We are all equally entitled whether you choose to see it or not. We are all entitled to be called sons and daughters. We are all heirs to the throne. We don't need to change the national anthem or a ride at Disneyland or the name of our band. We need to change our focus - our direction - right back to calvary, to the foot of the cross, where real persecution met its inception. Back to where sacrifice truly changed lives. Back to where love abounded and will forever. I will not claim I don't see color. I do see color. I see words written in red. Words that matter. Words that unite. Words that scream, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” ~Matthew 11:28

The only person with an agenda I can get on board with presently is Jesus, because His is the only agenda with the sole purpose of saving my soul and that matters more to me than white, black, blue, red, green, purple, rainbow, left, right, liberal, conservative, mask, no mask, vax, anti-vax, country, hip hop, taste great or less filling. 

“Follow no man further than he follows Christ.” ~John Collins

Choose wisely, my friends. There is indeed, a war going on and from where I sit, only one suit of armor will protect you. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

My name is Julie Sharp and I approve this message.

The Enemy Within

So I had a thought you may choose to disregard as you see fit, but you’re here, so I assume you will indulge for a minute. Scrolling through my facebook feed to see nothing but politic posts, us-versus-them memes, and Black Lives Matter diatribes (sadly, gone are the days of cute puppies and family photos), it suddenly occurred to me as I clicked on the ‘like’ option of one particular post, not to like the post itself, but to see others who had. How many of us - upon allowing a particular post to fire us up in agreement or dismay - click on said icon simply to see who is ‘with’ or ‘against’ us? Yikes! I will preface this one by confidently asserting that I am guilty! Hence the desire to blog. You see, dear friends in my camp and those who unabashedly take an opposing stance, it is my firm belief that change, REAL change can only occur when we whole-heartedly lay down arms and open our ears and our hearts to the plight and insight of others. And so that is where this post begins, with a desire to look within and affect change, not a desire to find fault in the actions and beliefs of others.

I will begin by saying that your beliefs matter to you and rightly so. And my beliefs matter to me as well. This post is not about either. This post is strictly about our inherent need to validate our position, garner attention, assign blame and identify an enemy when we are faced with conflicting ideals and issues that at this present moment, seem to be causing a rift that might just prove insurmountable. I’ve been struggling on a soul-searching level as of late and I may have scratched the surface. How is it possible that people on both sides of these ongoing debates are reading the same articles, privy to the same interviews, viewing the same videos and yet doubling down on their positions respectively? How can the other side not see what I see? How can the divide be spreading and the hurt be deepening and the hate be growing so exponentially on a minute-by-minute basis?

Cognitive dissonance. My new best friend and ally in understanding. The mental conflict that occurs when a person’s behaviors and beliefs do not align. It may happen when a person holds two beliefs that contradict one another. It causes feelings of unease and tension, and people attempt to relieve this discomfort in different ways. Examples include “explaining things away” or rejecting new information that conflicts with their existing beliefs. It may look like this:

So that explains a bit (in my mind anyway and this post is literally, the musings of MY mind). Now where do we go from here? If indeed, both sides are guilty of cognitive dissonance, how can we ever reach a place of enlightenment? How do we bridge the gap? How do we come to a place of agreement, though I’ll settle for an agreement to disagree and a little peace and quiet at this point? Why, do we as finite human beings, have to name an enemy when we cannot see eye to eye? And in my self-exploration, it hit me like a freight train. There IS an enemy and man, he is doing a superb job and sadly, we are allowing him to do so. You see, my brothers and sisters - those I hold near and dear to my heart AND those I don’t know personally, the enemy is not each other. It is not the conservatives and not the liberals. It is not those who tout “Black Lives Matter” or those who tout “All Lives Matter.” It is definitely not our boys (and girls) in blue. It’s not even the rioters, looters or mainstream media, but that is certainly an argument you can make and I will not challenge you. The enemy is alive and well and he is swiftly and effectively allowing us to destroy ourselves from the inside out. On THIS I will not remain silent. 

While you are name calling and throwing tantrums, he is moving around your neighborhood, whispering lies and dividing your relationships at the very core. How many have you “unfriended” this week? While you are fact checking and preparing to do battle, his army is already at the front lines. How many statistics did you discover today that support your position? While you sit on your soap box reciting the quote of the day (which I’ve done ad nauseam in the last few weeks), he sits silently in the midst of every conversation you have, planting seeds and sowing lies and celebrating small victories. Make no mistake, there is an enemy and he is not idle. Here’s a funny thought. He does not care one iota what your actual beliefs are and does not have an opinion on Covid, the BLM movement or police brutality. These things are merely a means to an end. And make no mistake, his ultimate goal is not to defund the police, end racism or ensure you are wearing your mask. His goal, his ONLY goal is to pry you from the hands of the only one who can truly unite, tear down walls, end suffering and bring ultimate peace. Can you hear me now? I can hear you, but this is my blog. Get your own blog (she says with a light-hearted humor, true to her nature). It takes only the smallest fracture to create the greatest divide. Given the right amount of pressure and circumstance, the chip in the windshield  that once was barely noticeable is now a gaping hole that is completely obstructing our view. Let’s be clear (pun intended), there are absolutes and their are grey areas, but let’s assign blame where blame is due. If you truly seek to start a revolution, I pray that you begin with a simple acknowledgement. You are not the enemy of your neighbor. You are being deceived if you believe this to be true. We may disagree. We may hurt each other - intentionally and unintentionally. We may look, feel and conform to different ideology, but WE are not enemies. There is one true enemy and to allow him a foothold is to the detriment of us all. Lord, help us! No really, sweet baby Jesus, Heavenly Father and lover of our souls - ALL OF OUR SOULS, please help us! We are a nation in need of healing. We are a nation in need of understanding and of patience. We are a nation falling prey to a ruthless enemy who seeks to divide and in so doing, conquer. We are a nation lost and he is winning simply because we are rolling out the red carpet. 

If we suffer in our marriages and our relationships are faltering, what do we do? When we lose the ability to listen and HEAR each other, to allow the perspective of another to matter more than our own, where do we find solace? When we have simply come to the end of ourselves and are ready to throw in the towel, where does our help come from? We may often seek mediation, counseling, an unbiased middle man with an unfiltered eye and no dog in the fight. Why then, should today be any different. From where I sit, it seems we are all at an impasse. If indeed, we feel unheard, misunderstood and frankly, crazy frustrated, isn’t it time for a mediator? And more importantly, what is the message that mediator would bring? Let me start and end here. The message is that of every good mediator, counselor, friend and ally. Open your ears and hear each other. See the good in each other. Be kind. Be humble. Be willing and able to admit your shortcomings. Seek peace. Use.Your.Words. And let your words be few. Let them be as few as this. “I love you.” Because my counselor, my mediator, my ally and my protector is nothing short of love and grace and I will accept and expect no less from myself and those around me. Justice is not JUST US. Justice is all of us. We are all entitled to the same privileges and what a privilege it is to be loved, adored and championed by a God who is able (and willing) to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. 

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
~Micah 6:8

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Use Your Words...Wisely Please

So here we are. We have encouraged our children to speak up and “use their words.” Well kudos my friends, that is exactly what they are doing and unfortunately, they are not pretty. But today, I have no words. Well, actually I do, but putting them down on paper has proven quite a massive undertaking. I’m not sure why, but this week has been nothing short of mentally debilitating and my parental load-bearing beams have been all but  demolished. The train pulled into the rumination station for the nine thousand twenty-seventh day in a row at approximately 2:36am. Enter the deluge of deep thoughts and crippling fear. How in the hell am I supposed to teach my littles how to navigate a world spinning out of control and emerge healthy individuals on the other side? Did students (and parents...ugh) at my local high school really spew hateful racist comments at an opposing team, was the story embellished to garner attention, or were both sides guilty of misconduct? I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands of heated comments from passionate individuals claiming, “The truth will come out.” And the only retort running circles in my mind like a dog chasing it’s tail is this...does it really matter? I would like to believe the issue will be thoroughly investigated and addressed appropriately, but here’s the thing - maybe it will and maybe it won’t. At the end of the day, the only purpose that will serve is to vindicate one side. In my humble opinion, validation of position should never be the end goal. If it’s validation you seek, you will find it one way or another and likely stop at nothing to do so. May I be so bold as to claim the facts of the case are actually somewhat irrelevant, or better stated, less significant than other factors at play? And please do not assume I am mitigating culpability and ramifications for those involved. There must be a fitting punishment and acknowledgement of wrong-doing. But what if, instead of playing the blame game we simply shifted our focus inward? What an amazing opportunity we have...to start a conversation, to practice the art of forgiveness and empathy, to address the value of not just listening, but hearing. What a blessing to be presented with the possibility of truly affecting change - on even the tiniest scale - within this little town we call home. My town has been and will be better than this. It starts at home and we are talking for sure.

I am heart-sick and emotionally burdened by the actions and words of our youth and not simply this week alone. I wish I could say I am surprised by the events that unfolded, but I’m not a fan of duplicity. It is no wonder they are confused and misguided, blind sheep led astray by the slightest enticement. We are raising them in a world of conflicting ideas, blinding contradictions and blatant hypocrisies. How are they to make sense of messages that war amongst themselves? We tell them, “Silence is golden,” but also, “If you see something, say something.” We clutter the airwaves and elevate rappers who use racial slurs and epitaphs as if they were conjunctions but are dismayed when they parrot the very same phrases and terms to each other. We tell them to have hope and try to make the world a better place but with the same breath tell them all is lost and the world is in dire straits because we elected a president we don’t like. We emphasize gun control and that violence is never the answer and then the media sensationalizes the taking of innocent lives and floods them with images of violence in video games during Monday Night Football. As a society, we have done little to solidify in them a firm foundation. We have not fostered a safe and secure environment in which to thrive, but rather, have hurled them out into the great unknown with an empty tool box and a pat on the back.

We live in a society that has decided it is more important to gently redirect our children and give them alternatives to their pursuits rather than overtly tell them “no.” There is, however, on occasion, an absolute right or wrong way to act and behave and yet we fail to recognize it. Unfortunately, as they grow and struggle to become fully functioning adults, they will hear “no” quite often and while I strongly support not giving up on your dreams, the reality is that sometimes the answer truly is no and they must learn to accept it and move forward. We have regrettably bred in them an inability to function in these instances. We have failed to convey to them the value of the bigger picture, that there are moments when even teachers become students and sometimes having the last word will only widen, rather than bridge the gap between compassion and contempt, kindness and cruelty, consciousness and ignorance, humility and pride.

My husband and I have always believed our primary focus should be on building self-esteem in our children. The shoulds and should nots, behavioral and societal issues we address with them are secondary. When they make an unwise decision, we certainly rebuke them, but the focus is on building in them a framework from which to make their own well-informed decisions. We strive to empower them to test the narratives being fed to them, critically think for themselves, and rest on what they know and believe to be true. I think the same general principles apply here. The missing piece is discernment. We have failed to teach them the art of discernment so they can correctly apply the so-called wisdom we impart. Without discernment, wisdom is a violin with no strings. What beautiful music we might make, yet we continually fall one note short of a symphony! It is only in knowing your audience and being able to clearly determine the climate of a situation that you can correctly discern the wisdom to apply.

I've heard it said that when someone else is speaking we spend the first 17 seconds formulating our response rather than actually listening. We see it in Facebook posts. A post is made and within two seconds there are 20 comments being drawn up in response. Where is the listening or more accurately, hearing taking place? We immediately seek to defend, challenge or be heard when perhaps we haven’t actually received the message at all. We don’t give ourselves enough time to “hear” each other and consequently, misunderstanding and ultimately, polarization follows. It is not enough to simply shut your mouth and claim to listen. Real change occurs when we hear and further, validate each other. The sad reality is that we have been conditioned to prove our point. What we lose in so doing is the ability to see beyond the words to the intended meaning or at the very least, the worldview from which it comes - its inception, the filter and experiences that shaped it. The new mantra is, “Hurt people hurt people.” I hear it often. I see it reposted almost daily. We say it, yet we don’t actually believe it, because we continue to talk over each other in an effort to be right, to be justified. We are failing miserably, but I cannot simply sit back and accept defeat. The future of my children hinges on it. In fact, demands it.

Alas, what the world needs now is love. True, but I think what it needs more urgently is understanding. Because in this day and age, it goes something like this, “I love you and you love me, but I disagree with you and let me tell you why you’re wrong.”

Me being the self-loather that I am, when someone takes issue with me, I immediately assume it is my fault. It is definitely a weakness, but I also see it as a strength, because at the end of the day, I would do anything to make it right - not to be right, but to find a resolution and some understanding as to how I hurt the other person so that it does not continue to happen. It forces me to look inward and question the validity of the accusation, to consider my actions and how they affect others. It may or may not hold water but at the very least, it warrants and begins a discussion wherein I have the unique privilege of delving into the mind of another, what makes him/her tick and this is what I love most about life - introspection. It defines who I am, affirms my character, and directs every step I take. I believe so many of us get hung up in the acknowledgement of our shortcomings. Simply engaging in a conversation that addresses your actions and encourages you to reflect upon how they affect others does not mean you are conceding defeat (although I don’t love that word here). It simply means you are open to understanding the position of another in a way that could positively affect change. Although I think our human nature would disagree, if I engage in a healthy debate, I’m not necessarily trying to convince the other person that my way is better, because maybe it’s not. When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong (yep, veiled Dirty Dancing reference). The point is, if both people approach the conversation from the same angle - understanding - everybody wins. Ultimately, you will both address the problem sincerely in an effort to make it better. At the very least, you are privy to a different perspective and will likely be a better person for it. Growth does not come in stagnancy. We are ever-changing, ever-evolving human beings, with boundless potential to do extraordinary things. In my mind, the purpose and meaning of life is relationship - with each other, with ourselves, and with a higher power, whatever name you choose to give it. I like to call mine Jesus, Lover of My Soul and Healer of My Heart. 

I’m not quite sure how to end this post, so I’ll just say this...use your words is not a bad starting point, but how you use them will take you from conception to fruition and somewhere in the middle maturity, growth, understanding, (insert literally any positive word here) will rear its beautiful head. Maybe it’s time we give our littles a break and take a turn on the buddy bench ourselves. Pride comes before the fall. Perhaps it is time to do a safety check, skip the tightrope for a day and instead, make sure our feet are firmly planted. Maybe it is time to steady our resolve, polish our listening skills, practice understanding, and allow for the possibility that perchance we do not know it all.

This is neither here nor there, but it suddenly occurred to me after I commented on a post on a certain page that I had opened myself up to scrutiny. While I was proud that I didn’t get attacked as many on said page do, I realized that should someone choose to “investigate” my beliefs further, it would serve me well to revisit my own page and ensure all my ducks line up. Silly, but self-reflection is in order. Are my posts consistent? Do they all reflect the same ideology? Do they align with my initial comment or are they a myriad of contradictions? Do I change and waiver in my approach to fit a narrative? To gain a friend? To be liked or accepted? Or simply to avoid upsetting others? Just a thought. I digress, just shut up already and let someone else have the floor for a minute!

Sunday, July 01, 2018

A Package, A Puppy and A Purse

I believe I experienced my first runner's high today. It had absolutely nothing to do with the wind or the terrain or the distance to which I had traveled. It also had little to do with the fact that my asthma felt quite non-existent and my lungs had somehow taken a trip back to the days of my youth. I ran further and faster than I ever have and as I did, noticed a pattern beginning to emerge.

I fancy myself a writer. Writing has always been my outlet, my therapy and will always hold a very special place in my heart. But these days, I am beginning to fancy myself a runner as well and for entirely different purposes. I am a better person when I run and not merely because it brings me indescribable peace and contentment, although it does indeed. Running has literally made me a better person, if for no other reason than it has afforded me opportunities to be precisely that.

Since I took up running as an outlet for my anxiety and boredom less than a year ago, I have had three opportunities to prove that altruism is indeed alive and well. The first took a great deal of courage on my part, at least from my perspective. Passing through an industrial complex, I spotted a large box in the middle of the street. Considering the times we live in, I jumped straight to fear and apprehension and felt certain it was an explosive device not to be disturbed. Curiosity put my pessimistic self to bed almost immediately and tucked her in tight. I held my breath and gently nudged the box with my foot. Several tense seconds later and much to my astonishment, I found myself still standing, still breathing, all limbs intact. Upon further examination, I discovered that the box was merely a package from Urban Outfitters that had fallen off a delivery truck. I exhaled. Although I fancy myself a runner, I do not at all fancy myself an iron woman and therefore did not think it possible to haul the box the remaining four miles to my house. I promptly entered one of the nearby offices and requested the front desk staff hold it until I returned to retrieve and deliver it to its rightful owner. On I ran.

The second opportunity that arose to prove myself a do-gooder was the discovery of a wallet, or the contents therein alongside the road. It was a gorgeous day and though I am ordinarily lost in the lyrics and rhythm of my favorite songs and laser focused on my own thoughts, for some odd reason - perhaps not by chance - I was scanning the hillside as I passed. Something shiny caught my eye. Scattered amongst the bushes were several forms of identification, a gas card, frequent flyer card and yes, there was even a credit card among the debris. This quandary was much easier to navigate. There would be no shopping spree in my immediate future. Honesty and integrity prevailed and to say that I would be intrigued by my own actions would be the understatement of the year. I tucked the items into my pocket and on I ran. To my surprise, locating the owner online proved quite effortless and she was altogether pleased to be reunited with her belongings. 

The third opportunity I have had the privilege of stumbling upon transpired this morning as I passed a fellow runner. Trudging along behind her was an excited and highly spirited dog. I commented on how darling he was, but a brief conversation revealed that she was not his owner and seemed perplexed as to how to proceed. We both attempted to corral the little ball of energy but he proved quite elusive. She eventually went on her way and I cannot at all fault her, as the situation appeared quite challenging. Witnessing  him dart in and out of passing cars gave me pause and something inside simply would not allow me to abandon him. I waited for him to tire and when he found a shady spot, latched onto his collar and phoned the number on his tag. There was no answer but as luck would have it, a couple passing by recognized my new friend and gave us a proper introduction. They were unable to return Tsuki to his rightful owner, as they had several dogs of their own. I happily carried the pup and followed the couple back to Tsuki’s home where I secured him beyond the front gate. On I ran.

We are all capable of great things. Opportunities present themselves every day. It is how we approach and respond to these opportunities that defines our character. There were no accolades for the “good deeds” I have been blessed to bestow upon others during my runs. No one inquired as to my name and no rewards were offered, but altruism is its own reward if you allow it to be. I was simply given a chance to step outside myself and exercise a bit of kindness if only for a moment. Running has made me a better person. I can see it on the faces of the drivers passing by. There is a certain light that shines within you when you are given a choice to take the path less traveled - the one that is oftentimes, contrary to our human nature - and you heed the call. There is a certain beauty that transforms you from the inside out, a peace that captures your soul and cannot be likened or attributed to a physical act, but rather an inward change that occurs when you choose to do the “right” thing as opposed to the easy thing.

I fancy myself a runner these days, not one of elite stature but rather, one who has simply been changed by the road. These days it seems I cannot run home to the pen fast enough to share the journey, its many blessings and hopefully, restore or plant a new seed of faith in humanity. “A man with integrity walks safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.” ~Proverbs 10:9