Posts Tagged ‘God’

Two nights ago, I had a talk with God. Well, not so much a talk as it was a depression-fueled temper tantrum on my part. It’s been a long school year so far (already!) and the frustration with work and where I am in my life has been steadily building. Thursday was a horrible day: disrespectful kids, strangers giving stupid feedback in my classroom, no prep time due to meetings, and no prospect of things getting better. Remember what I’ve written about depression? When it kicks in, you literally can’t see a way out at that moment. Combine that with being sick all week and normal teenage stuff at home and it becomes a recipe for a major depressive hole.

By bedtime, my chest felt like it would explode with frustration and I could barely keep the tears in. In the bathroom, I let it all out at God. Why wouldn’t He help me? Why was I getting thwarted and blocked at every turn when I was trying to help myself? Was this all there was going to be of my life, feeling trapped and miserable? There were other things, too, but that was the gist of it. It didn’t last very long, I was exhausted, and I went to bed dreading the puffy eyes in the morning that come from late-night tear fests.

The next day (yesterday), I walked back into my classroom after cleaning up broken shards of a cologne bottle in the hallway. I can still smell it on my hands this morning, despite repeated washings. Ugh. My clock caught my attention at 10:23. That doesn’t surprise me. Those numbers, my birthday numbers, always seem to appear when my attention is required for spiritual things. This has happened throughout my entire life. I know that a lot of people, especially those skeptical or dismissive of such things would bleat that it’s no big deal, it’s 10:23 twice a day every day. No kidding, but experience has taught me that when my attention is specifically being drawn to the clock at that time, the universe and God mean business. Whether you believe it or not is your own business, but I know what’s true for me.

Anyway, as soon as I had registered the time, a voice popped into my head. “For I know the plans I have for you…”, it said. I stopped in my tracks. Now, I know a lot about the Bible, but I’m not one to memorize and quote verses, so this was a surprise. And I had the feeling, the feeling I get when something spiritual is happening. I knew the verse, I had heard it before, but hadn’t thought about it recently, even remotely. I immediately went to my computer to look it up: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)  Well. I knew then, I knew, that this was the answer to my outburst last night. It felt good, it felt right. I don’t know how else to explain it. After months of pleading and trying to get an answer about my life and what I should be doing, I had a clear communication. Not a direction about where my life is going, exactly, but at that moment, I had peace about it. I still do, today, twenty-four hours later.

Does that verse solve my problems? No. Will my frustration disappear? No, but yesterday went a long way in restoring part of my faith. I’ve been struggling for a while, a long while, actually, and I needed something like that. I debated about posting this, as I usually do when I experience spiritual/metaphysical things, knowing that there are people who don’t believe or who won’t think I’m the “right” kind of Christian and will definitely think I’m on the train to Crazy Town, but you know what? I really don’t care anymore. Actually, I think that’s a part of what I’m supposed to be doing now, writing more about things like this, being more open about things about God and other things that we can’t explain. We’ll see what the future holds.

In the meantime, I wish you all the peace that I’m feeling today.

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The first time I read a book by Rachel Held Evans, I couldn’t put it down. My friend, Terri, had somehow recommended it, either on Facebook or Goodreads, I can’t remember exactly. I do remember, however, being intrigued by the title: A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Two pages in and I was hooked.

In the book, Rachel attempted to tackle the “rules” of being a woman, as outlined by the Bible. Every month for a year, she focused on a different trait of womanhood such as gentleness, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. Needless to say, it was a struggle for her, especially dealing with the topics of misogyny that are prevalent throughout the Bible, but she wrote with grace and humor while maintaining respect and devotion to God and to the important messages of the Bible. She echoed many of the questions and concerns that I had had (and still have, quite frankly) about the role of women in Christianity and does a wonderful job of looking at the scriptures in a modern way. Every time I read one of her books, I have not been disappointed with her insights.

When the opportunity came to read an advance online copy of her new book, Inspired (See what I did there with the blog title?), I jumped at the chance. The Bible, for me, has its places of beauty, of history, and parts that seem glaringly appropriate just when I need them the most but, like Rachel, my experience has also included the problem of how to process the ugly parts. Advocated rape and slavery of women as spoils of war. Genocide. Murder of children. An eternal hell for people who have never even heard of Christianity, or whose experience of Christianity is extremely negative. All of these topics are sanctioned by several of the authors of the books of the Bible and have always bothered me. Thankfully, they never set well with Rachel, either, and she has written this wonderful, knowledgeable, book to help navigate those ugly parts and look at them in a different way.


For those who are unfamiliar with her work, Rachel Held Evans was raised as an evangelical Christian with the church and God at the center of her life. As I read Inspired, as with her other books, I was drawn to parallels between her experiences in the church and mine.

I wouldn’t call my childhood church experience completely fundamental or evangelical, but it was very similar. The Bible was taken literally, was fact and law with no room for discussion. I was told how to feel, how to believe, the “correct” way to be a Christian. I learned religion, not how to think for myself or to how really love God. I was afraid; there were too many rules to follow and things that didn’t make sense. The Bible can be confusing, violent, and contradictory, leading to many unanswered questions. When I read Inspired, it brought a lot of peace to my heart.

In Inspired, Rachel tackles these issues and more including creation, evolution, stories of war, deliverance, and wisdom. Her thoughts are backed up with plenty of historical, theological, and liturgical research, culminated over years of studying the topic and from several scholars of different faiths. While her own feelings formed the basis for her interest and research, she is careful to balance it with many perspectives, including her evangelical background. She never claims to have all the answers, but presents a down-to-earth way of thinking about God and the Bible.

Rachel’s unpretentious, friendly, writing style makes it feel like she’s sitting right here with me in my living room with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Her experiences make it feel as if I grew up with her, like she was right there with me in those hard, Pine-Sol scented pews listening to the preacher, wondering why God thought that boys were better than girls, why I couldn’t be a preacher, why God told Joshua to kill everyone in Jericho, including innocent little children. She shares her journey of doubt, of anger at God for allowing horrible things to happen to innocent people, and her thirst to understand and learn. I love her candor, her humor, and her honesty. She’s a genuine, readable, author who, even with doubts of her own, demonstrates a true love for God and a thirst for the truth.

I don’t mean to imply that reading Inspired solved all of my issues about the Bible, that’s not the point. While I still have (so many) unanswered questions and problems with parts, I no longer believe that I’m wrong for feeling that way. I’m not alone; there are other Christians who feel the same, who have questions like mine. Most importantly, it’s okay to talk about it, it’s okay to doubt, it’s okay to not know the answer. Inspiredif nothing else, will make you think, something that I am certain God expects us to do for ourselves. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book: “When you can’t trust your own God- given conscience to tell you what’s right, or your own God-given mind to tell you what’s true, you lose the capacity to engage the world in any meaningful, authentic way, and you become an easy target for authoritarian movements eager to exploit that vacuity for their gain. I tried reading Scripture with my conscience and curiosity suspended, and I felt, quite literally, disintegrated. I felt fractured and fake.” That is how I felt for years: fake. Stepping away from that rigid box of what I “should” think has given me a new freedom to explore and strengthen my relationship with God. It’s not perfect, it’s a work in progress, and I believe that Inspired is a good tool to help me along the way.

Try it for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Inspired-Slaying-Giants-Walking-Loving/dp/0718022319/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Other books by Rachel Held Evans:

Evolving in Monkeytown

Faith Unraveled

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Searching for Sunday

Read her blog at http://www.rachelheldevans.com

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The title is self-explanatory. These are things that I don’t understand, some in good ways, some in bad ways, some in neutral ways. These are in no particular order.

  • Sushi. I know people like it, I just don’t know why. For the record, I’ve tried it a few times just to make sure. After almost hurling up the last attempt sixteen years ago, I decided that I was done. You can have my share.
  • Misogyny. Why do some men hate women and think that they are inferior? Is your ego so fragile that you can’t accept women as equals? Smh.
  • Child prodigies. Amazing, but HOW???
  • Urban sprawl. I brought my son home from college this week and we went the long way down Geddes Road. We passed a bunch of new subdivisions and all of the houses were beige. Every. Single. One. Why beige? And why don’t real estate investors put their money into revamping old neighborhoods rather than taking over wild areas? It could be awesome and not beige. Something that I think about.
  • Football. Four years of marching band and being married to a football fan for twenty-one years and I still can’t tell you what’s happening.
  • Parents who don’t parent and their kids are wild. Enough said.
  • Real Housewives of Anything. I can’t watch spoiled, middle-aged, drama queens.
  • The Bachelor or The BacheloretteNot my cup of tea (she says while watching Hoarders and Say Yes To the Dress).
  • Sardines. I’m Italian and I still don’t understand sardines.
  • Beer. I LOVE the smell of beer, I truly do, and I tried it enough times to know that it makes me nauseous when I drink it. Friends of mine are discriminating beer drinkers and love it. I wish I understood beer, but wine makes it better.
  • The Golf Channel.
  • Early morning band or sports activities on a Saturday. This is sadism, pure and simple. This goes hand-in-hand with:
  • Waking up early when you don’t have to. Nothing against early-morning people, but I’m naturally a night owl. Yes, sunrises are beautiful, especially in December when the sunrises at a decent hour, like 8 o’clock. Wake up at 5 AM in June to watch the sun come up? Nah, I’m good.
  • Lawn obsessions.
  • Mosquitoes.
  • Girl toys and boy toys. Let the kids play with what they want without putting a label on it. My boys had cars and Legos, but they also had dolls and a kitchen. Big freaking deal.
  • Pointy-toed shoes.
  • Walmart.
  • The addictive power of Cadbury Mini-Eggs.
  • Kanye West. And while I’m at it,
  • Kardashians in general.
  • The “teenage boy smell”.
  • Blue Moon Ice Cream.
  • Racism. It’s ugly. It’s ignorant. It needs to stop.
  • Giant houses. The bigger the house, the more there is to clean.
  • Unmade beds. 
  • Internet trolls.
  • Armpit hair. Why? It’s smelly and yucky and serves no purpose.
  • Purposely loud cars. 
  • Fake geese that wear clothes as porch decorations.
  • Astrophysics. 
  • Regular physics
  • Frogs legs as food. I want to know who the first person was to think, “Let’s eat a slimy frog!”
  • My life. You’d think, by now, that I’d know what I’m doing. Not true. I’m just winging it.
  • God. Not the idea of God; I’m unashamedly a believer. I just wish I knew more real information, clear-cut answers to things instead of listening to people who have twisted things to their own interpretation and agenda. I have to go by my heart and what I feel, but there are times that I would love a “what do you really think about this?” conversation with Him.

This is by no means a full list. The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t know. Some of these things I’ll work to understand, such as the God thing, but others aren’t important, just points of curiosity. In the meantime, I’m going to go look for an episode of Hoarders and chow on some Cadbury Mini-Eggs.

Feel free to comment with things that you don’t understand.

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Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

Remember when you’re talking to the Man upstairs

That just because He doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean He don’t care

Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”

“Unanswered Prayers”- Garth Brooks, Pat Alger, Larry Bastian, 1990

For those that don’t know, the song is about a man running into his old high school crush at a football game. He remembers praying for God to bring them together, how he wanted to be with her, praying so desperately that he swore he would never ask for anything again, but, alas, it was not meant to be, although he continued to think about her over they years. Finally, seeing her after all that time, he realized that his wife had been meant for him, that God didn’t grant his request because that girl had not been the right one. (Now, this is a little ironic, because although Garth Brooks said that this song was based on true events, he and his then- wife ended up divorcing and he remarried Trisha Yearwood. Sorry to kill mood of the song, but there you are.)

Even though the true-life version of this song didn’t end very well, the concept is a good one. I can’t count how many times throughout my entire life that I’ve prayed for something that I really wanted, something that I was convinced would be the best thing for me, only to have silence on the other end. Boyfriends, jobs, kids, almost nothing has happened as I have planned it, and most of it has turned out much better than I have ever planned.

I’m going through this situation now, and part of the reason I’m writing this blog is to reassure myself that even though I can’t see it right now, God has His own plan. I’ve been struggling with a part of my life for some time now. I apologize for being cryptic, hopefully later I can explain all, but right now I really can’t. (We’re all healthy and nothing bad is happening, so please don’t worry.) I have an idea of how I want things to go, I’ve spent a lot of time fantasizing about how much better things would be if only… But so far, things haven’t gone the way I think they should, which can be incredibly frustrating. Mr. Marty Man just reminded me of another (paraphrased) line from a play, “God hears all prayers. Sometimes, the answer is no.”

Now, let’s get something straight. God is not a fairy godmother. He is not a wish-granting genie. We are sometimes inclined to think that way, that if we only ask God for what we want, we will get it. Mega-church preachers, like Joel Osteen, preach that message, which, with their millions of dollars, is easy for them to say. As we wait for those very specific things, we are disappointed many times. Does God want us to be happy, to be prosperous? Yes, absolutely! He loves us and wants us to be the best that we can be, but maybe not in the way that we think. Rich does not equal happy. Many millionaires are miserable. Job success does not equal happy. Prosperous means different things for different people. Contentment equals happiness, and contentment doesn’t equal the same things for everyone.

In scripture, we’re told to ask for the things we want, but that God will grant us the things we need. It’s a little confusing sometimes, I know. In my mind, I’m thinking: I’m a good person. I go to church, I pray, I read my devotional, and I try to live my life the best I can, and I’ve worked for it. WHY hasn’t (this) happened??? God doesn’t work like that. Sometimes there’s a lesson that I need to learn, or somebody that needs my help before I move on, or that was definitely not the right boy to marry, or going to this event would have meant that I missed something that I loved even more. We won’t always know the reasons why our life takes certain directions. As someone who is been diagnosed OCD, I like to know not only what is happening, but why it is happening and the timeline involved, but, again, God doesn’t work that way. We need to learn patience. I HATE patience, by the way. I never pray for it, figuring that I don’t want any extra doses, but it is necessary for a good character.

Why? Why does God do this? Well, think about it. As a child, did your parents give in to your every whim? I hope not, I really hope not. Good parents know that that giving a child everything he/she demands makes a spoiled, entitled child. The same is true for adults. Just because we’re grown doesn’t mean we’re mature. We all know people who seem to be mentally stuck in middle school and live by the principle of self-gratification. Crimes are committed and lives are destroyed because people think they should have something and they decide to get it by any means necessary, throwing away morals, compassion for others, and their sense of right and wrong. Getting everything that we want sets a dangerous precedent and teaches us that our desires are more important than the basic rights of others. God knows this, hence the unanswered prayers.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I thought I knew it all, like every other young adult. But the older I get, the more I realize that I have so much to learn, that every situation I’m in, whether it makes me happy and seems to fall perfectly into place or whether it leaves me crying in frustration or rage, teaches me something and that I will never know it all.

God doesn’t give us a perfectly mapped-out life. Instead, it’s like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure Books, every choice you make leads to different circumstances. Even those who don’t believe in God can agree with that. If I didn’t decide to go to that party, I never would have met her. If I didn’t work at that camp, I never would have changed my major. Our choices and how we deal with the good or bad consequences of those choices help to design our characters, our personalities. God doesn’t make us do anything, He provides opportunities and we have to decide what we want to do. I’ve learned to pray and to listen to my intuition, trusting that God will lead me where I need to be. It may not be what I have envisioned, I still don’t have a writing contract, but I have faith, however shaky it can be at times, that He will answer my prayers in one way one another. It’s just that sometimes, the answer is, “No”.

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Last week I wrote about pet peeves, things that drive us insane at times. I do like to keep things balanced, so this week I’m writing about things that bring me joy.

Joy is different than happiness, a term that I use in to describe my constant feelings about certain parts of my life. For example, I have happiness in my marriage. That’s something that is all the time; a state, if you will, rather than a moment. Do I have moments of joy in my marriage? Undoubtedly, yes! But in my mind, joy is one of those things that happens spontaneously, a moment that catches you off-guard and can take your breath away while filling you with, well, joy!

For me, joy can be elusive. It’s not that I want to be joyless, but depression makes it hard to feel good things sometimes. Therefore, when I do experience something that brings true joy, the feeling is so profound that it stays with me. Moments of joy give me hope and keep me going. From the silly to the sacred, reactions vary from genuine laughter from deep inside to quiet awe and reverence. Here are some of my favorite things that bring me joy.

When Marty Man does something romantic. We’ve been married a long time, but he still has that power to make my heart flutter. It can be the surprise book that he ordered for me because he knew I would want it, the spontaneous, “I love you” that drifts across the couch, or even just a look that he sends my way. My husband brings me joy.

Connecting with my kids. I love my boys, always, but when we have a moment, whether it’s snuggle time or a good conversation, it makes my heart swell. They get closer to being on their own every day, which makes those moments precious to me.

Baby belly giggles. Completely unresistable. Hands down one of my favorite sounds in the entire world. I dissolve into a puddle of joy. It’s so real, so genuine. I can take on the world after hearing a baby lose it in laughter.

The ocean. Wild, raw, powerful, untamable. I love being around water in any case, but something about the ocean just fills my whole being when I watch it. I could stand there for hours.

Travel. Not necessarily the nitty-gritty parts of it, but the very thought of going somewhere, especially somewhere on my bucket list, is more exciting than Christmas morning. Right now, I’m looking forward to Italy. One month from today I’ll be in Rome. The anticipation is wonderful, but the reality will be even better. Even the opportunity to drive someone else to or from the airport makes me giddy, because it’s a wonderful place. I know, I’m a dork, but that’s okay.

Sleeping babies in my arms. I can’t even explain. Settling a baby down so that he or she is sleeping in your arms is amazing. They’re just so perfect, so innocent and beautiful.

Feeling God’s presence or understanding when He’s at work. When I’m reading the Bible or something related and a point just hits home, there’s no mistaking it, especially after I’ve been through a rough patch and the result is something that I never would have expected or planned for, but I know is right. The awareness that comes through and the feeling of being close to Him is indescribable, but joy is in that mix so it definitely belongs on my list. He is my everything.

Seeing the sun and clear blue sky after several cloudy ones. Relief, just pure relief and joy. I don’t know if this is a depression thing, but I do know that people, in general, feel better when it’s sunny out. It’s especially joy-inducing when it has been hot, awful, and muggy. I hate muggy. It makes my skin crawl, so when that lifts after several days and the sky is that clear, clear blue, it’s heavenly.

Music. I don’t know where I’d be without music. It helps to cope with or enhance every emotion, from the dark deep holes I can get into to the best moments in my life. There is a song for every feeling, every day, every time. Music understands.

Writing. I amost didn’t include this one, because when I write, I have to fight the nagging feeling at the back of my mind that tells me I should be doing laundry, or cleaning, or something else mundane because writing feels like such a guilty pleasure, but the times when I really just put that on the back burner and allow myself to get lost in my story or my blog are really full of joy. I love to write and I wish that I could make more time to do it. A work in progress, yes?

I’d love to know what brings you joy. Life is hard, joy gets us through.

Until next time.

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I’ve heard and read a lot about forgiveness lately. My pastor recently addressed the topic in a sermon, a favorite author/blogger of mine blogged about it recently, and it’s a constant topic on Dr. Phil. It’s frequently addressed on talk shows, in magazine articles, and even in the news. Just what does it mean to forgive, really, and are we capable of it?

We’re taught from the time we are small to apologize for things that we do wrong. We’re also taught, if we’ve been taught good manners, to accept an apology from someone who apologizes to you. Growing up, I can remember giving and receiving less-than-heartfelt apologies to and from my brothers, cousins, and even friends. Usually, my guilty conscience would kick in immediately and I would plead for forgiveness from whoever I had wronged, sometimes because I was truly sorry and sometimes because I was afraid of getting in trouble. Most incidents, as children, were forgiven and forgotten in the space of minutes, hours, or, at most, a few days. Rarely did we hold long-lasting grudges; forgiveness came easy then.

It’s more difficult to do that when the wrong goes a little deeper than calling someone a bad word. So many people have injustices committed against them that can’t just be brushed off, that stay with people through their lifetimes. Murder, whether of a family member or against an entire people, rape, molestation, betrayal, all of these create any number of negative, devastating feelings that can’t simply be dismissed with a simple, “I’m sorry”. How does one forgive in cases like these?

As Christians, we are told to forgive. I love the story of Peter asking Jesus exactly how many time he must forgive. I can picture him asking, “Seven?” hopefully before Jesus tells him that, no, he must forgive seventy times seven, in other words, always. Even when his brother, Andrew, doesn’t clean out the fishing boat for the fifth time that week. I’m making that last part up, but you get the idea. The point is, Christians must forgive, over and again, if necessary. The hard part is actually doing it.

There are unclear specifics to this forgiveness business, however. Are we expected to forgive instantly? For some offenses, I think it’s fairly easy. I can forgive the jerk who cuts me off in traffic and narrowly misses my bumper pretty quickly, even on a bad day. Sure, it’s irritating and it could have resulted in an accident, but it doesn’t imprint my psyche in a devastating way. It’s forgotten in a matter of minutes, especially since driving in Metro Detroit promises that being cut off will be a daily event. But when an argument happens between two friends or family members, it can take a little while to forgive the harsh words and bluntness that come with that. Whether both parties are sorry for happened, or only one is, the sting needs to wear off before one can look at the situation rationally, out of the heat of anger. Saying that you forgive someone, only to bring it up again in a later fight is only lip service and not real forgiveness. True forgiveness means that one has let go of the anger, bitterness, and resentment that lingers after any kind of altercation.

Sometimes, forgiveness comes easily once we understand the circumstances behind an offense, possibly finding out that, in actuality, there was no offense. A spouse’s anger at the other for being late to dinner is quickly dissipated when a flat tire and a dead cell phone are responsible. An invitation that never happened wasn’t a slight, simply absentmindedness or a mistake. The hurt and worry might be there, but no one needs to be forgiven. Life happens.

Forgiveness for those other offenses, though, those deep, dark, things that affect someone’s life forever, those are the tough ones. I’ll never forget the story of the Amish schoolgirls who were all killed by a lone gunman who broke into their schoolhouse one unassuming day, seeking revenge on God for allowing his baby daughter to die. He sent the boys out and shot the ten girls that remained before killing himself. Five of the girls died. That same night, the Amish proclaimed that he was forgiven for this horrible crime. The gunman’s funeral was attended by the Amish, who publicly prayed for his family. By their actions, the Amish seemed to have really forgiven the man who so callously took their daughters away. (http://lancasterpa.com/amish/amish-forgiveness/) I have to wonder, though, in my heart of hearts, do they all really forgive? Do they really have the peace that comes with forgiveness? I’ve had to forgive some pretty big things in my life. I know how it feels when you really do let go of that bitterness. It feels clean inside, like someone opened a window, and when you think back on that hurt, as you inevitably will do from time to time, there’s no residual left. It becomes a non-issue. I don’t know how the Amish have done it, especially the families of those girls. I truly, honestly, hope that they have forgiven, that they can honestly be at peace with what happened. I don’t mean “be at peace” as in what happened was okay, but that they were able to not hold on to any anger nor have any desire for revenge. That’s a huge misconception about forgiveness, that by forgiving, you are excusing what was done. That’s not it at all. Forgiveness is giving yourself permission to let go of all of the negative feelings that linger after you have been done a wrong. I want the Amish to be spared the horror of reliving that event, day in and day out. I admire their courage and that they were able to pull together and support not only each other, but the family of the gunman. I don’t know if I could have done it that soon or that absolutely.

I also know how it feels to try and forgive, over and over, and even to think that you have forgiven, only to have those feelings come crashing back in on you. This is ongoing in my life. I was molested as a child for several years by my mother’s husband. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say that I have a lot to deal with as an adult. Therapy is a wonderful thing and it helps, but I have to view it as part of a process, not a quick-fix. There are a lot of feelings to still be sorted out, a lot of rage that had built up inside of me for years that I had hidden away while I put on a happy face. I only thought to get professional help when I felt my emotional world crumbling around me. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand that my abuser still walked free, without a legal taint to his name because of the statute of limitations, that people defended him, that people still thought he was a good guy, even though I knew that he was a scum ball. It still bothers me to this day. I have a lot of trouble letting that anger go. I don’t know how. I pray for God to take that bitterness away, to make it disappear, to give me peace, to let me forgive. Sometimes, I think He has, that it is gone, and I’m free of it. I feel triumphant and joyful; I have forgiven, just like I have been forgiven! Then, a flashback happens. Or a bad dream. Or a news story where some child is taken advantage of. It’s in those moments that I feel like I haven’t forgiven at all, like it’s a wound with a scab ripped off, raw and bleeding. I hate that feeling. I wish I could rise above it and someday I believe that I will, but I haven’t yet. I can’t imagine having to forgive the perpetrators of genocide, dictators, human traffickers, and other people who somehow think it’s okay to use their power to purposely hurt others. My situation doesn’t even compare to what some of those victims go through and I wonder how they go on. Some turn to revenge, alcohol, or other self-destructive behaviors, but I’m sure that some of them have forgiven their demons, too.

Forgiveness is a sticky subject. As I said before, it doesn’t mean excusing the fault. It also doesn’t mean that you have to reconcile with the people that you forgive. Reconciliation means renewing a relationship and in some cases, that’s just not doable. The person you forgive may have died, they may be dangerous for you to be around, such as an abuser, or you just might not want a relationship with them anymore, for whatever reason. There’s nothing in the Bible that tells me I have to let toxic people back into my life and really, it would be self-destructive to do so.

What about those situations where you’ve done something wrong, realized it, asked for forgiveness, but none is given? I’ve been in that situation, too. I wronged one of my very best friends in my late teens by blatantly lying to him about someone I was seeing, hurting him deeply. When I was found out, I blamed everything else but me. My apology was no good, mainly because I didn’t take responsibility, and he knew it. He never spoke to me again. I can look back now as a mature adult and totally understand that his anger was justified, not only by what I did, but by my lack of ownership and lackluster apology. I know I wasn’t forgiven and it still comes back to haunt me to this day. I screwed up a really great friendship over a relationship that only lasted a couple of months. Brilliant. Maybe the person who deserves an apology from you has died, or you’ve lost contact with him/her over the years. I look at these situations like this: I’m not going to receive forgiveness, therefore, I’m going to learn from my mistake(s). I try and make sure that I take ownership when I mess up, whether it’s at home, work, or just out in the world. I teach my children and my students that it’s better to ‘fess up than to lie about something they did wrong because it will be much worse when you’re caught. I value trust and honesty and force myself to be up-front about things much more than I ever did as a stupid kid. Does it always work? No, there are plenty of times when I don’t communicate well because it’s hard for me, but that doesn’t mean I will stop trying.

There are a lot of grey areas here, none of it is black and white. It’s not easy. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he told Peter that he must forgive seventy times seven times. It’s a process, not cut and dry. I only know that I am called to forgive, as I was forgiven.

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There was an article on Facebook today that made me think a lot about my religious background and about how I feel on those matters. The article was about how Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, had renounced his membership in the Southern Baptist Conference due to, in a nutshell, their views on and treatment of women. I reposted it and cheered silently to myself that someone of that stature would have the strength to stand up to that organization at the risk of the backash that could happen. I remember the Southern Baptist position very well. I was raised in it for much of my childhood. Here are some of my memories.

When my mother married the step-monster, we went from attending the Catholic church where my mother’s family had always gone to attending a Southern Baptist (Missionary Baptist) church. We attended that particular church until I was about 12 or 13 years old. I was not quite four at the time we started, but I still remember the huge differences. Where I had been used to quiet prayer and unison responses, there was now yelling and shouting, most of the time by the preacher and sometimes from other people in the congregation. Women would sob, shriek, and walk the aisles, hands raied in the air, praising God. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that if you’re someone who expresses joy that way, but to a small child, especially to one who’s introverted, it was a combination of terrifying and hilarious. For the record, I’ve never been comfortable with that, but to each his own. The pastor would rant and rave for hours, literlly hours, about all of the ways that we could go to Hell, and we would, if we stepped one toe out of line. “Backsliding”, it’s called. There was no real way to know if you had crossed that line, but there was always the dread fear that I wasn’t saved and would therefore wake up in Hell should I die while I slept. I remember the thought of it keeping me up for hours many a night as a small child.

The services would go on for hours at a time. Service started at 11:00 and sometimes wouldn’t get out until 3:00. Then there was evening service at 6:00 that rarely got out before 8:00, which we usually had to go to as well. Of course, if we were bad, we got spanked when we got home, even for that long time we had to sit in the hard pews. I hated Sundays for a very long time.

There were other things that kept me awake and perplexed in addition to the concept of Hell. One of those things was the position of women in church. Women were supposed to obey their husbands in all things because husbands were the head of the house. Women could not be pastors or in any position of leadership in the church. I distinctly remember sermons on that very topic. Also, that men should not dress like women (i.e., wear their hair long and have earrings) and women should not dress like men (Short hair and pants). For that particular reason, I was only allowed to wear dresses to school until third grade, when my mother had finally had enough of my complaining. Seriously, though, how are you supposed to hang upside down on the monkey bars in a dress? I remember always knowing that that couldn’t be right. Why wasn’t I as good as a boy? Why didn’t God like me as much as a boy? By then, my mother had refused to attend anymore, but we children were still forced to go with the step-monster.

The mixing of races in relationships was not to be tolerated, especially blacks and whites. All types of offensive names were used to describe ethnicities other than white. I remember the word “abomination” being used whenever a mixed-race couple was discussed. Alcohol consumption of any kind was sinful, yet there were crowds of cigarette smokers in the fellowship hall. Hypocrisy at it’s finest.

Homosexuality was a complete sin. Pure and simple. “Fags” (their words, not mine) were going to Hell. No hope for them at all.

I don’t remember hearing of kindness and love, only of sin, punishment, and retribution. My idea of God was an image of a vengeful entity, just waiting to strike me down for the slightest thought. Any other religion, even other Protestant denomnations were wrong and deceived. Ours was the ONLY denomination that was right in our way of thinking. Even more modern translations of the Bible were forbidden. It was the King James version or nothing.

Partly in order to get my mother to come back to church, the step-monster found a new one when I started high school, around age 13. It was still Southern Baptist, but not the kind I was used to. The pastor had a point to his sermons instead of simply ranting and his family was, and still is, wonderful and caring. Slowly, God seemed to take on more of a loving persona. The pastor’s wife was the music leader and you could see the emotion in her voice each and every week. They didn’t think that questions were out of line and it was during teen Bible studies that I found that it was okay to discuss what we read, even to disagree about some things. I learned how to have a real relationship with God and how to listen to Him. Now, I didn’t and still don’t agree with everything that was taught there, but I have a love and appreciation for those people who did so much for me.

Even with the love and support of that congregation, there was still a lot of me that was struggling with my faith during that time. I had been molested by the step-monster for years and had a difficult time understanding why God would allow that to happen and how He could let that man go unpunished. I still do struggle with those thoughts today, but my thoughts on other issues are much clearer.

I believe in God, fully, with all my heart. I know that I have friends who are atheists or agnostics, who think that God is a superstition, an idea used as a crutch for the weak. But with everything I’ve been through, I feel Him. He is real. I believe in a Heaven and a Hell, but that there is no “scorecard” that God keeps to determine where we go. We are asked to do one thing: believe. We are not asked to worship in a certain way, to interpret the Bible in the same way, or to agree on every religious doctrine. We are called to believe. Simple. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, truly believe, your behavior will mirror that, with many, many imperfections, but you will use your salvation as a guide. You will feel badly about some of things that you’ve done and work to correct them. There is no magic “line” to cross. We’re not expected to act as mindless robots, but with the individual understandings that God gives to us.

I believe that women are called to be pastors and leaders, just as much as men. My pastor right now is a woman and she is incredibly knowledgable and open-minded about many things, not the least of which is faith. One of the reasons that I’ve been with the Methodists for more than five years now is their acceptance of people from all backgrounds.I don’t believe that women are subservient to men or that men are to be dominant over women. Men decided that long ago and it’s just now that the lights are coming on in the world. I am my husband’s partner, his equal, and he is mine. We have different strengths and weaknesses and love each other in spite of them. It’s not only Southern Baptists that believe that women are less than men. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and several other religions and religious denominations have held women back for centuries. I see it every day where I live. It’s something we must continue to fight against.

I don’t believe that we should be divided on race. We are the races we are because of the conditions in which our ancestors lived. Nothing more. No one was cursed to look a certain way. We all began in the same place.

Alcohol, in moderation, is not a bad thing. Just like anything else, when taken constantly in excess or it begins to control you, it then becomes something to avoid. The making of alcoholic beverages can be akin to an art form, with all of the different beer and wine-making techniques. There’s nothing sinful about a glass of Merlot after a long week at work. It even has health benefits, which smoking does not.

I don’t believe that people choose to be gay or straight; I believe they are born that way. My brothers and I were raised in a completely anti-gay household, yet my youngest brother has always been gay. I don’t believe that one chooses to go through that agony to be judged on who they love. It is what it is. Even if you don’t agree, it’s not anyone’s business but the person involved. Butt out.

There are other things, but I’m running out of steam. I’m not a Biblical scholar and I know that not everyone will agree with my sentiments. In fact, I’m expecting some downright opposition and that’s fine. We’re all entitled to out own opinions and I don’t have all of the answers. No one does. It’s part of the beauty of having individual minds and individual thought processes. What’s true for one person won’t be true for another. This is simply a snapshot of some of my background and how differently I have come to think than from how I was raised. I’m hoping to raise my boys differently, with open, questioning minds. We’ll see how it goes.

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