Rules without Relationship

I was helpless, powerless to change, miserable. But you would not have known that because I had learned in my growing up years how to pretend to be something that I was not…

I had the skill set of being a hypocrite down to a science.

The only people I could not fool was my family. But we were all very good at the game of being one thing at home and quite another when the church family was looking.

The whole church thing had become stale to me as a teen. In my tween/teen years, I found it difficult to listen to the same message endlessly over and again about how insurmountable it was to please God. Every week the same message with a different chapter and verse only solidified my misguided negative opinion of myself of “not good enough”. I already believed this lie anyway so I didn’t pay attention anymore.
"We are caught in a tragic cycle. We believe little because we see little, so we see little and continue to believe little."~Beth Moore, Believing God

The pastor that I most remember in my childhood with the very long pointy finger had a semi-loud voice that could boom at just the right time. The prevailing message I gleaned from his sermons were “You had better_____ and you better not_______ or GOD is going to get you.” (you can fill in the blanks accordingly... I have my list, I'm sure you have yours too).

I had already learned at home that my best was not good enough, and even in church, my best was not good enough. It was pointless to try to please God since I didn’t know all the rules taught by men and I never measured up no matter how hard I tried. I simply was not perfect. I certainly didn’t know how to put the Bible Stories I had learned as a child to work in my real life. So I stopped listening at some point until my mother told me the pastor was concerned about sin in my young life of twelve or thirteen since I would not look him in the eye when he preached.

Well, I was bored for one thing… same message a different day with words that didn’t make sense to me and the only message I could relate to was that I was profoundly not enough and so why bother? I just sat quietly week after week until my mother told me of our pastor's great concern for me. I didn't look him in the eye, so I must have sin in my life. I was a teenager, after all, and the only things teens did was drink, do drugs and have sex outside of marriage... I must be "in sin".

From that point on, I made a distinct effort to lock eyes with his and never flinch until the last AMEN was spoken. I daydreamed about other things while staring the pastor down, never taking my eyes off of him. Rebellion had begun. Rules with out relationship will do that to you. And even though I was young and in church, I was still unchanged and did not know the word of God.

The "word of the Lord" is designed to reshape your purposes, putting you in a position for Him to do through you what you cannot do on your own."
~ Priscilla Shirer, Life Interrupted

The Word, Worship, Prayer.

These are my Roots 

The Princess

Little Girl Me
I have always felt a little "out of place" and never sure where I "fit in".  When I was a little girl, I remember not knowing who really liked me, who I should trust to be my friend. At the same time, however, I wanted to be every body's friend because I didn't want anyone to feel alone or "out of place".  I felt that everyone should have a place to "fit" and I longed inside someplace deep to be a part of something bigger than what I had known or experienced or could imagine.  

I could not have articulated this as a young child, but thinking back as far as I can recall on this topic, a memory from the fourth grade stands out to me about friendship.  

A girl in my class would talk about her home and her life with her parents. Her name was Crystal Sparrow, the most beautiful name a girl could have... 

I'm sure there were things she said that were exaggerated and elaborated- it's what little girls do!  We speak of things that are real, intertwine them with our imaginations, hopes and dreams, then believe that life can be more that what we see.  

The faith of a child is a beautiful thing.

One cold day at recess in the room, maybe it was cold and rainy.  I’m not sure, but I know that the teacher had allowed us to talk quietly and play in the room for a while and my friend was describing her bedroom to us.  
Me at almost two years old.

From her words, my mind imagined and pictured a four poster bed with a canopy draped in beautiful pink and white lacy fabric.  Beside her window was  vanity where a mirror gracefully folded into thirds where she could sit and brush her beautiful hair.  There were stuffed animals and lots of baby dolls and Barbies too... It was the most enchanting room 
I had never seen with my own eyes.  I heard my self say to her "I bet your room is the most beautiful one ever.." (hear the longing in my voice to have one too) and I remember that her eyes brightened up and she said ,"oh, yes! it is so beautiful!" 

I don't think I felt negative emotions toward her, but I do remember longing to feel like the princess that she had unknowingly described her life to be.  She knew she  was loved and special and she had a beautiful place to live loved.  

I wondered why I wasn't  a princess too?  
Why was my friend and the others girls in my class 
so perfect and I was not?  
Where was my place? Would I always feel like I was just on the edge of being in the group? 
Could I ever lived loved?

I was, in fact, a princess, but I had somehow forgotten.

When I was in the second grade, I remember timidly telling my teacher that I was to be baptized that Sunday.  She was very proud of me... words that I longed to hear.  Someone. Proud of me.  

I had prayed the Sinners Prayer sometime before that school year... I am not sure of the exact date, or the preacher's name who came to do the official prayer with me... but I do remember being in Sunday School at about the age of seven or eight and another girl telling me that she had asked Jesus to live in her heart and she would live with him forever.  

I loved Jesus.  Would he come in to my heart? Would I live with him forever?  

I hesitantly asked my mother one afternoon- I remember standing in our small kitchen at the time, asking her about what these things meant and that I wanted to be baptized too.  It must have been that night when my dad came to my room and knelt down by my bed to talk to me about Jesus and to walk me through the concept that even though I was young, I needed Jesus because I was a sinner.  He was right.  

I was not good enough, could never measure up to the rules and this somehow confirmed to my little mind that I was somehow less than and I was desperate for someone to love me in the way that the my heart longed to be loved- without conditions, without reservation or limitation.  

I suppose my dad and mom wanted to be certain I was saved, so they invited the preacher over to asked and me me the Questions. I don’t remember this pastor’s name, he was not the one with the long pointy finger, but I do remember kneeling around my parents orange ottoman/footstool-the kind of orange you remember form the 60’s or 70’s.  (Its funny the things we remember!) All of this seemed odd to me at the time since, after all, I had already prayed and believed that Jesus lived in my heart.  I simply believed.

I knew my friend Crystal was not a "real" princess, but being a little girl who loved a romantic fairy tale, I positioned her in my mind to be something that I hoped to be one day.  A princess with a perfect life.  

Even in the fourth grade, I forgot that I was a princess, loved by God and chosen by Him.  

After our Christmas Break that year, Crystal did not return.  The class was told that she was sick so we prayed for her before lunch. We could still do that then, pray in school.  I missed her being there. I missed her stories. She was so pretty to me…even though I cannot remember what she looked like, I just remember thinking she was the prettiest girl ever.  

When news came that she had died, I didn't know how to process.  What did that mean?  There had been deaths in our family before, but not one that I really understood or had had a friendship with.  This was real. Real upsetting. 

I did what I usually did and pressed my emotions and through down inside.  If I expressed my sadness or grief... I don't know.  Even now as I write, I am not certain why I didn't feel that I could express my thoughts and emotions without them being wrong, or inappropriate or....forbid it...not perfect.  

I didn’t feel safe to express myself.  I did not feel I was “allowed” to express myself without begin corrected or told what was wrong with my emotions and how I “should” feel instead. 

When the emotions came, though, it was in a flood and I remember my dad kneeling by my bedside to comfort me and try to explain what death meant and how my friend was with Jesus. My dad allowed me to imperfect and to have some space to feel what I felt... and it was OK.  If only I would remember that it's OK to express yourself in a healthy and respectful way and that I could be understood without judgment if grace got a little messy.  

Grace gets messy, but grace always fills in the gaps between our imperfections and His perfect love. 

Joy Beyond_Book Review

Joy Beyond
By Brenda McGraw

Practical. Welcoming.  Conversational.  Intentional.  These are the words I would use to describe Brenda McGraw’s style of writing as she leads the reader into a relationship with God though a friendship with herself.

It was my honor to meet Brenda McGraw by a mutual friend at Allume, a writers conference in Greenville SC.  I was immediately welcomed by her inviting and open personality that truly expresses JOY. Brenda and I met for lunch and at once she was a best friend I had been missing.  You will find that Brenda has the same approachable style of writing in her book JOY BEYOND and you, too, will be a new friend.

Brenda writes from a perspective of a woman who has gone through some of life’s biggest challenges.  Divorce, cancer, the adventures in raising children who become teenagers, blending a family…She knows what she is talking about when she speaks of moving beyond the feelings of present life-circumstances into joy that is found deep within. 

To my delight, Brenda wrote on Day 8 “God’s Face Shines Upon You!” I love the way the sun filters through the clouds and trees and warms my face at just the right moment to remind me of God’s love for me.  In this chapter, Brenda uses two scriptures to interweave the concept of God’s Love and Faithfulness.

Psalm 67:1(NIV) “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us…” Proverbs3: 3-4 (NIV) “Let love and faithful ness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”

Brenda, using the example of the addiction of a loved one and the toil it took on the lives of those involved, explains that we can move through these challenges knowing that not only does God work all things together for the good of those who love him, but he will use them to reveal himself to others.  We must daily “put on” love and faithfulness to the Lord, remind ourselves that He is faithful and loves without limits and we can literally “wear” these gifts of Love and Faithfulness. 

I am grateful to have met Brenda in person, then to get to know her through the pages of her book have been inspiring.  We have become Lunch –Buddies and I couldn’t be happier!

*It is my privilege to write a review for my friend Brenda.  I have in no way been endorsed or received payment for this review.