How to Find the “Real” You

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I’m a child of the sixties and seventies, a time when generations of young people were busy trying to “find themselves.” I was never quite sure what that meant, although it was pretty un-hip to say it outloud at the time. If I pinched myself, I was there. If I spoke, I could hear my voice. I could see my reflection in a mirror. So the “real” me had to be there, right?

Wrong.

My voice, my reflection, the sensations I feel–not even my emotions–don’t make up the essence of who I am.

So who is the “real” me?

I’m not an accident or simply the biological product of the combined genes of my parents and forbears. I am not the offspring of “Mother Nature.”

I am so uniquely, complexly crafted and designed that no one else who has ever walked the earth is exactly like me. God created me with a body, soul, and spirit. He also created me with a purpose and plan, and I will live every day of my life seeking purpose, love, significance, relationship, beauty that originates in Him and can only ultimately be found in Him as our Author and Creator.

When we look at the world, it’s easy to see we messed up the perfect creation God placed in our hands to care for. And we also mess up relationships because of our self-will, selfishness and sin. At the center of our hearts, we all are rebels shaking our fists at God, telling Him He isn’t fair and we should get to make the rules.

When we back away from the Word of God because we think what it says is too hard, or we’re trapped by our wounds, we lose sight of who we really are.

When we walk in freedom as sons and daughters of God we are…

Forgiven and free to forgive. 

Unconditionally loved and free to love unconditionally.

Gifted with mercy and enabled to gift others with mercy.

Inexpressibly beautiful and given eyes to see the beauty in others.

Confident in God’s purpose and plan for us, no matter our circumstances.

The “real” me is rooted in my relationship with God.

In the words of the gospel song, “All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee…to God be the glory” But how do I learn to get to know God better?

The same way you learn about anyone. By spending time with Him. By listening to Him. By paying attention.

  1. Read the Word. The Bible isn’t a manual or rule book or even material for sermons. It’s God’s written letter to us about who He is and how He loves us–what His plan is to save us from ourselves.
  2. Meditate, or actively focus, on Scripture. Focus on one small portion at a time and listen to see what moves your spirit.  Don’t go looking for verses to prove your point or cheer you up. Listen. Pay attention to the Spirit of God speaking to you.
  3. Ask questions.  What is God trying to tell me about Himself? Why is it important for me to know this? How does this affect His relationship with me? How does this relate to my life? Is there something I’m being prompted to change or do?
  4. Listen. As you move through your day, listen for God’s voice. Is He speaking to you through music, through the words of a friend, through a thought, a Christian message on the radio, a sudden memory?
  5. Keep the conversation going. Shoot up sentence prayers throughout the day. Chat with God out loud. Praise God by singing and dancing. Visualize Jesus standing beside you throughout the day–because He is–and talk to Him.

Be blessed as the real you blossoms growing in the presence of Jesus and resting in His love for you. 

To hear more on the topic of authenticity, listen to FreedomGirlsRadio, Finding Your Voice.

How to Help a Loved One with Dementia: Guest Post by Lori La Bey

lori-wi-webinar-promo-025Lori La Bey, founder of Alzheimer’s Speaks, explains why we shouldn’t try to capture the people we love in a freeze-frame, even at the end of their lives.

Lori La Bey has spent almost the whole of her adult life learning to live graciously with a condition that was not her own. For the majority of the three decades that her mother lived with dementia, Lori and her father acted as her primary care-partners, silently joining the more than 65 million Americans that provide daily assistance for their aged, chronically ill or disabled loved ones. In 2009, Lori founded Alzheimer’s Speaks, an organization whose efforts turn around the work of challenging the stigma of dementia and offering comfort and acceptance when crisis threatens.

It seems a unique cruelty that some are chosen to watch, and intimately attend to, the decline of their dearest relatives. Yet this is not how Lori tells her story. She joined the team at Folks to discuss finding humor and peace in care-partnering: the work that chose her. Folks magazine generously offered this article for reposting.

Tell me a bit about your earliest work as a caretaker.

I actually choose not to use the term caretaker. It’s evocative of a kind of lopsided relationship where only one person can touch the life of the other. My work was as a care-partner, because I was a daughter and a friend before all else. What I did was relational. There was give and take.

See, my mom had dementia for thirty years, more than half of my life. So I’ve spent a lot of time learning to live with this disease graciously. At first, our family really struggled knowing what was going on, as the doctors failed to diagnose her for ten years. They kept dismissing it as hormones, and yet when we finally reached out to a neurologist he said that she had the mental capacity of a three-year-old. My mom knew all along that something was wrong, and she would even joke that “these ain’t my girlfriend’s hormones.”

Wait, your mom knew?

Most people with dementia do. For my mom, there was a moment where she could no longer tell the time, but she wouldn’t tell people. When you talk to people with dementia, they always mention their work-a-rounds. For instance, my mom could tell the time by what was on TV. For the longest time, we couldn’t figure out why she would flip out if we changed the channel. Of course, those were the faces she was familiar with. New faces indicated a different hour of the day, and we just didn’t know it. She never told us about these kinds of things. They were her work-a-rounds, her attempts to be safe and to feel comfortable. As a family, it took us a long time to figure this out. We really didn’t even know to look for it.

After her diagnosis, did things improve?

Honestly, we just didn’t find much help. The only thing we knew about was the Alzheimer’s Association. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of support that was given to families and homes, and this is still true in some cases today. You could donate money and go on a walk, but that was about it. There weren’t product services or tools to help you actually live in the home independently. There was no sense that we were building a community. It was more of a bandage approach: just fix it and move on.

The focus of my work from day one has been to raise people’s voices so that they could find the services and community they needed to not feel so isolated. Care-partners need the freedom and empowerment to help remove fear from their work. Alzheimer’s doesn’t always look pretty. But you know what, our lives weren’t that pretty before Alzheimer’s hit. We all have our ups and downs, but when you enter a time of crisis you always think that things were perfect before. That’s what we do.

Why do we hold on to these false perceptions of our own lives?

Well, it’s easier for us to deal with. We don’t have to go into a new mode. We don’t like change. When someone gets diagnosed with dementia, we remember them at their pinnacle and we don’t want to give that up. We try to force them to be that person. They might have never been that person for years, but we go back in time.

I remember going through old pictures and finding an image of when I got married. I was in it with my mom and dad. When I saw it, I chuckled because I realized my dad’s dead, my mom’s got dementia, and I’m divorced. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to make my mom that person she was when I got married 30 years go. We all do this, but we must be more conscious of it. We have to stop “freeze-framing” people in time when the rest of the world continues to change.

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It seems as though this would lead to tension in any relationship. What’s the effect of refusing to believe that your loved one is sick?

There’s a panic for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia that they make their loved ones anxious. This brings them to focus on care for others instead of themselves. They long for a sense of belonging, and they desire to restore things to what they once were. You put the pressure of getting things back to normal on a person that is really sick and it’s devastating.

So one of the things that most frustrates people with early onset Alzheimer’s or cognitive impairment is when people say to them, “Well, you look okay. You seem the same.” This infuriates them. It’s as though their friends and family really don’t want to believe that they have the symptoms to begin with because they look okay. They’re not broken they’re not bloody and they’re not wearing an oxygen tank. They look exactly the same, but they’re suffering.

Is there a kind of joy that comes with allowing your loved one, and yourself, to change?

My mom became the safest person I could ever go see. As the disease progressed, she lost her ego. She had no need to judge. No matter what was going on, I could just be with her and be who I was. I didn’t need to hide it anymore. I didn’t need to hold back my emotions and feelings. She allowed me to be who I was in any given moment. Whatever the emotion I could trust her and be my true self. I knew that she would still love me and still be there. It was something unexplainable. My mom was the safest place to be my authentic self. I didn’t have to meet expectations because she didn’t have any.

As the disease progressed, she lost her ego…
No matter what was going on,
I could just be with her and be who I was.

And others held on to an old vision of your mom?

One of my mom’s dear friends actually refused to visit her because it was too hard. So I met her for breakfast one morning and brought this DVD of my mom singing and dancing to some of her favorite music. I slid it across the table and this 76-year-old woman screamed out in the middle of a restaurant, “Oh my god, she looks horrible. Lori, I thought you were taking better care of her.” I burst out laughing.

I realized then that I didn’t see what she saw anymore. I didn’t see the Billy goat hair on her chin, I didn’t see the food splotch on her clothes, I didn’t see that her hair was messed up, I didn’t see any of that. I saw the glint in her eyes. I saw her dimples. I saw her huge smile, and I heard her giggle. But I looked at that picture and thanked that woman for pointing it out to me because I didn’t know I had changed on this journey. You do change. If you want to, you can find joy in these tiny moments that we overlook because we’re judging what it’s supposed to look like. If we can get past that, life becomes pretty darn precious.

la-beys-laughingAre there other specific memories following your mom’s diagnosis that you can share?

There was an afternoon when my mom was asleep at the nursing home. She had just been moved to the lowest functioning unit, and I didn’t want her there. The truth, though, was that she needed it for her own safety. When I entered the room, there were two beds separated by a faint curtain and my mom’s was closest to the window. Her roommate was gone and as I walked into the room I could see my mom on the bed through this curtain. She had her pants pulled down to her belly button, her shirt tucked under her boobs, and she was only 5’2 but weighed 300 pounds. Her whole belly was showing. So I walked in and I just kind of chuckled because she reminded me of Garfield basking by the window. I said, “Oh Mom, do I have to pull out that bikini for you?” Out of a dead sleep my mom woke up, looked me square in the eyes, and with a big smile on her face said, “Lori, I don’t think I should be wearing a bikini.” Then she went back to sleep.

What did you do?

I sat on that bed and bawled like a baby. My mom hadn’t said my name in three years, and I didn’t know if she still knew it. At that point, I didn’t ask anymore because I had a 50 percent chance she wouldn’t remember and this would wreck her day and mine. But that was just a pure moment of joy. She still knew who I was. We still had a relationship.

One of the things I tell people is that we’ll only find what we’re looking for, and I have found over the years that we only remember three things: what saddens us, what causes us fear, and what brings us joy. What saddens us is usually what we’ve lost. What causes us fear is projecting into the future and the unknown. Where there is joy is in the moment. If we’re living in the past or projecting into the future, we’re missing the moment of joy before us. It’s all about being present.

This seems to require an unbelievable selflessness. How do you move beyond self-pity?

Well, we all think we’re being person-centered when we have a long list of things we’re doing for someone else. When I ask other care-partners what they need to focus on, people usually rattle off a list and we simply assume that they’re being person-centered.

I’m sorry, could you clarify what that term means?

Person-centered is an over-used word. To most in the industry, it’s caring in a focused manner where the needs of our loved one comes first. The trouble is that our emotional instincts put our needs ahead of theirs.

Where there is joy is in the moment.

Isn’t that a pretty normal response?

Yes, but until we remove it we can’t really love them. In response, I began to ask these questions, “Are they safe, happy, and pain free?” For care-partners, the need to feel like we are doing something, making a difference, allows us to avoid our true feelings, which typically range from fear to sadness to shame to frustration to resentment. These are feelings that say, if we’re honest, this isn’t how I imagined my life. In order to shift to being person-centered, I believe we have to focus less on our lists and more on our relationship with the person.

What do people not realize about being a care-partner?

Interestingly, people don’t realize they are a care-partner. They think of themselves as a spouse, daughter, son, or a friend. We’ve set up a society where acting as a care-partner is a negative thing. Who do you know that says, “Hey, sign me up for that one!” Unless their trying to have a child, that’s one of the only times people consciously ask to be care-partners. We look down on it because it’s a state of crisis instead a state of comfort.

When you speak to people, what do you try to leave them with? How do you finish these conversations?

Well, one of the things I emphasize is teaching people self-care. Society has told us that this is our job, and it’s these silent expectations that cause people to lose their identity. This happened to me. For me, I had girlfriends that would invite me to coffee and I would say I didn’t have time. One day I said I’d go, and I’ll never forget what I said because it was so cocky and inappropriate. I said, “Okay, I’ll give you ten minutes.” It was like I was the queen or something. I went there to get them off my back. We laughed and cried for two hours. I didn’t know how empty I was until I allowed myself to be filled. When you’re on this path, you don’t even know that you’re drained.

Again, we have to shift from crisis to comfort in caregiving. The only way we’re going to really be able to do that is by having authentic conversations and let people know what our real needs are. This work just knocks on your door and you can’t expect it. The trouble is that we still don’t know what dementia is really like. We’re peering through the window and guessing, so we need to continue to have conversations and start with those living the story: professionals, care-partners, and those diagnosed.

written by Josh Andrew
Josh Andrew is an English teacher and freelance writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. His work has appeared in The Atlantic (online), The Detroit News, and NPR’s affiliate station in Michigan.

Folks is an online magazine dedicated to telling the stories of remarkable people who refuse to be defined by their health issues. When it comes to understanding health, no one is exactly the same. By sharing the experiences of these individuals, they hope to change people’s notions about what it means to be ‘normal’.

Editorially independent, Folks is sponsored and published by PillPack. Part of their mission at PillPack is to create healthcare experiences that empower people. They don’t believe people are defined by their conditions. They believe empathy and understanding are essential tools as we all work to help each other stay healthy. Folks is one effort to help redefine the way we think about health. Folks pays contributor and doesn’t sell advertising.

If you’d like to partner with Folks, or share a story, let us know at folks@pillpack.com.

Eight Things to Tell Your Children Often

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Most Christians know they’re supposed to talk “nice.”

You know–grace-filled, life-giving words.The problem is that our words pretty much reflect the way we feel, and we often don’t feel grace-filled or life-giving. We often feel exhausted, annoyed, frustrated, and worn down by the unjust, imperfect, and frequently vile world we live in and the far-from-perfect people who populate it. (Including us.)

Then there’s the additional fact that we may feel weary, achy, bleary, and annoyed by bodies that don’t often work the way we’d like them to (this from someone a tad over 30). Sickness, whether it’s ours or the illness of someone we love, is part of the fabric of life. When our kids were small, they never went longer than 10 days without needing to be taken the pediatrician–until they were about eight years old.

It’s easy for parents to feel exasperated and exhausted, discouraged and distracted.

We can be unaware of the things we say about our kids in front of our kids, or simply not think through the realities of our choice of words from our child’s perspective. For instance, we may…

  • compare one child’s grades, talents, looks, or abilities to another child’s grades, talents, looks, or abilities (sibling, relative, or friend). This silently tells your child they’re not measuring up, that they’re not as good as other kids. It reinforces the negative message that they should measure themselves against other people to find their value and erodes their self-respect.
  • label them according to what they do or how they look (the shy one, the chubby one, the smart one, the athletic one, the beautiful one, the bully, the fearful one, etc.). This can communicate that our kids win our love and approval through their academic success, abilities, appearance, etc. It can also reinforce their own negative self-talk or criticism from peers.
  • say negative things about them to other people in front of them. Speaking disparagingly about your child, whether they’re in your presence or not, is disrespectful. Respect runs two ways in healthy relationships. (Speaking honestly to teachers or mentors about areas of learning and character that need work is a different matter.) Take every opportunity to teach and reinforce positive character and integrity in your child (this is not the same as bragging.) Affirm their accomplishments, character growth, and courage on a regular basis.
  • yell/scream at them out of exasperation. I struggled with this behavior for years, all the while feeling horribly ashamed. I ultimately had to go to my kids and confess my sinful behavior. But I could never take back the hurt. I knew my rage was toxic and that no child deserved to be spoken to the way that I yelled. I needed to change my heart and my behavior, and I did. If you rage at your children, get help, apologize to them, and help them understand that parents aren’t perfect.

Eight things to tell your children often:

1. I will always love you. No matter what you do as you grow up, I will never stop loving you, and I will never stop being your (mother/father).

2. I will always be proud of you. I may not be proud of everything you do in your life, but I am proud to be your (mother/father) because you are uniquely you. I’m not proud of you just for the things you do. I’m proud of you for who you are.

3. I have your back. No matter what you do as you grow up, I will always do what’s best for you. This doesn’t mean I’ll always do what you like, but I will do what will bring you the greatest good because I love you.

4. You aren’t perfect, and neither am I. Sometimes you’re going to disappoint me, and sometimes I’m going to disappoint you. That’s okay, We’ll pick up and move on.

5. I’m sorry. There will be times when I will need to apologize. I need to teach you to take responsibility when you hurt others or mess up, so I promise to tell you I’m sorry when I make wrong choices that hurt you or let you down.

6. I forgive you. I will not hold grudges or past disappointments against you. I will forgive the way I would want to be forgiven.

7. You are a valuable child of God and worthy of respect. Don’t allow people to deceive you into thinking that you are less than a child of God, worthy of dignity, respect, and value.

8. Respect others and treat them like you want to be treated. All human life is created in the image of God and to be valued. You are no better than anyone else. Treat others with the grace, respect, and dignity you expect.

I must be honest and admit I didn’t hit all these goals in my parenting. I wish I’d been more deliberate. As a grandma, I hope to be more strategic in the words I speak to my grandkids.

What about you? What things do you try to engrain in your children when you speak to them?

Photo Credit: Pixaby

 

 

It’s OUR Flood, America

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The flooding in Louisiana was nearly a week old before I learned of the news. I saw the extent of the decimation when I read through the postings of a dear friend on Facebook.

I was speechless and heartbroken. How had I missed a disaster more devastating than Hurricane Katrina–an event that had glued a nation to television screens for days and weeks? Where were the cameras? Where was our president? Why weren’t churches and communities racing to Louisiana to help?

More importantly, what can I do? How can I help, even in a small way?

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That’s the question I believe I need to be asking. The question I believe we all need to be asking.

The question each and every church in America needs to be asking. If Christians don’t respond to natural disasters on this level of horror, how can we speak authentically to our local communities about the love and compassion of Christ?

This week I will be re-posting original writings and reposts from dear friend and New York Times best-selling author Julie Cantrell (Into the Free and The Feathered Bone), whose family was among those whose homes were destroyed and lives were altered by the Louisiana flooding.

The following post is Julie’s powerful description of the onset of the flood. Please take the time to read it. You will be changed.

I appreciate the urgency Julie creates–the solid, continuous flow of her words that convey the pressure, fatigue, and surreality of those first days of the flood. Live this experience through her eyes as you read.

“First chance I have had to put my head around all that is happening in Louisiana. We are on Day 5 now (I think. Time has become fuzzy.) I witnessed more than a few people sobbing yesterday. The emotional fatigue is worse than the physical. Reality is setting in now for those who have lost their homes, vehicles, etc. The shock is wearing off and the strain is real. Imagine…you are in your BatonRouge home. A home that was built on high land. No flood plain. No history of having ever been flooded. You have no flood insurance. Few people do in this area. You know it is raining. It rains nearly every day in these parts. Heavy storms don’t worry you. But this time the rain doesn’t stop. It rains apx. 19 inches in 24 hours (and keeps raining for days). The pretty lake where your grandchildren fish is rising high as you take your little dog for a quick walk in the rain. By the time you get back to your door, the water is following you. It keeps coming, quickly, and before you can react, it is three feet deep in your living room. You don’t know how much higher it will rise. The roads are too flooded to leave by car. You live alone. You are a fortunate one who does not have to climb onto your roof or cling to the limbs of a tree or perch in our attic. You have a second floor, and you hustle to pull as many dry items as you can to higher quarters. You can’t save much. You can’t believe what is happening and your mind struggles to process. You try to devise a plan, slowly realizing muddy waters from the bayous and rivers are now claiming your home as their own. It happened so quickly. How much higher will the waters rise? Weather alerts are now firing disaster warnings. Millennial records are shattered. The flooding is affecting such a broad area, cell phones fail. Your landline no longer works. The night is long. Can you get to your neighbor’s house? At least then, you would have each other. But the waters are even deeper outside and you don’t know what’s in the water. Is it safe? Then the CajunNavy arrives via canoe. You have to hurry. Get in. What do you grab? Your dog. You get your dog. You can’t think of anything else. Oh, here’s a bag. You throw in a few clothes. Where will you go from here? You don’t know. Your entire community is nearly under water. Hotels are packed. Shelters have been flooded and are being relocated to second and then third locations. Your out-of-town relatives cannot reach your EastBatonRouge home because roads are closed. A friend steps in, says come with me. She has a hotel room. Her boss has offered to pay for it. You crash there for 2 nights. You learn to use Facebook messenger to make calls. It proves to be the only reliable source of communication, even though the connection fails frequently. You wait out the storms in the hotel, hoping roads will open so you can assess the damage. You begin to hear stories that Denham Springs has been 90 percent flooded. You know nearly everyone in that town and you don’t know of anyone who didn’t flood. You teach in that town, and the schools are under water. An entire community has gone under water. You think of Atlantis. Then you hear Walker is 75 percent flooded. You know even more people in that town where you reared your children. Nearly everyone you know in Walker has flooded too. The Walker church you have attended for decades becomes a Livingston Parish shelter, as it did during Katrina. You slowly realize this is worse than Katrina. Yet the hotel television airs not a single news report about the devastating situation happening outside your window. You rely on Facebook for vital information. Facebook becomes a lifeline for countless people who are posting in need of rescue, reunification, lost pets, road dangers, etc. Facebook friends who happen to see your daughter’s posts are shocked. They have no idea the flood has occurred. You see photos on Facebook. Countless rescues, floating caskets, submerged churches and houses and schools. Stranded motorists, scared pets, a missing woman with dementia last seen in a nightgown, a child with autism trapped at home alone. It is still raining. Waters continue to rise. Rivers cannot handle the backflow. Bayous top their catchbasins. You are a fortunate one. You have a hotel room with a friend. Others are spending a 2nd or 3rd night trapped in a car, an attic, a roof, or on a hard floor in a shelter packed with strangers and babies and dogs. Others are in boats helping rescue or serving at shelters or taking in strangers. By day 3, the flooded roads are beginning to open. A friend gives you a black dress from Walmart and the keys to her car so you can attend a funeral for a well-respected friend and community leader whose services would have normally included hundreds if not thousands of people. Fewer than 20 have found a way to attend, including relatives. A second friend says come stay at our home. We are dry. You go, gratefully. You can get to your home now to access the damage. The waters have receded. Everything in your lower levels has been soaked in 3 feet of dirty water but you know others who have it worse. You hear their stories. 6 feet. 8 feet. Above the roof. Everything is coated in mud. The smell is of decay. You are overwhelmed and exhausted but you cannot delay. Clean up begins. Relatives can finally reach you from out of town. Friends bring food and cleaning supplies. Neighbors helping neighbors. Strangers helping strangers. No one goes hungry. No one stands alone. You know you will get through this. You know you are fortunate. But, still, there are moments when you break. As you discard the antiques you saved from your ancestors. Or as your family photos wilt and mold. Or as the trunk your father carried to college on a train fails to have protected the tiny clothes your son (now deceased) wore as an infant or the stamps your father tenderly collected for decades or the hand-stiched heirlooms made by the women of your family who have long left this world. You have moments when you stare at the massive pile of rubble at the curb where nearly everything you have worked for your entire life now crumbles into an ashy, toxic mix of sheetrock and insulation and mud and mold. There are moments when you cry. But then, someone offers you a snocone. Or a plate of jambalaya. Someone else collects those moldy stamps your father loved and offers to try to restore them. Someone else takes your grandmother’s silver that survived more than one war and relocation. She will polish away the mud and the muck. People send texts and Facebook messages letting you know they care. They rally the troops and revive your spirit and remind you life is good. As your loved ones gut your home, leaving only the tired wet bones to dry, you have no idea how long it will be demolished. Your FEMA application is pending, and even if approved, the funding is low and limited. Your fears are many. Anxiety comes in waves. The future is unclear. And yet, your faith is deep and your will is strong. When morale starts to sink, the neighbors gather under your carport for food and drink and story and laughter. When joints ache and head pounds, someone else steps in to carry the load. And minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, you count your blessings. You look back on your life and realize how many times you survived when you thought you might not be able to go another day. You inhale. You exhale. You hug your family. You pray. You survive. And when someone from far away criticizes your homestate and the people of Louisiana, saying in a vindictive tone that this is the work of God, you look around at the thousands of people who are feeding, clothing, sheltering, stewarding, tending, rescuing, supporting, protecting, loving, sharing, and caring for life in all its many forms, and you say, Yes. This IS the work of God. #Louisianastrong” –Julie Perkins Cantrell

The greatest command in the Bible? According to Jesus, to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love others the way we want to be loved. (Matthew 22:34-40)

So if you had experienced the Louisiana floods, how would you want others to love you?

Yes, you.

Click HERE for update on the flood cleanup.

How to Seek God’s Face

 

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I want to know God better.

Not know about Him. But to know what makes Him smile like I know what makes my husband smile. Or know what breaks God’s heart the way I know what breaks my friend’s heart. I want to know God in an intimate relationship, like a friend who enjoys spending time with me even if I’m doing “nothing.” When I struggled to feel God’s presence, the problem isn’t because God is elusive.

God created us because He wants a relationship with us.

He wants us to talk, hang out together, laugh, and enjoy a relationship that’s real, fulfilling, and love-driven.

The Bible is filled with passages that speak about seeking God (Deut. 4:29; 1 Kings 22:5;  2 Chron. 30:18-20; Ps. 14:2; Ps. 63:1; Ps. 78:34; Acts 17:27-28; Romans 3:10-11; Heb. 11:6). These verses and others reassure us that God is omnipresent (always near everthing and everyone). He also always stands by His children and works out circumstances for their good.

But when we neglect God, violate His Word, trust ourselves or others before Him, His face or His presence becomes obscured. Not because God moves away from us, but because our discernment becomes weak and clouded by pride, lies, false motives, and sin.

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

 

So how can I return to a place of intimacy with God? What does it mean to seek God’s face, to truly know Him?

When I first met my husband Dan, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. He was nine years older than me, drove a yellow Gremlin (some of you don’t even know what that is), and seemed shy and uncertain. But I knew Dan was special. By our second date, he’d won my heart. The Gremlin and his shyness had become part of his charm. Twelve months later I married the most amazing, loving, faithful, loyal man I had/have ever met.

I wanted a relationship with Dan. When he wasn’t with me, I waited for his calls. When he was with me, I hung on his every word. I talked about him to family and friends. I pined (longed) for him when he wasn’t with me. My heart was set on Dan–I wanted to spend every minute with him and get to know everything about him. My whole world was about him.

Seeking God begins with falling in love. 

I accepted Jesus as God’s Son who gave His life for my sins when I was eleven years old. But I fell in love many years later when I was a mother and understood for the first time what it would mean to hand over my innocent child to evil people, knowing he would be torturned and put to death–for the vicious, evil, perverted acts THEY had committed.

God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice overwhelmed my heart so profoundly that I have never been the same again. Profound love grew into gratitude. My job is to cultivate and grow those seeds.

I seek God by choosing a grateful heart.

I have MS. I can’t say I’m grateful for MS. I’d like to be healed, believe in God’s healing power, and have prayed to be healed. But I don’t demand to be healed. God determines my destiny.

I am grateful for many things MS has given me: a greater awareness of God’s presence, a heightened sensitivity for the suffering of others, opportunities to speak into the lives of the hurting, new friendships, new writing opportunities, just to name a few blessings.

Gratitude is a choice, not an emotion. It’s my goal to make it a lifestyle and the compelling force behind my love for others. God has blessed me with too much. Jesus gave too much for me not to be motivated by gratitude every day of my life.

I seek God by choosing my focus.

Everything around us speaks of the love, mercy, beauty, glory and power of God–the laughter of children, the brokenness of the world, the beauty of creation, the delight of the arts, the mysteries of science, the patterns of history. I can see God in the grain of the wood in the desk in front of me or smell the aroma of His beauty in the scents He created for our pleasure. Everything beautiful emanates from Him, the Source of Beauty, and speaks of His essence.

I find God in my work, whatever it may be, when I do it to His glory and as a love offering for Him and for the good of the city (community) where He has placed me.

I seek God by spending time reading His love letter to me and talking to Him.

My husband’s first letter to me is framed and hung in my office. If our house burns, this is one of the objects I will grab as I run from the house. Our words to one another are precious.

The Bible is God’s love letter to us. 

It’s God basically saying, “Look, these are the lengths I’ve gone to for you. This is alll I’ve given for you. I created a perfect world for you. You messed it up. You wrecked the world, but most of all you destroyed your opportunity to have a relationship with me. I sacrificed my one and only Son to fix the problems you created. I let you kill Him so you could live. I loved you that much.”

We can’t really know God unless we spend time reading the Bible and take time to pray. It’s that simple.

Whether I write or pull weeds or cook or grocery shop today, God is waiting to be with us, We can see Him all around us if we’re looking.we can talk to Him. He will talk back, using the Spirit of God, the people of God, the Word of God, and even His created world.

Seek God today. He promises to be found.

 

 

Beyond a Flannelgraph Jesus

FlannelgraphJesus

Flannelgraph: the mid-century technology of Sunday school lessons.

Flannelgraph consisted of various backgrounds painted on large flannel panels. The teacher placed cut-out figures of people, objects, trees, etc. on the background to depict the story being told.

The method seemed effective to me as a five-year-old. But then, I hadn’t seen The Passion of Jesus or The Passion Play at Oberammergau or even a church Easter presentation with flashing lights and illuminated crosses and deftly crafted tombs.

As a child, I wanted to know Flannelgraph Jesus, but I wasn’t sure exactly how.

After all, He wasn’t human like me.

I couldn’t talk to Him or hear Him talk back to me.

Or see Him or feel Him.

We all see Jesus that way sometimes–as in some other dimension. Perhaps like a character in a book or a historical hero. I think that’s the way non believing people often feel, especially if we talk about having Jesus “in our heart” in some kind of mystical way.

The simple truth is that we can and do know people we have never met or talked to all the time. My cousin Chris is the Burke family historian. He can tell you minute details about Burke (Bjork) family members generations past. How?

He’s read. He’s talked to people who knew these individuals. He’s examined public records and supporting documents. He’s researched. He’s even collected artifacts and antiques.

Why?

Because he has a passion for our family–for who we are, where we are, and how we have and are contributing to the world.

So how can know the eternal God of the universe?

I can know God by seeking personal relationship with Him.

This means taking initiative. God took the first step. He sent Jesus so we could know what perfect, redemptive love looked like in a language and form we could understand. Seeking a personal relationship with God starts with accepting Jesus as His Son and our Savior from sin.

A personal relationship means we talk to God. This is simple. We pray and read the Bible–God’s love letter to us. God talks back if we’re willing to listen. He uses the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God to do this.

I can know God by seeking His face.

This means looking for Him in everything–in nature, circumstances (blessings and heartaches). Seeking God’s face means looking God’s promises, design, and character in the world around me and offering my appropriate response in gratitude.

Somebody breaks into my garage. I’m angry, but I turn my anger over to God. I know He’s angry for me, too, because He hates injustice. I can forgive because of all God’s forgiven me. I don’t have to become in a cycle of bitterness toward the neighbor who robbed me.

I can know God by accepting that above all, He is motivated by love. God IS love.

Love is the very essence of God’s being. All love in the world emanates from Him. He cannot act on our behalf apart from love. It is not possible to act in a manner that is not motivated by my best interest. If I can truly grasp this central core concept about God and that He asks us to love others as He loves us, my life putter will fall into place.

God’s love isn’t an insurance policy against pain or suffering. Jesus didn’t live a pain-free life. We shouldn’t expect to either. As His followers, we should expect persecution and the human allocation that are part of a sin-filled world.

I can know God by admitting I’ll never fully understand Him.

God wouldn’t be God if human brains could comprehend His purposes and plans. So if you don’t understand everything about God, relax. It’s because you’re not supposed to. Think about it–the God of the Bible is GOD, not a god.

I can know God by spending time with Him. 

Reading what He’s written to me. Talking to Him. Taking the time to listen to what He says back. Telling other people how wonderful He is and asking them what He’s done for them. Hanging out with His best friends. Doing what He asks. You know…the kinds of things friends do for each other.

Or I can be satisfied with a Flannelgraph Jesus.

 

 

 

I Want to Live Like That

 

JonandGingerThis week I lost one of my best friends.

Monday morning I woke to one of Ginger’s encouraging texts. That afternoon she slipped quietly off to heaven while she was at home. Her death came as a shock but not a total surprise. About a year and a half ago, she survived a deadly hemorrhagic stroke.

After making a miraculous recovery, Ginger invested her stroke and recovery to begin an endeavor called This is What After Looks Like, a line of clothing that opens up opportunities for people to tell their unique before-and-after redemptive stories.

Ginger served, loved, and gifted our large church with her sweet spirit for decades. During that time she influenced countless lives. I was always surprised to learn how many people in our church of over 2,000 people knew her and had been mentored and encouraged by her.

She was 100% servant, heaping love on everyone she met. 

Not just people at church. People she met in the community. People she sat beside. People she met at work. People in her neighborhood. People who often went unnoticed. Anyone she happened to meet on any given day.

Most of all, her family

Ginger used every gift and talent, every job, every day of her life to show Jesus’ love to others and point to Him. She lived with a vision every minute of her life. She knew who she was and what she was here to do–to point people to Jesus in EVERY breath she drew.

Even in her worst moments as she teetered on the brink of death. As she fought back from her stroke. As she and her husband walked through personal crisis. None of it was about her–it was all about God’s bigger plan.

What if we all lived like that?

If we lived with the clarity of vision my friend Ginger possessed, the world would be changed.

More than 600 people stood in line for nearly an hour to tell family members how she had changed their lives. Most of those people hope to carry on Ginger’s legacy. More than 700 attended her funeral the next day, not simply to pay respects, but to honor the role she had played in their lives.

During her life, my friend shaped an army of people more devoted to God, more like Jesus, more able to share Christ’s love with others. It may take a thousand of us to do what she so artlessly accomplished with such grace, devotion and love.

I want to be like my friend when I grow up.

Vision-driven. Unshakeable. Grace-filled.

She showed us all how:

By understanding what humility is and living humble lives.

By trusting Jesus to be all we will ever need.

By loving people with all our heart, soul, and mind.

By loving our neighbors and even our enemies the way we want to be loved. (That encompasses everyone. Ahem.)

By being an embodiment of Jesus to everyone who encounters me.

To see more about Jon and Ginger’s testimony following her first stroke, click HERE.  

 

 

 

 

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