Five Things to Tell Yourself Every Morning

I don’t know about you, but I don’t spring out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. My body hurts. I’m still tired. I don’t want to sweep the kitchen again and find spatters on the mirror that I washed yesterday. I need to hit the shower and grab breakfast.

The thing I need most each morning is to start my day affirming who I am, why I’m here, and how much God loves me.

Why? Because every day untrue messages about our identity and purpose inundate our mind, soul, and spirit. For instance,

  • You’re not enough.
  • Your purpose is to be good, do good, and just keep on swimming.
  • If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
  • Money, sex, and power are the keys to happiness.
  • Revenge is sweet.
  • You can never really trust someone’s love.
  • In order to be worth it you need to (fill in the blank).

The only truth we can ever rely on is God’s truth. He alone is unchanging, all-knowing, and forgave every sin and mess we would ever create before we took our first breath. We are incapable of understanding His love for us. In a messed up, broken world, He alone is LOVE we can rely upon in our darkest moments.

  1. I am limitlessly, exuberantly, endlessly loved by God.

God’s love gives me purpose. He chooses to partner with His children to bring purpose from chaos in the world. We are His disciples, the light of the world. When I get up ever morning, I know that my words and actions set into motion eternal ripples of cause and effect.  Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

2. God gives me a purpose for and in every second of my life–especially in moments when I can’t see it.

God has a plan for your life. He created you with a purpose. One of the most important purposes we can fulfill is one we often overlook and take for granted: God created us to enjoy an intimate relationship with us. We enter into that relationship by believing in Jesus. The Bible tells us that if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father (God).

Having a close relationship with God is like any other relationship. We need to spend time with Him. We need to talk to Him in prayer. We need to read His love letter to us–the Bible–to help us better see and understand His profound love for us.

We are also created to glorify God in all we do and say; to praise Him; to grow in the fruits of the Spirit; to use our gifts and talents for Him, and to share what God has done for us with others.

3. I am enough because I am God’s daughter.

God’s opinion is the only opinion that matters. He created me and orchestrates every atom in the universe. No one can diminish my value. God willingly gave His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for my sins. God loved me more than the love that has ever filled the hearts of mankind. He says I am enough and I am His.

4. The most truthful things about me is that I am who God says I am: beautiful, chosen, forgiven, and free from shame.

Jesus paid it all,

All to Him I owe,

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

I am free. I am forgiven. I am chosen. I am God’s beautiful child.

5. I am free to love even my enemies as freely as God loves me.

We find true freedom when we forgive our enemies as God forgave us. Of course, this is not actually possible. We do not possess God’s capacity for forgiveness. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love our enemies and those who spitefully use us.

This is perhaps the most difficult affirmation to claim–especially when we watch others abuse our loved ones. Forgiveness does not mean “off the hook” or forgetting about consequences. Forgiveness means to pardon or cancel a debt. That individual no longer owes you anything. They may owe a penalty to the law or an institution or someone else, but you free them from bondage to your anger.

I challenge you to begin your morning for one month with these five affirmations. Say them out loud as you look into a mirror, and use your name as you speak them. Write them on a card and carry them with you through the day. Then observe how the Spirit of God works in your life.

–Shelly

Love Doesn’t Bury, It Covers

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Not long ago, a number of adults in my Christian community had the courage to step forward and report abuse they’d suffered as children at the hands of a well-known Christian leader.

Of course they hadn’t reported what happened at the time. They were powerless, vulnerable, terrified children.

Although we tell children to tell if someone if someone hurts them, we often don’t back up our words with our actions. 

Sadly, the faith community most of these kids grew up in placed guilt on those who tried to seek accountability for abuse and justice for the abused.

One of the most tragic and sickening aspects of their story is that after suffering torture as children and abuse aftermath into adulthood, they were abused a second time by Christians who castigated them for reporting the criminal offenses perpetrated against them. Christians criticized them as unloving and unforgiving and did so in the name of Christ.

Unfortunately, Christians sometimes teach that it’s unloving and unbiblical to hold Christian leaders, pastors, friends, relatives, and other Christians accountable for sin.

People justify this line of thinking by saying Christians are called to love one another, and love “covers” a multitude of sins. “Covers” as in buries sin, hides sin, conceals sin, and pretends sin isn’t there or isn’t important. Love means we would never expose someone’s sin.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking just isn’t true. Jesus certainly never shied away from calling people out for their sin (the Pharisees, the woman at the well, Nicodemus, etc.). He confront the sin in people’s lives because He loved them, and this is  how He expects us to respond to Christian brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin. Jesus’ incarnation in a human body on earth is God’s statement that the price for humanity’s sin is so egregious that it could only be paid for by His Son’s life.

We cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice when we minimize sin’s presence, power, and putrifying consequences. 

Imagine eating your favorite meal at a fine dining restaurant with your husband, your best friend, and her husband. The bill comes and you find you owe several hundred dollars for the meal. You’re stunned and horrified because you know you don’t have the resources to pay.

Suddenly, your friend’s hand reaches across the table and slips the check out of your fingers.

“I’ll cover it.”

Her generosity doesn’t nullify what you owe. Her words and actions acknowledge that the debt you incurred needs to be paid. You racked up quite a bill, but she’s will to pay from her own resources.

This is how Jesus covered our sins for us. We’ve all racked up a debt of sin. We have no resources to pay on our own. Jesus paid everything we owed.

He gave up the wonder of heaven to live on a sin-infested planet in a human body with all of its limitations and frustrations.

He took every sin ever imagined or lived out upon Himself so we could be free of sin’s curse.

He gave up His life to torture and excruciating execution so we could experience freedom and life.

So how should we respond when a Christian friend seems to be caught in the grip of sin that’s eroding their life or the lives of those they love?

A few suggestions for how we can help lovingly restore Christian friends who may be struggling with sin:

  1. Approach them with love and humility. No matter what someone’s struggle, it could be yours or your loved one’s some day. We never know where life may take us. I’m very, very grateful that I’ve not been confronted with many of the life challenges that dear friends have faced. Pray for a heart of gratitude and humility before reaching out to others.
  2. Acknowledge the sin as sin, which is always accompanied by pain and loss. Sin isn’t making a mistake. It’s not messing up. Sin is violating God’s requirements, breaking the rules He’s implemented for our protection. Sin always comes at a cost–broken relationship with God and with others. Show compassion and grieve with your friend over the pain their sin has caused. Graciously help them count the cost of their actions for themselves and others. But confession must be accompanied by repentance, a change in behavior that demonstrates that the person has established a new direction in living.
  3. Establish appropriate and biblical consequences. Do they need to offer an apology to the person/s they wronged? Do they need to establish boundaries? Make reparations or restitution? Make lifestyle changes or relinquish habits or behaviors? Step down from a position or relinquish a title? Allow someone physical space and time to heal? Seek professional counseling or treatment?
  4. Cover the sin with mercy and offers of restorative steps. Offer hope that when we repent and turn from our sin, God promises hope and a future. Pray together and ask for the mercy you would hope for for yourself or a family loved one in this moment. Ask God to provide encouragement and your friend to establish resolve to walk through steps of restoration. Show genuine compassion (sympathy, warmth, kindness).
  5. Forgive. Forgiveness typically isn’t a one-time act by an ongoing decision to lay down one’s rights to be vindicated or proven right and desire good things for the offending party. We often have to do this over and over again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean a release from consequences because consequences (not retaliation) are the most profitable and therefore loving circumstances that can come into a sinner’s life.
  6. Establish accountability.  Accountability will look different, depending upon the circumstances of the sin. Criminal charges may need to be filed. A pastor may need to be asked to resign from his position. A family member may need to be asked to seek counseling or rehab. Accountability also requires consequences if someone fails to follow through.

In some cases, people choose sin over and above anything else.

A pastor of a Bible-preaching Midwest church recently announced he’d lost his passion for God, the Word, the church, and his family. It was later discovered he’d established a relationship with another woman, but other problems had also overtaken his life. Church leadership removed him from the pulpit and offered a lengthy sabbatical so the pastor and his wife could work on their marriage. The church paid for marriage counseling, They offered to pay for residential treatment at a Christian rehab center. Over a period of months, the elders surrounded him with prayer and offers of medical assessment and various forms of support. He declined again and again. After announcing that he planned to divorce his wife, the pastor was asked to resign and now lives in another community. The church continues to assist his wife as she raises their children.

These are the stories that break our hearts. Wives, husbands, friends, employers, parents pay the price of our sin.

The world needs us to see, empathize with, and love people enough to ask, “What’s going on beneath the gambling/drinking/affair/partying etc?”

Then who are willing to sit down, listen, and love.

Diagnosis for My Heart: Dad, Asperger’s, and Me

SteppingStones-taking-a-stepI’ve referred to my father a number of times as having Asperger’s Syndrome. In my posts (and in my speaking and writing, I do not always mentioned that my father did not receive a formal diagnosis of Asberger’s but I still refer to him as having had it). I’d like to explain why.

First of all, I see my use of the term as accurate and a formal diagnosis irrelevant. It’s not an indictment of character or integrity to have Asperger’s or mental illness. My intent in mentioning the term is always to explain the relationship I had with my father and how learning about the condition brought healing to my relationship with him.

I didn’t understand or enjoy my Dad until well unto my adulthood. Learning he’d spent a lifetime struggling to understand his world gave me new insight and compassion for him. 

Following list of symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome is taken from WebMD. Each is a precise descriptor of my father.

  • Have a hard time relating to others. It doesn’t mean that they avoid social contact. But they lack instincts and skills to help them express their thoughts and feelings and notice others’ feelings.
  • Like fixed routines. Change is hard for them.
  • May not recognize verbal and nonverbal cues or understand social norms.
  • Appear to lack empathy.
  • Their preference for rules and honesty may lead them to excel in the classroom and as citizens.
  • Attention to detail and focused interests
  • Fascination with technology, and a common career choice is engineering.

I’m not sure Dad knew he had a hard time relating to others as much as other people regarded him as a bit “off” or socially awkward. Dad was a brilliant man, and quite social. But he would say things that were outright insulting, and he just didn’t understand why everyone else was upset because what he was saying was true. The family often shuddered when we were with him in public because we never knew what he might say to a stranger. He was blatantly critical of overweight people and anyone who didn’t measure up to his particular standards.For instance, he often told family members, “It must be nice to have so much money you can abuse your car by ignoring your tire pressure.” But he was generous to a fault and always giving to others and cared for Mom sacrifically and devotedly–refusing to leave her side until her death.

My father was well in his eighties when I first learned about Asperger’s Syndrome. Taking him for an exam and formal diagnosis would have served no purpose for him. But when I read about the condition, my heart pounded. It answered questions that had haunted me since I’d been a child.

I’d always thought my father to be cold and heartless.

Why didn’t he tell me he loved me? Why didn’t he hug me? Hold me on his lap? Let me explain things or ask me how I felt? See that his words stung like a slap? Understand that the way he talked insulted people? Always had to talk about his pet subjects? Always had to sound like he was smarter than everyone else?

I’d stared at the symptoms on the page, and suddenly, my dad transformed before my eyes. Suddenly, he made sense.

Dad hadn’t known how to tell me he loved me. He’d always wanted to say it but didn’t know how.

And he hadn’t seen or understood how lonely I was. How much I was hurting as a child. How many times he’d hurt me.

He didn’t know he was being rude to people. He didn’t understand.

So many other things about my father came into focus.

Asperger’s fit. Everything about my father suddenly came into focus.

My heart shifted and opened up. I never saw my dad the same way again.

I vowed to never leave my father or hang up the phone without telling him I loved him. If he couldn’t say the words, I’d say them for him.

When my dad passed away in January at the age of 92, he’d still only spoken the words “I love you” to me once. When I was 19– the night I was sexually assaulted by a rapist–a bittersweet way to hear the words. But it didn’t matter. In my heart, Dad had said “I love you” over and over to me because now I understood.

Perhaps you’ve struggled with relationships because you have some of the same symptoms of my father. Don’t waste your life drowning in guilt. Be honest and talk about it with your loved ones. You have a true limitation, and those who love you need to understand it. And if you know someone you think has Asperger’s, address the issue. If that person is your child or teen, consult a physician or mental health profession. If it’s you, I’d offer the same advice. Acknowledge their limitations and offer compassionate support. And if you’ve been hurt by someone with Aspberger’s, open your heart to forgiveness. Seek healing for the wounding, understanding that we cannot hold others responsible to give us what they do not have.

The Judge in All of Us

gavel

I made my way through the crowd milling in the church foyer toward my good friend. She saw me coming and waved me to her side Tall and sleek in a camel blazer and  brown slacks, she looked as stunning as ever.

I heaved an inward sigh.

I’d called and left messages. Texted. Offered to bring soup, but no response. 

But I understood. Cancer explains so many things, including being too sick to pick up the phone.

We chatted briefly about her illness and mine. Our conversation drifted to the indignities and realities of sickness.

Not being able to go to the bathroom. Not being to stop going to the bathroom.

Nausea. Headaches. Chronic pain.

Fatigue so deep you cry at the thought of putting on your pajamas.

Brain fog so intense you’re not sure you can find your bedroom.

We were laughing as we made our way toward the auditorium–two sisters who understood one another’s private worlds.

She stopped briefly and looked into my eyes. “I have to apologize to you, Shelly. I had no idea what you were going through a few years back when we were working together. I judged you when you were in pain and needed a break, and I let you know it. I was filled with pride toward people who were suffering. I didn’t have a clue what it felt like to be ill all the time. Please forgive me.”

Of course I forgave her. I’d forgiven her long ago. And I never, ever, ever wanted her to suffer with cancer, something I’d always feared for her because of her family history.  I’d trusted her heart and understood that she’d been acting out of ignorance of what she didn’t understand and judged anyway–just like we all do. That didn’t mean I hadn’t been hurt and felt judged.

We all judge people and circumstances we don’t understand or can’t relate to.

People who disagree with us or dislike us, people who are different from us, people whose values we dislike, people we don’t understand.

Take for instance, the guy standing on the corner in the snow asking for money. I tell myself he’s a scammer. I’m doing him and society a favor by not handing him a few bucks or a warm fast-food hamburger. Judgment without knowledge.*

Or what about my brother or sister in Christ who worships differently than I do? Or holds a different view of drinking or vacationing or educating their children or fill-in-the-blank?  What scripts do I write that demean their value as children of God?

One of the greatest gifts of my life is my deep friendship with a dear woman of God who is unlike me in more ways than I can count. Our backgrounds are as contrasting as black and white. We are not the same race. She is a hippie pretending to be an adult. She has taught me to see people who are different from me through new eyes and with fresh compassion. She has given me the desire to ask, “What brought you here?”  “What pain do you carry?” “What things have made your heart cry out for God?”

But rather than express curiosity and seek commonality, we typically gravitate toward pride and judgment.

If we listen to our self-talk, we’ll find we judge others 24/7.

Our kids, our spouses.

Neighbors, friends, co-workers.

Relatives and their relatives, neighbors, and friends. But he antidote for negative self-talk and judgment of others is actually quite simple. We’re to love others as we would want to be loved.

Our church family.

Politicians. Politicians. Politicians.

The answer for our judgmental hearts is as easy and as difficult as loving others as we want to be loved.

In other words, treating others as we would want to be treated.

If we were homeless and standing on a cold street corner.

If we had cancer, a mental illness, chronic illness or needed a second chance.

If we were considered an enemy or an adversary.

With humility, grace, and dignity.

Like Jesus, with freedom in forgiveness and lavish love.

Evaluate your self-talk. Are you loving others as you would want to be loved?

 

Tips for Resolving Conflict

broken-mirror001Ever had a really tough year?

Lost a loved one? Received a dreaded diagnosis? Been betrayed?

I feel your pain. 2015 was challenging for me in many ways.

One of my most painful experiences last year was interpersonal. You know something isn’t right when you begin thinking in terms of that person or those people. Or when you find yourself obsessing about what you should have said or will say the next time you meet, talk, or communicate with that person or those people in cyberspace.

You know what I’m talking about. It happens at work. In churches. In families. In friendships.

Misunderstanding. Differing opinions. Well-intentioned (or not) advice. Hurt. Division. Separation.

In short, everything God hates and Jesus came to obliterate through his death. He came so we could be reconciled both to God and one another.

And this is the life God requires of us: that we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light and have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). 

 

God doesn’t suggest that we love and forgive those we disagree with and even our enemies. He expects it of us. He even tells us that He forgives us to the same measure that we forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). He also tells us that if we claim to love Him and don’t love others in word and actions, we’re liars (1 John 4:20).  I don’t know about you, but this concept tends to annoy my highly refined sense of self-righteousness. You see, over the years, I’ve been able to convince myself that I can “love” others and still be ticked off at them and mutter about them to myself or a few select friends.

You see, I tend to justify my actions. I try to live a life pleasing to God, but I’m so good at justifying self-talk that I can easily deceive myself.

But conflict between people really boils down to one central point: everyone involved needs to take responsibility for the hurt they caused. This takes honest self-examination.  Bottom line: I discovered that long-time close friends were frustrated (and perhaps even angry) with me. The details are irrelevant.

My actions/words hurt my friends. Taking responsibility for my part is the only thing that counts. 

I’m responsible for making that right as best I can. My instincts are to protect my image. To defend my “side”. I know God is on my side. But I know He is on the side of reconciliation, peace, and unity. He for “us,” not “me.”

You’ve been hurt, too. How can you respond in a way that will promote healing and unity?

  1. Pray for God to show you how to love those who have hurt you (James 2:8). You may want to start by praying selected Scripture verses, such as Psalms 139:23-24. Ask God to give you insight about how your actions and words may have wounded others. For instance, try to place yourself in their shoes and image what they would say if they were asked why they were upset with you. What would a loving response from you looks like to them? How could you take a step in that direction?
  2. Ask God to shine a light on your heart. Come to God in a spirit of humility, confession, and repentance. Ask Him to expose your secrets, your agendas, your hidden motives. Write down what He reveals to you. They pray and ask Him to show you what you need to do to change.
  3. Deconstruct your defenses. Conflict isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. The most important thing in the kingdom of God is relationships. Deal with your compulsion to be “right” and to blame other people. Let it go and shift your focus back to the relationship.
  4. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you God’s love for this person/s. We can’t muster up true love for people when we feel violated or hurt. This kind of love comes from God. Ask Him to fill you with compassion, insight, and love for the person who wounded you. What wounds have they experienced in life that have shaped their perspective? Ask for special insight that will motivate your heart.
  5. Refuse to treat reconciliation lightly. Don’t try to slip by with a quick phone call or note to get you off the hook. Take responsibility for your sin. Dig deep, Examine it. Own it. Repent. Face the broken you. I don’t know about you, but I hate doing this. I don’t like looking at my ugly. I’d rather pretend it’s not there–the mucky, messed up part of me. But the only way to reconciliation is to own my brokenness and love others in spite of theirs because we’re all sinners saved by grace. Refuse superficiality and putting on a mask. Do it right–from the heart
  6. Refuse to think/talk disrespectfully of those who’ve wronged you. Reject the us/them mentality.”If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie (1 John 1:6). God esteems relationships so highly that He became one of us (Thaddeus Barnum). Don’t fall into the popular trap of trash talking people behind their backs that’s as common in churches as on a TV reality show.

 

Our goal, as imperfect as we may be:  “And by this we know that we are in Him; the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” — 1 John 2:5-6

Have you ever tried the steps given above? What was your experience?

 

The Golden Rule: Moving from Hurt to Healing

grieving

Over the past five years or so, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside bullying expert Brooks Gibbs. Brooks’ approach to bullying centers around The Golden Rule, a biblical principle for conflict resolution. Simply stated,

Treat people who hurt you the way you’d like to be treated when you mess up.

With grace and mercy.

Sounds simple, but living out The Golden Rule can be the hardest thing we ever do.

Our first reaction is to hurt people back when they hurt us. (Or to fixate on ways we’d like them to suffer, often while we try continue to act spiritual). Like the time somebody slid into my dad’s parking space, so he waited for them to go into the store, then let the air out of their tires.

My dad.The church board chairman.

We all fight the desire to be air-letter-outers. We’re all the same: self-centered sinners.

Over the past few months, I’ve been deeply hurt by friends. I’ve wanted to hurt back, but that emotion is always my first clue that I need to look at my motives, my goals, and truly be conformed to the image of Jesus. Faith alone won’t make me like Jesus, 2 Peter 1:3-8 describes the process: faith + knowledge (not information, but a piercing of my heart that changes my behavior) + virtue (I partake in Jesus’ divine nature) + steadfastness + godliness = brotherly affection and love.

When I seek God’s kingdom first, my heart is compelled by His grace and mercy.

On Sunday I ran into one of the friends I felt had hurt me. I hadn’t spoken to her in months. I’m sure she felt I’d hurt her as strongly as I felt she’d hurt me.

She brushed my arm as she passed me. I turned to her and told her I loved her and missed her, which was so very true.

Treating others the way we want to be treated when we’re hurt compels us to act lovingly.

So how do we this?

  1. Focus on God’s love for us.
  2. Remind ourselves of our goal: to become like Jesus.
  3. Submit to the Word of God and the moving of the Spirit.
  4. Commit to small steps.
  5. Move when the Spirit of God speaks to us.

Living out 2 Peter 1: 3-8 and The Golden Rule helped me move from hurt to healing,

But it required me to lay down my stubborn pride, lean into a hug and tell an old friend I loved and missed her. It meant looking into her eyes and meaning what I said. It meant giving up the lie that I had a right to carry a grudge because I don’t?

What about you? What helps you move from hurt to healing?

 

 

Why I’m a Rock Star (with an Incontinent Dog)

rockstarwordMy ninety-two year-old father calls me almost every day.

He loves hearing what his author-daughter is up to, no matter how dull or boring my life may actually be.

Our conversations are short. I usually talk about my two adult kids (of course, they’re my husband Dan’s too) and our incontinent fifteen-year-old mini-dachsund Beanie (my husband’s, especially right after Beanie’s moments of incontinence).

Somehow, no matter what dull and mundane Life Details I tell my father, he hears Something Else–words that sound like a publicist wrote them. My books are soaring to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. My husband Dan is bearing down on his eighth Ph.D. and is ready to take over as CEO of his company. Somehow my dad refuses to deal in realities and prefers to live in a world of his own creation.

Conversations with Dad used to puzzle me.

Then about a year ago my family figured out that Dad has Asperger’s, and a whole lot of things about my life suddenly made sense.

Like why no matter how much I talked to Dad as a child, I never felt heard. I wish I’d known back then that Dad and I didn’t speak the same language, although we both communicated in English.

I wish five-year-old Shelly had known there was a reason her dad didn’t know how to connect with her. Little Shelly spent a lot of years trying to figure out what she had to do to feel noticed and loved.

But in trauma therapy this year, Little Shelly learned she wasn’t invisible after all, a lie she’d believed for many years. She learned her dad had always tried to listen to her and speak the words he still can’t bring himself to speak out loud.

So here’s the simple truth in a world of parallel truths. No matter how hard he may try, after more than a half-century of parenting, my dad simply can’t choke out the words, “I love you.” But he calls me every day. Why?

Because my dad loves me so much he believes I’m a rock star.

So I’ve learned to hear those three words anyway. And believe them.

Especially because the New York Times may never call, and the dog is going to keep on…well…you know…staining the carpet. And even though my world is imperfect, my father always sees me through the lens of his unique vision for me. It was pure revelation when I figured this out.

My Dad has chosen to see me as a rock star, even on days when the dog stains the carpet. It’s the only way he can see me.

And on carpet-stain, life-kicking-you-in-the-gut days, God’s love for me never changes either. Nothing I do can convince Him to love me one iota more or less. Because my true identity is about who I am IN Him.

I’m a beloved child, whose Heavenly Father hangs on every word from His daughter.

Photo Credit: PolkaDotDivas.com