Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Growing Weary, Part Two

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. ~ Galatians 6:9-10, The Message

The above Scripture verse is another translation of Paul's encouragement for the people of Galatia to not grow weary and give up in doing good to others. Yesterday, I began a two-part blog post about what happens when you DO wind up growing weary and just give up. Because it happened to me.

If you didn't get a chance to read it, why not take a minute to scoot over to read it now by clicking here.

As a result of the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing as I tried my best in 'doing good' for both my neighbor and my friend, (while also feeling I was being manipulated and used by them at times, which I failed to mention yesterday), I found myself spiraling down into depression.

I spent several months ‘hiding’ from God.  For a time, I stopped attending church (we all attend the same church). I dropped out of Bible study (which my neighbor also attended and in which she was causing some chaotic moments for everyone). I purposely made ‘other arrangements’ on the Tuesday nights that my prayer group would meet.  I avoided my Bible like the plague and pretty much ostracized myself from my church family and other Christian friends.

Is it any wonder, then, that my relationship with the Lord, as well as with the members of the Body of Christ/the Church, had suffered, becoming weak, dry and very close to non-existent? I woke up one day to the realization that I was in a self-imposed form of exile. 

I know all of this sounds awful and some may be reading this thinking, “What kind of Christian (or maybe more appropriately, what kind of NUT) is she, anyway?” I’ve been wondering that a lot myself. 

There's just so much that confuses me.  I feel like I'm being bombarded from all sides by Bible verses that are continually popping into my head. And I hope I'm not taking them out of context. 

Once again, in Galatians 6, Paul reminds the people that they are to "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."  And in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus tells this to the crowds gathered there: "Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don't turn away him who desires to borrow from you."  That is sacrificial living right there, and is part and parcel of the Christian daily walk. 

But when does it become a matter of being able to say "STOP! Enough is enough!" when you feel someone is manipulating you and taking advantage of your kind, loving, giving, sacrificial Christian nature? Or you come to the realization that you are enabling instead of helping?

Yesterday, I wrote that terms like 'enabler,' co-dependency' 'toxic' and 'dysfunctional' are all words you won't find in the Bible. And with good reason, for these are terms that come from the secular and psychological community. So do they truly have a place in Christianity? Should we even be identifying with these terms or are we just kidding ourselves? 

And perhaps I'm just using them to justify my backing away from helping these two people in my life because obeying Jesus's command to do this just became TOO HARD TO DO?

Through all of this madness, I had some well-meaning, godly friends with whom I’d shared my struggles and questions about this – friends who know my neighbor and friend well, and are aware of their situations and needs – tell me things like:

“Ask God to make you willing to be made willing”

Really?! What does THAT even mean? To me, it translates into “Better you than me, sister.”

Or this gem:

“What would they DO without you? You’re ALL they have.”

Is that true? Am I really ALL they have, because family, friends, other neighbors and members of their faith community, for whatever reasons, have chosen to look away from these folks and avoid them like the priest and the Levite in the parable of The Good Samaritan, washing their hands of any responsibility? I'm sorry, but I can't go along with that.

I never realized this before until a month or so ago, but as I read that parable again, it suddenly came to me while the Samaritan traveler was the only one who stopped to help and care for that beaten, bruised and broken man lying on the roadside, he didn’t take on all responsibility for him. He didn’t take the man with him to wherever he was headed.  When the Samaritan left the inn where he had taken the wounded man and spent the night tending to him, he left him there and enlisted help (paid help, though it was) from the local innkeeper:

'The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:35, NIV)

Please know I HAVE asked for help and a bit has come from an unexpected source. But due to all the legal and familial roadblocks, as well as the stubbornness of the people in need, it really hasn't been as much as I'd hoped.  Believe me when I say this – I’m NOT asking for sympathetic, figurative pats on the head here. Nor am I looking for kudos and applause from anyone for hanging in there and doing as much as I could.

What I am looking for at this point -- and which I'd forgotten about until now -- is The Lesson.  A sweet friend of mine who passed away several years ago from cancer, would often tell me -- even and especially in the midst of those times when she found herself in horrific pain and was struggling just to breathe and speak: 

"God has a lesson for me in all 
of this. I just need to find it."

I'm desperately trying to find the lesson God has for me 'in all of this.'

So I’m wondering if this has ever happened to anyone else out there; if anyone has ever experienced a time when serving others just became too heavy a burden to bear....and you made the difficult choice to walk away. 

And I don't normally ask this, but PLEASE DO SHARE this post series with others, especially if you know of anyone who is a pastor or Christian counselor. I will welcome any and all comments and insights -- good, bad or indifferent (or you can send me a private email, too, if you’re more comfortable with that) -- on what I’ve said and on the questions below:

   How do you serve without enabling, being taken advantage of or becoming the victim of another's manipulation? 

Does setting healthy boundaries for oneself conflict with the Biblical theology of sacrificial living?

Some hard questions. But then, nobody said following Jesus would be easy. Many thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully share your insights. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Growing Weary, Part One

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. ~ Galatians 6:9-10

Before I begin, I find it VERY interesting that this verse would be the one to come up on my phone's YouVersion Bible app today as I was writing this. Actually, I didn't check to see it until AFTER I had finished this post. 

That being said, this has been a very difficult post for me to write. And one that has been a long time coming. There's a lot I felt the need to carefully explain in the hopes you, dear readers, will understand where I'm coming from. So due to the length, I've had to break it down into two parts. I hope you'll hang in there for both of them.

As a Christian, one of our primary roles is to be a humble servant of God – serving Him by serving others is indeed an honor and a privilege for us. Or at least it should be.

But what happens when it no longer feels that way?

Throughout the New Testament, God’s Word speaks of the importance of dying to self; of serving and caring for the poor, the sick, the needy and less fortunate; of practicing hospitality; of placing the needs of others before our own, and of helping to carry one another’s burdens.

But what happens when that all becomes too much?

For some time now, I’ve had cause to think on these ideals and commands. Certain situations with particular people in my life, with regards to serving them, have made me step back and ask even more questions, like:

How can serving others become ‘off balance?’

At what point does helping  someone suddenly cross the lines and become enabling instead?

Now you won’t find the terms 
  • Enabler
  • Toxic relationship
  • Co-dependency
  • Dysfunctional family

anywhere in the Bible. No, not even in The Message translation. I checked. So back in Jesus’s day, Jerusalem and the surrounding areas didn’t offer counseling sessions for enablers and didn’t have support groups for those who served and cared for people with toxic, obsessive, dysfunctional personalities or mental disorders.

So what did people do about those hard-to-deal-with, difficult-to-manage people whom they were called to serve? 

Pretty much the only things I can find are the Gospel accounts of people traveling far and wide to bring them to Jesus to heal ( Mark 4), or just completely removing themselves from their lives to let them fend for themselves (see the story of the demon-possessed wild man roaming through the tombs of Gerasenes in Mark 5).

I know that service to others should ALWAYS come from a joyful, compassionate, loving heart and spirit. However, when it’s done with an overburdened, resentful and angry attitude, service becomes nothing more than a struggle to complete a dreaded duty; it feels more like an undesirable job than a great adventure for the one doing it.

Unfortunately, the latter description is what it has become for me. And I confess I’ve not handled it well. Please let me explain.

I do believe that God brings people into our lives who need our service and giftings.  He brought two particular people into my life – one a friend, the other a neighbor – when I began to attend my present church. To say that it’s been a challenge for me to be there for them in their times of need through the years is an understatement. I’ve done my best, but recently, their needs have gone way beyond what I’m actually able to do and to provide.

And I’ve been struggling.

Struggling with the realization that I am weary and no longer wish to do this anymore.

Struggling with the anger, resentment, anxiety and even some fear mixed in that wells up in me whenever our doorbell rings…. and it’s my neighbor. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve taken to sending my husband to answer it when it’s her. Because if I answer the door, she won’t leave until I’ve addressed every complaint, desire, question she has, or fulfilled every need of hers, from advice to promises of rides to borrowing money and our phone. 

Family time, get-togethers, meals, intimate moments and late night/early morning sleep have been interrupted countless times over the past several years, and it’s gotten worse recently as my neighbor’s mental state, which was never strong in the 20 years we’ve lived here, is diminishing more and more.  Her ever-growing needs (physical, health and emotional) are more than I can handle. But since I’m not family; and because her family members don’t wish to be involved (too busy, too much trouble) and are more than happy to let me deal with her; and due to legalities (those who have Power of Attorney over her health and finances, HIPAA laws and standards and Social Services’ confidentiality guidelines), my hands are tied and I’m unable to get this person the assistance they really need and deserve.

Talk about being in between a rock and a hard place.

I struggle with those same negative feelings towards my friend whenever the phone rings and I see her number appear on my Caller ID.  My friend has been suffering with her own medical and financial issues, as well as job-related problems for quite awhile, and rather than drawing her closer to God, I’ve watched this once strong and solid-in-her-faith woman allow these crises to move her farther and farther away from Him.

It’s heartbreaking to watch. And frustrating to deal with. 

I’ve spent hours and hours, in person and over the phone, listening to her cry, rage and complain. When I’ve offered to pray with and for her, she thanks me, but says it will do no good, because God's not listening anyway. When I’ve given her suggestions or counsel, she won’t take them. When I’ve shown her tough love, she gets mad at me. When I’ve lined up physical, tangible assistance for her and her family, she’s called and stopped it, then complained that nobody cares.  When she speaks of taking her own life, I’ve talked her through it (she’ll apologize the next day, laughing it off, while I’m still shaken). I’ve reached out to her family and begged them to get her and themselves into some kind of family intervention and counseling program.  They have yet to do so. And the phone calls keep coming.

I know admitting this will make me sound like a terrible person and a weak, lousy Christian, but to be honest, both my neighbor and my friend can often drain me physically, emotionally and mentally. And my serving them has actually caused relational problems here at home, especially with my marriage. My daughter confronted me the other day and asked, Why do you let people take advantage of you like that?”

Why indeed? Since when has being a Christian become synonymous with being a doormat?

And then, there’s the terrible guilt and shame I’m experiencing, because:

(a)   I had these feelings of anger, resentment and anxiety towards two of God’s children and sisters-in-Christ in the first place

(b)   I recently made the decision to step back and disengage myself as servant, babysitter, supplier, chauffeur and always on call Christian counselor in both relationships, and

(c)   I feel by doing so, I’ve been disobedient to the Lord and have greatly disappointed Him in my rebelliousness 

What a mess! 

I'm going to stop right here for now. My apologies for this not being one of my more encouraging nor inspiring of posts. But please hang in there and join me as I wrap up the rest of this post tomorrow. I'll have some questions I'd like for you to consider and comment on. Thank you!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Worship Song Sunday -- Give Me Jesus, by Fernando Ortega

Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 
~ Psalm 73:25, NASB

I consider everything else worthless because I'm much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It's because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain Christ
 ~ Philippians 3:8 God's Word Translation

Yesterday evening, I visited a friend's church.  We're not of the same denomination, so their order of service went a little differently than what I've come to know at my home church. 

After the pastor's sermon, we all stood up to sing 'Give Me Jesus.'  I was surprised. Not because they sang the song, but because earlier that morning the phrase -- 'just give me Jesus' -- popped into my head as I was heading out to an appointment. And it stayed with me throughout the day.   

I was also surprised to learn, from the church's hymnal, that this song of worship was not penned by some Contemporary Christian songwriter, but is actually an old African-American spiritual, its author unknown. The tempo of the version we sang was a bit quicker and more upbeat than the song here by Fernando Ortega, and some of the stanzas were quite different. 

But the meaningful content of this beautiful song is the same, reflecting the message in the Scriptures referenced above:

NOTHING in this world can hold a candle to knowing Jesus 

NOTHING in this world can bring the satisfaction that comes from knowing Jesus

NOTHING in this world is worth more than knowing, loving and being known and loved by Jesus Christ, so.......

You can have all this world -- but give me Jesus

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Adding To The Noise

Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you. 

Don’t give God’s Holy Spirit any reason to be upset with you. He has put his seal on you for the day you will be set free from the world of sin.

Get rid of your bitterness, hot tempers, anger, loud quarreling, cursing, and hatred. Be kind to each other, sympathetic, forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ.~ Ephesians 4:29-32 (God's Word Translation)

I must be honest and say that I am weary of seeing and sickened by the barrage of posts and pictures coming through my news feed on Facebook, on Twitter and even on Instagram, about the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial, along with the ugly, snarky by-lines and comments that accompany them.

Emotions are running high among 'just plain folks' like you and I, as well as amid celebrities, and the verbiage that pops up like out-of-control July 4th fireworks from both camps is, in my opinion, causing more damage, division and destruction than anything else.

I said this before, and I'll say it again -- think before your fingers touch your keyboard today. THINK before you hit the POST or SEND button today. And tomorrow. And the next. Don't let negative emotions taint your words and turn them into harmful, verbal poison. Once they're out there, you can't take them back.

Please think about the impact you are having upon people, especially young people with whom you may be friends, who are reading your posts and Tweets, who may be looking to you for guidance, leadership and understanding of what has taken place.  

My pastor likes to remind us often -- and thankfully so -- that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

I ask you: Can we just STOP adding to the noise by this verbal and pictorial perpetuation of hate, distrust and division??

In a different translation (NIV) of the verse I referenced above from the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul implored the church at Ephesus:

'Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.'

We can take that as filthy language (swearing) or.... as using words that tear apart something that is whole. Words that divide us as human beings. As children of God.

And earlier in this passage, Paul urges his readers to

'speak the truth in love.'  

Are we not to take these same words and apply them to our lives & situations today? Sadly, I'm not seeing much of that here on social media from many people -- even and especially from those who claim to align themselves with Jesus and call themselves Christians.  

So like my pastor and like the apostle Paul, I feel led to remind, implore and urge everyone today:

Please stop being part of the problem. Please stop 'stirring the soup.' Please stop promoting hatred and inciting angry, hurtful and violent emotions. 

Maybe it's time to take a much needed break from television, radio and social media. Maybe it's time to go for a walk, read a book, take a drive, a bike ride or a swim. 

Or maybe it's time to find a quiet, solitary place, drop to our knees in humility and pour out our complaints and questions, anger and frustrations to the One -- the ONLY One -- Who can take our ilk and ire, the One Who is Sovereign. Who is Righteous. Who is Just and Justice itself.  Who is God.

God -- The One Who showed His great love for us by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us while WE were still sinners.  Selah

And then....

Can we forgive as Christ forgave? Can we offer mercy and grace as Christ offered mercy and grace to those who only offered Him hostility, hatred, violence and injustice?

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." ~ Dr. Martin Luther King

Monday, July 1, 2013

Journey Into Unknown Territory

Anyone who has known me for any length of time -- in 'real life' or virtual life -- knows that when it comes to electronic devices/gadgets, as well as computer programs and software, I'm about as low tech as one can be. I love 'em, I enjoy 'em....but to be honest, I'm easily confused by the majority of 'em.

Case in point --just a little over two weeks ago, I was railroaded into buying made the decision to purchase my very own, very first FOR REAL smartphone. I remember staring at it after prying it out of the package, wondering what in the world I had gone and done.  Thankfully, I have a 20 year old and a 16 year old here at home who have been beyond helpful, showing me what to do, where to find certain apps, etc.  But I'm still trying to figure it all out, especially when they aren't around.  

So I knew I was in for a mega headache and a major nervous breakdown when I decided to create a slideshow of photos for a friend who had asked me if I would be kind enough to take pictures of his church's final Spanish mass (the church closed today due to financial difficulties) and the procession afterwards, bearing a huge portrait of their beloved Lady of Guadalupe, which would be housed in another neighboring church. 

Now, my friend didn't ask for the slideshow.  And I had fully intended to just burn them to a CD to give to him and to one of his church's secretaries, who was delighted to learn that someone was capturing this on film. 

But for some reason today -- perhaps it was my breathing in the fumes from the sausages I was cooking in beer on the stove nearby -- I got it into my little wooden head that it MIGHT just be pretty cool to make the 70 plus photos into a slideshow!!

Never having done anything like this, I was a bit confused about how and where to start. This was most definitely a journey into unknown territory. Then, I remembered another friend of mine who posts slideshows of her family from time to time, using something called Smilebox.  So I texted her (yes, folks, I have officially entered into the millenium and can actually TEXT now, just like all the cool kids!!) with some questions. She responded, telling me it was easy to learn and that she loved it. So I decided to download the program and give it a shot. 

Now, I'm a bottom line kind of a gal.  Meaning, I hate having to read through all kinds of instructions and guidelines and whatnot.  Mostly because, low tech geek girl that I am, I usually cannot comprehend all the techy language that goes along with all things electronic (hence my relying on my kids to show me how to use my new phone). But this program seemed fairly simple as my other friend had stated (and oh, joy of joys, it's FREE!).

So.....below is the result of my visit to the Land of Smilebox.  There are 75 photos (feel free to bail out at any time), set to music, beginning at Divine Mercy Parish's Saint Stanislaus' church and ending at Holy Cross Church, also a part of the Divine Mercy Parish.  They are old and beautiful local Catholic churches, rich in history, both established in the 1890's in the Trenton, NJ area.  

I hope you enjoy and are blessed by them!

Click here to view
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