Thursday, March 28, 2013

Don't question my faith. Just....don't.


Where to begin with this one....

First of all, I make zero apologies for what I am about to write.  Zero.  I don't want to lose friends over this, but honestly, if this blog post fractures a friendship, then maybe it wasn't all that strong in the first place.  I have spent too many years of my life keeping my mouth shut and being disrespected by "friends" who were in reality nothing more than toxic people.  I have come a long, long way in healing from that, and in the spirit of keeping myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy, I have no place in my life anymore for those who are unapologetically disrespectful toward me, my beliefs, and how I choose to live out my life and my faith.  So if you get to the end of this, and you still feel the need to disrespect me and what I believe, then I guess you'll know where you stand.

So here goes....

The other night, someone called my faith, and that of other Christians, into question over the gay marriage debate.

To me, that is the single most disrespectful thing anyone could ever do to me.  Ever.

I was shaking when I read what was written, directed at me and other Christians who believe like me.  I felt the heat of anger rise up my back, then neck, then face.  It took every ounce of strength I had to fight the urge to write something lengthy and strong in response.  I tossed and turned and barely slept that night, feeling so angry, hurt, offended and disrespected.  I woke up the following morning not feeling much better.  And now, nearly 48 hours later, I am still trying to wrap my head around it and formulate the words I want to say to this person.  I know, when that face-to-face time comes, its going to be awkward.

Let me make one thing very clear here.  I am not hurt or angry or offended over the person having a differing opinion from mine.  Lots of people every single day have differing opinions from mine, and that is fine.  In fact, I welcome others' opinions.  They make me think, and evaluate, and question, and that is a normal, healthy thing everyone should be open to allowing in their life.

What I am hurt, angry, and offended by was the implication that just because I don't believe like that person, that I am somehow a "lesser than" Christian.  That somehow I am not as "good" a Christian as they are.  That somehow I am not as "righteous."  That maybe I'm not even a Christian at all....

If you want to emotionally and spiritually go for the jugular with me, well congratulations.  You just did.

Now, to most people this may not seem like a big deal.  But I come from a long history of being attacked like this.  It happened to me at Bible college.  Someone tried to get me kicked off a ministry team because I was "less holy" than them...or whatever it was....because I don't speak in tongues.  And then it happened over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again at a former church.  You name it....I was called out for it.

Do you know what that does to a person?  When you take the most sacred, personal, vulnerable part of a person's belief system and tell them they aren't good enough....over and over again....a person starts to believe it.  Do you want to know how bad it got for me?  It got to a point where I felt so unloved, so unworthy, so unaccepted, so vile, so disgusting, so hated, so worthless, so imperfect, and so insignificant.....that I believed I was all those things.  I became suicidal.  Had I not been a mother with 2 little kids at the time, I probably would've taken my own life.  I'm not kidding or exaggerating.

To this day, I don't know how I rose above all that.  Only by the grace of God.  Somehow, despite all the lies that were being fed to me, despite having my soul picked apart bit by bit by excruciating bit, I was able to put all the pieces back together.  I left that church, I left those hurtful people, and I am not looking back.  Ever.  Like I said in the beginning of this post, I have come too far and am in a good place, I am not going to allow people to tear me down like that anymore.

I know where I stand with God.  My relationship with Him, as far as I am concerned, is solid.  I got saved when I was 16, I've been baptized, I've sat through countless hours of Bible classes, studies, and sermons.  And I know my Bible pretty proficiently.

I'm far from perfect, and I fully accept that I get things wrong daily.  Shoot....I may have the whole thing "wrong!"  Who really knows?  But here's the thing....  My relationship with Him - my "rights" and "wrongs" - is between me and Him.  The same goes for you.  The same goes for my husband, my son, my daughters, my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my niece, my nephews, my uncles, my aunts, my neighbors, the girl who makes my coffee at the Human Bean, my college professors, the dude who bags my groceries.....

Who are we to play God and judge others' relationship with their Creator?????

Once upon a time, I'm ashamed to say, I was a Christian like that.  Its easy, in faith, to get wrapped up in the "little things" - all the do's and don'ts - and miss the bigger picture.  I've been there, done that.  And you know what it did?  It made me a horrible witness for Christ, I lost a lot of friends (in and out of the church), and my own relationship with Christ suffered.  I became so "near-sighted" in my walk, that I couldn't even see how much I was hurting others - and even myself - with that attitude!

After my whole "crisis period" (for lack of a less ugly thing to call it), as I began to rebuild myself, I read Matthew 12:28-33, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.e 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’f 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’g There is no commandment greater than these.”
32“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

I realized when I read that, that the most important thing we can do is love God and love others.  Jesus said it was the most important thing, and I believe Him.  There is no commandment greater than these!  Nothing else the Bible says is more important!  And nobody can convince me otherwise!

This verse has since become kind of like my "life compass."  If I am ever in doubt of the motives of my heart or actions, I put it to the "Matthew 12 Test."  I ask myself, "Is what I am saying/feeling/doing/thinking/believing radiating with love for God and love for others?"  If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), then I immediately re-evaluate.  It has been a pretty fool-proof compass, when I have been smart enough to use it.  It has changed so many facets of how I live my faith and my life.  I don't think it has made me a "loose" Christian, I think it has made me a more loving, accepting, kind, gentle, peaceful, understanding human being.  A human being that is closer to the character of Jesus, not further from it.

I still have my principles.  I still have my own, personal set of do's and don'ts for my own life.  But the huge difference is, I have stopped being so concerned with everyone else's life and relationship with Christ.  I focus on loving God - my own relationship with Him - and loving others - not condemning them with my words and/or attitude.  If you say/feel/do/think/believe differently than me, I let you.  I have my own relationships with God and others to worry about.  I'll worry about mine, you worry about yours.

So really....  Who cares how I - or anyone else - interpret and live out my life and my faith?  Who cares what or how much I do or don't pray, or what version of the Bible I do or don't read?  Who made it your job to police my relationship with God?  Where in the Bible does it say that its your job?  Because the last time I checked, man wasn't called to bring others to repentance.  The last time I checked, that was the Holy Spirit's job.

You have no right to call my - or anyone else's - relationship with God into question.  Not over the way I parent.  Not over my spiritual gifts (or lack thereof).  Not over my position on gay marriage.  Not over anything.

You are not God.  It is not your job.  You live your life, let me live mine.  You have your opinions, and I let you have them.  Let me have mine.  Without the guilt, without the condemnation, without the self-righteousness, without the negative criticism, without all the garbage that leads others to believe they're not good enough.  We're all horribly flawed.  I'm not perfect, you're not perfect.  But God still loves us.  That is the truth!

The truth is, Jesus doesn't love you more for believing what you believe and me less for believing what I believe.  He loves us all the same.  He doesn't have a "point system."  God loves you the same as he loves me, the same as he loves the drug dealer down on the corner, the same as he loves the Atheist, the same as he loves the death-row inmate, the same as he loves a newborn baby....  We're all beautiful and wonderful and special to Him.  There is nothing we do that makes Him love us any more or less!  Yes, we're all horribly, disgustingly flawed.  We all make bad decisions and mistakes every single day, and yes, some of those decisions and mistakes are reeeeaaally far off the mark.  But you want to know the truth?  God still loves us the same.

And anyone who tells you differently is flat-out wrong.  That is the truth!

There is so much more I could've touched on in this post.  Do you think I missed anything important?  Do you agree or disagree?  Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Want a better world? Raise better kids!

Last week, a friend of mine posed the (obviously rhetorical, but she put it out there anyway) question, "Can someone tell me why rude children have rude parents?"  My response was, "Rude children grow up and become rude parents, who then raise more rude children.  Its a cycle."

I was being rather tongue-in-cheek with my response, but I stand by what I said.  Kind people raise kind children.  Rude people raise rude children.  Self-centered people raise self-centered children.  And so on and so forth.

I have been marinating on this idea a lot this week, and then my son pulled out his jiu jitsu (optional) homework.  One question on it was, "Name five things we can focus more on to be better people."  We chatted about it a little bit, but ultimately my son came up with his own ideas.

* Working hard
* Kindness
* Respect
* Listening to others
* Sticking up for what's right

Those are the things he chose.  And I am proud.  My son "gets it."  And not just in theory, in practice, too.

I will never claim to be a perfect parent - far from it.  But I have made it my mission as a mother to raise people who will - even if only in some small, unseen way - change the world for better.  People who will live to spread love, acceptance, tolerance, kindness, peace, and goodness.  People who will live by example, and not just say empty words to make themselves look good on paper.  People who will live to be "good people" no matter who or what they are faced with.

My son, as I have blogged about a few times before, doesn't have the easiest time with being accepted by his peers.  And, like all people, there are kids in his class and/or social activities that he isn't a huge fan of.  That's life.  We don't have to like everyone, and I think that's normal.  We don't have to accept everyone or what they do.  But I have made it my mission to, anytime any of my kids complain about what someone else does, remind my kids that they don't have to like or agree with everyone, but they always have to treat others with utmost kindness and respect.  I don't do this to make my kids doormats or force them into martyrdom.  I do it because I want my kids to grow up to be good people; good employees, good bosses, good friends, good spouses, good parents, good grandparents, good neighbors, good citizens of this earth.


I just wish more parents "got it."  That's not to say I don't know a lot of parents who do "get it."  I am blessed in that the vast majority of people I associate with closely do.

But enough people in this world don't, and they are raising kids that don't.

So let me ask you something serious.  What kind of world do you want?  Think as long and hard as you need to before you answer that.

Do you want a kind world?  Then teach your children to be kind.  
Teach them about mercy and grace.  Not sometimes, not when someone is kind to them first, always.

Do you want a peaceful world?  Then teach your children the value of peace.  Teach them how to turn the other cheek.  Teach them to solve problems peacefully, and without insults and throwing punches.

Do you want a world with respect for all people?  Then t
each them to see and treat everyone the same.  Teach them not to judge other people based on their body type, their disability, their personality quirks, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, how much money they may or may not have, their religion/religious customs, their accent, the things they may or may not own....or anything else, for that matter.

Or do you want the alternative?

Do you want a world of greed?  Then continue teaching your children that money and "stuff" is life's ultimate achievement.  Continue teaching them that it doesn't matter who they hurt, as long as they come out top dog.  Keep teaching them that being cut-throat is just part of the game.

Do you want a world of hatred?  Then continue teaching your children that anyone different than them is "below" them and should be treated as such.  Continue teaching them that its okay to make fun of and judge other people.

Do you want a world full of rude people?  Then continue teaching your children that what they say doesn't matter.  Continue teaching them that their wants and needs are more important than everyone else's.  Keep teaching them that patience is a bygone virtue.

Wait....hold the phone....  What?  You aren't teaching your kids these things?

Yes, you are.

Listen....  Every time you don't teach your kids what is right, you are reinforcing what is wrong.

Every time you make fun of someone who is obese, you teach your child to do the same.  Every time you allow your kids to say mean things about their classmates, you allow it to continue.  Every time you make a negative comment about someone else's lifestyle, you are teaching your child that living like that is not okay.  That being like that isn't okay.

I know its a hard battle.  I have 3 kids of my own.  Trust me.....I know.  But it is possible.  All it takes is conscious effort.  It takes a choice every day, in every moment with your children, to influence them to be better people.  They may be young, small, and not very influential now, but they will be "somebody" someday.  Someday, they will be someone's employee, someone's boss, someone's friend, someone's spouse, someone's parent, someone's grandparent, someone's neighbor....and an influential citizen of this earth.  Do you want your child, as an adult, to be someone who influences the world with kindness, peace, and respect?  Or the alternative?

Its a simple choice, to raise caring human beings who will make a better world, but you have to be willing to do the work.  Right now.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Next year.  In ten years.  Every single moment of every single day!  You chose to have this child, and you choose who they will become.  So ask yourself who you want them to become, and what kind of world you want to live in.  But please, choose wisely.