Limiting God’s Plans ….

In 1985 when I first encountered the idea of writing my book, Asking What: No More Whys (www.westbowpress.com), I thought I understood the need to write. If I had written my story, it would have been simply focused on labels and violence, because there was a story there, just not the Christian maturity required to understand what the message needed to be in context. Then following my journey through cancer, once again I thought I understood the purpose of writing my story, a second journey that led to another personal victory, I had moved from the milk of God’s Word, to a puree of meat. My journey had to be more, a clearer or deeper understanding, and I just did not know the lessons from each of those life experiences. Once I changed my question from “why” to “what” along with the journal of my emotions and feelings, I was able to digest more of God’s message to me. The reason I am sharing this is because of responses I have had from those who have read about the seven chapters of my life, and what message they received. My repeated statements of “Did I tell you I was angry?” appears to be the message that is resonating with my readers. To know that none of us are alone in our anger and the management of our approach to anger has been astounding. Over and over it has been women who have shared with me their acknowledgement and ownership of anger and what to do next. We really know we are angry, we just need to unearth the deep roots of it and find ways to understand and manage our response. It is not easy, I wish I could wave some all-knowing wand and provide answers to those who have called or asked me what next, what do we do once we acknowledge the feelings of anger. What I do know is that I choked down, stuffed or internalized my anger which left me in an emotional prison. When we internalize emotions, it can harm us, in very noticeable ways, but also in silent ways. For me it was the furniture I moved the release the anger. I was aware that my anger hurt me physically and thought that was acceptable, but it was not and is not acceptable. Of course the mental tapes were in control, rolling all the time and I did not realize what was happening. First it was the migraines, then it became cancer, but I needed to know and believe that I was good, in whatever “state” I found myself in at any given moment in time. Not that anger led me to cancer, but once cancer changed my physical image, I had to learn to be more honest about who I had become, about being loved because I was me, and then turn off the tapes, the built-in expectations of not only my behavior but of my expectations of others. It comes in baby steps, just as Christianity grows or matures, so does our self-imposed expectations of ourselves and the expectations we project on to others. It is like the unmade bed that controls our thoughts of the day, or the unwashed dishes … whatever it is! Others have conditioned us to not feel or react in our anger, but we still need to find healthy ways to manage or work through what we feel, what we think and what we expect of ourselves. Well-intentions of others can lead us to frustration and more stuffed anger, because we question what we know. No person has the right to tell us to not feel or experience what we are feeling. Words are difficult to come by, communication is so difficult, we just can’t find the right words, nor can those who mean well, or who may have our best interests at heart. Women who have shared with me have faced some very tough battles, and are still struggling today with anger that has been their life long companion. Although it sounds so simple, even too simple according to our mental tapes, start your journey of self-discovery with keeping a journal every day. Ask yourself “what am I feeling?”, “what am I expecting of myself or of others that has led to emotional disappointment?”, phrase it anyway that works for you, these are just samples of what I ask myself. Although my writing was written to help with one’s approach to cancer, it is the thread of anger that is resonating with readers. God will use or best efforts to accomplish what He wants, not what we plan with our efforts. I have to stop limiting God, He is much greater than my ability to comprehend the breadth and depth of His work, His purpose, and His intentions for the world He created and has dominion over.

This week has led me to some new insights, because people have called me and their questions have led me to explore how I deal with anger, what the mental process is for me, so that I have clarity to respond to others. It was a complete stranger who revealed to me through simple conversation that we struggle with communication and understanding. We were just sharing while our vehicles were being serviced, and found ourselves discussing the complacency of today’s Christians that have led us to the “mess” our society has found itself in. There is violence on so many levels, discord and confusion in our homes, communities, nation and the world. “Mrs. Dorothea” and I may never meet again, but we found ourselves in agreement about one thing. It is that we need to grow up, mature as Christians and help each other grow in the process. Anger is so much of a part of what is happening in our world today; intense and destructive anger about events often fueled by greed, power, pride and/or self-serving expectations that have led us to be in so much societal turmoil. We agreed that what is lacking is maturity as Christians, how we make things “acceptable” by wording it so that our consciences leave us alone, remain quiet or hushed and subdued. Making things, events and situations acceptable does not make them right. Making our anger “manageable” is not making us whole – but as each of us examine ourselves, accept and acknowledge who we are and act according to God’s Will, we will find that our frustrations, our expectations and our emotional well-being will mature and inspire us to “fix” our roles in our homes, communities, nation and world. It starts with one, and as Dorothea and I hugged as we parted, I knew God had set her in my path, even if only briefly, to teach me yet another truth.

Going home …. where my Faith began …

First Baptist Church Jacinto City is where I attended church as I grew up, leaving only when I married and moved away. There were such nerves and fear when the day arrived, I did not know how I would handle the memories and possibly suffer from an episode of emotional incontinence, and that is one thing I dread, loosing control of my emotions. Things had changed a lot, but it was where I learned about God, Jesus Christ, the Bible and my salvation experience. That church was where I practiced my social skills, formed friendships and grew my personal relationship with God. It was a joyous experience to find the friends of my youth. The first to greet me was Cheryl Ferguson-Dupuy, who has this spirit about her that radiates love, acceptance and heart felt warmth. Then I was able to see her mother, Ruth Endsley, who was one of my Girls Auxiliary leaders. She is is an example of faithfulness to God and the church, and it remains today. Then Amelia Matheny who had become somewhat of a substitute mother in the years when I spent so much time in the church, in her home and with her daughter, Jeannine Matheny-Riggs, who also was there. Jeannine and I sang duets together, mostly In The Garden, but we were friends through so much of our teenage years, I cannot imagine having grown up without her constant friendship for those teenage years. Time, distance and life have changed all my childhood relationships; it is the way life is processed. Mrs. Matheny was the person I called when I knew my dad had something going on in his cognition and mom had been hospitalized; she reassured me and immediately started calling the deacon body to be there for my dad until I could make the drive. The hand prints of my dad are gone, the sanctuary has been redesigned, so I was somewhat relieved that those things had changed and the memories were safe. The educational building that was part of the building up of the church (and one of my TBT pictures of my dad helping to break the ground for) is the safe memory, and it was good to see. Then the albums of the church’s history were out for all to use as conversation, and all the young women of my past were there, most of us grayer, more mature and certainly wiser were able to get a collective picture. No, you really can’t go home again, but you can return to the place and people who played such vital roles in who one becomes. The smiles and words are in my heart and the time was good. It was a brief glimpse into my past, the past my husband, Joe, had only read about in my book or heard about in my version of my life. What I have from that day in Jacinto City are memories that are safe, comforting and life affirming. Until August 17, I had felt dread about going home because the home of my childhood belongs to another family now; the homes of my deceased brother and sister are there, sorrow is there. Now these memories that loomed over my being are replaced with the knowledge that I was given the best from my parents, a requirement to be in God’s presence “regularly” (the Southern Baptist Church Covenant way I talk about in my book) and that led to my accepting God’s gift of salvation and the joy in His presence I have today. Thank you to the church and people of my youth!

On the other side of despair ….

Because so many are talking about the depression that led Robin Williams to end his life, it could also be the reason the actor who shared the screen with him in Patch Adams (Philip Seymour Hoffman) chose to “accidentally” end his life through a drug overdose. I am moved to share my thoughts based on years of working with so many people struggling with depression, and I remembered the Book of Job. Not being able to imagine how devastating the illness/disease can be, read it anew. Job was released from God’s protection and was beset by the powers of Satan, and Satan uses what is available in this earthly world. Using the American Standard Version (ASV) of the King James Bible, I found strong examples of the types of “noise” that possibly troubled Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman and refused to release its grip on its prisoner. All that negative noise found in Job’s story is symbolic of what can be spinning and replaying inside one’s head. The “noise” refuses to be silenced much like what we find in Job 2:11-13 where we find the report of the words and behavior of Job’s friends, and we all have well-intentioned friends much like Job’s. They are described as coming to minister to Job “…So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him for they saw that his grief was very great (v.13).” I chuckled to myself when I thought of this in today’s words – Job threw a pity party and his friends actually came, but they came to see what he would do and found themselves learning about God. In Chapter 3 of Job we find that he was so greatly distressed (we call it depression, sad, having a bad day) that he cursed the day he was born. Job 3:24 is a conversation and intense prayer Job used to tell God just how bad it was when he said: “…and my groanings are poured out like water…” which often times is the sensation many who experience depression will report. On the other side of his despair, when Job refused to give in to the overwhelming despair and the pleadings of his well-intentioned friends, Job turned to the Lord and voiced praise despite the tempting of the negative voices when he said: “…he setteth up on high those that are low, and those that mourn are exalted to safety…” (Job 5:8-16, v. 11). Job knew his God would keep His word, abide by His law and His love for His children. So how low can a manic state of mind be? In Job 17: 1-2, Job describes it as “My spirit is consumed, my days are extinct, the grave is ready for me. Surely there are mockers with me …”, then continued by adding that “My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me … (Job 19:14-15)”. Even though Robin Williams had the ability to induce laughter in millions, entertain audiences with his brilliance and style, he still felt as if he were alone, like Job, and he could not find hope; without hope, all is lost. The deepest portion of Job’s depression is found in Chapter 30, verse 16 when he tells God that “…my soul is poured out with me, my day of affliction have taken hold upon me …”. Both Williams and Hoffman had success by society’s definition, family, and the ability to find help – which both had been in rehab for their addictions – their addictive behaviors led them to lose the ability to function and cope in a healthy manner, instead choosing a path of destruction as a way to end their emotional turmoil and pain. What I learned from reading the Book of Job anew came only because of my own faith journey that gave me a clearer understanding of his story. Job was released from God’s protection so that he would have a ministry to those who were watching his reactions and attitude; God never stopped loving Job. Job did plea with God, he questioned God but he never walked away from God or his commitment to God. What I would suggest is that as we process the losses we have had recently, would be to take the time to ponder on Job’s trials and tribulations which would serve to help us when we experience seasons of depression. Take into account all the things spoken by his wife, family and friends combined with Job’s own spoken despair and transpose that to what is locked, trapped in the brain of a person with depression that is not managed. The Book of Job does a great job of taking us through the thoughts and problems a person can experience during depression. In Chapter 6 of my book, “Asking What: No More Whys and Soaring on Eagles Wings over Labels, Cancer and Anger”, I provide a look at depression that comes with loss, not the heavy, overwhelming, encompassing depth of Manic Depression. God showed us through Job’s experiences how difficult the disease can be. I know that we have Christ to heal us, but so many of us experience that old cliché of “God will take care of you” or “God will not put more on you than you can bear” and cannot find our way out of it because they have become oversimplified, over-used phrases. Depression is crippling, difficult and unkind. I challenge you to read the Book of Job with different eyes of comprehension and understanding. And yes, I know God can and will heal and make us whole, just as He did for Job, who at the end of his life had seventeen times more than when his journey of affliction began. We are to learn from God’s words set before us; learn the lessons that strengthen our faith as we experience life’s problems, and yes, even the heckling of our friends. We can then face the experiences that will come with renewed hope and strength – strength that comes when we learn the “what” of life’s lessons. Job described the victory of allowing his hope to remain deeply rooted in God and is found in Chapter 23:10 as he reassured the negative forces in his life with these words: “But He knows they way that I take [He has concern for it, appreciates and pays attention to it]. When He has tried me, I shall come forth as refined gold [pure and luminous] (Amplified Version).”

Lessons learned from a Hermit Crab

Since I have began sharing the journey of growing my faith, I find reminders of lessons and new lessons in everything. Joe and I had the privilege of having a weekend visit with our extended family from Oklahoma, the Thoma family. We decided to spend a day at the beach and set out on a journey with yet another reminder and lesson. We were drawn to the beach by the sight of dolphins/porpoises feeding or frolicking very close to the shore. We began to notice the hermit crab shells as we walked, most of whiich were broken in varying sizes of pieces of shells due to natures way of providing food to the sea gulls and the sandpipers. Brittany noted that the shells were broken but she wanted one that was intact, with its lovely spirals. I explained that most of the shells we would find would be broken because of the balance of nature in providing food to the birds. Stumbling across a live hermit crab, shell intact, provided another life lesson. Brittany said: “I would like a whole one, but not with that “thing” in it”, so a brilliant discussion began. Explaining that to have the beautiful spiral we would have to pick up live hermit crabs, kill them and clean them from their habitat. She was so torn by the decision/choice that would have to be made, a decision of life and death. What an astounding observation, and a life lesson. We choose daily to do right or wrong, sin versus the Will of God, good versus evil, to kill or let live. Every decision we make is just as astounding as Brittany’s ultimate decision once she had all the facts. The live crabs we were observing would for the most part be feeding prey for the birds as part of nature’s design. Decisions can change the paths of our lives and impact the balance of those around us. In recalling what I shared in my book, Asking What: No More Whys, this is evident. Decisions made in anger with no consideration of the impact it would have on the coarse of my life, then on the lives of my daughters are reflected over and over. Life can destroy by picking us apart, the scavengers are there. On the other hand, we can seek God’s will for our lives and regardless of the trials at the time, something good and beautiful is the final product. We are promised that if “… in all things with thanksgiving …” will render the results that will not only benefit ourselves but those in our lives as well as though who are “touched” by the hem of our garments or those who are listening to our words, if spoken in love and wisdom.

Learn to ask “What?” in Life’s Times of Trials …

"In all things, give thanks, ...." Philippians 4:6

“In all things, give thanks, ….” Philippians 4:6

This past week I had an opportunity to discuss the journey that led me to grow my faith. Although I have just written about that journey in my self-published book, Asking What: No More Whys, this was yet another time to develop another area of my faith. The gathering was a prayer group of Baptist women; yes the label because that became very important as our interactions were relaxed and personal. The ladies were from multiple decades of maturity so questions asked and stories shared were representative of some who learned the same Southern Baptist mores that I had grown up being taught. Others were from the decade that allowed women to grow up with more flexibility. Having input from practices that were on opposite ends of a continuum was another layer of growth for me. The one thing that made this different was that one of my daughters, Deilia, had gone with me to make sure I did not get lost, and this was the first time one of my daughters was in the audience, in this case joining me at the table. It was a strange and necessary feeling to be able to reach down and put my hand on her knee when I referred to something that had been part of their upbringing in my evolving faith and journey of discovery. The Lord led me to talk with these prayer warriors about learning to “be of good cheer” (Luke 8: 43-48, v. 48) where the woman with the issue of blood for twelve years received healing because she reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, after twelve years of struggling with the illness. I chose Luke’s gospel to read from although it is reported in Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels, because he was a physician and that was important for this group of women who prayed for healing and the needs of the community. After discussing the need to be of good cheer when our faith opened the door of blessing for us to the delicate topic of “giving thanks” in all things (Philippians 4:6, NKJV). Explaining to a person who was new in her cancer survival journey and sharing how hard it had been for me to be thankful for the concurrent cancer journeys of my sister and I was a quiet segment for the group. After we acknowledged the difficulty of giving thanks about some of life’s burdens, we moved to the discussion of labels based on a discussion about what I know is my life’s ministry (the use of the word ministry was the Southern Baptist point of deliberation). Deciding to conclude with an excerpt from Chapter 5, Be Sure You Have on Clean Underwear …) it was exhilarating to acknowledge our goodness because God created us and proclaimed “it is good”. Most had made their beds, left no soiled dishes in the sink and all reported they had on clean underwear … and we all shared the light bulb moment as we discussed how these mental tapes had controlled our self-esteem and self-worth. Before the night ended, my daughter had shared about her reaction to my bilateral mastectomies and how we had grown through the difficult times of my recovery and her aunt’s lost battle. Indeed I was soaring on eagles’ wings as returned to our homes, because these prayer warriors had a beautiful ministry to the community and each other, and this mom had a new level of respect for the emotional and Christian maturity I observed in my daughter.