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flexiblyblessed

Finding balance amidst the ever changing constancy of life

Grief into Joy

joy

As I write this, we are well into the Third Week of Advent – the week of Christian Joy. And I am pleased to say, beautiful joy has descended upon my heart this season! How wonderful!

Flash back to a few years ago, in the midst of leaving church, this was not the case. I experienced a lot of fear. I was nervous to leave the only path I knew and that I was sure to be the sole path acceptable to God.

Time passed and eventually distance brought more clarity. I came to believe I had come to a fork in the road, and was compelled to chose the direction that best fit me. There was always some sadness, as I envisioned my former path was one that had to be left behind.

This year I have come to realize, there was only one path after all, and that this one path was my own unique life journey. In church or out of church, neither choice was right or wrong. This individual journey consists of moments in time with learning opportunities along the way.

I recall how, a few years back, I took a pause during a particularly painful moment. I sat still with the discomfort, breathing it in with the brutal yet loving truth it brought. I believe that it was at this point that this messy journey became the strengthening path of a warrior. I had faced fears, loss, hard truths, and arrived safely on the other side. This time has become one of the greatest blessings of my life.

So here I sit, smack dab in the middle of the third week of advent. And I am so ridiculously excited to be embracing the lovely pink candle of joy! I want to light it up and hold it out for everyone to see in order to encourage all who are soldiering on through their own paths – paths of grief, paths of love, paths of sorrow and paths of joy. I am sending love and light to all.

It’s ironic, but it appears that great contentment is birthed only from the tougher lessons in life. Through hardship we learn that nothing truly essential to us can ever be taken away; we learn that sometimes life can be very dark, but to keep pressing on as light always returns; we realize people may come and go, but those who stick with us through the hardest of days, are more precious than jewels. Most importantly, we learn to be humble because we know we make mistakes; we learn to forgive because we realize how much forgiveness we require; and we learn to accept others and ourselves, flaws and all.

We are suddenly overwhelmed by unexpected joy!

Gaudete! Rejoice!

Truly, truly, I tell you, you will weep and wail while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman has pain in childbirth because her time has come; but when she brings forth her child, she forgets her anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy – John 16:20-22

 

Leaving Church? Some Refreshing Thoughts for Your Journey

refreshment

As anyone who has followed this blog will know, I have struggled with my spirituality. Well, actually, that is not quite accurate. I have strong hope and faith in my spiritual journey. My struggle lies in the expression of this faith.

I grew up regularly attending church. This was once my path. And, until a few years ago, I never dreamed that church would be anything other than central to my faith. It was the light house that illuminated my way. But circumstances conspired to lead me away from my comfort within church walls. I will not delve into the whys and wherefores that led to this. Suffice it to say, everyone who leaves church after being a regular attender has their own unique reasons. This is not a decision that faithful folk take lightly. This is the main point of today’s writing. Each of us has our own personal reasons for our choice, whether we stay within a church community, or choose a path outside of those walls.

Today, I want to offer encouragement for those of us who have chosen a path outside of the traditional church system.

When I first left, I noticed that outside of church I heard and read very little criticism of those who choose regular church attendance. On the other hand, though, wow did I ever hear and read a multitude of negative commentaries about those of us who choose another path. Just google the subject, and you will see what I mean! And I am going on the record right now to say that this negativity is hurtful, sometimes bordering on rude, and absolutely never helpful. Let’s face it – nobody has ever been convinced to return anywhere as a result of being criticized.

What follows are some observations I have made, along with the perspective I have developed as a result of my own experience outside of church these past 5 years. I hope this will serve to be encouraging to anyone who has found themselves on a similar journey.

I had barely begun my out-of-church walk, when I encountered statements that implied that leaving church means the same thing as leaving God. This is absolutely not true! In my own case, I am closer to Jesus than ever before. I am freed up from dealing with all the aspects of church that led to my departure. Resultantly, I am now able to focus all my energy on the Beautiful Creator!

I have also met with proclamations that exclude. Some say those who leave church are no longer a part of the “Bride of Christ”. My reply to this? The “Bride of Christ” is not found in a building, denomination or community that gathers together on the regular. The authentic “Bride of Christ” refers to the assembly of True Believers – none of whom can be accurately identified by any mortal man or woman. It is Jesus alone who determines this. My authority in saying this? Matthew 25:31-46

Some church proponents will tell us that only by belonging to a church can we effectively carry out our Ministry as appointed by God. I contend this to be false. There are many secular organizations that minister to the needs of the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the prisoner, and the unclothed – school breakfast programs, food banks, big brothers/big sisters,  transitional programs and community managed coat programs, to name a few. And as a bonus, these programs have no hidden agenda, i.e. they aren’t handing out prayer cards or cute Christian tracts. In sum, caring for others is the result of the Fruits of the Spirit, which are available to everyone who desires them. They are not a gift reserved solely for regular church attenders. Church is not even mentioned within them. They are evident in anyone with a heart for God. Read Galatians 5: 22-23 for a lovely description.

And, finally, there are those who will try to convince us that without regular exposure to church, our faith in God and our walk with Him will dry up and die. They profess that church is the only possible venue to:

  • feed your spirit
  • grow in your faith
  • be rebuked when you have stumbled off course

In my opinion, this view is not only erroneous, it is also unnecessarily disheartening.

Here’s the truth: Nobody knows the state of somebody else’s faith. Nobody, that is, but the individual and God. In my own experience outside of church, I have had plenty of opportunities to nurture and feed my spirit and to grow in my love for God. As well, when I am off track, God has blessed me with a wonderful community of family and friends who will set me straight in no time! The magical thing is, they love me. They truly love me. So it is very easy and natural for them to speak the truth to me in love. Exactly how God said it is supposed to happen.

Look. I am not against the church. Nor am I against church people. Hey, I spent years in church myself, and that is where I originally grew in my faith. I am grateful! Plus, you know what? I cannot authoritatively say that I will never return to church again. Perhaps I will. But if this happens, it will be in God’s time. Meanwhile, here I am. And here is anyone else who has chosen a similar path. We continue to carry a heart for God. We just express it in a different way. And we still belong to Him. So please be gentle with us.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

 

Out on the Edge of Darkness

I’ve been watching the news,

I’ve been hearing the dire predictions,

Walls erected around the U.S,

Wallet-breaking hydro costs for Canadians

In Ontario,

No good political choices,

Housing costs pushing our young people out of the market,

Well,

You know what?

I believe in a better tomorrow,

I am praying for a better future,

I believe in the goodness,

Of 99.9 percent of the people in this world,

And I believe this goodness will take us,

Where we need to be.

No Nonsense Guide to Compassion

Shoving your own needs and dignity aside in the name of feeling sorry for someone else, is NOT an act of compassion. In fact, it can be the most uncompassionate stance to take for all parties involved! 

compassion

 

Hey! Guess what?

I do not feel sorry for people anymore! And I realize that “feeling sorry for” is NOT a synonym for compassion.

Where is this coming from?

Well … I have been struggling for quite some time now, with a wibbly-wobbly exit from a very unhealthy long-term “friendship” (read “entanglement”). I blogged about it here. Sometimes I feel like I have been caught up in a giant sticky spider web where escape is one heck of a struggle and can only be reached through a series of strategic maneuvers! Yikes!!! Yes … I know this sounds all so very dramatic. But, in my defence, the whole situation has gone on too long.

Anyhow, as I work my way out of this, I have been considering what factors landed me here in the first place. You see, I want to take responsibility for the part I have played. I sense that this accountability is a very important part of healing. Through reflection, I have discovered that a big contributing factor has been my tendency to show compassion through “feeling sorry for”. I now realize how very  inappropriate, harmful and destructive this tendency really is.

This is what I have learned.

When I feel sorry for someone, it’s almost like I am saying that there is something lacking in them and their life. It’s like I put myself above them – “Oh, here I am with everything all worked out and an amazing life, and here is this person who just can’t seem to get it together. Poor dear! She just doesn’t have what it takes to get herself out of her own messes. I am wiser. I know her answers.”

You know what? I don’t have everything worked out. My life is as amazing as it is brutal. Just like everyone else in the world. I struggle through my own self-created messes like we all do. Like the person I feel sorry for does. Hey, we all have our own burdens to bear. That’s life. And it’s our own unique responsibility and privilege to work and struggle through difficult issues. After all, it is through the struggles of life that we gain maturity and become the people we were born to be.

So how was it ever appropriate for me to usurp this growth opportunity from My Enfranglement (my new mix-up word for “friend” and “entanglement”)? Never! Her issues were a gift that Beautiful Life offered to her in order to guide her along her own spiritual path.

Now, to be sure, My Enfranglement plays her part well. She is quite adept at drawing people in through sympathy. Somehow others are left feeling a little uneasy and as if they are owing her something. She also chronically uses words like “depression” or “anxiety” to excuse really bad, rude and hurtful behaviour.* This is just how she is. But just because she invited me to the party, does not mean that I needed to attend!

I realize now, that a more compassionate response would have been to be completely honest with her. I could have ended this decades ago. I could have had the courage to confront her with her inappropriate behaviours and unrealistic expectations. I could have told her the truth: I did not enjoy her company. I was discouraged by her constant biting remarks. I was frustrated by how she would ignore my personal boundaries. I disliked the animosity she seemed to create between my family members. I am going to get super real now, okay? The truth is I never particularly liked her. I simply “felt sorry for” her and, subsequently, believed that I had to be her friend. I didn’t like to disappoint. I wanted to be seen as a kind person.  I didn’t like to say “no”. I didn’t want to seem mean. Etc., etc., etc. For me, it was a relationship based on my own ego insecurities which were driving me to prove I am a worthwhile person because I am a good and faithful friend. The idea of standing up for myself brought fear that others would not see me as caring. This was not good. This was not compassionate for either of us. And I accept my share of responsibility for the whole crap-show that has ensued as a result.

On a positive note, though, I have been gifted with an important Life Lesson. I now know the truth about Compassion – what it is and what it is not.

Compassion has nothing to do with shoving one’s own rights and feelings under the carpet in order to patronize someone who frankly will never be happy and will never treat me right.

Compassion is brave enough to put the kibosh on inappropriate behaviour before it implants itself in someone’s brain as a way of relating to me.

Of course everyone is responsible for their own behaviour and their own choices. But, if I had have known how to be truly compassionate years ago, I could maybe have influenced My Enfranglement in a more positive direction. Even if that influence came by way of ending the relationship. Even if that influence meant she was displeased with me and took a temper tantrum. Even if that influence resulted in other people not understanding how I could be so “cold”. True, real and responsible compassion would have been difficult and scary. But you know what? It would have saved decades of grief. And the alternative, “feeling sorry for”, has resulted in nothing but hurt for both of us.

So, here we are – back at the beginning. I do not feel sorry for people any more!

I do, however, feel great compassion for others.  Should you need:

  • a listening ear?
  • a hand-up if you trip?
  • some tea and a dose of encouragement?
  • a hug?

well, I am your girl!

If, however, there’s a pity party happening, I will not be available. I no longer have the heart to do that to either of us.

Wow! I wish I could have realized this 30 years ago!

* (With respect to my use of the words “depression” and “anxiety”, please understand that I am in no way diminishing the importance of understanding and addressing these issues, in their legitimate form. I have suffered from both myself … but that’s another blog entry).

 

 

A Prayer for The Rest of Us

021

As anyone who has followed this blog will know, my Spiritual Journey  has been a bumpy, beautiful, exasperating, and unexpectedly winding road.

I grew up as a regular church goer and raised my children in the same manner. All was wonderful. Until I hit a rocky road. To be quite frank, it was at this point that I got hurt in the church. Let me say up front, I hold no one to blame. Grace and Love has erased any judgemental attitudes. And, as always, I take full responsibility for my role in the whole muck-up. Finger-pointing is not what today’s writing is about. This is a reflection on life in the after-math. It is about my struggle to re-enter a spiritual community, and how any attempts I make leave me with a feeling of dread and fear. In short, though I will plan to go to church, the ensuing thoughts of this leave me riddled with anxiety. Again, nobody’s fault. This is just how it is for me right now.

I do, however, maintain social media contacts with church people I know. This has generally been beneficial for my Spirit. Today, though, is a different story. Today, while flipping through facebook,  somebody posted “A prayer for those of us gathering for worship and fellowship today”. And this prayer left me feeling cold, alone, and an outcast. So, in response, for me and for anyone else struggling with a church-hurt or feeling alone, I have composed this:

A Prayer for the Rest of Us

God, of all Outcasts, the Lonely and the Hurt

Be with us as we navigate this day

Send healing to our broken hearts

Bring Your Light to any darkness

That has descended upon our Spirits

Ease our anxieties

And remind us

That we, too, are made in Your Image

And, so it follows

We, too, are valuable and  worthwhile in Your Sight

Soothe our souls

with Love and Understanding

Reveal to us

That You will meet us Anywhere

and Everywhere

That even if we are unable to gather as a community

We are still Precious to You

We are still United in You

That we are not alone.

Amen

Carpe Diem

If I knew (really knew) there was an expiry date on my life, would I go inside now and finish my ironing? Or would I polish off this exquisite bottle of 2015 Shiraz, sitting here in my gazebo, surrounded by tall so-typically-Canadian evergreens, backgrounded by the steady rumble of crickets?

Would I worry about the size of my thighs, my slightly too soft “mummy tummy”, how many steps I walked today, and whether or not that small cluster of spider veins will turn varicose? Or would I breathe in this early-night air, feel the August breeze on my skin, flex my toes, and exhale “ahhhh” contemplating how incredibly beautiful it is that I got to be ALIVE on this wonderful summer day?

If I knew my days were numbered, would I let minor annoyances grow into mountainous misunderstandings? Would I fight with my loved ones? Or would I simply whisper: “I love you”and leave the rest to sort itself?

Would I worry about who did me wrong? The time someone hurt my feelings? Would I even have time to think about who dislikes me and why they feel that way? Or would I celebrate the miracle of being completely, totally MYSELF?

The truth is, we are all mortal. Not one of us will be around forever. Some are awakened to this fact. Others still sleep.

As for me? I want to embrace and enjoy every single minute of this One Precious Life.

seize the day

Lesson Learned from my Wild Child

jen

 

It has occurred to me lately that I have spent a lot of time making myself suffer over the choices of other people. It is almost like I never realized that I have no control over such things; that my control lies solely in my own choices and my responses to others.

Yet, still, I believed that one of my best qualities was being non-judgemental. Though this may have been true in how I presented myself, I now know it was never completely true in my heart.

My youngest daughter has taught me so much about this. My Wild Child. She makes a lot of choices that I would never make. And, yes, as a consequence, she does find herself in her fair share of pickles. This breaks my heart, which I suppose is natural. I am her Mom. But there is more. It also makes me incredibly angry (probably because I am so scared of the idea that any ill could befall my precious daughter). I must admit, the phrases: “What was she thinking?” and “Why does she do these things” have passed through my mind on several occasions. Lately, though, I am realizing how utterly judgmental and unkind these thoughts really are. I am starting to see that this mindset (this heart-set) is not valuing my daughter for who she is.

My Wild Child is a risk taker. She is confident to try new things. She will not be chained to a life of “should and should not”.

Yes, her father and I raised her to be strong!

My Wild Child also owns the consequences of her actions. She learns from them. She copes in her own way. She is living her own life, and relishing in every single moment of her youth.

So, who am I to say her way is wrong. Actually, my way would most likely not fit at all for her. After all, this is her life to live.

All this gets me pondering. How many times have I secretly, quietly, in my heart, judged other people. How many times have I thought “If only he or she did things this way, they wouldn’t have this issue!”

God forgive me for my judgemental heart; forgive me for my lack of love and grace.

merty

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationships and The Beautiful Gift of Inquiry

I have once again found myself in the forgiveness realm. This is nothing new for me. Neither is it foreign to humanity as a whole. Either I am the one who needs to be forgiven, or I need to forgive. None of this is for the faint of heart as forgiveness carries with it a cornucopia of strong emotions. Nonetheless, I have found that healing only truly comes when forgiveness has occurred.

This is my current story.

I recently left a very difficult and hurtful friendship (I referred to it as an “entanglement” here). I tried to do it as gracefully as possible. Unfortunately, the other person did not take it well. We have known each other “forever” and I suspect she had grown very comfortable with the dynamics of our relationship. Truth is, it was very dysfunctional. In all honesty, I don’t think she likes herself very much. At any rate, it seems that she coped with her own internal dissatisfaction by projecting all the things she disliked about herself, onto me. I put up with this for far too long. Some reasons being:

I knew her since we were 11 years old, and I was so used to the style of our interactions, it took me a long time to realize how very unhealthy they were;

I truly cared for her. And I loved to “save” people. I believed that by constantly returning kindness for rudeness I would somehow eventually teach her to treat me (and others) better. This never happened. After decades, things were even worse. Which brings me to today’s writing on forgiveness (an addition to a former blog entry here).

After years of hurt, broken confidences and outright spitefull remarks, I finally had to be straight with my friend. I had to tell her the truth. I no longer felt close to her. I could not trust her. The friendship had been trampled on so much for so long, it no longer existed in my heart. I told her it was over.

And my friend reacted as I always knew she would – aggressively.

(Which is frankly another reason I stayed so long – fear)

A lot was said. Publically.

My friend quickly reacted by slamming me on facebook to all our mutual friends (and anyone else on her friends’ list). She wrote that she was now “free” of me. She described me as “toxic”. She indicated that she hoped everyone will come to realize how “toxic” I am.

I was hurt.

I was angry.

However,

I did not give her what she wanted – which was a public fight.

Instead, I turned to Byron Katie at The Work.

This was the attitude I started with:

“She should not have called ME “toxic”. SHE is the toxic one! SHE has treated me terribly for years! How dare she!”

Then I opened my mind to other possibilities, and I turned the above statement around.

“She SHOULD call me ‘toxic’ … how is this statement true?”

“How COULD that statement be true after ALL I have put up with!!!”

Well, I realized something.

I realized that I had allowed her to treat me in a shoddy way for decades (DECADES!) I began to understand that during all those years of allowing her to treat me that way, her brain has become wired to do so. I had originally believed that she would unlearn that behaviour. But, instead, it has become completely ingrained in her. It is now second nature. This is how she relates to friends. And this is not healthy. In fact, this is very unhealthy. And so it follows:

I am toxic to this person.

I have, unwittingly, encouraged in her, a very dysfunctional system of relating to others.

Understanding this has allowed me to let go of any residual anger and hurt; it has allowed me to move on from victimhood. It has freed me and forgiveness has become easy.

I wish my friend well, though from a distance.

I honestly hope she finds the peace that we all need.

friend

 

 

Yes, I Have Changed …

change
Queen Street West, Toronto

 

I simply could not continue to survive in this world the way I was.

I’m surprised I lasted as long as I did.

Yes, folks, there is such a thing as being too kind, too giving, too compassionate, too forgiving and too loving.

It becomes too much when it is done without regard for oneself; when serving others is prioritized to the point that the giver’s own needs are sacrificed.

What follows is a state of being which is decidedly not spiritual. What follows is the definition of martyrdom. In my case, martyring myself to useless, superfluous and thankless causes.

Take it from one who knows, this mindset attracts the wrong people.  Interestingly enough, this mindset can also extend to attracting the wrong reactions from the right people.

Not a happy place to be in.

In my own personal situation, it was very easy for others to push the right buttons to manipulate me into agreeing with and doing things when my heart and spirit were screaming “NO”!

Simply:

allude to a lack of compassion or hypocrisy;

mention selfishness and sprinkle on a little guilt;

add a dose of “What will other people think?”

And certain characters had me exactly where they wanted me – doing backflips and jumping through ridiculous hoops for their viewing pleasure.

As I look back, I see it was almost comical.

Until it wasn’t.

Until I was so exhausted, and so resentful and so burned out that I did not even resemble the original kind and compassionate person I started out as. All that was left was a threadbare, used up doormat.

So I changed.

I realized kindness and compassion are only authentic when they are first applied to oneself. And this is where boundaries began. Take it from me, there are some things we cannot do for others, because the resulting impact on ourselves is far too great for us to bear. Which brings me to the next point –

Sometimes we will disappoint people, and this is perfectly fine. They will survive it, and so will we.

In the same manner, sometimes we will be misunderstood. Also fine. Things generally become clearer as time passes.

Now we come to the hardest part –

Sometimes when we stand up for ourselves and exercise our right to say “no”, we will not be liked. Not always. But sometimes. I have come to accept this. I have no control over what other people think of me. Their opinion of me is their business – not mine. In the end, a “friendship” that is based on us not being our authentic self by saying “yes” when we mean “no”, is no friendship at all. Rather, it is an “entanglement”, in which both parties are better off without. (Trust me on this one. I spent over 30 years on such an “entanglement” and barely made it out with my heart and spirit still intact).

Over time, I have come to acknowledge that not all people carry positive motives in their hearts; that “acquaintance” is not another word for “friend”; that people can say one thing and in the end do something else entirely; and that, even those who are close, will sometimes make choices that are not in our best interest. I am okay with all of this. I have learned to look after myself and my own needs. This is my job to do. Nobody else’s. I truly am a “grown up”. Finally.

I still believe in love, compassion, kindness, goodness and having a generous heart.

But now, this is tempered with reality.

I  still am a “nice girl”.

But, make no mistake, I am no push-over.

My eyes are wide open.

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