Tag Archive | life

Love, Acceptance, and Authenticity

Yesterday, I saw the movie “Love, Simon” and it was very convicting to me.

Let me start by answering the obvious question running through your mind, but I will elaborate extensively on this as I continue…. Why would a Christian woman want to see a movie about a teenager coming out as a gay young man?

I was intrigued by the movie when I first saw the preview and knew I would love it because it would be real and about voicing emotional struggles, something I’m not the greatest at.  I chose yesterday because it was the 4th anniversary of the funeral my uncle (who was also my godfather) and I thought it would be a nice way to show respect him because I loved him deeply.

I will digress for a moment to share about my relationship with my uncle.  I found out my uncle was gay when I was in high school and I had a really hard time with accepting that.  It really wasn’t until I was in college and had a gay professor/friend that I was able to love them both for who they were.

For the record, I was not a Christian at the time.  I had grown up as a Catholic, been confirmed, and then walked away from God.  I mention this only to say that my initial concern with homosexuality was not because I felt “holier than thou” or that I was a better person (trust me, I had my own “sexual sin” to contend with), I just didn’t understand it; it was different and different confused me.

And now, over 20 years later, I am a Christian, and honestly, I still don’t understand homosexuality.  But, you know what… it doesn’t matter whether I understand it or not.  God did not place me on this earth to understand other people or their choices.  He created me to seek Him, allow the Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside, and love other people.

Back to my uncle… He was a kind, loving man, and I felt like I could be completely myself around him.  I never felt like I had to wear a mask or try to impress him.  I knew he loved me simply because I was me, not because of what I did for him. When I spoke at his funeral, I shared several stories that described our relationship and ultimately compared the love my uncle showed me to the kind of love that God shows me – the unconditional kind.  I listened to my speech yesterday and cried the whole time.

I cried because I miss the one relationship in my life where I felt I could be truly authentic and not be judged.

I cried because losing my uncle also meant I have lost connection with his friends, who I also care deeply for.

I cried because a family member, who I used to have an amazing relationship with and I know truly loves me and wants the best for me and our family, sent me a very hurtful text over a year later regarding my decision to have a private wedding and threw in a dig about that speech being all about me.

I cried because after the funeral and at the after-party at the bar my uncle previously owned, so many of his friends came up to me and told me what I said meant so much to them.  The crazy part is that it wasn’t just the stories I shared that impacted people, it was the way I talked about God and salvation and even talking about when I shared Christ with my uncle.

I just cried and cried…. and then I went to see Love, Simon and cried some more, on the way home, I cried even more….

I guess it’s about time to get to the original point of this blog…. otherwise, you might think I’m just a cry baby (which I am, so I’m happy to share that as well).

There’s a part in the movie (and it’s the trailer, so this isn’t a spoiler) where a comment is made as to why straight people don’t have to come out.  That got me thinking….

I think they should… I think we all should “come out”, but sadly, many of us never do.  I’m not talking about our sexuality here, I’m talking about something way more intimate – coming out as who we are.

I can imagine that telling your family and friends that you’re gay is incredibly scary, but it’s just as hard to share your authentic self…. the imperfect, crazy, sinful, broken-hearted person that you are; that I am; that we all are.  It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, we are all pretty messed up – and that’s okay.  That’s what we are supposed to be.  That’s actually what drives us to seek God, although we often look for substitutes before we get on the right path (but, that’s a blog for another day).

I understand why people don’t want to share their imperfections – because judgment hurts.  Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, especially if they’re different from you.  I think we need to create a culture where it’s okay to be different and stop trying to be the judge of everyone’s life.  God is the only judge that matters (well, other than our court system, which I am not trying to minimize here).

God will judge us (Revelation 20:11-15), that’s biblical.  And, it’s also biblical for Christians to judge other Christians in a well-defined manner (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13).  This type of “discipline” is to be done in love, bathed in prayer, and it’s vitally important to remember to make sure we are looking first to our “logs” before our brother’s “specks” (Matthew 7:1-5).  I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of my own logs to worry about before I start condemning random people for their sins.

God commands me to love… (Mark 12:28-31; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13; etc, etc – lots of this in the Bible).  Love means accepting people who are different than you.  Let me phrase that a little differently… Love means accepting people who sin differently than you.  Love means seeking to understand the emotions and feelings that are beneath other people’s choices and truly getting to the heart of the matter.  And, if we are completely honest, the “heart of the matter” is often a scarred, beat up, abused, terrible mess.  I know mine is!

Love means being vulnerable with those closest to you and accepting their vulnerability when they share it with you.  And while you may not agree with who they are or the choices they make, showing them grace and mercy rather than condemnation.  We also should commend their bravery for sharing intimate details of their life because that’s never easy, and again, I am talking about more than just sexuality.

Shame and guilt are from the devil.  While we should not be proud of our sins, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to share who we are, sin and all.  We are all sinful people.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.  We live in a broken world; horrible things happen; it’s heartbreaking.  That all started with Adam and Eve and it’s only going to get worse before it ultimately gets better when Jesus comes back for eternity.

Why add to the world’s problems by shaming and condemning others for who they are or what they choose?  We all have tons of our own problems to work on, so there’s no reason to add to our list of sins by being critical of others.

And when the person we are shaming doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, all that happens is they get pushed farther away from desiring to know God.  I feel like if we, as believers, show compassion to everyone, regardless of how they sin differently, we would present Christianity in a much better light.  Sometimes I feel that unbelievers do a better job of showing love and mercy than we Christians do, and that makes me sad.

I look forward to living in a world where we see our similarities, not our differences; where we can respectfully agree to disagree when we don’t see things the same; where we seek out to better understand why we disagree without it becoming an argument.

I had a very open conversation with a Muslim while in Senegal and it was amazing.  I see our differences, but I also see where we are the same.  I didn’t feel led to argue about right and wrong.  I simply told him what I believed and he told me what he believed.  I shared my perspective and I listened to his perspective.  It was simply beautiful.  I want this in all areas of life.

I need to do my part in this.  I want to share more openly how I feel, and I want to listen better to how others feel.  I don’t want to start debates of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.  If you ask me for my beliefs and opinions, I want to be honest with you, even if it’s not what you want to hear, but I don’t want it to turn into an argument.  We can agree to disagree, but it’s important that we share our authentic selves and not wear a mask.  I do this pretty well with a couple of my long-time friends because after all these years they “get” me, but I want to be like this with everyone and not feel like I have to dance around my feelings so as not to offend.  My motivation is never to offend… I just want to hear and be heard.

I used to be better at this than I am now.  I guess it’s easier when you’re young, single, and carefree.  But, now, I have more intimate grown-up relationships, where I want everyone to feel free to be honest about what they truly believe without it turning into something ugly.  I’ve experienced enough “ugly” to last a lifetime, so I’m ready for things to change.

I mentioned crying after seeing Love, Simon….the whole way home…. Now, I am going to be vulnerable and tell you why.

I cried because despite having a blog called “Authentic Believer”, I hardly write blogs of any real significance anymore.  Why?  I guess it’s because I am struggling with intimacy in my marriage and if I can’t share my true self with my husband, how can I share my authentic feelings publicly?

I cried because just yesterday morning, I had an assignment in this marriage book and workbook I am working through (it’s called “How We Love”) that told my avoider self to ask people for help even if I don’t think I need it.  It even says that this will be difficult and to ask God to help you first recognize and acknowledge your needs.  I did that, but I still didn’t recognize or acknowledge my need.  I needed to invite my husband to see Love, Simon with me.  I needed him to understand why it was important for me to see it.  But, instead, I encouraged him to go hang out with his youngest son because he just returned from visiting his mother during spring break.

I couldn’t invite him to see the movie because I was afraid he wouldn’t want to go or wouldn’t appreciate it the same way as me.  I couldn’t even talk to him about the movie, other than to say it was good.  I am crying as I type this because it’s terrible I am so afraid of our differences that it’s easier to post my feelings for the whole world to see than to just tell my husband how I feel.  I’ve always been a better writer than talker; I guess that’s part of it.

This intimacy part is blog lagniappe; I didn’t even intend to go here at all, but I needed to to be authentic… and just for the record, the feelings I shared above are not about my husband. He is a wonderful man, he loves me for me, and he’s incredibly compassionate and great with emotions (unlike me).  This intimacy problem is all me, my husband tries so hard, but it’s my issue.  I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that.

I am going to try and blog more and let everyone know who I really am; if I am going to be an authentic believer, I need to be authentic.  I think some people think they know me better than I know myself.  But, that’s not true, I know myself really well; I just don’t always share it very well.  I hope that will change.

I always like to end my blogs with a verse, but I didn’t know the right one until attending church. I’m including it here:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

#thxsimon

Living in the Moment – Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

“Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to once place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22).”

This passage can be easily taken to be depressing, if you let it…. I mean, who wants to consider the fact that we are born, and then we die? This passage may also be overlooked, as it is written outside of the lens of Jesus. The writer questions whether the spirit of man goes upward, but the question is not clearly answered in the book of Ecclesiastes. As Christians, knowing our salvation is guaranteed, we may feel we know more than the writer, and ignore his words.

Many Christians are constantly looking forward to heaven, and I think that’s an appropriate response to our salvation. However, I don’t think we should give up on the present while we contemplate eternity. Our time on earth is truly a gift, and as I’ve previously mentioned, a way to prepare for heaven.

I have spent a large portion of my life living for the past or the future. I’ve let guilt about my past mistakes and my dissatisfaction about unfulfilled dreams waste precious time for too long. I’ve spent countless hours imagining what life could be like if certain things would happen, not even considering if my ideas were remotely in line with God’s plan for my future. All of this is meaningless in the grand scheme of life. I cannot change the past, and I cannot predict the future. The only chance I have is to live each day the best way I know how.

When we moved, I started becoming more intentional about living in the present. I still don’t have this completely down, but I feel I’ve come a long way. I have been trying to build boundaries to keep negative influences from hurting me or controlling me. I have had to accept that some people I love may never understand me, my experiences, or my beliefs. And even though it hurts, I must let go of the negativity related to this truth, which continues to pull me down. I can still love these people and pray for them, but I cannot change them or expect they will want to unconditionally accept me for who I am.

I am more comfortable with the woman I am becoming, and I’m able to be completely myself and open with whomever I interact with. I am less afraid that being me will alienate other people from me. I trust that God will bring people into and out of my life in His timing, and will not let my concerns about the future affect my actions today.

My relationship with my son has improved dramatically because it’s only the two of us and I no longer have any excuse to neglect my responsibility in being the best parent possible. I can admit to my son that I do and will continue to make mistakes, but try to make the best decisions I can at the time. I feel he has grown tremendously in the past year, and is on track to be a compassionate, self-sufficient, and confident man.

I am embracing talents that I had previously given up on when others took control. I no longer need their approval to know that I am doing a good job. While it makes me feel good when people appreciate what I’m doing, as long as I’m glorifying God in everything I do, that’s the only satisfaction I need.

I am taking responsibility to learn how to do trivial things that I’ve avoided because other people were better at those tasks than I was. It doesn’t matter if my home is perfectly decorated, my dinners are gourmet, or if my fashion sense is impeccable. I will give everything my best effort, and that’s good enough for me.

It’s so freeing to make your own decisions and completely own your life, regardless of what other people think. Do I make mistakes? Every day! I often say too much, sometimes not enough, and frequently the wrong thing. My actions don’t always coincide with my intentions. I’m far from perfect when it comes to parenting, keeping house, and fitting in with certain groups of people. I find myself having to apologize a lot, but those apologies are heart-felt and sincere, not simple words with nothing to back them up. God is continuing to mold me into His desire for me….something better than I could ever imagine!

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:34).”

Ecclesiastes – Chapter 1, Verses 1-4

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever (Ecc 1:2-4).”

I didn’t get very far in my study before I felt the need to comment….this might be a long study!  I was intrigued by the original word choice that was translated ‘vanity’ in this translation and ‘meaningless’ in the NIV.  The Hebrew word is ‘hebel’.  ‘Hebel’ is used in various places in the Old Testament, but it is not translated in the same manner.

Isaiah 57:13 states, “When you cry out, let you collection of idols deliver you!  The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away.”  Here, ‘hebel’ means ‘breath’ or ‘breeze’, implying something that is fleeting, or an action completed in vain.

My favorite verse is Proverbs 31:30, translated in the NIV, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  In the ESV (my preferred translation), ‘hebel’ is translated ‘vain’, but the NIV is clearer, as ‘fleeting’.

I think both of these verses help us understand the preacher’s words in Ecclesiastes, and this is fundamental to appreciating the book in its entirety.  Our lives are not meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but they are fleeting or short-lasted.

This is further expounded upon by the next two verses, discussing how man doesn’t gain anything by his toil, and our lifetimes are short with respect to the age of the earth.  The author is not trying to paint a negative picture of our existence, but rather a truthful picture of how quickly our time will pass by.  This isn’t stated to depress us, but rather, to encourage us to live life to the fullest by focusing on what matters most.

The commentary also points out that ‘hebel’ does not only imply that life is short, but also that it’s elusive.  It “resists our attempts to capture it and contain it.”  We will never fully understand life, nor can we easily manipulate it.  No matter how smart we think we are, we will never fully comprehend how everything fits together!

This is a hard pill to swallow, especially for a scientist!  But, I’ve witnessed it first hand in my own graduate research, and also by reading scientific literature.  Well-designed experiments should hold everything constant and have one variable.  This way, if a change is observed during the experiment, it can be attributed to that variable.  However, what if you inadvertently have more than one variable, or even worse, study something highly complex like the earth, atmosphere, or human body, it becomes impossible to isolate only one variable.  Plus, it’s very easy to attribute a particular result to the wrong variable!

As scientists, we do the best we can, and we have made great strides in understanding complicated phenomena, but we still have questions to ask, and some of our answers may prove over time to be incorrect!

Is Ecclesiastes telling us that life is meaningless?  Does it mean that we wasting our time chasing after wind?  Yes and no…. You see, making the most out of life means choosing the correct path, which we will see is essentially wisdom over folly.  We should strive to focus our greatest efforts on that which is important.  What is that which is important…well, I hope that becomes clear as we go through this book!  For now, we should strive to remember that we can never permanently control nature, or more importantly, control God!

*Provan, Iain “The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs”. Zondervan, 2001.

Ecclesiastes – Introduction

I was traveling on business several years ago, and had the pleasure of spending the weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Being an energetic Christian, I visited a downtown church on Sunday and heard an introductory sermon from the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Ironically, I had just been led to read the book for the first time, and I really felt a connection to the words that I read.  The sermon was awesome; the choir even sang “Turn Turn Turn” by the Byrds.  I had never seen a church (especially one that seemed so traditional) use mainstream music to illustrate a point.  Needless to say, I loved every moment of the sermon, and was very disappointed that I couldn’t stay for the entire sermon series.

After I left church that day, I picked up a colleague from his hotel and we went to work.  I was so excited about the sermon that I couldn’t help but tell him all about it.  As we were driving to the University where we were going to be working, we passed a business called “Under the Sun”.  Coincidence…. I don’t think so!

I knew that at some point, I wanted to teach the book of Ecclesiastes!  I just felt I was too young to be terribly convincing to most people…  I look forward to the day when I can teach this book confidently, but in the meantime, I thought it would be a enjoyable to study the book in more detail.

I am using the NIV Application Commentary to help me though the process.  I’ve already read the author’s opening thoughts and saw (at least five times) that Ecclesiastes is “a difficult book.”  Maybe that’s true when you go through a line by line study, but from reading the book in its entirety, the theme always seemed perfectly clear to me….

My takeaway from the book of Ecclesiastes is that spending your life chasing mortal pleasures will not make you happy; true joy is only found in finding Christ and that nothing is new “under the sun”.  We may think our problems or even our answers are novel and creative, but everything has been done before, and we are not as important we we think we are.  Our goal on earth is to prepare us for eternal life in heaven.

My thoughts on the book are likely to change from in-depth study.  In fact, the one topic I’ve read about so far is the authorship of the book.  I always assumed it was Solomon, but apparently, scholars think that’s unlikely.  It’s more likely that the author is not Solomon, but rather someone who could place himself in Solomon’s world, as that royal persona seems to diminish as the book progresses.  Interesting….

What I do know is that although the book of Ecclesiastes is difficult and unorthodox, it was included in the Bible for a reason, and while many mainstream churches may avoid preaching from it, it’s worth an in depth study.

I don’t know how much of the study I will include on my blog.  My goal is to study the material for myself, and write about the material from a more personal lens.  I hope you’ll stick around to see how the material impacts me.

The commentary I purchased also includes Song of Songs….maybe I’ll really jump outside of the box and study that next!

For now, let me pour a glass of wine and get started on the introductory material from the commentary on Ecclesiastes!