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Jesus Loves Me, but I Suspect that I’m Not Playing with a Full Deck.

Many years ago after a long and very disappointing search for spiritual meaning in most of the major Christian denominations and even some other world religions, I was encouraged to say a prayer, “Jesus Christ, if you are who you claim to be, I want you to be my Savior and Lord.” This was not connected to any denomination. I didn’t expect anything, because as I explained to the woman challenging me, I didn’t believe in God and I thought Jesus was a very good man, but a delusional idealist that got himself killed. At first, nothing happened and I felt pretty safe that nothing would.

Then suddenly I simply knew with my whole self – mind, heart and spirit, that I was loved unconditionally by God, even though for some years like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, I had opposed anything Christian in the public sector. Suddenly, things from Scripture, which in my search I had read from beginning to end, came together with things I had learned when recently getting a degree in Psychology. And I was filled to overflowing with total mind blowing joy.

That was forty-seven years ago and my journey has since been centered on the person of Jesus as the Love of God fleshed out so we can understand it, experience it, and learn to love like that. I have found that there are some people in all the denominations who “get” that. But all the denominations have pieces of the puzzle that they emphasize to the detriment of the whole picture. Most of humanity including nominal Christians- have simply missed the point of Jesus Christ. To me the greatest tragedy I see in today’s broken world is that Christians are turning people off before they can discover the Love of God in Jesus.

To discover that Love of God in Jesus we pretty much need to put everything we were taught or heard on hold in a mental file, and spend some serious time getting to know the man Jesus personally, discovering in the New Testament that he grew and changed in how he understood his faith and even his ministry over and over until He “got” it and was God’s perfect expression of Love that we could know in the flesh. Then we too will be able to live that process of becoming Love…..never perfectly……sometimes falling under the weight of our human imperfections, but mostly inching closer by seeking grace. It will not be exactly the same or on the same schedule as anyone else, because we are all different. We weren’t all dealt the same hand. Frankly, I think I am one of those who isn’t playing with a full deck.

But God, and only God, knows what we each have to work with, so only God knows how well we are playing the hand we were dealt. We can’t even judge ourselves, never- the-less anyone else. I also learned in my search that the mystics (those that have encountered the Love of God powerfully and personally) of all the world’s religions say pretty much the same thing, “We are all one and whatever we do to anyone, we do to all.”  Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” You would think that we would be a lot more careful how we treat people, even those we may unfortunately be inclined to consider outsiders or sinners.

I can’t help but wanting to share the Love of God I have experienced through Jesus.  But I have learned the hard way, that trying to force our own particular Christian beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, is the mostly likely way to prevent them from becoming open to that experience of Love. We can let the world know what we believe. We can teach our children what we believe. But when we force those beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, we risk being responsible for closing their minds and hearts to God.

I have seen over these forty-seven years that each person’s journey is different and though saying that particular prayer has validity and meaning, it doesn’t always have an immediate impact like it did for me at that point in time in my search. Each person is different and each person’s timing on their journey is different. I think some of us are like the prodigal and some of us are like the older brother. I have seen truly kind and good church going people who believe in the Love of God, but only finally experience it with that explosive joy through a personal encounter with Jesus in their seventies or even later.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” It’s a lifelong personal journey of growing and learning and the high points come at different times and in different ways for all of us. Perseverance is the key.

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Norma’s Friend God

Then
It was evening,
That magic, in-between time
Of the cricket,
the evening star
The song of the settling birds.

I walked out into
The last red glow of sunset-
Soft light bathing the earth.

I walked out and looked around
And there was God,
Crouching on the hilltop
And I said, .”Good evening, God.”
And God answered, “Good evening, friend.”
And I sat down on a tree root
And watched the fading red rays in the sky,
And the lightning bugs,
And I listened to the crickets.

“Sure is mighty pretty, God.
You sure fixed everything up mighty pretty.”
And God kind of smiled, crouching up there on the
hillside,
Gazing off like He could see the whole Universe
with one look.

Then He looked at me
With that same kind of smile.
Then I knew.
He knew.

Norma Parham

Rest in peace with your friend God, Norma. I will miss you.

Zombies, Vampires, and Black Holes, Oh My!

I realize that I harp on the inborn differences in personalities, but to me this is a key to at least not judging ourselves or others harshly, even if we can’t understand where they are coming from.
I explore the world with my intellect (ideas, not my eyes and not my heart), but I RESPOND to the world from my feelings and values.
Every personality has strengths and weaknesses. And there is an upside and a downside for every personality trait. Responding to the world immediately on a feeling level makes people warm, friendly, mostly kind and caring. But it also makes us vulnerable to hurt, resentment, fear, and depression. We don’t have a protective layer of logic between the world and our hearts. We are “thin” skinned.

It takes grace to become able to minimize the fallout for those closest to us. Though it helps us if they can just hear and accept our feelings, it’s easy for us to fall into garbage dumping on those who love us enough to listen. We have to work to find a balance, so that we don’t overwhelm them with our neediness.
It takes time to develop strength in our weakness( our logic and analytical skills.) But eventually with time and grace, we can develop coping skills and find strength at our core.

And the less needy we are, the freer we are to be loving.

I’ve never been into the Goth thing, the Zombie thing, or the Demons thing, etc. Probably, because I have enough trouble coping with my own inner demons and dark side.
I don’t think anyone has a black soul, but I heard a description once that made me think that I and others might have an inner “black hole” like the ones in space that suck the light out of their surroundings.

The description was: ” A bottomless pit of needs and wants.”

I decided that for a considerable number of years that described me perfectly. And since being needy prevents us from being loving, it explained why I had trouble even loving myself, never-the-less others.

Discovering that God was alive and well and loving us all unconditionally, even us “Bottomless pits of needs and wants,” helped free me to begin depending on God and grace instead of other people and circumstances. And that is what fuels the lifelong process of learning to love both yourself and others unconditionally. With grace we can grow into the unique, imperfect, but more and more loving person God created us to be.
I am definitely in God’s slow learner group, and may never become as loving as many other people do, but I trust God and the process enough to believe I will reach my personal potential, however limited that may be. And that is all I am called to do.

The Trap of Depression

I need to start with a disclaimer. My struggle with depression and the things that have helped me may not help anyone else. And there may be things that would have helped me more. I also believe that we are born with different chemical balances and that stages of life like puberty, pregnancy, and change of life can cause balances to get more out of whack for some people.(How’s that for medical terminology.)
Also, when the chips are down, I do believe deeply that I am loved, just as I am, by the only One who actually makes much difference at my stage of life and that means I know I am not alone when down in the pit of despair.

Depression is the emotional equivalent of an abscessed tooth. Self-hatred is a judgement and judgment is like cement that sets emotion into stone.The one thing about emotions is they are normally changeable, but self-hatred for being depressed locks us into the depression.

Those of us who have high, possibly unrealistic, expectations of ourselves and of life are vulnerable not only to depression, but particularly to a sense of failure and inadequacy that triggers self-hatred.

Depression is painful. And pain of any kind both saps our energy and centers us in on ourselves. (Remember the abscessed tooth.)

My first step for getting out of the mire of depression is to accept it. That doesn’t mean wallowing or giving up hope. It means accepting the reality of it, like we would an excruciating toothache, and cutting ourselves some slack by prioritizing and minimizing our obligations to the world. When we first experience the darkness of despair, we may need to stop our everyday world and get off for a time, but as we learn coping skills
we can lower our expectations and at least continue functioning in areas of our strengths. Eventually, if we get smart enough, we quit trying to give 120 % in our up times, so in the down times we can just slow down the pace a little and cope.

I’m convinced some of the problem is cultural, patriarchal, in fact. In the old hunter/warrior society emotions were considered weakness. We have to shut out empathy to kill a deer or a person. When we have to do these things to keep our family, village or tribe alive, we learn to compartmentalize our feelings. I’ve noticed that generally men handle women’s anger much better than our tears. I’ve known husbands that told their wives to stay in the bathroom to cry. I knew a seasoned Army Staff Sergeant, a veteran of two wars, who asked to be transferred from a safe cushy posting to a dangerous no frills one, because all his officers were women and they cried at Staff meetings. I could understand his reaction, but couldn’t help but wonder if all the officers in the various armies sat around crying would it cut down on wars?

I’m personally convinced that tears are a healthy release for tension and possibly one of the reasons women outlive men.

However, life goes on even when our every movement is like wading through quick sand and having to make even the smallest decision sets off panic. If we had an actual abscessed tooth, we would cut ourselves some slack and so would the world. But at this point in our culture, unless we are hospitalized, we and the world expect us to continue just as we usually do.

Some of us seem to be born with personalities that see possibilities, usually ideal scenarios, not necessarily based on life’s realities. We are not always easily identifiable, we may take on disguises such as Goth attire or metal appendages and flaunt the dark side to hide our fragile dreams of being heroes and our inner fear that there are no heroes.

Sometimes, we hide behind sarcasm or cynicism.

But, the truth is almost all humans are ordinary. We aren’t qualified to be extraordinary or called to save the world.

We are called to give a cup of water to the thirsty, a smile of welcome to the outcast, a hug to the discouraged, a piece of art to call attention to the beauty of the world, or a poem to remind us of others’ suffering, a song to soften hearts, laughter to lighten heavy hearts, even the gift of our honesty about our own failures to share our freedom to be a fallible human with others.

The list goes on and on and doesn’t require heroic measure or extraordinary talent.

I seem to have been born one of those with big dreams, high hopes, and many ideas. Unfortunately, I am lousy at detail and loathe the boredom of repetition, so my dreams and ideas remain just that, dreams and ideas. I’ve always hurt for others, worried about the whole world, and still sometimes have to work through the paralysis of depression when I can’t fix life for those I love who are in pain. It has taken me a long time to admit that it was hubris to think I could save the world or anyone in it. And that struggling with that delusion kept me from doing what I actually can do.

I used to not go to funerals because I couldn’t think of anything miraculously healing to say and feeling others’ sadness sent me into depression. Then, when my own father died, I realized that each person there represented someone that cared enough to come and that it truly helped me to know that his life mattered to others. They didn’t need to say anything.

My son, Tommy, when he was about three, taught me that you don’t have to say anything to help people feel loved. He would be doing his little boy thing and would suddenly stop and come over smiling to pat my hand or shoulder and then just go right back to what he was doing.
I called them “Tommy pats” and eventually when I saw a rainbow or caught all the green lights when running late, I called those, “God’s Tommy pats.” And even now, Julian and I will often stop and give each other a smile and a “Tommy pat.”

Once, when I was overwhelmed by fear of the lifelong consequences of a bad decision by one of my children, I poured out my heartbreak to my friend Paige. She simply wept with me. It’s hard to describe how much that helped me. Someone cared enough to feel my pain with me. I wasn’t alone inside it.

So, what I finally know now, is that when I am depressed because I am not extraordinary or heroic and even perhaps have lost it and made life darker for someone else, I can humbly do the ordinary. And if we all do these little things, no one will go thirsty, or be alone in their sorrow, or feel unloved. And we all, even the depressed, will experience the reality of the Psalm that says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”