Loving Yourself?

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made – Psalm 139:14, NIV

So, I am a bit of an introvert. Well, I actually lean more towards an ambivert. If you haven’t heard of that it’s okay. I believe it is a new term for someone who can be both shy and outgoing, depending upon the circumstances. See, I can make small talk with perfect strangers if I decide to, but in a small group setting? Forgetta ’bout it. I stop talking. I get nervous about what to say next. I’m worried that what I say will be taken wrong, or just make things awkward. I’ve had that happen before. I have even been called snobbish for not talking much in groups. But, I have learned that being an introvert makes me a better listener and more observant of others who are introverts. I find people who are willing to talk, but are being ignored by the others at social settings. I am aware of those who are hurting in the room as well.

Recently, a conversation about being socially awkward came up, no, it wasn’t about me, but the other person. They were getting down on themselves for being introverted and shy at social gatherings. They felt left out and it made them sad, and lose hope of finding new friends. They believed people would not like them because they are quiet in social settings. Believe me, I can relate. I’ve felt that way before. It seems the world is geared towards the extroverts, who always seem to have a large group of friends. They are the life of the party, so to speak, whether it is at work, social gatherings, or even church. But, despite their popularity and their infinite amount of small talk, they might have problems with listening to others. Why? because they talk too much!

But, really, that’s okay too. We are all different. And that is a good thing. God has given us all a different personality. And we need to celebrate that and not try to be someone we are not. Sometimes, if we are being honest, we can get jealous of the personality of others. We want to be like them. Have their friends. Have their following. Have their job. Have their family. We start to believe the lie, that if we could just be different than ourselves, are life would be different. Better. We tend to default to seeing the grass greener on the other side of the fence. We might even try to change to be like the other person. If we are shy, we try to be outgoing. If we are an extrovert we might try to be quieter.

But, what if instead, we try to accept who God made us to be? There are parts of our personalities that are just genetics. And there are some that are learned through observed behavior. Either way, God can use our unique personalities for His glory. He’s okay with us loving ourselves. We are His creation. If we hate how He made us, it would seem like we are ungrateful towards Him. Or we think He makes mistakes. As the psalmist wrote we are fearfully AND wonderfully made. Do you consider yourself something wonderful? Do you consider yourself loved? Or even lovable? God says you are. And He says we are to love others. How? Are you ready for it?… as we love ourselves. (James 2:8, Mark 12:31, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, Galatians 5:14,Luke 10:27, Matthew 19:19, Romans 13:9)

As you can see above, there are quite a few references to Jesus’ second greatest commandment. So, do you love yourself? Including your personality? It might be difficult to love others until we can love and come to terms with who God made us to be. Do you love who God made? Do you love you? I have heard that sometimes why we end up being so critical of others, is that we first are super critical of ourselves. Have you found that to be true? I find it in myself. I am my harshest critic. I expect perfection from myself and that spills over onto what I expect from others. I am getting better, thankfully with God’s grace, by understanding God’s grace and mercy shown to me. And that is a part of what it takes to love ourselves. Give ourselves some mercy and grace. If we keep comparing ourselves to others, we will always think we are not the best we can be and will have a difficult time accepting who God has made us to be. Instead, we need to stop the comparison trap, accept ourselves, give ourselves some grace when we fall short, and love ourselves. The, we can stop focusing on ourselves and really seek out those to love- the way Jesus’ commanded us to. God Bless- Nancy

Charis

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– Paul, Ephesians 2:8

Grace. Short word, but not easy to define. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about grace this past week. If you read the last blog or listened from the podcast, then you’ll know I mentioned grace at the last part of the blog. As promised I’m going to talk about grace. Last time we looked into placing blame on others and considered several examples of shifting the blame on others, when we ourselves often overlook our own responsibilities. What we need is grace.

To be honest, I have a difficult time narrowing down a definition of grace. I know for some of you who might have grown up around Christian circles there is an acrostic for grace using each letter of the word. But, I think it needs a bit further example. It is true we do experience the grace of God because of Christ’s expense on the cross, but what does it mean to live in this life of grace? How does it play out? Like I said, I’ve been trying to find a good example to give you and have been reminded that grace is the right topic for me to write about this week. It has been literally everywhere. Have you ever noticed that when God has something for you to meditate upon, He keeps bring it up in the simplest and strangest of places? For me, it was in a podcast I listened to,my devotional this week, and in my reading through the letter to the Ephesians, written by the apostle Paul. If you haven’t read it, or it has been awhile, let me encourage you to do so. Paul has a lot to say about grace.

One of the strangest reminders of grace this week, was finding grace written on the side of a building. Well, let me be specific, it was a sign on a church building in a very small city, near where two of my adult children live. Can I call them that? It does seem a strange contradiction of terms. Anyway, I almost overlooked this prime example of what grace can be defined as, since I was familiar with this church. I had visited once, when it was located in a smaller building and was aware they had moved down the street.

But, what is remarkable is not a church moving, or that they are called “grace” church, but what bigger picture I think they represent. Let me explain. I am a big fan of revitalizing old down town areas. Not with large condos, that push out the people living there, so they are not able to afford to stay put, but restore, reuse, remodel and reawaken dead, historical business districts. Many times the architecture found in these older buildings is amazing. Great care was put into the design and expert workmanship. They were not simply quick, cookie cutter buildings. But they had history and design. They often reflect the time period in which they were built.

But, sadly, as my husband and I have discovered traveling across the United States, so many of these classic, historical down towns are neglected, falling into ruin and boarded up. Interstate travel moved the business districts too far from the traveling public, subdivisions created commuters and fast food restaurants to be accessed by cars. Drive- thru’s took the places of sit down diners. No one ventured off the bigger roads to visit these small towns anymore, factories on the fringes of the towns closed and businesses shuttered their doors.

Often as I drive through these towns, I wonder what they must have been like in their hey day. Before the faded paint, broken windows, and darkened interiors. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine it. People strolling down the streets, shop keepers displaying their goods in the window, the smell of food drifting from the restaurants and the faint sound of music coming from inside. As it got dark, the street lights would come on and the lights inside, welcoming and beckoning the shoppers and those looking for a meal.

As I opened my eyes, it was still there. The brightly lit shops, the food smells from the restaurants, and the music. There was even the sound of saws and hammers as another building was being rebuilt inside. This wasn’t my imagination, but a reality in which I found myself this past weekend in a revitalized down town. The streets have been all repaved in bricks, the restaurants open their doors to tables and benches on the sidewalks, special events and event spaces now frequent these once broken down and silent areas of town. As I ascended a staircase leading to a newly opened photography studio, I noted the decorative welded iron work on the stairs. This was definitely not cookie cutter, but the work of a skilled craftsman from years ago.

I visited this same town three years ago, as it began to revitalize when there were only a few new businesses in these graceful old buildings. It has taken those willing to step out of the cookie cutter strip mall worlds, invest in the broken down and old. The abandoned and forgotten. To see how it can be. It took someone to see past the inside of the buildings, past the darkness of broken street lights, and broken windows to offer this town a second chance. To imagine what this town could be like once again. Full of life, and full of light and joy once again as people were welcomed to visit it. It took grace. And not just the church that decided to revitalize an entire city building for its new church, rather than build in a large suburban area, it took looking past the broken parts to what it could be.

We are like that too. No, we are not the imagineers, or the visionaries. We are those broken buildings. Dark inside, without light and life. We were once full of light and life, but not now. We are full of strife and anger and hopelessness and sin. When we were created and designed by the ultimate designer and architect, God, we were designed to be welcoming, to be in perfect relationship with our creator and each other and full of life, His life, His Zoe that He breathed into the first man Adam. But then sin arrived and we found ourselves off the beaten path from God. The life and light was gone. We grew old and our bodies saw decay and death. But God offered us grace, right from the beginning, and He promised to send Jesus who would defeat our enemy and restore our life. God looks past the brokenness of our lives, the dark places we have been and that resides within us and offers to recreate us. To restore our relationship with Him, to give us life, not just like the world’s cookie- cutter version, but His life, and Himself, the Holy Spirit, who will change us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, what we were and should have been. God offers us grace. His grace. Nothing we have earned or deserved, but because He sees what is possible in us and loves us despite our shortcomings. God Bless- Nancy

Shifting Blame

Blame shifting holds us back. We simply cannot move forward while looking backward and assigning blame on another person.

I first learned how to drive a manual transmission while my husband and I were living in Spain. Many of you reading this blog or listening on the podcast, might be unfamiliar with manual transmissions. Here in the United States the stick shift is not that prevalent. but when we lived in Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s there were very few cars that were automatic. So, it was quite out of necessity that I should learn to drive a ‘stick’. It was much trial, error and practice, but I finally got the hang of when to let out the clutch, move my foot from the brake to the gas pedal and boom! off I go. Timing is everything in shifting between gears. You could not move forward without shifting the gears to the next higher gear. To slow down and eventually come to a complete stop, you must reverse the process to down shift. shifting up to move forward and shifting down to stop.

I recently watched a parody intended to put shame on the Gen Z’s. It was designed to poke fun at their blaming everyone for the problems they are facing- like increased student loan debt, poor wages, a bleak economy and social and environmental injustice that they are left responsible for. It was light- hearted, but close to the truth as well. This is how many Gen Z’s see their world.

The truth is, we all have been guilty of shifting the blame for all of our problems on others. I recently came down with a cold, for which I blamed my husband- he had it first. And I became quite miserable. So, it was all his fault. Or so I concluded. But, honestly, I can never be completely sure. I might have picked it up just about anywhere. But, he was the easiest to blame, because he was the most logical source.

It is so easy to find others to blame, and some of that blame is justified. We are human beings. We are not human doings. and most of the time we really mess things up. Oh, we get it right sometimes, but we also make mistakes. We try to do something we shouldn’t be doing, and we fall short. We try to keep up with others and be like them, instead of being ourselves. Being the people God uniquely created us to be. We make decisions that aren’t the best for us or for others who we are responsible for.

If we look for the mistakes in others we will find them. If we look for the mistakes we ourselves make we will find them- and then point to the other person as the reason why we made the mistake in the first place. We really have a problem with admitting it could be our fault. We also shift the blame to others, because we don’t know how to fix our mistakes, or the mistakes of others. We want to move forward, but we get stuck looking back and placing blame, instead of shifting the focus on the solution to fix the mistake or shortcoming.

We blame others for our financial situation, rather than looking for a solution, by creating our own businesses, going back to school, or reducing our spending. We blame our parents- I did too!- for how we turned out, but do not try to learn who we are and how to grow and change- How to overcome the past- sometimes difficult and painful pasts- by learning from others who have walked a similar path before of restoration, healing and growth.

It is easier to complain and blame than to ask God for wisdom in overcoming the past and how to move forward. Blaming can become comfortable to us. It keeps us from bearing any responsibility. We sometimes like to stay stuck in first gear, than risking letting out the clutch and pressing forward. I am not just speaking to Gen Z, as I am speaking for myself as well. I am a recent college graduate who, like Gen Z is facing mounting student loan payments and many employment application rejections. I, too, see the injustice in the world and want to do something about it, but not sure what to do. It is easy for me to blame the employers who won’t take the time to view my application because I am a woman, or I have been out of the workforce as a Stay at Home Mom, and lack experience. As my youngest says ” You can’t get experience until someone hires you and they won’t hire you without experience.” Yes, it is as much a dilemma for me as for a Gen Z. And that is my point here. We all can blame others- younger people or older people, but the truth is, if we work together, forget about differences in ages, economics, gender, stop labeling and stop blaming- we could do so much more.

Blame shifting is not new. Check out the Book of Genesis and you will find it started very early with the first married couple. And they didn’t have parents to blame. Or co-workers, or even children. They were Gen Alpha. Adam realized the mess he now found himself in- working crazy hours with hard work and thorns and thistles,a messed up, broken relationship with his wife, the realization he did not have clothes and needing to hide so God wouldn’t see him naked, and now he would die, like get old, get wrinkly and die. And he blamed his wife and then God. It was all their fault. Not his. He just stood back and was minding his own business when his wife brought the piece of fruit to him. I mean what is a husband to do? Make his wife mad and not take a bite? Or take a bite and take a chance, ’cause she wasn’t dead yet, right? So, yeah. According to Adam it was God’s and Eve’s fault. God because He gave Eve as his wife and Eve because she picked the fruit, took a bite, and talked him into following suit. But… Adam too was to blame. Where was he when Eve was confronted by the serpent? Did he really have to eat too? I mean God had told him not to eat. So. yeah the first default blame shifting happened right there in the first few pages of the Bible. It is not new. You can find other examples in the Bible, but you can also find a solution. It’s called grace. And that will be on next weeks blog- Stay tuned! God Bless- Nancy

Letting Go….

Hi, my name is Nancy and my superpower is worrying and overthinking. Everything. Or at least it was. With the new year I have decided to let go of my superpowers for a bit. Or at least try to. If you’ve read my posts before, then you know I over plan and over think and over worry. Is that really a thing? I think it can be. I think there is nothing wrong with a bit of concern, but when we take it too far and what ever we are concerned with takes up all our thoughts, well yup you got it!, over worry.

So, while I might not admit to making a New Year’s resolution, I usually do; I just don’t tell anyone, so that way if I fail, no one has to know. Pretty good plan, huh? Well, this year it isn’t so much what I am adding to my resolve, like exercise, but what I’m leaving behind. I’ve decided to leave the past, right where it should be, the past. Everything that went wrong and everywhere I fell short, or others fell short. I’m just going to not bring it up in my mind. This year is a new chance for falling short, both mine and others.

When we hold onto those past short comings we label people and ourselves in such rigid ways, that we end up only seeing ourselves and others in that way. So we enter a new year expecting the worst from ourselves and others. We limit them and us and restrict any growth.

I really don’t like labels. People can move forward and grow. We are all capable and with God’s help we will continue to grow in our faith walk and in life in general. No one would expect a kindergartner to do Algebra and neither would they stay at the kindergarten level. They will grow and learn. Adults can grow too. We learn from the past and give ourselves the grace to move forward despite making past mistakes. We should offer this grace to others as well. Putting the past behind and moving forward is not just a cliche, but is a part of living.

But what about worry? Are you going to mention that again? Yes. Yes, I am. I am still a work in progress in this area and a verse came to mind this morning as I thought about what to write. It’s from Matthew: Here’s Jesus’ words on the subject of worrying: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?(6:25-27, NIV).

Many of you might be familiar with this passage, but I think the best part is found further on in the reading of chapter 6 from verse 34;  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for today is its own trouble” (ESV).

Ahh, see there’s my biggest nemesis! Being anxious and worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Today is enough for today. And this is also where letting go of the past comes in. I think much of what we base our worry and anxiety on is from our past. If something went wrong before, surely it will go wrong in the same way tomorrow, right? Well, no. Yesterday’s mistakes were so yesterday, tomorrow’s mistakes will be tomorrow’s, we need to be concerned about today. And when we focus on that, the part about not worrying about our stuff, as mentioned in verses 24-27 about food and clothes comes in to play. Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Think about today. And oh yeah don’t worry about today. God’s got this. That might be a unofficial version of the text, but I think that is what it is saying. Just something to think about. God Bless -Nancy

Brand Ambassador

So, looking for a job is tough. Sometimes it can be down right depressing and at other times it can be confusing. I have been casually looking for a job and check my inbox daily to see if anything has popped up. Sometimes I notice what sounds like an amazing job by its title, click on the link, and then find out its for something totally different than what I expected. Recently I saw a job posting for a brand ambassador. Wow, sounds impressive, right? I mean ambassador, that conjures up the idea of a dignitary from a foreign country or something. And branding, well when I hear that I think of advertising and the creative types who come up with all those catchy graphics and slogans. But, and I say a big but, what this job was involved handing out food samples at groceries stores. Yup, my big bubble of high expectations burst! Well, its a good job, don’t get me wrong, just not what I expected from the job title.

Have you ever been let down like that? When something sounded great in name, but in reality it was a big let down? A big disappointment? But, what about us? Have we ever been a disappointment to others? Were they expecting something else? I’m sure I can guess you answered yes to a few of those questions, but have you ever realized that as Christians we are brand ambassadors? We are the faces of Christ followers in the world. We are in the world as His ambassadors. Now,  have you ever thought about how you are representing the brand? When people think of the word Christian, do they think of you? And more importantly, is it in a good sense of the word?

See, the word Christian was not first used by Christians as a title or job description, but by the unbelieving world. It was a slanderous term. It is said that the first use of the word Christian was used at the church at Antioch and was a nick name created by the people of Antioch, not the Christians themselves. In fact, it was a large commercial city where persecuted Christians fled after the death of Stephen. The estimated population of the city was half a million people at the time. So, with such a large population and with fear of persecution on their minds, you would think the Christians would try to blend in, not stand out. But, they must have, for it is there where the first time the term “Christian” was mentioned. The first branding if you will. And the name has stuck since the early first century.

Why would the first believers want to stand out and get a ribbing for their nick name “Christians”? Well, that is what their job was. Not to blend in, but to stand out, to shine, not hide. In Matthew 15:14-16 Jesus tells His followers that they are the light of the world and they are to let that light shine. His exact words are: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (NIV).

We have the Good news, the light of the world to share and the hope to offer a world that is looking for hope and answers. I have to admit, I feel like I don’t always do that well. Sometimes I am not a very good brand ambassador, handing out hope and the Good news to all I meet. Sometimes I’m sure I have let others down and shown them something less than Christ, something that deserves being labeled a hypocrite or given a slanderous nick name like “Christian” as the people of Antioch did to the early believers there. But, I hope with Easter coming soon, we can all be challenged to remember who we are as Christ’s ambassadors and share the great news He is risen.As Christians we are not perfect, but that is exactly why we need a savior. Being a Christian is not about being perfect, but realizing we can never measure up to God’s standards, and must rely completely on Christ’s substitutionary death for us.We can’t earn our way to Heaven by our behavior or religious rituals or traditions,but only by putting our faith in Jesus Christ. “But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved…..For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9, NIV).

This news is for everyone, not just a select group. And if you have received Christ as your savior, then you have been given a job. You are a brand ambassador for Christ. Unsure what this job entitles? Let me assure you its not always easy, but it is everything.For a complete job description consult God’s Word. Happy Easter and  God Bless You- Nancy