My grandmother, Norma Jean Brady was born on April 20, 1926 and she died April 25, 2011. She lived a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ, selflessly giving and serving without expecting anything in return. She truly poured herself out for others and lived as a testimony to Christ. What many people did not know about Grammy was that she suffered a lot of pain early in her life with the unexpected passing of her father in a tragic hunting accident and the emotional distance of her mother. She was the caretaker of her younger brothers and sisters even throughout her adulthood and into her old age. She married my grandfather when she was just 17, before he left to serve in the War. She was a successful teacher, receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and maintaining a passion for teaching until she retired in 1986. Even in retirement she never stopped working, serving, and loving. The thing I remember most about Grammy though is her strong faith and her commitment to prayer. I shared the responsibility with my sisters and three cousins (the grandchildren) of giving a small tribute to Grammy at her funeral. This was my portion of the service…

I hate death. I hate it because it interrupts consistency, it is a thief that steals the precious and sacred from our lives. Grammy hated death too, in fact, she lived a life in defiance of it. She knew it intimately even from a young age. But instead of hiding herself away, instead of fearing life because of death, she lived with her heart open. She loved incessantly and gave freely. I saw this played out first and foremost in her love for Christ. She prayed without ceasing. She had a faith that was unshakable and she found her strength in Christ. She set an example for us, diligently passing on her faith to those who came after her. Her family lives as a testament of her devotion and sacrificial pursuit of Christ. Her selfless love was displayed secondly through her marriage. I cannot recall too many times in my life that I saw Grammy without Grampy. Until the last day of her life, we witnessed their immeasurable love, profound companionship, and the deep commitment through the unspoken words that, though silent, were understood. I also saw her passion for life in the way she gave of herself. Even when she was lying almost incapacitated in bed during her last days, she asked about others who she knew were sick or were struggling. She and Grampy not only supported others financially throughout the years, for which I can vouch, but they were always faithful in praying for others, they made special trips to see and take care of people who were struggling, and, as the shoebox full of cards and letters in my closet at home can prove, Grammy was faithful in writing and letting us know she was thinking and praying for us. She took care of me when my family went through the hardest time, during the severe illness of my oldest sister. She stayed with me, comforted me, and cried with me. Anyone who knows Grammy knows that she took care of others her entire life and now we can rejoice in knowing that she can have true rest in Jesus because she gave her life to him 74 years ago. I think when someone leaves a legacy, it is not solely understood after that person is gone, but was made known through the person’s actions and words while on earth. Grammy is my definition of a true legacy.

“…so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Philippians 1:20b-21

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The Delay

A while back I heard a sermon on David where the pastor said that even though this popular figure of the Bible did great things for God, that even though he was used by God in powerful ways and even though he was “a man after God’s own heart,” there was a period in his life that none of those things were true…yet. It was David’s time “in the pasture,” after he was chosen to be the king, before he actually was in that position. David took care of sheep. What do you think his thoughts were knowing that he would one day have a position of great authority but not yet possessing that power? I would have been frustrated, maybe almost bitter towards God for providing such a teaser. I do like instant gratification, after all. Why couldn’t God have sped things up? He could have made him king sooner, or at least He could have performed miraculous works through David to make him feel useful for the time being. But God waited, and He made David wait.

I can relate to this period in David’s life so well right now. I have felt this year, especially these past few months, that I am playing a waiting game with God. I am constantly praying for God to show me what I need to do, the next steps to take, but have felt that I am receiving no answer. Like I wrote in my journal a month ago, I think this might be the first time in my life that I have no idea what I am going to do or what the next step is that I should take. This isn’t a bad thing, I have to accept that, but it’s also not easy.

In D. A. Carson’s book Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, he talks about how Jesus was rather unconventional in the way he performed miracles while on earth. Specifically, when he raises Lazarus from the dead He did not do it right away, rather he waited until four days after Lazarus’ death so that there would be no doubt among the people that he had actually brought this man back to life from a non-living state. Jesus delayed, and that, as D. A. Carson asserts, is how he demonstrated His love. The incredible (and sometimes incredibly frustrating) thing about God is that he does not heed our desires for instant gratification. That’s just not how He works. He may be preparing us for something so much greater but our vision is clouded by our immediate frustration.

Waiting is not easy and I’m learning that trusting God is easier said than done. But I believe that our faith is most powerfully evidenced in how we wait. The bottom line is this: God loves us, the cross is proof of that. When we surrender our lives to Him, we are His. Just as a father has the wisdom to know what is best for his child and uses it to provide guidance, so God will do for us if we submit. I have to not only accept my time in the pasture but I should also seek to grow in it, to completely trust God so that my faith can be increased.

“Part of Christian maturation is understanding that even his delays are not foolish or stupid or mistakes or exercises in whimsy. He is to be trusted, and even the delays are to be improved upon by the way we respond to them.”

D. A. Carson

Scandalous: The Resurrection of Jesus (p 124)

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Please Come

Oh, the days when I drew lines around my faith
To keep you out, to keep me in, to keep it safe
Oh, the sense of my own self entitlement
To say who’s wrong, or won’t belong, or cannot stay

‘Cause somebody somewhere decided
We’d be better off divided
And somehow despite the damage done
He says, “come” …

There is room enough for all of us, please come
And the arms are open wide enough, please come
And our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the One
Who stands before an open door and bids us, “come”

Oh, the times when I have failed to recognize
How many chairs are gathered there around the feast
To break the bread and break these boundaries
That have kept us from our only common ground
The invitation to sit down
If we will come …

Come, from the best of humanity
Come, from the depths of depravity
Come now and see how we need
Every different bead on this same string

-Nichole Nordeman

I desire to be accepted. I’m pretty sure you do too. Isn’t that what we all strive for? To be wanted, included, accepted. Despite our shortcomings, without credence to our failures and flaws. We want to be invited, we need it. It’s such a basic human inclination to have this desire and we strive for it in our daily lives yet we so easily deny others the satisfaction of enjoying it also. Why? Why is it necessary to draw lines and make solid boundaries around ourselves in the name of protecting our beliefs and our faith? What has my motivation been?

I’ve talked about fear before, how it is a great motivator for so many things in our lives. Sometimes it’s appropriate, other times it destroys. I’ve been afraid of letting people in because I’m afraid of differences. I like routine. I feel safe with having people around me who share the same beliefs and values and who will not challenge me on these very things. Safety, also a basic human need and desire. Actually, it’s placed before social needs (the need to be accepted) on Maslow’s hierarchy. Maslow may have been thinking more along the lines of physical threat and danger when he talked about safety, but I think it also holds true that we avoid the threat of having our lives disrupted with the invasion of differing beliefs and challenges to our own.

How unfortunate, though, to limit ourselves and our interpersonal relationships by engaging in such boundary-setting. Aren’t we, by doing so, ultimately saying that only some of us will be invited to sit with Christ in fellowship with one another? Are we not devaluing the different aspects of each one of us that could potentially lead to a greater sum if put together? I hate to think that we each live through our unique life experiences for nothing. Doesn’t God allow us to use our struggles for His glory and to benefit one another? That’s the beauty of His grace and mercy. Do you see it?

I think it’s something along the lines of black and white fading to gray. From the best of what humanity has to offer to the worst and most disgusting sinner, we have the potential to influence one another. I hope this isn’t starting to sound like a motivational speech, that’s really not what I’m going for here. I think we truly limit God’s power in our lives by saying that only certain people can approach his throne, or even ignoring that there are indeed differences among the ones who have been saved through Christ. But despite this, His arms are open wide enough. What an amazing picture of love.

If we could come together as individuals saved by the blood of Christ, what depth of understanding would we gain for His love for us? We can break bread together because we have that one commonality – the most crucial one of all – we have been saved by the grace of God. From there we can display Christ to others through our lives. We can learn from one another how best to minister to those around us. We can learn how to be gentle or firm when we need to be, when to speak, and when to be silent. We can’t do this on our own. Paul says this in Ephesians,

“till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

Ephesians 4: 13-16

It may sound simplistic, but we can find unity in Christ. The boundaries that we’ve set don’t make others any less children of God, they only keep us from true fellowship and a purer understanding of the Gospel. I think it is only by accepting others on the basis of our salvation in Christ that we can also reach out to those who do not have a saving knowledge of the Gospel. This is the heart of the Gospel, to accept the invitation to come. Because the parts can never be greater than the sum.

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Hi, My Name is Bonnie and…

you guessed it, I’m an addict. My drug of choice? Approval. My method? Whatever it takes to meet or exceed people’s expectations of me. Allow me to explain…

The other night in class after I shared about my struggle with being disregarded by some of my clients for never having been in active addiction, my professor stated that the way she sees it, everyone is addicted to something. After brooding over this for a considerable amount of time, I have to say I’m in agreement with her. Actually, I’ve thought a lot about the areas in my life that are like an addiction for me, the one thing that I [erroneously] view as fulfilling my needs and satisfying some unexplained desire. Approval has won by a long shot every time. Having another person’s approval makes me feel good about myself, it gives me a sense of security, and almost makes me feel stronger in some ways. The problem with approval though, just like any other object of an addiction, is that it doesn’t last. The high of getting approval only lasts as long as the expectations are met. Inevitably, though, there are higher expectations to exceed and more people that need to grant that approval. The requirements for that good feeling become harder and harder to achieve.

The more I thought about the presence of this addiction in my life, the more disgusted I became with myself. I started to realize all the areas in my life in which I have put up a front to, in all honesty, look better than I really am. Too often I say what people want to hear. I’ve noticed that in my work for class, in my daily conversations with coworkers, professors, or classmates, or even with writing on this blog, I have this goal of sounding intellectual so that people will take me seriously. I was inspired by my sister’s recent blog post where she was just so real with what she said. She didn’t add any “appropriate” or applicable Bible verses to make it seem like she had the answer to her problem because she frankly just didn’t know what the solution was. I asked myself why it’s so hard for me to be that way. I think it’s because I feel like I have to have an answer in every situation. If I don’t make it seem like I have it all together my cover will be blown. You know how the saying goes, “if you fake it, you don’t have it”? In this case, if I fake it, I just might convince myself that I have it, or at the very least, convince everyone else. Well, let me just be real right now…I don’t have it all together and I don’t have all the answers. Big surprise, right? I’m pretty sure a lot of people knew that, I just like to think that I fool them.

So what is the point? Why do I do this to myself other than the fact that approval feels good for a time? It inevitably doesn’t last and leads me to a miserable state of feeling like a failure in other areas. Why do I feel the need to keep up appearances all the time? I guess because when I make it seem like I have it all together I feel like I don’t have to address areas in my life that need work. Personal growth is hard, that’s no secret, so maybe putting up a front is a way of avoiding that. I said before that I feel like I’ve done a lot of growing in the past year, which was much needed, but maybe I’m avoiding growth in areas that might be a little more painful. I can talk a good talk at times, but, like I tell my clients, it’s the actions that count.

Do you think that’s how God sees it too? I do. We can wax eloquent about our faith and how much we’re growing and learning, but if we’re not showing that growth and applying it to our lives then our talk is just talk to him and nothing more. He wants to see the action. I don’t think God cares about approval. What does it matter if I have another human’s approval? That’s just the surface, there’s a heart behind our motives and our behavior, and that’s our contributing factor in our salvation. Redemption doesn’t come by our actions, it comes through a total surrender of our hearts.

This entire piece of writing is purely the processing of my thoughts, it’s completely real. It’s not the first time that I’ve been open, but it’s also rare. As I have sat here and typed this out, I have become increasingly frustrated with my utter depravity. I get so tired of myself. I hate that I feel like I have to perform for others and I hate that I have limited myself according to how I think others will view me. I can’t say that this is a turning point for me because this isn’t a new discovery, but I can say that I want it to be a turning point. I want to be more open, I don’t want approval to be my saving grace because I don’t want to put that distance between myself and God. When I put my hope in my capabilities as a human, I debase the invaluable work of the cross.

I don’t really have any answers right now because I still feel like I’m stuck in this. I want to be better but, just like any other addiction, that will take a conscious effort and a lot of personal motivation. I think right now I can just start with being thankful that His mercies are new every morning.

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What it Takes to be Content

Something that has been on my mind recently is the idea of comfortableness. What is the difference between a state of happiness and settling into a life of comfort? If I’m happy with my life right now does that mean I’m comfortable? Does being comfortable mean that I am complacent? What about being satisfied? Should we ever be satisfied with where we are in life, especially as Christians?

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ve learned and grown so much in the past twelve months than I could ever sum up in one short piece of writing. I’ve come to a greater understanding of myself through Christ. I realize more now than I ever have the value that I have because I am a child of God and I am able to see a glimpse of the worthlessness of myself without his redemption. I’ve become more independent, I’ve met some really great people, and I’ve gained knowledge. I feel happy about where I am in life, but I’m so hesitant to admit that because, in my mind, the moment that I admit to my happiness and satisfaction with life is the point at which I stop growing, and I definitely don’t want to arrest the forward motion. I tend to take the view that it’s not okay for me to just be happy. I don’t mean that I think I should always be in some sort of depressed state or take a completely sober perspective on life, but I don’t want to get to a point where I’m so happy with where I am that I resist growth. That scares me. But as humans, isn’t that our inclination, to fight change? If I’m happy with where I am, doesn’t it make sense that I wouldn’t want to move?

Ironically, I came across this passage last week:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

-Philippians 4: 11-13

“To be content whatever the circumstances.” This requires an adequate amount of stability, no? If I am completely stressed (which happens too frequently) I should be content. If I feel on the brink of burn-out (almost every social worker’s fate) I should remember to be content. If everything is going perfectly and life couldn’t get any better, I should be content and I shouldn’t worry about what kinds of trials that future holds. So what’s Paul’s secret to the content life?

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Stability is found in Christ. I know that’s really simplified but I kind of have to simplify things for myself or I’ll just think in circles and end up confused and frustrated. It happens. And anyway, I’m not sure God wants it to be that complicated. Isn’t that the reason he sent his Son in human form? To give an example of true love and to show redemption through the very real death of our sins through that Man’s death on the cross? It is through this redemption that I can be content in any situation in my life.

I see a lot of instability every day in the lives of my clients. Some are so unstable inside that they search for stability in their environments. They hate change. They cannot deal with job transitions or modifications to rules. They search for stability, but stability cannot be found in such an imperfect world. This is the reason many of them turned to drugs. They needed to find contentment, and it was indeed found, if only for as long as the chemicals did their work on their bodies.

I think this behavior is seen in all of us at some point. We search for the things that will make us content but we always seem to be searching because nothing can last long enough to be considered “contentment.” To be content, I think, is a more enduring characteristic whereas satisfaction and happiness are fleeting. That’s why contentment requires stability and stability can only be found in the One who never changes.

So, maybe I should be cautious in my happiness, to not become so comfortable with it that I want to stay there. However, if I am in Christ then I don’t have to be concerned about stagnancy because, even though I am content, I am content not in my current situation but in Him. Now that is something with which I can be comfortable.

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Why I Wish I Were an Addict and My Solution to this Problem

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m not a drug addict, I never have been and have no personal experience with drug addiction. I work with addicts, interact with them daily and counsel them, but I am not one of them. You would think this would be a good thing, and I would have to concur, but in some ways I feel so limited by this small detail of my life and I often find myself secretly wishing that I would have had some sort of experience/hardship with addiction. Weird, right? I think maybe this thought manifests itself in different ways with different people. When talking with a classmate the other night who works with veterans, he told me that he often feels like he can’t relate to his potential clients because he’s never been in actual combat before. He’s afraid that they’ll judge him for that and that it will be a barrier in the client-patient relationship. I knew exactly where he was coming from. He asked me how I deal with this issue in my work, I told him I think there’s a lot of value in simply listening. But I’ve still been struggling with exactly how to go about this.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Paul talks about becoming all things to all men in order to exalt and glorify Christ.

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.”

My question lately has been, “But how??” I thought of this passage the other day as I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my clients telling me that they don’t expect me to understand where they’re coming from. At work the clients identify me as the counselor with “the book knowledge.” In other words, I can read about addiction all I want and be an expert of it according to the literature, but until I have actually experienced it, I don’t really know what it is and I can’t relate. Addicts are quite an elite group within the drug and alcohol field, actually. When I thought about Paul’s words I got a little upset and annoyed. He tells us to become “all things to all men” but what happens when your efforts to do this very thing are rejected and you’re criticized because you’re trying to become like them?

Paul doesn’t go on to give us instructions on how to deal with this sort of rejection. He doesn’t tell us exactly how to counsel people with whom we otherwise would never have any sort of interaction. He just says that he did it. He became like the Jews, the Gentiles, the weak because he knew there was no other way he would be able to win others to Christ. I may not know exactly how he did this, but I do know that it took endurance. The next few verses tell us that it wasn’t an easy task, but one that took much patience and commitment.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly, I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

It’s a race, one that involves training to build endurance, one that takes discipline and hard work, and one that requires us to love others so much that we humble ourselves and become like them. There’s a phrase that social workers like to use a lot, it’s sort of cliché, but it resonates here – “Meet them where they are.”  At whatever point those people are in life, you’ve got to go there with them.

My answer to my friend in class was this: just listen and try to understand. Even though you’ve never been there yourself, even though you might not be able to imagine what they’ve been through or what they’re going through right now in the aftermath, listen to what they have to say about their experience. If one of my clients tells me I can’t understand because I’ve never been there, I tell them to tell me about it so I can understand. People have to be willing to be helped, they have to be open to allowing others to help them, but we also have to be open to understanding from a different perspective, one that we may think is below us but nevertheless is the only way we can reach those people in the end.

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

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Change: Inevitable or Avoidable?

Change is inevitable, it can be good and it can be bad. I like change for the most part because it brings new opportunities and challenges. I have been stretched and molded by change and (I think) I’m better for it. But if I’m being honest, change makes me anxious. I find myself stressed to the point of exhaustion because of change and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it at all. Sometimes I fight change because, frankly, I’m just scared. Of course, it’s easier to say that I like change when using hindsight because it’s usually not an easy process.

Why are we so often resistant to change? We are so comfortable with the way things are, so content with the lives that we live that when we stand at the precipice of change with a hand at our back threatening to push us forward, we fight with all we have to stay where we are. I’m not saying this isn’t warranted. The change that inevitably ensues in our lives – moving, loss of friends, death of family members – is a harsh reality and our instinct is to defy it. These realities have started to come true for me. I’m not just talking about life changes like starting school, getting a job, etc., I’m talking about the cruel, hard events that seem so unfair and so opposite to what we think life should be. I’ve found myself asking (as I’m sure many people also do) why I can’t just have normalcy for a little while. Why can’t I just live my life with a day to day routine where everyone is there who has always been there and where I do the things I’ve always done. Don’t get me wrong, I like a challenge and sometimes change is welcomed in my life, but other times, I’m just plain exhausted, frustrated, and drained from it.

I think maybe we’re not just dealing simply with changes in our circumstances here, though. I believe, at least for me, there’s something much deeper at work in our lives. I came across this quote in C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain today which helped me sort out this topic further.

“To ask that God’s love be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us lovable.”

God cannot let us be who we are on our own, because giving us that sort of freedom would be lesser love on His part. If we want to stay the same and live the same lives we have always lived with the people who have always been there, we are resisting God’s love. C.S. Lewis says here that His love may be uncomfortable for us at times. The horrible, seemingly unnatural changes in our lives come about because God will not allow us to live based on our own definition of happiness, He loves us too much for that.

We are resistant to change because we think we know what will make us happy and what will satisfy us, and a lot of the time it isn’t exactly in line with God’s definition of happiness and satisfaction that comes from his pure and persistent love for us. “Our highest activity must be response, not initiative.” If we really conformed to God’s desire, if we acted as an echo to His voice in times of fear and uncertainty, maybe we wouldn’t be so defiant against change. Maybe we would trust a little more and question less. And maybe we would finally rest in knowing that God’s love, although it may bring challenges, is the ultimate, purest, most unadulterated love we will ever experience.

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some “disinterested,” because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is present; not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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