Judged instead of Loved

The Secret

Did you see Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You” at the Oscars? Wow, what a powerful song. Written for a documentary film called The Hunting Ground which highlights the issue of campus rape, this song speaks volumes to the hearts of survivors. The message of not understanding what someone is going through until it happens to you certainly touches those impacted by sexual assault, as well as anyone who has felt judged instead of loved. And, haven’t we all been there?

The judgements coming at us on a daily basis are made by people who have not walked our journey or worn our shoes. It’s impossible – because we are all unique. Each individual has their own experiences, fears, and expectations which contribute to how they process others. For example, a co-worker may negatively judge your decision to make a career change on the basis of their own unfulfilled dreams. A friend may criticize your appearance because of their own fears regarding acceptance. Yes, we have all felt the heavy weight a package of judgement delivers. I venture to guess we’ve also all felt the guilt that comes after we deliver such a package to someone else.

On a trip to Disney World last Christmas, our family enjoyed a night time fireworks show. Cinderella’s Castle was illuminated in alternating colors, the spectacular display in the sky danced to music, and the mood was Disney magic. Perfection in my eyes…except for a little boy, in a stroller, gazing intently at his Gameboy device instead of the wondrous sky. His father nudged him from time to time, encouraging him to look up and take in the sights, but the little guy remained unmoved by the experience. This bothered me. I was annoyed that the father did not get his son to watch, what is to some, a once in a lifetime Disney fireworks display. I mentioned this to my daughter on our way back to the hotel, and she stopped my judgement in its ugly tracks by saying, “But, you don’t know their story.”

She is wise, this kid, sometimes much to my chagrin. I had no right to judge that father’s situation. I did not spend the day in his shoes, and I have no idea what challenges his life includes. My annoyance and judgement was based purely on my own experiences, fears, and expectations. I was not able to go to Disney World as a child. I try too hard to be a perfect parent. I want my children to treasure everything I think should be a precious memory. Fact is, my judgement of this father was really all about me.

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” – Wayne Dyer

Trying not to judge others is a war against our own human nature. We seek to raise our sense of self-esteem by fixating on finding faults in others. Yet, following this path of judging others leaves us feeling unsettled and just plain awful, doesn’t it? Deep down, we sense there is a way to feel better about ourselves without negating others.  

“Our perceptions of other people often become a battleground between the ego’s desire to judge and the Holy Spirit’s desire to accept people as they are.” -Marianne Williamson

The Holy Spirit watches as we hustle about, flinging judgements here and there. He waits hopefully for the realization of what we are doing to strike us. There is a way to feel better about ourselves without negating others; we know it, but we can’t put our finger on it. The Holy Spirit can name it for us – it’s called love.

The Holy Spirit helps us stop judgement in its tracks by teaching us to respond with love. While the thoughts are still forming in our heads and the words in our mouths, we can change direction by involving our hearts.

  • We can remind ourselves, “But, you don’t know their story.”
  • We can encourage instead of discourage.
  • We can pray for them to find direction instead of assuming we know what’s best.
  • We can walk beside someone instead of running ahead.

In doing these things, we love instead of judge. We involve God in our story and in theirs, which I’ve never known to be a bad thing.

Elaine Weinstein, the wife of recently killed American hostage Warren Weinstein, made countless difficult decisions in private negotiations for her husband’s release, over the course of his four plus years in captivity. In an interview with CBS news, she talks about feeling like she held her husband’s life in her hands, and how people, friends, and family were always weighing in on her decisions. They would ask her, “Well, why didn’t you do this? And why didn’t you do that?”

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 New International Version (NIV)

One certainly cannot imagine what Elaine Weinstein’s situation would feel like. I pray that God placed someone in her path to encourage her and hold her hand as she made those agonizing decisions. I pray that there was someone there to help her feel loved instead of judged.

Prayer for this Week:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide me in my relationships with others. Whatever comes my way this week, help me handle it with your grace.  When I feel judged, help me remember that every person has their own hurts and hang-ups. When I feel tempted to judge others, show me instead how to offer a response of love. You are the only one who knows someone’s story. Lead me to learn from my experiences, fears, and expectations so I recognize why I think the way I do. Open my eyes to the judgements around me every day, and make me a servant of your love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Resources:

Watch Lady Gaga’s incredible performance at the Oscars right here

Watch CBS 60 Minutes’ interview with Elaine Weinstein right here 

 

Some clowns showed me how to “BE the church”

Un payaso para Heydi

Did you know that clowns can be messengers of God’s Word? (I’m not talking about preachers you don’t like.) I’m talking about actual clowns with white faces, big red noses, enormous shoes, and funny hats delivering messages from the Bible. Yes, it’s true!

Clown ministry groups in churches across the country teach important Biblical truths through light-hearted skits. Their performances include messages like: God loves you, he has plans for you, and he expects you to care for others.

Most clown ministry members do not have professional training. They simply want to give it a try. Existing clown ministry groups, and even professional clowns, help new ministries learn skits, make-up application, attire, and etiquette.

I have always enjoyed watching clowns capture attention through laughter. So, when an opportunity to wear a rainbow wig came my way, I jumped aboard.

Sunny the clown-that’s me

Clown ministries, like the one I was part of, perform at church services, vacation bible school events, nursing homes, and hospitals. Some of the groups use words to convey their messages, but ours used only props and mime. As the youngest clown in our ministry, I was “capably” assigned all stunts and somersaults.

Lately, I have been thinking about the popular phrase “BE the church”, and it occurred to me that my clown experiences had something to teach me about this.

Are you familiar with the phrase “BE the church”? These words are used to motivate people to serve their communities like followers of Jesus. In this sense, a church becomes much more than just the brick and mortar of a building, or the lessons taught inside such a building. Being the church means people take the responsibilities of ministry upon themselves – they represent and share the teachings of Jesus in their everyday lives (whether they attend church or not).

Here’s what some clowns showed me about being the church:

  • Actions speak louder than words about God’s character. Clown ministry does not deliver sermons, shame people, or try to “save” people. The actions of the characters demonstrate virtues such as love, kindness, and humility. In much the same way, being the church means we also reveal a great deal about God’s character to others simply through our attitudes and behavior.
  • Laughter creates receptiveness and fellowship. Skit messages from clowns connect with people emotionally, in a way that is different from the pulpit. Humor helps people lower their defenses, thus opening their minds up to see something godlike in a new way. Laughter brings people together, creating friendships to rely on in harder times. Being the church can mean simply sharing a laugh with a neighbor.
  • Interpreting the Bible does not have to be intimidating. The language of the Bible can be hard to understand. Clown ministry skits work at making the Bible more relatable. In a similar way, being the church means helping others interpret the Bible by sharing our own stories and the tools we use for better understanding.
  • Take God seriously, not yourself. Not all churches support clown ministry; they see it as disrespectful and unholy. For some, perhaps it is not a good fit. In my opinion, clown ministry skits honor God while seeking to teach his messages in creative ways. We can do the same! Many church clowns believe they reach people that were unreachable before because of the playful and humble nature of their performances.
  •  Everyone is worthy of God’s love. Clowns are the ultimate misfits; their clothes don’t match, they get confused, and they fall down a lot. And, clown ministry performances use these characteristics to portray God’s unconditional love for everyone. Being the church means letting God’s love invade your own heart and offering acceptance to all.
  • No matter what you do, some people will not like you. Some people have a genuine fear of clowns (coulrophobia). Others just feel uncomfortable around them, or find joy in other ways. The same is true about religion. Many people turn away from religion because they have had a negative experience with it. It makes them uncomfortable. Some will seek enlightenment in other ways. In order to be the church, we must be willing to offer every person love and respect for the place they are at on their journey.

It’s been quite some time since my last clown gig. Back then, I did not think much about why I was clowning, and certainly not about what it meant to “BE the church”. I just enjoyed being a clown. That was what my journey called for at the time. I think it’s interesting how reflections and lessons sometimes come much later.

Life’s like that, right? You never know when your past might circle back around and teach you something new. Hey, wait a minute…that sounds a lot like a somersault. Ha! I think maybe God’s being funny now.

Scriptures to Apply:

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:9 New International Version (NIV)

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.'” Psalm 126:2 (NIV)

“But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.” New Living Translation (NLT)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV) 

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for guiding me along this journey of life. I am grateful for the people and experiences along the way that have helped mold me into who I am today. Show me how my past can better my future. Help me think about what it means to BE the church and how my life can serve you in this way. Teach me to be brave in my endeavors for you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Learn more about clown ministries here

Our clown ministry group
The clown ministry group I was part of at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, Edina, MN

A New Kind of Resolution

2014 NYE in Times Square

Ahhhh, a new year! January 1st. Just speaking the date invokes a sense of renewal, doesn’t it? A time to evaluate priorities, nurture goals, and begin a quest toward organization. Like a schoolgirl in fall, the outing to purchase my new 2016 planner is a mission in itself. It must be a certain size, with tabs (very important) for each month, a section for future year plans, and pages for notes.

These requirements are non-negotiable. I have tried to manage with different formats in previous years, and well, the frustration…it’s just not worth it. I have a system to my madness; and for the year to start right, I must sort through shelves of calendars to find just the right one. A beacon in the piles of planners, it shines through, offering up its guarantee for a successful year. Do you understand this feeling? Maybe instead, you prefer sorting through the latest calendar apps on your phone, but, you know too, you will feel elated when you find the ONE certain to make this a great year.

We all have our tools and idiosyncrasies which we believe help us accomplish our goals for the coming year. Year after year, however, I learn that being organized and well-intentioned still leaves me falling short of achieving some goals. Over the holiday season I did some thinking on why that is.

I started by thinking about the goals I have set for myself in the past, which ones I was able to accomplish, and which ones I did not. Of course, sometimes I set myself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations like exercising every day and eliminating sugar (really, no way!). But, assuming realistic expectations, what did I find was the difference between achieved and unachieved goals?

Other people.

Whoa, you may say, she’s blaming other people for not allowing her to reach her goals! No, no…quite the opposite. I am taking responsibility for not involving other people in the pursuit of accomplishing my goals. You see, when we look at it from a scriptural point of view, the Bible tells us:

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 New International Version

Throughout the Bible, it becomes clear that God intends for us to thrive through fellowship with others. Too often in our busy lives, we fail to engage with the people around us. Absorbed with discovering our own talents, we easily forget that working together yields greater results for everyone.

Over the past several years, I have set a goal to deepen my faith. I received daily email devotions, attempted to understand the Bible, and tried to attend church more regularly. I convinced myself I was meeting my goal, but something still felt unsettled. This past year, I stopped taking baby steps and leaped into several classes with others who wanted to explore their faith.

Admitting my lack of Biblical knowledge was somewhat intimidating. And, putting a voice to the questions and doubts that plagued my sense of reason made me feel exposed and vulnerable. I quickly learned, however, that I was not alone in these feelings. Other people had them too. And, they brought life experiences and learning to the table that I had no way of imagining on my own.  So, through the give and take of conversation, we learned from each other and deepened our faith in ways none of us could have alone.

Evaluating my other goals, I started to see a pattern. Whenever I sought “advisers”, I was more likely to reach my goal.

After years of pathetic attempts at strength training on my own, I found success by enlisting the help of someone with years of experience (see post: A Fit Faith). Making good choices about food became easier once I started reading books and attending classes taught by a few well-educated and trusted health crusaders. Joining an online training community for writers this fall provided knowledge from a team of experts on how to improve. And lastly, participating in a supportive forum for parents with college-aged kids, helped me revamp my changing role as a parent.

In all these areas of my life, from faith to health to vocation to family and so on, pursuing fruitful relationships with others helped me grow beyond any measurable goal I could envision. In return, I discovered unique contributions I could offer these individuals or my community as well.

So, in 2015 I finally learned something really big that has always been right in front of me, but never completely apparent. The load for achieving my goals does not rest squarely upon my two shoulders. Actually, my goals cannot even be achieved to their greatest degree by me alone. As I write down my 2016 New Year’s resolutions, an overriding tenet will be remembering to surround myself with others who excel where I falter.

Seeking help from wise counsel always promises to bring forth God’s best work in all of us.

Prayer for the Week:

Lord, Thank you for the blessing of another new year and the opportunity to start anew. Help me set goals with realistic expectations, and bring me solitude to consider my relationships with others. Show me ways we can rely on each other to achieve results beyond measure. Teach me to listen for your guidance on seeking counsel, and lead me in becoming a trusted adviser for others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Week 4-celebration

Christmas Star

Well, here we are at the final week of our countdown! In the past three weeks of this Christmas season, we have worked on controlling our worries, helping others, and accomplishing our to-do list with peace and determination. I think it’s time to rejoice, don’t you?

This week’s Christmas Countdown Challenge is to remember the meaning of Christmas and to rejoice in the season. I will start by writing a relevant Scripture at the top of my to-do list, and then read it throughout the week as I finish up Christmas preparations. In this last week of hurriedness, my goal is to stay focused on the Christmas story and its message of everlasting joy. Join me in celebrating! The Scripture we will focus on:

“When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!” Matthew 2:10 New Living Translation (NLT)

Here are a few actions we can take to apply this Scripture in our lives:

  • Read the nativity story as told in Luke 2. Spend some time reading Scripture that tells about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. A life application Bible is a helpful tool for understanding the meaning of the Bible text. Searching the internet for Christmas Bible verses can also provide additional learning. After we read, let’s see if we can come up with at least three things we did not know before about this story.
  • Build family traditions. Activities that we do every year at Christmas time help our family members feel connected and special. Be sure to allow time to enjoy these activities, and not just rush to get them in. Brainstorm on new ideas to carry forward to next year. My family enjoys driving around town for a tour of lights and playing board games together. Other popular activities include: ice skating, decorating cookies, watching Christmas movies, using an Advent calendar, reading holiday books, and singing carols. Let’s find something new to try this year!
  • Celebrate the season, really. When Christmas Eve arrives, and the hustle and bustle has run out of time, let’s remember to take a breath and just celebrate the moment. After being immersed in an environment of hurry all month, it is easy to continue to feel rushed. We can take time to regroup and be fully present in conversations, taste food with gratitude, and deliver embraces with genuine care.
  • Meet the Christmas Countdown Challenge. Think back over the last four weeks and our goals for each week. This year, in a month that quickly becomes overwhelming, we sought to control worry, help others having a difficult time celebrating, accomplish our tasks with a calm sense of purpose, and rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas. Simply approaching my to-do list with these overall goals in mind, helped me keep a positive attitude and prevented me from getting swept away by my own busyness. I hope taking on this challenge helped you in some way as well. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

Prayer for the Week:

Heavenly Father, Thank you for the greatest gift of all, your son Jesus Christ. Help me study your Word, and work to fully appreciate the meaning of this gift. Let my family’s bond be strengthened this Christmas as we spend time enjoying each other’s company and building our traditions. Remind me to look and listen for your holy presence in my celebrations. And, thank you for carrying me through the season, making sense of life through your Word.

Resources:

Attached you will find a to-do list document with the Scripture for the week displayed in the heading. Print it, if you would like, and refer to the Scripture throughout the week. Be filled with joy!

To-do List with Scripture, Week 4

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Week 3-peace

Dove of Peace

Here we are at week three! How is your holiday spirit holding up? Are you weary from the stress of trying to please everybody – with the right gifts, the proper holiday sentiments, and celebrations that exceed expectations? It is so hard to remain relaxed in the midst of December chaos.

I’ve been wondering…do you think Jesus ever felt stressed by expectations from others? I mean, c’mon, just think about a few of the tasks stacked up on his to-do list: turn water into wine at a wedding that had run dry (John 2:1-11), feed 5,000 hungry souls with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-15), and raise a friend named Lazarus from the dead (John 11)! In these stories and many others, the people close to Jesus urged him to hurry up and fix things.

Yes, I think Jesus felt the stress surrounding him. What I find appealing is that he refused to react negatively to it. Time and time again, Bible stories describe Jesus’ calm, peaceful demeanor in the midst of crisis. In each case, he attentively listens to the issue at hand and then smoothly takes decisive action. I wish I could handle more situations this way, don’t you?

This week, for the Christmas Countdown Challenge, I am going to work on handling stressful situations with calm, purposeful action. As in the last several weeks of our countdown, I will write a related Scripture in the heading of my to-do list. Throughout the week, I will refer to this Scripture as I work through my Christmas tasks. My goal is to remain calm in the midst of stressful expectations, and feel more fulfilled by the season. I hope you plan on joining me! The Scripture for this week:

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

How can we calmly accomplish our tasks this week in spite of holiday stress? Here are a few ideas:

  • Set boundaries. There are many examples in the Bible of Jesus stepping back from, and even saying no to others in order to care for himself. Remember we are better able to care for others if we first place priority on taking care of ourselves. Meeting personal needs for sleep, nutrition, exercise, and relaxation sets us up to be better listeners, involved caregivers, and creative problem solvers.
  • Manage expectations. We tend to expect a lot of ourselves at Christmas. Set up a beautiful tree, host a cookie exchange, find the perfect gift, mail heartfelt wishes…the list goes on and on. It’s a tall order to fill, even for the most accomplished perfectionist. Trying to do all this day after day leads to burnout and quite frankly, “grinch-iness”. Managing expectations is not just about letting other people know what you can and cannot do; it’s also speaking truth to your own heart about how much you can handle. Let’s lighten our load and put our efforts into a reasonable number of tasks.
  • Seek new perspectives. When things don’t go according to plan, or family and friends disappoint, it’s easy to jump into reactions filled with anger, blame, or sadness. Instead of reacting, we can ask God to help us think about the situation differently. What might be influencing the behavior of those involved? Do my own expectations impact my reaction?
  • Scan for opportunities. During the holiday season, we face abundant opportunities to practice the way we handle stress. Even though stress surrounds us, we can practice maintaining a purposeful, yet peaceful demeanor. Each day provides a fresh start to harness our human nature and its fear-filled reactions to stress. Each problem situation offers a new chance to polish our more God-given characteristics of power, love, and self-control. Interesting, isn’t it? – how the birth month of our greatest gift, our Savior, is also a month full of opportunities to live more like him…

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God, Thank you for your guidance as I practice being calm and decisive during a stressful month. Help me as I prioritize my own needs, so that I can offer better care to others. Show me how to manage the expectations of others, and to be reasonable with what I expect of myself. Teach me to consider different perspectives before I react. Lead me in my words and actions, so I continually improve the way I represent you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Attached you will find a to-do list document with the Scripture for the week displayed in the heading. Print it, if you would like, and use it for your list while referring to the Scripture throughout the week. Find peace in your week!

To-do List with Scripture, Week 3