Waves Of Change

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here and there’s been good reason for that. I knew it would be difficult to put into words what has been tumbling through my life these past two months. Simply put, what I thought I knew-what I thought I understood and had firm belief in- started crumbling. I cried and questioned and prayed and had to come to a resolution. Was it easy? No. Is it going to be popular? Probably not in some quarters. Does it give me peace? Yes.

It would have been easy to ignore it, to sweep some things under the rug, and to just keep going…but I was never any good at pretense. I had to face the issues disturbing me one by one.

The central problem lay with the fact I couldn’t let go of my Catholicism. I experienced some turmoil and issues with The Church and left years ago (similar to when a child has a tantrum I suppose)  I tried to put it behind me. Oh how I tried. I embraced my new protestant faith whole heartedly and had enormous respect for the leaders of the particular church I attended and wanted to learn. But it hasn’t been enough.

Being Catholic involves all of who you are-mental, physical, emotional, rational. At first, there were the small instinctive things that brought me up short. For instance, whenever I entered the protestant church, I had to restrain myself from genuflecting–acknowledging and being humble in the presence of Christ. Also, I was used to praying before Mass to prepare for the sacredness of the service and I could not. In the protestant church there is much socializing before their service, which is not a condemnation of who they are. It is simply a joyful part of their fellowship as The Body of Christ… but it was something I couldn’t get use to. Too, whenever there was prayer during the service; I had to stop from making the sign of the cross every single time: “In the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit” what could be more beautiful than to pray this way? Small physical things kept pulling at me.

Rationally, I had difficulty. Like The Roman Catholic Church, only males may serve in pastoral positions in the Protestant church I had joined. I felt very comfortable with that. But that is where it ends.  In the Catholic Church “faith and reason” hold hands. You are encouraged to understand, to read, to ask questions, to dig deep and learn your faith. In that respect I am just a baby and boy do I know it. I’ve talked to quite a few learned Catholics who know the bible front back and center (and yes I know that tired myth that Catholics don’t read the bible…that goes along with the all the other sad myths) I missed that and needed that. 

Too, there is the sense of rhythm in one’s life. A Catholic isn’t just Catholic for one hour-but for life. There are the Holy Days, Adoration (where you come and adore Christ,) the rosary (which is a meditative prayer on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ-pretty cool to take time to think and pray about that in gratitude to Our Lord) There is the rhythm of time within The Church: Ordinary time, Advent, Lent, and Easter-time.  We pray, we think, we learn, we give up, we celebrate…it is all part of who we are.

Yes, I am painfully aware of how some protestants feel about Catholics. I have seen Catholic churches defaced, heard ugly things said, and faced open bigotry. There are many misunderstandings and lies perpetuated. But it can’t change who I am.

I remember when I went to the meeting for my baptism and the person in charge closely questioned me about my decision to be saved. I almost bolted because I felt as if he were somehow doubting me in front of everyone. I left feeling conflicted.  But he was right to ask questions-I don’t belong there and I am OK with that.

I do owe this church and the pastors a debt of gratitude. They were “helpers on the way” to getting me back where I belong. It may not have been their intention, but I believe God uses the people right in front of you, and God surely had some amazing people to deal with me. I have nothing but the utmost respect for these men. And yes I will always cherish my Baptism done by the pastor there. There is nothing more beautiful and more faith-affirming than this act. It changed me.

I am what I am…a Catholic through and through. The Church is made up of human beings who have stumbled mightily both in the past and in the present. When I am at Mass and hear the priest chanting before the consecration or hear an ancient hymn sung in Latin; I know I am joined with all the Catholics of the world as we worship and give thanks to Our Lord.

I know there will be frowns from some who are reading this and I will probably be dropped from some…I do hope not. I think the more informed we are of each other, the less misunderstanding we will have-even if our theology differs. Let’s learn from one another and have a respect for each other as human beings. One of my personal heroes, John Paul II reportedly said this: “What really matters in life is that we are loved by Christ and that we love Him in return. In comparison to the love of Jesus, everything else is secondary. And, without the love of Jesus, everything is useless.” Yeah..what he said. Peace to all who read this.

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“Saying Yes to Jesus Means Saying No To…”

The other night I battled a bit of insomnia and rather than listen to the clock flip endlessly through the late hours, I picked up Pastor Kyle Idleman’s book “Not a Fan.” I’d already read it through once, right after my June baptism but it is one of those books where bits of wisdom are harvested with each read.

Flipping towards the back of the book, I came to a section where he writes about sending an email out. In it, he asks an intriguing question: “Saying yes to following Jesus meant saying no to…”  and then he goes on to recount the variety of answers. The point being, that saying yes to Jesus often means saying no to our own “comfort” and can mean, as he puts it, “sacrifice and risk.”

Taking inventory of myself, I decided to go ahead and answer this question as honestly as I could. So here goes:

Saying yes to Jesus has meant saying no to: 

The Friends I Once Had

It is not that some of my friends and acquaintances suddenly became evil nor that I became too holy, but it was a simple matter of recognition. I recognized that, as a new Christian, I am much like a new bird learning to get my wings so to speak. I need to be surrounded by those from whom I can gather wisdom and love of Christ. To be around those who would encourage behaviors of old, who would mock my new faith, who would say “Just once…come on!” would be to put the weight of stones on the fragile feathers of a baby bird.

So I’ve had to distance myself a bit and thats OK. It is lonely right now as I seek to make new connections within my church family and that is to be expected during this transition. Patience is key. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to reconnect with some of these old friends–but only when it’s right and only when my faith is very solid.

The Kind of Dates I go on 

I was once open to a variety of personalities, beliefs, and thinking. I thought that being in a relationship or feeling “committed” was all that mattered when it came to the subject of dating and intimacy. I believe all along my heart knew the truth despite the hardness of life’s circumsntances. Now, my dream first date would take me to Sunday service, we would have a simple meal, talk and ***MAYBE*** he would get to hold my hand. If God isn’t in the middle of my meetings and dates from the very beginning, there will never be a foundation to build on. This is the beauty of it all. Through my faith God in His goodness allows me this purity-even at my age, even after what life-and my bad choices- has pulled me through. Amazing.

The Desire to Rule My Life

I used to think that there would be nothing better than to steer my life, independent of any outside help. Yeah,that works. I look back now and know He has always been there, even at my very worst. Every morning I pray and deliberately place myself in His Hands. I do not know where He will take me or what He will have me do-but I open myself up to His Will and say no to ruling myself and yes to Following where He leads.

What People May Think 

You may call me overzealous, or a little over the top. But if God says no to it, I’m not going to see that kind of movie or listen to that suggestive music or skip church service. You can call me holier-than-thou and then try to catch me being human-which you will on any given day. But what you think really doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, it’s not you I’m talking to.It’s God.

So this is my really short off-the-top-of-my-head my list of what I’ve had to say no to in order to say yes to Christ. I do not consider it a loss though because what I’ve gained has been so much more. Has there been lonliness in the loss of my friends? Yes. Have there been those who hold me at arms length not quite sure of this change? Yes. With the “yes” comes a certain sacrifice but that sacrifice is tempered by His Peace.

Out of Suffering

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Khalil Gibran
 
Recently I received a bulletin in the mail with the welcome news that a local church was opening a biblical counseling center. It is a sorely needed resource and I am sure many will benefit from it. I’m not exactly sure what kind of clients and issues they will receive, but Im very excited for the church and the community. Kudos to those involved for reaching out and beginning this ministry.
 
As I continued to read the bulletin, I found myself remembering my own journey in counseling some years ago. It was not easy and it was not brief. It lasted for two years and every moment and every session was very necessary for me.
 
 Its Christmas morning and Im ten years old. My brothers and sisters are in another part of the house. Im in my room on the floor, playing with a new toy. The adult (I choose here not to reveal more for my own reasons) comes in, shutting the door.I know right away Im in trouble. The adult demands to know why I did it. I dont know what “it” is and just stare. Again I’m asked why I did it. I bite my lip and look with scared eyes.The adult knocks me on my back and begins pressing down on my neck. It becomes more and more difficult to breathe…I wont go any further except to say on that Christmas morning my terrible crime was…stepping on a crayon. I had supposedly stepped on, and broken, a crayon. This is a small snapshot of one day in that house.
 
What you read above is a very small part of the life that I lived as a child and teen. Unfortunately, the result of that life echoed long into my adult-hood. I had to work very hard and be committed to counseling, in order to deal with what happened. It was a long drawn-out process. How do you begin when all you know as “normal” is far from normal? The beginning to healing can be quite rocky. But I did begin again and I learned. I learned I will never get an answer as to why because there are no answers. I learned you do not “get over it” but you do learn to live with it. I learned you stop apologising for surviving and I’ve learned to be OK-to be more than just OK.
 
I know sometimes people harbor the idea that we must sweep it under the rug and not speak of it.When you sweep everything under the rug the pain grows until it explodes and covers everything around you with its’ ugliness.  I haven’t lived in that ugliness, that secrecy, in quite some time now. However counseling was only part of the equation of healing. There is The Healer, and without Him, I could not find the peace I truly needed.
 
This year at age 48, I accepted Christ, and Pastor A. brought me out of the baptismal waters to be raised with Christ to live with Him.This does not mean the past is magically erased. It is not and I do not want it to be. My past is given to God to shape me and to become the person He wants me to be. I am excited to see what path He chooses for me as He leads me. God took a scared beaten child, a confused abandoned teen, a drifting young adult, a lonely divorced mom–I am all of those things past and present–and gave me His Life and Love.
 
Life and Love-this is what will make the new counseling center so unique-because while offering counseling services they will also be offering the Love of Christ for all who walk through the door.So as this new center gets under way, please give them both your prayers and support.
 
 
 
 
 
 

A Lamp For My Feet

One of my favorite quotes about the act of writing goes something like this:

“Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

It makes sense. You write, back up, go another way, ask for help, but keep on day after day, until you get where you want to be with the work you value so much. 

Being a new Christian can be like this process of writing. For instance, at the moment things are bumpy and my life is less than perfect. I’m divorced and I can feel lonely and disapproved of at times. I also have a degree but am unemployed. It can and, at times, does hurt.

This week I felt overwhelmed. I tried to find comfort and talked to a friend who texted me and said: “Sometimes we need to lose it all in order to gain what God wants us to have.  It wasnt exactly what I wanted to hear but what, deep down, I needed. That is why he is such a valuable friend. He gave me truth. I am, by all accounts, completely stripped of my former life. But if I had not lost it all would I have completely turned my life over to God? That is a question I could easily lie to myself about.

 In this past week of feeling the pain and acknowledging the loss, I came across a passage from Psalm 119:

Your Word is a lamp for my feet
a light for my path
I have taken an oath and
confirmed it
that I will follow your righteous laws
I have suffered much
preserve my life Lord
according to your word
 
I was overcome by what I gained there in the reading. Think about it. If it is completely dark and you place a blindingly bright lamp at your feet, the immediate area around you will be lit up but the brightness will slowly fade into the shadows the farther out into the night you go. God’s word is the lamp at my feet and He leads me and guides me along the way. It is not that His Light ever dims but in my humanness, I do not see the entire road, only what is right in front of me. So I must cling to Him, and to His Word, and trust always in Him. 
 
So as I continue on this journey, new Christian that I am, I do not know what God has in store for me. The old has fallen and been stripped away and in time God will let me know which turn in the road I am to follow. I continually must hold myself out in an act of trust knowing that Jesus won’t ever let me fall. His Word will always be the light for me every step of the way.
 
 

Doers and Draggers

As a new Christian,  I am on this journey and it is one of change. It is much like a winding road that is neither entirely smooth nor entirely rocky.  I welcome it but at the same time, it is a change I must be aware of and there are times I must make choices. Some of these choices are easy and some have challenged me. Some have to do with habits and some have to do with who I surround myself with. All of these choices have made me step back and reflect on my commitment to Jesus.

For instance, every day now I wake and, instead of checking my email and scrolling through the various social media, I reach for my Bible.Though I do not have an organized reading plan, the place I turn to is usually what I need to take into my heart as I read and pray. I’ve discovered that by making Bible reading and prayer my anchors of the day–first thing in the morning and last thing at night–I am grounded in a way I would not have ever thought possible.I believe it is especially important for me, as a new Christian, to engage in this kind of reading/prayer daily so I don’t become a one-hour-on-Sunday-Christian, but instead, someone who has a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. This will serve as a good foundation for me.

Another step on this journey of change is the whole concept of control. Oh boy, how I loved the illusion of being in control. Even when my life was a hot mess (which was…lets see…most of the time) I wanted to think I had it all in my control. When I turned my life and heart over to Christ, suddenly my life wasn’t mine anymore-not that it ever was anyway. But by consciously giving it over to Him, I have this peace I didn’t have before. I admit, it can be a struggle to relinquish that will and that trust, especially when I’ve never had cause to trust very much before. But God knows. He knows and He will take me exactly where I need to be. And I ask Him to use me in all ways for His Glory. Wow. What an amazing, amazing thing to become a child of Him and say “Thy Will be done.”  It doesn’t mean I don’t feel the struggle-Im a single mom, seeking work and I have all the same burdens most do in today’s economy…the dfference is now I give it all to Him and I know He will lead me as I walk with Him in trust.

On this journey I have found some of the major stumbling blocks will be people you know. And let me tell you nothing is more painful-humiliating, than to hear someone who knows you, sarcastically bringing up a past sin of yours in front of others. There are those who like to do that. I cannot speculate on why they feel it necessary, only that they do. I call them “draggers.” They grab onto others’ sins with all the tenacity of a young puppy dragging its master while on its first walk. He or she will then tell it all, first chance they get, to an audience while in front of you. If you are confronted with a dragger who wants to diminish your relationship with Jesus, simply say this one thing:  “That’s old news to Jesus but let me tell you what I’m doing today that Jesus is *really* excited about.” And it can be a large or small thing in your life but I assure you that Jesus is happy. Don’t let the draggers walk you on their leash away from Jesus. 

So as I walk this journey as a new Christian, I am confronted by the fact that I must be a doer, as a lover of our Lord Jesus Christ. I must read The Word and pray as  my anchors to the day, I must trust and give Him my will even when its a struggle and I must never let old sins become stumbling blocks in the hands of the draggers but always keep my eyes and heart forward on this journey with Christ.

Not A Fan

“And I hope nobody tells them that they’re supposed to act like they’ve got it all together. You don’t often get to see people without a mask. And it’s such a beautiful thing. ~from the book “Not a Fan” by Kyle Idleman. Zondervan books, 2011

 I had not planned on writing another post here until sometime next week. What changed my mind was an unexpected gift my pastor gave me in his sermon last Sunday; the day I happened to be baptized. Pastor L. briefly mentioned a book called “Not a Fan” by Pastor Kyle Idleman. Intrigued, (blame it on my degree in English and Creative Writing) I went home and looked it up. After reading a summary of the book and the rave reviews, I bought it.

Best. Baptismal. Gift. Ever.

It has radically changed my view of what it means to be committed to Christ. How easy it would be to just be a fan and not a  committed follower. It challenged me and stripped away all the niceties that one puts up as barricades for the world and for one’s church family. I could go to church every Sunday, attend bible study, dress the right way, say the proper things, avoid certain music and movies…but will Jesus know me?

What Pastor Idleman sets before me is the truth. I can do all those things but I better have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I better be passionate and committed and never content to just sit. Don’t misunderstand! Bible study, church service, and all that goes with it are good and necessary things to grow in your faith. But what I understand the book to say is that we get so comfortable with the facade of doing these things we become fans instead of followers. It is our mask we present to the world.

As I read about these masks we wear, the pastor wrote of new church members talking about themselves in a very honest way. And he found that beautiful. Imagine: as a pastor he found this kind of honesty, which shows brokenness and imperfection and need, beautiful. He found it to be so because the new members had not learned to hide behind the mask of doing the accepted and the expected.  I want to be that honest for Jesus.

As I reflected on my own “mask” I realized something. I worry about how my new church family will accept me. I’m not exactly a replica of Aunt Bea on The Andy Griffith show. I have a  past, as I briefly touched on in my first post. I made some choices in my life that hurt. Those things might be easily hidden under a mask of being the “good Christian” who does all the right things in front of the right people and smiles as if she has it all together. What’s not so easily hidden though, are the visible signs of my past life: my tattoos. A couple of them, specifically the one on my left arm, are hard to hide in 90 degree heat.

The tattoos came at a time when I needed to feel as if I were in  complete control. I wanted to feel in control of my life and my body and what I could and could not do.  The temporary “high” I got emotionally and mentally from the tattoos was just that-temporary. The real issues had yet to be addressed but unfortunately the ink could not be wiped away once I had finally faced my problems.

So here I am, new Christian, and at times fretting about keeping covered so “no one knows” even when its melting hot. But after reading the above passage I quoted from Pastor Idleman’s book, I saw myself differently.

Jesus knows those tattoos are there-from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to the Greek mythology to others-He knows what’s on my skin. But more importantly, He knows whats in my heart. And I don’t want to wear a mask or play pretend.

Jesus already knows every thing, every tiny detail, every miserable decision and wrong choice–I’ve given it all to Him. So why do I hold so tightly to this thing of the past when it’s been soothed by His Love? That is the mark of being a fan who wants her mask to stay on for the world to see. Because its easy.

I’m laying that mask down. I am not in control and I have His Peace. God has alot of work to do with me and that’s OK. So maybe next Sunday I’ll wear short sleeves and if my Van Gogh tattoo peeks out now and then, I won’t fret. After all, it’s old news to Jesus anyway. Then I can just focus on being a follower because the last thing I want is to be a fan of Jesus.

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Buried with Christ in Baptism and Raised to Walk with Him…

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased

On June 3, 2012 I was baptized at Spotswood Baptist Church.This may not seem an unusual event. People are baptized at every service in every corner of the world yet, for me, this baptism…this “dying and raising”…. truly marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

 It is nothing short of a miracle that I stood in the baptismal waters with the pastor as he uttered the words that branded my heart. I struggled for many years with all the typical wounds a survivor of physical and emotional childhood abuse has. I had issues with self-esteem, revolving door relationships and sexual  behavior. You name it, I struggled with it. As I say to people: As a teen and young adult I was a walking reaction to the actions done to me by an adult. It took a long time, including serious committed counseling, before I began to emerge from an unspoken need to self destruct. But even then, even in the healing, there was another Healing I needed. Another Love.

The one constant in my life, from my childhood on, was God. That would strike people who knew my family as very odd. I didn’t have faith practiced in my home growing up, in fact the idea of faith was sneered at and treated with utter contempt. But I had grandparents who were, for lack of a better word, devout. They were simple farmers who lived as they spoke-with kindness and compassion and faith. They took me to church whenever they could and those few moments, along with their prayers at the dinner table and their open love for Jesus, stayed with me. It stayed with me during all the years I was angry and defiant and convinced God was for other people and not for me. Funny thing is, God doesn’t go away. He stays. Even in the worst of circumstances, He stays. He stayed with me.

For the last two years my heart has felt this perpetual tugging of wanting to open and to surrender. I fought it, ignored it, explored other religions, and acted in opposition to what was good and right. It made me downright miserable.The more I considered it, the more I felt the sharp edges of my heart melting. I talked for hours with a trusted friend who wisely asked more questions than preached, shared his life rather than admonished, and just listened.

Three weeks ago I gave my life and heart to Christ. The joy overflowed and the peace entered. The Peace. How do I describe this Living Peace which has entered me?  I can only say it is the opposite of what was in my life and it is everything that is and will be.

Lest you think I have “new believer fever” let me tell you what I ask and pray for: I ask that I not be a bright fire that burns itself out too quickly, but instead, a steady flame for Him. That is what I ask.

So this is how I came to be in the baptismal waters on the morning of June 3rd. Joyfully I was buried with Christ and rose to walk with Him.

I realize I didn’t touch on certain issues in depth here with this first post but will probably do so in later ones. This is merely a beginning and a small snapshot of what God is doing in my life. Ultimately I hope this blog serves as a sharing of my thoughts and my journey with Christ and I hope you enjoy reading and sharing with me each step of the way.~Kathryn

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