Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I Don't Hate Donald Trump

I Don’t Hate Donald Trump

Ever since he announced his candidacy, Donald Trump has been in the news. His horrid statements about grabbing women’s genitals, disparaging remarks about Mexicans, and encouraging his supporters to beat up protesters were all over the news. His actions as president - stripping away environmental protections, deporting mothers and fathers who immigrated illegally but who have been model citizens ever since, removing all statements about climate change from government sites, banning Muslims from certain countries from entering the US, ending the DACA program, etc - are deplorable. His statements about Charlottesville, where he said that there are “very fine” people among the rioting Nazis and KKK members who were marching and beating people up, are beneath contempt. Everything he has said or done in the past 18 months makes me want to punch him in the face.

But…I’m a Christian. One who takes seriously the words of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to “love your enemy.” If I truly believe in God, a God of ultimate love, a God who created everyone and loves everyone, then how can I hate Donald Trump? Now, honestly, I do feel hatred toward him. But, because of my beliefs, I don’t want to. I am called to love everyone, without exception. And that includes Donald Trump - and the Nazis and the KKK. How do I not hate someone who is so contemptible?? How can I not hate someone who is doing irreparable harm to the environment and to people?!?

In order to try to not hate him, I’ve had to pray about it. In my prayers, I realized that God loves Donald Trump - just as much as God loves me! Trump is a child of God, no less than I. God is helping me to see Trump as God sees him - as a profoundly broken and hurting human being. If I step back from viewing Trump in his public persona, and look at him as a person, all I can do is pity him. He must be so very unhappy, deep down inside. He must be so very insecure. He is so desperate for attention that it is truly pathetic. He has all this money; he’s had all these beautiful wives (and he has cheated on at least his previous two); he has all these people who tell him every day how smart and great he is (yes, he literally has staff members who collect positive news stories about him and present him with a folder each morning); he’s the freaking president of the United States! He seemingly has everything going for him. Yet it’s clear to anyone who looks at him that he is really nothing more than a scared, insecure, playground bully. It really is -  to quote Donald Trump himself - “Sad!”

Now, I’m not excusing his awful behavior. I’m not denying that his words and actions haven’t hurt people and the environment. I’m just saying that Donald Trump is a broken and hurting human being, and shouldn’t I - as a follower of Christ - feel sorry for him? Shouldn’t I have pity on him? Shouldn’t I love him? And, gradually, God has helped me to not hate Trump. I hate his words, I hate his actions, but I do not hate the person. (At least, when I step back from my knee-jerk reaction to him!) 

Part of what has helped me reach this point of not hating Donald Trump, is the idea that a mature Christian doesn’t see “us vs. them” - a mature Christian realizes that we are all connected, and that if I see “evil” in someone else, I should see my own evil as well. (Jesus taught this when he said that we should remove the plank in our own eye before we judge someone for the speck in theirs.) I know that I am a flawed human being - I am selfish, I am often slothful, I have been known to deeply hurt others with my words. My flaws may be different from Trump’s, but I still have them. If I can see the flaws in myself, and still love myself and still give myself grace, I should be able to do that for another human being, especially since that is was Jesus commanded us to do.

Again, let me reiterate: I am NOT excusing Trump’s words or deeds! I am NOT saying that we should not criticize him in his role as president. As a Christian I am compelled to oppose most of his policies for the harm they do to people and the environment. I will still #resist with all my heart and soul! But I no longer hate Donald Trump, the person. He is a sad, pathetic, little man, who is massively insecure. He is truly pitiful! And God sees this lost little child, and God loves him! And, dear reader, I’m trying to do the same.* 

*In all honesty, I still want to punch him most of the time! But I’m gradually moving beyond that, and with God’s help, I will learn to not just “not hate” Trump, but even learn to love him as God does. I the meantime: #RESIST!!!!!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

When the Healing Never Comes

Imagine that you’ve spent your whole life as an athlete, competing in school, in college, and into adulthood. Imagine that for you, sports are an expression of praise and worship, in thanks to the Creator who gave you such a strong, athletic body. Now imagine that at age 45 you are struck down by a mystery illness that leaves you unable to work out - at all. You can’t even take a walk. And eventually, you can’t work anymore, and you have to give up a career that you loved, along with all of your volunteer activities. You can’t even go to church anymore. In fact, you can’t get out of the house except for medical appointments. Imagine how that must shake you to your very core. Welcome to my life.

When I first became ill, I had no inkling that I’d never get better. But as the weeks stretched into months, I started desperately praying to God for healing. Friends prayed for me. Family members prayed for me. People at my church prayed for me. And I was not healed. In fact, doctors didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I needed a miracle, and I didn’t get one. As the months turned into years, and the healing prayers remained unanswered, I had some deep soul searching to do. How could God allow my sports - something that I used for God’s glory - to be taken away from me? Why wouldn’t God heal me, when God is the Great Healer? Who am I if I’m not the physically strong and able person I always was? What was God doing in my life??

After much seeking of God, and many sessions with a Christian psychologist, it finally came down to what I believed about God: did I believe God loved me and that God wanted the best for me? Did I trust God? I had always thought I trusted God, but this - this was life shattering. Could I trust God in this?  I slowly began to realize that yes, I could - I could believe God loved me and I could trust God for my life. So I said, “I trust you, Lord,” and suddenly I felt a weight lift off from my chest, a weight I didn’t even know I was carrying. I felt free - free from having to have the answers, free from having to pray for my healing. If I trusted God, then either the healing would come or it wouldn’t, and either way, I knew that God was with me. I drew on the inspiration from the story in Daniel about the three Israelites who were going to be thrown into the fiery furnace if they didn’t bow down to foreign gods. My paraphrase of their expression of faith was this: “I know that God is well able to heal me, but even if He doesn’t, I will serve the Lord.”

I came to the conclusion that whatever God wanted out of my life, whatever purpose there was, my being healthy was not critical to that purpose. Apparently, God’s plan for using me for the Kingdom didn’t rely on my health or my physical strength. And I discovered that being disabled has some advantages - for one, I have the luxury of time. I have the time to spend in the mornings praying and meditating. I also discovered that God wanted me to write. And while I can’t write for very long periods of time because of my illness, I can write something each day. So I started this blog where I share my insights about what I learned in this difficult journey. And it turns out people are encouraged by what I write. And through the wonders of technology, I am able to encourage people via Facebook. Many times I’ve shared thoughts or quotes and people reply that what I shared was just what they needed to hear that day. So, even though I’m stuck in a rocking chair at home, God can, and does, still use me! 

I could remain angry, bitter, and confused as to why God doesn’t heal me. I could live daily with questions and spiritual unrest. But I choose to trust that God is who He says He is - that He is love and He is trustworthy. I choose to live in faith, trusting God to care for me and to help me each and every day. While I still would love to have a healing miracle, God has given me a different miracle: God has given me peace. And that is truly a gift!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Speak Up, Speak Out, Speak Life

Proverbs 18:21 - the tongue has the power of life and death
Proverbs 31:9 - speak  up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the oppressed
Isaiah 1:17 - learn to do good, seek justice, help the oppressed, defend the cause of orphans fight for the rights of widows

I have been contemplating the importance of speech, lately. Given the political and social climate in the U.S. since even before the election, where hate speech has become rampant, and our own president insults and degrades others, I’ve thought a lot about the power of speech, both good and bad, and what my own speech might look like as a result. 

We all know that words can hurt. And we all know that when the speech of our leaders is degrading, insulting, and even hateful, then those people who have long harbored hateful feeling feel emboldened to speak up, themselves. It is no wonder that every day we see some video posted on social media of some white person shouting to a racial or religious minority to “go back to where you came from!” It’s no wonder that we literally have Nazis marching in our streets, spewing hatred and bile.

So, to fight this, I’ve been speaking up and speaking out. I call out racist or bigoted posts or comments on Facebook. I speak the truth about God’s love for every single person on the planet. (See Proverbs 31:9 and Isiah 1:17) Even further, I am endeavoring to spread love and peace through my daily interactions with strangers - I compliment the checker at the grocery store on her earrings; I tell someone I like their hat or their tattoo. I just try to be nice to people, as a counterbalance to all the anger and hate that is in social discourse right now. It may not seem like much, but if I do believe that the tongue truly has the power of life or death, as it says in Proverbs 18:21.

So speak. Speak up. Speak out. Speak life.

(This post is part of Five Minute Friday.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Keep Growing!

My wonderful husband makes me coffee each day before he leaves for work (and before I wake up.) So, every morning I have a few minutes to sit and stare out the kitchen window while I wait for the microwave to heat up my coffee. As I look out the window, I see all the trees and brush growing on our mostly wild property. In particular, I see a tree just outside the back fence that I have come to think of as “my” tree, because I see it as symbolizing my life with a chronic illness.

Several years ago, we had a terrible ice storm, which coated all of our trees. The ice was so heavy that the younger, thinner trees bent over with the weight of it. After the ice melted, all the trees gradually returned to their normal upright position over the next few days, with the exception of this one, which has remained bowed over ever since. Somehow, it was so damaged by the ice that it was never able to spring back. For years, I would look at it and think that maybe it would eventually get back to the way it was, but it has never happened. However this year, I noticed something that is absolutely amazing: at the top of the arc, new growth has appeared, reaching straight up! It’s as if the tree has realized it’s never going to unbend, so it better start growing upward in the only way it can - from its new “top!” It’s just getting on with its purpose in life as best it can, which is to grow up toward the sky.

And that’s what got me thinking about the parallel to my own life. Over thirteen years ago I was “bent over” by an illness. Most people would have recovered normally from it, and gone back to “standing upright” (full health.) But I never did. I’ve remained “bent over” (chronically ill) all these years. I was too damaged by the illness to go back to normal. BUT, even though I’m bent over, I’m still growing! I’m growing out from my illness! Just because I’m chronically ill, doesn’t mean my purpose in life is over! I’m still sick, but my life still has meaning. I can still grow. It’s not the growth I would have wanted, but it’s still growth. 

And the alternative can also be seen in this photo: off to the right you can see a tree that snapped off because of the weight of the ice. That could have been “my” tree. It would have been easy for me to just give up on my life and dreams, because of my illness. All of my hopes and plans were dashed. I could have just snapped in two. But I didn’t. I decided that even though I’m bent over, even though I’m not like a “normal” healthy person, I wouldn’t give up. I chose to keep growing, just as “my” tree has!

Maybe life has left you “bent over” too. Maybe you thought that you could never grow again, because of the damage caused. But that tree is living proof that you can keep growing, keep living. I see it every day, and it reminds me the God can create good out of any situation, any life - no matter how broken. If that tree can do it, so can I. And so can you!

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Peace That Passes Understanding

All Christians are familiar with Philippians 4:7 which reads:
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” 

That’s the King James translation. Other translations are even more expressive:
  • And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [NASB]
  • And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [NIV]
  • Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [New Living Translation]
I have always loved the idea behind this verse, even as a little girl. It spoke of the “bigness” of God, and of God’s amazing power - that we could have peace even when it didn’t make sense to. I believe that at various times in my life I experienced that peace. But now, I am living in that peace. 

Allow me to explain.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or you know me personally, you know that I’m chronically ill, and have been ill for over 13 years, now. Prior to that, I was a hard-core amateur athlete, and I had a rewarding career that I loved. But because of the illness, I had to give all that up. In fact, I had to give up everything - even going to church - because I just didn’t have the energy to do so. As the years passed and I never got better (despite many prayers and many doctor visits), I obviously struggled to find my way in this new life I had. I eventually came to the point where I placed all my trust in God, because I knew that God is good and God is love. I didn’t understand why God didn’t heal me, but I still trusted that God could make something good come out of even something as negative as a chronic illness. It’s been a long journey, with many, many ups and downs, but here I am 13 years later, and I am at peace. And this peace doesn’t seem to be going away! Even on my worst days, there is still this underlying feeling of peace and contentment. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me - I still have days when the unfairness of it all hits me hard, and I feel angry and depressed. But even in the midst of those difficult emotions, I am somehow at peace; I don’t feel consumed by the dark feelings - they’re there, I acknowledge them, I feel them, but they don’t seem to outweigh the peace in the depth of my soul. It’s really quite incomprehensible, if you look at it logically! I mean, seriously, just think: I lost a job I loved (which also meant a loss of over half of our family income), I lost my sports that practically defined who I thought I was as a person, I lost my church, I lost my volunteer activities, I lost almost all of my other hobbies and interests. I have lost SO much! And on top of the loss, I feel terrible, physically. Every single day. No matter how long I sleep, I never wake up refreshed. I feel like I have the flu 24/7/365. And yet I have peace.

It truly does surpass comprehension and understanding!

All I can say is, it’s God. This peace is not of my own making. My natural tendency is to worry and to overthink things. But somehow in the midst of this incredibly difficult life, I have peace. When I gave up my need to control things, when I put my trust fully in God, the peace that passes understanding arrived! And it looks as though it’s here to stay. I certainly hope so!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I've Got This!

It’s now two days from the inauguration as president of the US a man who is a proven liar, a proven sexual predator, a proven misogynist, bigot, and xenophobe. A man who is trying to reduce the freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, not to mention freedom of speech.  A man who was endorsed by the KKK and Nazis, who has appointed a self-avowed white supremacist to his staff. A man whose candidacy and election has torn the fetters off of the dark side of our country,  causing an eruption of hate crimes unprecedented in our history. On top of this, we have a GOP led Congress attempting to repeal the ACA (with no replacement in sight), and with plans to gut the EPA, the Endangered Species Act, and to remove funding from Planned Parenthood (the latter in the name of being “pro life” - completely ignoring the fact that abortions are at an all time low, due to the availability of birth control, which Planned Parenthood provides!) The governmental checks and balances that our founding fathers created are all out of whack, with the GOP in control of Congress, the White House, and due to their refusal to let President Obama to appoint someone to the vacant spot on the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court. And they have demonstrated a complete disregard for the welfare of anyone in this country who is not white and rich. How are we to live in such a country - a country that looks more and more like pre-WWII Germany? How do we do this?

It’s so very easy to look at all of this and fall into despair and hopelessness. I have to admit, I was in that pit for a while after the election. I just didn’t see what I could do to combat all the evil i was seeing in our country. But I have crawled and scratched and pulled myself out of that pit for a variety of reasons. First, I donated money to groups that are fighting for people’s rights (for a list of such organizations see this earlier blog post.) I also made a conscious effort to be aware of all the people and groups that are rising up and taking action, instead of just focusing on the negative. And I prayed, of course.

Through all of this, what I have come to understand about myself is that my whole life has molded me into someone who is made for such a time as this. Let me explain. From a very young age I considered myself an athlete. i got into running track in grade school, and continued throughout junior high, high school and college. I also added cross country and basketball, which meant I was in training throughout the entire school year. And after college, I spent years playing soccer and softball, and then got into bicycle racing. This means that I know how to work hard. I know how to work with others to accomplish a goal. I know how to face adversity and keep trying. I know how to look at something that seems impossible, yet go for it anyway. I know how to fight! I was not the fastest runner on my team in high school, but my coach put me on the anchor leg of the relay because I would never, ever give up! So for the majority of my life, I have had these lessons of perseverance and tenacity ingrained in my very soul.

And then 13 years ago I got sick and became chronically ill. As my life slowly became constricted and lessened due to my physical limitations, I learned to stay positive in the face of this loss. I learned to not give into despair and hopelessness, in spite of living with an illness that has no cure, one that has left me completely disabled and mostly housebound, taking away the things I loved to do. I learned to face a life that I didn’t want, that was unfair, that was so freaking hard! The lessons I learned from a lifetime of athletics translated perfectly to facing a life with a chronic illness.

And, guess what? These are the same traits that I need to live in such a time as this! I know how to fight a seemingly hopeless battle. I know how to not give into hopelessness and despair, despite what life throws at you. I know how to work with others to achieve a goal. I know how to live in a country ruled by Nazi oligarchs! My whole life has prepared me for this!

So, yeah, I’m not giving up. I may not be able to change the country on my own, but if we go down, I’ll go down fighting! On my deathbed, I’ll be able to say I fought the good fight. I ran the race so as to win. I stood up for the oppressed, I spoke for the helpless, I fought for the rights of my brothers and sisters. I know how to do this. I’ve got this!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Conflicted Advent

Advent and Christmas are my favorite seasons. Growing up, our family observed Advent with a wreath, with candles we lit each night, and prayers and hymns before dinner. We didn’t put up our tree until Christmas Eve, because it wasn’t Christmas yet! It made the actual arrival of Christmas Day even more special. I fondly remember going to the 11:00pm Christmas Eve service at Church, and when the service was over, everyone got to finally say “Merry Christmas!” because it was finally Christmas! 
So, now, as an adult, I keep many of the same traditions. We have an Advent wreath for our dining room table, though we don’t always light the candles, and we don't say any special Advent prayers before dinner. But I use Advent devotionals during my quiet time in the morning, and there is just a kind of warmth in my heart during this time of year. We also don’t put up our tree until the 24th, and we leave it up for the 12 days of Christmas, taking it down on January 6. During the whole month of Advent and the 12 days of Christmas, I love thinking about and meditating on what it means to say, “Emmanuel - God with us!” It’s just the best time of the year for me, what with fond memories, and my own spiritual practices.

But…this year, 2016, it is hard to feel joyful, hard to feel the hope of Emmanuel. In the US, Donald Trump was elected president (despite losing the popular vote by 2.7 million votes) and the fall-out has been an unprecedented rise in hate crimes committed against Jews, Muslims, and people of color - many such crimes being explicitly committed in Trump’s name. Trump’s staff and cabinet picks are full of avowed racists (though they prefer the term “alt-right”) and Islamophobes. His administration is talking about slashing Medicare and Social Security, and gutting the Affordable Care Act. It’s as if all the progress this country made in the last 8 years is going to be undone in 6 months. American Muslims and gays are going to lose their civil rights, and the poor and economically marginalized are going to be thrown to the wolves. And in the face of all this, I’m supposed to sing “Joy to the world”??

Well, yes, exactly. Think about when and where Jesus was born. Israel was an occupied country, ruled over by a puppet of the Roman Empire who was a dictator and a despot. Jews had no rights, and a Roman soldier could demand of them that they carry his load, or that they give him the very coats off their backs. They were taxed without any say in the government. Furthermore, Jesus’ parents were essentially homeless at the time of his birth, having been forced by the occupying government to return to Joseph’s ancestral land in order to be counted in a census. In the midst of this, the angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth, announcing “good news” and “peace on Earth.” Surely the shepherds had to be thinking, “Peace on Earth? Yeah, right!” 

God chose a very dark time and place to send the Messiah and remind us that God is “with us” - that the very presence of God is within us and among us, that God is on our side and not against us. And now, given our political climate, what better time to hope for the coming of one who will bring Light and Life, and a peace that “passes understanding”? And I’m not talking about some kind of second coming, here. And I’m not talking about remembering the physical coming of a baby 2000 years ago. I’m talking about the very real presence of God that is among us, here and now - for we know that wherever two or three are gathered in God’s name, then God is there. (Matt. 18:20) We also know that “whoever loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7) The Good News 2000 years ago, that God is with us and therefore we can know hope and peace, is still the Good News today. So, maybe it’s not really a “conflicted” Advent for me, after all. It’s just Advent, as it was 2000 years ago, so it is today: In Jesus, we can know hope, we can know peace, we can know that God is truly with us!