“If you can’t say something nice. . .”

We’ve all heard that phrase:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’ve said it to my own children when they were busily calling each other names or tattling on each other.  But, I have recently realized, that this phrase has taken on a whole different meaning in my life.

My internal voice tells me that nice people never get angry, so there must be something wrong with me when I get irritated, annoyed or mad.  I avoid situations and interactions with others that have made me angry in the past.  Rather than confront the pain/anger, I’ve become very adept at “not seeing” those persons.  I’ve been told that I don’t “do guilt.”  That’s not at all true.  I’ve just learned to hide all my guilty feelings.  If I don’t see them, I don’t have to feel guilty for the way I feel.

This internal voice also tells me that nice people always agree and swallow their own differences for the sake of being nice and preventing others from being irritated, annoyed or mad.  This has been a hard lesson for me.  When I’m asked for my opinion, I usually give it.  Why would anyone ask me if they didn’t really want to know what I thought?  However, the vast majority that ask don’t really want to hear what I have to say.  They expect agreement and support from me.  I’ve been told that I didn’t know enough to have that opinion.  I’ve been told to work things out within myself and “wrap my head around” an issue (meaning come to see “the right” opinion.)  I’ve been threatened in work situations when I didn’t automatically agree.  So, I’m very careful when it comes to being open with my feelings or opinions.  It’s better to be stoic than honest.

My therapist once asked me what kind of animal I felt represented me.  My answer was a possum.  A possum is useful in getting rid of unwanted pests. A mother possum is a fierce protector of her children and carries them around with her.  But, a possum is ugly.  It slinks around in the dark.  When confronted, it plays dead.  But, I want to be a flamingo.  A flamingo is beautiful.  It spends time in the open, eating and just being beautiful. Flamingos are members of a flock, and raise their babies together.  Everyone loves the flamingo.

I recently read a devotional taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind” that said:  “We should choose our thoughts carefully. We can think about what is wrong with our lives or about what is right with them. We can think about what is wrong with all the people we are in relationship with or we can see the good and meditate on that. The Bible teaches us to always believe the best. When we do that, it makes our own lives happier and more peaceful.”

I am attempting to rewrite my internal messages.  I don’t think anyone should purposely hurt or offend others.  Name calling is a childish behavior and should be avoided.  I do, however, need to be honest.  And being honest about my hurts and my feelings may not feel nice to others.   I may not do some things in order to keep the peace or because it’s the expected thing to do.   I may still avoid situations and interactions with others to avoid unnecessary confrontations.  And, I refuse to feel guilty for putting my husband and children as a priority in my life.  I will live my life to the fullest and stop worrying about the approval of others.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG

Struggles

I have begun and stopped at least a dozen posts.  There’s so much I want to say, but the thoughts seem incomplete and unimportant.  I struggle with what to say, what to share.  I see so much around me, both good and not so good.  But, putting the words around those moments has proven difficult.

I watch friendships that come and go for so many reasons.  I don’t think all relationships are meant to last forever. There are some people that come into our lives for a season and then we move on in different directions.  What I’m seeing, though, are relationships that are coming apart because there are so many conditions that are set forth.  The most common condition:   “I can’t spend time with you if he/she will be there”  or the more definitive “You have to choose, it’s me or him/her.”  But the most interesting spin on these conditional friendships is that the conditions are usually not reciprocal.  The same person that forces the choice also requires unconditional acceptance of all of his/her own relationships.

I see snap judgments made with very little knowledge of the circumstances.  It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions.  It’s much harder to look through the  details and find out the circumstances that surrounded the event or person.  Not all information that is provided through the news or social media is complete or even correct.  I remind myself that a cup of salt and a cup of sugar look a lot alike, but they impart very different results.  It’s time to stop assuming everything is at face value and look deeper.

I realize how easy it is to forgive and forget a “pet” sin.  Adultery, promiscuity, little white lies, petty theft are easily excused and often expected by the majority of the population.  But, make a mistake or forget something that is involved with one the “causes of the day” and expect be hung out to dry.  Political correctness, bullying, gun control are all examples of causes that get a lot of attention very quickly.  One misstep and you are toast.

I mourn the loss of discipline in the home and schools.  Where are the strong parents that created strong homes to provide the framework for successful children?  Instead, we have given rise to the “helicopter” parent that is just trying to force the schools and society to adapt to “MY CHILD”.  Where is the discipline in schools that commanded respect? It has been eroded away, bit by bit, by the parents who see no wrong in their own special and perfect hell raiser and the leadership that is afraid of repercussions.

I’m exhausted by the total obsession with “me, myself and I” that surrounds us.  All of the above would be remedied by taking time to look around and try to understand.  But, I can’t see others if I’m focused on me.  Am I a cup of sugar or a cup of salt?  How will I affect the recipe of life around me?

 

When the Mirror Cracks

maskedWhen I was in a high school Home Economics class, I was frustrated by my inability to sew a perfectly straight hem on a summer top.  I had ripped out sections and resewn it over and over.  I remember Mrs. Brown telling me that it was “straight enough for an active teenager.”  So, I finally stopped trying.  Whenever I wore that top, I would look at the bright green stitching and see the stops and starts of that hem.  It was an example of my struggles to be perfect.  As an adult, I worked in a building that had mirrored elevators. I never enjoyed those elevators. The light was harsh and the reflection never looked as good in those mirrors as in my home mirror. As a result, I tried not to look at the elevator reflection. I didn’t like it, so I ignored it and looked the other way.

We all have ideals in mind. Perfect hair, a perfect body, the perfect relationship. We strive to be the perfect parents and rear the  perfect family.    I tried to be the best at everything.  If I wasn’t sure I would be the best at something, I just didn’t try.  Failure was not acceptable in my world.  It’s easy to pretend life is perfect. Social media is quite handy when creating the “perfect” picture.  If we could only ignore the mirror of truth!

Too often, when the realization dawns that this perfect world doesn’t really exist, the goal mutates.  It becomes  extremely important to maintain the illusion of perfection.  We’ve all known the woman who posts about her perfect family with perfectly posed pictures amid the chaos of teen drug use and spousal abuse.  You’ve probably had a conversation with someone about how much they dislike spending time with a dysfunctional parent only to see the “best parent in the world” posted  on social media.  Or maybe, you’ve been with that couple that profess to love each other and to be excited about their life together.  But, they only complain about their partner  in private.   Truth is lost in the illusion.

I know how easy it is to fall under the spell of “the need for approval”.  It is so very hard to keep the facade in place.  I have worked to make sure those around me are content and happy.  I have been known to jump through hoops to take care of things for my children.  I have worked long hours and take criticism very personally even when it’s not meant to  be.   My desires often take 2nd (or 3rd) place behind those of my family members.  All of this in an effort to be “good enough”.   And more often than not, I fail.

With help, I’m learning that I am already “good enough.”   I can only do my best.   If others are not happy with my choices in life, I cannot change that.  I can choose not to spend time with those that continue to manipulate with disapproval.  I’ve learned so much about grace and forgiveness over the past two years.  I’m learning to accept and even embrace what I see in my mirror.

Is your mirror cracked?  Will you break free in 2018 and be the true and honest version of yourself?

 

“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”  Ephesians 4″:25 MSG

 

 

Bonding or Criticizing?

I have two younger siblings, a brother and a sister.  As we were growing up, there were many times that I was irritated by one  of them. I would complain about my brother being the favorite or about my sister wearing her knees socks OVER her knees. It was perfectly acceptable for me to pick on either of them. But, it was NOT okay for anyone else to do the same. We were family and I would protect them both. As adults, it angered me when an in-law would criticize a sibling.  We were Browns  by birth.  Anyone else was an outsider, even if they just happened to be married to a Brown.

Through the years, I’ve watched newly formed family relationships damaged by inappropriate conversations that are critical of another family member.  It’s easy to get on the band wagon and bash whoever is under fire.  But be warned:  anything you say, can and will be repeated and YOU  will be the bad guy in the situation.  You may think you are safe talking about sister-in-law A to sister-in-law B.  You are wrong.  Whatever you say about A will be repeated by B at some point in the future.  When I was a newly wed 20-something, it was common to hear criticism of the other daughter-in-laws at family gatherings. As a result, I was very aware of every word I said. I was never completely at ease. I always wondered what was being said about me when I wasn’t around. On a few occasions, I did know what was said because it was repeated to me by an in-law.

I am constantly amazed to meet people who appear to thrive on  conflict.  I’m never sure if that’s the only attention they feel they deserve or  if it’s the only way they know to control a situation.  I was taught that being truthful made life easier.  It eliminated the need to keep up with multiple story lines.  I guess we all say what we believe the listener wants to hear to some degree.  But, I don’t understand people that tear down a person in one discussion and then get on social media and sing their praises as soon as they leave the room.  It’s not a way to build trust.  It’s not a way to build good family relationships.

A good rule of thumb:  If you wouldn’t say something directly to someone, don’t say it about them to someone else.  I’m aware there are times that we have to discuss intervention in situations, I get that.  But, the daily conversations that tend to move to gossip can be stopped.  It’s not easy.  I find it extremely difficult when I’m irritated or feeling used.  But, I know that I should at least attempt to control my conversations.

“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy.  We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”                                  Romans 14:13-14  The Message

Counterfeit Living

When I was a teenager, I was told that I should never watch soap operas.  The reason was simple:  they portrayed lives that were not realistic.  The women were always perfectly coiffed and dressed.  The men loved to talk about EVERYTHING.  Life was not that exciting or interesting.  This was reinforced when I was touring Europe with the United States Collegiate Wind Band the summer of 1978.  When the family I was staying with in Buitenpost, the Netherlands found out I was from Texas, they immediately asked how many oil wells were in my back yard.  They watched “Dallas” on television and  believed it to be the ‘real’ Texas.

 

Fast forward to today.  We still have the fantasies created by television shows.   And,  we have added reality TV & social media to shape the way we view life.  All of these work together to create an unrealistic view of what life SHOULD be and how we SHOULD be living.  As a result, there are many, many individuals living counterfeit lives.  They are busy making things appear as they “should” and avoiding the reality that is life.

social media

 

Have you talked to anyone that is of dating age recently?  Most of them talk of getting married, buying a home and starting a family.  But prevailing wisdom of today is to live together.   The reasoning is that you can be sure it will last without the “big” commitment.   But the reality is “I just don’t think it’s worth waiting until I’m married”.  I remember being asked about waiting for marriage as a 20-something.  The question was “What if the sex isn’t good?”  My response, “If I don’t have anything to compare to, how will I know the sex isn’t good?”  I was also raised to value myself  and to know that marriage is more that sex.  It’s commitment and building a life & family together.  I’m not saying that waiting is easy.  It is definitely not! And, the further down the path you go the more difficult it is to stop.  What I am saying is that anything you value is worth the wait.  You save money for a house, instead of buying a tent because “all my friends are”.

Counterfeit living is grabbing for all the advantages of life without any of the real commitment.  Counterfeit living is pretending you are married when you are just “shacking up”.  Counterfeit living is escaping into something (alcohol, drugs, shopping, games, television, etc.) to avoid facing a reality you don’t want to see.  Counterfeit living is pretending you value yourself, but willingly give yourself away for the illusion of “living the life”.

Reality can be hard.  Reality may mean walking away from something you really want in order to grow into a better person.  Reality may mean saying “No” to pleasures that you don’t want to miss, but realizing you are worth more than the momentary pleasure.  Reality may mean giving up control for just a moment and allowing others to  follow their own path.  Reality may mean manning up and facing the life you have chosen without whining or  tattling about the person you “love” so much.

When my husband and I were dating, I told him I just wanted to make him happy.  His response was “You are not responsible nor capable of making me happy.  I choose to be happy or not.  You can only provide opportunities for me to choose happiness.”  Not very romantic, but entirely true.  If I’m looking for circumstances or people to make me happy, I will never get there.  I must choose to be happy in the circumstances I am presented with at the time.  Real life doesn’t always provide opportunities for happiness.  But, when the opportunities do arise, they are marvelous.  Because,  I can  know the opportunites are real and solid and I can trust them.  I can choose to be happy.  I can choose JOY!  Counterfeit living will never provide that.  Counterfeit living will only cause questions to arise:  “Is this real?  Will this last?”

And for me, the only way to cope with reality is to turn to my faith.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:4 

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.”  Proverbs 16:20

There are many people who have successful marriages after living in premarital relationships.  And, I know many of them also live with years of guilt because they didn’t stand up for their own convictions.  They will always have that small question “Would we still be together if we had waited?  Was I worth it?”

I challenge you to look at your own life.  Are you living in the reality of life with all of its struggles and joys?  Are your walls stripped bare for all the world to see?  Or, are you living in a counterfeit reality with facades that need constant attention and repair?  Facades that provide for more stress and less happiness?  When I was able to allow the facades to fall, I found an entirely new reality.  I found a reality where I didn’t have to the strongest or the smartest or the best.  I found there is contentment in just doing the best that I can in this moment.  I still struggle and at times try to hide behind the old walls, but I’m no longer trapped and afraid to be honest.

happines.PNG

It’s Personal

I have been challenged to define love several times over the past few weeks.  There’s lots of information about love out there:

  • “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.”
  • “Love is a many splendored thing!”
  • “Love isn’t love until you give it away.”
  • “Love will find a way.”
  • “You can’t buy love.”
  • “Love is friendship caught fire.”
  • “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.”
  • “Love makes the world go round.”
  • “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it. “
  • “Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination.

and my personal favorite. . .

  • “Your love completes me!”

The question that comes to my mind over and over is this:  Is love an emotion or is love an action?  When we are discussing love, we are usually talking about the “feelings” that are described as love.  You know those tingly feelings.  It’s all bubbly and exciting.  The world is beautiful as long as you can be around the one that is the object of your love.  We LOVE being IN-LOVE!  Many relationships are based on the feelings of love.  So, what happens when the feelings calm down and reality takes a toll on all the bubbly excitement?  There appear to be 2 choices:

  1. Decide to move on since you have ‘fallen out of love’ and you are no longer happy.
  2. Recognize that love is an action and made the decision to show love to your partner is  every way, regardless of how I feel in the moment.

How many couples have moved-in together because they were just so “in-love” only to see things fall apart since there was no real commitment to stay together?  The fun ends and the exit sign lights up when it becomes too difficult to stick around.

How many marriages fail because at least one of the people involved is “not happy” and decides to look for happiness elsewhere?  We hear “You deserve to be happy” or “You only live once, so be happy!”

Love is not an easy choice.  I love my children.  I love my husband even when he drives me nuts with some of his preferences.  I love my siblings and my parents.   I would give my life for any of them.  That doesn’t mean that I always like them or their decisions.(And just for the record, I can say anything I want about my husband, children, siblings or other family members.  But, you better not criticize or demean any of them or I WILL come after you!)  I choose to love through the hard spots, through the disappointments, through the struggles.  My heart breaks when I see any of the people that I love in pain.  I’m concerned when the choices being made aren’t the best and I offer advise even when it’s not wanted.  I stick it out because I have chosen to make love a verb.

I have friends that get really turned off  and even a little offended when I use the Bible to support my points.  However, there are several verses about love that anyone can put into practice, Christian or not.

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’

‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’

‘Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.’

One of the best known and most quoted scriptures on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13.  I’ve taken verses 4-7 from the Message and made them very personal by inserting my own name in place of love:

Melissa never gives up.
Melissa cares more for others than for herself.
Melissa doesn’t want what she doesn’t have.
Melissa doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head,
doesn’t force herself on others, isn’t always “me first,”
Melissa doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Melissa puts up with anything, trusts God always,
always looks for the best,
Melissa never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

Are these truth’s about my life?  Not always.  But, these are the ideals I want in my life.  In relationships, we need to make this list personal and to work toward loving others unconditionally.  And that may mean, not complaining about the person that I say I love to someone else.  It means that I forgive and FORGET offenses.  It means that I stop manipulating the people I love and let them grow and love in their own way.   It means I have to be patient and content with my life and stop working to “keep up with the Jones”.  It means that keeping the spotlight on myself isn’t really success.

What’s your definition of love?  Go ahead, define it for yourself.

Gray is not for Cakes

I have always loved the color PURPLE!  I’m drawn to the color in everything from clothes to décor.  I have my favorite purple sweatshirt with my name on the front.  My dad helped me paint my trombone case purple.  I had a purple furry coat.  I just loved the color.  And, I still do today.

When I was about 10 years old, my parents and younger sister took an October trip to the Ozark Mountains.  My brother and I stayed with my grandparents and my Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me.  My birthday was very near this time, so Ruth and I decided we needed to make a birthday cake.  And of course, I wanted a purple cake.  We did not have access to the myriad of food coloring products that are available today.  We had the box of 4 basic food colors from the grocery store: red, green, yellow & blue.  My aunt was in Junior High, so we knew that we could mix the red and the blue to get a beautiful color of purple.  We mixed the cake (from scratch) and then added the food coloring.  The cake was more lavender than truly purple, but that was okay.  After transferring our batter to the pans, we decided that swirls of color would be even better.  So, we added drops of all of the colors to the cake in the pans and stirred it around.  We stirred a little too much we would discover later.  The  beautiful purple cake I had envisioned was more gray than purple.  There were flecks of color here and there, but over all, it was a gray cake.  It tasted great, but it was not very appealing to the eye.

I am going the Bible chronologically this year.  Recently, I’ve been in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  The various kings for both Israel and Judah are listed and their history is recorded.  I found it interesting that each account included one of these statements:  “as far as God was concerned, he lived a bad life” or “in God’s opinion he was a good king” or “… did what pleased God for as long as he lived (even so he did not . . .)”  There were several kings that were just bad.  They worshiped other gods and led the people to do the same.  There were a few kings that did what God decreed and destroyed the other temples and led the people to worship Jehovah only.  And then there were the kings that lived the way God decreed, but allowed the people to continue to live in sin by worshiping other gods.  These were the “grey” kings.  If you kept your eyes closed or didn’t look too closely, they were good kings.  But, they didn’t follow God completely.  They failed the people they were chosen to lead.

When I look at my own life, I wonder if my life is “gray” when God looks at it.  I don’t think I’m living a bad life where God is concerned.   But, do I live in a way that pleases God?  Am I a royal purple follower of Christ and His commandments? Or, do I slip into the “grey” area that encompasses too many things?  Have I become so desensitized to the sins around me that I just don’t realize it?  Is political correctness the center of my focus or is God’s word?  Do I show compassion to everyone or just to the people I “like” in that moment?

I think we all like to believe that we are on the side of right.  I don’t know anyone that deliberately takes a stand that they believe is wrong.  However, we can’t all be right about everything.  Just as the early kings of Judah and Israel condoned the sex-and-religion worship by allowing temples to be built to worship the gods of fertility, we condone everything that makes us uncomfortable by NOT speaking up.  It’s just easier to live our own lives and ignore those around us.  I’m not advocating throwing stones at others.  I do firmly believe that we are to be kind and compassionate to those around us.  But, do those around you know what you believe?  Do they see someone who God is blessing when they see you?  Do you take a stand on a daily basis or is the act of attending Sunday and/or Wednesday services enough of a witness?  Is your relationship with God based solely on the current crisis in your life or do you spend time with Him daily regardless of circumstances?

Too many additions and too little knowledge/experience, made my birthday cake grey.  I don’t want my life to be gray.  I want the knowledge that comes from reading the scriptures.  I want to experience everything that God has to offer.  I want to follow Him completely and to exclude anything that is outside of His will.  That’s doesn’t mean I wont make mistakes.  (I can promise you I will make plenty of them!)  It does mean that I will stay aware and correct any mistakes with God’s help.  It does mean that I may have to give up some things.  I may have to get up a little earlier to spend time with God.  I may not get to sleep in on Sundays because I NEED to be in church worshipping with others.  I may have to give up my reliance on “finger-crossing” and “quick prayers” to really spend time with God to learn what I need to know.  I may have to learn to be part of the crowd and not in the spot-light where others can see me and comment on how wonderful I am.

Gray is a popular color for walls.  But, I don’t recommend it for birthday cakes.  Or life.