Guilt and Forgiveness—a Visual

Karekare Black Beach 491

Karekare Black Beach, NZ

Guilt is like strolling on a sandy beach—you leave footprints for all to see. You may try to cover your shame by smoothing sand over the prints; but as you walk away, you create more footprints.

Forgiveness is God sending His wind (the Holy Spirit), blowing across the sand, erasing all the prints. And even if you fail again, the wind continues to blow.

But how much better to scramble up onto a solid, flat rock where no footprints can be made and no guilt and shame exist.

I’m on the Rock, hallelujah,

I’m on the Rock to stay,

For He lifted me from the miry clay—

I’m on the Rock to stay.

 

On Losing Weight

From my 2009 Journal. This Sunday I watched a particularly well-padded lady at church who loves to move to the music. I’m fascinated to watch human flesh respond this way in motion. Why does this mesmerize me? I feel sorry for the lady, but in truth I feel sorry for me. Here she is, obviously enjoying the joy of the Lord and (seemingly) oblivious to the fact that the people around her are watching. I feel like slapping myself for my rudeness in staring.

Here’s what I’m thinking: “If she only knew what she looked like . . .” Is that what people say when they watch me? If I don’t like what I see in the mirror, why should others?

I confess my fascination, my rudeness. Why am I not very tolerant of obesity? Why so critical? Is this self-righteousness? There’s always someone who is heavier than I am, and I’m envious of those who are thinner. I don’t like the numbers I read on the scale. I want to lose some weight, but why? To fit my clothes better? To feel better physically? To feel better about my looks?

The one I want to explore is Reason #3. Is this vanity? Where am I getting the belief that thin is beautiful, that I’ll look better in the eyes of others if my underarms don’t jiggle or my stomach is flat?

Though I’d not say I am obese, I do know I’m not at an ideal weight at the moment. What would motivate me to give up one thing in order to gain something else? My strongest drive, and the only one I think, that would work to help me lose weight, is to believe that it would please my Savior. But is that true? He loves me no more, no less, if I’m fat or thin.

What I do know is that obesity is often a symptom of a heart need. It’s just that an obese person’s issues are visible, whereas the issues of a thin person may not be. When I’m judgmental of people who are overweight, I fail to address my own hidden hurts.

Ok, now that the issue is out on the table, what do I do with it?

I’m currently reading Bill Thrasher’s book A Journey Into Victorious Praying. He states, “God wins His greatest victories in the midst of apparent defeat” and “God uses the needy moments in life to prepare us for His work.” And when anticipating temptation, “think ahead and ask God to give you a prayer burden to pray each time you are tempted to go back to your previous lifestyle . . . Make it a prayer that will damage Satan’s kingdom as God answers it” (pp. 33-35).

Suddenly I realize that I haven’t talked to God yet about my desire to lose weight. Oops.

As I pray, I hear Jesus say, “Step into the light. The mirror and the camera don’t lie.” First I have to come out of denial, acknowledge the truth, and confess my vanity. And then I ask God to reveal to me what’s really in my heart. I am willing to stop filling the empty place with food and I ask Him to fill it with something of Himself instead.

I can now see the church lady in all her beauty, loving God in full abandon. God knows her heart. It’s no longer about me.

Chocolate

Green Bananas in the Classroom

From my May 9, 2009, 9:09 am (for real!) Journal. I feel sorry for students who have to live through a teacher’s first year in the classroom. I’d like to apologize to any of my 1977 Berean Academy students reading this blog.

One of my students read on my Facebook page that I’d be visiting her city this week. She wrote back to say, “I only live half an hour away!” So I invited her to visit my hotel room for the afternoon. While reminiscing about those years in the classroom, I made the statement that I was a bad teacher. “That’s a lie,” she declared. “Maybe you were inexperienced and uninformed but not bad.” I appreciated the affirmation, but it still felt true in my heart.

After we parted, I thought back to my teaching experiences at Berean and at two community colleges and decided to list all the good and bad memories that were stuck in my brain from those years. I suppose I could go to each of these memories and issues and deal with them one by one, but I think I need to start with the big picture—my view of myself. I felt tall and rigid on the inside, trying to appear bigger and older than I was in order to stay in control of my classroom so the students wouldn’t run all over me.

I felt like a shepherdess trying to herd her sheep or goats that were running in all directions, and I didn’t know how to corral them. I wanted to be like my teachers who had good classroom discipline and not like others who let the students run the show. I hear myself saying a lot of words to these sheep, but not all of them are paying attention. I’m trying to teach, but they’re self-absorbed, busy eating, or wandering off.

In those days wasting time, in my opinion, was about the biggest sin one could commit. I was a master at planning, organizing, and accomplishing, and I expected my students to follow suit. One day I remember making a false accusation to one of my students about the use of his time, and his retort had stung. What did I conclude about myself at this point? That I’m just an ignorant teacher? That I don’t really know my students? I felt shame and embarrassment, and his words left me feeling like he’d snared me in a steel trap.

Because the teeth only caught my clothes, in my mind I can shed that article of clothing and wriggle free—but that doesn’t take away the emotions. I need to apologize: “You’re right; I accused you falsely. I don’t know what you do with your time outside of class.” The teeth unclench, but the student is still wary. He doesn’t know if he can trust me. And so I have to be wary around him now. I don’t like this feeling.

I see Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves trying to woo the wolf. He’s gentle as he coaxes and encourages. I could have done that with this student. Instead, I clammed up and clamped down to protect my ego.

My picture of the shepherdess with her sheep now changes. I can woo and call and encourage instead of chase and run after and herd. And how do I feel now about myself as a teacher? I’m no longer hiding behind a teacher’s desk. I’m sitting beside the students, encouraging and mentoring them.

Was I indeed a bad teacher? No. Just a girl trying to find her own way. I’m sad that I didn’t know then what I know now. Life is such a learning process, and we sometimes leave damage in our wake of inexperience. But each of us must process our lies and wounds from our childhoods. I pray my students will have the grace to forgive me when God brings to light any pain I’ve caused them.

I was so green back then, like an unripe banana. Why do we allow green bananas in the classroom? I know everyone has to start somewhere, but we don’t ripen till we go through the process. God is ripening me little by little and, hopefully, I’m becoming sweeter as I stay closely attached to the tree stem. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll be mature enough to be plucked; and should I become overripe, there’s always banana bread!

bananas

Shame Lifter

We all need connection, but the universal thing that keeps us from it is SHAME and FEAR. (The Power of Vulnerability, Ted Talk by Brene Brown)

From my 2009 Journal. I just finished reading Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz, my former pastor’s wife. She says shame was the undercurrent for all things she did or felt in life.

I, too, admit to feeling an undercurrent in my heart—the shame of inadequacy—a restlessness in my spirit that I’m hiding. It happens when I feel my mind slipping away from me—when I can no longer remember a name or recall a common word or someone tells me they had dinner at my house and I’m surprised because I’ve forgotten, or I’m asked to speak in front of a group. I feel so out of the culture, out of sync, unintelligent, afraid I’ll say something dumb.

The roots go all the way back to my Grade 6 furlough when I had to ask a friend what a word meant—a common English word that was never used in my boarding school in Africa. And even after her explanation, I misunderstood. Here’s how it went:

Someone had scrawled some words on the blackboard of the teacher next door: “Mr. Hart cut a fart.” I found Billie Bean, an African-American classmate, pulled her aside under the fire escape stairs, and asked her what a fart was.

First, I felt her hesitation and embarrassment at having to explain this bodily function. There were inadequate synonyms in sixth grade to explain, and so she pointed to her derriere and said, “It’s what comes out of there.” Okay, now I got the picture: someone was suggesting that Mr. Hart had taken a knife and cut in half a piece of excrement. Why in the world would Mr. Hart do that? And what would possess a student to scrawl that on the blackboard?

When Billie discovered my misunderstanding of this American idiom, I do not remember how she corrected it, but I believe that’s where the shame of inadequacy became planted. I believed the “should”—I should have understood—but even more I could sense her discomfort and the subject felt dirty.

Jesus is my shame-lifter. Being culturally ignorant was not my fault, and I didn’t have to take on Billie’s embarrassment. Perhaps I became the more intelligent one since I now knew that word in two languages!

Who Am I Displeasing?

DispleasureFrom my 2015 Journal. I grew up in a boarding school where we had nightly devotions together as a group in the girls’ dorm. One particular spinster Auntie (as we called our dorm mothers) got frustrated one night with our continuing chatter and instructed us to all be silent. She began to lead us in a chorus, and I leaned over to the girl next to me and whispered, “Listen.” I wanted her to hear me sing the counter melody.

My punishment for this one-word infraction was to forgo afternoon playtime for a week in order to write out by hand 1,000 (yes, one thousand) times:  “I displease the Lord when I am not quiet in devotions.” You see—I remember the exact words all these years later! The repetition, or perhaps the injustice I felt, kept my anger alive until one day I chose to forgive her.

And then I laughed out loud when Jesus replaced those words to reflect His truth: “I displease Auntie when I am not quiet in devotions, and Jesus loves me even when I’m not quiet in devotions.”

But there’s more to the story. God graciously allowed me as a grownup to reconnect with this Auntie, and I was able to hear her life story and listen to her heart. And, no, I did not recount this incident to her since I felt no malice toward her anymore. That is the power of forgiveness.

 

Happy face

Enough Is Enough

His loyal love towers over His faithful followers. (Ps. 103:11b NET)

From my 2016 Journal. There’s a part of me that is unable (unwilling?) to receive/believe God’s love for me. Why? What in me cannot accept it?

EnoughThe word enough comes to mind—I’m always trying to earn God’s love. Where is this insidious lie buried in my heart? Somewhere in childhood perhaps. It was the culture of my boarding school to always strive for perfection. Getting anything less than 100 was unacceptable. But I discover it’s not from the teacher; it’s coming from within. Why? What do I believe about myself if I fall short? That I didn’t try enough, study enough, work hard enough? When I make “less than” I feel . . .

Memory:  A fourth-grade spelling test when I drew a blank over the word earnest. I knew it, I had studied it, but for some reason, my brain shut down when the teacher called out the word. I feel a little angst that the teacher will think less of me when she sees my paper. But so what? Because I will think less of me?

Jesus says, “Look into My eyes.” I imagine I see disappointment, judgment, and condemnation. He kneels beside my desk and asks, “Karen, why are you scared?”

“I want to be at the top.”

“Why?”

“The view at the top is more spectacular than the climb up the mountain.”

“It’s exhilarating to be at the top,” He affirms, “but the effort to get there can be fun too. You’re not going to fall. You’re roped in, anchored to Me. And to the mountain.”

“But what if I make a mistake?” I counter. “What if my pitons don’t hold? What if . . . ?”

And suddenly my visual flips to its side. The mountain is an illusion. I’m not climbing UP; I’m moving FORWARD on a flat plane. There are bumps and small hills on the path for sure, but it’s safe. And Jesus walks beside me.

“Do You really love me?” I query.

“I really do.”

“Then why do I doubt?”

“Why indeed?” Nothing can separate me from His love . . . neither height, nor depth . . .

“Enough” is Satan’s word: you haven’t prayed enough, you don’t love enough, you don’t serve enough, you are not enough.

Jesus is enough. “Enough” was nailed to the cross. “Enough” has been filled and fulfilled.

The question is not, “Have I done enough?” The question is, “Am I connected to Jesus?” While in His presence, “enough” is satisfied.

There’s a song we used to sing: “I want my Lord to be satisfied with me.” I understand the sentiment, but I think the wording is faulty. I don’t have to do anything to satisfy Him. I can simply open all the doors to my heart, release all the guilt and shame and hiding, and let Him in. But I can never do enough to satisfy Him. A child doesn’t need to satisfy a parent. A child simply trusts and obeys.

Jesus paid the price, and the Father is satisfied with Jesus. And that is enough.

Self-Righteousness 101

beauty salon

Photo by Delbeautybox from Pexels

From my 2015 Journal. It was time to find a new hairdresser. Mine was located on the other side of town, her prices went up, and I wasn’t always satisfied with her work. I wanted to find someone closer and cheaper and more consistent. So on the recommendation of someone in our neighborhood, I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest salon, appointment at 9 a.m.

I arrived at 8:59 a.m. and the place was locked up tight. Maybe the owner was in the back. No problem. I can wait one minute. Or two or three . . . or four or five. Eventually, a lady sauntered over from the parking lot and unlocked the door. I moved closer. “Did you want to come in?” she mumbled?

Well, duh!

No greeting. No explanation as to why she was late, why she wasn’t there ahead of her clients, place unlocked and ready to receive customers with a smile. Phones were ringing, and off she went while I sat on a chair and waited, apparently no a/c on yet in the July heat. I was hot in more ways than one!

A couple minutes later, another worker moseyed in, put down her purse, opened up her iPad (really!?) and then I calmed down when I realized she was putting on some music for the establishment. Watch watch, wait.

Finally at 9:10 a.m. Miss #1 looks up from her computer and asks, “Are you Karen?” (Hmm. I’m the only one in the shop. Were there others expected? I suppose she could have assumed I was a walk-in. Still no explanation why they’re late.)

Miss #2 calls me to her chair. She’s friendly, sweet, asks questions, not too chatty. I like her. But I’m still steamed that she’s not professional enough to arrive on time and respect my schedule.

The price is right, the haircut fine (as far as I can tell), and I like her as a person. (I had no further interaction with Miss #1, the manager.)

So what’s wrong?

I need to tell them how to run a business, I fume inside. How do they expect to maintain customers if they can’t act professionally?

And so I leave the premises and ride around the neighborhood, praying as I go. I don’t want this angry emotion. It’s unprofessional! And so I hand Jesus the ball of fire that is burning in my palm. And He smiles. He knows there’s more. I know there’s more. What is underneath this anger? Is it disappointment? I have no time crunch. Why should I be upset about wasting a few extra minutes in my day?

“It’s because they’re so unprofessional,” I whine to Him. “I wouldn’t do that. I always arrive well ahead of my clients. What would they think of me if I showed up late without an apology like these two ladies did?”

And then, “Oh!” I exclaim in chagrin and embarrassment. “I know what it is. It’s self-righteousness—the ‘I’ syndrome.” Ugh. What an ugly word.

What does self-righteousness look like? I see myself wearing a large, shapeless, colorful but gaudy dress. Not too shabby, I think. It has color, it hides my unsightly curves, it’s functional.

“Would you be willing to let Me have it?” Jesus asks.

“Uh . . . okay, but I’ll be rather unclothed then.”

I pull the garment over my head and hand it to Him. And then wait. And wait.

I know that when I give Jesus something, He often likes to give me something in return. “Well, aren’t You going to hand me robes of righteousness instead to put on?”

“Nope,” He replies.

I’m a little taken aback. Isn’t that what Scripture says?

“I already gave them to you . . .” He softly answers “. . . when you accepted Me into your heart.”

I glance down then at my body and gasp. I am clothed in a dazzling white, sequined wedding gown, “adorned as a bride for her husband.”

Chagrined, I realize I had thrown a gaudy shift over top of my beautiful gown. Not pretty. “I’m so sorry, Jesus. Please forgive me for disrespecting Your gift.”

And so I think back to the ladies at the shop. It no longer matters that they came in a few minutes late and didn’t have the people skills to greet me warmly at the door. Perhaps this is my new mission field.

Postscript: I have since found a phenomenal hair stylist. Her name is Cindy Harris and she has a PhD in hair design (I didn’t know there even was such a thing!) I highly recommend her for all your makeover needs.

Cindy’s Total Image Salon located in Oasis Salon, 745 S Church St, Suite 301 in Murfreesboro, TN.

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Shame and Shoulds

From my 2011 Journal. There are certain words, facial expressions, and people’s attitudes that shut me down. One of them is “You should or shouldn’t . . .” My instant response is to go on the defense: “Why should I?” or “Why shouldn’t I?” That self-protective defiant attitude covers timidity to be who I was created to be.

shameI may refuse to listen to your words because they heap shame on me, but I find it’s an uphill battle to sever the ties with them. I am determined to climb this mountain even if I have to do it alone, but the weariness of the battle gets to me.

Jesus says, “Level ground would have been easier, but mountain climbing shows what you’re made of and tests your endurance and strengthens your muscles and heart. Not a bad thing. Keep climbing!” And eventually I am able to see your words for what they are—your belief system, not mine.

I’m reading Unlocking Your Family Patterns by Cloud, Townsend, Carter, and Henslin. I identify with the chapter “Learning to Achieve Adulthood.” The premise is that as children, we always feel “one-down” to adults. Growing up means coming to the place in life where we feel “equal” or “even.” My own shoulds and shaming words or posture are my attempt to feel “one-up.”

Whether your words or mine, I can turn those “shoulds” to “coulds.”

  • I should be praying more = I could be praying more.
  • I should be more available = I could be more available.
  • I should clean my house today = I could clean house today (or not!).

I’m ready to get rid of these echoes in my mind and heart. No longer will I hide my true self to protect me from your words or deeds. I can graciously and lovingly place them back on you and stand firm in what God created me to be—free of shame and life-sucking rules.

What shame messages are you battling to erase?

 

So Fix It Already!

When you try to fix people, things only get broken. (Eric Swann, Believers’ Chapel)

From my 2011 journal. Two incidents happened this week that held a mirror up to my face, and I didn’t like what I saw. I like to be kind and gentle—but I can also be bossy and take charge and can step on people’s toes, albeit unintentionally. I tend to push my way in where I’m not invited. This week I butted in where I should not have. I stuck my nose in someone else’s business and got kindly and gently rebuffed.

It’s a tricky thing—when to step in and be helpful and when to keep my mouth shut. I like to solve problems and find solutions—if I know the answer. But if the person doesn’t need or want my help, then I can be a hindrance.

black-and-white-close-up-equipment-210881I see a problem. It needs fixing. Then fix it already! What is that inner drive? Is it temperament? Genetics? Wounding? This drive can accomplish good things, or it can be a catalyst for ill. The thing is, when I see it in myself, I try to fix it. When I see it in others, I want to fix it myself or encourage them to fix it. I wonder: Why would anyone want to continue to wallow in the mire when there’s an answer for their pain?

So how does it feel when things aren’t right and in their proper order? My brain likes things orderly. Words should be spelled correctly. Punctuation in its place. Pictures straight. No clutter on the table. Other people are wired to enjoy and thrive in clutter and mess and chaos. Why can’t I be more tolerant of other people’s messes?

The key? I am not the solution to everyone’s problems. Imagine that! We were taught in evangelism class to be aggressive, to push forward, to get people to make decisions and “draw the net.” Unfortunately, those tactics can actually cause more harm than good and can drive people away.

I want to be honey that attracts, not vinegar that sets people’s teeth on edge. I want to learn to be content with people’s messes, but not content with my own. I can only fix ME.

Later. So now that I’m tuned into it, I caught myself once again giving unsolicited advice. It was unappreciated and inappropriate. How do I break myself of this habit?

This second incident occurred when a visitor came to drop off his two girls at my Grade 5 Sunday school class. When I discovered that one of the children actually belonged in Grade 2, I ran after the parent to inform him of his mistake.

“But the sign said her class was here!” His tone was angry and insistent.

My first response? Fix it, of course! I wanted to prove he’d read the sign wrong. I wanted to walk him to the next wing and show him how to find his daughter’s classroom (but I couldn’t leave my 5th graders alone).

This same emotion shoots me back to a memory when I used to work in a dime store where I was assigned, happily, to the fabric department. I was fresh off the mission field and had never worked retail before. I didn’t even know how to count out change in American money. One day a lady came in with a bag of material and dumped it angrily on the cutting table. She claimed it had been measured incorrectly. Well, my grandpa, who had owned a hardware store in Des Moines, Iowa, had taught me that “the customer is always right.” So, without re-measuring or checking it against the receipt, I pulled out the bolt of cloth and proceeded to cut another length as she specified and exchanged it.

That’s the day I learned the rule that when there’s a problem, you’re supposed to defer it to your supervisor. Oops! My boss was kind about it, but I knew I’d messed up.

So . . . what was I feeling when this lady stormed into my section of the store? I felt for her. How annoying to be sold the wrong length of cloth! I’d been there myself—trying to make a garment when I’m short of material. It’s like I could feel her dashing water all over me.  In my visual, I can see her tripping over a log or something and losing her pail of water. I feel bad for her. I’m more concerned that she’s okay than that I got wet. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Can I help you draw more water?” I ask. That’s how I respond. Fix the problem.

Psychologically, I know I’m not capable of taking another person’s emotions or pain for them. I can only feel what I feel. So . . . I mentally climb into this lady’s shoes and feel what it feels like to trip and lose my balance and lose all my water. But as I do that, I begin to laugh—amused at myself for not seeing the log in time.

For some reason that helps. Now in the memory, when the lady walks in with her material, I can say, “Oh how disappointing it must have felt to start a sewing project and become stymied.” And I can look at the Sunday school parent and say, “It must be annoying to find you’re in the wrong spot and you still have to drop off another child before you head to the worship service.” No more emotional response; no need to fix the situation. It is what it is. Just acknowledge it and move on.

Who are you trying to fix so that you can feel better?

Trial and Error

notebook 2From my 2010 Journal. In my counseling training, I heard one instructor say, “If something doesn’t work, try something else. Keep trying, keep working. Doing something is better than nothing, and it’s all good.”

I’m not sure how this fits theologically, but apparently even God practiced trial and error! Today I read Jeremiah 36 where God tells Jeremiah to write down all the words of doom, gloom, judgment, and disaster that He’d previously given him orally concerning the future of Israel, Judah, and the surrounding nations. And then these intriguing words:

Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, they will each turn from their wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin. (v. 3 NIV)

Perhaps? Maybe? God had tried out-loud preaching to get their attention. God had tried using metaphors. Now He’s going to try to reach the visual learners—those who need to see the words in writing. Try and try again.

It’s not the counselor’s fault if the client doesn’t find freedom or ends up in suicide. The client has a choice—always—to repent, to come out of hiding, to lay down bitterness, to lower walls of defense, to face the truth, to forgive and to accept forgiveness, to relinquish hate, to release pain. Each person has been given freewill to turn toward God and seek Him, to be healed of heart wounds and find peace—or not. But the counselor keeps on trying different methods to help the client discover what’s in his or her heart. God did!

What will it take for God to get through to my heart?