Mrs. Olsen

I used to love watching Little House on the Prairie.  What a great show with such a contrast in characters.  Charles and Carolyn Ingalls are loving and hardworking and Mrs. Olsen and Nellie Olsen are mean, vindictive and entitled. Such great lessons in each show!

Recently I was reflecting on that show when I was thinking about forgiveness.  Over my lifetime I’ve had some people hurt me in ways that would be considered to the world “unforgiveable sins.”  You know the ones.  The big ones.  The ones that people say that once they carry out these unforgiveable sins they can never change.  Well that makes sense if there were no God, but in my world there is God and God is Love.  In fact I’ve heard it said that the entire bible can be summed up with the word love.  When all else fails Love.

Now I don’t mean doormat Love.  I don’t mean putting yourself in harms way over and over.  I mean God’s definition of love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

It was that one sentence that made me realize I as Mrs. Olsen.  “It keeps no record of wrongs.”  Mrs. Olsen knew everything everyone had ever done and always used it against them.  I do the same thing.  I don’t think I use it against people, but I do guard my heart with it.  “They’ve done this before, they’ll do it again.” But God says I can’t keep a record of wrongs if I love.  I’ll never forget a bible study I did one time and we drew a picture of our image of the throne room of God.  Around his throne in Revelation 4: 6 was a sea of glass.  It reminded me of the “sea of forgetfulness” that God casts ours sins into.  The sea is ever before his throne because he’s always ready to cast our sins into them.  Is that me? Do I cast people sins including my own, into the sea of forgetfulness or like Mrs. Olsen do I keep a tally?

Well if I’m honest sometimes I keep a tally.  It’s hard not to.  I’m human.  In some of my deepest hours of pain and crying out to the Lord he reminded me that I know nothing of why people choose hurt me or what’s going on with them.  He also reminded me of his authority to forgive whoever he pleases.  That’s the grace we all want, I’m not sure as a church it’s the grace we all give.  I think as a church we have a formula.  “When they repent and turn, when they apologize, etc.”  But God calls us to love people in the midst of their sin.  “I know you are struggling with…. but I love you anyway.  I’m here for you.”  We see pastors who fall and they are presented to the church and they are repentant and the church forgives, but what if they weren’t repentant yet? Would we still treat them with the same love? What if our love is what can help them get to repentance?

I’m currently choosing to love a few people who have not repented.  They aren’t even sorry.  But I trust God to carry out his perfect will in their lives with the help of my love lavished on them that they don’t deserve.  After all, that’s what God does for us.  He lavishes love on us we don’t deserve.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not perfect.  There are also a couple of people that just aren’t safe for me and I have to keep at an arms distance to protect myself.  But I can still love them in my prayer life before the Lord hoping that someday they will see what they are doing.  Forgiveness looks different for all of us.  Forgiveness isn’t absolution.  It isn’t saying what they did was o.k. It’s simply saying that I am not going to keep a record of wrongs.  We do it with our children when they are small quite easily.  When they break something we are quick to forgive.  I’d like to learn how to be that forgiving all the time.

In the last year God has changed the way I look at forgiveness.  God calls us to forgive the unforgiveable because he’s forgiven us.  He doesn’t call us to “bring them to repentance, or make them apologize,” or anything else for that matter.  That’s His work.  Our work is to Love.  This world could sure use a whole lot more love and it’s got to start with me.

 

 

 

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The Ugly Truth about Leadership

Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  I personally would have ended that passage with “but guard your heart because it’s hard work and it is likely that there will be many times when you fail.”

Failure is a huge part of doing God’s work.  Failure is a guaranteed part of leadership.  We are human.  Human beings fail all the time.  In fact sometimes we have what are often referred to as “epic fails.”  I’ve had a few myself.

A few years back my children’s school was having financial difficulties and was looking to close.  They came to me to see if I wanted to take it over.  I had no background other than having my 4 children all go through the school and I didn’t have a bunch of money.  But I loved the school and the people and I have what I affectionately refer to as a “superman complex.”  Some might call it a “Jesus complex” but I would never put myself in the same category as my ACTUAL savior.  I feel that given enough faith, hard work and love I can save anything.  ANYTHING.  I poured my heart, my soul, my finances, my faith and all of my energy into this school.  I was going to restore it to its former glory despite the economy.  To a certain extent I did.  To a certain extent I was successful and I loved it.  But in the end, I failed.  The school closed and I walked away in shame.  It was an epic fail.

I examined everything.  What did I do wrong?  What could I have done different?  Did I hear the Lord when he allowed me to go forward with it?  Did I sin?  Was it a sin from my past?  Was God mad at me?  Was I just not cut out for his service?  Did I fail God?  These questions tore at my soul.  They ripped me apart.  I anguished and anguished over these questions for 2 years until I finally broke free of them.

The ugly truth about leadership is that sometimes you fail.  It may be a ministry that doesn’t work out. It may be a church that closes.  It may be a business that fails.  It may be a job you lose.  It may be a friendship you lose.  It may simply be God saying no to something that seems like his will.  The problem is, we often don’t teach leaders how to deal with failure.  Even more importantly, we don’t teach women how to deal with failure.

When women fail, we personalize it and often go straight to shame.  That’s not what God wants for us.  2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Psalm 73:26 says “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” There are many more verses referring to failure and shame.  The point is that it is not a surprise to our heavenly father that we are going to fail.  He created us.  Failure is just part of us.  It’s how we deal with the failure that makes the difference.

For me and my failure I personalized it immediately.  In fact I made it all about me instead of asking God what He was trying to show me.  I was angry with God.  I was frustrated.  My conscious mind knew that God does “all things for the good of those who love Him” but my heart was broken.  In the midst, even when it was so hard I praised God anyway.  I continued to praise Him until my heart came in line with my head.  I continued to ask Him what His purpose was in all of it.  To date, He has remained silent on that subject. But in all things I will trust His goodness and His perfect will.

After that, God took me out of ministry for a while.  He put me in a spiritual timeout so to speak.  He has been showing me that in my “superman complex” I often pour out before I’ve filled up and by fill up I don’t just mean massages and pedicures (although those have their place).  He means filling up on His word and He means filling up on Him.  I have learned to just being in His presence.  I have learned that “for such a time as this” it is ok to just be.  So often I feel like my worth is tied up in what I do.  God is showing me that if I never do another thing, I am still loved and adored by my Father.  He’s also showing me that he will let me out of “timeout” one of these days when I am ready and when it’s His will, but he’s also showing me that I may fail again and I need to prepare my heart for that.

My advice to leaders that have failed is this:  Immediately begin to praise Him and keep doing it until your heart and your mind line up.  Take the focus off yourself and your circumstances and focus on Him and His perfect will.  Give Him your broken heart.  He is the great physician.  He will restore to you your peace and He will show you His will for your life.  Most importantly He will use your failure for good.  Trust that and begin to lead knowing in God’s eyes your failures are mere detours.  Don’t get lost in your failure.  Get lost in His presence.

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Cary

CARY52

This picture is of my brother-in-law Cary on my wedding day.  As you can see he was handsome.  He was also a talented musician.  He played by ear which drove me crazy.  People who studied to read music are irritated by people who can play by ear.  Cary discovered music in high school and it was his passion.  The only problem was, Cary didn’t have a plan B.  Cary had a a job working with his Uncle in a sign business.  He did really well at it, but it wasn’t his plan B.  It was just a job until his music took off.  He didn’t go to school and unfortunately no one explained to him how difficult it is to make it in the music business and how important an education could be for him.  Cary was very hard headed so even if someone had told him, he probably wouldn’t have listened.  When fame didn’t come in his 20’s he kept waiting.  When it didn’t come in his 30’s he kept waiting.  But slowly depression started creeping in.  He didn’t understand it.  He tried to fill that depression with other things, mostly women who were wrong for him.  His depression grew.  Despite being told that he needed to “get something for it”, he pressed on.  Eventually he would see a Dr. but by then his depression was very deep.  His 40’s came and with them more depression.  He wasn’t married.  He didn’t have the career he envisioned and by then he was waist high in horrible depression.  He would see a couple of physicians, but nothing seemed to help.  In his mid 40’s he lost his Mom.  She had always been his biggest supporter.  It sent him into a tail spin and at that point depression washed over him like a tsunami.  He was overwhelmed.  Life got increasingly difficult for Cary and he could see no way out.  On September 1, 2014 Cary ended his life.

Cary chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  Cary left devastation in his wake. He left a legacy of suicide to his family.  For that I will always be angry with him.  You see, this didn’t have to happen.  This was completely senseless.

Cary was hard headed.  Cary had a Mom who supported him.  He had an uncle who would do anything for him.  He had a father who was there for him. He had a brother who would do anything for him. He had friends who adored him. Over the course of his life I know that his brother (and I’m sure others) talked to Cary about seeing a therapist and going to college, going to church and changing his life direction.  But he couldn’t hear it.  He was stuck.  He was convinced that his brother simply “lead a charmed life” and couldn’t possibly understand. That was not true.  His brother did some hard work with therapists to overcome many issues.  He put in the time and the work.  Cary didn’t.  Cary very easily became overcome by his emotions but he was too stubborn to reach out to get help.  He was too stubborn to see things another way.  To that end, he fell deeper and deeper into depression until it simple overtook him  and he took his own life.

I’ve condensed a long life into a few paragraphs.  There was so much more to Cary’s life.  So many more pieces that others could fill in.  But my purpose is to bring awareness to this horrible issue of depression.  It is overwhelming.  So many suffer with it in silence for lots of reasons.  No reason is acceptable.  Help is all around.  Reach out.  There are so many places to go – pastors, rabbi’s,  hospitals, public health, friends, family, teachers even police officers.  Tell someone.  Keep telling someone until someone hears you.  If your Dr. is not helping find another one.  Depression is like cancer.  You must fight it.  You can’t give into it.  You must keep fighting until you defeat it, because the alternative could be death. Don’t be hard headed.  Don’t get stuck in patterns.  Seek new forms of help.  Seek new patterns.  Go out and take a walk.  Exercise is so good for you brain.  Talk to people.  Talk to anyone. Call a suicide hotline.   If you are considering suicide I wan’t you to think about your family sitting at your funeral.  Do you really want to do that to them?  Is this truly on ONLY answer?  No!  There is hope.

I’d love to tell you about the hope I have.  I too have struggled with depression.  The stories are too long to share here but it has been a lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety.  I have fought every step of the way.  I have seen physicians and therapists.  I’ve read books and tried to learn more about it.  I have fought hard because giving myself over to depression is not an option for me.  I love my family too much.

We miss Cary terribly but his death is always marked by this incredibly selfish act.  For that, I will always be mad at him.  But I don’t want Cary’s death to be just another on the nationwide list of suicides that happen every year.  He may have chosen this selfish, and permanent solution but by God I’m not going to let it end there.  I’m going to make sure that at the very least others learn from his tragedy and hopefully someone will read this and make a different choice, a choice for life.  Hopefully someone else will ready this and choose to fight.  Cary’s life does matter even though he may not have believed it did and I’m going to make sure to use his story to make a difference.

If you are considering suicide or just suffering with depression please reach out.  The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and their website is www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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Coming Alive Again

Today was a big day – a really big day.  Two years ago as I’ve written before I lost a business that I put my heart and soul into.  The problem is, it wasn’t just a business it was a school.  It was a school I loved.  It was a school my children went to.  In the end, I didn’t have the finances to sustain it.  There are things in hindsight I would have done differently and things I wouldn’t change for anything.   In the end, I was betrayed by some people I trusted and the pain and the loss were excruciating.

I live in the same town but I can’t drive by that school.  I drive around it.  I take the long way.  If I have to drive past I close my eyes until we are past or cover my eyes so I can’t see it.  That seems pretty extreme doesn’t it?  Perhaps that explains the depths of the pain I felt over the loss.  I recently learned that the school has now closed.  Those that plotted to overthrow me, those who betrayed me for their own gain, I’m guessing have now learned that it was not nearly as easy as it looked.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  Part of me feels vindicated.  Not that they failed but that they finally realized that what we were doing there was no easy task.  It took heart, soul and determination and it wasn’t something you could look at strictly from a “business perspective.” Part of me is sad.  The legacy of the school is now gone forever.  Part of me feels free.  I can’t explain it but the news lifted some of my shame.

So today I had to drive by.  I decided to be a big girl and open my eyes.  It wasn’t so bad.  The aching in my heart only lasted a few minutes as all the memories flooded. The tears that flowed down my cheeks were cleansing.  Today instead of just being mad, I could finally be sad.  I could grieve what was no more.  I could grieve not only my loss but my failure as well. More importantly I could put it in perspective as a moment in time that is over.

I said in a previous blog that I needed to have a good funeral for these feelings and I did. I have really done some amazing healing from that, but grief is a mysterious thing.  It takes a long time to walk through and in some small way its always with you.  Images have ways of triggering that grief.  It’s not a bad thing.  I see old pictures of the school and I cry.  Now I can drive by and cry, but the tears are no longer tears of shame but tears of sadness and grief.

This process has been amazing.  When it first happened I wasn’t sure I could survive it.  I didn’t know if my heart could take the pain.  But now I’m coming alive again.  Slowly.  In some ways it reminds me of by favorite geranium plant.  This week the gardener butchered it.  He hacked it way down.  There are no leaves left on it.  Simply brown branches where this beautiful geranium once was.  This amazing geranium once smelled like roses and now is just a pile of sticks.  2 years ago, I was a pile of sticks.  My beautiful leaves gone – destroyed by sadness.  My sweet smell which I call my joy – completely gone.  But now, slowly but surely my leaves are coming back and every now and then I get a whiff of that sweet, sweet smell of joy.  The Lord had to really wack me back, but now I’m coming alive again.  Look out!

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Say Cheese

I love pictures.  By that I mean I LOVE pictures.  I love taking them.  I love framing them.  My entire house is filled with pictures.  They are my artwork.  I’m more inspired by pictures of my family than by artwork.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love art.  I really do.  But my family by far is God’s greatest work of art.

Some cultures believe that pictures can steal your soul.  That’s a bit of a stretch for me but they sure stir my soul.  I always wonder that in older pictures no one smiled.  Perhaps it was because they didn’t see they pictures after they were taken.

I’m not sure what it is about pictures that I love so much.  I think they capture an emotion and every time I look at that picture I can tap into that emotion over and over again.  I currently have about 25 years of pictures to be put in scrapbooks.  I don’t know who the genius was that decided that not only did we need to catalog our pictures but we had to decorate them too.  The pressure is too much!  I won’t decorate them as well as those “scrapbookers.” Mine will forever be inferior.  The perfectionist in me says, “don’t even try!”  The Mom in me gets lost in the pictures every time I bring them out.

For me pictures bring such joy.  I see a picture of my child with food all over their face, or a picture of a graduation or better yet a picture of my child at birth and I am flooded with emotions.  I also love pictures I have of people that have passed on like my Dad.  I can look back at those pictures and remember the good times.

But there are also some pictures I don’t want to see.  Like pictures of me before I lost my weight.  They are unavoidable.  My kids are in them!  I can’t destroy them.  So they serve as a great reminder of how far I’ve come.  But still there are some, I can’t bear to look at them.  It hurts too much.  They are locked away for a time when I am stronger, again because of the emotions that the stir.

Right now I’m in the nirvana of picture times.  Two of my children recently got married. Looking through all the pictures and seeing the joy on their faces has me in a place of pure bliss.  Seeing my family all together and all my friends surrounding us is just precious to me.  I’m enlarging prints and trying to find more room on the walls for all these pictures. That make me so happy!

I often wonder why I never became a photographer.  Especially since I love pictures so much.  Here’s what I think.  I think that because I love the pictures for the emotions they stir and not the art form of them, I am better enjoying the work of talented artists.  As for all those scrapbooks that need to be done – perhaps I can become friends with a small army of “scrapbookers” who will come and do the work for me?

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Mom University

As Mother’s Day approaches I think of all the women who have spoken into my life teaching me how to be a woman, a wife and a mother.  The first on the list had to be Mrs. Kim. She was my best friend in high school’s mom.  Mrs. Kim taught me about hospitality.  She was always thrilled to see you.  She always had some kind of feast going on the stove and her kitchen table was always full.  She was a safe haven for me and taught me so much.

My friend Stacey taught me about loyalty and loving even when it’s hard.  I walked with her through her journey to have a child.  I watched her faith and her strength on her journey to be a mother.

My friend Lynne taught me about the fierce love of a mother.  I have prayed with her for her kids and watched her love them, even when they have rejected her love or hurt her.  Her mother’s heart has always been strong and fiercely loyal.

My friend Lyz and Karen have taught me so much about unconditional love.  That’s one I struggle with.  I watch them love the unloveable ones, forgive the unforgivable and do it all with beautiful grace.

My friend Becky has taught me that a woman doesn’t need to have children to be a mother.  Becky has taught me so much about peace, contentment and joy.  She is always kind, always faithful and so loyal.  I have learned from her how to honor my husband.  She is the best example I know of God’s grace. I often say I would like to be Becky when I grow up.

My friends Gidget and Michelle walked me through a very difficult time in my life, which was equally painful for them.  They protected me and supported me but more importantly saw through me straight to my heart.  They’ve taught me so much about forgiveness.

My husband’s cousins Ricky and Tobie also taught me about fierce love.  They came alongside us during a very painful time and made a fortress around us to protect us.  They check on me and love me as if they were my own sisters and they love and adore my children.

Sharon met me 20 some odd years ago and right away she could see I needed a Mom.  This is not unusual for her.  She is Mom to many people.  She has cried with me, laughed with me, called me out when I was wrong and built me up when I needed it. She has always believed in me and seen potential in me. Not only has she loved me and taught me, but she’s loved and taught my family as well.  She has influenced the women I’ve become and I’m very proud of that.

There are so many women that have spoken into my life.  Too many to name here.  But the most beautiful example was at the recent weddings of my children.  I had no extended family there, all of these women plus others without being asked walked up and filled the family section.  I have the most beautiful family pictures from both weddings of all these amazing women who have come along side me and my family to strengthen us.  It is a beautiful reminder of how God replaces what is missing.

Women are powerful.  We have the power to build up, or tear down.  We have the power to teach and influence.  We have the power to love.  As Mother’s Day approaches, think about the women that have influenced your life and tell me about them!

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That day in the mirror.

I talk to God all the time.  When I was little sometimes my Mom would forget to pick me up from school.  I would sit in the school yard all alone and talk to the Lord.  I would ask him little girl things like “am I pretty Lord?  Do you like me? Do I make you laugh?”

As I grew older our conversations became, “please help me pass this test!  Please help me get a job!  Please help me make this decision, etc.”  When kids came along it was, “please make this fever go down. Please don’t let it be broken.  Please make her stop crying, etc.”

Then the kids got bigger and my conversations with God got bigger.  “God, make them successful.  Give them a career path. Help them choose a college. Prepare a Godly spouse for them. ”  All the while whether my conversations were long or short the Lord always listened and assured me.

There is one conversation with the Lord that I will never forget.  I was in a public restroom crying my eyes out.  My father had been arrested some months earlier.  I had removed myself from relationship with my parents to deal with everything.  My husband was taking the children to see their grandparents.  I was waiting in the public restroom for them to return.  I remember crying out to the Lord, “why Lord? Why?  Why did I have to have this dysfunctional family? Why do I have to deal with all this?”  I will never forget that moment in that restroom (luckily no one else was in there – they would have thought I was nuts!).  The Lord very clearly said to me, “Jeannie, you have had the life that you have so that your children will have a better life.”  That was all I needed to hear.  I wiped my tears and never again asked God why (at least not on that subject!).

That day in the mirror I realized there was purpose in my journey, despite how painful it was.  These past two weeks I have seen the Lord’s redemption in my life.  Sitting at my son and daughter’s weddings I saw the beauty.  I saw the joy.  I saw the wholeness of their lives.  I saw the Lord’s redemptive hand at work as he brought them each a perfect spouse and started them off on their own branch of the family tree.  Their branches are free from dysfunction and pain and ugliness.  They are new, and strong and perfect.  That’s completely worth it to me.  The Lord was gracious enough to show it to me.  Now I can go back to asking him if he thinks I’m funny.

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