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A Tribute to Her Father

steve and bindiLast week on Dancing with the Stars, Bindi Irwin did an emotional dance tribute to her father. If you’ve watched it you know, it was moving. Especially if you see the reasons behind the dance and the emotions she experienced as Derek Hough and her prepared.

You might shed tears.

But it also made me think. I was a fan of Steve Irwin and was sad when he died. It’s sweet to see his daughter growing into such a woman of conviction, authenticity and grace.

“I wanted to be just like my dad when I grew up.” 

The reality is, if we are followers of Christ shouldn’t our lives be lived that same way? Shouldn’t our work, whatever it is, be filled with dedication to the One who gave us life, physical and spiritual? As I write I hope my words will give testimony to the One who gifts me to do so.

But the same should be true of my parenting. All my relationships. Even the way I drive my car! (ouch, right?)

Every day, every action I can take should be out of dedication and devotion to the One who loved me first. The One who numbers my days. He is the One who sustains me after all.

It might not make people cry, but as much as Bindi’s dance reminded us of the vitality and impact of her father on the world to those who knew him (and possibly now to those who didn’t as well), how much more should ours invite others to see Christ in a new light.

Now we’re not perfect and all my efforts will be a dim reflection of His glory, but still, if my intention and worship is evidence in my actions, wouldn’t He be more glorified in this dark world longing for beauty and hope? The kind of beauty and hope only Jesus Christ can bring?

Dance on . . .

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When Joy Takes Over

I’ve meBird in cagentioned on this blog before that I struggle with depression. I learned early on to put a good face on my inner darkness because I was told that to tell anyone I was depressed was manipulative and a lie.

Way to validate my reality, huh?

And I fought the first therapist who insisted this was my struggle. So I charted my emotions, and I was shocked at what I saw. I really was depressed.  Since then I’ve taken medications on and off over the years and have one that works well for me now. I tried the natural methods to no avail. I defeated Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease of the thyroid for which depression is a side effect). Having been educated and worked in the mental health field I’m very aware of my symptomatology and the kinds of things I need to do to stop myself from sinking further into the pit of despair.

That’s why sometimes when joy breaks through it is a remarkable thing for me to take note of, to savor and to hold on to-because it’s rare.

Some of my circumstances do limit my expression of the good in my life because not everyone in my world appreciates all the aspects of who God created me to be. Not everyone supports or cheers me on in my writing and publishing pursuits. Because of this I’ve had to develop a more extended circle of support. So my cheerleaders are not physically close but they are there when I need them.

Flying Dog

But joy. It breaks through like a dog let off his leash, gate open and free to run in wide open spaces, ears flapping and tail wagging. Unhindered by expectations. Free to be fully who he is.

The filters come off, the darkness slips away and bright light shines from inside as I let loose to live more fully who God created me to be. That’s a high energy thing though and can’t be sustained for long. It happens in places were my gifts and calling are validated and my wacky weird personality is appreciated and not condemned.

A place where I can set aside any thoughts of how overweight I am or be self-conscious about my appearance.

It’s a place where people around me appreciate and love me for being – me. Imperfections and all.

That sometimes happens at church and I’m blessed to have people there who love me like that. But there are still some barriers because there have been those who have condemned me for my high spirits and effusive personality when it’s been expressed. Not everyone likes the bubbly, silly, sassy, “high-spirited” side of Susan.  Or maybe it threatens them. Joy at fully living one’s purpose can make others jealous.

Dee Dee and Lori laughingA few weeks ago I had several moments of uninhibited joy. I was in the beautiful Rocky Mountains at a YMCA at Estes Park for the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference where I served as faculty. I enjoyed my entire time there. It was work. I taught classes which I enjoy and encouraged writers. I willingly poured out love and encouragement to others and was glad to be able to do so.

Dee Dee and I met last year and a friendship was born. The picture above is of Dee Dee and another new friend, Lori at dinner in town. I love the expression on their faces and only wish I could have caught Megan in there too as she sat next to me. A dinner filled with deep conversation, belly laughs and love.

A writer’s conference is about writing, but more than that, it is about relationships and that night at that restaurant is a treasured memory of joy. It was later that Dee Dee and I sat and talked in the lobby and our relationship grew deeper. Dee Dee hasn’t led a perfectly wonderful life and has suffered her own share of struggles too. But together we laughed and cried and out of that is born joy.

Why? Because Dee Dee accepts and loves me just as I am. Wild, silly, weird, authentic, wounded and seeking to follow God imperfectly in my own circumstances. And I love her that way too. There will be many wonderful reasons to return to Colorado – but Dee Dee would top the list. And I’m grateful that with computers and phones the distance doesn’t have to be a barrier to our friendship.

Today as I write this, it’s raining and gloomy. Even as I type, tears roll down my cheeks, not out of sadness, but gratitude for those brief moments when the sun shines through the cloud and God has given me the opportunity to live more fully as “me”and be loved and accepted for that.

Praying you find safe places for joy to break through too.

Who’s Your Sam?

A few weeks back, I did a talk at our local ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) chapter and challenged my fellow writers with this final question: Who is your Sam?

Let me give you some background.

Life is tough. Duh. You already knew that, didn’t you?

Being a Christian can be a challenging road to walk. Oh, you knew that too? Sorry. Just wanting to establish the facts first.

We need to be immersed in God’s truth, studying His Word and listening to the Holy Spirit as He leads and guides us. This communication however, can be disconnected because of sin. The remedy is simple. We repent, accept Christ’s forgiveness purchased for us at the cross and walk forward His power to accomplish the tasks He has given.

You with me so far?

Life is hard. We need God.

But that’s not all. We need others around us. Let me show you an example:

Now, if you are not familiar with J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, let me give you an overview. Frodo has a ring of power that needs to be destroyed in Mordor. He leaves home, the shire, with three other Hobbits. One is Sam. They end up in Rivendale and become a fellowship of nine all bent on completing this task of destroying the ring. Four hobbits, a wizard, two men, an elf and a dwarf. By the end of that first movie, the wizard is presumed killed and another man is dead and the fellowship is broken up. In spite of that, as the trilogy moves on, Sam is Frodo’s constant companion, protector and in many ways, his salvation. While there are many heroes in the story, it is Sam, a secondary character, who truly gives his all to his friend.

In the hard journey of life and the calling that God can place on our lives, we all need a few Sam’s around us. Some might be a little more distant and still helping us fight on toward our goal, with words of encouragement, a listening ear and prayer. And others will walk more closely, willing to tackle us when we are going to venture into sin and challenge us when we are lost in lies.

We also need to endeavor to be this for other people as well.

So . . . in the story God is writing in your life . . . who is your Sam? You really should have more than one. Frodo had eight who supported him on the journey and one died to protect him. The rest risked death time and again to see the goal accomplished and save Middle Earth.

On the flip side. Who are you a Sam for? Whose life are you speaking truth into, praying for, encouraging. For instance, how about our pastors? They are on the forefront of spiritual battle and need a fellowship of warriors behind them as much as we do if not more.

Let us not forget that God is writing a great story in your life and it is the gospel many people may read before they ever pick up the Bible. And we have some input into the journey by our choices, good or bad. Our mistakes, our failures as well as our successes and how we respond say a lot to others about our relationship wtih God. And much of that can depend on the strength and support of the Sam’s around us.

Tell me about a Sam in your life. 

Mistakes

I have a tendency to be a klutz. I do weird things but not on purpose. They just happen. Words come out wrong. I might get confused and do something silly or stupid. Sometimes I am unaware of this.

Apparently this is quite funny to most people.

Sometimes I can laugh too.

But one part of depression involves mood and the other part involves thoughts. 

And sometimes the thoughts can beat me up pretty bad. I’m never quite sure what mistake is going to come to haunt me and my brain will ruminate on it. Yeah, obsessive thoughts can be part of depression as much as anxiety and physical pain. Lovely illness isn’t it?

And there can be a nice way to make fun of something . . . and then there can be a way to subtly humiliate and demean while making the joke. The first I handle pretty well. The second is adding salt to the wound.

Sure, even a paper cut can be brutal when you add that to it. Or maybe some lemon juice. Yeah. Ouch.

So maybe a mistake is small but the pain cuts deep.

And then there are the grace-givers. Those who can laugh at my mistake but say “You know, once I did this . . .” and make me feel normal again. Like I’m not the only human being on earth who does clumsy things. Or friends who are willing to speak truth and say, “Hey, Susan, that was pretty minor, but you sure are beating yourself up over that.”

So I’m grateful to the grace-givers. I’m thankful for those who know how to laugh with me instead of at me and at the same time let me know that as a fellow wanderer on this planet, I’m okay. Not perfect, but good enough because of who God made me to be.

Sometimes I wonder if God allows these instances to keep me humble. I don’t think he accepts the disrespect of some, but he keeps track so I really don’t have to. Still, it can hurt when little things become opportunities even a week later to rip a scab open for the purpose of making themselves feel better.

I’ve been a victim of verbal abuse in my past and now strive so hard to be the opposite. To be an encourager. But as my pastor told me, enouragers are sometimes those that are in desperate need of the most encouragement themselves. But in reality, like many other spiritual gifts (giving, mercy, faith, helps . . .) there is a level to which we are commanded to live out these characteristics in our faith. Gift or not.

But not everyone else is there yet and I suppose that’s where I need to be the grace-giver to those who pour salt on my failures. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to do it so I avoid them. Sometimes letting my wounds heal is better than letting someone else pick at them for their own entertainment.

So if you are a grace-giver.  Thank you. Your words give life and healing that I for one, am grateful for.

What Would Success Look like for You?

I had a chance to chat with my brother, John Pollard, this past weekend and he asked me an insightful question in regards to my book, Pesto and Potholes, coming out next spring:

What would success look like for you? 

Wow. Of course I would love it if my book sold well and I even made something to compensate me for my efforts to write it. Let’s face it, New York Times Bestselling Author is a nice moniker to claim but for inspirational romance and a debut novel, probably not likely. I can market and do book signings but ultimately, there is a lot of that which is out of my control. I can make people aware of my work, but I can’t force them to fork over their hard-earned cash to purchase a copy.

But I hope you will anyway. 

I told John (my younger and much wiser brother by the way) that ultimately my version of success would be hard to measure. This is totally opposed to any leadership training I’ve had or taught. Objectives are to be measurable!

How do you measure success without it?

The fact is, you can’t.

So what would success look like? Success to me would be people putting down my book and not just been entertained by a story, but encouraged in their walk with God. That they would be affirmed in their pursuit of obedience to Him. That maybe they would draw closer to our Lord because of the example of the characters in the story.

Renate - God loves you

Emotional impact.

Spiritual affirmation and encouragement.

Heart change. 

I can’t measure these things.

But God can. So while I have to rely on book sales and the reviews of readers to clue me into whether my efforts have paid off, God can track the truth with those who don’t write a review, or borrow the book from a friend. Because the reality is, in this life, we rarely are aware of the ripple effect of our words and actions.

And maybe that’s a good thing. It will make heaven all the sweeter when we learn how God used our pain, suffering and art to touch the hearts of others.

It’s months away . . . there’s Thanksgiving to get through. Christmas and a new year . . . so stay tuned here and at my fan page as I navigate this journey. And thanks. Thank you for reading, for praying, and encouraging this fellow traveler in this rocky road we call life.

 

 

 

Whatever Happened to Compassion?

I’m fed up. I pray that I never know enough to be a jerk about it. I want to be fully cognizant that the more I learn the less I know about myself, the people around me and the world I live in.

Why would this be my beef right now?

Because some people blamed Robin William’s death on his wife. Some tortured his grieving daughter on twitter. A church wants to boycott his funeral but a comedian has offered to pay for them to go protest ISIS instead.

As I do have a snarky side I’ll refrain from commenting further on that one. 

Because some people rejoice at the challenges facing pastor Mark Driscoll.

Because some people are more concerned with dumping ice than reaching out to someone with ALS personally.

Because some people are more concerned with the size of someone’s waist than with the state of their heart.

Because when I was on vacation and met a homeless man, some preferred to ignore him rather than expressing compassion for his plight.

What’s the point in learning if we lose our heart? What’s the point in memorizing Scripture and being able to defend our faith in Jesus Christ if we never live out our faith? Yes, Scripture is clear. Learn sound doctrine. Defend the faith. But even more than that we are to let our actions speak louder than our words. We are to bear fruit.

fruit checker

To listen to another’s hurts and encourage them.

To treat people with respect–from your wife to the homeless man on the street to the pastor you only know through social media. Or has that our standard of truth nowadays?

I have strong opinions on many things – but if expressing them as an expert would throw up a roadblock to Christ, I try to refrain.

After all, God can be glorified in the life of someone who is:

  • Democrat or Republican.
  • A Packer or Bears fan or yes, even a Vikings fan
  • Sends their kids to public school, private school or home-schools
  • Vaccinate or choose not to
  • Seeks traditional medicine for cancer or seeks alternative options.
  • Whether you worship singing hymns or contemporary music

I’ve often said I am a champion navel-gazer. (for those who are confused, I’m talking about my belly button). Part of that though is my personality which enables me to write and serve in ministry like I do. It’s part of God’s unique design that I am introspective. But I hope I am never so self-absorbed to ignore the pain of another.

I probably swing too far the other way.

But the reality is, none of us can save anyone from the pain and challenges of life. We might speak words of love and encouragement. We might give money or food or meet other needs. But ultimately the deepest struggles we all face are at our core, spiritual. And knowledge can only go so far to heal those hurts.

We all need compassion. Understanding. Love.

We do not need condemnation, harsh words, hatred spewing out.

And part of me fears that I’ll come off as judgemental in even writing this post. After all, don’t the narcissists and self-righteous “know-it-alls” among us deserve compassion too? Sure, but not for those behaviors. Pity maybe.

Lord help us. There are people suffering in this world who desperately need us and not our deep-seated opinions. Give us humble broken hearts for those who hurt. Make us quick to listen and slow to speak. And help us recognize the divine opportunities you put in our path to be “Jesus with skin on” to those we meet. 

Not Good Enough

 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m not good enough. Is that a common fear or something only I struggle with? I had a negative interaction and at first was thinking, “why can’t this person just get along with me?” I felt disrespected.

Then it hit me. Maybe the issue isn’t him. Maybe it’s me. In spite of thinking I’m respectful, competent and have a right to be heard on an issue, what if instead I’m coming across as arrogant and I’ve frustrated and hurt this person instead?

Ouch.

How does one not take failure personally?

Respect is a huge issue for me. 

Once I confronted someone for the lack of respect they were showing me. They had been saying negative things about me behind my back and I caught wind of it. It had happened before so I addressed the issue. Her response? She laughed at me.

Ouch.

Another time I told a person how I had felt I had been disrespected by her. Specific instances that were clear. She looked at me and nodded and said, “Yes, I did all those things. But it’s your fault.”

Ouch.

Let’s get this clear. Both of these instances were verbally/emotionally abusive. The responses these women gave were intended to demean me and strip me of any belief that I deserved respect.

And to be honest, I’ve had way too much of that in my life. And it hurts. And even though I forgive, the pain lingers.

unsafe

In my mind people like this have a stamp on their forehead that says: “Unsafe.” Yeah, really. I can almost see it.

I have had many more conversations though that didn’t end so badly. I disagreed with a leader and I told him why and how I felt about his decision and he listened and apologized for not taking into consideration my feelings. I let it go. He had my full support through however his decision ended up. I have great respect for him years later and in relationship to him, I’m good enough.

Another person I sat down face to face with and said, “You apologized and I forgive you but I want you to understand how your actions affected me.” When I’m working with him I know, that even though I make mistakes, I’m good enough.

So why am I on this today? I think the enemy likes to dredge up those hurts, some that continue daily in my life, and tell me that they are the truth.

I’m fighting to believe it’s a lie. Scripture says I’m good enough to do the work God has called me to do. Will I do it perfectly? No. I’m okay with being human (most of the time). I’m okay with apologizing when I screw up.

I struggle with depression. I’m also an author and sometimes the pain of my characters is my own and writing about that scrapes wounds raw as I explore them more deeply. To not be good enough to be wanted or loved. Isn’t that a deep fear for everyone?

Thankfully God doesn’t look at me like that. I’m good enough because of Jesus. And I’m becoming better as I lean on Him and let Him continue to lead and guide me, even when the outcomes hurt. The pain of art. The pain of life.

I’m good enough and I am blessed that for every “unsafe” person there are many more who are-especially Jesus.