Personal Power

INVICTUSOut of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of change 

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

(William Ernest Henley)
    The first time I read this poem, I thought the author was being arrogant and controlling. It was only after watching the documentary film, I Am Not Your Negro, that I felt the need to revisit the words of this poem and really ponder what Henley was trying to convey. What I discovered was what takes most of us a long time to understand and embrace. A profound yet simple truth that is indelibly tied to how we view and experience life. It’s this: Life happens. And, majority of the time, we have little control over what happens, how it happens, or why it happens. There are circumstances and experiences that we have absolutely no control over — death, heartbreak, opinions, illness, etc. However, we are able to exert influence over how those circumstances and experiences impact who we are and the people we become. This poem talks about weathering the hardest storms of life, and how we have the power to emerge from those situations unharmed. Not unchanged, but with minimal to no permanent damage. We always have two choices when faced with tough times: we either act or we react. How we choose to posture ourselves in the face of profound moments that wear on our very souls is what makes us “the captains of (our) souls.” We all possess the capability to influence our future, as well as the capacity to decide how we will respond to the unpredictability of life through our emotions. You see, the soul is the seat of the emotions, some of the most fleeting things known to man. But we have a choice when faced with situations that stir up our emotions — either we rule our emotions, or our emotions rule us. We can be emotional volcanos that explode with every life encounter, or we can captain our souls, and steer those same emotions toward something positive and productive. Life happens either way, and every situation affords us the opportunity to grow and mature into better people. 

    Henley was on to something. Every person is created with the capacity to become formidable creatures, and learning the lessons of life provides the space for us to grow into resilient people who weather the storms of life with strength and inner peace. Life may knock us around, but, as we build resiliency, we build an “unconquerable soul.” We learn how to endure, to perservere, and to survive the storm, and then come out on the other side thriving. 

Damaged Goods

We hide behind this label as an excuse to not do the heart work needed to move toward wholeness and move forward in life. We come out of a situation that caused emotional or mental pain, and use “damaged goods” as an excuse, a copout, for being stuck. we use it as an excuse to disengage, disconnect, and isolate ourselves. But the reality is that we are all damaged goods, wounded by life and not always healing from all the hurt and heartache. The Bible offers hope to those who feel like they are damaged beyond redemption.

[2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV]  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

You don’t have to lived damaged. You can life whole and in abundance. As women, we are bombarded by society’s insistence on labeling us, whether it be based on our profession, our supposed body type, our fashion choices, our level of education, or our perceived viability. But none of those labels have to stick. You are not “damaged goods” in the eyes of your Creator. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). You are royalty (Psalm 45). It’s time to stop hiding behind “damaged goods”, do the heart work, and grow into your purpose. Embrace wholehearted living, heal your heart through grace, and show up for life.

Don’t just survive; THRIVE.

This too shall pass…but you must go through

[Isa 43:2 NLT] When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

     A lot can be learned from thunderstorms. The one thing I am reminded of by thunderstorms, usually because I am driving in them, is two-fold.

     First, storms ALWAYS end. No matter how long they last, or how torrential and turbulent they may be, they always end. Whether they blow in another direction or the storm dissipates, the fact remains: The storm will pass. This principle also applies to the storms of life. For all intents and purposes, all the clichés point to truth. No trial is perpetual. But one must understand the underlying source of the shift in the length of your circumstances — ATTITUDE. How you respond to your circumstances directly affects how long you will be in those circumstances. If you choose a pity party and to complain about them, you will suffer much more and at your own hands. However, if you choose a humble and teachable posture in spite of your circumstances, you open yourself up to finding the purpose within the storm.  And this makes all the difference, which brings me to the second point.

       You cannot get around a storm; you must go through. Somehow, we have been allowed to believe that we can pray or bargain our way out of tough circumstances. It’s simply not so. The only way out is THROUGH. But you don’t have to go through alone. God’s promise of His presence is echoed over and over throughout Scripture. When He commissioned Joshua after the death of Moses. When He spoke to Gideon while he was hiding in a winepress. When Gabriel spoke to Mary before she gave birth to the Messiah. But I love the words He spoke to Israel in exile through the prophet Isaiah: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Even when Jesus prepared to reunite with the Trinity, He promised the disciples that He would always be with them, “even unto the end of the age.” Trials and hard situations can often feel very lonely, especially when the tangibles don’t seem to understand or try to be sympathetic. It can be very easy to feel isolated and alone. But, because God’s Word does not return to Him useless and void, and because His promises have no expiration date, you can know and be confident that, no matter where you are or what you are going through, your Creator is walking with right beside you. Not only that, He is your cheerleader, your coach, your confidante, and will carry you when you get too weary to press forward. Part of getting through is remembering who is walking with you. Mark Batterson describes God as “He who dwelt in the burning bush.” If God chose to occupy a bush that burned without being consumed to speak to Moses, He will walk with you. If Jesus walked on water and beckoned Peter to join Him, He will keep you. If God could be ever-present with the Israelites in the wilderness in a cloud by day and a fireball by night, He will most assuredly keep His promise to never leave you or forsake you. You may have no choice but to walk through the storm, but you won’t have to go through alone.

Be encouraged, beloved.

Mutualism and the Biology of Teamwork

Friendships, romantic relationships, familial relationships all have something in common: they are usually mutually beneficial. In our most healthy and valuable relationships, the characteristics that we value the most are those things that improve or add positive energy to our lives. I personally place high value on loyalty, respect, authenticity, and compassion. I recently did an exercise of listing my personal core values, and those four things were near the top or at the top of my list of values. Why? Because they reflect a personal commitment to oneself and to others to honor the relationship they have with you as a part of the community to which they ascribe.

In symbiosis, the word for such a relationship is mutualism. The name speaks for itself. In a mutualistic environment, the organic interaction is mutually beneficial, both organisms supporting the other’s highest good and survival. They make each other better and look out for one another’s best interests. There is a pooling of resources, each organisms acting in their strengths for the collective benefit of the interaction. Another way of describing this is reciprocal altruism, a behavior where one organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism’s fitness, with the expectation that the other organism with act in a similar manner at a later time. Sounds a lot like the covenant of marriage, doesn’t it? But this level of commitment to mutual “fitness” is not limited to marriage. This is the way the early church functioned after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. There was such a sense of community and shared responsibility to and for one another. Every member brought what resources he or she had, in an effort to make sure that every need was being met. And this is what we do in our personal relationships when they work well. One of the things I find myself saying often to the people with whom I share a relationship is “If I have it, you have it.” It’s a statement that I genuinely mean, and what I am really saying is that, whatever resources I have that can help you, I will use to that end. It may not necessarily be monetary in nature. It may be running an errand, sharing my time and strength to lend a hand, or even something as seemingly simple as a listening ear. We often hear the word “resources”, and immediately think financial. But resources are not limited to the financial. Resources include anything that you can do or share that will uplift and “increase the fitness” of the other person.

By no means do I mean to say that relationships will be perfect. The truth is that relationships are messy, and that, to some degree, is by design. Humanity is generally flawed, which means, at some point, we will fall short of the mark. You are going to disappoint people, not intentionally, but it will happen. The key to successful relationships, no matter what setting or relation, is an abundance of unconditional love, grace, and mercy. No one gets is right all the time, and no relationship is 50/50 all the time. Often times, it is 80/20, 90/10, 25/75, 0/100, etc. But, as long as the balance sways in the other direction, you will find value and merit in that relationship. Remember the concept of reciprocal altruism, and you will get much further in said relationships. There is one catch: Don’t expect the pendulum to swing back in your direction the exact same way you swung it away from you. There is a well-known relationship book called “The Five Love Languages.” In it, the authors list the five main ways we all receive and feel love. And, while there are people who share similar love languages, no two people share all in common. In an ideal world, we communicate to others in their love languages, and they respond in ours. But, you and I both know that the world is far from ideal, and this is where grace is important. When the ones we relate to attempt to reciprocate and it doesn’t translate quite the same way, we need to remember to honor the effort they showed.

Psychologists like to call this relationship interdependence. Interdependence is the mutual reliance between two or more groups. In relationships, interdependence is the degree to which members of the group are mutually dependent on the others. In an interdependent relationship, participants may be emotionally, economically, ecologically and/or morally reliant on and responsible to each other. An interdependent relationship can arise between two or more cooperative autonomous participants (e.g. a co-op). (via Wikipedia) No matter how you frame it or redefine it or label it, it all boils down to the same basic concept of understood give and take between persons who are in a healthy and thriving relationship with one another. In such an environment, people not only survive, they thrive. In this safe place where they know that they can depend on others if needed, but are also encouraged to be independent and supported in those endeavors. This is why this is a healthy environment – it promotes growth and healthy change.

There is an area of concern here that one must be aware of. Healthy relationships always have the potential to become unhealthy relationships if not maintained well and regularly evaluated. Some of the closest and best relationships often devolve into parasitic relationships (which I will get into in the next blog post) simply because people are not diligent to prevent it from happening. And it usually happens slowly over time. This is usually the infamous one person “outgrowing” of another in the relationship. You are doing your best to continue to grow and be better overall, while the other person contributes less and less over time, until you wake up one day only to realize that you are no longer in the same place with this person. You have grown apart. It’s okay; sometimes it is a necessary part of the life journey and the growth process. There will be different people who will be pivotal to your growth process at different stages. And not everyone will understand or support that growth or the new place of self-worth that you achieve. These are the people who you must choose to release, or you put the growth that you achieved in jeopardy and you run the risk of regressing, all for the sake of “preserving the relationship.” This is an unhealthy choice. You are never to sacrifice your health and well-being – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – for the sake of saving a relationship. If that is what is required of you, it’s not worth it. PERIOD. The most important thing I have ever learned from being burned over and over again by people who clearly did not care about my well-being in a relationship is that you are allowed to WALK AWAY from anything that threatens your peace of mind, body, and soul. End of story. And it doesn’t require being nasty or mean. But it does mean that you have to know where your boundaries are, and assertively protect them at all costs. I won’t get into this too deep, because I will address it in the next post, but it needs to be said here as well. In good, healthy relationships, people who love you and value you as a person will, not only honor your boundaries, but they will defend them.

 

The Biology of Relationship

    Science, for me, has always pointed to the brilliance of the Creator. Biology, in many ways, mirrors how we function and dysfunction in relation to one another. After have a discussion with my mother about relationships, and the more I thought about it, I began to realize that, all I needed to know or learn about the nature and function and purpose of relationships, I learned in biology. Human relationships are quantified or categorized based on status and value of the relationship, what they contribute to your life journey. Nature categorizes organic interactions in very much the same way. Human interaction is called relationship; organic interaction is called symbiosis.

    Symbiosis is classified based on location (internal or external), connection (together or separate), necessity to survival, and consequence (benefit or detriment). If you think about it, we could define human relationships in very much the same ways, although the labels and adjectives would be a little different. Here’s what I have learned about life relationships through the study of science.

    In symbiosis, the three most common scenarios are mutualism (both organisms benefit), commensalism (one organism benefits without doing great harm to the other), and parasitism (one organism benefits to the detriment of the other). These have parallels in the sphere of human relationship, with slightly different labels but the same understanding. The bottom line to all this is that each and every relationship has and serves a purpose. No encounter or experience is wasted once you understand and embrace that truth. Whether it is intentionally mutualistic, or unintentionally parasitic in nature, there will always be a lesson to be learned – about life, about relationships, about oneself. The purpose and goal of life is to learn from and grow through each and every experience, and then share that knowledge and wisdom with others. Every victory, every defeat, every heartache and heartbreak, every disappointment is an opportunity to grow. Remember this: Defeat is not defeat if you learn something. We were created to live in relationship — with our Creator, with ourselves, and with one another. And, when we neglect or deny that innate part of who we created to be, it causes us great pain and the journey of life becomes much harder. Therefore, it is imperative that we engage our relationships and do all we can to learn as much as we can so that we can get the most out of those relationships. So, with that in mind, what follows are the things that I learned in life that symbiosis has helped me better articulate and share the wisdom that I have gleaned so far.

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Light Shine Bright

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

                A year after Freddie Gray’s death, we are still fighting for freedom. We realize that freedom isn’t free. The cost of freedom is high, really high. The pursuit of freedom will cost you everything in the fight to be “free.” And those who fight for freedom in any area understand this. Immigrants understand that freedom costs you the comfort of home. The slaves of the 1800s understood that freedom cost the lives of their loved ones. Jesus understood that freedom cost both his human life and his connection with God the Father, albeit a temporary separation. And, in spite of all this, there are many souls and voices yet crying out for freedom. So why can’t they seem to find it?

I remember visiting the Statue of Liberty as a child with my mother and brother, not really grasping the weight, and significance of such a monument that continues to stand as a symbol of hope for all those who wish to attain “a better life.” When the monument was first built, America was seen as a land of promise and hope for those who wanted to make more of their lives, and leave a better legacy for their children. The same is true for the Gospel, something we have somehow lost sight of. Listen again, and see if you hear it.

[Matthew 11:28-30 ESV] Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

[Isa 61:1 ESV] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

            Can you hear it? Can you see it? We are all familiar with the excerpt from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” that is etched on the pedestal on which Lady Liberty stands, but we are not familiar with the poem in its entirety.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

            Lady Liberty is calling out to the outsiders, the outcasts, “the homeless,” those who are searching for a place to call home, to be free. And so is Christ in Matthew 28.

“Give me your tired, your poor…”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden…”

“…He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…”

You see, just as the Statue of Liberty stands as a monument, a symbol of hope to immigrants traveling to a foreign land in search of freedom and a fresh start, the cross stands as another monument and symbol of hope for those traveling this side of eternity in search of freedom and redemption. Etched in the nail prints in His hands and feet are the words of Matthew 11 and Isaiah 61. I can see in my mind’s eye, a tablet at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, leaned against it, with the words written, “Come and find rest for your souls.” While Emma Lazarus, hundreds of years later, penned the words, I hear the voice of Christ echoed in the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” The message of the Cross is hope – hope for freedom; hope for healing and forgiveness and a fresh start; hope for transformation; hope for grace and mercy. The Cross is the spiritual Statue of Liberty. And, as we encounter and embrace and accept all the hope that the Cross offers, we, too, become the manifestation of that hope in a world that is dying and in need of that same hope.

[Matthew 5:14-16 ESV] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and pit under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

            We are called to be the torch carried by the cross. As we seek to mirror the life and ministry of Christ, we allow Him to shine through us and influence the lives around us. And how do we do that? By acting with compassion and love and grace. That same hope that the cross offers, that is the hope that we must offer to those around us. We are called to be the visible manifestation of the invisible God, through our hands and feet and mouths. We are commissioned to be the ambassadors of His grace and mercy, of the redeeming power of His love active and alive in the life of the one who chooses to trust Him with all they have.

“From her beacon-hand glows worldwide welcome.”

            We are Jesus’ spiritual welcome wagon, greeting people in love and inviting them to participate in and embrace the rest that comes with an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. The price for freedom has already been paid. There is nothing more that is required of us but to enter that rest in the presence of a Creator so incredibly enamored with us that He took care of the tab for our freedom for the rest of eternity. And yet we fail time and again, because we somehow have been deceived into believing that we are allowed to determine whether or not someone is “worthy” of God’s rest. This is not the way of the Cross, nor is it the message or the purpose of the cross. It is not our place or within our authority to disperse the infinite grace provided by the cross. It is available to all who believe and embrace it. Our place is to love and embrace all, without a second thought to whether or not they are “worthy.” The truth is that none of us is “worthy,” and yet God sent His Son to die and pay the price for our freedom anyway.

Marianne Williamson said it best:

“We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

            Our purpose is to shine in such a way that it draws out the light that is already in others, to be the glow that beacons the world to draw closer, and catch fire. The things that bring us together are the things that are similar in all of us. Each light is unique, and yet it shines brightly and encourages others to embrace the unique light that lives within their hearts and souls. And when we find the light in one another, we find home and freedom that can only come from the Creator, in Whom we are all one.

SHALOM.

Conversations with the Creator

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of people and things that you have to pray for? Felt like there were just not enough hours in the day to spend interceding with the Creator for the people and situations that come to mind when you begin your conversation with God? I have. I sat in silence for half of my evening commute, just talking to God about one situation in particular that I have been asking for guidance, because I just feel like I am missing something – a lesson, something that I should be praying for and am not, something that maybe I should be doing for someone. Or simply not praying enough. And, to be honest, I am still puzzled. But I am also still asking.

But, in the midst of my query with a seemingly silent Creator, I thought about all the people who I care for that, if I took the time to, I would be interceding ad infinitum for them. I recently finished reading Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker, and I have learned a lot about prayer, the nature of prayer, the power of prayer, and the reality of prayer. It has alleviated some of my frustration and encouraged me a ton. Many see prayer as a discipline; others view it as a conversation. The truth is, it is both. Prayer is the practice of engaging in a continuous conversation with the Creator. As Tony Evans describes it, prayer is our way of inviting God into history, giving Him full access and entry to influence history in and through us. The most important and encouraging thing that I have learned about prayer is that our prayers never die. Prayers don’t have an expiration date. So, while it matters to some degree that we pray in the moment that God brings someone or something to our mind, it is also important to remember that, because prayers don’t expire, every time you pray specifically, those prayers accumulate. Think of it as putting money in the bank. Every prayer you breathe in conversation with the Creator is an investment in the lives of the people you pray for. And God honors persistence! But, remember to always check your motives. You can pray all day long for something and it not come to pass because you weren’t praying with the right motivation.

[James 4:3 NLT] And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.

            The other thing that I learned about prayer is that, even when I am at a loss for words, the Holy Spirit is right there with me, interpreting and interceding for me.

Romans 8:26-28 (The Message) Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked out into something good.

            I love the way the Message interprets that passage. It paints such an amazing picture of how the Holy Spirit “carries the conversation,” so to speak, when we run out of things to say to God, or we really can’t find the words to articulate what we are feeling in the moment. But that is the way He helps us. And because, “He knows us better than we know ourselves,” we can be sure that He can understand the burdens of our hearts and souls. So, what is the bottom line here?

I don’t want prayer to seem like this “pie in the sky” effort from us to God to try to get His attention. We already have His attention because we are His beloved children, and He is sitting, waiting expectantly for us to reach out to Him, to communicate transparently about the things that He knows are on our hearts. Jesus died on the cross in order for us to have a direct line of communication to God the Father. And then He included a Helper for when we are experiencing challenges communicating. I find that to be very comforting.

So, let the conversation begin. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or perfect or elaborate.it just needs to be honest and come from a pure heart, a heart that desires the right things. I promise you this – the more you talk to Him, the easier it gets, and the more you will come to know the sound of His voice. It won’t matter where you are or what you are doing. You will know when He is speaking to you, because the lines of communication will already be open and flowing. You should even expect a response! That’s the way a conversation works. And, eventually, it will become an ongoing conversation, and you will look forward to His response. Just try it and see.

[Psalm 34:8 ESV] Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!