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Archive for December, 2014


When a person has been verbally or emotionally abused, feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem are inevitable. There doesn’t seem to be any way around it—at least, for a while. It’s very sad, but it appears that character destruction is often what abusers intend. It’s hard to believe that there can be people who are so mean-spirited, but there are.

To recover from such malicious treatment, the abused person needs to make a conscious, concerted effort to reject the castigating message, which has undermined his or her self-esteem. It isn’t true—even if the person has done some less than honorable things.

If this is what has happened to you, then you need to know God continues to have a plan for your life. God still loves you, and everything can work together for good, if you will allow it. To do this, you need to renew your mind and tell yourself constantly and repeatedly that you have value to God, to yourself, and to everyone you know.

This isn’t simply the power of positive thinking or looking at the glass as half full; it’s the truth. God does still love you, and He does have plans for you. Tell yourself this, repeatedly. Realizing that God’s love is constant, more than any thing, will help you become everything you are capable of being in life.

If you want to renew your mind and be the person God intended you to be, join me in this prayer:

Father,

The wounds from my abuse run deep,

Creating shame, anger, and

An Overwhelming sense of worthlessness

That enervates every area of my life.

With my mouth, I deny that

This is how I see myself,

But in the recesses of my mind,

I wonder if my abusers were correct about me.

Maybe my life has little value, after all,

Precisely like I have been told.

When it happened, I was as angry

With You as I was with them.

Being in a position of spiritual authority,

I assumed that they spoke for You,

Which they clearly indicated was true.

Feeling such pain and humiliation form my rebuke,

It never occurred to me

That Your Son was also abused—

Just like I have been—

By those who were hateful and self-serving.

You allowed Christ’s abuse—just like you allowed mine.

But what His abusers meant for evil,

You meant for good, redeeming Mankind.

Without His suffering, all would be lost.

Please redeem my life in the same way,

And use it for something of value—

Whatever that might be.

Turn my weakness into strength,

And my broken spirit into something

That is strong, substantive, and purposeful.

Amen.

Jack Watts

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Twenty-two years ago, God talked to me in my attic apartment.

I never expected to write that sentence, much less expose myself to the sorts of thoughts some of you are thinking right now. Trust me, I’m with you. I get it.

But I’m doing this because just the other day my nine year old son said to me, “Mommy, don’t God and heaven sound like fairytales we tell ourselves to feel better about death?”

Jude makes first communion

And so I am writing this. I view these essays almost like letters to my children (letters read by lots of random strangers everywhere, and I thank you for that). I wanted this story to be here, whenever he’s ready to read it.

I was my son. Some of my earliest memories are of me torturing my poor mother with questions. But how is God there? Who made him? I don’t understand, he’s just there? And how did he make all of this? I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor woman’s hands shake from the mere memories of those years, her trying to read me stories in my children’s bible, me not buying it.

Santa was another story. I had no trouble believing in him because he showed up at the mall every year. I saw him. I sat on his lap. I asked for things. I got them.

What this God I never saw promised — eternal life, salvation — didn’t stand a chance against the chubby, red suited man who brought me Baby Alive.

My sister and I went to a Methodist Sunday school growing up. It had been a conscious decision on the part of our parents who had been raised a uniquely strict and stifling version of primitive Baptist. In my eyes,theirs was a church of ‘No’ and ’Hell.’ No pants on women, no make-up, no dancing, no TV’s or telephones — no fun. If you did any of these things, you were absolutely 100% headed for Hell. My first grade self thought this was crazy. What kind of God thought I could climb trees in a skirt? What kind of God didn’t like Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch?

My parents got thrown out of their church when I was little, when a member paid a surprise visit to our house and saw the TV in our basement (they didn’t see my father’s beers in the refrigerator nor did they know my parents hosted some of the wildest dance parties in our neighborhood).

St. Ignatius

I was still drawn to church, one in particular, Saint Ignatius, less than a mile from our house. Catholicism was the Nancy Drew of religions to me, cloaked in mystery, hidden behind a haze of smokey incense and words sung in latin. I was envious of my Catholic neighbors who shuffled off to midnight Mass in their Christmas coats, the children sleepy and the adults buzzed on wine and bourbon eggnog. When I got older, I went to that midnight Mass, my head leaned back against the pew, listening to music that  made my chest expand, that made me feel closer to God or whatever it was that was beyond everything.

By the time I went away to college, I quietly decided I was agnostic. Atheist sounded too final. Too sad. It was easy to put aside my diminished faith because soon after, I began my TV career and fortunately, it demanded all of me. I was happy. I was working my dream job!

Then, I lost my mind.

I was at my second job in television. I lived in a cozy attic apartment at the top of a massive English tudor, and one morning I woke up and realized I had lost something very important.

the big haired agnostic years

But I had no idea what it was I had lost.

As a rational person, I knew it was nutty that I was so panicked over losing something without knowing what the something was. For two weeks, I ransacked my apartment. I tore everything out of my closet and my dresser, searching every corner. I did the same thing with my kitchen and my bathroom. I even lifted up my cream couches to check if it was underneath them.

I was so very frightened by my behavior, certain I needed medication, or worse, that I might need to be sent away.

And I was crying. Like, all the time. I remember one day when I was searching, removing everything from the trunk of my gold Toyota Corolla, the owner (my landlord) of the house walked out. He innocently asked what I was doing. It  was like he’d caught me robbing a convenience store at gunpoint.  I stumbled and stammered and said something about looking for something, my face burning with embarrassment and shame over my non answer.

I finally gave up searching. It wasn’t there. Whatever it was.

The night I quit looking, I had a dream. I was sitting at an unusual dark wood desk,  ornately carved, with a chair to match. All the issues in my life were dropping from the ceiling onto the desk in the form of glittering gold balls that were labeled. I remember one said ‘your job,’ another ‘your family,’ another ‘your life.’ In the dream, with the landing of each ball, it became more difficult to breathe until I reached the point I felt I was suffocating. Suddenly, all the balls rose off the table, high above my head, allowing me to breathe again. And then a voice said, “I’m with you.” I opened my eyes and I was sitting upright in my bed.

That’s God,‘ I thought. I thought it the same way I might look at a pencil and think, ‘That’s a pencil.’ It was that obvious. That evident. It was 3:14 a.m. and God had just talked to me in my bedroom. I remember I was smiling, feeling the most loved I’d ever felt, a love so intensely euphoric I would not have guessed it existed. I had never felt it before and have never felt it since.

I fell back asleep, but by the next morning, I had brushed it off as a dream. Nothing more. Of course that wasn’t God, it was just further proof I was coming unhinged.

I kept crying — at the station, in my apartment, in my car.  My once normal, once sensible life was falling apart. My closest friend at work (who didn’t know exactly what was wrong with me because I couldn’t tell anyone) suggested I talk to her friend, Joe. I realized at some point that this Joe was a priest.

“Oh no, I don’t think so,” I had said to her, like an alcoholic who is gently asked if they’d like to go to a meeting. “I don’t need a priest. That’s like the last thing I need.”

where I met Joe

She told me he had been a brilliant judge, that he had given up his career  on the bench to become a priest. Something about his story appealed to me, legitimized him in my eyes. A judge is logical, analytical, rational. To me, priests were none of those things. Maybe we could have a good, factual conversation about what the hell was happening to me. I was finally at the point that I was willing to accept help from someone, and this Joe sounded as good as any other shrink or counselor whose couch I might wind up on.

I walked in the church on a Saturday morning at five minutes ’til nine, weaving my way back to the church offices where a receptionist told me Father Joe would be right out.

Then he was opening his door and I was standing, him reaching out to shake my hand. I walked into his office and froze. There it was, maybe eight feet from me. I started to cry. Not the silent sort of tears that dainty women cry. No, I was gasping and muttering nonsense as big, fat, hot tears rolled down my cheeks.

When I could speak, I lifted my hand and pointed. “That’s the desk. That’s the desk in a dream I had.” Which sent me into another round of wailing. I could not believe that damn desk from that damn dream with the gold labeled balls was here in this room.

I did not feel elation when I saw the desk. I was not relieved that some set of bizarre dots had just been connected, nor did I think, ‘It’s a prayer answered! It’s a miracle!’ All my life, I had barely cracked the window for God, and suddenly, instead of opening the window, the entire side of my house had been peeled away, allowing everything I had kept out to come rushing in.

I calmed down enough to sit, to tell Father Joe about my lost something, my dream, my God in my bedroom, and now here, with the damn desk.

Father Joe said God had tapped me on the shoulder, that he had never received such a tap, even though he had given up a career to become a priest. I remember him saying to me that day 22 years ago, “Many people never experience what you have. Now it’s up to you, how you’re going to answer that tap.”

A year later I converted to Catholicism.

I would like to tell you that all of my doubts left after that day in Father Joe’s office. They didn’t. Occasionally they’re there, trailing me as I attempt to live a life of faith.

Sometimes I think atheists have it easy, having closed the door on God. With all the terrible things that happen in the world, I don’t understand why an omnipotent being wouldn’t intervene. We can talk free will and deep theology and you can quote bible passages, but it will never make sense to me.

ry=400But the older I get, the more I think that’s how it’s meant to be. That it’s arrogant to think it all begins and ends with me. That it’s even more arrogant to think I have all the answers. In my own life, this sort of thinking has prevented me from fully appreciating some of the more amazing moments and miracles that have happened to me.

Like the dreamy, creamy filling in a Twinkie or a Ho Ho, I think the good stuff, the holy and sacred stuff, is on the inside. Of us. We gotta go inward to get to it, either through prayer or meditation or just sitting still (without a phone in your hand). Most of us don’t spend much time going inward. Why would we, when there are so many awesome things we can be out buying, when Facebook and Instagram are waiting for us to post a picture of that next meal we’re eating, when there are kids to fret over, mortgages to make, bosses to impress. Why would anyone go in, when we can all STAY OUT?

Because I’m convinced that going in is how we get out. Period.

So when my son wonders if it’s a fairytale, I’m not going to bury him in biblical passages that may only further confuse him or make him feel guilty for questioning. I’m going to let him know it’s okay not to get it. That I don’t always get it. That we may not ever fully get it in this lifetime.

I’ve told my story to very few people. I’ve found they will either be amazed, or will not believe it, meaning they will think ‘She had a hard time, she had a dream, she saw a desk — she made it all mean something’.

As the founding member of the ‘Just The Facts Ma’am Band,’ I wish it were that easy.

I confessed to a friend  years ago that I still struggled with faith. I felt guilty because the‘God tap’ hadn’t cured me of all doubt. This friend of mine has enough faith to power a small city.

“Don’t feel bad about it,” she told me. “That’s just your relationship with God.”

What I heard her say was that I had a relationship.

With God.

I’d never seen it that way.

So maybe it’s imperfect. Maybe it’s me who snipes, “But how is that possible and why did you let that happen and if you’re really all knowing why didn’t you know this?”

And despite all of that, maybe it was God who told me in the middle of the night I wasn’t alone, who decided it was time to connect the dots with dark wood desks and good men named Joe.

I think we got a thing.

Me and God.

 

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In modern day Christendom, the idea of being called to the ministry has undergone a change—at least for many. Because of this change, which at first is subtle in a person, the seeds of religious abusiveness find fertile ground.

In the early church and in the Scriptures, being called to the ministry meant a person was summoned to serve others, regardless of how those being served would respond. Because the person chosen was serving the Lord, while serving others, fulfillment came from being faithful to God without other worldly aspirations.

By the nature of the office, a minister is the servant of others, or, at least, that’s what the person is supposed to be. In this generation, however, being a servant is no longer the norm. It has flip-flopped. Now, in many instances, it is the minister who is served and not the other way around.

Because of the minister’s skill and calling, many of God’s chosen have been elevated to a class above those to whom they have been called to serve. This reversal of positions has become so entrenched that ministers have become celebrities, adored and venerated by their followers similar to public personalities. This transformation has become so accepted that few realize how far it has drifted from the original model.

Part of the problem is that the terminology hasn’t changed. Ministers still obsequiously refer to themselves as servants but, in their hearts, many are anything but. Often, their self-serving ways lead to abusiveness. When someone gets in their way, the offending person is castigated and discarded—maligned by “God’s servant.” This kind of treatment has become so routine that those who have been called to serve have been responsible for abusing millions of God’s sheep.

If you want to discern falsehood from truth by recognizing spiritual abuse, join me in this prayer:

Father,

As the years progress,

I often hear people talk

About how much they trust You,

But their pronouncements seem no deeper

Than those of a fickle lover.

Lacking tangibility and depth,

Their affirmations, which flow mellifluously

From their self-serving mouths,

Have selfish and egotistical motives

That seem devoid of worthwhile substance.

Such loyalty to You has not been forged

By adversity and weathered by hardship.

Their trust seems shallow and juvenile,

Rather than strong, resilient, and steadfast.

Believing that whining and demanding

Will gain favor rather than genuine humility,

They come before You with hearts

That are petulant and peevish, lacking gratitude.

I understand this perspective completely,

Having spent decades of my life

Coming before You in precisely

The same self-serving, self-centered way—

Never understanding, never acknowledging

That You know what is best for me.

I concede my effrontery and selfishness.

I have foolishly thought that my way

Was better than Yours, but I have been wrong.

I have wanted my way, believing that

When You have refused to grant it,

That You were distant and detached—

Unloving, uncaring, and rigid.

I was wrong about that, too.

You do know what’s best for me,

Regardless of what that might be.

After years of pursuing frivolity,

I understand the error of my ways.

I wish I had understood it sooner,

But I lacked the maturity to do so.

Now, as wisdom has settled within me,

I bow me knee and acknowledge willingly,

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

Blessed be Your name.

Amen.

Jack Watts

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God’s Blessing Isn’t Materialistic

 

 

Refer to Step 4: I chose to accept as true what God has said about Himself. He is good and can be trusted.

 

 

Sometimes God doesn’t change your situation because He is trying to change your heart.

—Larry Rust

 

 

In spite of what anyone might tell you, God is not a blessing machine, ready to dispense material favors for all who ask, without qualification or hesitation. When you review the “Fruits of the Spirit,” material acquisition is not mentioned. What is mentioned are estimable character qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. Each of these character qualities is highly valued by God, and if you want to be a person after “God’s own heart,” you will seek them above all else.

Too often, most of us complain to God because we want material blessings without the slightest consideration of whether or not receiving them is actually good for us or not. What we want is for God to spare us from the natural consequences of our actions. We’ve come to learn that government bailouts are counter-productive, but we never seem to understand that asking God to bail us out may also be counter-productive. We are like children who demand candy from a reluctant parent, never considering what harm it might do.

Because we don’t recognize or understand the bigger picture, we demand that God make our will be His will. Then, we become critical of His treatment toward us when He doesn’t comply. Consequently, to us it seems like our prayers have gone unanswered. When we don’t get what we want, it’s usually because God is working on other, more important, things.

 

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

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Ambition is ecclesiastical lust—Daniel Noonan

In modern day Christendom, the idea of being called to the ministry has undergone a change—at least for many. Because of this change, which at first is subtle in a person, the seeds of religious abusiveness find fertile ground.

In the early church and in the Scriptures, being called to the ministry meant a person was summoned to serve others, regardless of how those being served would respond. Because the person chosen was serving the Lord, while serving others, fulfillment came from being faithful to God without other worldly aspirations.

By the nature of the office, a minister is the servant of others, or, at least, that’s what the person is supposed to be. In this generation, however, being a servant is no longer the norm. It has flip-flopped. Now, in many instances, it is the minister who is served and not the other way around.

Because of the minister’s skill and calling, many of God’s chosen have been elevated to a class above those to whom they have been called to serve. This reversal of positions has become so entrenched that ministers have become celebrities, adored and venerated by their followers similar to public personalities. This transformation has become so accepted that few realize how far it has drifted from the original model.

Part of the problem is that the terminology hasn’t changed. Ministers still obsequiously refer to themselves as servants but, in their hearts, many are anything but. Often, their self-serving ways lead to abusiveness. When someone gets in their way, the offending person is castigated and discarded—maligned by “God’s servant.” This kind of treatment has become so routine that those who have been called to serve have been responsible for abusing millions of God’s sheep.

If you want to discern falsehood from truth by recognizing spiritual abuse, join me in this prayer:

Father,

As the years progress,

I often hear people talk

About how much they trust You,

But their pronouncements seem no deeper

Than those of a fickle lover.

Lacking tangibility and depth,

Their affirmations, which flow mellifluously

From their self-serving mouths,

Have selfish and egotistical motives

That seem devoid of worthwhile substance.

Such loyalty to You has not been forged

By adversity and weathered by hardship.

Their trust seems shallow and juvenile,

Rather than strong, resilient, and steadfast.

Believing that whining and demanding

Will gain favor rather than genuine humility,

They come before You with hearts

That are petulant and peevish, lacking gratitude.

I understand this perspective completely,

Having spent decades of my life

Coming before You in precisely

The same self-serving, self-centered way—

Never understanding, never acknowledging

That You know what is best for me.

I concede my effrontery and selfishness.

I have foolishly thought that my way

Was better than Yours, but I have been wrong.

I have wanted my way, believing that

When You have refused to grant it,

That You were distant and detached—

Unloving, uncaring, and rigid.

I was wrong about that, too.

You do know what’s best for me,

Regardless of what that might be.

After years of pursuing frivolity,

I understand the error of my ways.

I wish I had understood it sooner,

But I lacked the maturity to do so.

Now, as wisdom has settled within me,

I bow me knee and acknowledge willingly,

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

Blessed be Your name.

Amen.

Jack Watts

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God’s Touch Changes Everything

 

Refer to Step 10: I choose to believe God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

 

Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.

—George Sand

 

Salvation is easy. It doesn’t require a thing from either you or me, other than the acceptance of a free gift. Providing the gift is God’s part. He did it all, which is what love, mercy, and grace, are all about. That He loved you at your most unlovely moment is the essence of Christianity. It’s what makes Christianity truly unique and special.

That God was willing to reach down, touch you in your vulnerability, and lift you up is what makes having a relationship with Him so desirable. Once that happens, regardless of what anyone might tell you differently, you are a child of God’s and always will be.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. Unfortunately, people tend to forget the tenderness of their own experience, choosing instead to regiment a dynamic relationship, which can never be accomplished successfully. Through their efforts, they make Christianity hard, rigid, unyielding, and unforgiving. They try and make a deeply personal experience into something cold, austere, and systematic.

If a Christian is smug and self-righteous, legalistic and condemning, haughty and judgmental, then how attractive can that be? Not very! Most people run from anything that is so unappealing. Who can blame them?

You recognize the kind of people I’m describing, don’t you—the heartlessly religious who are never wrong about anything? Sadly, Christianity has far too many people like these. They call women, who have aborted their babies, murderers, forgetting that they, too, were no better.

The self-righteous lift up a version of Christ that is not in the New Testament—not even close, and yet these are the people most feared in churches. These are the people who are eager to share their exacting, unyielding opinions, which they expect everyone to accept. Their bitter sting keeps many from embracing God’s love, acceptance, and mercy.

That’s why being in recovery has such value. You’ve had to lean on God more completely than most. If you display love, joy, long suffering, and a genuine concern for those in need, then you are lifting up Christ the way you’re meant to. That’s very attractive to hurting, desperate people, searching for answers. If you’re smug and self-righteous, however, you will also have a great impact for God—a negative impact. Like many things, the choice is yours, as are the consequences.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that o one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

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It’s okay to be exactly where you are, regardless of where that might be. It doesn’t do any good to pretend you are something you’re not, either. That never works. You’re only fooling yourself. Remember, denial of the truth is never an appropriate option in recovery, so it’s time to stop self-defeating behaviors.

Instead, be real, and be honest. Tell God exactly where you are in each area of your life, being completely forthright. You can’t be where you aren’t, and pretending something is real, when it isn’t, makes you a phony. Nobody wants to be a phony, right?

The Lord certainly doesn’t expect anything from you other than you coming to Him just as you are. Remember, you’ll never get out of the hole you’re in until you stop digging. The best place to start is by being candid about your situation. You could say:

Lord, I want to do Your will, but most of the time I don’t know what that is. Right now—this very minute, I put myself into Your hands—totally and completely. I choose to believe the changes You are making in me will transform me into the person You want me to be. Please, help me keep my heart and my eyes focused upon You. I know that if I do, I will not be disappointed.

Even if you are in the deepest, darkest emotional pit of your life, or if you are involved in self-defeating behavior that threatens to destroy you, He will join You there. Once he comes, He will never leave you.

After you have opened yourself up like this, thank God for everything He will do to make you into the person He wants you to be. Then, hold on to your seat because it is going to be a wild ride.

When you consider your downward slide, remember, God’s goal is to fill your life with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control. Join me in this prayer now, and refer to it whenever you feel the walls closing on you.

Lord,

Having been wounded at the core of my being,

I have stopped seeking You—

Stopped praying, stopped looking to You

For wisdom, guidance, and discernment.

I haven’t wanted anything to do with You.

I’ve been so angry, so hurt, and so humiliated.

In my pain, I have acted in ways I’m ashamed to admit.

I have wanted to keep them secret—to hide them

From You and from everybody else.

I didn’t want to become like this—

To become the person that I am,

But my sins have gone over my head,

And I am unable to control them,

Which I foolishly believed I could.

They control me, and I know it.

I can no longer hide the truth from You.

I am weary of hanging my head in shame,

Of churning anger and bitter resentment in my heart.

I don’t want the wounds from my abuse

To control my future, as they have my past.

To change my behavior, I will need Your help.

Lord, I am in a deep pit—

Where there is no easy way to escape.

I have routinely blamed others for my plight,

Choosing to embrace the role of being a victim,

Convincing myself that I have been faultless,

But I can no longer accept my delusions.

I have to admit the truth to You and to myself.

I need Your help, Father. Without You,

My life will have neither meaning nor value.

At the core of my being, I know this is true.

Help me end my self-defeating behavior,

So that I can once again be clean.

Restore my strength and a clear mind to me.

Thank You, Lord, amen.

Jack Watts

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