Saturday, April 24, 2010

Taking The Stand

The book that I am reading right now has small little assignments on occasion. Things called “Take Aways”. The first Take Away in this book was to “write your story”. There were really no other instructions other than that. My story? My story of what? Why I want to read this book? A description of my life today? Then it hit me. The author wanted me to write about my life story as a Christian. How it happened and what it means to me. He said that if we have never written out our story, that we would be amazed at the impact that it would have on us. He said “something special occurs when we write out our thoughts and experiences”.

I knew right away that I was not going to actually write my story, but type it. And then I thought, why not just turn my story into a blog? I’ll tell you, I was hesitant. There are things in here that many people who are reading this don’t know about me. It’s me opening up and being vulnerable. Some of those close to me know this story, or slight variations of it. Others who are close to me have never heard this story. But here it is. I am taking the stand. Giving my testimony.

I grew up in a loving home. I had two fantastic, loving ,supportive parents and a sister whom I generally got along with, aside from the normal sisterly spats that any sisters experience growing up. I had everything that I needed and we were able to go on family vacations on a regular basis, but we weren’t what one would consider an affluent family. As children, my sister and I were able to participate in whatever sport we wanted, we were both involved in the band from a young age, and our parents encouraged us to get involved in things. I’m glad they did.

What I don’t remember very well from my childhood is ever really learning about God. I do remember being dropped off at Sunday School with my sister, but never really going to “big church” since my parents didn’t regularly attend. I knew there was a God and I believed in Him, but I wasn’t ever taught (or perhaps I just didn’t pay attention in Sunday School) about really having a relationship with Him and what it meant to be a Christian.

I grew up, as most non-believers probably do, thinking that being a good person would get me into heaven. And I considered myself a good person. I mean, I was nice to my parents, I got along with my sister, I had some great friends, I was generally a likeable person, I had no real enemies, I wasn’t mean to people, I didn’t drink or smoke while I was growing up, I never really got into trouble – I was the average good kid. I graduated high school still not really knowing much about God and happily living out my life as a “good person”.

Then I attended Baylor University, which is a private Baptist university. To this day, I still don’t understand why I really ended up there. I knew I wanted to be in Texas, and it was sort of process of elimination that I needed up there. It was small enough for me to not feel like I was just a number and large enough that it still felt like a proper college. I won’t get into some of the interesting aspects of that school when it comes to religion, but suffice it to say that I was exposed to a lot more about what it meant to be a Christian and lived with a group of Christian gals, even went to Bible studies and the occasional church service with them. But, I was content being a “good person”, still not understanding what it really meant to be a believer.

I graduated college, started work, and moved to Houston where my parents had moved while my sister and I were in college. Now all four of us were in Houston after living for 17 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We were happily transplanted into the fourth largest city in the country, and Houston was a great place to start my career.

Concurrently with all of this happening, I married and settled down in the heart of Houston. To make a long and somewhat painful story quite short, it was an unhealthy marriage from the start. I don’t know what it was (ok, I really do know what it was – but I’ll spare everyone the gory details), but I do know that neither of us were Christians. And I’ll tell you, someone can believe that there is a God, even go to church, and still not be a Christian.

I know every religion has it’s variations on this basic concept, but generally speaking, someone has to acknowledge that Jesus Christ died on the cross for them and their sins – that God sacrificed His Son for them, then brought Him back from the dead. And the acceptance of that, and the prayer made during that acceptance, and the belief coming from the depths of your heart and your soul – that acknowledgment, and that acknowledgment alone, makes you a Christian. Makes you a believer. Saves you from a life in hell. Provides you with the promise of everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven.

So, needless to say, after my divorce, my life was in a bit of turmoil. I was re-settling in the same city that I had been living and (happily) adjusting to single life. But the circumstances of what happened in my marriage were still weighing on my mind and on my heart. Knowing what had happened, and feeling somehow guilty for that, kept me a prisoner.

Not long before this, probably about a year, my sister had started going to church at Second Baptist in Houston. Second Baptist is what most would consider a “mega church”, and mega it is. She grew up in the same home as me, but clearly had a different journey since we went to different universities, had different friends, and chose vastly different careers. But she became a Christian, and I saw a change in her. And that made me curious.

As mentioned above, after the divorce I was a happier person, but still struggled with why certain things had to happen in life, why they had to happen to me, and certainly struggled with the label of “divorced” that I would have with me for the rest of my life. Now when I was filling out forms, I couldn’t check the “single – never been married” box.

Now I know that a majority of marriages today end in divorce, but trust me, when it’s YOU going through it, statistics don’t matter. Nobody wants that. It’s failure. And the general nature of humans is that we don’t like to fail when it’s a conscious choice that we made.

So I really began thinking about God. I had always believed that things happened for a reason, and I struggled with this one. I remember trying to make sense of it all, then having the realization that maybe it was never under my control. Through talking with my sister, I realized that I didn’t have to go through this alone. That God was always there for me and that I didn’t have to make decisions without some sort of help or guidance. I remember thinking to myself, “How did I ever make a big decision before in my life? How did I bear the stress of having to do that on my own? How have I not realized up until now that I can pray about these things, and that God will give me answers and help me get through anything that life puts me through?” It was such an important revelation for me. The belief that everything that happens in my life does in fact have a reason, even if I don’t understand it at the time.

If you read Luke 8:22-25, it serves as a reminder that Jesus is in control of everything, we just need to have faith that He will take care of us. And He often puts us through things to test our faith.

I began going to church with my sister at Second Baptist and something started pulling at my heart. I couldn’t wait to get back to church every Sunday. I couldn’t wait to get there and listen to the promise that was spoken to me out of the Bible. Second Baptist is an amazing church for people seeking to know God and wanting to learn more about becoming a Christian. It was just what I needed.

I was so hungry for information about God and to hear people’s experiences. These were real people with real lives and real examples of God working in their lives. They weren’t freaks. They were neighbors, friends, co-workers, parents – everyone you could imagine. They were normal, everyday Americans and foreigners who all had one thing in common – they believed in God and in Jesus Christ, and they had independently made that choice using the freedom that we are given in America to do so. I wanted it so badly! But I still didn’t feel like I was “qualified” enough to make that decision. I needed to know a bit more.

The way it works at Second, and likely most, if not all Baptist churches, is that an invitation is given at the end of each service – an invitation for people to join the church from other churches, or to accept Jesus Christ in your life for the first time and become a member of the church. So I would sit there each service with my sister, knowing deep down that I wanted to do it, but not feeling quite ready yet. I would watch people walk down the aisles of this massive worship center week after week and stand in front of everyone there as evidence of their decision. It was a powerful moment during each service.

And then one Sunday (March 17, 2002 to be exact), I could contain it no longer. During that service, something stirred in me and I could hardly wait to walk down those aisles. When the invitation came, I looked at my sister with tears in my eyes and said that I was ready to walk down those aisles. She went with me, and on that day, I prayed the prayer that has saved me. I accepted Jesus Christ into my life and into my heart, and became a brand new person. That was my Christian birthday! I was baptized the following Sunday with my parents, sister, best friend, and others in town to witness it. And it has been the best decision that I have ever made in my life.

So friends, I speak this testimony to you for no other reason than I just felt that I needed to do it. I have never been on the witness stand before.

I love my God more each and every day and am in constant awe and wonder because of how He works in my life and in the lives of others around me.

There is one thing that I want to leave you with, and that is this: You are not alone in this world. When you go through tough times and you think that your world is crumbling apart, or you’re just confused about the meaning or direction of your life, there is a plan behind all of it. The plan for me was to bring me to Jesus Christ. And it worked! Only believers go to heaven. And I’m so glad that I’m among that group.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cheerleading Camp

“We’ve got spirit, yes we do! We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”

For anyone who has ever been a cheerleader, or likely anyone who has been to a football game with cheerleaders or a pep squad, those words will sound very familiar to you. I was a cheerleader for two years in junior high, believe it or not. And we went to cheerleading “camps”, which were sometimes just day-long workshops or a weekend camp and competition.

In any event, I remember the one time that I won the Spirit Award. The Spirit Award was given to the person who was full of spirit, lively, loud, enthusiastic, supportive of others etc. Is it any wonder that it was given to me? I don’t think that anyone has ever mistaken me for being quiet and passive. I’ve not won a Spirit Award since, but I remember the encouragement that I felt when I held that “Spirit Stick” (a baton with streamers on both ends) – a recognition of what I thought was just my personality, but I guess my spirit and my enthusiasm were just shining through that day.

But there is another kind of spirit that I’m trying to learn better to embrace – one that should be equally as lively and enthusiastic and that should make me shine.

I don’t know about you, but I always talk about God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ. How God sent His Son to die for our sins on the cross. But what’s missing here? It is, after all, the Holy Trinity. Trinity is three. God the Father, God the Son, and God……the Holy Spirit.

I often times forget about the Holy Spirit. But words used to describe the Holy Spirit are such things as the Helper, the Counselor, Friend, and Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit is with us ALL THE TIME and never leaves us. Did you get that? The Holy Spirit never leaves us! He is our friend, our helper, our counselor. When we pray in the moment, when we ask for calm and peace and guidance and comfort, guess who is there giving all of that to us? Yep, that’s the Holy Spirit.

I think I forget about the Holy Spirit because I pray to God, and get caught up in my “asking for things” or “acknowledging the awesomeness of God” mode, not realizing that the answer for many of the things I pray for is actually the Holy Spirit. That He abides in me (which He does, by the way) and that He guides me when I feel lost or off course. I know I cannot see Him, just like I can’t see God or Jesus, but this is the guy that keeps me company in an immediate need. He is by my side. He is my biggest supporter. And I fear that He goes too often unnoticed in my world.

A book that I’m currently reading called Lord, Help Me Grow Spiritually Strong, simply says this: “All you have to do is call out to Him in prayer, and He will come to your aid anytime, anywhere”.

So friends, please work with me here in remembering and adoring and accepting the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit that is so freely offered up to us. When your earthly friends are too busy, or too far away, and your family is tied up, or you have a problem that you don’t feel like sharing with anyone else, share it with God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will come running as quickly as you can pray the words, and descend upon you and fill you up with everything that He is.

And one other thing: when you feel filled up with fear, or guilt, or frustration, or anxiety, or worry, or chaos, or anger, or envy – know that the Holy Spirit is there waiting for you to ask Him to fill you up with His spirit and throw all of those other feelings from your mind and your body. Ask the Holy Spirit to take over. Our God is not a God of fear, or guilt, or frustration, or anxiety, or worry, or chaos, or anger, or envy. He is a God of love and truth.

We need to remember this in trying times. I know that’s it’s easier said than done. I can think of several times within the last six months when I have had friends remind me of this. Times when I’ve been full of fear or worry or chaos. And all I can do is bow my head and pray. Ask God to send my loyal companion, the Holy Spirit, my way to get rid of those thoughts and feelings. And remember this:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” – Philippians 4:8

So, whether you realize it or not, we’ve all just attended Cheerleading Camp! And I would like to attend many more in the future. And I will try, with everything in me, to win that Spirit Award, for only the second time in my life. I want to be filled with spirit, have it radiate from me, have it be enthusiastic and contagious. And not just any spirit, but the Holy Spirit.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Breaking It Down

I’m an accountant. And to make it worse, I’m an auditor. But do not fear, I have nothing to do with taxes. Let’s just sum it up by saying that I spend my time making companies think about what’s happened in the past, all in the name of protecting the investors. Most of my clients don’t really like me. Well, at least what I do.

Some would also say that I have a Type A personality, which, according to, means that I fall within the group that “can be described as impatient, time-conscious, controlling, concerned about their status, highly competitive, ambitious, business-like, aggressive, having difficulty relaxing; and are sometimes disliked by individuals with Type B personalities for the way that they're always rushing. They are often high-achieving workaholics who multi-task, drive themselves with deadlines, and are unhappy about delays”. This also means that I have an analytical mind. So what?

Well, I’ve been reading a book . And something in this book really hit a cord with me. The book is called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (on a side note, he’s got another great book called Outliers and one that is next on my list, Tipping Point – check them out!). The thing that grabbed my attention was the statement that “In the act of tearing something apart, you lose it’s meaning”. I don’t know what “something” is, but I like the concept on the surface.

So, it got me thinking about how I overanalyze the heck out of most things in my life: a relationship, a decision at the office, why I should or shouldn’t buy something new, do I or do I not go to yoga, how much money to put away in my savings accounts, where to eat dinner – a wide array of things with varying levels of importance to my life. And I think that this is sometimes healthy, because it gets our minds thinking and keeps us on our toes. But I think it can sometimes be not so healthy.

My personal opinion (and experience) has been that men typically follow their heads and women typically follow their hearts. When I think of someone who follows their head, I think of them as analytical: considering all of the consequences of each possible decision, the impact those decisions will have on other people or things, whether or not a decision is logical or rational etc. When I think of someone who follows their heart, I think of people who go with a gut feeling. They make decisions in the moment. That doesn’t mean that they are completely reckless and live life with carefree abandon, it just means that they realize that there may be some ramifications associated with their decision, but they really truly feel like it is the right decision to make. And they may not even know why.

I think a healthy balance of thinking with our heads and our hearts is probably the best place to be. But I so often get caught up in the analytical aspect of a decision. I don’t put faith or confidence in myself to actually make a decision on a whim or with my gut feeling. And this brings me back to the statement above: “In the act of tearing something apart, you lose it’s meaning”.

Gladwell went on to say that too many of us focus on the mechanics of a process or situation and don’t think about it holistically. We don’t consider the different parts that we have broken down, put together as a whole.

I don’t really know what the point of this blog is, other than that a light bulb went off in me and I am going to try to NOT analyze things so much for a while. I’ve been doing it now for a long time. I’m going to give myself a break from the exhaustion of thinking about things so much. I have some friends who are really good at this. They go with the flow, they don’t stress about decisions to the point of stomach ulcers or sleepless nights (neither of which I have a problem with, just for the record), they live life with their heart. They don’t break everything down to pieces.

And honestly, I think I’m a lot better than I used to be. At least in all aspects of my life except for relationships. With those, I still beat the heck out of them. I overanalyze them to the point that I convince myself that something is or isn’t a certain way, just because I’ve thought about it so much. Do you do it too?
It’s scary. I hate it. But I’m human and part of me is just grateful that God gave me the ability to think (because let’s be honest – some people aren’t actually very good at that!). I say I’m better than I used to be because I also depend more now on my faith. Faith, in this regard, is not always knowing why certain things happen or why certain decisions are made, but just believing that they are the right thing to do. Following your heart and letting your head have a little rest.