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Taming the monster in your head

the monster in your head at www.gapingvoid.comDear friend,

You have just experienced the “dark” side of me. I tend to disappear, for months or even years at a time. I beat myself into a major guilt frenzy because I think I have let you down. Sometimes it’s because I stood you up at the coffee shop . Or I ignored your email asking me for a favor. Maybe I feel like a failure with my family or at work. Whatever the reason—real or imagined—there’s a monster in my head saying I’m not good enough.

So I just disappear into a black hole, which makes me feel even more guilt, which makes me dig an even deeper hole, which makes me … well, you get the vicious cycle picture.

At times I have allowed this monster to get the best of me, and I never re-establish contact with friends because of my guilt about letting myself and everyone else down. The dead remains of warm friendships litter the countryside, and I hope a dozen or more people have long since quit wondering what they did to deserve my never, ever returning their phone calls:

Where have you been?
Are you okay?
I’m worried about you.
Did I do something to make you mad?

With each email or phone message, it becomes harder to explain my silence, and now I feel it is impossible to climb out of that deep, dark hole. It’s too hard to say, “It’s me. I’m sorry I haven’t called.” I tell myself that you wouldn’t understand, and refuse to believe that good friends would welcome me back into the friendship.

Do you feel like you have let Jesus down? Can’t seem to get control over some behavior? We all do. Arrogance, anger, abortion; drugs, deceit, doubt; gossip, greed, and gluttony—we’re all guilty of something (Romans 3:23).

If you feel like you’re not worthy of God’s friendship and love, Jesus wants to banish that monster in your head. He is waiting for you (Matt. 11:28-30). He wants to be your friend (John 15:15). Peter, one of his closest friends, let him down. Yet, Jesus forgave Peter and gave him a second chance. Jesus loves us and welcomes us back, just as we are (Luke 7:37-47).

Jesus is your best friend. He cares about you, regardless of what you have done in your life. He loves you more than you can ever imagine (John 15:13, John 3:16).

Today is the day I’m crawling out of that hole. I’m making that attempt to say I’m sorry I let you down. I’m shining the light on my dark side and banishing the “Disappearing into the Darkness” monster.

Dear Jesus,
I’m sorry.
Will you forgive me?

Yes, he does.
(1 John 1:9)

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Book review: The Butterfly Effect

This small little book packs power. Using connectedness as proof, in “The Butterfly Effect” author Andy Andrews contends that life’s, indeed the world’s, events happen as a result of a series of connected events. The people in that chain aren’t aware of the impact their actions will have days, years, decades or centuries later. Andrews says that every conversation, every encounter we have, will affect the choices and success of others we may or may never meet.

At first the concept seemed far-fetched, but by the end of the book I felt encouraged, empowered and important. My life has purpose. I may never see it, but it really matters.

The book is small and appropriate for gift-giving. Give it to someone who needs encouragement. Give it to a graduating senior. And each time you give it as a gift, be sure to re-read it first to reinforce your sense of purpose.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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‘Plan B,’ by Pete Wilson

 

What do you do when your life isn’t turning out the way you thought?
What happens when life comes crashing down on you?

Whether a failed relationship, an unmet dream or a tragic circumstance that is no fault of your own, we all find ourselves in a “Plan B” situation at some point in our lives. In “Plan B,” Pete’s intent is not to debate whether God purposely allows tragedy in our lives, or whether God uses our life situations, to bring about true spiritual transformation.

Pete liberally uses stories from the Bible, and from his own and other life stories to help readers see that God truly is with you both when life is going well, and when it’s not. He also does a great job convincing us that our faith must rest on God’s identity, not necessarily his activity. And perhaps the most important point in Pete’s book is that Plan Bs can be instrumental in mak us into the person God had in mind when we were created, if we give God permission.

I loved this book—it was both easy to read, yet tackled deep, complex concepts at the same time. It gives me reassurance that the next time I find myself in the midst of a “Plan B,” that I can emerge on the other side of the pain with a heart that’s been expanded and molded to reflect God’s heart.

However, if you’re in the midst of your own a Plan B, you may be seeking more definitive answers and a specific course of action, neither of which are readily available in this book. Pete admits there is no “bow” to neatly tie up this package; no tidy conclusion where everything wraps up and all your questions are answered.

But that’s okay. For me, this book expanded my understanding of God’s character. So, the next time I find myself in a Plan B (and I certainly will), then I will be more apt to see God’s presence in the midst of the pain. Perhaps I’ll be equipped to navigate that delicate balance between a loving God and the heartbreak and pain.

 *I received an advance, free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Teen Tests Parents’ Faith

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  Galatians 6:9

I hesitantly logged in to the school’s online gradebook. One click later, tears welled up in my eyes. It was worse than I had feared. Just six weeks before the end of the school year, and my 14-year old son’s grades had plummeted again. This time they had hit bottom.

I know I’m not alone–parents have survived their teens for centuries. But it’s so easy to guilt ourselves into the “If only…” trap. If only I had checked his grades earlier, if only I had intervened more aggressively back in 5th grade, if only he hadn’t fallen out of the shopping cart and landed on his head as a toddler… just kidding. But sometimes I question every word I have spoken, every battle I have ignored, every action, every reaction, every aspect of my parenting.

Since the fifth grade, the downward spiral of my son’s grades have become dangerous, and the discussions about his homework louder and more frequent. A modest effort yields As and Bs—he has proven that many times.

There’s the stigma of having a child with poor grades. I know the focus should not be on me, but rather on how to get my son through this season and successfully into adulthood with our relationship intact. I hope my sanity will also be intact.

And then I struggle with imposing my own values on my children. I put a high value on academics, so his lack of caring about anything intellectual is especially disturbing. My motto is, “What can I do to become better?” His seems to be “How can I get away with doing absolutely nothing?”

Let’s not forget about falling into the trap of comparing my son to other boys his age. I wince when other proud parents report that their children take some personal responsibility for getting their homework done, studying for tests and playing sports. But, unlike his friends, he’s satisfied just standing on the sidelines. It requires no work. While his friends are training, reading, studying, succeeding, he’s… not. By choice. Apparently he doesn’t want to do anything that requires any kind of effort.

The worst aspect, though, is the shattered dream. I had expectations, dreams, of what our family would look like when we got to this day. My dream didn’t include a white picket fence, but it did include a close, caring family. Parents and children who have faults, but who love each other, and laugh together. In my dreams, I saw our family interacting with respect, understanding and caring toward each other. My son used to be like that. Now? He doesn’t want to be within 50 feet of us. When did he start disliking us, and why?

When I entered parenthood, I anticipated that my son would begin pulling away from his parents when he reached the teen years. It’s normal and natural. But I thought that meant he would venture out on his own more frequently. Demonstrate independent thinking. Rely on his parents less and less. I thought we would start treating him more like an adult, and he would start behaving more like an adult. More decisions, more freedom. I didn’t anticipate that he would completely reject anything related to our family.

I’m just as upset at myself for my behavior (labeling, comparing, imposing my values and dreams), as I am at my son for his behavior.

But here’s the truth. When we don’t get what we asked for, when our dreams don’t come true, don’t we get upset? Don’t we feel that we’ve done something wrong? Something that’s keeping us from God’s blessing. Not getting what we want tends to rattle our faith.

And the opposite is true, too. We believe that when we are faithful, when we’re obedient, when we do the right thing, don’t we expect that life is going to turn around for us? That God is going to deliver his blessings? Our kids will turn around. Our marriage will get easier. We’ll land the “right” job.

We must look at the process, not the end result. Our faith must rest on God’s identity, not his activity.

God promised a harvest of blessings. I’ll keep doing what is good, and what is right, and I won’t give up. I will reap that promised harvest. I have surrendered the dream of what, exactly, that harvest will look like. I won’t ask when that harvest will be delivered. God promises that there will be a harvest that is pleasing to him, and that’s good enough for me.

It’s the process that’s important. So I’ll never give up.

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