Monday, February 27, 2017

Anonymous Autonomy

"Taste and see that the LORD is good..." 
- Psalm 34:8

**Photography by Melissa Talbot**

If you were told today that you had a month to live, how would you, the tragectory, and purpose of your life change? Would they change? People everywhere, everyday are given a terminal time line and I often wonder what immediately follows this devastating report.

What goes through their mind, heart, soul, and spirit as the moments pass and the countdown begins? Don't get me wrong, I am in no way making light of a life altering situation. The topic is raised only because of my own health concerns and close calls through the years.

Of getting tests performed and then being left to await the results. The days, even weeks, pass before knowing what the tests revealed. Every distraction is utilized and fear, visited.

The person waiting for a reassuring phone call is, instead, met with a brief statement that the doctor wants to see them. I have been there and while my result was delivered and followed by an external sigh of relief, others have not had the same fortune.

So what would you do if the report came back bad? Would you withdraw from society and live out your remaining days in isolation? Or would you swallow hard, ignore the diagnosis and carve out a 'no regret' blowout?

Would you be kinder, more compassionate, and radical in generosity? Would you do all the things you always wanted to do, even if it scared you? Would people take the place of things?

Personally, I would start by getting as little sleep as possible and riding the fastest zip line in the world, screaming the entire time. The adrenaline rush and yelling would, hopefully, release all of the anger and bitterness I know would be coursing through me.

Secondly, priorities and perspectives would change for the better. Life would be looked at differently. I would love as though I had never experienced hurt. I would sing and dance like a fool whenever I felt like it. I would have a celebration of life with everyone I know, share the love of Jesus with as many people as possible, and eat all kinds of cakes along the way.

Jesus, the Son of God, knew exactly when He was going to die. He told people this truth and was met with disbelief and rebuke. That knowledge, however, never halted Him from loving, healing, or teaching radically. He never sought independence or freedom from others and, to this day, is considered by many as the greatest man who ever lived.

Encouragement for the week:

We all have a limited amount of time on Earth. How we live out each day can bring wonderful meaning to ourselves and others.

How would you live out your days if you knew how many remained? What kind of person would you want to be remembered as? What would you do differently today and as the days counted down?

While this might seem morbid to do, I encourage you to see it, instead, as an exercise in self-reflection on a time line and think about the things that would change, how you would change.

If you are a Christian, you know that Christ died so that you would live life in abundance and fullness. Live each day as though it were your last.

If you are not a Christian, you can look for and find Jesus along with the freedom to live out loud and in abundance.

Monday, February 20, 2017

I Love You, Man!

Puppy love, first love, and love at first sight are just some of the ways we describe one of the most life changing and heart wrenching emotions. However, as much as it is a powerful emotion, it also rivals as a significant choice.

In my greatest desire to be married, I often struggle with the reasons behind divorce especially when it stems from one of the pivotal things that brought a couple together in the first place. Love. Suddenly, love has become a thing instead of a precious commodity.

It becomes something to fall out of or go cold. Don't get me wrong, I used to understand why that would happen, especially when I was married, but I also used to believe that love equalled sex. The more sex that was had, the more loved I felt. The current realization that it was backward thinking has never been more true than it is now.

Especially when we live in an age where anything goes, sexually, and the consequences of having multiple partners while using little to no protection is the norm. That self gratification through pornography, prostitution, and human trafficking is much more realistic and acceptable than the raw vulnerability of expressing genuine love.

Have we taken the priceless treasure of love and ruined its reputation forever?

Love has also become a way to express an extreme like for food, books, or beverages. I have certainly been guilty of using that term when describing food. As a self-professed foodie, it's hard not be taken away by the sights, smells, and flavors of a new or favorite dish.

However, after many years of doing this, using the love word for inanimate objects that would later be consumed, felt shallow. When I became a Christian, a larger shift happened within that knocked me for a loop in the understanding of love.

The unconditional love being displayed to me then was not only beyond comprehension but in complete opposition to the definition once lived by. Not only did the emotion become significant and genuine but the word itself was a rare gem in need of protection.

That was the greatest change that happened. It has now opened an entirely different life journey book that could have sat on the shelf forever. Never opened, never explored, never appreciated.

The Bible speaks about love in a way that blows every romance novel out of the water. It verbalizes the wonder, depth, and intricacies of love expressed by a God that made the ultimate decision and sacrifice to save us in exchange for His only son's life. If that's not the epitome of love, then I am completely lost as to what is.

Giving one's life because of love...indescribable. Can you honestly say you would give your life for a complete stranger out of love? I would be hard pressed to do so. Asking if you would die for your child would probably elicit a different response.

Yes, while love is an immense emotion, the decision to exercise that love is far greater. It also takes determination and discipline to be consistent with that choice. It is not only a great desire to choose to love my future spouse but also those around me, right now.

Encouragement for the week:

Sometimes it's hard to love a stranger who rubs us the wrong way, a spouse who is distant, or a difficult family member.

In my decision to live this year with intent, I encourage you to make a decision to love those who challenge you in the love department. Let it be something that becomes greater in you which will, ultimately, prevent anything or anyone from stealing your joy in life.

Set yourself free by loving when it seems like no one else is. It's liberating and character building.

If you are a Christian, you know that God loves you and desires a relationship with you so that His love for us can be the same love we have for others.

If you are not a Christian and wonder where real love can be found, you can find it in God and in Jesus. Look for Him and you will find Him.

Monday, February 13, 2017

You're Quite The Character!

"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, 
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon..." - Psalm 92:12

**Photography by Melissa Talbot**

Malicious control, sexual manipulation, emotional blackmail, alcohol and sexual addictions. Just some of the things I was known for. Intolerance was always on the short list and indignant behaviours, a ritual. Each day was an experiment in how much darker things could become in character, attitude, and disposition. 

That was all until the year 2007, when I planned to be wiped off the map but, instead, was drowned in unconditional love and acceptance. Before then, there was no real substance. No vulnerability. No compassion. No acceptance. There was no possession of integrity or realness. Just a blending in with the world and its 'norms'. 

The world we live in today has smudged over honesty. Pressures to fit in and be a certain way have become expected. Upstanding character and integrity are becoming harder to find. Promises are broken, commitments are shrugged off, and the best intentions no deeper than a child's swimming pool.

We can see and hear the negative all around us at all times through social media, newscasts and gossip columns. The more shocking the story, the less we seem to be surprised by what is revealed. Are we in an age of doing away with upright conduct in exchange for keeping up with the masses? Is it more important to be ruthless and underhanded than to keep our word?

Character and integrity used to be an integral part of life, once upon a time. If your neighbour said they would do something, they did it. You didn't have to lock your doors at night and the kids could stay out past sunset without a worry to the parents. They really were simpler times.

Nowadays, there is paranoia, suspicion, correctness, and deceit 'a-plenty. When there are so many out there who never seem to keep their word, it can be hard to implement a strength of character in ourselves. It takes nerves of steel to go against the grain to be a person who will always do what they say, no matter what the cost.

After changing from a filthy mouthed, mean spirited, and condemning woman, this blogger set out to experience something never thought of. To gain tools that would bring out a person who followed through and kept their word. It wasn't easy and being that real and accountable was, at times, uncomfortable but so was staying the shallow, uncaring former self.

Having integrity and upright character became more important than going along with what everyone else was doing. There was less pressure, stress, and discouragement. Promises were kept and a once marred conscience, clean.

Jesus never broke a promise. To this day, He still hasn't. He was a man of His word and it, often, brought ridicule and rejection. He was someone who didn't cater to the masses or join along with the majority just to be cool or accepted. He carved a course that changed the times He was in and of generations to come. In the face of every despicable and underhanded act that surrounded Him, He always stood His ground.

It takes courage to be different in ways that can be refreshing to both ourselves and others. You might be laughed at or rejected but at the end of the day, you are someone who will be able to sleep at night. Soundly.

Encouragement for the week:

Do you feel a lack of courage to have integrity because of your surroundings? Do your friends or family belittle you when you display an upright character?

Going against a society that says, increasingly, it's okay to lie, cheat, and steal to get what you want, can be difficult and hurtful. Sometimes it can feel like you're a spawning salmon swimming uphill, upstream, and against the mightiest currents. 

You may not realize it but someone is watching. When you keep your word and display strong, convicting character, someone is taking notice. You are making a difference in someone's life. Right now. It could be your spouse, your kids, or a complete stranger.

Don't stop being a person of your word. Keep your promises, no matter what. Follow through in the things you've spoken out loud. The more you desire to become an upright person, the easier it will get to be that person.

If you are a Christian, you have the greatest example and source of strength to be a person of integrity and character...Jesus. Have courage to keep doing what's right.

If you are not a Christian and you feel like it's impossible to become a person of integrity and character, well, you're wrong. Look for Jesus and you will find Him along with all the wonderful attributes that come in knowing Him.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Shame On You!

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin...So do not worry...your heavenly Father knows that you need them..." - Matthew 6: 28, 31-32

**Photography by Melissa Talbot**

These three small, simple words have the capability of packing a punch against our hearts, minds, and self-esteem. Words that can quickly alter our entire well being and cause us to distort our self-image.

Shame has quickly become a 'pseudo trend ' in our world. Unlike fashion trends, this trend doesn't appear to be vanishing after a certain amount of time has passed. Instead, it's growing like a cancer within our society.

Shaming has, oddly, become a way of life in that one person feels the need to shame another person for something they have done or how they are. There doesn't seem to be a limit on what people consider to be shameful nowadays which causes great concern in this blogger's heart.

Feeling ashamed can affect us in ways that are, for the most part, false and unwarranted. For example, feeling ashamed for breastfeeding in public. It's amazing how individuals feel the need to chastise mothers for doing the very thing the shamer was once completely dependent on for life.

Or shaming someone who has a mental illness and struggles, daily, to overcome the very things haunting them. Telling them to 'suck it up', 'get over it' or to 'move on'. Causing crippling fear and reluctance to ever talk about the very thing that is burying them.

Then there is the shame projected at new mothers suffering with post-partum depression. Mothers who have been made to feel inadequate because of their inability to cope as a new mother at no fault of their own. Even the ability to go on living.

Yet, due to outdated stigmas and shame both inward and from others, many of the very serious struggles of life have been placed on a billboard of things that are no longer tolerable. Is that because of ignorance or a refusal to be informed and educated about real battles being fought by real people?

Thankfully, someone along the way has seen this pattern or 'trend' as unacceptable and has raised the standard of respecting human life. After having battled post-partum and knowing the very real pain of it, this blogger and mother has immense gratitude for the efforts being made to end the stigma that was behind PPD for so long.

Grateful for initiatives toward speaking out about mental illness and depression or providing options to those considering abortion. While helping me to remain compassionate and supportive toward the hurt in other people's lives, whether knowing their circumstances fully or not.

There is no shame in being imperfect or not having it all together like the world would have us, otherwise, believe. Imperfections are what makes things beautiful. Like a chip off a piece of pottery or a slightly missed brush stroke on fine china. The imperfections in things and in us allow for vulnerability. To be real, without shame, thus helping others to know they are not alone.

One of the things I love about Jesus is that He never made anyone feel ashamed. He never went out of His way to condemn someone who had done wrong. He simply loved them, even a woman who had committed adultery. He had mercy on her and, by loving her, made her realize the wrong path she had taken, causing her to have a renewed confidence to live right.

In the book of Romans in the Bible it says, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." Jesus never shames us or puts our faults and failures on display like the world does. He doesn't rub our noses in our mistakes or shake His finger at us.

The hope that the world will turn things around grows daily. There are glimpses of hope through articles informing people on the very real burdens of PPD, mental illness, abortion, and many other things that have plagued people with shame.

At the end of the day, we are human which means we are all prone to make mistakes and mess up. The time for shaming needs to be over. The time for intolerance toward imperfection also needs to be over.

Encouragement for the week:

Have you been shamed by someone? How did it affect the way you feel about yourself? Did you beat yourself up about it and enter into self-condemnation?

I used to condemn myself all the time for the things I did until I came to know a relationship with Jesus. While I am not perfect in this relationship with Jesus, He helps me to see and know that my faults are not held against me and that He will never shame me for them.

It's unfortunate that the ways of this world shame us every chance it gets but there is a powerful truth that counters that...Jesus won't.

If you are a Christian, you can have confidence in an ever shaming world because you know that Jesus doesn't condemn you for the things you have or haven't done. That is His promise you can take to the bank.

If you are not a Christian, look for Jesus and you will find Him. You will come into a relationship with someone who will never shame or condemn you.