Seven Cs of Contentment

Years ago on an old blog I wrote about the “Seven Cs of Satisfaction” that seemed to strike a chord with me and a few other people. I had come up with what I still think is a really good list of daily goals that will lead to a fulfilled and satisfying day for anyone, young or old. The more of these I include in my life on a daily basis, the better I feel and the happier I am. I have hunted for that list I wrote for a while and wasn’t able to find it, so I decided to recreate it. No idea if this is identical, but I do know the main ideas are the same! With the New Year coming up, I like to reflect on my habits and attitudes and consider what changes I can make. My plan for the New Year will be to intentionally incorporate as many of the 7 Cs into every single day as I can.

In fact, I hope to convince a couple other people to join me and have an accountability group of sorts to share our successes in this arena (let me know if you’re interested!)

This time I titled this post “7 Cs of Contentment” instead of “Satisfaction”. Not quite as nice alliteratively, but contentment sounds much nicer than satisfaction conceptually.

So, here’s the list. The 7 Cs of Contentment/Satisfaction in no particular order:

Create – Produce something useful or enjoyable. This can be paid work such as writing, developing, or designing; or hobbies that involve creating such as music, art, cooking, sewing, gardening, etc.
Example: Yesterday I wrote this post. Obviously didn’t finish it, because I’m adding to it right now. Still created it.

Concentrate – Learn something new or work on something hard. This can also be part of paid work, or something that you are actively trying to improve on in one of your hobbies. It can also be studying something you are interested in.
Example: Yesterday I… didn’t do anything new or hard (hey, I’m on vacation! hehe). But within the past few days I have done a bit of studying for my professional development, read about drawing which is something I WANT to start practicing and improving on, and did some studying on communication.

Connect – Build relationships. Spend time with your family, call a friend, have a (real) conversation on Facebook even.
Example: Yesterday I went out to dinner with Will, Kevan and Ben to the Hitching Post. Super fun times and good food (thanks to William for the gift certificates!!) Yesterday I also had a nice conversation over Facebook with my mom and aunt about meaningful things.

Care – Acts of service for your family or your home. Clean something, give somebody a ride, feed someone, do volunteer work.
Example: Yesterday I did tons of the kids’ laundry. Also cleaned up Christmas stuff to make way for the cleaning lady coming this morning. And helped Ben take the trash cans out to the street.

Condition – Exercise and eat in a way that is beneficial to your body.
Example: Hahahaha. I did not exercise or eat well yesterday. I got totally off track with exercising when we went to Africa and never started back up again. I will any day now though! I actually plan to start walking daily or almost-daily with Teddy, and to start lifting weights again. I did, however, order the grilled vegetables instead of fries or mashed potatoes with my dinner last night.

Commune – Pray/meditate
Example: Yesterday I did not pray or meditate. Included in this would be my morning prayer, dedication of the day; specific prayer list; and night time inventory and prayer. I tend to do some of these some days, all some days, and none some days.

Consume – Do something purely for enjoyment. Read a book, watch a tv show, play a game, eat a cookie.
Example: Yesterday I read a number of things for enjoyment – Reddit, the novel I’m in the middle of; I watched some tv.

This is NOT a to-do list. It is not always reasonable to accomplish each of these every day. Satisfaction and contentment do not come by measuring myself against a list and beating myself up for not living up to it. They come from pushing myself to include just one more in a day that seems full or overwhelming. They come from looking back and identifying the meaningful things I accomplished without necessarily realizing it.

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First impressions of Kenya

First impressions of Kenya

I have written thousands of words of journals since I have been on this, my first journey to Kenya. Between Will and I, we have taken thousands of pictures and videos too. So it is a challenge to try to distill down my experiences these last three weeks into some ‘first impressions’. However, though I know I will end up posting a lot of my more detailed stories on my blog over time, most people won’t ever read that much. And Brooks requested a ‘first impressions’ post for their travel blog, so I am making my best effort!

The first thing that I noticed upon arriving in Kenya, first at the airport, then at the first place we stayed and the following morning as we walked into town for coffee and breakfast was that there are an overwhelming number of beautiful people here. I used to think that Brooks only took pictures of beautiful Kenyans to show us back at home. Actually, for whatever reason there is a much larger percentage of beautiful people here than in America. Their skin is smooth and clear, their teeth are straight and white, their features are very attractive.

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

Ok, so with that superficial observation out of the way, the next thing I noticed is that all of the people that we met were very warm, inviting, generous with even what little they had to offer, and welcoming. Now, the shopkeepers were very persistent, sometimes even overwhelming; random people we passed on the street sometimes gave us glares or dirty looks; one mama that was begging whom we didn’t give money to actually yelled curses at us. However, the people we actually met and got to know were just overwhelmingly sweet, polite, and well-spoken.
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[photo by Brooks Thoman]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

Another thing about the Kenyan people in general (obviously this is a broad generalization but very true in what I experienced) is that they work very hard; at least the women and children do, and many but not all of the men. There is so much to be done, that not much leisure time is available. Kids as young as 4 or 5 are often watching the sheep, goats or cows, trapping termites (flying termites are a favorite snack for many), getting water, etc.

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

Kids in the villages were fascinated by us mzungus (white people).

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

There are so many people out and about here. From Nairobi, a very large city with many western type homes and businesses (at least superficially western) to Bikeke the very small village where Liberty School is located – there are dozens and dozens of people in the streets walking, carrying heavy loads on their heads (if they’re women), wearing dresses, skirts, suits, ties, shoes, barefoot, torn up rags, and everything in between. In Nairobi there are many cars, buses, and motorcycles; they have terrible traffic during rush hour, just like you might find in LA. In the villages there are very few cars, but still motorcycle taxis, bicycles and some cars. But everywhere there are tons of people walking around doing their business.

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

A word about that superficial western-ness, and what I mean by that. Many things in Nairobi appear the way they do in America from the outside. A large international airport, a modern coffee shop, an outdoor street market (like a swap meet). But things are not as they seem. A drug store that was supposed to be open a couple hours ago is inexplicably closed. The guy that is supposed to be working is standing outside the shop just waiting around being angry that the shop is locked up. The car that picks you up from the airport gets a flat tire within 5 or 10 minutes. There miraculously is a spare tire, but it is almost completely flat. The beautiful lodge you are staying in has electricity and hot water only a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night. At one hotel, when our key broke we took it to the front desk and they gave us a master key to use to get into our room. They told us it was a master key, meaning it would open any room in the hotel. I tried it on my dad and Brooks’ room, and sure enough it worked. They took it back after about an hour after they had repaired our key. A meeting you set for 9:00 am is almost guaranteed to actually start at 10:00 am, because nobody will be there at 9. A location in the city with real toilets will often have no toilet seat, or no toilet paper, or no soap, or none of the above. The international airport at Nairobi has the electricity go out 3 times within an hour as we sat waiting for the people to arrive that we needed to fix our problem. Roads that were getting bad (such as the entire highway from Kakamega to Kitale) were torn out back in 2013 and still have not been rebuilt due to corruption in the companies chosen to do it.

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[photo by Sarah Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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(not our picture: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3705/10460034564_15a0b8fab1_b.jpg)

Anybody that has any money at all has a lot of security. Hotels and homes are within walled compounds with guards at the gate allowing in only certain people. Walls include razor wire, barbed wire, or even jagged broken glass along the tops to keep criminals out. Most nice malls or shopping centers in Nairobi have metal detectors and guards who check your bags before you are allowed to enter.

The poverty in Kenya is overwhelming, almost unimaginable. In the villages, people live in huts the size of my living room or smaller (and my living room is fairly small by American standards!) Mud or plaster make up the walls, often the roof is corrugated metal siding. You can see the sky between the ceiling and the walls, between the doors and the doorframes (when there are doors). Floors are either dirt, concrete, or linoleum laid over dirt or concrete. Furniture is wood chairs or benches, sometimes with a thin cushion on top, sometimes not. There is no electricity, no running water, no gas for cooking or heat. If there is a bed, everybody shares it or sleeps on the floor. If there are blankets, everybody shares them. If there is a medical issue, it is ignored or if it is not possible to ignore it someone may be able to get treated at the village clinic, but it will cost more than they can afford. The most basic services are often all that can be done – including removal of teeth, amputation of limbs, and living with suffering or dying from things that are easily treatable but not affordable (as of course happens in the U.S. but not nearly to the extent that it happens here). The people whose homes we visited are from the poorest in Kenya. They either have land (passed down from their parents) or in the case of the childrens’ families we visited, they are being helped by their neighbors, churches, or friends.

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

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[photo by Will Bruce]

(note the bed behind them – that’s where they all sleep, as well last heir mom)

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[photo by Will Bruce]

The lady above had to have surgery on her hip after a car accident. She is a widow, and has a small stand in front of her house where she sells tomatoes and candy, whatever items she can to try to make ends meet.

My first impressions of Kenya are a mixture of admiration, appreciation and sadness for the people; awe and wonder at the animals and scenery; and disgust at the systems and leaders who keep so many in the country impoverished despite the many resources that are available.

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Mermaids, by Hollie Poetry

Poem written about drowned refugee babies. Not this most recent occurrence but a previous occurrence. Loved the imagery.

MERMAIDS
I hope they find you baby
on play-mat ocean floors
I hope they make you seaweed sheets and wrap you warm on sandy reefs
I hope the corals sway for you your oyster rattles clutched in hands,
pearls shake with open-eyed amazement watching seahorse bubble bands.
I hope the mermaids sing for you and curve the waves to lull your sleep
I hope your tears are wiped by mother octopuses’ eight great feet
I hope you land so softly babies, float onto the ocean’s floor

and hope that we learn up above to welcome people to our shores

to help them out of fleeing boats and let them live upon our lands
too late for you I pray you both sank safely into mermaids’ hands.

Hollie Poetry: http://holliepoetry.com https://www.facebook.com/holliepoetry

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a new (to me) perspective on failure

Back in March of this year I started lifting weights – big girl weights, like in the picture (and I look exactly as awesome as that chick while lifting them, really I do!) We actually got the weight setup for the kids, but in the process I had to do a bunch of research on what to get and wound up deciding to start lifting myself for the first time ever.

So I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and fits and starts with progressing but it is exciting every time I can lift more than I could the time before. The other day I got to the point where I was supposed to do squats with 135 lbs – this means the bar which weighs 45 pounds, plus a plate on each side of 45 lbs each. This is a milestone because you are using the full plates instead of the smaller incremental weights. Well, I psyched myself out and totally failed, and was complaining a bit about it on a Facebook group of ladies who lift weights. The response I got from another lady on the group was:

“and the best part is…that even with an attempt that didn’t go as planned, you are letting your body know that it is going to have to adapt to what you want it to do! that’s one of the reasons why i love weight lifting! use failure to succeed!”

I told her that I loved that perspective on failure and was going to adopt it. Sure enough, 2 days later when it was time to try again I did the 3 sets of 5 no problem. It is amazing that trying to do something and failing completely made my body work in the background prepping to be able to do it the next time.

I think that same principle applies to our minds as well. Have you ever played one of those video games where you are trying to beat a level and it’s the same every time, so you get stuck on a really hard part and have to keep doing it over and over until you can get past it? Those are the kind of games I enjoy, but sometimes a certain section will be so hard that I just get sick of doing it and quit in disgust. It almost never fails that when I go back to the game later or the next day all of a sudden I can beat it no problem. Is my brain sneakily working on the problem in the background or building the muscle memory I need in order to beat it?

Same thing happens with tricky problems at work. Many times I have been trying to figure out the best way to present something, or to fix a problem that just doesn’t make sense. Going away from the problem for a while or even sleeping on it often brings the solution without having to put any more thought into it, as if once again my brain keeps working on the problem without me even being aware of it.

So I think I am going to claim that same principle for the other areas of my life too. I’ve been recently inspired/reminded to take a daily personal moral/spiritual inventory. Nothing like actually having to acknowledge your moral failings and character flaws every single day! (By the way, I found a really cool app for this, called Grid Diary – check your local app store).

I’m thinking that becoming aware of these failings and flaws will give my spirit the chance to work on them in the background, just like my body does and my brain does. If I’m willing to admit to failure and have the desire to be rid of my character flaws, then between God and my spirit it will get worked out in the background. If I ignore them and just blindly move through each day without any self-reflection it will be really hard for any change or growth to happen. This is now my inspiration to continue with the daily inventory – not because of Ignatius or Bill W. but because it truly makes sense to me.

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Have I mentioned that I’m going to Africa?

If not, it’s because I haven’t quite wrapped my brain around it yet. I think I’m in denial.

So I’ve been donating and helping raise money for the Liberty School in Bikeke, Kenya and a few other projects such as women’s vocational training for several years. My dad and stepmom go to these places twice a year and are involved in coming alongside these projects that are started and run by local people who have a passion for helping others. About a year ago I started working with my stepmom and niece, and then with several other ladies, on a project making reusable menstrual pads for the girls at the school so that they are able to comfortably continue attending school during their periods every month. Last fall they took kits for 25-ish girls, and this spring they took 150 kits! I kept saying that I wanted to go someday, and “next time when I go, blah blah blah!” Well, apparently next time is here.

In November me and Will are going to be heading to Liberty School, bringing along not only more menstrual pad kits and training on hygiene and menstruation (haha Will doesn’t have to do that part!), but also some encouragement for the teachers and staff, maybe some fun activities for the kids (math puzzles???) and our inquiring minds to learn as much as we can while we are there about what God is doing and what their needs are and how we can help. We will also be in Nairobi for a while, and then in western Kenya visiting some of the house church leaders that my dad trains over there, and their churches and farms. Me and Will. In Africa. Can you picture it?

It seems abstract still, so I’m not totally nervous yet. I think this will be a life changing experience. Even though I have followed along with the travel blogs and looked at the pictures, and fundraised, and contributed, and spent many hours sewing for the girls there, I know it will really bring home the reality that so many millions are facing in the world today that is SOOOO far removed from my everyday experiences.

My leave request from work is already submitted and approved, we’ve got our passports, and we’re buying plane tickets and Visas tomorrow! OMG!

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Why I Believe in God series

What was meant to be my next “This I Believe” series post turned into its own mini-series. Here are the parts:

Why I Believe in God, part 1
Why I Believe in God, part 2
Why I Believe in God, part 3

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Why I Believe in God, part 3

I am an over-thinker. I have to figure things out, I have to over-analyze things, I have to be able to understand and make sense of things, I am not capable of just ‘going with my gut’ on anything. It is a curse. Religion doesn’t lend itself to this kind of thing.

Despite my newfound faith and trust in God, I was never able to just dive in and swallow all the beliefs that came along with “Christianity”, or at least the modern American version of it. I tried sooooooo hard to find something I could really believe in, a belief system, a structure that fit around God that I could totally believe. I’ve put serious research into ancient religions – buddhism, hinduism, judaism, paganism; and into variants of Christianity – Catholicism, Orthodox, gnosticism, various protestant denominations, etc. I was continuously drawn back to the God of the Bible but I had so many problems with the Bible and with much of the standard set of Christian beliefs. I felt totally unstable and unsatisified in my position, but it was undeniable that God was my savior and my solution and I still remained identified as Christian, but was often embarrassed to be associated with other American Christians.

Then some further terrible, horrible things happened in my family. Kids in the next generation of my family that I am responsible for were victimized by people in my generation. Families were torn apart. People went to prison. I had failed to end the cycles of abuse in our family, and God had completely failed to protect my family. This was devastating. I was extremely angry with myself and with God. If I had been there, I would have protected the children. How could God not do so? What the fuck! Seriously!

I was totally tormented during this time. There was no denying the goodness of God in things he had done in my life. But there was no denying that if God truly has control over people on this earth, and picks and chooses which people will die in car crashes and which won’t, who will die of their sickness and who will be miraculously cured, who will live in starvation and filth and who will be born in America, who will be abused and who will not, then he is a total jerk I wanted nothing to do with.

I was working at a Christian school during the beginning of this ‘dark night of the soul’, and I remember a very powerful time during our morning required attendance devotion time at which the pastor of the affiliated church came to do the devotion and we had a very powerful time of speaking and prayer that I felt was directed straight at me, about how Jesus was reaching out and calling me back to Him, that even though I was hurt and angry, He would soothe my pain.

After that experience of feeling God/Jesus calling me yet again, I had what I felt like was a revelation and it is the only that has kept me sane since that time, as the rest of the family chaos played out over the next several years – more prison, mental illness, and suicide. My revelation was that God can not interfere or control what people do. He can’t. It’s not that he could but chooses not to, it’s not that he does occasionally when someone prays enough, it’s not that he just wants to give us free choice so we can choose to love him, it’s that he can not. He can entice, cajole, reveal, push, speak to us, but we are going to do what we are going to do. He does everything that he possibly can to get us to listen to him, and to love each other. And that is all he can do. I don’t need him to be omnipotent. I need him to be Love. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me and that makes sense of the terrible things that we do to each other. More on my theory on all that some other time.

Since that time, I have finally been able to maintain and grow exponentially my faith and love for a positive, faithful and loving God. In my life, over and over again if something terrible happens, or I am struggling with something, or I am miserable about something, or I can’t seem to make a decision about something, once I take the time to pray and to LISTEN and then follow that guidance I have never regretted it. It has always led to peace and blessing.

How that works, and why that works, and what it all means I have no idea. And I don’t really care. I continue to seek what feels true to me in prayer and meditation, and I continue to do what feels right to me in prayer and meditation, and I continue to look for truth in scripture and people who I know to be surrendered to God as revealed by the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ – (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity; but especially love). I believe that no matter what happens here, whether a natural disaster or more personal disasters (seriously, not sure I can handle any more of that) as long as I keep my will and my life surrendered to the God of my understanding I will be a million times better off than if I don’t.

That is my religion, and that is the only thing that I believe in 100%.

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Why I Believe in God, part 2

What happened to cause all my bitterness and disgust… Before the age of 12, my life seemed rather normal and happy to me. Sure there were issues, but I was surrounded by good people, seemingly loving people, and felt pretty secure in my place in the world. Over the next few years, though, some really terrible things happened in my family and one by one I started to find out that many of the people I looked up to most were actually really not so wonderful on the inside. Within a few short years people in my close family that I loved and respected and who were pillars of Christianity to me were revealed to be, among other things, thieves, smokers and drinkers (don’t laugh! that was a big deal the way I was raised), adulterers, drug-doers, and worst of all, a beloved grandparent was revealed to be a long-time and active child molester who had victimized many people that I loved.

These things (along with biological propensity I’m sure) triggered a serious depression in me which led to a lot of self-destructive behavior and a period of time where I reached out to God and felt like he wasn’t answering me at all. That along with the things that were happening in my life at the time – my parents’ messy divorce and my mom’s downward spiral – brought up a real anger towards God, and especially Christianity whose people had so let me down. Because of the real experiences I had had with God, I never was able to say that I didn’t believe in God. But it was clear to me that he was pretty much useless, if not worse. And I certainly didn’t believe that Christianity had the God thing right for many reasons.

I turned to drugs to make myself feel better during that time, and about the time I turned 18, I joined a twelve step program and became actively involved. It took several months of trying and failing to get my act together and work the steps, the first of which is “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable.” That was easy, and got exponentially easier each time I relapsed and things got ridiculously worse than I had previously been able to imagine. The second and third steps, though, are a bit harder: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity;” and “We turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.”

After a particularly bad set of decisions led to me fleeing a terrible situation with a guy in Anaheim, putting everything I owned into my little Datsun and trying to drive home with no money, no gas, and nearly passing out from not having eaten for several days, I discovered that there was no home to go to and ended up in the care of some recovery people in Thousand Oaks. I got to a point where I really was able to work those three steps in a real and powerful way and was even starting to lean slightly back in towards a personal God. While I was in Thousand Oaks and clean for a couple of months I found out I was pregnant and moved back to this area. Still with no home to go to, I found help from both the government and the crisis pregnancy center in Santa Maria who actually gave me a home for several months during my pregnancy. At some point during my early pregnancy, I was at a 12-step meeting when a mentally ill friend of mine was acting a bit strange in the other room. Police were called (although he wasn’t being a nuisance or bothering anybody) and the police had a long altercation with him in the club where the meetings were held before finally getting him outside and into their car. He was dead before he got to the jail.

This made me incredibly angry. I was angry with the 12-step program and club where it started, I was angry with the police, I was angry with God. It wasn’t fair, none of it was fair. This threw a big wrench in my return to a personal God. The “God of my understanding” became a very impersonal and abstract concept. Even so, by turning my will and life over to this impersonal and abstract higher power, he was still able to restore me to sanity despite all my anger, fear and uncertainty. I worked through the rest of the steps before my baby was born, and felt like a new person. I definitely had a spiritual life, I prayed, I talked about God and God was definitely empowering me as I had tried over and over to empower myself and proved to be a complete idiot over and over again. But I kept him at a distance, I was afraid of him not being there when I needed him, and I felt like if I couldn’t trust him to be there for me or to prevent injustice then I couldn’t really trust him at all.

When I started dating Will, he was active in a local church and really liked it. I went with him for while, but didn’t really participate, didn’t take communion, etc. I felt like it would be disrespectful as I wasn’t Christian. After a while, I convinced Will to give my dad’s church try – if I was going to church every week I wanted to go to my dad’s church (he was a pastor). So we alternated back and forth for a while every other week but eventually just kept going there. I felt like God was pushing me towards being a Christian, but I couldn’t go there. I just didn’t trust him enough.

My life had really been transformed by this point, I was in school, transferred to Cal Poly, living with an amazing man, raising his kid and my kid together, working part time, longterm clean and sober. I went to a women’s retreat that the church was having (not a sleeping one, just a day or something, don’t remember the details). There was a prayer time afterwards at which my step-mom and another lady were praying for me. I was really feeling the urge to open myself up a bit more to this personal God, and my step-mom prayed just the words I needed to hear to allow me to do it. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but she prayed something encouraging me to take that leap of faith into God’s arms and let him show me that he wouldn’t let me fall, or let me down.

At that point I considered myself a Christian again, and I did open myself up more to God. I’d love to say it was all smooth sailing from there but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Why I believe in God, part 1

Turns out I’m making a series called Why I Believe in God. It was going to be the first post in my This I Believe series, but then I realized it might be my only post in that series, and then it turned out really long so it became a few parts on its own.

I’m just going to start with what is my absolutely strongest belief – the belief in a God that is Creator, Sustainer, Lover, and Empowerer.

This might be the only ‘Part’ of my This I Believe series that I write any time soon, and it is the most important to me. So here’s the basics. God loves and empowers people who seek him. The more we seek him, the more he empowers us. Following his lead always leads to better results, attitudes, growth, than not following. This is probably my only unshakeable belief, since I have tested it in every possible way and it has never failed me.

And how do I follow his lead? Prayer and meditation, reading and listening to other people who follow him, and finding what ‘resonates with my soul’. Maybe a cheesy expression, but it is quite accurate really. If my soul was the chamber of a musical instrument, then when I am hearing from God my soul sings. The closest philosophy I’ve found is that of Quaker founder George Fox who, after years of seeking answers from theologians and in the Bible felt like God told him that the only one who could ‘speak to his condition’ was Jesus. “God (or Christ) is come to teach His people Himself, by His power and Spirit in their hearts, and to bring people off from all the world’s ways and teachers, to His own free teaching, who had bought them, and was the Saviour of all them that believed in Him.”

That is all, that is the sum total of my ‘religion’. I seek God willingly, and follow his lead and I become a more loving, stable, productive, sane, forgiving, charitable person. When I don’t, I become a more bitchy, unhappy, selfish, insane, unforgiving, and miserable person. I learned many years ago that I am pretty much incapable of making my own way and having positive results. This was a blessing really, because many people are much better at life than me and it may take them years, decades, or maybe even forever to figure out that they would be better off surrendering to God. Fortunately for me, I am pretty much a total fuck-up on my own. Here’s how I lost my religion, angst, depression, anger, fury and hatred and found God.

I grew up in non-denominational Christian church and believed in God and Jesus and the whole shebang of conservative, fundamentalist evangelical Christianity as a child. I believe the first time I “asked Jesus into my heart” was in kindergarten at my private school that was affiliated with our church, where my parents worked. I continued to ask Jesus into my heart over and over again as I grew up because, you know, church camp, mission trips, backsliding, sin, angst, etc. Just to make sure.

I learned in church, Sunday School, and private school about the God of the Bible as interpreted through American conservative fundamentalist lens – a God who created humanity, then regretted it almost immediately, but then continued to put up with us hoping we would improve somehow. We were designed to live forever and worship him, but since we suck he can’t have us around him. When we didn’t improve he gave us a list of rules, perhaps thinking that would help, and some procedures to follow when we broke the rules that involved animal sacrifice to appease himself. We couldn’t handle that much responsibility so eventually he and/or his son came to earth as a human to be the ultimate sacrifice so that we did not have to burn in a fiery eternal torment forever, but rather could live with him in a mansion in heaven with streets of gold and such. There’s a catch though, you only get the mansion if you say a certain prayer and believe certain things. Most humans will end up in the furnace. But hey, at least he tried!

In the midst of all that growing up time, I had some really powerful experiences on my own with God. Many times in prayer, worship, or study on my own I felt the presence of God. A few experiences really stand out though. One time I was maybe 6 or 7 and wandering around the school/church campus while my parents worked and I made up a worship song, which I still remember to this day (it’s not good lol). I felt very close and connected with God at that time.

As a teenager in the midst of some of my angst I was still trying to connect with God, including with my friends. We were really into music and would often lead worship for youth group, and spent time singing worship songs together. I had some really spiritual experiences during a couple of those times as well, including one time that I swear I heard angels singing worship to God, and could not for the life of me remember the song afterward (I swear I wasn’t on drugs!)

Another time when I had turned my back completely on God (more on that later) I was wandering around farmers market with a friend, and she dragged me completely unwillingly and somewhat disgusted into a Christian bookstore. As I waited for her I picked up a cd of someone whose name I recognized as the singer of a band I’d liked as a younger teen (Scott Wenzel, Whitecross). I put it in to hear a sample and the song I heard struck a deep chord in my heart:

All my love to you I give
Inside your heart I long to live
All the brokenness I’m able to heal
Would you let me show you how I feel

I shout it in the mountain streams,
I give the birds love songs to sing

Sarah, I’ll never leave you alone,
You will never face a day on your own
Sarah, I’ll never leave you alone,
so open up, open up
your heart to love again

Are ya lonely, oh you look so sad,
It makes my heart ache ’cause I understand,
I wanna show you, Sarah, time hides the truth
I will wait ’cause I’ve chosen to love you…

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This I Believe series beginning

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my story and my faith and what I want the next generation(s) to know about me and to learn from my life. I try not to go around telling them/anyone “this is the right thing to believe” because 1) I don’t think beliefs matter as much as surrender and relationship when it comes to God; 2) beliefs are very personal; and 3) When you are taught there is one absolute Truth about everything, and that absolute truth includes things that you later no longer believe, it creates issues that can destroy surrender and relationship which are, again, much more important than random beliefs. A curious and intelligent person often has to either pretend to (or convince themselves to) believe things they know aren’t true to ‘fit in’ , or they often end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. (Note that I said often, not always. I’m not saying that every curious and intelligent person is lying or in denial if they claim to believe everything in a certain belief system).

My friend/step-sister-in-law Kim at http://www.thejourneysreal.com has inspired me this week (well, last week now by the time I’m finishing this up) with her series on Coming out of the Closet about what she does and does not believe to actually start putting some of that down in writing, to clarify for myself and anyone else who happens to actually read it (ha!).

Disclaimer: I know I’m wrong about some (probably lots of) things. I will change my mind at some point, and often do. I love this quote from Rachel Held Evans from back in May: “The very condition of humanity is to be wrong about God.” We have been doing it for millennia, and will always continue to do it as long as we are human. The only person in history who was never wrong about God was Jesus Christ – and he had an inside track. He based his knowledge and statements about God on his oneness and his personal knowledge of Him and He encouraged us to do the same.

How I decide what I believe:
Things that I believe completely must be based on one of two things: 1: They will be things that I have personally experienced either temporally or spiritually. While someone else may think I am mistaken or mental, if I have experienced it it is reality for me and you won’t convince me otherwise unless I have an experience that changes my perception of an earlier one. An example of this is my belief in God. Many experiences in my life have given me an unshakeable belief in God. Even in my darkest times spiritually, I have been angry with God, have cursed God, have hated God, have sought alternative Gods, have tried to disown God. I have misunderstood God, ignored God, tried to manipulate God, tried to figure out God, tried to define God, and tried to put God in a box. Through it all, because of experiences I have with God it has always been very obvious to me that He exists, and over time I have seen and experienced more and more of his character. Of course I know that people’s experience does not always equal reality. But the only way for me to encounter reality is via my experience of it, so for me that experience is my reality.

Or, 2: they must be empirically verifiable, repeatable, logical facts. These I will believe unless they are overturned by something more verifiable, repeatable, and logical.

Then there are my opinions, or things I kinda believe. I like to think they’re based on the above, but I acknowledge that they are definitely also biased by my own experiences, feelings, worldview, morals, etc. and perceptions.

The first belief I’m going to go into (in my next post) is about God. I believe 100% that there is a God who is creator, sustainer, lover, and empowerer of humanity. This is my strongest held belief, and I most likely could never be convinced otherwise at this point. I’ll go a bit into my story of how I came to this belief as this is the type of thing there is no empirical evidence for.

Some things in this series may very well be TMI (too much information) for some people. I don’t know any other way to be than real, that’s just who I am. I won’t go into any sordid details though. If you don’t want to know, then stop reading now 😉

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