When Identity Is Lost

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What makes an individual who he or she is? What is constant about him? What changes about him? Is he morphing under the climate, attitudes, perceptions and expectations of certain groups of people?

Most of us have experienced this morphing sometime in our life. We kick ourselves after allowing ourselves to take on the group attitude when a discussion erupted. We notice ourselves voicing or nodding agreement, when it’s not what we agree with at all. We vow to not let ourselves become what others have pegged us, then go to a gathering and act exactly how they expected. It’s a strange power.

Is it possible to be consistent in our identity? Is this what integrity is? Who can hold their own amid the pressures of society, aggressive people, loved ones, or in some cases, the conflicted theology of our church, and not flex so much that we sell our souls?

If we do compromise our integrity, is it worth it? Who gains from our loss? Often we morph to be agreeable, while the person or group demanding it takes. And takes. And takes. And takes some more. They aren’t appreciative or respectful of our sacrifice, only glad to have it go their way.

How far have we sold out our identities? Do we know anymore who we are, or who we would have been had we not morphed for others?

God offers to help us regain our intended identities. He will quarantine us (metaphorically or literally), to keep pressures to conform at bay. There he will educate how outside influences wrongfully shaped us, and restore the identities we lost.

But we must recognize the opportunity for restoration. It’s common for people to reject his intervention. We can be so indoctrinated that we remain bound to imaginary chains, chains that don’t have to restrict us. We too often go through the motions, not thinking. We fail to question, ponder, debate and resist the wrong beliefs we’ve adopted.

If we never ponder what others ponder, does that capture our attention? Are we often robotic, hollow, or “Stepford wife-ish” to others? Do we consider ourselves the ones to change, or do we stand firm as being “right”, and dismiss thinkers as “too analytic, too deep, too philosophical.” It saves a lot of time and energy to not think, but only in the short term. We waste immeasurable time and energy in the long term.

Who forces us to abandon our rights to think, resist, ponder, question, and struggle with concepts? Who has a right to do that? Does any individual or group (politically correct or not) have the right to take away our right to think?

God certainly doesn’t deny us that right. He grants us full freedom of will, thoughts, and actions. He encourages dialogue and honest expression of self. He knows our thoughts anyway. It’s illogical to believe he forbids or reprimands us for being honest with him.

mirror for blogSo let me ask:

Who are you?  What do YOU think? What is your innate personality?

Are you afraid to show your true thoughts or true personality, convinced they are unacceptable in your sphere of society? Do you ever wonder why other people get away with authentic self-expression and have no repercussions for it? Have you noticed people like that get their freedom and groups tend to step back with respect to that person? Yet, the more compliant and agreeable you are, the more the group moves in closer and further restricts your rights and individuality. Give them an inch, and they take a mile.

When did it happen, this slow, subtle, giving way to group think? How can you get it back? CAN you get yourself back?

You can. If you feel you’ve lost your identity, may God fill you with wisdom and courage for the cause of regaining it.

Don’t fear being rejected if you express yourself consistent with your true self. Instead, prepare to be well-received. The world is thirsty for trustworthy, grounded independent thinking. Those who suffer under stifling demands to conform to their environment are losing hope. They need to see role models prove it is possible and right to think and act independently. Expressing yourself consistent with your God-given, God-approved, true identity will not turn others off, but will draw others to you.

The power of evil to slowly, imperceptibly rob you of your identity is real. You are unlikely to be a threat to evil as long as you remain subjugated to people unlike God. Satan knows what he’s dealing with as long as you are predictable. He knows the rules of religions, the demands on underlings to conform. If you swallow the pill of mindless compliance, he is assured of your passivity. You will be passive to injustice. You won’t learn of your God-given rights. You won’t express your true personality and develop your God-given insights, gifts, talents, and strengths. You won’t be capable of overcoming evil with good.

So let’s do something about it. Let’s flip-flop the situation, and free you to be capable of overcoming evil with good.

If you’ve lost your identity, pray. Expect and listen to his perfect counsel. Reflect. What is your true personality? Is it spirited? Is it strong? Does it debate with majority thinking? Does it fight against untruths? Does it seek ultimate harmony? Does it rise to defend victims? Does it rise to defend YOURSELF, if you are the victim?

Do you fear that an independent thinking person like this will be unacceptable and break the rules? WHAT RULES? WHO’S RULES?

Did Martin Luther King turn people off? Did Abraham Lincoln? What if they had been shortsighted, and gave up their right to think, debate, and resist common public opinion, because they feared being considered disruptive? So, they temporarily ruffled some feathers. They disturbed some people! So, who said we are born to make unrighteous people comfortable? Who created you for that destiny?

Where is the person God created you to be? You can throw off every demand and expectation that hinders, and be that person.

Will you be accepted? Were Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln accepted?

Look beyond the nearest faces of disapproval as you defy their unrighteousness, and look to the purpose and goals for which Christ calls you. Plenty of people will accept you. Get past the forceful people who are always in your face spouting their policies, and discover it’s very different away from those people. There IS a world beyond your immediate world.  Just beyond the few disapproving faces is a world of people who will accept you.

Be bold. Be strong. Be wise. When you are acceptable to God, you are also acceptable to a whole lot of people.

2 Corinthians 10:18 (NIV) - For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

 

May Your Paths Be Straight

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Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Trust in him. Submit to him. Does God ask for our submission to put us in our place? To remind us that he is boss and we are beneath him? He could, because certainly he is above us in every way.

But no. He implores us to submit, acknowledge, or turn to him because he can optimally help us if we do. It’s about the free will that he gave us — we can go our own way if we choose to. But if we willingly take every circumstance, every decision, every aspect of our daily lives to him, he will guide us on the path that is straight. The path that is righteous. The path that is good for us and good for others.

We can start by saying and meaning: Not my understanding, but yours. Not my will, but yours. Not my thoughts, but yours. Not my way, but yours. Not my words, but yours.

It’s a process, that transfer of allegiance from self, people, or things to God. There will be errors, as it is a discovery process, a learning experience. But if we truly want to surrender our lives to his leadership, he will help us discern which are our thoughts and which are his; what is our will and what is his.

DSCN1902He may lead us along treacherous paths, close to the edge. But he won’t lead us off the path or over the edge. His are straight paths, where we have his companionship, direction, love, protection, encouragement, and assurance. Where he leads, we can be sure he is concerned for our welfare, entailing his ultimate purpose and our personal gain.

The paths on which he goes before us are not always easy — some seasons of our lives are extremely challenging. It is on difficult paths that we gain experience, wisdom, discernment, and skills to overcome evil with good. It is there that we discover more and more who he is: father, best friend, and trustworthy guide. It is during difficult times that we prove our faithfulness, our resolve. It is in the trials that we learn that blessings are ahead … there is hope and a future.

DSCN1899Just as spring and summer follow winter, growth in character and wisdom follow hardship. It is during prolonged journeys over difficult paths that we also learn to be good managers of what he gives us. He sets us up for success by giving us a chance to be faithful with very little. When the harvest overflows, we are capable of being trustworthy managers of much.

Luke 16:10 - “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much …”

Roots

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I walk almost every day. It’s a habit, a need even, a bi-product of many decades of daily runs. Linear bipedal locomotion is my time for thinking. Deep thinking. For whatever reason, my focus can be so intense that it’s hard to pull out of it. One of my sons long ago took note and conceived a diagnosis for my condition: EAD. Excessive Attention Disorder.

There’s no better place to let my EAD go full-blown than on a track. No distractions. No cars. No routes to be mindful of.

This summer they are bringing the old 1950′s cinder track into the twenty-first century. When it’s done, I won’t be surprised if while I’m in full-blown EAD, the springy all-weather surface converts my walking to running. Wearing running tights instead of jeans did that to me one spring day. Lost in thought, I ran a half mile before I realized I was running for the first time in months.

DSCN1869When the equipment is parked, and the crews have gone home, I circle. And think. And listen for God’s direction on whatever life happened to send my way that day. Meanwhile…

 

DSCN1876The track has so far changed from cinder to dirt, to mud, back to dirt, to loose gravel, and recently to packed gravel. It took me till the packed gravel stage to surface from a day’s deep thinking and notice…

The roots.

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Long, long roots forging vertical lines in the dirt. Two to three feet deep. A perfect cross section. The anatomy of grass.

Which caused me to do some deep thinking about roots. They sure are long. Much longer than I realized. No wonder lawns recover after drought, scorching heat, or subzero temps.

And they sure are vertical. Aren’t they ever tempted to change it up a bit and meander horizontally or diagonally? If my thinking habits were roots, they’d be meandering and getting tangled quite a lot. My roots may even go skyward — any good ideas up there? Any solutions over yonder?

Grass roots are so … singularly focused. Down. Deep. Where the water is. No wonder roots are used so often as metaphors in the Bible.

I believe there’s something universal in the allegory of the roots. Something for all of us, regardless of our religious beliefs. Take away the faith lens I’m looking through, and you take away yours. When it comes to basics, I wouldn’t be surprised to see our roots run parallel. Looking for water. Striving for stability. Sustainability. Needing truths. Prefering love. Requiring hope.

According to roots, we should ignore the non-grounded options in the air — they won’t do us any good. And we should try not to compete or entangle by growing horizontally or diagonally, all willy nilly. If grass roots take the efficient, equitable, straight course to needed water, we sure as grass roots should be able to do it, too.

Small World

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I know I’m late to the party – I’m still amazed at the speed and reach of the internet. The most fun moments of my day are seeing where readers are located. I don’t know who you are (privacy is protected, which is good for all of us), but I am given viewers’ countries. In the past two months you hailed from:

United States – Brazil – Colombia – United Kingdom – France – Germany – Mexico – Philippines – Romania – Spain – Portugal – Poland – Costa Rica – Malaysia – Kenya – Italy – Croatia – Hong Kong – Myanmar – Thailand – Russian Federation – Turkey – Bolivia – Bahrain – Argentina – Canada – Trinidad – Belgium – Uruguay – New Zealand – Chile – Saudi Arabia – El Salvador – Taiwan – Venezuela

It makes the world seem small. I know, I know … Everyone has been saying that for years. Finally I see it, and am astounded. Delighted even.

But also a bit overwhelmed. I’m realizing my vulnerability is more than I knew. I am not only exposing my thoughts to acquaintances and their network of friends (which is difficult enough), but to distant strangers too. Strangers from much different cultures. Strangers who might hate people like me.

With this blog site, I have made myself a potential target of haters in this world we share. But …

I am reminded of a statement by the late Maya Angelou:

“We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”

I realize now that as my exposure grows, so do the risks. Like you (presumably), I’m no fan of rejection, criticism, or slander. Still, I write. I choose to trust strangers I can’t see, and remember that every person is capable of bestowing respect.

If I don’t take the risk, I’ll never know the joy of meeting starkly different people in the middle, finding common ground, and partaking of the best we have to offer: gifts of equality, worthiness, and respect.

 

 

 

 

Good Soil

From seed … wheat seeds

To harvest … wheat, free pic

Between the planting of the seed and maturation of the crop, there were adequate growing conditions: sun, warmth, and water. But it’s what the seeds were planted in that was also crucial.

The soil …      soil, by Neal Nelson.jpg cropped

It must be “good soil” to produce a “good crop”.  Rocks must be removed, the earth cultivated, and weeds eradicated. Plants require nutrients, so it needs to be fertile.

In Matthew 13, Jesus said, “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

After his disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables, he explained the parable of the soil.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Since the seed is God’s word, it is definitely good seed. From seeds of corn a crop of corn will grow; from seeds of wheat will come a crop of wheat — from the seed of God’s word, will grow a crop of God-likeness.

But as the parable teaches, there is no guarantee that we will produce a crop. It is contingent on the condition of our “soil”. Our hearts might be “along the wayside”, “rocky”, or “thorny”. Only if our hearts are “good”, will our lives produce an abundant crop from the seed. A good heart doesn’t just happen — it is made. It takes work. It must be prepared, tilled (open and teachable); void of rocks and weeds (requiring work and diligence); and fertile (kept rich in God-approved nutrients).

If we do those things, we will ultimately reap what we sow.  

If your field looks otherwise at this point, despite doing everything commendably, don’t be discouraged. WheatCropFailureApril2011Sometimes people have excellent soil and are deserving farmers, but their crops are sparse and withered. It happened to Job, and Joseph, and David. Wind, hail, frost, drought, pests, diseases, and floods can decimate crops.

Don’t assess yourself by conditions beyond your control. Stay the course. Be far-sighted and diligent in farming your soil, and expect your bountiful crop will yet come to fruition.

Wheat Field 11

23 “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Keep Dreaming

Field and sky pic for Keep Dreaming blog

When your memories are greater than your dreams, you’ve already begun to die. – Eugene May

A mindset doesn’t happen accidentally. It takes a conscious effort to view today as temporal, and stay hopeful for tomorrow.

The present can be overwhelming, a metaphorical season of drought, harsh winter, or severe flooding. You might find yourself hampered by frustrating or debilitating conditions.

Or, maybe you were overcome by your yesterdays. Cumulative trauma, failures, tragedies, or injustices had an affect on your outlook. Bad events outnumbered the good, enough to induce an expectation of more bad ahead. Sometime during all that hardship, your dreams were buried.

It’s understandable that people surrender dreams and default to memories to fill the void. There are few things more excruciating than rallying to try again, to hope again, to end the vicious cycle — only to be met with more disappointment. When dreams cause pain, memories offer solace.

But, When your memories are greater than your dreams, you’ve already begun to die.

breaking-prairie-sod-3536The American pioneers plowed land for a purpose: for food, for survival. It was hard work to break the sod, plant a crop, and keep the plot from reverting to prairie. As long as they worked the land, they improved their odds for an ample harvest. If they quit, the surrounding indigenous plants encroached until the farmed plot succumbed.

It takes work to maintain a healthy mindset, too. If you don’t keep your dreams and hopes for a good future alive, your mind can be overtaken by your past. Instead of forging the best possible future, you can cause your own stagnancy. Instead of being a plowed field able to support a healthy crop, yours can revert to weeds.

Genesis 8:22 (ESV) “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Keep dreaming, so when your drought, flooding, or winter ends — as they always do — your sod is already broken, inertia is overcome, and your momentum is forward.

Keep dreaming, so when your spring arrives, you are primed and ready to fully engage in it.

From Song of Solomon:

11 See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.

Freedom

Think of the power God has, yet he refrains from imposing it on anyone. It’s not his way. He doesn’t overpower people against their will. He doesn’t manipulate or control. He has the power to do so, but would never do it. His character is so strong, he refrains from exercising the power he possesses even though use of force could accomplish his will. He lets us walk where we want, how we want, with the free will he gave each of us.

horse and foal, cropped for blog

He welcomes us to friendship. He doesn’t demand it, force it, or threaten to make things bad for us if we say “no”. His relationships are not built on guilt, obligation, or coercion. They evolve out of our freedom to accept or decline his offer of companionship. Be with him if we want. Don’t if we don’t want to.

He doesn’t pull “people-things” like guilt trips and threats. He just doesn’t do it. God’s relationships with people are without strings attached. His is simply an offer to be together if we choose. He is all about freedom.

After encountering the “real deal”, the Spirit of God, most people long for his constant companionship. He cares. He loves. He understands. He takes us from wrongful confinement to freedom, from captivity to wide-open terrain.

Wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota at dawnGod provides a fertile field, and nurtures us there. He stays with us while he reveals our potential, strengthens our skills, and broadens our knowledge. He causes us to grow and believe in ourselves.

 

Time spent with the Spirit of God is time spent in an environment of betterment. And with him, there is always freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17 - Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NIV)