Monday, January 3, 2011

It's as easy as yoga!

No, I've never tried yoga. And it looks hard. Not to mention the idea of being that little clothed while sweating and breathing so close to others just makes me shiver! But I've been stretched quite a few times throughout my life.

While in the midst of needing some much needed income I threw my back out on the job in the summer of 2006. The pain was intensely outrageous. It was sharp like a needle piercing from my lower back sending sharp pulses down through both of my legs and into my feet. The slightest movement made my face contort and my teeth grit. Standing up took every ounce of energy and concentration. Turning, twisting or bending over was impossible. Needless to say, I was not able to work to earn that much needed income. Today I look back and see how I was stretched in more than one way during that experience and how I missed the mark for that opportunity for that possible preparation for things that were soon to come.

I saw the doctor who had me do physical therapy. I knew what that entailed and what was coming. The thought of purposely working my back made cringe and I wasn't looking forward to it. Besides, I already spent pretty much all my time lying down because of the pain. But it was better than a quick fix of muscle relaxers and pain meds.

I accepted the fact that I would have to work my back physically. The therapy consisted of massages which weren't bad until the actual "therapy" came. The therapist had me do various turns and twists that included pulling and stretching. Yes it hurt! But I knew if I didn't endure the pain for a while my back would never get better. If I didn't endure the pain for a time of healing I would be in constant pain for who knows how long. Or maybe if I had gotten a quick fix it would help, but for only a while only to return at some inopportune time.

Moses knew what it was like to be stretched to be called back into a land he had fled from to be the spokesperson for the people he had helped oppress to oppose the only brother he had ever known. By this time he had grown comfortable in his new life. He even tried to argue with God and make excuses to get out of being stretched. But God tells Moses, "I am the LORD. I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians, I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” Exod 6:6   But wait...Moses wasn't a slave in Egypt. Moses was no longer in Egypt nor was he ever a slave. Ah, but his mind and his thinking were. He may have been comfortable where he was at, but it was what he was comfortable in, that concerned God. So many of us remain enslaved to our negative ways of thinking, negative habits, stubbornness that costs us healthy relationships, and so much more because we are unwilling to see the damage we inflict, unwilling to be stretched.

I've had other physical injuries in my life. I've learned that the healing process always includes pain. In most cases the healing pain is worse than the pain of the injury and sometimes lasts longer. Let me take it a step further and suggest this healing pain also applies to our emotional and spiritual health. It might be the pain of accepting our own faults or accepting some loss before we can move forward. Are we mature enough to accept our own wrongs? None the less, it's painful. Sometimes we might even rather have the physical pain. But the main thing that needs to be remembered is that the pain of stretching is only for a time. Being stretched makes us stronger and wiser if we let it.

Whether I've been hurt or I've done the hurting I've got to be willing to own up to my actions, there is a healing process. There's the sting the emotional wound feels as it is first exposed to the elements. It's that sting when we realize we've done something wrong. Then comes the stretching process; the period when we have the choice to take in what God is teaching us or saying to us. In any sense, healing us. Since no two circumstances are the same, no two healing processes are the same.

We cannot see any end to the onslaught of trials. We beat ourselves up for mistakes we made, for decisions that led us to our own near-ruin. Or worse, we've blamed others, ignored our mistakes, justified them, and even minimized them. We've cried out to God for answers, only to feel like we are drowning in sand, while being left to ask, "Where is God?"

In the past, afflictions never felt like God's love being poured out on me. Rather, times of affliction, loneliness, distance, pain, always felt like yet another hurt being permanently woven into my tattered beat-down soul. As time went on in my life I grew to hate that cop-out cliché, "whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." No, I believed it was more like, "whatever doesn't kill you only makes you colder.”  And as distorted as my feelings and emotions were, often times they dictated not only my thoughts but my actions as well.

Our unhappiness in life is mostly due to the fact that we listen to ourselves too much instead of talking to ourselves! Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" If God claims we cannot even trust our own hearts then why should we be listening to it? What we listen to is what we follow. What we follow is what we imitate. What we imitate is what we become. What we've become is what we give. What is my heart full of? Can I honestly answer that question? If I cannot answer that question then what would my loved ones honestly answer? The strangers I encounter each day?  And contrary to popular belief, happiness is not a simple choice that I chose be. Am I willing to be stretched?

But how do we talk to ourselves? Literally is not the question. We have to address ourselves, preach to ourselves, and question ourselves. We must say to our soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–no more muttering in this depressed, unhappy way! Then we must go on to remind ourselves of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say: "I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God."

We cannot recognize let alone praise God for His goodness when we question the drought we are in. We cannot trust God when we will only rely on ourselves in the deserts. Some of us refuse to be stretched. Mistakenly the quick fixes always seem better. But blindly they seem better to the inflictor while the damage continues to remain and harden like concrete on the inflicted.  I may minimize and justify the wrong I've done, but the one I've hurt doesn't, and when I do then it hurts twice as bad.

I've reflected at situations in my life and recognize how God has and is stretching me to believe for more, to do more, to be more, to give more, and to receive more for His glory. Now, stretching hurts and it's uncomfortable. We can't see ahead everything what the Lord has in store for us or how He is going to work it all out. But we do know that if He is in the changes, if He is doing the stretching, then it will be good. And while we are being stretched others are receiving blessings. Another cliché that really irks me is the one that says, "God will never put more on you, than you can handle.” If what all we got in life was what we ourselves could handle on our own then we wouldn't need God in the first place. Isn't strength overused enabling? The very point of being stretched is for God to show us our limits and how much more we need him. Philippians 4:13 helps me to remember that, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Now how did I fail that experience four and a half years ago? I did exactly what the physical therapist had me do and even felt great once the number of sessions were completed. I didn't allow myself to be stretched by God. Beforehand I had jumped at that job, which was a factory job, simply because it was the only job I found and it was good money. I didn't wait on God. It had a downside to it. It interfered with my summer visitation schedule with my kids. I compromised. But in my mind I felt I needed to make that money to pay for expenses. I was listening instead of talking. After getting hurt I worried and stressed over not working instead of trusting God. God had me in a perfect stretching place and I didn't recognize it. But He didn't leave me there.

Sometimes when I reflect on my past I feel as though I am looking over my shoulder and looking at the rubble I have left behind. Bad living, bad witness, bad examples, terrible mistakes...I have left a desolate city. God is faithful with his people. When we're going through a "stretch" it's often not readily understood at the moment. We never lift our heads up and strut and say, "Oh it's you God, sure I'll make time for this stretch. Let me clear my schedule." It doesn't work that way. But God knows what he's doing. He aims at things we cannot see. And every once in a while in the stretch and strain, we say, "I can't take it anymore!" It's in those moments we are to realize why we are being stretched.

Father, thank you for the promise that when you stretch me, it is done from a heart of love and compassion. Thank you for the promise that you are working in me to conform me to your image. And thank you Father, you have the patience to stretch me because you see the bigger picture.

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A Recycled-Dad with Bipolar & Parkinson's, reflections on fathering and family life and other stuff thrown in'll love my Soap Box Rants

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Why I call myself a Recycled Dad

I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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