Identity: Tangled Cross

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We all want to be known, maybe on different levels with different people, but to be known is in our nature. We seek a purpose, a title, an identity. But as believers in Jesus Christ we often shy away from the one identity that is sure and choose to take on other identities in our public persona that distract and detract from Christ. The identity that overshadows and the one that intertwines are both destroying the view of the cross.

Through the years I have met and known many believers in Jesus Christ who have been tripped up with identifying themselves with an identity that overshadows their identity in Christ. Sometimes they are known by a disease, an ethnicity, a food preference, a cause, a life event (for better or worse), a career or occupation (even as a home school mom!) etc… I know for a fact that I too have also fallen into this trap at times. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in something other than who we are in Christ that it overshadows or completely blots out our witness for Christ. If you are known as a vegan to your co-workers but they don’t know you as a Christ follower, or everyone knows you played in the majors, or have diabetes, or are the CEO, or fight for the downtrodden, or survived cancer, but they don’t know you have put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ then you are hindering the cause of Christ by distracting the view.

Or worse, sometimes Christians intertwine other ideals, opinions, causes with being a Christian when they have no place under that umbrella. American Christians have a particular problem in this area. God and guns, pursuit of happiness, patriotism, democracy, political parties and ideals, etc… Many take words from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and other legal documents and state them as if they are the Word of God. They look down on a Christian if they side with a Democrat, yet revere Republicans who have few morals and do not know God. A shooting tragedy happens and those for and against guns pepper social media with their posts and pull God into it. In this category of intertwining faith with ideals, opinions, causes, etc. there is another issue at play as well. Many who call themselves Christians are not, but let us not get caught up in that. Honesty requires that many who have truly surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ have especially twisted their politics and faith together as one, sometimes so much that they do not know where one ends and the other begins. Many more have pursued happiness instead of pursuing Christ and not even realized it.  And in these cases the cross is tainted.

If your true identity is found in Jesus Christ, come out from behind the titles and let Christ be your identity so that others may see Him. Untangle the cords of politics and causes that have strangled your faith and let the cross be seen for the hope it offers to all who may believe. The world is in desperate need of a hope that will not disappoint, the hope found through faith in Jesus Christ.

IDentity: Loved. Forgiven. Accepted. Redeemed. Cherished. Reconciled. God’s Masterpiece. Restored. Blameless. Renewed. Adopted by God-His heir.

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Some Weird Stress: Pulling through a mini identity crisis

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I never thought I could have an identity crisis in my 40’s. Ok, maybe “crisis” isn’t quite the right word, but I was definitely experiencing some weird stress. The question of “who I am” became a repeated theme when I moved almost two years ago. Many well meaning people were making an effort to get to know me, but answering their questions became stressful. The Ladies in the Women’s ministry at church wanted me to set a table in the Fall to share a passion of mine and suggested I do a table on gluten-free/allergen-free foods or healthy foods. But though I am somewhat passionate about healthy eating, and I know a lot about allergen friendly foods out of necessity and enjoy helping others, I desperately didn’t want to be defined by my diet and have all my initial (and maybe forevermore) conversations be about food. They also wanted me to “tell my story” at an event and this was even more overwhelming-public speaking and vulnerability with strangers is bad enough, but the real issue was my life is made up of so many stories and I just couldn’t land on one…because again, without people knowing me first, I knew that whatever part of my life I decided to share would become my identity to many. Identity can get all wrapped up in details that can be insignificant to the true person.

I first started noticing how my identity was viewed when I left college. Whenever I would see old college friends they would ask “have you been painting?” To them I was an artist. Then I went through the stage of having my identity wrapped up in whose mom I was, and whose wife — the pastor’s wife.  Then some knew me as the librarian and others as the one with all the allergies. And unless someone took the time all they knew was something that was just a small part of my person. I was so much more than these titles bestowed upon me. At some point after my oldest daughter went off to college I realized that even her knowledge of me was very limited when she said, “Mom, I never knew you had such deep thoughts.” It partly deflated me, but it also made me laugh.  This too was at the same time as the move and not long after the other identity of caretaker ended. In fact, many of my “identities” came to an end in about six months time.

It would seem that a repeated question of, “What do you like to do for fun? What do you do on the weekend?” would be innocuous. It was not. My brain was drawing up questions of identity and I would respond with a blank stare to their question. A little puzzled, these well meaning people would follow up with suggestions like hiking, boating, vacation destinations, etc… and I would answer, “I like to watch my daughter play soccer.” It was true, but it seemed lame when I saw the look of expectation disappear and the conversation go dead.  In those moments I could have explained what my life was like before the move, I could have asked what they do for fun, but I was paralyzed by the wheels in my head spinning. Each time I realized I no longer was sure of what I liked or even who I was. I had been consumed by my many roles and had so little time for myself.  And now so much had changed.

Change has a way of shaking things up. I went from constantly busy with the girls schedules, the church schedule, working around my husband’s 3 to 4 jobs schedule, my work schedule, caring for my mother in law with dementia, and all the other little things of life, to living in a new state and knowing no one, my extra busy daughter off to college and no jobs for either of us. I knew all the things I used to like to do in the distant past, but did I still? Could I still do them if I did enjoy them? And who was my inner self? I know who I had wanted to be, but was I? And who am I now in this new stage with most of my titles stripped away? Eventually the panic response went away and I decided that those who took the time would get to know me as I got to know myself again.  I started with what I knew. I knew who I was in relation to family and to God.  I knew and know that despite my doubts at times, my identity in Christ is the one surety I have. The rest is going to keep changing.

-jeanni

Skin Color Used to Mean Nothing to me

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The color of a person’s skin used to not be important to me. It meant nothing. I would notice it of course, just like hair or eye color, or style of clothes. In fact, a person’s clothing style and attitude influenced my thoughts more than anything else. But things have changed. It is a confusing world we are in. Today we live in a world that embraces diversity to a fault and yet harbors so much unfounded hatred towards those who are different…from us. It is quite a spectacle.

I am white and I believe Black Lives Matter. I also believe all lives matter and therefore police lives matter, etc… but we all know that, don’t we? But what many white people don’t seem to understand is that a whole people group has been marginalized for a long time, they have been oppressed and discriminated against, stereotyped and branded. And they want a voice. They deserve a voice! Every time I see someone post “All Lives Matter” I cringe. I cringe because stating “All Lives Matter” at this time in history indicates a lack of understanding about the history and angst of the black community, and it is an insult. The Black Lives Matter movement exists to bring to light the injustice they live with on a daily basis. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is NOT saying that others’ lives do not matter (therefore we don’t need to counter it with “All Lives Matter”), but rather it is bringing specific attention to the black communities’ plight and the black individual’s plight.

I am not an authority on black lives, I am as white as they come, but something changed in me last year. The change came when I was talking to a friend that I love whose skin is a beautiful brown. We had talked about everything through the years, or so I thought. And then one day I asked her what her thoughts were about “Ferguson” and I asked if it was it affecting her family. That opened the discussion, but the part that changed me came a while into the conversation. The change came when she told me about how she has had to raise her boys (her girls too, but more specifically her boys) with extra precautions about their behavior, dress, attitude, tone of voice, location, friends, curfew, to make eye contact in this situation, but not in this other situation, basically anything that could throw suspicion on them … because they already had a strike against them because of the color of their skin. To keep them safe there was no freedom to just be a kid, no wiggle room to allow for a bad day. The lessons she had to teach them were not your typical manners, but far and beyond. It truly broke my heart. I had never thought about having to live this way, to live with fear and judgment. It had never occurred to me that her sons could be suspected of wrongdoing just because they are black, but in that moment I knew it was true. My heart broke, and for the first time in my life the color of people’s skin became important to me, it meant something.

Where I live I don’t go through a day without seeing a black person. And when I see a black person now I wonder what prejudice or injustice have they encountered today, or this week. And I can’t say it has changed my behavior, but it has changed my heart. My heart holds more heartbreak, but also more compassion and more understanding. Black Lives Matter.

-jeanni

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DIY Natural Remedies

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We have all seen them. Ads, articles, books, blogs…mostly blogs, on how to “Do IT Yourself” with natural ingredients found right in your home! But do they work? Are they worth my time and effort even if they are in my own home already?

I love doing things naturally, so I gave it a try this year in a variety of areas from Foot Scrub to Scrub Grout Cleaner. This is what I have found.

The Foot Scrub came to me via my teenage daughter who randomly decides to try out DIY’s. It was made from sugar, cocoa powder and olive oil. I’m not sure what the cocoa is for, but, in general, sugar mixed with oil is a somewhat effective method for keeping your feet on the softer side…unless of course you are a habitual feet neglector. This method only works if you use it on a regular basis.

It wasn’t long after tending to my feet that a friend posted a DIY for Olive Oil face wash. Whaaat? That seemed counterproductive. The theory is that the olive oil mixing with the oils of your face dissolves the clogged oils. Using a wet and warm cloth you wipe your face off after a few minutes. The olive oil makes the dirt slide right off and the olive oil moisturizes your skin. It kind of worked. Actually, on most days when I followed it with an astringent (which sometimes I do when checking out a new face wash) it seemed like it did about as good as job as many face washes. I actually used this method for a month or so in the evening. But in the end I decided that my oily skin doesn’t need to be moisturized. If you have dry skin it might be an option for you. Give it a try for a week.

I gave the next one a try for a few weeks, but made the mistake of using a spray bottle…you guessed it-Coconut oil as a Body Lotion. Disgruntled about my oversight (with cooler temperatures it became a solid) and despite liking it, I lapsed back into store bought lotion use because I don’t like to waste things and I had a bottle to finish. Recently I scrounged up a glass container and filled it with my coconut oil again. I love it! My skin is soft and smooth and I know I am not rubbing chemicals into the largest organ of my body! It is also great as massage oil. And if you aren’t as cheap as me or as allergic to stuff, adding an essential oil for extra scent is an option. I say go for it!

Still caring for the visible parts of my body, I tried out Toothpaste made from coconut oil and baking soda and I added a drop or two of peppermint oil for better flavor. I liked it at first, I mean once I got over the greasy feeling in my mouth. My teeth seemed to get whiter, they were definitely clean and my mouth stayed fresh for a long time. But, the saltiness was a turn off and I wondered about my drains getting clogged so resorted to spitting in the trashcan instead of the sink. That was inconvenient. But the bigger problem came after about a week when my teeth became very sensitive. I stopped immediately. So after some research I decided that “oil pulling” with coconut oil is an option, but probably better as a supplement to regular brushing. Baking soda can be too harsh, esp. for people with sensitive teeth. For me, this one was a no.

What goes into our mouths is the greatest indicator of our health. Most of us fail miserably, myself included. So before I give you a few DIY’s to fix our mistakes, let me just encourage you to eat well. Lay off processed foods and eat real food, as in the form God made it, at least as much as possible. Anyway, most of us suffer from digestive distress at times. Here are some tried and true DIY options for Digestive Distress. Apple Cider Vinegar (organic, raw and unfiltered) works great. A couple tablespoons in a glass of lukewarm water and down the hatch! Some people like to add honey, but frankly it doesn’t help. It’s gross, but if you can get it down, it does help the entire digestive tract. It is especially helpful for heartburn. If you suffer regularly from heartburn take this drink before eating! (Sidenote: To ward off that cold you feel coming on add honey and a few cloves of garlic!) A slice of ginger with optional honey in hot water is another option for digestive distress, especially if the culprit is nausea. I lived on ginger “tea” for five months of my second pregnancy. You can also buy ginger tea, but that isn’t really a DIY, is it? Peppermint tea is also good for the digestion. It is especially helpful with bloating and gas issues. You can make your own Peppermint tea by adding some peppermint oil to your hot water, by adding peppermint leaves to your hot or cold water, or of course buy peppermint tea.

The Peppermint tea is a good segue to essential oils. Essential oils can address both the external and internal body and are a hot novelty right now. Everywhere I turn someone is telling me about them. I don’t have much experience with these oils, but I did try a few this year. Peppermint oil is not only good for digestive distress, but it can also be effective for headaches. We had mixed results with rubbing a little on our temples, but often it did work. Lavendar oil is used to relieve stress. I have no idea if it works, though I have used it…there are just too many other factors to consider and so I am not sure on this one. Panaway oil (mix of wintergreen, helichrysum, clove and peppermint) is supposed to relieve pain. So far I have used it for muscle pain and joint pain. It worked amazingly well on the muscle pain, but was ineffective on my joint pain. It’s worth trying. The last oil I have tried, and my favorite so far, is Tea Tree oil. I have seen it in many DIY products, but the ones I tried and will continue to use are as follows. The first is as Lice Prevention (and possibly treatment.) I know I hate that I have to mention lice, I am itching already, but I think it works. I have a friend who has used it as a treatment and she said it worked. I have only used it as a prevention, so it is a little hard to know. But if you are up for it, put one part tea tree oil to 10 parts of shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, etc. Hey, it’s worth a try. Tea tree oil as zit zapper is somewhat effective, just dab a drop on the culprit. And Tea Tree oil as Athlete’s Foot treatment is effective. I spent a small fortune on a variety of products for months, and then I tried tea tree oil… I just put some on a cotton ball and rubbed it all over the bottoms of my feet and between my toes. It worked! It did recur about a week later and I retreated and it never came back. There are many other uses for tea tree oil as well. In my opinion, tea tree oil is a must have item.

My last DIY I tried this year was grout cleaner. I wish I hadn’t! I tried peroxide and baking soda first and after much effort, sweat and frustration I added bleach t the mixture (not so natural). I enjoyed the bubbling action as it reminded me of volcano experiments in my school days and it worked. But it was a slow section by section, painstaking job as I poured and mixed, scrubbed and waited, scrubbed and wiped, and wiped and wiped and wiped it up over and over again. The whole process took me two days and a week of physical recovery. I won’t be doing this DIY again!

As you can see some DIY Natural Remedies work and some don’t, or not as well as claimed. I hope my life as a test subject will help you to know which ones to try and some to avoid.

-jeanni

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Self on a Shelf

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Collage 2014-09-13 19_44_12In recent years I have had some hard stuff to deal with. And actually, if I think back, that was true for the years before, and the years before that as well. Life is good, but sometimes it’s not. Recently, I have had times where I was truly struggling and needed to share certain things with someone who would get it, just an ear to listen attached to someone who cared. At least that is what I thought I needed.  But so often, when I was about to share my thoughts and feelings with someone, that someone needed my ear more. And so I would listen. But later, I would question God, or even just question, why does someone else always need me more? I am drying up, I am going to break! It was so tempting to blame being the Pastor’s wife for this endless cycle. And God knew I was headed there.

And so, in answer to my prayer and desire to never become one of those bitter Pastor’s wives, God was gracious to me. When I would have that bubbling over need to share with someone, God would have that person be a person who could completely care less if I was a Pastor’s wife, but they too would need my listening ear! And once again, I would listen. In these cases, it never seemed appropriate to then share my stuff and I would leave disappointed.  It took me a long time, but I began to slowly realize that I was really missing something.

The first answer was easy once I realized there was something I was missing. God wanted me to come to Him with my burdens first and foremost. But there was more, God was also opening my eyes to the pain all around me. My concern for others was growing, sense of compassion being stretched, and I was becoming less. The lesson for me, and for all of us, is that God is calling us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him even when it means putting one’s self on a shelf.

I kept missing what God was showing me until one day when I had significant needs, but put my self on a shelf. I once again found myself listening to someone (who was a stranger at the time), cared for them in practical ways, prayed with them, but this time left full of compassion for this soon to be friend and not thinking about my own needs.

Philippians 2:3,4  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

To Sun(screen) or not to Sun(screen)

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With the advent of summer has come a plethora of articles and advertisements for traditional sunscreen and alternative sunscreens, along with information about health and skin cancer. The traditional sunscreen side advocates slathering on high levels of SPF lotions and aims to refute claims that alternative sunscreens are a safe choice. The alternative side promotes natural methods and tells of the dangers of traditional SPF lotion. Both bash the other side and claim to be the one who holds all the accurate knowledge.
Skin cancer is a reality and trying to protect against it is a wise decision. The fact is that skin cancer rates have increased over recent decades despite people using a lot more traditional sunscreen and staying indoors more than ever before. Not enough research has been done to ascertain the reason for this increase. However, it is known that the chemicals in traditional sunscreen do cause cancer and so does the lack of vitamin D. Also, people think when they use SPF 50 or up that they are getting so much more protection than 15. The truth is the difference between the two is going from 94% to 98% and any SPF number above increases so little it is laughable. People are lured into thinking that those increased SPF numbers are protecting them dynamically more.
The alternative sunscreens and DIY choices, such as coconut oil are natural and do not cause cancer, but the protection some of them offer is not much and therefore, may not prevent cancer, i.e. coconut oil is an SPF 4. The protection offered is not enough to prevent burning for most people, and sunburn is still thought to be the number one cause of skin cancer. However, there are many natural SPF lotions that do not have cancer causing chemicals and are effective, though pricey. The alternative side also touts that a vegetarian or vegan, clean, whole food diet also increases the body’s ability to ward off sunburn and cancer cells. This is true to an extent, unfortunately, the typical American who thinks they are a healthy eater, even many vegans, do not eat well enough to prevent cancer.
So what are we to do? Moderation seems to be the most informed way to go once again. Do not fear the Sun! You need the mood boost and you need the vitamin D. The best times of day to get outside are early morning and evening, but let’s face it, it is summer. Again, do not fear the sun, enjoy it! When you are out in the afternoon, use an SPF number adequate for the situation and do not fall for the claims of traditional SPF lotions above 30 that increase chemicals with scant effect on increased prevention of a burn. Use natural SPF lotions and cover up or seek shade if you are outside for a long period of time. To sun(screen) or not to sun(screen)? Yes . And, of course, eat healthy!

jeanni

Embracing My Comfort Zone

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Recently I was sharing with a new friend that I do not like to be the center of attention and that I do not enjoy standing up in front of people. She then said something to the affect of, “Well, I like to be up front, I guess that is not good though…” Immediately, I felt compassion for her. All the times I had someone tell me I should ‘step out of my comfort zone’ came rushing at me as I realized she must have had similar accounts of personality dysfunction labeling. And I expressed, “No that is not bad, it is how God made you. We have different personalities and God uses each of us in different ways.” And I asked myself, why do people try to force others into their own mold?
It seems to me that the person telling me to step out of my comfort zone is a person of a different personality than mine who is living in their comfort zone and thinks I should join them. Or, they have a need and determined I should fill it. I have had enough!
It has taken me awhile to get to this point. I have tried to “step out” and in fact I have. In doing so, I have met moderate success and moderate failure. And the world doesn’t end, but that is not the point. The point is God created us differently and we are at our best when we operate within our natural selves, our comfort zone. For example, I am on the introvert side of the personality spectrum, therefore, when I am “forced” out of my comfort zone, which society says is a good thing, I feel uneasy, stressed, and fight feelings of inadequacy. The results of the endeavor are almost always mediocre whether it is social or professional. However, when I operate within my zone I am at peace and am happy. I am able to build relationships (maybe even influence lives in some small way!), and succeed at the jobs put before me.
I can already hear the arguments. The biggest one being “you might miss something God has for you because you are afraid.” My life proves that false. God calling me to do something and a person telling me to step out of my comfort zone are not equivalent. When God calls, He equips… let my life prove I am willing to listen to God and not man. In fact, embracing my comfort zone is embracing who God made me to be. Surrendered to God in my comfort zone, my life is of better quality for myself and of more benefit to others. It is time to fully embrace my comfort zone and leave mediocrity behind. My hope is that others will follow.

jeanni

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