Is It Shameful That I Can’t Think of an Example?

Day 5 of reflecting as part of the Jewish New Year.

Today’s question:

Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? “Spiritual” can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

I cannot say that I had any particular spiritual experiences this past year.  But I had a lot of inner soul-searching as I encountered client situations that were unlike anything to which I had ever been exposed.  I had look within myself to understand what I truly value, what my “red lines” are, and what my biases (often implicit) are.

I also started watching Shameless on Netflix, which is definitely a secular experience.

This Makes Me Proud…

It’s the second day of reflection before Yom Kippur, and that means answering the 2nd question.  How would you answer this?

Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you’re especially proud of from this past year?

I am really proud of myself for going back to school and completing the first year of the Masters of Social Work program.  It took several years for me to find the courage to quit my job and pursue a new career, and I believe that it has been the best decision.

It has not been easy.  I have always been good at school work.  I do not suffer from test anxiety, so school has come easy for me in the past.  My goal when starting school this time was to enjoy the experience and learn as much as possible — grades and performance would be last on the list of my priorities.  I have been able to stick to this goal and philosophy of school.

What has been hard has been the immersion into social work.  Social work is about social justice; it is about enhancing the life of others.  In the preamble to our code of ethics, our mission reads “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.”  Since I have been in school, I have been exposed to so many cases where people are lacking basic human needs, like shelter and food, and I have met and worked with so many vulnerable and oppressed individuals, like those with mental illnesses, the homeless, the elderly, minorities, and those in abusive situations.

That is what has been hard.  I have been blessed in my life with a loving and giving family and friend support system, food and shelter, access to education, a family environment that encouraged education and encouraged me to be successful, good medical care, etc., etc.  The exposure to those who have only a few or none of these is eye-opening and heart-hurting.

And I have asked myself several times if I have the emotional stability to be in this profession.

This is why it has been hard.

But I love it and am proud to be pursuing this career.


10 Days of Reflection

Two years ago, I participated in the ten days of reflection that precede Yom Kippur (My Jewish Experiment Day 1).   I did not participate last year, but want to take these days to reflect now.

So, here goes:

Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

My divorce became final this year.  Even though we have lived completely separate lives for over two years, and have had almost no contact since the day that I moved out, actually getting divorced and getting my maiden name back felt liberating.  Especially getting my maiden name back.  Until your name has unpleasant connotations, you don’t realize how often you hear it or say it on a normal basis.  Picking up a prescription at the pharmacy?  Give your last name.  Going to the bank?  “Welcome, Mrs. Elder.”  Signing a credit card slip.  Signing his last name.

Hello Name Tag Sticker on White

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When you are trying to leave a marriage behind, his name keeps popping up on your way to the new you.

Until I got that final divorce decree.  Which changes absolutely nothing about how I have been living during the last two years, or my finances, or anything.  Except that now I can get my precious name back.  And I am grateful.

I’m Getting a Little Preachy

Listening to the news and scrolling through Facebook, I hear this name and see this face everywhere.  Kim Davis…  Lots being said about Kim Davis.

I feel wrong for being glad and for feeling a sense of vindication because she was jailed today for contempt of court.  Why wrong?  Taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune is something that I strive to avoid.

But I have to own those emotions — there should be consequences for her actions, and I am pleased that she is facing some.  I have been disturbed by her refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay people, claiming that it goes against her Christian religion.

My reasons for feeling this way are manifold:

  1. A sense of unfairness — the rest of us have to follow the laws.  Why should she be exempted?
  2. Discrimination — homosexuals now have the legal right to get married in all 50 states.  Whether you agree or disagree with homosexuality, homosexuals have the same rights as non-homosexuals.  Discrimination against any group, especially in ensuring the same legal rights as the majority, is just plain prejudicial, unethical, and wrong.
  3. Use of religion — ARGH!  Herein lies my biggest frustration.

I have seen comments and articles that argue that since this is her job, she should just do her job.  I agree, up to a point.  Everyone should have the ability to question their own actions on a job, and to be able to refuse to do something if it is unethical or illegal.  Following orders blindly is questionable behavior, as well, but in this case, issuing marriage licenses IS legal.  She, however, is choosing to do what is illegal and unethical — discriminating.

But the use of religion as her validation for her actions irritates and scares me.  I am a Christian, but I don’t want this to be the example of my faith.  And it has nothing to do with my feelings about homosexuality.  It has everything to do with the judging and unloving attitude that she is exhibiting.

I believe that my God charged me with loving my neighbor.  He didn’t call me to His side by asking that I determine what is right or wrong.  He doesn’t ask me to judge those around me and determine their worthiness.  (And for not doing so, I am forever grateful.  What a huge burden and responsibility to judge others — I would not want to determine someone’s character based on the imperfect knowledge that I have about that person.  I have, at best, a 50/50 chance of getting it right, but in reality, very little hope of knowing that person’s heart and head.  Judging is best left to an all-knowing God.)

God doesn’t ask me to determine what sins are worse than others and rank people based on the “hierarchy” of their sins.  He doesn’t ask me to treat certain groups of people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or behavior and actions, with less dignity or respect or love.  He doesn’t ask me to treat anyone as less than any other person.

He asks me to LOVE.  Love my neighbor.  Love my enemy.  Between those two ends of the spectrum, I think the message is clear — love all.

I do not feel like Kim Davis is exhibiting a loving heart.  And there are PLENTY of other examples like this one that are of someone who calls themselves a Christian acting without a loving heart.  She is not alone in her behavior.

But I am scared that people view actions like these as “how a Christian acts.”  I am scared that people will view Christians who judge, persecute, and marginalize those who do not “act like we think they should” as reflections of Christianity and God.  I am scared that people will turn away from God if these are the examples of living in the faith.  And why wouldn’t they?

These are the reasons why I have a problem with Kim Davis’s actions (and yes, I know I am judging…ironic, huh?).  She is not a reflection of me just because we share the same God and Jesus.  This is why I was secretly excited to see her experience some punishment.  (Again, I wish that I didn’t feel that way — you know, All Judgy Judgerson.)

I need to remind myself and pray that her future actions aren’t based on avoiding punishment, but on loving those around her.  In a perfect world, she would go back to work and not discriminate when doing her job, not because she faces punishment, but because she found that love for all those around her.  Wouldn’t that be a great example of what God urges us to do?

Improving. Day 7

I just went with my friend, Kristin, to a speaker event hosted by our shared alma mater, Wake Forest University.  Carla Harris, a Vice Chairman at Morgan Stanley and Chair of the National Women’s Business Council, delivered a talk on her “Pearls of Wisdom”.  Her talk was excellent, and she was very motivating.  She had several career suggestions that I am going to try.  She seems like she has it all figured out.

Then there is me.  Who doesn’t have it all figured out.

Which leads me to tonight’s faux Rosh Hashanah question.

Question:  How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?


I would like to spend more time in prayer, studying the Bible and communicating with God. While I have conversations with God in my head all the time, I don’t put a lot of time aside for prayer — deliberate praising, deliberate worship and deliberate asking for specific help. I have been much more actively engaged in our relationship in the past, and I know that I felt myself to be more calm, more relaxed and even more confident when I did.

This year, I feel like I have been in survival mode most of the year. My prayers have all been about “help me”, “comfort me”, “relieve me”, and “guide me”. I would like to spend more time praying about other people, other problems, about learning, about growing, about next adventures, about how I can help others instead of others helping me.

I love this picture. It hung over the dining table in my grandparents’ house, where we ate every Sunday lunch. Seeing it will always make me think of being with them and my family.

The best advice that I received this year that will guide me in my journey is not new and is not complicated. It was simply, “Cristy, you don’t have to have everything figured out right now.” It took a little while for that to sink in.  My first instinct when faced with my crisis (getting separated) was triage:  Stop the immediate bleeding and then see how to return everything to as close to normal as possible.

For me, that meant moving out quickly, buying a house quickly, asking myself questions about where I thought I would be in 3 years, 5 years, and trying to get everything situated just so as fast as possible.  I was working myself into a tail spin.  And then a couple of people gave me this really good advice.  “Cristy, you don’t have to have everything figured out right now.”  And when it did sink in, I was so relieved.

The plan that I had for my life was gone.  It was going to be different by necessity.  But, it was ok if I didn’t have that plan sketched out now.  Now, when my knees are still a little wobbly.  Now, when I’m still learning my options.  Now, when I’ve got more options than I had before.

I can accept that having some questions left unanswered is ok, and it means that I spend less time calling on God to help me figure out my situation and more time enjoying what I have and those around me.

My Jewish Experiment: Day One

I was listening to NPR on the way to work this morning, and the hosts mentioned that today was the first day of Rosh Hashanah.  One of the traditions of this very holy time is that Jews use the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to reflect on the year and spend time in self-evaluation and reflection.

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From Wikipedia, Definition of Rosh Hashanah

The segment went on to talk about how some Jews were blending their beliefs into the modern world by using technology during this ten day period, using a site called 10Q.  You can sign up for this website and each day for the 10 days get a thought provoking question in your inbox.  You answer it and submit.  At the end of the 10 days, your answers “go away” until next year during Rosh Hashanah.  Then you get your answers from the previous year (to help show how your life has progressed over the year), plus another 10 questions to answer for the current year.

This year has been a memorable, significant year in my life.  I have had a life-threatening illness, the dissolution of my marriage, and some fundamental challenges to the things that I believe.

If there was ever a time to reflect and complete self-evaluation, this is it.  And I liked the idea of tackling it, one question at a time, one day at a time.

So, here goes day one:

Question:  Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

Wow!  Just go for broke, right out of the gate…

I have had several significant experiences this year.

1. I developed a pulmonary embolism and could have died
2. My husband asked me for a divorce
3. I bought a new house and began to rebuild a residence

The one that I would pick to discuss is buying a house and rebuilding my safe haven.

I am an introvert that is surrounded by people all day, so having a haven, a place to be still and to recharge my batteries is critical to my well being. After it became evident that my marriage was going to end, there was a time that we still shared a house. This might have been some of the most stressful time in my life because I lost having a safe zone. My house became a tension filled and unwelcoming, so finding a place to make safe again was so important.

I am slowly doing this with the purchase of a house. And I have felt every emotion possible in the months since. There is no way to describe how I feel without talking about almost all emotions.  Joy when the fence went in, keeping my dog safe. Anxiety and aggravation during the whole loan process. Loneliness during that first night on my own in the house. Relief when all the kitchen boxes were finally unpacked. Pissed off because I have to do this to begin with. Excited because it’s mine, mine, mine to do with whatever I want. Proud when the new color turned out just right. Worried that I am making decisions based on emotion, not rational thought. On, and on, and on.

Mostly, though, I am grateful. Grateful that I have a support system. Grateful that I am learning how to ask for help and to recognize that people find joy in helping.  Grateful that I am not alone, even during this time when I should feel the most alone.

I would never have chosen the circumstances that led me to rebuilding my safe haven — but I am a better person for knowing that I have all these wonderful people in my life.

Asking and receiving

I was raised in a Christian house. We went to church every Sunday. Whether my sister and I wanted to go or not (and there were lots of Sundays we didn’t want to go).

I grew up in a world of Sunday Schools, Vacation Bible Schools, Bible Stories and such.

I could quote lots of Bible verses and not just “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). That’s the shortest verse in the Bible, for any of you who maybe don’t know the Bible that well.

I knew as a little girl that God wants us to pray. I had heard many times through my young life “…ask, and ye shall receive…” (John 16:24) and “….but in every thing by prayer and supplication in thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6). I had heard tales of people in dire situations who prayed to God for intervention and were rescued, people who had the faith that their prayers would bring about miracles and then the miracles happened. Asking in prayer and receiving was a common occurrence.

I was also a child of the 1970s. The era of either really good or really bad TV, depending on your point of view. I was a big fan of Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter. I watched her show every week and dreamed of being a super hero, fighting bad guys and keeping peace. I wanted a pair of gold cuffs like Wonder Woman in order to save people, too.

And with my unshakeable faith, I determined that I would ask God to give me some. I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed for a pair of Wonder Woman’s cuffs.

In Action

Fabulous Cuffs

I remember spending at least one hour before bed time one night praying as hard as I could that God would send me a set of my very own gold cuffs. And I knew that when I woke up the next morning they would be waiting for me. I was asking, so I would be receiving.

The next morning, much like a Christmas morning, I ran downstairs into our den, quickly scanning the sofa, the floor, the chair, the side tables. No gold cuffs.

I ran through the house, searching other rooms. No gold cuffs.

And in retrospect, I have to admit, my faith in God’s willingness to answer prayers died a little that day.

Earlier this week, I told this story to two of my co-workers, really making fun of myself. As in, “Ha, ha, wasn’t I silly and naive, praying for a pair of Wonder Woman gold cuffs? And, of course, I never got them.”

And one of the women said to me, “You have cuffs somewhere. They just don’t look like Wonder Woman cuffs.”

I. Was. Floored.

Could that be it? Did I fall trap to the fallacy that God answers prayers exactly the way one asks Him to? Even my childhood prayer for gold cuffs that would save people? Have I allowed my faith to have this tiny crack in it for all these years because I expected cuffs with red stars when maybe my people-helping cuffs are really my sense of humor or my willingness to lend a hand? I think that I did.

I have many examples in my life, especially in my adult life, that it turned out to be a “blessing in disguise” when the goal or the “thing” that I thought that I most wanted in the whole wide world, I didn’t get. Everyone probably has a similar story. The promotion that they didn’t get, or job that they didn’t take. The person that they didn’t marry, or the house that they didn’t buy. You don’t get what you think you wanted, but instead end up with something better. Some people call those “unanswered prayers” because they prayed so hard for the thing that they didn’t get. “Oh,” they say, “I’m so glad that God didn’t answer my prayers and give me X, because I’m so much happier with Y.”

I don’t call those unanswered prayers. God answered the prayers, just not in the way that was expected. (He’s good like that.)

I’ve had so many answered-in-a-different-way prayers. And this week, I learned that my gold cuffs were answered in a different way, as well. I’m finally comfortable calling myself Wonder Woman.


Elder grateful month — day 4 — God’s Plan

Day 4 of Elder Grateful Month and I still have so much for which to be grateful.  Today, however, I’m all about God’s Plan for me.

I was raised in a Christian house and have always known that God loves me.  The significance of that message really sunk in during my 30s, when I was battling an episode of clinical depression.  At a time when I felt like no one in the world could possibly like me, much less love me, the message of God’s agape love penetrated my mind and heart.

Old Graveyard — Ireland — Matt Elder

I believe that God has a plan for me and I try not to worry about the future.  It is so much easier said than done.  I’m not a fatalist or someone who believes in predestination above free will.  I believe that I can (and do) make bad choices.  But I do believe that if I submit myself to His plan, then He will lead me to make the choices that He wants.

I’m not a Bible scholar nor a theologist, so my belief system may seem simple to some.  Yet, I know that when I have felt most at peace in my life is when I am talking and listening the most to God.  That’s when I feel like I am following His plan.  When I have felt the most frazzled, disconnected, overwhelmed and out-of-sorts is when I have tried to do things on my own.  When I’ve tried to convince God that I knew what I was doing and He should just stand back and watch me handle it.  It never worked out well when I was trying to control everything.

My Life and God’s Plan — A Visual

Letting go, trying not to control everything, is one of the hardest things to do.  I think we humans are wired to try to control the environment around us.  It must be a survival skill.  It’s the moments when I have said, “I can’t do this, Lord.  I’m in over my head.  You gotta take this.” — those are the moments that have made me the strongest.  Seems backwards, huh?  All a part of His plan.

What Now?

I have had a very unsettling week.  Bad news, sad news, headaches have cropped up over the week.  I have had the image of being a pack mule in my head, and every day I have felt like another 50 lb. load has been added to my burden, weighing me down.  I need some encouragement that I’ll be okay.

I know that everyone struggles with disappointments and problems and bad news over his/her live.  You wouldn’t exactly be living if you didn’t have pain.  How to handle that pain has always been something with which I have tussled.

Storm on Sept. 8, 2012

We had a Women’s Leadership Summit at work yesterday and one of the speakers talked about happiness.  She had a list of five things that led to happiness, including Diet and Exercise, Meditation, Intention, etc.  I appreciated where she was going, but I felt like she was just a little too “new age-y” for me.

For me, I have to rely on my faith.  I can’t rely on myself, because I have already learned that I am not perfect and prone to mistakes.

Tenth Avenue North is one of my favorite Christian bands and they sing a song called “Times”.  In this song, God tells us the times He’ll love us, including:

The times you’re broken

The times that you mend

The times that you hate Me, and the times that you bend.

Well, My love is over, it’s underneath.

It’s inside, it’s in between.

These times you’re healing, and when your heart breaks.

The times that you feel like you’re falling from grace.

The times that you’re hurting.

Yep, that about describes how I’m feeling right now.  Relieved and happy to know that God has my back.  That is where my comfort is coming from this week.

Here’s Your Sign

I got this tweet the other day that said “God Prefers Kind Atheists Over Hateful Christians?” and had this picture attached.


I have thought about this a lot since I saw it, trying to decide exactly what I think about it.  And for me, there really isn’t an easy answer.
There are few things that make me more upset than self-professed Christians that act like they don’t even like their fellow humans.  They judge, they ridicule, they hold grudges, they are selfish with their time and material possessions.  They do not act like Christ at all.  These Christians are the ones that inspired Mahatma Gandhi to say

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”

When I think about these people, I wonder how anyone chooses to follow Christ if these people are their example.  I can’t help but think that the God that I have read about in the Bible is very hurt and disappointed by the people who proclaim to believe in Him but act so opposite to His commands.
Back to the sign.  I can’t say that I believe that God prefers people who actively choose not to believe in Him to hateful Christians, as disappointed as He may be.  I would rewrite the sign to read as follows:
God is as hurt by hateful Christians as by atheists
Either one isn’t the path that He would choose for us.
One thing is for sure:  This sign made me think and that is a good thing.