• Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Breathe Different

    I find it ironic that a mug sits on my desk touting the word “breathe.” I purchased it last fall at a conference under the same name. Breathe; a three-day respite from the daily struggles of mental illness. Three days to exhale the years of holding my breath. Three days to breathe IN the Spirit, the life-giving love of Jesus to strengthen me for the days to come. This mug, a perpetual reminder for me to take a deep breath in the face of adversity as the headlines scream of George Floyd, the latest African-American in a long 400-year line begging to keep the final breath in his lungs as it is forced out in brutal terms, is reminding me on this day to take a different kind of breath. The kind that isn’t so self-focused or isolated.

     It seems a no-brainer to say that all human beings are equal. The Bible is clear on this. But we call God’s diverse creation into question when study after study on inequality proves that the system is biased, fearful, and prejudiced towards minorities in everything from neighborhoods, to jobs, to services, to the judicial system. We use words to say, “that isn’t right,” while our behavior passively accepts the injustice. If we allow this to continue, and don’t begin to integrate our actions with our words to stand up against prejudice, then we are perpetuating inequality. Myself included, because I’ve never looked at racism as my problem. “It’s sad what ‘they’ have to deal with but that is not my reality so I can move on and not worry about it.” Wrong. Allowing our fellow citizens to behave immorally against fellow citizens without question makes us caretakers of the system. Passively watching from the sidelines is, in effect, allowing the breath to be taken from people who we silently deem unworthy of equality.

    As followers of Jesus, we cannot claim to love God but not his people. We cannot say God is good and select certain people groups to treat as less-than at the same time. Christians are charged to love everyone, right down to their neighbors and their enemies. We have all been raised and trained in the system. We grew up with ugly thinking. Systemic racism is so entrenched in the fabric of our being, it is so normal, that we don’t recognize (or we choose to ignore) the red flags when they are raised until a man is heinously and purposely suffocated right before our eyes in the middle of the street. What an absolute tragedy that we as a society have created and perpetuated such hateful behavior for centuries, and all the while claiming to be a Christian nation.

    The mug on my desk, reminding me to breathe differently, calls into question my beliefs, biases, judgments, and behaviors. How am I contributing to racism in my daily life? In my texts, emails, verbal conversations, and social media? What is my contribution to the problem? What do I need to change?

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    How To Love The Unlovable

    This bench has me asking if I’m gonna sit down and stew or keep walking down the path towards real love. When I look at this picture, I have a longing for people to “do the right things” so “I” can attain serenity by sitting down and relaxing. So we can all be at peace. But of course, that is codependent. And it makes me angry that other people can act like crazy makers and I have to be the one to adjust, to be the bigger person, to display strong character, to love what is unlovable. Ah. The arrogance in my heart when I forget that others must adjust to me, be the bigger person, display strong character, and choose to love what is unlovable in me. Yes, love happens in both directions when I put away my pointing finger; when I realize that my personal serenity isn’t dependent on the actions of others. It’s dependent on my choice of beliefs, thoughts, decisions, and reactions. I don’t want that to be true, that my joy is up to me. I just want people to stop it. I don’t want to have to be the one to pick up the weight. I want “them” to do the work. Bitterness and gratitude cannot coexist. Love and disdain are opposites. And the only time love and gratitude have value is when it feels like “it’s not the time for that. It doesn’t apply right now.” My friends, now is the ONLY time it applies. Now is the absolute perfect time to remember that if we are going to let go of ourselves and love the unlovable, we have to remember the we are the unlovable one in someone else’s eyes. And maybe in our own. 

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Patience is Active Waiting

    I’ve been struggling with impatience. Not with delayed gratification, but with active waiting, as in, waiting for other people to change and getting irritated that it’s taking too long (not good!). Patience isn’t passive. There are things to do while I wait. Count to ten. Learn Spanish. Pay attention to their needs. Develop empathy for their fear. Patience is love for others.

    Self-reflection reminds me:

    1) I can’t give (emotionally) what I don’t have (emotionally). If I haven’t received, or cannot accept, love, empathy, forgiveness, I cannot offer them to others.

    2) I can’t change people. Waiting for them to change so I can feel peaceful is foolish. And codependent. I must be the one to change. The more I resent having to do the work to change the relationship, the more closed off and bitter I become.

    3) Humble myself. To develop the character of patience, I must move towards the uncomfortable with an attitude that it’s not about me being right, it’s not about me being validated, it’s not about me being in charge.

    4) Acceptance for others’ humanity allows them to relax their behavior; it removes their need to deny, blame, project, or attack. Relating to them as equals, not as one up or one down from me, allows them to be on their own journey without judgement or shame or impatience from me.

    5) Setting personal emotional boundaries to keep the good in and the bad out is KEY.

    6) I don’t have to conjure up patience. God gives me that tool. I get to choose to become a master at using it.

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Gratitude is a Choice

    So much to be grateful for! I’m grateful there is a break in the rain and the sun is shining. I’m grateful that we get a chance to slow down a bit. I’m grateful that we as a society have a chance to push the reset button on some of the ugly ways we behave and do business. I’m grateful that we get to reflect on our personal core values, what really drives our decisions and behavior. I’m grateful that in stressful situations there is a side of me that is activated, a side I only see in high pressure places, and I get the opportunity to work on the areas of me that are not so great. I’m grateful for technology so we can be separately together. Character only has value in an opposite situation. Without a stress point, or a weight to pick up, there is no need for strength. In fear there is faith. In hate there is love. In tragedy there is joy. And in the dark there is the Son. I’m grateful we get to choose our character. What are you grateful for today? 

  • Write Your Life With Grace

    How To Trust God In A Painful Relationship

    My natural inclination is to sing God’s praises on a sunny, non-eventful day but the minute life starts to happen I’m suddenly the praying maniac, “Oh, please, God, don’t let this happen. Make it stop.” Fear has set in. What I know to be true in the daylight I’m now questioning in the darkness.

    That is weakness in my character, not God’s.

    Many years ago, there were several people who were hurting me emotionally. To protect privacies and situations, I’m going to lump them together into “this person” because in all honesty, I allowed the same story repeatedly with different players.

    This person is a fellow Christian so I appealed to God in my prayers to “fix them so they’ll stop hurting me.” This relationship had boundary issues, control issues, and passive-aggressive behavior. I prayed for years for the behavior to end but it didn’t seem as if God was listening. Anger took residence in my soul and came out on innocent family and friends. I began to chastise God rather than pray in humility. “Why are you letting this happen, God? Why won’t you do something?”

    The voice in my head started speaking to me. “You need to stand up for yourself.” I immediately pushed that thought away because I knew what the outcome would be: anger from the person hurting me. Experience told me this person would not take responsibility for their actions but would instead humiliate me for having a negative reaction to their emotional onslaught of pain. There was no way I was doing that again, putting myself in the position of their retaliation.

    The voice continued and pestered me like a gnat buzzing around my ear. I questioned that voice. Was it me? No. I certainly did not want to put myself in front of a person berating me, giving me the guilt trip. Was it the devil? It didn’t seem like it. Satan would have told me to walk away entirely, that I didn’t need to put up with this behavior. Was it God telling me to stand up for myself? Why would he put me in this scary position?

    For several days, I said no. I’m not doing it. The voice kept pestering me.

    “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

    Finally, I was so miserable that I cried uncle. I was in so much emotional pain, that the pain of standing up for myself suddenly seemed more appealing than the pain of allowing the boundary and control issues to continue. I told God that if this was really him telling me to do this, that he better know what he’s doing. “You better have my back!”

    Of course, he has my back. God would never put me in harm’s way. This wasn’t just a lesson in standing up for myself; it was a lesson in learning how to trust. Obedience to Him equals freedom through healing, not bondage through oppression.

    Shaking like a leaf, I went and explained to this person how their behavior was hurting me and that I was done with it. I was setting a boundary line. I said, ‘no more’ to the passive aggressive behavior. I get to choose what I participate in and I can no longer participate in this hurtful pattern. It’s disrespectful, it’s killing my soul, and I will tolerate it no longer.

    This person’s response was surprisingly positive. Why? Because it was God’s voice directing me towards a healthier path. He was teaching me character development. And, this person had also been praying and reading God’s word, which allowed God to work through both of us and therefore bring us to a positive resolution. Did the situation turn on a dime? No.

    Character takes a long time to develop because it is attached to our self-worth, our identity, our neediness. I might know the right thing to do, but if I am at all feeling insecure or lonely or rejected, I will make a bee-line to put any kind of salve over that neediness to stop the pain.

    This is how it has played out: This person exhibits the controlling, fearful behavior. I shrink but quickly remember I have a choice to make. I need to remind this person of the boundary line by saying, “No. It’s not okay to treat me that way anymore.” The responsibility is back on their plate. They may squirm and lash out because boundary lines are painful, but they slowly back off. It happens again and this time I am stronger and firmer as I reiterate the boundary line. They remember and back away more quickly. When it happens again, I am stronger still. They are quick to back away. Eventually, I have taught them to steer clear of that boundary altogether.

    This process takes weeks, months, and even years. At each juncture, each person must choose between health and dysfunction. It’s exhausting but the blessings are endless when we understand how God works in us and through us and for us. He honors our request for healing but only when we participate.

    Each time I choose a healthy response to a negative comment or traumatic situation, it’s akin to lifting an emotional weight. I get stronger and stronger. Which breaks that endless spin-cycle of dysfunction and allows for grace, which brings peace and kindness.

    Therefore, when a person pushes a boundary line or says something derogatory or questions me in a way that feels uncomfortable—these are all opportunities to heal, to mature, to develop my character, to get stronger, to choose wisely the kind of person I want to be. Do I want to remain a victim, blaming everyone and everything in my path? Why is this happening to me? Why is God picking on me? Life dealt me a bad deck? Or do I want to grow up and take responsibility for my half, thus changing the situation entirely?

    Don’t miss these golden opportunities, my friend. They come every day. Emotional challenges are not there to beat us down. They come to build a foundation of stability and well-being.

    So, the minute life starts to happen, there’s no need to lament in fear. I can sing God’s praises because He’s got my back. He will pave the way towards hope and healing by developing my character.

    “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

    –Tara Schiro is the author of two books: Write Your Life With Grace, Fruit of the Spirit Guided Journal, and No Arms, No Legs, No Problem, When life happens you can wish to die or choose to live. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and TaraSchiro.com