Dying Well

I have been repeatedly reminded in these past few weeks that nothing on earth is going to stay the same or remain forever. To that end, I have also been reminded that one day I will pass from life on this earth, to life in eternity with God.  I have sensed in my heart that God has been whispering to me over and over again, “Patricia, you don’t have much time left.”  The following is the message I believe God is relaying to my heart, and also, I believe, God’s message to all of us, to live life so that we will die well:

I know no one wants to ponder their death. It all seems so depressing and final—but it doesn’t have to be.  Dying well, to me, does not mean having all the toys and grandeurs of this world. One can have that, and still not die well.  Dying well does not just mean being popular and having everyone love you.  To me, dying well means to have lived knowing you have fulfilled your purpose and that God will say to you when you come before Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So, how does one fulfill his or her purpose? Well, first one needs to find out what it is!  I believe that my overarching purpose can be surmised in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, where it says, “The [purpose] of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” If you are a follower of Christ, that should be your purpose too. 

However, I think God gives us different assignments, if you will, to help us fulfill that purpose, through both our circumstances and the people He puts in our path.  For instance, despite the stresses that my day job brings, I believe He has and continues to use that job as a calling for me to minister to broken and hurting people around me and to strengthen my character.  In this job, I am learning, not only some marketable skills in my job, but also how to be more patient, kind, caring and at peace with life.  I have learned that anxiety gets me nowhere, but trusting God does.  When I cooperate with God in these lessons, I am much better able to fulfill His purposes for me.  When it is my time to depart this world, if I persevere in this and all other assignments He gives me to fulfill His purposes, then I would die well.  

Another example is my faith hero, Rachel Joy Scott. She became a Christian a few years before her death in April 1999, and God used people in her school, her church, and her job to strengthen and build her character and to be a dynamic example for those around her that would be recounted long after she had departed this earth.  Although Rachel died what many consider a tragic death, I think she died well, not because thousands of people came to her funeral, but because of the positive impact she had and continues to have in millions of people’s lives today because of how she had lived her life and fulfilled her God-given purpose.

I believe to truly die well, we must die to self. In fact, in Luke 9:23-24 (KJV), Jesus says, “ If any man should come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”  Jesus is saying that in order to live, and, ultimately, die well, we have to be willing to give up our selfish desires, ambitions and hopes for the benefit of others.  I can attest to this fact in my own life. When I am thinking selfishly, I often find that I don’t get what I wanted anyway, and my life unravels before me. Not only that, people often lose respect for me, and I become an angry, resentful and bitter mess. However, when I humble myself and submit my desires and ambitions to God, I find that I am more at peace, no matter what my circumstances are, and things often go a lot more smoothly.  I also find the same is true for those around me.  Those around me who complain the most are often, and not just coincidentally, the same people who have not submitted their selfish desires and ambitions to God!  What a miserable way, not only to live, but to die! Many people think that when we die to self, we will live a miserable life and never get to do what we want to do. I won’t lie; sometimes I am tempted to believe this very lie!  However, in reality, the opposite is most often true.  When we are willing to sacrifice for others, we become more fulfilled in our God-given purpose and are more likely to be content with our lives, rather if we just lived for ourselves and our desires.

Another part of dying to self is being willing to serve others. Helping others not only encourages us to keep the focus off ourselves, it also makes us more content and fulfilled with our lives, because we sense we are making a positive contribution to this world. For instance, when I work to focus on making the customers satisfied and happy with our products and service, I find I feel much more confident and willing to serve them, rather than if I am focused on just checking something off my list. Dying well, means having died knowing that you served others the best you could, and were not just out for yourself.

In order to truly die well, I believe we must strive daily to fulfill our God-given purpose for this life, deny ourselves, and be willing to live to serve God and others with a whole heart.  As God has said in my heart, repeatedly, “You don’t have much time left.”  Yes, we don’t have as much time left as we may perceive in our minds, but we can use what is left to make sure we die well, and full of purpose.  

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Lessons Learned in the Dark of Depression

Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

For over 25 years, I have gone in and out of the throes of depression. During my worst episodes, I seriously considered ending my life. Thankfully, every time I wanted to give up, God rescued me out of the pit of despair and helped me see His love and light. Even though I would have preferred to not go through the darkness for so long, and though I had wanted to give up so many times, I am thankful that God taught me so many valuable life lessons that I now strive to apply to my life:

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

One lesson I learned from going through depressive episodes is to be more open and genuine with others in expressing my true self. In the past, I was so afraid of what people would think of me, that I never told anyone for a long time about my struggles, past and present. Unfortunately, I got so used to hiding that when I finally decided needed help with my issues, some people thought I really didn’t have those issues! However, the longer I struggled, the more apparent it became to me that I needed to talk to someone about my issues, and more than likely, several people.

Then, I started to talk. I began opening up the layers of my pain in my past. What I realized is that many of the people I opened up to struggled with similar issues! Also, I didn’t get most of the judgment or condemnation I had feared, and those that judged me were often the same ones that God would later remove from my life anyway. When I started opening up and being vulnerable with others, not only did I forge stronger bonds with those around me, but I found that the pain I went through in my depression lessened, as I started to heal.

Another lesson I learned from going through depression is to be value my time– especially the good, depression-free times– more. When I am depressed, I can only see the wounds and ugliness of myself and life. I feel like I am in a long, dark tunnel with no end to it. However, when I am content with life and glance back at (but not dwell) on my depressive episodes, I realize how blessed I am! Reflecting back causes me to value and appreciate the good times more, because I see how far God has brought me from the darkness of the worst of my depressive episodes.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The most pertinent lesson that God has taught me from going through depression, in my mind, is that He had a purpose and a plan for allowing me to walk in the dark for so long. I have learned that God has been using my struggle with depression, and the past hurts that had exacerbated my depression, to help me minister to others with similar or even more complex issues than I ever had!  He has also used my struggle with depression to help me be more compassionate and caring towards others in pain, and in order to strengthen my character by tearing down the layers of selfishness and self-righteousness in my heart.

If anyone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts right now, know that God has a good purpose for all you have been through. We may never know what it is this side of the world, but God never wastes our pain.  Let this be our hope to never give up no matter what life brings us.

Image by brigachtal from Pixabay

Why I Have Hope Everyday

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I wrote on April 9, 1999, when I was still in high school: “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”  I had no hope. I was fine physically, but I was slowly dying inside. 

I’m thankful that I didn’t die or take my own life.  Though I didn’t know it on April 9, about one year later, I would find Hope. Hope that helped me through the storms, and come out on the other side being greeted with a beaming joy and confidence that I had only dreamed of years before. Hope has also given me drive to persevere, even when I thought I could never make it. Hope has redeemed relationships that I thought were forever shattered.  Hope has taken the junk in my life, and made it a treasure. 

Hope was, and always is, Jesus.

Hope has given me purpose to live.  Before I became a follower of Christ, I was living aimlessly, for myself. I had adequate material things, but I never really thought about blessing others with it.  I wanted to excel academically, but that was getting more and more difficult, and my limitations were becoming more apparent. 

With Jesus, I have realized that the world is so much bigger than me. With Jesus, I am able to partner with Him to share His great love and hope for a world that is looking for something bigger than the pain and the drudgery that life often brings.

Hope has given me a light at the end of the tunnel. I still struggle with depression occasionally, but now even in it, I have hope that God will bring good out of even that.  I have hope, because God’s strength and light will help me overcome a depressive episode.  I have hope because God has surrounded me with a group of people who love and care for me.

Hope has given me renewed confidence and joy that I had never known before.  Since I found Hope, He has provided me with several communities of believers who have had my back and who care for one another.  This support network I have had has helped me through some of the toughest times of my life, and even helped deliver me from some really bad situations.

Hope has provided me with my current job and some great managers, including several that believed in me enough to help me learn new things.  I want to give a shout out to my now-former manager Elizabeth* who believed in me enough to allow me to train to be a back-up cashier and learn some managerial tasks as well.  I want to give a shout out to my now former manager Chris* who took the chance and first hired me. 

Hope has provided me a great mentor, in J, who always believed in my abilities and was God’s message to me that He would use me to accomplish His great will in my life. 

Hope has provided me countless wonderful friends who have put up with my depressive episodes and have helped cheer me on. 

Hope has given me much hope for the future. Hope has given me freedom from the shackles that held me back in my past. 

More Than I Could Ever Dream

-written 3/5/19

When I was growing up, I was a naughty and very active child.  Despite my energy, I did not really have any close friends.  Back then, I dreamed of one day going to a prestigious university, like my parents, and getting the best grades possible. I probably thought, unconsciously, that if I made it to a prestigious and a good university, I would then be able to get a job that would pay me a lot of money, and thus I would win friends and influence.

Indeed, I worked very hard in school and got decent grades.  However, I really didn’t have passion for the content of what I studied; I just wanted to do well to please my parents and also to be “the –girl-who-worked-hard-and-got-the-best-grades.”   I wanted to be respected and valued. In retrospect, getting good grades at school became a sort of idol for me.  I worshipped the god of achievement, and without it, I reasoned that I was worthless.  

Shattered Dreams

(courtesy of photobias)

Then, when I was sixteen years old, I struggled through several classes. I no longer got the grades I wanted or needed. I was even in danger of failing a class. One of my teachers even said in so many words that he didn’t believe I would ever amount to much in this life, probably partly due to the fact I wasn’t doing so well in his class. I also lacked peer support. In fact, no one in my class dared to counter what that teacher said to me. I also I felt my family could not relate to the turmoil inside me, as they seemed to be living a different life.  In fact, in a journal entry from April 1999, I had written, “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?” I was so depressed that I wanted an escape, maybe to even end my life.

However, several months later, God saved me from that.  Fast forward a few years later, I went to college, but not at a prestigious university which I had dreamed.  After I graduated, I tried to look for work in my field of study, but to no avail.

After that, I finally found a part-time job in retail. There, I learned many customer service skills and other people skills I needed to succeed.  I did well there, but after a while, I felt God calling me to somewhere else—a place where I never thought I’d end up.  It was during that time, that God was preparing me for a new life, where He would give me more than I could have ever dreamed.

I was so excited when I got an interview at one of the local bookstores near where I lived! I had always dreamed of working in a bookstore!  I loved books, and the workers there seemed nice.  However, the day of the interview, I quickly found out that I wasn’t the right fit.  At this point, I didn’t think I would get another job opportunity any time soon. The search went on.

Metamorphosis

Then, one, cold wintry day on February 25, 2016, I went with my mom to the store I now work to buy a few things.  What I did not know was that trip would change my life forever.   

I asked the HR representative the status of my resume, and after that she offered me to interview at 1 pm.  Since I didn’t have adequate time to prepare or change into more formal attire, my mom and I ate lunch at the mall nearby, and then I went back to the store to get interviewed.  When I got interviewed, I was so nervous and stuttering over my words, that I thought surely they wouldn’t accept me. To my surprise, I got a job offer! I waited until the next day to accept, after I sought counsel from my family.  On March 10, I officially started at my current job.

Meanwhile, many people were leaving my now-former church. I loved that church, but inside there were so many changes that it rocked the congregation. About half of the congregation left or were in the process of leaving.  At about the same period of time, my brother told my parents and me that he was going to go to school in Texas to get his Master’s degree.  What I didn’t know then was my brother was going to live there permanently.

I felt, except for my new job, that my dreams were going to be shattered all over again.  I would either have to accept the changes at my now-former church or find somewhere different to worship. Not going to church wasn’t even an option for me.  I would also have to adjust to life without  some of the support of my brother.

My brother left for Texas in August 2016. The day he left, the house felt hollow and quiet. The basement that used to be full of my brother’s stuff was now almost bare, but habitable again.  My dad went with my brother to help him move.  My mom and I remained at home.  I felt numb and solemn that day. My heart felt like there was something missing—the void where my brother’s physical presence radiated my life.

Then, in mid-October, I said goodbye to the church that I had been attending for about ten years.  It was very hard, as I had established so many friendships there, and these people were like a second family to me.  Before I left to visit a church nearby, I was in tears, as I said goodbye to some of the congregants.

However, there was a very bright spot, in the midst of all the goodbyes, a month before I left my now-former church.

In September, I was working the swing shift, and one of my managers, Hope* was closing with me.  She was complimenting me about my performance that day. Since I was still part-time, I told her, “I am thinking of becoming full-time. However, Chris*, my manager, said I should wait a while. I was wondering how long I should wait.” Then, Hope replied, “You shouldn’t have to wait. You deserve full-time.”  Later on, or the next day, she put me in for full-time. Later, Chris also approved my full- time status. I was ecstatic!  Because of all the challenges that I had to face, I never dreamed I would ever get a full time job in my life! 

A month later, after I had left my former church, I visited another church.  It had many more people than the one I had previously visited.  A friendly couple greeted me and I sat by them.  Even the pastors were friendly. The sermon that day was very thought-provoking and relatable to what I was going through in my life. I didn’t know yet if this was going to be my new home church, but I liked their genuineness and their devotion to the Word of God, so I kept going. In August of the next year, I officially became a member of my current church.  Through my church, I have learned how to have an engaging quiet time with God, how to view life more positively and differently than most of the rest of the world, and how to forgive people who have hurt you deeply.


God’s Perfect Plan

No, I never got the six figure salary I had dreamed of, nor did I get into a prestigious college. However, I have been blessed with more than I could have ever dreamed. Through my church family and people at work, I have gained a strong support system. Also, I am still in touch with several people from my old church, who I still consider good friends, even though they live very far away from where I am now.  Through the tough situations I find myself in at work, God has used those to strengthen and shape my character into His.  Through church, I continue to train to be able to share the love and hope that I found in life through God and His gracious plans for me.  Yes, I still have bad days, but overall, I have found more joy and satisfaction during these past two years, than at any other time in my life. God has certainly blessed me with more than I could ever dream!

*=names have been changed for privacy reasons

Undeserved: Why Everything We Get Is A Gift

I believe that most of our problems in relationships stem from an “I-deserve-better” attitude.  This past Friday (at the time of this writing), a disgruntled former employee opened fire and killed five of his co-workers at a manufacturing facility, about a half hour from where I live. I attest one of the reasons why he got so angry was because he thought he truly deserved the job, and when his bosses fired him, everything in this former worker unraveled before him.  Though most of us would not murder when we don’t get what we think we deserve, we can still get tempted to get similarly angry when our “rights are being violated” or we think we aren’t “getting the good we deserve in this life.”  This causes us, me included, unfortunately, to become defensive and angry at those around us…and even at God.  However, a good thing to keep in mind, especially if you are a follower of Christ, is, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17a) and that we don’t really deserve anything!  When we have a mindset that everything good in this life is undeserved and is a gift of grace from above, this entitlement attitude starts to disappear. However, in the society we live in, especially if you live in a Western country, this entitlement attitude is deeply ingrained in us, me included, that I think we need to learn how to embrace the “gift” mentality instead.  Here are some things that I have learned about why we should strive to treat whoever and whatever comes our way as gifts, not as something “owed” to us.

When we think we are entitled to someone or something, we are not acknowledging that God really owns it all.  However, when we acknowledge that everything we get is a gift from God, we are recognizing His control and His power over our lives—an important aspect of true worship. My pastor said today that we must be willing to be a living sacrifice in order to truly worship God, and part of being a sacrifice is relinquishing our rights to His control.  If you work, even the money we “earn” from your job is a gift because it is God who gave you the abilities and skills to do your job well enough to be able to sustain employment and thus a paycheck! I wonder if the recent shooting on Friday could have been avoided if, when the man who shot five people at his job got fired, instead of getting angry at this perceived injustice, he just appreciated the money he had already gotten from his job and just appreciated the gifts he still had in his life more. 

When we see everything we have as a gift, and not something that someone “owes” us, we become more able to be content with life, even with its caveats and imperfections.  Think about how it feels when you get a gift that you totally do not expect or deserve.  Not only are you most likely to feel intense joy, but also, more likely, an overwhelming sense of gratitude and humility towards the person who gave you the gift.  When we strive to approach our lives the same way, each blessing we get will cause us to feel joy and gratitude.  However, when we think we are owed something or that we “earned” something, we are not as grateful because whatever we get is our due, anyway, or so we believe. This is why most of us get upset when we don’t feel we are getting what we perceive is owed us. We see it as an injustice, a violation of our moral rights.  However, if we take away the “scoreboard”  in our souls of things supposedly owed us, this anger has no longer has any place to reside, and will melt away.

When we see everyone and everything that is given to us as a gift, we tend to value them more.  For instance, if my friend gives me something that I perceive is from his or her heart and that is not owed me, I tend to want to take better care of it, so that I don’t lose the preciousness of the gift.  This not only applies to material gifts, it also applies to treating each person as a gift from above.  When we treat each person as a gift from above, instead of someone or something disposable or suited only to meet our needs, we tend to treat them better.  I have witnessed and heard in many different workplaces, unfortunately, of people being treated like disposable objects, or at best, tools, if you will, instead of the precious, complex image-bearers of God they are.  This mentality seems to be growing worse and more prevalent, not only in workplaces, but also in other social constructs as well.  However, when we go against the grain and strive to treat each person we encounter as the precious gifts they are, we can not only touch lives, we can change the world around us for the better.

father valuing his child as precious

When we acknowledge everything we get is a gift, not something we are owed, we are most ready to worship God rightly; we are more likely to be content and grateful with our lives, and we will value those around us more.  This week God has been teaching me over and over again that everything I get from Him is a gift, and not something I could really deserve or earn.  When I realize all that has been given to me, I realize that I am blessed beyond measure by a God who gives me more than I could ever deserve.

How to Boost Morale at Work

Have you been tired, stressed, and overworked lately? Has the joy you once had at work been drained by the people and circumstances around you? If so, you are not alone.  In fact, according to the NIOSH report, about 40% of all workers in the U.S reported that their jobs are “very or extremely” stressful. (source: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/pdfs/99-101.pdf?id=10.26616/NIOSHPUB99101).  If you are working in a tough or a stressful work environment, there is hope. Personally, I can relate to being stressed at work, but when I apply these principles to how I approach my job, I find that I become less stressed.

  1. Maintain a good work ethic. –Yes, there have been several times during the whole of my work career in various places where I have been tempted to quit. However, something inside of me, probably the Spirit of God, urges me on.  This has helped me continue to persevere in spite of everything else inside of me screaming to “QUIT” or “Slack off.”  Always do your best, and never let anyone else convince you to do otherwise.  If you feel aimless or that you are just “going through the motions” at work, try to have a mindset of trying to learn everything you can to boost your credentials at work. This will also help you in case of layoffs, to be more indispensable and more likely to be secure in your job, or being more easily able to find another good job if that should happen. For instance, at my job, I have aimed to learn how to cashier, because I know that cashiering is an essential part of retail, and without these skills, I would be less likely to be able to move up or be versatile in the company I work for.  Now, my managers are able to use me to cashier in case the regular cashiers call in sick or we are shorthanded.
  2. Encourage others.—I have found that many people in various workplaces and in places where some of my friends work are in desperate need of encouragement and validation.  If you see someone going above or beyond, or are providing their clientele with excellent service, let a manager know that. More importantly, let the person know that they are doing a good job and that you value them. Be specific in your compliments. Don’t just say, “ You work very hard,” which can be good, but would mean more if you said something like, “ Joe, I appreciate how you took care of that customer today, making sure they had everything they needed, and making them feel valued  through your patience and making sure all their questions were answered.”  If you must criticize, assure the person that you still value them in other ways.  Never put down someone just to break their spirit. It is mean, callous, unnecessary, and ineffective in motivating people to do their best work.
  3. Have a servant’s heart.—Be willing to help others where needed, without stressing yourself out.  When someone feels overwhelmed by their work, and you are able to help them, do so.  If someone is going through a tough time and confides in you about it, offer to pray or help them in any way you can. When Jesus washed His disciples feet, He modeled for them—and us—a model we should all follow.  We should not only model that in church or at home, but also in the workplace. Managers, never be “too busy” to help and guide your associates.  Associates, be willing to do what your managers says, not only to be respectful, but also to help them through their struggles and lift a burden off them.

If we modeled a good work ethic, by persevering and doing our best, if we encouraged our co-workers, bosses, and clients/customers instead of putting them down, and if we had a servants’ heart approach to the tasks needed to be done at work, instead of only looking to our own interests, we could boost morale at our workplace significantly. By following these principles, not only will we boost morale, but we also will also build our integrity, which is something worth living for, in all areas of our lives.

I Will Never Give Up On You  – a poem

written : 12/6/18

 

Through all your triumph and glory

When I see the light in your soul

And I see you becoming whole

I will never give up on you

 

Through all the laughter and the pain

Through the joy of being with you

Through all the good times and the bad

I will never give up on you

 

Though at times you will fall and fail

And you want to give up and bail

Because you don’t think you’re enough

I will never give up on you

 

Though sometimes you drive me insane

And there are times of stress and hurt

Where some people treat you like dirt

I will never give up on you