Thursday, September 07, 2006

what is important

We live in a world where self-preservation and self-sufficiency are the necessary ingredients for success. It’s no wonder we’ve lost our focus and strayed from the true meaning of success. Webster’s defines success as a “degree or measure of succeeding; a favorable or desired outcome; also: the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” So money, popularity and position or title must be the most important things because who doesn’t want to be successful?

In America, being busy equates to being productive. We live in our vehicles, and why not, with all the comforts of home that come standard in our cars: phone, dvd, food, back seats that fold down so you can sleep. I remember talking to my parents and daydreaming or reading in the car when I was younger. I’m not knocking these great vehicles of today. I’d have one in a flash, but I would also incorporate family talks and encourage the use of imagination.

I find it funny what people consider important these days. Starting in January of every year and continuing all throughout the year, stores have “Sales of the Century” where I’d be a fool not to take part in this awesome opportunity to save money. I mean, where else can I find these must have items for so cheap? Try next month.

In this world of the best and the busiest, we begin to lose sight of what is truly important. Our culture defines the accumulation of wealth as success, but God calls us to give away our wealth. In our politically-correct world, being a Christian is difficult since we don’t want to offend someone else when we tell them that Christ is the only way. But there IS another way. You can follow God’s Law completely from birth to death without failing once, including making your pilgrimage to the Temple for your sacrifices. However, there is no longer a temple, so I guess Jesus will have to do!

Even stay at home moms compete with each other. Have you ever heard a new mom discussing with other new moms when a child accomplishes a milestone like walking. “Jessica learned to walk when she was one year old.” “Kyle was walking at 10 months. Guess it was all those gymnastics we enrolled him in.” “Well, my precious Ashleigh was walking at 5 months. I imagine it was all the breastfeeding.” It’s simply ridiculous how animalistic we are in this society. Being young is idealized in our older years, yet wasted in our youth. I couldn’t wait for my daughter to walk. I honestly wanted my child to be labeled “advanced,” because it is supposed to mean that she’ll have an easier time in school and in life, in general. Her father, my husband, was labeled a “genius” when he was young and just couldn’t understand why he was out of a job if he’s supposed to be so smart. He didn’t feel important because he wasn’t working. How sad is it that our culture tells him and others like him that his lack of title indicates his lack of importance!

I, for one, never felt important. I had always felt pressured to be a Christian. At times, I would suppose that Christ could benefit me, but I was mostly just trying to feel accepted by my family. I would get caught up in the emotions of being saved, but as soon as I was around a group of non-believers, I’d denounce the Lord. I was like a chameleon that would change its colors to defend against not belonging.

I grew up in a very creative, musical, loving family. Everyone I knew was a band, choir, or orchestra director. I had just assumed that I would be too. The realization came in college that being a band director wouldn’t be as fulfilling for me as I’d earlier imagined. The question then wasn’t ‘What would be more fulfilling?’ It was ‘How do I avoid disappointing my family?’ So I stayed with music. Instead of directing a high school band, I had decided to use music therapy to help those with various disabilities. Unfortunately, as a music therapy major, I still felt like the black sheep of my family and thought of myself as a quitter compared to my peers who were having interviews with middle school and high school bands.

This self-imposed rejection was intensified by my increasing alcohol and drug abuse which I had convinced myself helped me deal with several sexual assaults. I attempted to quit using after 6 years of active addiction. As quickly as I had embraced the drug culture, I began to understand, appreciate, and long for sobriety. Six months, however, seemed to be the longest I could stay clean consecutively.

After being told by numerous that I had a mental illness, I had a foolproof excuse to fail at everything and not even attempt to succeed. I used that excuse to convince myself, employers, teachers and my peers that I needed constant attention, adoration, pity, and leniency. The only thing stable about my life was my need for others’ concern and counsel, fearing that I couldn’t trust my own ability to function appropriately. I’d take every measure available to get someone to feel sorry for me and take care of me. Creating a crisis and losing control were my most effective tactics for manipulating others to care for me. I was desperate for a rescuer, a healer, a ‘savior,’ yet I continued to resist Christ.

I found success in death. After years of believing myself a failure, with countless frivolous attempts at suicide, I finally succeeded in July of 2001. Fed up with my past, annoyed with my ever present crises and dependencies, and with an evaporated sense of hope for the future, I decided to end my life. My last thoughts were of me sinking, drowning underwater, pressure increasing around me, lightness fading away.

I later awoke in a hospital bed with a nurse stroking my hand and crying. She looked up just as I was trying to clear my throat. Her hand flew to her mouth, and the first word that I heard in my new life was “JESUS!” She stared at me as tears collected around her eyes and spilled down her face. Answering the confusion in my expressions, she explained that I was at a hospital and that I had killed myself. I still didn’t understand, and I asked if I was dead. After a few seconds, she calmly answered, “No dear. You are very much alive. You were saved. The angel saved you. God saved you!”

On the second day, I think I woke up around noon. I could vaguely remember the conversation I’d had the day before with the nurse. I questioned the next doctor that walked into my room. He explained that I had arrived at the hospital by ambulance just after midnight on the 15th of July. My roommate had called to say I had swallowed more than 200 pills, but that they were still counting. The hospital staff attempted to make me drink charcoal which would have absorbed the medicine in my stomach, but I had lost the ability to swallow. They pumped my stomach and were still in the process when my vitals went flat line. Eventually, the staff pronounced me dead. This doctor then told me that something happened next that no one could explain. As the staff was cleaning up, after they’d written the time of death on my chart, one nurse saw my chest rising and falling as if I was breathing. They rushed to my side, and the fight to save my life was won.

This doctor talking to me was a psychiatrist and said that I was to be transferred later that day to a mental hospital. I ended up only spending one day there and was again transferred to another inpatient facility, a drug rehabilitation center. It was there that I began to search again for a savior, and this time I fell in love with Jesus Christ.

I arrived at the rehab center just as the clients were finishing for the day. I joined them in time to recite the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew from attending past AA meetings. It was the first prayer I’d said since the event. I thank the Lord now that He led me, at such a crucial time, to this particular treatment center. The lessons were spiritually centered and most of the staff and clients were already believers. One counselor could not go half an hour without humbly expressing that she was sober only because of God’s Grace. She accredited her success to the mercy of the Lord and her willingness to follow His will in everything she did. Her excitable, animated personality was exactly what I needed. I could relate to her much easier than the all too common monotone, emotionless mumble of the 9-to-5 psychologists with whom I’d had too many failures.

I called my roommates and was told that they didn’t want to ever talk to me again. I remember thinking that they were being selfish. “I’ve changed. Really. You’ve got to believe me. Please, let me promise one more time that this time will be different!” I couldn’t really blame them, but I thought it unfair to abandon me now that I needed friends more than ever. Two hours later, while taking a shower, it hit me.

It was up to me now.

I could do what I wanted. What I wanted was to live, be sober, and have a relationship with God. I realized that the savior I was always looking for was Christ. I had let other people enable me to continue my self destructive behavior. I could now change my opinions about myself. I could make a new life. I had felt out of control before because I gave my control to others. I used to feel guilty that I hadn’t completed college and wasn’t working. I knew the reason was that I would sabotage those situations to fail because I was terrified of trying my hardest and failing anyway. I forced the people in my life into discouraging me from attending school or getting a job for fear that a crisis would develop. I used to justify being lazy, unproductive, and miserable. No responsibility meant I couldn’t fail. Everyone who knew me walked on eggshells because I was completely unpredictable and viewed everything as either great or horrible. I always took things to the extreme. One semester I would make a 4.0 GPA and the next a 0.0.

After pages and pages of soul searching written in my journal, I discovered that I now had to decide how I wanted to live my life, what I wanted to believe, how fast or slow to take it, and for the first time, I felt excited. I didn’t want to be influenced. I wanted to determine what I could and couldn’t do. I concluded that I wanted to be sober because I wanted to live. For me to use meant I would die. I had too strong of an addictive personality to handle drugs or alcohol. I decided that I was willing to seek out Jesus Christ, no matter who thought it was right or wrong. I decided that I wanted to pursue writing. I wanted to enjoy life and be grateful. I determined that God had saved me, and I owed Him my obedience, devotion, love and ultimately, my life.

After eleven days at the treatment center, I decided that I needed to spend one week with my family in Houston. My dad drove up to Dallas to pick me up and drive me home. My family, being the loving, forgiving, beautiful Christians that they are, nervously embraced me. All of them exclaimed that I appeared happy, content, like I had as a young child. They declared their love, concern, encouragement and support, and I accepted it, absorbed it. I questioned everyone about their faith in Jesus. They didn’t explain that He was hard to approach or unforgiving or that he relished spreading pain throughout the land. They didn’t seem like they believed out of pressure or fear or as a pathetic attempt to deal with the world. They all believed in the Lord because they wanted to. They were just responding to the love they felt from Him. Their Lord was loving, all-knowing, caring, forgiving, perfect, their best friend. They were absolutely convinced of His existence and His plan. There was no doubt, no hesitation, and no shame in their faith. That confidence, sense of safety and comfort was what I was seeking. Every last one of them pleaded with me to trust Jesus, no matter what. Everything happens for a reason, and I was to accept that, be grateful and just learn the lesson.

On September 2, 2001, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My life since has been nothing short of miraculous. I got a job, leased my very first apartment by myself, met my husband, and am now a grateful mother of a beautiful 4 year old daughter and an 18 month old son. I still struggle with what’s important. To me, there is nothing more important than knowing and serving God. I do this by loving and raising my children to know Him. I do this by standing by my man even when I feel alone and rejected, and it’s not reciprocated. I do this by seeking out opportunities to rely on God by taking on responsibilities that I could never do on my own. I do this by caring for those whom the world turns its back on. I do this by loving those that God loves. And in doing so, I’ve learned that we are all important and that life is a gift. Life is an opportunity to know God and know His love and know His heart. What a gift!

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