I’m not going to come out well in today’s assessment.  I know this.  I’m an introvert.  I’ve lost many of my “in person” friends in my many moves over the past 5 1/2 years.  I have friends, but they’re largely online, many of them states or countries away.

The UCR Wellness Center lists these items under it social assessment:

  • Do I plan time to be with my family and friends?  My kids, yes.  This takes priority over every other thing in my life.  Friends… um, working on it?
  • Do I enjoy the time I spend with others?  Yes, actually.  I’m a true introvert, so people wear me out over time, but I still really enjoy being around them.  I love heart-to-heart talks and fun activities.  I just don’t do them much.
  • Are my relationships with others positive and rewarding?  Ouch.  Let’s see.  Failed marriage.  Failed engagement.  Friend who blocked me from his life.  Um… we’ll have to say working on it.
  • Do I explore diversity by interacting with people of other cultures, etc.?   Yes.  I don’t have a huge choice, given that I’m in metropolitan Los Angeles, but I’ve always enjoyed meeting and getting to know people who were “different” than I am.  I love cultures and I’m a writer, so it’s good background.  Anyway, people are just interesting.

So… I didn’t do quite as poorly as I thought I would, but I’m still not proud of my “score”.  Here are my goals:

Short-Term (3 Months)

* Interact with people (outside of my kids) on a weekly basis.  If I can’t get together with established friends, go outside my comfort zone and interact with strangers.

* Work on having positive, rewarding relationships.  For my three-month goal, I’m going to just figure out what that is.  I may blog it; it may turn out to be too personal.  We’ll see.

* Cultivate the friendships I already have.  Even if they’re “only Facebook” friends, take time to find out real things about their lives.

Mid-Term (1 Year)

* Grow at least three relationships (outside of my kids and work).

* Heal broken relationships if I can (maybe through an AA-type action?).

* Schedule weekly activities with others.  Play nice.

Long-Term (5 Years +)

I honestly don’t know what to put under long-term.  Maybe I will after I’ve worked on this for a while.  For now, I’m going to leave this area as one needing immediate attention.

How did your assessment go?  Any goals you want to share?

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I ride the train pretty regularly in my commute to and from work.  On Wednesday, I was on my commute home and the train… stopped.  Just one stop before home and we were told it might be a while before it moved again.

I dithered about it for a while, but I finally got my bike off the train rack, pulled up energy I didn’t really have, and started biking for home: 11 miles.  I’m a good runner, but only a decent biker, so 11 miles largely along CA-118 was a daunting thought…. and a long ride.

It didn’t take long before I was offering up prayers for my safety, songs of thanksgiving when big 18-wheelers were kind enough to not make me roadkill (and draft me for 4.2 terrifying seconds to boot), and promises of eternal gratitude if I just made it home safely.

Then I started getting convicted.  That’s cheating, God.  I’m just saying.

You see, I’m having a forgiveness issue lately.  I used to never have a forgiveness issue.  I got mad, sure, but once it was over, it was over.  Not so much lately.  I have some legitimate bones to pick and I don’t feel like burying them and moving on.

But God wants me to move on for my own good.

Did I mention that’s cheating, God?

So, about halfway along the 118, I start getting angry about the stuff I haven’t forgiven.  Maybe I wouldn’t even be biking if those things hadn’t happened.  (Yeah, I probably still would.)  Maybe my life would be better.  Maybe…

Maybe you should get around to forgiving sometime soon and moving on.

Uh.  I don’t want to forgive.  I mean, yeah, I don’t like the fact that there are times I can get myself in an absolute dither just because I remember I’m supposed to be mad about this stuff, but… I was wronged!  If that person cared about me at all, they would apologize.  They wouldn’t have hurt me like that in the first place.

If you cared about them at all, you’d forgive them and understand that they may be dealing with things you can’t see.

Okay, maybe they are dealing with something.  I get that.  But do I have to be the scapegoat?  When I was going through stuff…

… you made a lot of mistakes and messed up quite a few people’s lives.  That was a lot to forgive.

I made a few mistakes.  Okay, yes, and there was a lot of forgiving.  But you’re God.  You’re supposed to forgive me because You love me!

You’re my child.  You’re supposed to forgive those who wrong you because you love Me.

Okay, seriously, God… that’s cheating.  But… I get it.

So, before I got home (in great time, I might add!), I made a commitment to forgive.  But it’s not over.  Oh, no.

Independence Day was July 4, 1776.  But that wasn’t when our country truly became free from England.  We just signed a piece of paper and fired a few shots.  True independence took years of pitched battles, sacrifice, and commitment.

Forgiveness and independence from my own bitterness is probably going to take the same.  But you have to start somewhere, right?

It’s a good day to have my own Independence Day.

This weekend, our sermon was on worship.  The pastor made a great analogy in the middle of the sermon.  He said (very paraphrased), “Everyone prays at some point.  Sometimes they pray in desperation and then wonder why God doesn’t answer their prayers.  This is like a one-time customer expecting to step ahead of a regular customer.”

This struck a nerve with me because I work for a wholesale hardware store that will cater to the retail public.  Our regular customers tend to get slightly better pricing, credit terms, and slightly better service than Joe Schmo off the street.  Why?  Because we have a relationship.

While I think that God listens to any genuine prayer (and He’s certainly not limited to a one-customer-at-a-time policy), He is still a God of relationships.  Maybe a faithful, longtime believer gets at least the feeling of priority because they know what it feels like to have God speaking to them.

I think the only real trump card in this situation is when someone prays the sinner’s prayer and gives God their life.  This is like the rare time when we get a one-time, $40,000 customer.  We walk that guy to the head of the line because he’s giving us something huge.   In the same way, a sinner coming to saving grace is giving their entire life– something pretty priceless.  His credit is definitely good; he’s paying with the blood of the Lamb.  He’s going to have God’s attention and (if he’s genuine), know it.

To take that a step further, we have some long-time customers who are not-so-faithful about paying up.  They rely on credit and their long relationship with us to get them by.  In the same way, a lot of Christians rely on a long-time relationship with God and a lot of blood-of-the-Lamb credit to get them to the next credit card.  They don’t pray all the time and they don’t grow; they just check in when they need something or feel like they have to pay their statement up. 

I’ve been struggling my way out of debt for a couple of years now.  I can tell you that there is absolute dread when an unknown number comes up on my phone.  I think “credit card” Christians tend to feel the same way.  Church feels like a blame game because they have something to pay up.  Prayer feels like nothing but a confessional.  There’s no relationship… just avoidance of the bill collector.

God’s not a retail store, so this analogy isn’t perfect.  But it still has a realness to it that I couldn’t shake.  I don’t want to be any version of a credit card pray-er.  I want prayer to be me having a conversation with someone I love, respect, and listen to.  I can’t do that as a retail Christian.  I have to buy into this relationship completely or not at all.

Time to be a wholesale Christian.

I admit it… I belong to an online dating site.  I’ve actually tried a few of them.  With the way my life runs, it seemed like the logical thing to do.

I wasn’t really that worried about it.  After all, before I got married, I met all but two of the guys I ever went out with online.  (Yes, that’s an admission of my geekiness.)  I met my ex-husband online.  How hard could it be?  It’s actually pretty tough (I may post why at another time), but that’s  not what this post is about.

Too many people on dating sites have unrealistic shopping lists.

Yep, I’m going to go there.  But let me make a comparison that will maybe help drive the point home.

If you want to go buy a car, you have a budget.  You make a list of what you really want and what you’d like to have and you go out, find a car within your budget, and you buy it.

I’m 41 years old.  I’ve been married.  I’m gonna guess this would put me (or any guy I’m likely to be connecting with) in the category of “used car” at this point.

Do you know how many 41-year-old men and women think they’re going to get not only a new car, but a customized new car.

“Yes, I want the one with the tinted sunroof, the removable seats, the extra chrome, Sirius/XM radio, blah blah blah”… and under my budget.

Let’s get a little serious here.

In your twenties and maybe early thirties, there’s still a pretty good selection out there.  As you get older, a lot of the “good” cars are already paid for.  Doesn’t mean someone doesn’t trade in a good model now and then… but even that good model might not match up with your extreme expectations.

I’ve watched more frustrated people get upset that there’s “no one available” than I’ve seen people get upset about movies being unavailable at the Redbox on a Friday night at 10pm.

If you’re in the same boat as I am, do yourself a favor: make a realistic list… and keep it short.  I have seen a list pretty close to this online:

“I want a man who loves God, loves me, loves my kids, is smart, sensitive, likes to go for long walks, loves my favorite movie, has a romantic side, knows how to lead but isn’t overbearing…”

Seriously, I’ve seen this (and she wasn’t done).

So do yourself (and the rest of the dating public) a favor.  Make a realistic list.  Then pare it down to just five musts.  I’ll even put mine up here, just so you can see what I mean.

  1. Must have an ongoing, personal relationship with God.  Would it be nice if he was active in his church, knew the Bible well, or had been a Christian all his life?  Yep.  Is it essential?  Turns out it’s not… not to me.
  2. Must love me and my kids.  We’re a package deal, the kids and I.  I don’t expect a man to come in and parent my kids; they have a dad.  I don’t expect him to necessarily even have ever wanted kids himself.  But he needs to love my kids because they’re my kids and they’re going to be around.  Be friends with them, not “daddy”.
  3. Have a sense of humor that fits with mine.  Serious all the time is not going to deal with me well… and I’ll probably get depressed.  On the other hand, if his sense of humor is a little too caustic or too “Three Stooges”, we might not ever make each other laugh.  I like laughing.  This is important to me.
  4. Be intelligent.  I’m not talking about book-learnin’.  I’m not even asking that we share the same interests– I’m more than willing to learn something new and I love to be challenged.  But… I’ll get bored.  I know, that sounds snobby.  I don’t mean it to sound that way.  It turns out it’s important to me, though.
  5. Be active.  I realise that when you hit the 40s, the waistline tends to expand on a lot of people.  Mine did for a while.  This isn’t so much about weight as it is about attitude.  Please don’t be the type who wants nothing more than to go home and “veg”.  I don’t need to be go-go-go all the time… but I do need to get moving on a regular basis.  If he’s not going with me, that’s a significant amount of time we’re spending apart.

So, not too complicated, right?  Notice that I don’t have age requirements (mine are pretty wide), height, weight, income, looks, or even location.  It would be nice to find a guy in my city, a little taller than I am, making decent money, who is within a few years of my own age.  But it’s not essential.  I can work with those variables.  I can’t really change the ones in my list of five.

If you’re out there and dating, think about your own list.  I challenge you to get it down to just five things… and everything counts.  If you do this, I’d love a comment about what you settled on, too.

For now, I’m going to stick to my list and be open about the extras.

   “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble  themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14

 

I believe relationships are a need.  The Bible says that God didn’t think man should be alone, so He created woman.  We as people, even introverts, have a need to be with other people, to socialize, to relate, and to connect.

Too often,I don’t pray properly for those things I truly need.  Although the Lord’s Prayer  is most often used as a guideline for prayer, the above verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14 outlines another way to pray.

“If my people…”  The first step is to be sure I belong to God.  While He listens to all His children, He saves the best gifts for those who call Him father.

“… who are called by my name…”  Am I living in His name or hiding my relationship?  When I date, do I date anyone, or do I seek another who has His name written in his or her heart?  Until I am willing to take on God’s name as my own, my prayers are limited by my own ego.

“… will humble themselves…”  Oh, ouch.  This is the hardest one for me.  Admitting you need help is not something most of us like to do.  Admitting we need help in our relationships… that one stings.  After all, we know who we are and what we want!  We should be able to pick the right person out.  As someone who got what she wanted, I can say that doesn’t always work.  I want someone who knows who I am, who HE is, and is looking out for what I need.  In order to get that, I have to humble myself and say goodbye to my pride.  This one is up to God.

“… and pray…”  Okay, let me be honest here.  I pray, yes, but how often do I come before God time after time and pour out my need to Him?  I think I probably bug my mom more with what I need than I do God.  Until I am willing to talk to God time and time again about my needs, I am still trying to solve them myself.  It’s not a matter of time.  It’s a matter of doing.  When I wake up, “God, please bless the man You’ve chosen for me today.”  When I’m driving, God, please keep him safe and prepare his heart for me.”  When I go to bed, “God, take a special place in his heart as he sleeps.”  Why don’t I do that?

“… and seek my face…” Maybe, just maybe, what I want on my time and my terms isn’t what I really need.  I need to stop pushing for my shopping list and start seeking what God has in store for me.  Until I seek His face and His will, I may get what I want, but I may deny myself what I need.

“… and turn from their wicked ways…”  I am no angel.  I’m not even in line to be a future saint.  I have messed up more times than I can count and I still struggle in areas.  I’m forgiven; I have no doubt about that.  But I still fall back into some of the same habits.  I get depressed about someone not liking me.  Why??!  That’s pure ego.  That person isn’t right for me!  I let conversation with a guy go past where it should (no, I don’t mean I get out there and have a full on sexting session, although I was guilty of that once.  I mean I skirt the edge, talking about things I should be saving for a committed relationship).  Until I turn from these wicked ways, I am limiting myself to my own desires.

“… then I will hear from heaven…”  I have four kids and the oldest one LOVES to talk.  A lot.  He could probably talk all day if he had someone to listen to him.  I learned very early on to let him talk sometimes and just pick up on the important stuff.  I know God is a lot less limited than I am, but sometimes I think that’s what He does.  He lets us talk, babble, share, whine, and celebrate, but He truly hears when we put our whole heart into it.

“… and I will forgive their sin…”  I’m divorced.  That’s a sin, no matter how I cut it.  Remarrying, that’s a sin, too.  (Want to get after me for the truth on that?  I might blog it one day.)  God forgives these sins, but I have to seek His forgiveness.  I can’t move on to a new relationship until I have found His forgiveness for the sins and failures of the last one.

“… and will heal their land.”  Replace land with heart.  Or life.  Or relationship.  The whole point is that God will heal.  If I truly seek Him in a new relationship and it really is what I need, then He will heal me and bring it to pass.

Now I just have to take the first step.

Prior posts in this series:

http://wp.me/p2cUhM-f

http://wp.me/p2cUhM-j

So, if you’ve been reading along, at this point you know that I’ve messed up my relational priorities pretty badly.

I’ve given up my strong faith in God to be the woman needed to become someone’s wife.

I’ve trivialized my marriage to be a mom, first and foremost.

Then I left my kids behind in a welter of confusion when I no longer had a good compass to steer me.

I spent the next couple of years trying to get my relationships prioritized correctly.

I was in a relationship that again subverted God, my kids, and even myself to be who he needed.  That relationship ended badly.

I kept flip-flopping between trying to survive and trying to do what was best for my kids.  My ex managed to get full custody of the kids and I suffered intense depression over the loss of my “north star”.

Only when I finally started getting my priorities straight did I once again start finding some peace and joy.

I’m trying to put God first.  I still fail miserably more than half the time, but I know that’s what my goal is.  I’m working for it.

For now, my children get the second place in my life, BUT should I ever again be in a relationship that leads to marriage, I will have to learn to balance that with the requirement to “love him above all else”.

Never again will I change who I am to be right for someone.

Doing so led to a nasty divorce (for a woman who despises it), huge debt (for a woman who was only late twice in her life on any bill), loneliness, and the loss of my kids.  That last one still hurts the most.  But I have it straightened out now.

Every decision goes through the priority filter first.

That’s really what relationships are all about.

Previous posts in this series:

http://wp.me/p2cUhM-f

In my last post, I talked about how my priorities in relationships got all out of whack in my intense desire to have kids.

I have four kids.  They are still the sunshine in my life.  Right now, though, I don’t get to be their mom.

I never did anything terrible.  I had some anger issues for about a year.  I did a self-help counseling book and learned to direct my anger appropriately.  I was sometimes a little too persnickity about my angels being perfect.

But I was a good mom.

Until the day my husband told me to get out of our house.

Now, on his side of the ledger, I was having an emotional affair online.  I flat-out told him I was no longer interested in saving our marriage.

On my side, he hadn’t been involved in our marriage for at least eight years.  Date nights that I planned were fine, but as soon as we got back to the house, he checked out.  We spent evenings sitting side-by-side without talking.  If I called him at work (and I tried very hard to not call often), I was a nuisance.

On his side, I made vows.

On my side, he’d already broken our vows and I had chosen to forgive him.

Equally shared fault, really, in the demise of our marriage.  I should’ve just filed for divorced, but I had this crazy idea that my kids needed both parents together more than I needed out of my marriage.  I was trying to stick it out, even as I learned to dislike the man I’d married.

When he told me to get out of the house, though, he reinforced it with a threat.  He wasn’t even living at home during the week, as his job required him to live 3 1/2 hours north.  He had already been engaged in low-key emotional abuse for about five months.

I started packing for me and the kids.

Then he dropped the bombshell.  If I took the kids, first he threatened me with kidnapping charges.  I was scared (and naive), but still kept packing.

Then he told me he wouldn’t support me if I took the kids.

That one stopped me in my tracks.  All I wanted was for my kids to be happy.  They were my priority, after all.  There was no way an unemployed woman who hadn’t held a full-time job in nine years could support four kids right out of the gate.

I was stupid.

I agreed to leave without the kids, but made him sign a note that said that I was only going to set up a home for my kids and intended to come back for them.  Then, in the worst decision of my life, I left.

And my relationships got even more skewed.

See my next post for the conclusion to relationship priorities.