Monday, January 06, 2014

Are You There, God? It's Me, Joanna


This blog has always been an outlet for me.  A place I can come and share my feelings, my adventures, my day-to-day happenings, and my general opinions on life.  My blog, in a way, is my therapist.  I can tell it all of my problems, and it won't judge.  It won't give me opinions I'm not asking for.  It just listens...and sometimes that's all I need.  

I've always said that my blog is an open book.  I share things that are sometimes pretty deep, sometimes pretty private, sometimes just boring.  But, it's who I am.  My life.  Or at least the parts of my life I choose to share.

With my "open book" there are also subjects I try my hardest not to touch on.  Politics, religion, sexual preference, direct opinions on any subject that causes any amount of turmoil, really.  

In a way, I'm a chicken.  I have given my opinions on certain "touchy" subjects before, but I prefer to stay away from anything that might offend or shock large groups of believers.  I may sit and hide behind my blog wanting to scream what I truly feel about Obama, gay marriage, and various religious groups... but I don't.  I try to keep the peace.  Because I know that my direct opinion may offend or upset people I am close to, and I don't want to do that.... even though it shouldn't matter what my direct opinion is.  It doesn't change the person I am.  If anything, I am the person I am because of my opinions and beliefs.. so if you liked me before you knew how I felt, what difference does it make after?

Which is EXACTLY the reason I choose to stay away from those topics.  Because, the harsh truth is, there are lots of people out there that don't agree with some of my opinions, and it would change how they perceive me..what they think of me... I would automatically be added to their dislike list because I don't feel the same way they do.  

And that's sad.

One thing I am extremely proud of is the fact that I am a very tolerant person.  I embrace opposing opinions, different beliefs, and making my decisions on liking a person by the way they treat me and the people I love.  I don't automatically cast judgement on someone's lifestyle if I find out they are an Obama supporter or not an Obama supporter, if they are gay or believe in gay marriage or not, if they are Christian or Muslim or Jewish or atheist.  Those topics have absolutely NO bearing on my feelings or opinions about a person.

Unless, that person uses those opinions or lifestyles to judge me or other people.  But even then, I tend to judge on how that person treats others... not why they treat others differently.

What I'm rambling on about is the fact that one trait I absolutely love about myself is the way I can respect the opinions and lifestyles of others WITHOUT casting judgement or making opinions.  

Let me give some examples.  

When I was younger, I went to a school that had a large Hindu population.  While some of my white friends often used derogatory slurs towards my Indian friends, I embraced learning about their culture.  It interested me.  I wanted to know what traditions they held, what ceremonies they participated in, what foods they ate, and so on.  I was fascinated.  It didn't hinder my own beliefs, but I loved spending time learning about a culture and religion I knew nothing about.  

When I moved to America, and moved to Podunk, Oklahoma, I didn't have much religious tolerance to deal with.  In that town, you were a Christian or you lived somewhere else.  Period.  But, the very first person to really talk to me was a boy, that I knew right off the bat, was gay.  Take that as me passing judgement, if you will, but he was.  And told me so.  He was in high school and thought it was extremely neat that a girl from London, England had moved to a small, rural town in Oklahoma.  While other kids also thought it was pretty cool, there were also those kids that chose to make fun of the way I talked, told me to "go back to my own country", and weren't very nice.  To this day, I am convinced they treated me that way because they just didn't know any better because nobody "different" ever moved there.  But, the boy who took me under his wing knew a little something about being singled out, being the end of jokes and cruel names, and did what he could to get to know me.  Him being gay had absolutely no bearing on what I thought of him.  I liked him because he was nice to me.  

Since growing up, I have come in to contact with many different cultures and religions, and it has always fascinated me to learn more about those lifestyles.  I have spent a great deal of time reading about Paganism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Catholicism.  Even though I was raised with certain Catholic beliefs, by a some-what Catholic family... I still had lots to learn.

I have emerged myself in to these cultures, learning everything I could.  In doing so, it didn't rip me away from my own beliefs, or persuade me to believe anything different, but I very much enjoyed learning how all these different people live their lives.  

One thing I did take away from learning what I did?  They all focus around faith.  Faith in a higher power.  Faith in a Savior (or Saviors) that deliver us from evil, protect us, and keep us believing that we live our lives for a reward in the afterlife (or new life, if reincarnation is the belief).  

In many ways, these religions and cultures are different.  But, in so many ways, they are the same.  

This past year, I have spoken a lot about the "blessings" that have been bestowed on to me.  My wonderful job, my new house, my new car, the awesome Christmas we just had.

But they aren't blessings.  Those are materialistic items that I have worked hard to get.  I walked in to an interview and was given a job.  I worked hard in that job, fixed my credit and was able to buy a new car and a new house.  I used credit cards to get me through Christmas.  Hardly blessings, right?

Then there are the true blessings...

Three amazing children who are smart, loving, caring, and healthy.  A man that works hard to support his family, takes care of us, and loves us.  A family that I stay in close contact with.  A mother who fought through cancer and is now on the mend.. but alive and healthy.  Students who, despite their various living situations, come to school every day eager to learn, overcome obstacles, and bless my life everyday by allowing me the chance to teach them.  Friends who are always there for me with a kind word, a shoulder to cry on, and honesty.

They are true blessings.  

I chose not to share my own personal opinion on religion because I know that there are many people that would disagree with the way I live my life, and how my spirituality can be interpreted.

But, I will say, when I am having a really rough day, I close my eyes and I pray.  When my kids are dealing with something that I have no power to fix, I close my eyes and I pray.  When my mother was diagnosed with a life threatening illness, I prayed.  And again when she had her tests.  And again when she had her surgery.  

I pray for strength.  I pray for answers.  I pray for guidance.  I pray for sanity.  

I can sit here and write an entire book about how many times my prayers have been answered.  But, I also know that those prayers have been answered because I don't take anything for granted.  

With as many prayers that are answered, there are struggles to overcome.  With as many blessings that are bestowed on my life, there are tests that I must pass.

And here's the parts that may shock some people that know me...

Sometimes, I believe God is watching out for me.  Sometimes, I feel like karma is paying me a visit.  Sometimes I think that Mother Nature is sending me a message.  I chose to have faith in my heart, and sometimes that faith is delivered in different methods.  

I don't wake up every Sunday morning and go to church. 

I don't believe that my relationship with God is affected due to my attendance record or membership with a church.  I was a committed member of a church while living in Texas and LOVED that church.  I loved the people, the services, the groups and classes.  When I moved back to Arkansas, I tried to seek out a church that offered those same feelings.  What I received in return was rejection.  Because I was a woman living in sin... with two children out of wedlock.  I was told I could attend services, but could not join any groups because I didn't "fit in" with the life of a God fearing Christian woman.  Had I been divorced, the reception would have been different.  And while I know that there are churches out there that would gladly accept me for the way that I am, I am OK with my current situation.

I am a firm believer in living my life as a good person.  Doing good things for others.  Respecting and embracing ALL opinions... it's not my place to judge.  

I have never and would never force my beliefs on others, and respect the beliefs of others.  It doesn't bother me one bit if you pray to God, Allah, Ganesha, Shiva, The Goddess, Buddha, Oankar, or any of the other thousands of deities.  I also don't care if you chose to not pray at all, because you don't believe in any God or aren't sure there is a God to pray to.  My feelings towards you would NEVER be based on or changed due to what you believe or don't believe.

I openly support all religions, and in no way, shape, or form believe that my being OK with other religions harms my own religious beliefs.

I honestly believe that if there is a heaven, I should get in because I have chosen a lifestyle like the one I'm living.  Being a good person, helping others in need, not casting judgement, not committing crimes, being honest, and keeping my relationship with God in my own way.

I have read most of the Bible, and believe there is room for interpretation (I skipped over a lot of the Old Testament, but have read all of the New Testament).  Some denominations believe in living through the literal words from the Bible, others pick and choose the parts they deem appropriate.  I think that with our ever changing times, there is room for some interpretation and some give and take.  I believe you can't just make statements about certain versus to suit the needs of certain situations.  While the Bible does provide some guidance, it was written a VERY long time ago, contains quite a few hypocrisies, and can't possibly be taken at a word-for-word literal sense in this day and age.

I don't consider myself or others who don't regularly attend church to be "lost and broken".  Like I've said, I keep faith in my heart and I'm not looking to be rescued.  How I chose to keep my religious beliefs is my own business.  With that being said, I will NEVER reject someone's offer to pray for me, pray for situations I'm dealing with, or someone asking me to pray for them.  

I love my life, and believe that I have been truly blessed.  The people that are in my life are here for a reason.  The situations I've dealt with have been given to me for a reason.  My hardships are tests, my rewards are signs of passing the tests I've been given. Each day provides a new test, and a new way for me to pass them.  I wouldn't change anything that has happened to me in my past, because everything has helped in molding me in to the person I have become.  

And, my words on this blog today are in NO WAY, SHAPE, or FORM a direct message to specific people.  These are all my own personal feelings and ramblings.  I'm not trying to pinpoint anyone out or make anyone think I'm talking about them.  These are generalizations only.  

I know that some people close to me will read these words and feel some sadness or disappointment about my attitude... but, I hope that I can also reiterate that I'm happy.  I'm OK with living this way.  I respect the way you live your life, and appreciate any prayers you might want to send my way because you're now worrying about my religious beliefs.  But, I also hope it doesn't make you look at me any differently, judge me, or feel like I'm not a good a person as you thought I was.  I am the person I am because of the way I live my life, the beliefs I hold in my heart, and the people that I chose to surround myself with.

So, if you are one of those people... I believe you were brought in to my life for a reason.  Not to change my opinions on the way I live my life, but because having you in my life makes me a better person just from knowing you.

And to think, this entire blog post came from the fact that I prayed for snow a few days ago.  Prayed that even though I really wanted to go back to work, I wasn't ready to give up the wonderful time I'm having with my family.  This morning, I woke up to 2" of snow on the ground and it still coming down in droves.  

A simple prayer request.  Answered.  

That led me to this post coming out of me.

Coincidence?  I think not.

Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone!


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