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Home Free Family reunification program provides free bus tickets to eligible runaway and homeless youth.

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CONTROL😬

Control is an illusion. When we most believe we are in control of a situation, we are actually out of control.

I believe the driving force of the need to control is fear. An acronym for fear is “False Events Appearing Real”. We fear what will happen if we let go and let life happen. I have found that when I let go of trying to control the world around me, my life is fuller and a lot more peaceful. When I keep the focus on myself, my relationships are better and I am less anxious. It is not an easy thing to do, letting go, especially when the need to control life around us was developed out of necessity to help us survive physically, mentally or emotionally. It’s hard to tell ourselves that part of our lives is over and there is no longer a need for what is sometimes called “white knuckling” (holding on so tight that your knuckles turn white). Like an addiction, letting go has to be done one minute at a time because the need for control touches every area of our lives. Try asking yourself in each situation:

  • “What am I afraid will happen?”
  • “Is my fear really logical?”
  • “What am I running away from?”
  • “What am I hiding from?”
  • “What will happen if I don’t try to control this situation?”
  • “Am I helping or hurting?”
  • Is this my business?

I struggle with control issues. In the past, I could spot them in others but didn’t see them in myself until I realized that I have a need to control what others think of me. When I came to that realization, I began to look at possibilities in other areas of my life. I see it in my writing, the need to give every detail of every situation in order to ensure that the reader perceives what I have written as I believe they should. I cannot control what someone takes away from my writing just as I cannot control what people think of me. Every person is made up of life experiences and they have developed their individual beliefs, interests and opinions. Still it is difficult to let go of the illusion.

I feel that I have to make excuses or give reasons for any thing I say and/or do so that I can control how it is received. I try to make others understand why I am the way I am. It may be acceptable in this venue because we are all striving to learn from and support each other but it doesn’t work in my everyday life. My new goal is to accept myself as I am and stop worrying about what other people think of me because I cannot control their perception of me in any way. We have a saying in Ala-non, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” It took me a while to make sense of this saying but that was because I didn’t get the concept behind it. Yet, when I look at it as meaning as, “I cannot control what others think of me” the meaning is clear.

If you believe in God, the concept of “letting go” is simply “Let God and Let God.” Letting go is learning to trust that things will work as they are meant to. I have a friend who has a sticky note on her mirror that says, “(her name), Thanks but I don’t need your help today, Love, God.” Another tool that some of my friends use is a God Box. When something is worrying you, write it on a piece of paper and put it in your God Box. Once you have placed the problem in his hands, let go of it. This will only work if you let go of the situation. I have a tendency to turn it over then take it back, turn it over, then take it back like a Yo Yo.

God doesn’t expect us to let go of the steering wheel. For example, we can’t say, “I can’t pay my bills God, you take over” and sit back and wait. He expects us to use the knowledge and tools we have to solve problems to the best of our ability. If you are not a believer, the concept of letting go still works. When we try to control a situation, we usually end up making the situation worse, so just let go.

The burden of trying to control everything around us is stressful and exhausting and it’s not our job. What would life be like if we just put that burden down and put that energy into something more positive? Would it feel like freedom?

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I fell in love with a Megachurch (Part Two)

The article by Alexis Grant in Part One was very personal to me because I am a member of Lakewood Church. While there is no need for me to defend Lakewood or Joel Osteen, I would like to give my opinion on the subject because as you know, I am very opinionated.

There is so much controversy about Lakewood and Joel Osteen that it’s often frustrating for those of us who know the truth.

It is said that Joel doesn’t preach based on the Bible. Well, for one thing, he doesn’t preach, he teaches and he does a reading from the Bible and refers to the Bible often.  However, if one needs “bible thumping”, his wife, Victoria,  brings it in her part of the service. I am not the “bible thumping” type so honestly, I just tolerate that part of the service.

For those who believe that Joel and Victoria have built the church for the sake of personal wealth, let me correct that belief by informing you that neither Joel nor Victoria take a salary from the church. Their financial support comes from the proceeds of their books.

I have noticed that when Joel is asked about controversial subjects, he refers back to the Bible. While his non-committal answers may irk some people, I find it makes sense that he doesn’t piss on anyone’s beliefs or lifestyle regardless of his beliefs. In this way, he is able to reach a larger, more diverse audience with an offer of hope. Danny and I were members of a church that was a lot like Lakewood though small. There was no negativity, guilt or judgement from the pulpit. The only requirement was a belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins”. When we left that church due to its impending death based on the age of the majority of the members, we joined Lakewood. I will forever be grateful to my Houston hairdresser and friend for her offer to take us to a Lakewood service.

Lakewood is huge but not overly opulent. If the space wasn’t necessary, it would be overdone. However, the service fills up so fast that assistance in finding a seat is often necessary. The parking at the late service fills up to the point that parking is provided at a garage blocks away so it pays to attend the early service. Volunteers in the hundreds are there to make the service flow smoothly and offer assistance when needed.

Lakewood was once called the “Oasis of Love” and I can see why. Every race, gender preference, class and many nationalities are represented at each service. Each person is welcomed with a smile and offered a  newsletter. No pressure is necessary because people attend of their own free will knowing they will find hope.

People who need personal relationships in their place of worship may not find Lakewood to their liking.  Due to the size of the church, home groups have been established. I like autonomy with the  ability to leave the building quickly but I do take many, many heart-warming smiles with me.

I also don’t like pressure to be involved in the workings of the church. In a smaller church, there is always a need. While volunteers are requested when there is a need, there is no personal contact from Lakewood. I did volunteer for crisis assistance for a while and went to Joplin, Missouri in the aftermath of their tornado crisis. I spent a week helping people by allowing them the opportunity to talk about what they had been through and doing data input. It was a rewarding experience. Lakewood has groups of volunteers who step up whenever and wherever there is a need or crisis. They were the largest financial contributor to the Katrina Crisis.

As with the author of the article, in the beginning, I felt uncomfortable with the praise part of the worship but I was so excited to be there that I decided to take what I liked and leave the rest. There is nothing extreme, its just that I was accustomed to a more conventional service. When first entering, the music is so loud it feels overwhelming but once your ears adjust to the volume, it is very uplifting. It grabs you and the need to participate is overwhelming.

Because we purchased 50 c.d.’s of Joel’s messages at a church dollar sale, we will still be able to attend services, well sorta. Any time he comes on television, we stop and listen. People do not “worship” Joel, they just believe in his messages. He is actually very shy and had no desire to become a minister. He was very happy being “behind the scenes working the sound system” for his father’s ministry. He agreed to step up when his father died and found that he actually had a gift. So you see, being a charlatan would not even be possible for Joel.

I realize that Lakewood and Joel Osteen aren’t for everyone, I am just asking that neither be judged based on comments by people who have never attended Lakewood Church or experienced Joel Osteen’s message.

 

 

“I fell in love with a megachurch” (Part One)

Salon Magazine by Alexis Grant

I went to Joel Osteen’s ministry on a lark. But after a heartbreak, I found something there I never expected: Hope

The weekend my boyfriend began seeing another woman, I walked into a megachurch for the first time.

My girlfriends and I didn’t go to praise Jesus. We went for fun. (I didn’t know about the boyfriend yet.) My two friends, both 20-something journalists like me, were visiting me in Houston, and we considered Lakewood Church — the largest house of worship in the country and home to controversial superstar pastor Joel Osteen — a tourist attraction.

We parked in a crowded underground garage and followed a trail of people into a stadium built for the city’s basketball team. I’d rarely set foot in a church since growing up catholic in upstate New York, and yet I knew this religious gathering would be nothing like the one I’d attended at home. Everybody in Houston knew about Lakewood. You either went there every weekend — or rolled your eyes at people who did.

An usher guided us to seats up in the stadium’s second tier, practically the nosebleed section. Loud, upbeat music throbbed through the stadium. A woman not far from us clapped to the beat, tears streaming down her face. I stared at her like a child who’d seen the Amish for the first time. Was she really that moved by this song? I wondered whether her sister was sick with cancer or her husband had lost his job. Or maybe she simply felt alone.

When the throbbing music ended – a good half an hour into the service – Osteen didn’t read out of the gospel. Instead, he looked out over the packed stadium and told us, with a fist in the air, that we could accomplish anything we set our minds to. The future was full of hope, he said. “The best things in life are out in front of us!”

To my left, my girlfriends threw their hands in the air with everyone else. “C’mon!” they urged. But I felt awkward and out of place, worried the crowd would pin me for an imposter in this deep sea of believers. Wouldn’t they know I didn’t belong?

Two weeks later, my boyfriend dumped me. The woman he’d connected with the weekend my friends were in town understood him in a way I didn’t, he said. That night I heaved over the toilet, mad at myself for not seeing it coming.

The next Sunday, instead of spending the morning in my now ex-boyfriend’s bed, I went back to Lakewood. I wasn’t exactly sure why I went. I usually dealt with my emotions by running or lifting weights or throwing myself into work, not by praying to someone I wasn’t sure existed. But I felt pulled back toward that uplifting music, and I was too emotionally exhausted to resist.

As I stepped onto the escalator, a greeter handed me a pamphlet, the kind of literature my brother and I would’ve mocked as Jesus paraphernalia. “We’re happy you’re with us today,” she said, looking at me as though she really meant it. I faked a smile.

I could hear the music even before entering the stadium, just like during my first visit with my girlfriends. But this time I was the one alone – and on the verge of tears. Even more than being mad at my ex, I was mad at myself for wallowing over a man when life had something exciting in store for me: I was about to leave my job to go backpacking through Africa, a trip I’d dreamed about for years. Three more months and I’d be on the plane, out in the world, free. Why couldn’t I focus on that?

At the church I’d grown up in, crying would have caused a scene. I remembered kneeling next to my dad at Sunday Mass, just a few days after my grandfather’s funeral, and watching him lean back in his pew to wipe tears from his eyes, then kneel back in position. Catholics were stoic. We repeated the same words every Mass, pausing when we were supposed to pause, sparing our prayers the wrath of inflection, showing neither happiness nor sadness. We showed nothing.

But at Lakewood, emotion pulsed through the crowd. People sang loudly, with both hands outstretched, palms toward their God as if to receive whatever he offered. I put my hands out too, feeling sheepish, glancing around to see if anyone could tell I was a newbie. Soon the whole place was jumping up and down and belting the lyrics, “I’m Still Standing.” (Think worship lyrics; not the Elton John song.) As they waved their arms in the air, I hoped their strength would rub off on me.

Surrounded by people so full of faith and hope, I sensed an escape route for my ache. If I could just let that heaviness out of my chest, believers around me would absorb it, eat it up and digest even the tough parts.

 So I let go. With my arms above my head, I let the tears stream down my cheeks just like the woman near me had done during my first trip to the stadium. It was freeing, crying in that crowd, anonymous yet part of something bigger than myself. I was among strangers, yet I felt less broken and alone than when I’d walked in.

I was used to leaving church feeling guilty for my sins from the previous week, for letting my mind wander to sex while Latin words rolled off an old priest’s tongue. But after Lakewood, I felt lighter, like I had handed some of my burden over to … God? Did that mean I believed in Him? Had the energy of this place pulled me here, or was it something bigger?

Maybe this was what it felt like to find God, I thought. In my heartbreak, had I discovered a different kind of love?

I went back to Lakewood the next week. And the next. But I didn’t tell anyone. My friends were still laughing over how a candidate for district attorney had struck a man from a jury pool because he went to the megachurch. “People who go to Lakewood are screwballs and nuts,” she’d told the judge.

Which meant Houston had an awful lot of screwballs and nuts. I was fascinated by the engine that was Lakewood, how the church organized parking for thousands of people, distributed the holy bread to every mouth in the stadium, and manned a bookstore that probably brought in more money on Sunday than most do in a month.

Yet Lakewood felt more motivational than religious – or maybe that was simply what I wanted it to be. Ironically, the secular spirit that drew me there was exactly why some religious folk criticized Osteen: They complained he wasn’t religious enough.

When Osteen did invoke religious images or drift into Jesus talk, I’d tweak his words so they worked for me. He said things were in God’s hands; I heard it as fate’s hands. He said God would send luck my way; I told myself to make my own luck. By performing this sort of calculus, I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t becoming one of those religious nuts.

Until, that is, Osteen mentioned something rather startling. “If you come to Lakewood three times,” he told the audience, pausing to flash his famous supersmile, “we consider you a member.”

My insides tense, I counted the number of times I’d attended. Was it four? Five? Definitely more than three. Oh my God, I muttered. Had I become one of them?

But my discovery was short-lived. Soon I would leave Houston for good, following through on my travel plans. On my last Sunday in the city, I took a break from packing to attend the church a final time. After the usual mix of uplifting songs, the pastor encouraged us to get out of our seats and join one of the prayer partners who were scattered around the stadium. For weeks I’d avoided this part of the service, remaining seated while people around me shuffled through the aisles to share their own personal pleas to God; a friend who’d attended Lakewood told me a prayer partner once spoke to her in tongues. But this was my last chance, and curiosity was on Lakewood’s side. Breathing deeply to shake my nerves, I got in line.

My prayer partner had middle-aged pudge around her middle and warm brown eyes. When it was my turn, she took my hands in hers and said, in perfectly comprehensible English, “What are we praying for today?”

My chin trembled as I contemplated asking her to help my heart heal or give me the strength say goodbye to Houston. But I wanted to look forward, not back. “I’m going on a long trip,” I told her, feeling comforted by her eyes. “A journey by myself. To Africa.”

She squeezed my hands, shut her eyes and prayed aloud to her God – my God? – to keep me safe during my travels. Around us, hundreds of people prayed aloud with their own partner, their words blanketing the stadium with murmurs, a presence that was palpable.

“Keep her safe and healthy and happy,” my partner finished, letting go of my sweaty palms.

As I walked back to my seat, I added my own little prayer, asking Whoever Was Up There to forgive me, knowing my fling with the megachurch, like all good love affairs, would be fleeting. And when the music began again, I lifted my palms to the sky.

 

Alexis Grant is writing a book about backpacking solo through Africa.